October 18, 2013

When People Dismiss Your Story

Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are a painful  memory for a dear friend of mine, who happens to be a woman in ministry.

My friend comes from a very large, religious family. Every holiday the parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would gather for the family dinner. Following  the meal, all of the women in the family would retreat to the kitchen where they would spend time putting the leftovers away in Tupperware containers.  

Photo Credit: vxla, Flickr

Organizing into an assembly line of sorts they would proceed to wash and dry all of the china and put it back in the cabinet. With the dishes back in order, they would gather up all the linens to launder them and begin to put the dining room back in order. This would take quite a while with such a large family and all that went into the elaborate dinners.

While all the ladies in the family were busy as bees accomplishing these tasks after the meal, my friend was in another area of the house...

with her grandfather…

who was raping her.

It happened holiday after holiday. 
Year after year.
From the time she was just a little girl, throughout elementary school.

No one in the family, or among the community or church members, would have ever believed her grandfather capable of such evil.
The women in the family worked as they gabbed on and on...
talking and laughing...
dishes clanging...
water running in the sink...
wiping down counters and tables...
folding up the card tables where the children dined at the "kids tables"...
oblivious that a little girl was being brutalized on the other side of the house.

My friend is a strong leader, today. She has completed therapy and is not just a survivor.  She thrives. And yet the holiday seasons can still bring a trigger at times.  

When my friend grew up she found the courage to share what happened to her. 
Some family members believed her and others didn't. 

Being in the same house, growing up in the same family -- all of the cousins having the same grandpa -- some of them just couldn't fathom it.  

Some outright refused to even try.

They were there...right?  There, in the same house.
How could this be true? 

Dismissal is not limited to those who have experienced abuse. 

Anyone sharing their personal story can be dismissed. 

And when dismissal happens, it hurts.

Today, I want to focus on two common forms of dismissal when adoptees share. They are not the only forms, just the two I speak of today.

Two Types of Dismissal Adoptees Face:

1) We are dismissed by those who label us as someone who, "must have had a bad experience."
Some adoptees had good experiences in their adoptive home, yet when they speak out about adoption reform, they are dismissed as someone who, “must have had a bad experience," and therefore don't count.

Adoptee activists are often branded as those whose adoptions, "must not have worked out," otherwise they wouldn't be vocalizing the need for change. People with no understanding of the flaws in the adoption system or the lack of equal rights for adoptees are puzzled by people with good adoptive homes would speak out about these issues.   

We speak out about adoption reform and equal rights, not because our adoptive homes were good or bad, but simply because it's the right thing to do.  We advocate for those who are coming behind us -- those who can't speak for themselves.

My friend Amanda says:   "Regarding how to deal with dismissive 'you just had a bad adoption experience' comments, I reply in a way that lets people know that the issues in adoption are up for debate; however, my adoption narrative is not."

2) We are dismissed by those who experienced life closely beside us and see things differently.

Even those who grow up in the same family don't have the same exact experience. 

There are adoptees who were raised in dysfunctional adoptive homes. When sharing their story publicly, or calling for adoption reform, others will often attempt to dismiss, challenge or correct their story -- especially people in the family.

The critics may say, “Yours was a good home. You had a happy childhood. I was there! I witnessed it myself..." 

These people are reminiscent of the ladies who washed dishes, oblivious to what was going on under their own noses!  

Consider that my friend was raped repeatedly, yet her cousins were never raped. Same family, totally different experience.

Her cousins could share their personal stories, which would be valid as well. 
But her family members are not all happy that she shares her story.  '
Sharing as she does has the potential to affect others, both positively and negatively. 
 My friend ministers to those who are sexually abused. 
She has helped thousands. 
And yet, even as she shares truth that sets thousands free, it pains her family terribly.

They wish she would stop. 

On a Personal Level

Have I ever had someone dismiss my story?

Unfortunately, yes. And I know this is common. I don't think I know an adoptee who hasn't had at least one person dismiss them.

Some people have had the guts to say something to me personally.  And to those people, I have said, "This is my story.  You have the right to tell YOUR story, but I own mine. Write or share your own."

I've never met a dismisser yet who wants to share their personal story.
They just want brave people to stop sharing theirs.

Every person who has ever dismissed me says something like: "Oh no...I don't want to share openly. I would never write a blog.  I'm a private person. I don't process things publicly like you do."

Some call it lack of wisdom, I call it courage.
Some call it TMI, I call it transparency.
Some call it discretion, I call it pride.
Some call it unnecessary, I call it empowering.
Some call it inappropriate, I call it brave.

The bottom line...

When an adoptee tells their story -- listen, affirm, validate, encourage – or be quiet.

Never, never, never dismiss someone’s story.
You didn't live their life.
Even if you were very close by, even if you are in the same family, you did not have the same experience.

It's their story, not yours.