Stop Saving & Start Loving

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We all have that inner child part that is waiting to be rescued. It doesn’t require something awful to happen in our childhoods. At some point in our childhoods, we were not treated fairly and our needs were not met. This is natural. Children are born with needs that are hard for adults to meet. And so, deep inside, there is a part that waits for those needs to be met by others.

This insatiable and global desire for a hero to rescue us manifests everywhere. We see it in our movies and books about super heroes of all shapes and sizes. We see it in those co-dependent relationships which never seem to meet our expectations. And we see it in the anti-trafficking movement.

So many advocates want to experience a rescue. They want to save a victim from a life of hell. They want to experience the gratitude of the victim when they generously offer to make everything better. I think some advocates believe that maybe, just maybe, if they rescue someone else, they will save themselves. It is a projection that will never be fulfilled.

I am often asked by others how they can get through to the victims. Advocates want to know why the victims won’t let themselves be saved or rescued from their painful situation. But I understand something they don’t. There is no quick fix. There is no miracle solution. There is no fairy tale or super hero. The only person who can save that trafficking victim is the victim. (And no, I am not talking about an 8-year-old child. I am talking about adults and older teenagers.)

So what can we do? An amazing advocate, Sandy Skelaney, spoke in a TED talk about a concept called the “transformational relationship”. This relationship is about showing the victim that we care about them. This relationship is about empowerment, safety and understanding. This relationship is not about convincing the victim that they must leave their situation. This relationship is about showing them what they have never known.

And that doesn’t happen overnight. A transformational relationship has staying power, endurance and tolerance for the ups and downs that come with trauma. It requires us to be there when they leave and come back, when they deny victimization, when they are confused and when they want nothing to do with us anymore.

I went through my own transformational relationships to get where I am today. And those relationships did not come from a rescue organization. I was lucky to have a long-term therapist who never gave up on me. She refused to participate in my projections. She maintained healthy boundaries. And she empowered me to chart my own course. And I am eternally grateful for her.

But most of my transformational relationships came from the “real world”. They were friends who chose to help me when I thought they wouldn’t, stay with me when I thought they would leave and understand me when I thought that was impossible.

One such relationship came in a form I never expected … of course.

Since my memory recovery started, I have avoided intimate relationships. While this was mostly caused by my concern for the cycle of violence that had encompassed my life (and my absolute insistence of keeping my children safe), I was also concerned about re-traumatizing myself with intimate experiences. I was not convinced I would venture down that road again, but I was also concerned about the lack of a positive male influence in the lives of my children. I knew I could raise them well regardless, but I had concerns.

So in walked a man who was willing to be my friend through the chaos of trauma recovery and be a male role model to the kids. And while the projections have been many and the boundaries have needed clarification, I have had the ONLY healthy relationship with a man in my life, a six-year friendship. Many times, I was convinced we would not survive the latest misunderstanding. Many times, I was sure we would not come to terms with our differences in perspective. But yet we persevered. We kept it going. And the seemingly impossible has become possible. And we are both transformed because of it.

In my young adult years, I have also struggled with maintaining friendships with women. I kept everyone at a distance. I would isolate when things got bad. I never expressed an opinion that I thought would be upsetting to the other for fear they would leave. I would allow friendships to fade because I didn’t want to be too needy. It was a pipe-dream that I would have a friend who would stick by me and know me at the same time. I never considered that an option.

So in walked a woman who was willing to change that. Not only did she know I tended to isolate, but she called me on it. I can even tell her when I disagree with her and she doesn’t storm out of the room. She supports me when I come up the craziest ideas. And she has never once nagged me about improving my life in any area. It is a different kind of relationship. It is a relationship based on unconditional acceptance and trust. It is the seemingly impossible. And we are both transformed because of it.

So stop looking for the rescue. Stop saving others to save yourself. And ask what we need to grow. What can we do to show others that people can be trusted, loved and unconditionally accepted for who they are? Show them the real fairy tale. Go deep and love somebody. Their world will never be the same. And neither will yours.

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20 thoughts on “Stop Saving & Start Loving

  1. Thank you for sharing. I can relate to what you said here in so many ways. I’ve had the same therapist for the last six years and because of that I have made some real progress along my journey especially when it comes to the trauma I suffered throughout my life. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. The idea of a transformational relationship is really powerful.

    I disagree with you that victims in trafficking can only rescue themselves. Having seen women and older teenagers in trafficking situations, I am really convinced that they can’t at least in the context of organized crime. They sometimes have so little access to the resources that would allow them to find safety outside trafficking–that is one problem. But the traffickers really will kill them. They are not bluffing.

