Elizabeth Clemants | March 15, 2017
This week, we continue our series with Elizabeth Clemants who takes on the very hard work of addressing the healing journey for those who have caused harm or who have stood by while abuse was occurring and did nothing. Not easy -- but the more healed each person on this planet is, the better off we all will be.
In order for a family system to heal from the impact of child sexual abuse, it is important to understand the full extent of the harm that occurred. This means giving voice to both those who were directly harmed (Green circle) as well as those who experienced the toxic reverberations of the abuse (Blue circle).
Additionally, the full prospect of healing from CSA is best realized by giving space to those who cause harmed – either directly or indirectly – within the family system.
There are two types of harm that we talk about in CSA - the actual physical-sexual harm, and then all the reactions to it afterward, from all the different people involved. Many people who identify as victims of CSA report that a greater harm was the response of another family member upon learning about the abuse. In recognition of this, Hidden Water has two other healing circles: the Purple Circle for those who caused the direct harm of CSA, and the Orange Circle for non-offending parents and care-givers.
Whether you are the survivor or the perpetrator of harm, there is the same reaction to a shame event (see previous post): denial, minimizing, justifying, deflection, blaming the victim, engaging in addictions, or shutting down in other ways.
But for the one who caused harm, the second stage of healing is different:taking responsibility for the impact of your behavior, and feeling remorse.
The third stage of healing is making a genuine apology, and making amends, but until the person has taken responsibility for the impact of the behavior and felt remorse for that impact, a genuine apology isn’t possible.
For this reason, we have the Purple and Orange healing circles. These healing circles provide a safe environment for those who have caused harm to move through the stages of denial, minimizing, deflecting, blaming, and do the very difficult work of stepping into feeling the impact of ones behavior and feeling remorse.
These circles are powerful opportunities to look at your own behavior, owning it among people who have also caused that kind of harm, and coming to a place where you can make that acknowledgement to the victim - if that is appropriate.
In the Purple Circle, participants facing the remorse and pain of having caused such harm is often coupled with the recognition that they have themselves experienced this harm. The block to owning the impact seems to be an unwillingness to acknowledge their own experience. When the person can face their own experience of CSA, the pain they caused another seems to fall on them like an avalanche. From there, they can pick up the pieces and really feel the impact of their behavior. Some people who have harmed a child will never do this work. I reserve the word perpetrator for someone who is unwilling, or unable to look at the impact of their behavior. I have deep compassion for how hard that work truly is - and I also see that until someone does it, they may be in danger of harming another.
It has always been interesting to me how many survivors of CSA speak to the real pain of the abuse being the way their family responded to them, in particular the non-offending parent. Somehow we hold a very low standard for the one who harmed us physically, but the non-offending parent is held to a higher standard which requires a great deal of consciousness to respond appropriately.
Often that non-offending parent stays in relationship to the perpetrator and asks the survivor to move past it so life can go back to “normal”. This is sometimes that non-offending parent’s child, spouse, sibling or parent - and the non-offending parent struggles to know how to negotiate protecting their child, and not losing the relationship to the perpetrator.
The work that happens in the Orange Circle is two-fold. First the non-offending parent needs a chance to feel the impact of their non-action or their attitudes toward the issue. This is difficult, especially since it is often many years of trying to push it into the background and move on from it that have left the family in this position. Second, the circle asks the non-offending parent what can be done now to recover from damage done. Once you see that every day, every comment, all the silence that continues to go on continues to damage the family system. It is often this non-offending parent leadership that is needed here to heal the system.
Elizabeth Clemants| March 15, 2017
This week, we continue our series with Elizabeth Clemants who shares about the importance of survivors reaching a place of acknowledgement and for family members and friends to also be given the support to explore how they have been impacted by the abuse their loved one experienced.
