Restoration: Resetting the Scales
When we lose autonomy over ourselves, we become internally unbalanced. When others silence our voice, we cannot directly communicate, set boundaries, or restore internal order. So, instead of dealing with the real conflict, we war within ourselves. Luckily, we don’t have to live in an unbalanced state. We can achieve restoration, and we can be at peace with ourselves. But first we must understand the forces tipping the scale.
1. Toxic People
Violence in all forms usurps personal autonomy. Toxic people are those who use physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and even social controls to overpower others. There is a spectrum of toxicity. Most toxic people act from their insecurities, but some are down right psychopathic. Red flags of a toxic person include jealousy, greed, gossip, gaslighting, and negativity. No one is perfect, but if someone is constantly draining your energy, manipulating you or others around you, and engaging in behaviors that devalue you, the person is toxic to you. If you find yourself shrinking to please someone whose toxic, it’s time to set firm, healthy boundaries.
- You matter, too. Determine that, while your well-being isn’t more important than others,’ it is not less important, either.
- Learn to say, “No.” You’ve probably read, “You can’t please everyone. You are not Nutella.” This is true. No one’s Nutella. And even if someone were that amazing, there are still people who would criticize even Nutella (blasphemy!).
- Decide which behaviors are most damaging to you. Practice letting others know when they’ve acted in ways that dismiss, devalue, or disrespect you.
- Red flags should be deal breakers. Make a plan of action for times when others refuse to respect your boundaries. Distance yourself from people who continually devalue you.
- Learn your strengths. If you’re unsure of your strengths, check out Gallup Strength Finder. Develop and capitalize on your strengths. The more you use your gifts to do good in the world, the less insecure, needy, and unbalanced you’ll feel. You will begin to regain your confidence and your voice. You’ll start centering the scale.
2. Toxic Communities
You’ve heard the saying, “There’s power in numbers.” A second part of personal restoration is recognizing the enormous power our communities hold over us.
Every community has a social hierarchy. Those at the top of the chain wield more power, and those at the bottom wield less. Most communities operate on some form of tenure system. The members who’ve been in the longest are higher up in the chain. Other power dynamics at play in community hierarchies include wealth, gender, occupation, education level, race, ethnicity, and age.
When violence occurs within a community, hierarchies come into play. A very recent example of this dichotomy is the Catholic Church’s response to widespread allegations of sexual abuse. Where allegations of violence are top down (i.e., the aggressor’s place within the community hierarchy is above the victim’s), communities are more likely to employ tools of control.
- Distortion: Community members steal a victim’s experience and distort the facts by injecting themselves into the experience (e.g., faulty comparisons), framing others’ experiences within cultural stereotypes, and passing along distorted narratives in the form of gossip.
- Blame Shifting: Community members will try to rationalize violence by focusing on a victim rather than an abuser’s violent actions. They will cast the victim in a false light in efforts to mitigate abuse. Or they will criticize the victim, arrogantly focusing on what they believe the victim should have done or said (inherently implying themselves to be superior to the victim).
- Coerced Silence: Community members will punish victims, scolding, excluding, reacting with disgust toward, and even shunning victims.
- Insincere/Ineffective Responses: Some well-meaning community members will encourage victims silence in efforts to “keep community peace,” failing to recognize peace is breached the moment an offender violently acts on another person. These individuals counsel victims on how to avoid being victimized again and encourage victims to “deal” with their experiences “privately.”
The irony is these community members equivocate silence with a victim’s strength, when the reality is silence renders the victim powerless. Because higher ranking community members don’t silence themselves, silencing victims makes “private dealing” impossible.
Others in the community steal victims’ privacy rights. They take the victim’s private, personal experience and turn it in to public stock. Before long, everyone’s in on the trade. Even well-intentioned community members participate in robbing victims, buying shares in a stock that wasn’t for sell. They purchase access through gossip, whispers, discussions, debates, deliberations, judgments. They possess what they did not experience, all while victims themselves are denied the right to own, acknowledge, or speak of their own experience–of acts done to them, not by them.
Restoration of Communities & Community Boundaries
Toxic communities are much more dangerous to our inner peace than toxic people. Social structures compound influence on the individual spirit severely offsetting the power dynamic between group and individual. For this reason, it is essential to have a plan for combating toxicity in your community.
- Personal Autonomy is a God-Given Right: Personal autonomy is a kind of big deal to God. Didn’t God relinquish power over his Creation so that his creature could, by choice, be reconciled to and restored with Him? While God desires for us to be joined to Him, He places us within communities with others. Yet, He expects us to be separate from others–He expects us to maintain autonomy over our person, our mind, and our spirit.
- Communicate Convictions with Community Leaders: Healthy communities welcome open dialogue. Dialogue does not mean agreement. It means civilized discourse. If something feels off, it’s probably off. If the community has a “chain of command,” then follow the chain. If the leadership fails to engage in non-combative dialogue, it may be time to look for another community that is healthier for you.
- Create an Identity Outside of the Community: Where communities disrespect, disregard, dismiss, or devalue you, you must create distance. Return to the list above. Create a strong identity separate from the toxic group. Find and surround yourself with positive, encouraging people who treat you as a person of value.
Someone robbed of control over his own person needs the scales balanced in order to heal. Scale balancing is reclaiming ownership of one’s person and one’s personal experience. It’s truth-telling and truth-living. It’s about repositioning accountability for violent acts off of the victim’s side of the scale. It’s unburdening and living free. It isn’t about punishment, revenge, or “living in the past.” It’s about dignity. It’s about a person’s fundamental rights. Scale balancing is reconciliation, restoration, and peace.
Owning Our Experiences
The word experience comes from the Latin experientia, meaning “knowledge gained by repeated trials.” Our experiences–the good, the bad, and the ugly–teach us, change us, form our person. Allowing others to own our experience is to allow them to own us. We cannot be whole until we reclaim our experience and own it without shame.
When an entire community has taken ownership of another’s experience, a person may choose to restore balance through journaling, advocacy, social media campaigns, and volunteerism.
As Mennonite author and advocate Lisa Schirch says, “Social media democratizes information, allowing marginalized groups around the world, such survivors of sexual violence, to tell their stories.” Victims have every right to clarify what has been muddied, and they must be allowed to speak about, write about, and share their experiences free from shame.
Not only might their experiences raise awareness and protect others, but by sharing their negative experiences, they learn their experiences are universal, transcending time and place. They can connect and heal with others of similar experience.
Final Word: My Reclaimed Experience
This blog contains many of my own writings, sketches, paintings, thoughts. If I’m the only audience for these, then they’ve served my restoration. My primary reason for speaking after years of silence was to protect others from harm, and yet, through my scattered meditations and asymmetrical (and poorly scaled) art, I’m unexpectedly becoming more at peace with myself and more open with others. I’ve been restored to the person God intended me to be. So, just maybe, my putting my reclaimed personal experience can help someone else out there get to restoration, too.
Suggested scripture: Psalms 23
Silent seismic tremors
Ripple for years,
Driving plates apart,
Exposing geologic faults,
Destroying whole cities.
Of the whole
They laid out
Said, “Pick one”:
I reached down,
My own pocket,
(The one God made).