One out of three women will be raped or sexually assaulted sometime during the course of their life while one out of four women will experience domestic violence. For those in the majority (the 2 out of 3, the 3 out of 4) this’ll probably sound like I’m speaking cryptically and/or non-sense and for that, I apologize, but I feel compelled to write something to those who are (what we know to be in) the minority…
For validation’s sake, I had an/other encounter recently with someone who is in the majority – someone who doesn’t have a life sentence at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, who isn’t aware that Alice’s Rabbit Hole is for real; the individual’s closest encounter to the dark side of humanity has probably been through media news reports on TV (which means post-mortem – yet another line of distinction for those of us who live in the “Twilight Zone” after abuse who are desperately trying not to be on tomorrow’s 6 o’clock news as the latest “senseless” and “incomprehensible” tragedy).
If you are one of the blessed to not be a survivor of abuse, let me try to explain “the look” –
It’s when you walk into a room that suddenly turns ice-cold; it’s the unmistakable reflection of scrutiny, doubt, disgust, judgment and/or condemnation in someone’s eyes when you offer a friendly greeting; the avoidance of eye contact and the awkward silences that follow your attempts to “be normal” – or the most hurtful: when people outwardly and unabashedly flat-out reject and dismiss you.
The awful part (yes, it just keeps getting worse!) is that the person giving you “the look” never has the decency, courtesy or manners (or perhaps, the courage?) to tell you exactly why you get to be looked at so disdainfully (which is particularly hard for abuse survivors whose minds start a running self-inventory of all their faults, failures and shortcomings in an attempt to try to understand why they’re getting “the look”).
Although I may have told this story before and I should be over it by now, in all honesty, I’m just not:
Being in Hawaii where the weather is essentially the same every day of every month of every year, I don’t recall the exact year this occurred but I can tell you that both of my children were in elementary school (so the oldest a student could be would have been 11 or 12 years-old).
I was taking my kids to a matinee movie (had something to do with jungle animals) when they saw other kids they recognized from school. They both went over to the other kids while I purchased the movie tickets and when they returned they asked me if their friends from school could sit with us. I was happy to have their friends sit with us but considering the ages of the children, I couldn’t imagine that they’d be at the movie theater all by themselves so said they could join us if their parents said they could.
My kids automatically replied that their friends could because their mom was going to see “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” while their friends had tickets to the same movie we were going to watch. Didn’t matter – I still wanted to meet the parent/s before supervising their children – so my daughter pointed their mother out to me. I walked up to her, extended my hand to shake and said “Hi, I’m Dara, Kirstin & Kalen’s mom. The kids are asking to sit together so I just wanted to make sure that would be ok with you”.
Her response to my introduction – “the look” – and then worse: she literally sized me up and down, grunted, and walked away. I was stunned, with my hand still extended, when my daughter grabbed my hand putting it down saying “Forget about it Mom; she’s one of Dad’s friends”.
I didn’t know this woman – and I still don’t – and though I’ve been told numerous times “Forget about it”, easier said than done when the same thing keeps happening over and over and over again. Someone’s judged you to be guilty of some crime you have no idea you’ve committed so there’s no way to resolve, improve or correct whatever’s going on for the other person, which means no redemption for you – you just have to take it, not let it bother you (ha!) then “let it go”.
Bad enough to get “the look” from a complete stranger but what’s worse is when you get “the look” from a professional or someone you already know (who you think “knows you”) or from someone who should “know better”.
Aside from the “forget about it” advice so frequently offered, the next suggestion is to “develop thicker skin” but I have to tell you, after all the years of doing abuse-related work “the look” still cuts me to the core. Doesn’t matter if I’m getting “the look” from a federal judge, some lady at a movie theater or a family member – it just hurts all the same.
Part of it, I think, is not in our (a victim-survivor’s) ability to effectively communicate or present ourselves inasmuch as it is a lack of understanding and comprehension by those in the majority.
Logic demands that we make sense of our experiences and the information presented to us but if you’re not looking at the experiences and the information presented to you through the “looking glass” of abuse, communication and appearances are just all kinds of crazy which means “the look” and the accompanying distancing, rejection and dismissiveness that follow.
Incidents and accounts of DV and abuse sound like far-out, unbelievable and fantastic tales to the "unaffected" majority UNTIL they're reported on the evening news as the details leading up to a homicide. (Those victims don't get "the look" - you only get it if you successfully escape the situation and report the details of what you've survived or someone thinks that he/she knows the entire truth of your situation when he/she is totally clueless - how's that for another parting gift of DV? Congratulations!)
It’s only when people are presented with a looking glass that it suddenly all makes sense but by that time it’s too late because they’ve fallen down Alice’s Rabbit Hole and are seated at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from which there is no return.
One of the best illustrations of what I’m talking about comes from a scene in the movie, “Ghost”, specifically in the accompanying You Tube video at the 1:00 – 2:00 time marker.
If you recall from the movie, Carl is completely unaware of a very real after-life that Sam (Patrick Swayze) is now a part of. Abuse survivors are akin to Sam’s character when he says “Oh Carl…” because abuse survivors don’t want anyone to cross over into their reality (from which there is no escape) so they try to warn, educate and explain the horrors of abuse and agony of “successfully” surviving it to the unaffected majority who believe that “it” (getting tangled up in an abusive relationship) “won’t happen to me or anyone I know/love”. Time and time again, however, despite best efforts all around, people still wind up living Carl’s experience: “Oh, wow, hey – you weren’t kidding…” Too late…
(Actually, when looking at this clip, I thought – “Hmmm, Sam’s symbolically acting out desperate education and advocacy efforts to warn folks away from our Rabbit Hole experience…”. Sorry, graveyard humor here - couldn't resist.)
But what happens next? In absence of the majority “crossing over” to join us at the Mad Hatter’s table to gain the appropriate insight and empathy, the best we can do is hold our heads high and keep on keepin’ on when we’re given “the look”.
What’s most important to remember whenever you’re given “the look” is that it’s not you or about you – it is truly the manifestation of that person’s problem. Can you help it if he/she bought into a lie or some mistruth? Is it your fault that the person would rather believe gossip than to seek out gospel truth? How is someone else’s ignorance your fault? And you know what? If this is the way someone’s going to treat you when he/she doesn’t even know you, why do you want to know or associate with him/her?
One thing I’ve found fascinating about human nature is how we handle rejection. If we can walk away from someone/something, we’re at peace BUT if someone takes someone or something away from us, it’s like a gut-reaction to try to hold onto it or that person even if we were planning on getting rid of the thing or person in the first place! Even more fascinating is that people will actively pursue something/someone that’s been taken away from them even if that thing or person is bad and/or unhealthy for them AND they didn’t want that thing or person in their life to begin with!
In my experience, even when someone realizes that they’ve misjudged you and has treated you less than respectfully (repeatedly) don’t expect an apology or some gesture of reparation on their part. Sadly decency, courtesy or manners (or perhaps, the courage?) to acknowledge, own up to and make amends for unjustified mistreatment is just too embarrassing, too humiliating or too uncomfortable to do. Again, that’s not your problem or character flaw, it’s theirs!
If someone’s given you “the look” in error, chances are at your next encounter you’ll either get an over-the-top warm welcome or he/she will act like nothing out of the ordinary happened the last time. When this happens, DON’T get confused! (Because again, victim-survivors will start a running self-inventory trying to understand why they’re not getting “the look” this time.)
For those who turn to Christ for console, look to Him as well on how to handle all of this because He gave us an excellent road map to follow and set a pretty good example too. For those who just aren’t there yet, take some measure of comfort in where Carl ended up.