Last week I provided an overview of the work of Hidden Water, which endeavors to help survivors and their family members heal from the devastating impact of child sexual abuse (CSA). This work is done in two stages, first as an individual in a Healing Circle and then as a group in a Family System Circle. There are four types of healing circles offered, corresponding to four basic “roles” in the family:
(Green) For those who have been harmed sexually as children
(Purple) For those who have harmed a child within their family system sexually
(Orange) For those who had the responsibility of keeping a child safe from harm, but through inaction or not knowing, were unable to do so,
(Blue) For family members and supporters who were not harmed and did not harm a child sexually.
In the Healing Circles, individuals who identify as belonging in one of these circles come together to support one another in facing the impact of CSA on their lives. Participants explore areas for personal growth and are introduced to a three-stage model of repairing from harm, which is based on the restorative justice theory. This model highlights a path to healing for participants.
This first stage involves maneuvers that cloud the impact of what happened, like Denying (“it didn’t happen”), Minimizing (“It’s not a big deal”), Justifying (“I had a good reason”), Deflection (“Don’t look at me, I’m not the one that…”), and Blaming (“It’s your own fault”).
These moves are reactions meant to move away from shame -- a powerful and painful emotion that people will go to great lengths to avoid feeling. Being harmed can make us feel like we are less than someone else, maybe even less than human. We are not seen by the other, but projected onto in some way that causes us shame. Similarly, causing harm can be a shameful event.
Too many people who experience CSA don’t leave this first stage. In this space, they devote a lot of energy to suppressing shame. For many, the efficacy of this strategy will diminish and they may develop addictions to help in their effort.
Healing from CSA can only occur if we step into the second phase of healing: acknowledging the impact of the abuse on us, and getting angry about it. People
so often tell me they have forgiven the person that did this, and are “over it”. And yet, it continues to show itself in dysfunctional patterns in relationships and situations, in depression and anxiety, in physical ailments. If you have never let yourself be angry and acknowledged the impact of the abuse - even to yourself, then you have not moved into true forgiveness yet.
Hidden Water is built precisely to give those who have been harmed by CSA an opportunity to find a safe space to explore the actual impact of the abuse over time. It seems that this cannot be done in isolation. In the circles, as we listen and hold space for others to give voice to the impact of the abuse on their lives, we see the many facets of how CSA has seeped into our lives and changed us in unconscious ways. This is true of all the members of a family, not just the ones that were harmed physically - but all the members were harmed in many ways. All need to be given the opportunity to explore how, and give voice to the feelings that come with that.
The BLUE circle is a great example of how this needs to be done by all. We are continuously amazed to see how the harm of CSA reaches everyone in the system with many harm events coming after the abuse has been disclosed. The family and friends who were not directly involved in the harm need an opportunity to express how they have been affected. Once they have, they are more able to hold space, have insight, power and compassion for the other people in the family. Often these are siblings, best friends, uncles, aunts, cousins, family friends, spouses of those that were harmed.
In Hidden Water, we are trying to build an army of healed folks within the family system to lend support to the overall healing and world view in a family. When you have people in the family that are no longer afraid to speak the situation out loud, who can see the harm of silence and denial, who will be vigilantly watching over the next generation for signs of abuse - there is suddenly support for those that were harmed in a way that was lacking before. When someone tries to minimize the abuse, or blame the victim, it is the healed BLUE person that is often right there to correct the false thinking, speak out for safety and health and acknowledge the on-going impact of the abuse.
And in this way, the family system starts to heal.
Next week: Orange and Purple: healing circle for those who have harmed; directly, or indirectly.
Final week: Healing the family system through accountability and understanding
Elizabeth Clemants | March 8, 2017
A few month's ago, I had the great pleasure of connecting with Elizabeth Clemants, who has played a huge part in creating Hidden Water NYC, a restorative justice program designed to help individuals heal from the devastating impact of child sexual abuse within a family system. Importantly, they have developed programs for family members, advocates, and abusers. It is a great honor to have her here this month sharing about their programs and perspective on how we can address this epidemic.
