May 22

Eve Ensler (V) Seeks “The Apology” for Abuse

New book The Apology is what Eve Ensler (now known as V), women’s advocate and author of The Vagina Monologues and other incisive works, never got from her abusive father.

In The Apology Eve Ensler (V) imagines what her abusive father might offer her if he were alive and willing and capable of doing so. Erin Kodicek’s review (Amazon) serves as a suitable introduction:

Mahatma Gandhi once said: ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’ This quote came to mind as I was reading Eve Ensler’s slim but profoundly powerful The Apology. Written as if it were a letter from Ensler’s father, it recounts the sexual, physical and psychological abuse he inflicted on her from the ages of five to 10, and acknowledges the reverberating effects on her life. Moreover, it does what the master gaslighter and coward couldn’t before he died: take accountability for his crimes and ask for absolution…

How does V view these types of apologies? “She believes apologies are for both the person who gives and the person who receives. Offering an apology isn’t a punishment for an abuser — it’s a liberation.”

How should apologies be taken? “…(T)he perpetrator must say the crime out loud; acknowledge how his actions have impacted his victim; empathize with her; feel profound remorse; and do ‘extensive work’ to understand what made him commit the crime.”

Ron Charles, Washington Post, on the potential benefits of V’s type of process for all abuse survivors:

‘The Apology’ may be a very personal act of therapeutic recovery for the author, but Ensler also offers it as model for others. Most abused women, after all, will never hear an expression of sorrow from their tormentors. Ensler hopes victims can experience a degree of healing by writing the letter they need to hear. That process is already in use at City of Joy, a women’s center Ensler founded in Congo. ‘We can actually shift the way those predators live inside us,’ she says, ‘and move them inside us from a monster to an apologist.’

A note about the role of therapy in V’s life. Previously I had the honor of seeing her wonderful one-woman play In the Body of the World (which is also available as a memoir) in which she also addresses trauma. For 10 years Ensler/V saw therapists in New York who didn’t seem to adequately validate the effects of childhood sexual abuse by her father. When one finally did, it made all the difference.

And when V was diagnosed with cancer and afraid to undergo the intrusion of chemotherapy, this same female therapist offered a different way of looking at it. “The chemo is not for you, It is for the cancer, for all the past crimes, it’s for your father, it’s for the rapists, it’s for the perpetrators. You’re going to poison them now and they are never coming back. Chemo will purge the badness that was projected onto you but was never yours. I have total faith in your resilience and the magical capacities of your body and soul for healing…Welcome the chemo as empathetic warrior.”

Jul 06

“Trauma and Recovery”: Update of Judith Herman Classic

Originally published in 1992, psychiatrist Judith Herman‘s Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror has been viewed as a seminal work in the area of trauma and PTSD. The latest edition of Trauma and Recovery has a new afterword in which the author “chronicles the incredible response the book has elicited and explains how the issues surrounding the topic have shifted within the clinical community and the culture at large.


Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life.
The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood――establishing independence and intimacy――burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships.
She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.

The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried.

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.

When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.

The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness, which George Orwell, one of the committed truth-tellers of our century, called “doublethink,” and which mental health professionals, searching for calm, precise language, call “dissociation.”

The guarantee of safety in a battering relationship can never be based upon a promise from the perpetrator, no matter how heartfelt. Rather, it must be based upon the self-protective capability of the victim. Until the victim has developed a detailed and realistic contingency plan and has demonstrated her ability to carry it out, she remains in danger of repeated abuse.

After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment.

By developing a contaminated, stigmatized identity, the child victim takes the evil of the abuser into herself and thereby preserves her primary attachments to her parents. Because the inner sense of badness preserves a relationship, it is not readily given up even after the abuse has stopped; rather, it becomes a stable part of the child’s personality structure.

The mental health system is filled with survivors of prolonged, repeated childhood trauma. This is true even though most people who have been abused in childhood never come to psychiatric attention. To the extent that these people recover, they do so on their own. While only a small minority of survivors, usually those with the most severe abuse histories, eventually become psychiatric patients, many or even most psychiatric patients are survivors of childhood abuse. The data on this point are beyond contention. On careful questioning, 50-60 percent of psychiatric inpatients and 40-60 percent of outpatients report childhood histories of physical or sexual abuse or both. In one study of psychiatric emergency room patients, 70 percent had abuse histories. Thus abuse in childhood appears to be one of the main factors that lead a person to seek psychiatric treatment as an adult.