Today I read many reactions to the guilty verdict of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, including in the newsletter of The Queen of Rejection, my friend Dr. Elayne Savage, who talked a bit about the unfair power advantage that occurs in situations of abuse. I also heard commentators saying Sandusky had no reaction as he left the courtroom, yet I was struck by the look in his eyes. He was stunned to the core. So I have some comments on some little-discussed aspects of this case, which I share with you here.
As a victim of sexual abuse myself, I’m very interested in this topic, and have a few thoughts I want to share as we all react to this terrible situation.
1) It seems strange, in these times when even children threaten their parents with calling authorities to report abuse (there’s that much information about it in our culture), that anyone, especially an institution whose responsibility it is to educate and keep young people safe, would not pay attention to this issue. Why? Thoughts that come to my mind include the idea that it’s time for us to take a look at a) the respect we do and don’t give to kids and b) the culture-wide acceptance that boys should suppress their emotions and just tough things out, but certainly not report that you’ve been hurt! Because I view this world as a “Giant School,” to which we’ve all come in order to grow, one of the ways I look at a situation like the Sandusky case (and behavior) is as a possible “lesson” we need to learn. Why, in a period of at least 15 years, did only one person speak up and get changes made, as did star witness, then graduate student Mike McQueary? Why did none of the boys speak up? (Or if they did, was anyone listening)? An Incredible Kid would know to speak up, and their Incredible Parents would be listening and would know to take action. Events such as this allow us to see what we’re all “not doing.” We need to start teaching our kids to speak up, and to expect and receive respect.
2) Reporters said Sandusky had no reaction. When I watched him on my tv, he seemed totally dazed. I kept being drawn to his dazed eyes. With my years of work on “Energy Sapping” (co-dependence, manipulation), I know that people who are highly manipulative tend to get to the point that they believe that no one “gets” what they’re doing, so they are free to do whatever they want! When finally stopped (in this case it took a BIG hand of the law), the person is stunned, not understanding why what they’ve been doing hasn’t been okay. This seems crazy, when we know we’re talking about child sexual abuse, but with a person who has been able to “get away with” manipulative, self-serving behaviors for years and years, such a person can even feel “wronged” and “misunderstood” when stood up to, having arrived at the point of feeling that whatever they choose to do is okay in this world. One of the most powerful things parents can do is help their children grow out of manipulation/co-dependence. Most people say that manipulation is “normal.” I say that it is “common,” but it is not “normal.” Manipulation is actually a set of behaviors that are designed to be left behind in childhood, and not brought into adulthood. Yet most of us manipulate, thinking all the time that we’re “normal.” Here at Raise Incredible Kids we offer material on ending co-dependence (manipulation)–what it takes and how to go about doing that in your own life. Imagine how much nicer the world will be for you and your kids when we eliminate the behavior of “needing” to take energy from others (without their permission), instead of asking for their involvement and being okay when they say “no”!
3) So many people are talking about “scarred for life”. I sincerely hope the victims of this abuse do not adopt that stance and live it out for the rest of their lives. I was abused for three years, starting at age 12, by members of my own family. These events WERE powerful, life-shaping and painful for a long time. At the age of 40, I confronted my abuser, who (curiously enough) didn’t remember any of it! For an hour I repeated this phrase: “I was not too young to remember, I am not crazy, it did happen, you do need to take responsibility for your behavior.” After an hour, I received an apology, even though this individual claimed still not to remember any of it. When he died, he told family members he was proudest of having “lived a moral life.” Amazing, eh? I’ve concluded that all of us like to see ourselves as good people.
So this happened in my life. How much MORE of my life’s energy do I want to give to this painful, dis-empowering experience? Absolutely none! That way I give the perpetrators permission to “get me twice”–once during the time of the abuse, and then for the rest of my life while I hold onto the (what we call “negative”) emotions related to the experience. I don’t want to give that power to those individuals! So, I have focused on forgiveness, which means to “let go,” and which frees ME up, more than it does the perpetrators! Once that was done, I have focused on “rewriting the story,” i.e. focusing on the positive, life-affirming and empowering things that have occurred and that I cause to occur in my daily life. This puts the abuse far behind me. I like that. I look forward to hearing that these victims have “rewritten” their story, so that Sandusky doesn’t continue to get the energy of their life, long after his brutal power moves.
Every day, there are things happening in our lives and in this world that are offering us an opportunity to grow and evolve. When we choose to learn and grow and evolve, we get finished with particular issues. We graduate! When we don’t choose to learn, we go over and over and over the same issues (and each time that issue is presented, it’s harsher). One of the things we promote here at Raise Incredible Kids is teaching our Kids the power of facing what is happening in our lives and focusing on learning the lesson that accompanies. We cover how to do this in our Basic Parenting course.