Child sexual abuse is prevalent in our society. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience child sexual abuse in the United States. This alarmingly high number is compounded by the reality that the abuse is not an isolated event – it has a profound lasting impact on the person who was harmed, as well as on family members and future generations. Beyond the family system, child sexual abuse (CSA) is considered an antecedent to crime, drug and alcohol abuse, incarceration, suicide attempts, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, cutting and other trauma reactions that ultimately have an effect on the greater society.
Hidden Water is a not for profit organization formed in 2015 to help victims and their relatives heal from the devastating impact of child sexual abuse using a restorative justice framework.The Hidden Water model takes the view that CSA produces a constellation of harm that reverberates throughout an impacted family. Everyone is affected, and healing comes from the family members — not just the one directly harmed. Hidden Water works with four distinct groups of people harmed by CSA; 1) those who were harmed, 2) those who harmed a child, 3) the non-offending parent(s) or caregivers, and 4) family and friends.
Healing from CSA, regardless of which category you identify with, involves shifting the response we have to the event — minimizing, denying, blaming, justifying, deflecting or shutting down — and moving through the pain that is being avoided: shame. The avoidance of shame leads to self-denying and self-destructive behaviors, such as the use of addictions of all sorts. We believe that if people knew how to walk the path to healing their family, they would. Given the opportunity to courageously take the steps to acknowledge the impact of the abuse on each person, families can heal themselves, and keep the abuse from finding its way to the next generation.
The mistake many families make is to believe that “it happened so long ago” when in fact the events continue to impact a family that has never properly faced it together. It takes leadership, strength, and a willingness to face the often unspoken pain that surround the events, and all the shame events that have happened since the original abuse.
In the coming weeks, we will write about the wisdom that comes from the four healing circles mentioned above and the family system that is deeply impacted by them.
Next week: Green and Blue: healing circles for those who have been harmed.
Following week: Orange and Purple: healing circle for those who have harmed; directly, or indirectly.
Final week: Healing the family system through accountability and understanding
Elizabeth is a social worker at heart. She has always been interested in the intersection of social work and the law. To that end, she attend Columbia University School of Social Work where she graduated with an MSW and a Minor in Law. She immediately went to work in the field of conflict resolution and has been practicing ADR since 1997. She has founded three programs in conflict resolution, of which Hidden Water is one, where she serves a Board President. She also founded and runs Small Business Arbitration Center with the aim of offering truly affordable, binding conflict resolution services to small businesses and their clients. Elizabeth is also the principal trainer at Planning Change, whose mission it is educate and empower individuals to affect meaningful change in the conflicts around them. In addition to the programs, Elizabeth works as a mediator, a coach, a shaman and speaks regularly at events and conferences.
Rachel Grant | November 15th, 2016
Have you ever walked by a pie shop and, upon smelling a fresh backed pumpkin pie, been transported back in time to a fond memory of Thanksgiving? Or maybe caught a glimpse of a stranger with certain features and found yourself thinking about that girl or guy from way back when? How about a significant other who one day playfully wrestles with you, and all of a sudden you find yourself lashing out at him without really understanding why? What exactly is occurring neurologically and what are the implications for the recovery from the trauma of past abuse?
According to Daniel Siegel in The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are (1999, Guilford Press), “understanding how trauma affects the developing brain can yield insights into the subsequent impairments of memory processing and the ability to cope with stress.” Before exploring the impairments and coping he refers to, let’s take a quick look at how memories are created and recalled in the first place.
There is a saying -- neurons that fire together, wire together. When we have an experience, neuronal pathways are created in the brain by neurons firing and connecting to create a neural net. When we smell the pumpkin pie, what is actually happening is that a particular neuronal pathway is ignited. This neural net has now been modified in that it holds the initial memory of Thanksgiving with family and now the time walking by the store and experiencing the same smell. Thus, the neuronal pathway is expanded and reinforced by the reactivation.
Now, consider the implication if, instead of the warm smell of pumpkin pie, the experience is trauma or fear. As Siegel points out, with “chronic occurrence, these states can become more readily activated (retrieved) in the future, such that they become characteristic traits of the individual. In this way, our lives can become shaped by reactivations of implicit memory, which lack a sense that something is being recalled. We simply enter these engrained states and experience them as the reality of our present experience.”
