March 22, 2017

The Healing Journey for Abusers & Those Who Didn't Intercede

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!

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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.  


Next week, we will talk about the Family System Circles - which comes after the four healing circles, and why that is the natural evolution of this work.  It is not always possible, but when it is, we start to see the true ability of a family system to heal from Child Sexual Abuse.        

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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. 

March 14, 2017

The Path Forward for Survivors & Their Families

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.

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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.


Read Part 3: The Healing Journey for Abusers & Those Who Didn't Intercede




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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. 

March 8, 2017

A Restorative Justice Response to Child Sexual Abuse

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.

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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  


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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. 

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