May 22

“The Apology”: Eve Ensler’s Abusive Father

I thought, maybe I need to write the apology I want to hear. I need to see what it looks like. And maybe it could be a blueprint for what a deep, true, authentic reckoning would look like. Eve Ensler, author of The Apology, to Melissa Jeltsen, HuffPost

In this triumph of artistry and empathy, Eve Ensler leaves us with a transformative question: what if the words we most long to hear from another can be located within ourselves? Naomi Klein

Eve Ensler’s book is for people like me who find apologies to be perfunctory and unsatisfying, even infuriating without a clear-eyed reckoning of why the hurt was done. Here is a guide for those who have not received the apology they deserve, and for those who know there is one they’ve yet to give. Kimberlé Crenshaw

“The apology” in question is an imagining of what Eve Ensler‘s abusive father might offer if he were alive and willing and capable of doing so. Erin Kodicek’s review of this new book (for 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…

More about Ensler’s view of 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. Yet according to her book, apologies have strict guidelines: the 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.

As Ensler told Eliana Dockterman, Time, regarding a segment of her audience:

Ensler tells me that it’s one of her ‘deep fantasies’ that abusers will use her book as a blueprint for an apology done right. She’s been disappointed by the self-pitying public statements released, particularly over the past year and a half, by men accused of abusing women. ‘I haven’t seen a single man reckon with what he’s done,’ she says. ‘Sixteen thousand years of patriarchy, and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a real, public apology from a man.’

Ron Charles, Washington Post, on the potential benefits of Ensler’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.’

Want more about this book? Read an excerpt at Literary Hub.

In closing, author Anne Lamott‘s review: The Apology is profound and theatrical, literary and sometimes funny, as all of Eve Ensler’s work is, and it goes without saying, it’s courageous, transformative, and yes–healing.”

Jul 06

“Trauma and Recovery”: Up to Date with Judith Herman’s 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, out tomorrow, 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.