This is what Siegel means by “impairments of memory processing.” You respond to your significant other in the moment with fear and anger thinking that what he is doing is the problem, when, instead, a neuronal pathway has been triggered and the implicit memory of your abuser restraining you is activated. This is what you are responding to in reality. The same thing occurs in response to stressors. If our experience starts to make us feel trapped or scared, we may respond in the same way we did when needing to survive the abuse rather than in a way that actually addresses the present day stressor.
So then, are we always to be held hostage by these firing neurons? Absolutely not! “Each day is literally the opportunity to create a new episode of learning, in which recent experience will become integrated with the past and woven into the anticipated future” (Siegel). Neurons can be re-wired!
Perhaps the first step is to simply absorb the fact that many of our present day responses, thoughts, emotions are nothing but a neuronal pathway lighting up! Recognition of this creates space for the individual to consider the possibility that what they think or feel is going on may not be what is, in fact, really happening.
Secondly, as Siegel states, when one is able to inhibit the engrained state and respond to a situation, trigger, or stressor in a new way, that neuronal pathway will be adapted. The more frequently this occurs, the more modified the neuronal pathway becomes, and the behavior, thought, or emotion that is produced is also modified.
Finally, from my experience coaching women who have been sexually abused or raped, the ability to actually respond in a new way comes as a result of, first, identifying simply what is actually happening without adding any emotion or interpretation. Next, by looking for all of the possible explanations (not just the ones that reinforce the ideas we already have), one can then respond in a considered manner based on these reflections rather than on the initial gut (neuronal) instinct. Hence, a new response occurs and the neuronal pathway is modified.
While the brain is a very complex system and much of the neuropsychological research has produced mostly conjectures and theories at the present time, for anyone in recovery and/or striving toward lives that are thriving, understanding how abuse impacts brain development and memory can only support you in your journey.
Whenever I am coaching someone around issues of trauma - regardless of whether it be sexual abuse, physical abuse, or divorce, using techniques to retrain the brain is a part of what I do!
One great way to build on what you’ve learned in today’s post is to join my free Healing from Sexual Abuse Video Course: www.rachelgrantcoaching.com/brokentobeyond
I sent this email to just "my contacts" and the response was overwhelming. The email seems to have been forwarded all over the country. I was humbled by the number of people that reached out to me with their stories, encouragement and offers of assistance as well as their desire to participate. Thank you to all, as this is truly a powerful movement.
January 2, 2016
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am writing to share about my latest project and let you know about an opportunity to be involved.
I am very excited to announce the launch of Hidden Water, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to helping individuals and families heal from the devastating impact of intra-familial child sexual abuse.
In my career as a social worker and shaman I have worked with hundreds of clients who have suffered from being involved in a family system impacted by child sexual abuse. Whether they were the one harmed, the one who had done the harm, or among the family members who did not know how to help -- anyone who is touched by these circumstances see their life profoundly affected.
Hidden Water has a unique mission to restore balance to individuals and/or a family system where such abuse has occurred. Many of these families do not seek intervention from the criminal court when the abuse surfaces, and after many years, even decades, find that having had no response to the abuse keeps the individuals and the family system from being able to heal and truly move on.
Hidden Water uses Peace Keeping Circles, an indigenous methodology closely aligned with Restorative Justice, as the format for the healing conversations. Of all the healing work that I have done for myself, or use to help others, I have found nothing more profound than the use of these circles. The group work seems to exponentially increase the power of change, growth, healing and insight.
I am currently looking for individuals who would like to participate in healing circles with me, starting in February. There will be four groups for: 1) people who were harmed by child sexual abuse, 2) people who harmed a sibling sexually within their family system, 3) people who were responsible for the safety of the child, but through inaction or not knowing were unable to keep that child from harm, and 4) members of a family system in which sexual abuse occurred.
