Our Town Column (weekly column)
Gail Mountain (email@example.com)
Balance power: Work to ‘become the change you want to see.’
Last week, I was tempted out into the cold of the night – twice – to attend two community evens, a book reading and a lecture. First, I heard Greg Gibson speak about his book, “Goneboy: A Walkabout.” Then I heard Sharon Simone speak about her life, the story of a little girl who had been sexually abused by her father.
Both events seemed to be about two different things. Gibson lost his son to a shooter and Simone lost her childhood to an abuser. But, the common denominator was violence.
The violent connection to Gibson’s story is obvious. His son was randomly, brutally murdered on a college campus. Simone’s violent connection was a little less obvious, to the uninitiated, as she was billed as the victim of sexual abuse. And, her lecture did not, specifically, focus on the sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father, an FBI agent who was also an expert in child abuse. She said she was beyond that.
She wanted to talk about the absolute root of violence which, she has come to believe, is the imbalance of power in relationships. If there is no equality of power, then the seeds for violence are there, ready for action, against the self, or against others, she said.
Certainly, there was no balance of power between this child and her father, a well-respected G-man.
Most striking about Simone’s talks was how she still struggles with the baggage she brought to her children: three out of six kids were suicidal; two were in battering relationships; one was an alcoholic; one remains addicted to drugs. The others are OK.
Simone, now 55, was successful, a wife and a mother. She believed she had overcome her abuse as a child, until she hit her 40s and lost her ability to stay in control of her feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal.
As a result, she sought help. She confronted her father and won a case in court against him. She said she needed to do that to feel she now had power over a situation she had had no control over as a child.
She needed to find that balance of power.
Once she had done that, she was able to learn about her own behavior which, although it had resulted from her very real trauma, was affecting her entire life as well as the people around her.
A major component of her life, of keeping herself feeling in control, was to constantly give and do. It made her feel strong and powerful but it made others feel inadequate and resentful.
She also learned that, as a result of feeling she was ‘under her father,’ symbolically as well as physically, she rebelled against boundaries and gave her children few rules or consequences.
She literally ran from feeling anything. She became violent toward herself, preferring to feel the pain of hurting herself rather than the pain of what her father had done to her.
And, she said, in a voice still tinged with sadness, she learned that one of the most painful of her losses was ‘there can be no singing, no candles lit in celebration.’ She was unable to feel joy.
But today, Simone is okay, and from her own experiences she developed a personal philosophy about the balance of power that she is expanding to apply to a broader community of victims of violence.
That philosophy revolves around the belief we all have some ability to make change—by becoming the change we want to see. It is not a unique philosophy. It’s not even unique that powerlessness breeds violence. Some know it, some don’t.
But, what is unique is Simone’s ability to overcome the ultimate (outside of murder) violence that can be done to a child, sexual abuse by a trusted parent; accept her own destructive behavior, face it head on and work to untangle it, and put a face on it and take her story on the road to help the rest of us understand the ramifications of the loss of individual power.
We may never know the power imbalance that affected Wayne Lo, who murdered Galen Gibson, but it’s a safe bet it was there.
From Simone we can learn to be aware of any imbalances of power in our own lives and work to balance it.
If we don’t, Simone said, people will put up shields. They will not be in contact, and it is being in contact that allows us to feel. ‘One of the profound effects of violence is separation from oneself and others,’ she said. ‘What if it’s about us, not just me?’ she asks.
Think about that.