I will be facilitating all the groups myself, and will have room for only four participants in each group. These groups will meet at the convenience of the four participants who sign up, and will be free of charge. The groups will run for 12 consecutive weeks. Though it is not necessary that you are able to make every meeting, I ask that you do not take a spot from someone else if you don't think you can commit to the majority of the meetings.
I look forward to finding my partners in this important and ground breaking work. My hope is that those that participate in these healing circles may be interested in training to be facilitators themselves, and in this way, the work can grow and reach the myriad others who are in need of such services, support and help.
If you are interested in participating, please reach out to me personally at: email@example.com
If you are interested in learning more about Hidden Water or would like to make a donation to support this important work, please go to our new website:
Thank you all for your support over the many years I have known all of you.
Happy New Year.
Elizabeth Clemants | June 4, 2014
Fifteen years ago I mediated a case between a 13-year-old girl and her mother. The 13 year old wanted visitation with her younger brother, and with the help of her foster mother, started a mediation case with the court. The girl had been removed from her mother’s home when it came out that she was being sexually abused by the mother’s boyfriend. After being removed from the home, the mother refused to let her daughter see or talk to her little brother who had remained in the home. The mother was upset and insisted that the daughter had “seduced her boyfriend”. She was 8 years old when the abuse started.
In the mediation, I responded to this information with a very un-mediator like move, which was to definitively announce my opinion: “Eight year old girls do not seduce grown men. What you are referring to here is called child sexual abuse.” The daughter seemed to feel validated and supported by my pronouncement and the mother looked down without another word about it. We proceeded with the mediation, and worked out an agreement between the two for the brother to visit his sister. This case ended and I never heard of or saw them again. But I have never forgotten that case.
That case has continued through all these years to turn over in my mind. Should I have come out so strongly with an opinion like that? And what is the role of a seemingly-objective opinion given by the mediator? What can a mediator do to challenge minimization, denial, and deflection from a party – without compromising their neutrality? Is it permissible in conflict resolution to expect insight – not just set the stage for the possibility, but to ask for it directly?
For the past year and a half I have been developing a process to address cases with adult victims of child sexual abuse. Derived from models of family therapy and rooted in Restorative Justice circle practices, the goal of the process is to restore balance to the family system as a whole, while also addressing the need for consequences to the perpetrators. These consequences could range from listening and taking in the impact of the abuse on each individual, to concrete restitution or removal from the system. The group as a whole is empowered to decide how to proceed forward in a way that is unique to their family.
Today I took the next step toward testing out these ideas and mediated another child sexual abuse case. Due to the sensitive nature of the process, my “test” employed actors to play the family roles in this child abuse case – based on the facts from that original case 15 years ago. The process is highly structured to ensure safety, and to prevent further victimization during the session. The facilitator ensures that everyone speaks solely for themselves and about their own experiences and empowers them to distinguish what happened from the story they made up about it. During the test I worked to try to hold the perpetrator both accountable for his behavior, while listening with compassion as he struggled to take in the impact of what he had done, and the extent of the damage it had caused.
The feedback from the day indicated that the participants, both the perpetrators and the victims, found the process to be highly effective, and reported feeling more hopeful than when they came. Although there was still work to be done in reconciling the family, the path forward was more clear, and they each felt lighter — having had the chance to communicate directly regarding the impact of the abuse. They also reported being amazed at the complexity of the feelings they each had, as they got a glimpse of the impact the abuse had had on the family system.
The current name for the project is Hidden Water: Center for Healing and Justice. I look forward to continuing this work, as the prevalence of families suffering from the devastation of this type of abuse on their dynamic – even after decades – is astonishing. I am grateful to my collaborator, Cat Greenstreet, who has worked with me in developing this idea and I am looking forward to next steps in bringing this process forward. Directing resources toward and focusing on these family systems in a new way is long overdue.
HIDDEN WATER IS A NOT FOR PROFIT ORGANIZATION DEPENDENT SOLELY ON INDIVIDUAL DONATIONs
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