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    • I agree that the external circumstances may make it impossible for them to physically escape, but often, traffickers rely on victims believing they are only worthy of that life. There is a brainwashing for lack of a better word. And the victim cannot be “rescued” until she or he comes to a different understanding. It is that process of “rescuing themselves” that starts the true healing process. Not the act of “rescue” by the good samaritan. That being said, none of this applies to children. They must be removed from their traffickers as soon as possible.

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      • I think there might be two kinds of traffickers: those that rely mainly on subtle forms of brainwashing and those that rely on fear alone. Psychologically, for the victim, it’s very different. The victims have different needs because of that. I had two traffickers, so I can see the difference clearly. The victims of a trafficker using fear need to know with certainty they will not be deported to a place they have never been to before or end up in the hands of corrupt and violent immigration officers. They need to know their trafficker physically cannot track them down and kill them. It’s not quite the same as being afraid of a man who has threatened to kill you but has never murdered anyone before, which is bad enough. A trafficker using fear is a professional murderer or counts among his friends someone who is. It is not a big deal to murder someone who, according to the rest of society, does not exist and has no value when this is a part of your professional resume. A trafficking victim can just be “disappeared.” My trafficker was a murderer. I know he was a murderer because of his tattoos. I know he “earned” this tattoo and it wasn’t just a decoration because in his organized, criminal world, that wouldn’t have been allowed.

        I understand your point, but it leaves out the real experiences of many girls and women. There is less damage to self-concept and more sheer terror.

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      • I hear you. I know that members of my family had taken lives as well. I know that they were capable of taking mine. I lived with the terror too. I also lived with the damage to my perception of reality. But there has to be a change in the mindset of the victim for them to seek help. They can be rescued, but they won’t seek help. That was my point.

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      • I still really disagree. What you describe is the experience of victims who have relatively more power in society–you cannot control someone with fear alone who has access to other resources, and so traffickers use more subtle methods. The discourse you describe is the dominant discourse about trafficking in our society because the victims that experience that kind of trafficking are of relative privilege and must be controlled in other ways. But it is not the experience of all trafficking victims or even most trafficking victims. As white, English-speaking, non-immigrants we have enormous power in society that other trafficking victims don’t have. Our experiences are those that are heard, but they are not the experiences of everyone. We need to be heard, but I think it is important to remember the voices that cannot be heard.

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      • Yes. I am drawing from my experience when I write, but I am also drawing from the experiences of those who I interact with who are helping trafficking victims in medical settings, etc. They work with labor and sex trafficking victims from many other countries. So, I do not believe I am speaking from one angle only. Of course, I cannot express all perspectives. That would be impossible. But this is not only the view of those with privilege. Help seeking is difficult for trafficking victims for thousands of reasons. And helpers need to take the word “rescue” out of their vernacular.

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      • People who interact with those working in other settings carry the discourse of the dominant society into their work with victims whose experiences don’t match the discourse they are familiar with. They work with those victims without “seeing” them. It is one angle. It is the only angle our society permits to have spoken aloud.

        It’s not possible to speak from all perspectives. i agree. But the phrase “some” is enormously useful. I draw from my experiences also. i can’t do anything else. But I can also see very clearly that my experience was very different from those I was trafficked with, and that I had more privilege and power. And it is my privilege and power that is the reason I am alive and that I could escape. Without it, I would most certainly be dead by now. Everyone I knew probably is.

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      • I do agree with you. What you describe happens for some people. But it is very different for others. We (as a society) are telling one story and claiming that is the only story. We distort other stories so that we can go on believing it is the only story. We like this story so much we refuse to hear any other story but that one. That is the issue for me.

        Empowerment is the word that needs to be used in place of rescue. Victims need access to power that has been denied them.

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      • That is exactly what I was trying to get across. The transformational relationship can bring empowerment to the victim which is what they need – not saving. One of the reasons I speak out is because I feel like my story is not main stream. In the U.S., everyone wants to talk about the international cases, but nobody wants to admit that children are trafficked in their own communities by people they know. They don’t want to hear my story because it means they can’t distance themselves from it. That’s been my experience anyway.

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      • That’s interesting. I think your experience is probably actually more common in terms of sheer numbers, although I have no way of knowing. I can see why you would feel no one wants to hear it though. I think, generally, we hear the voices of “rescuers” more than those of victims or former victims regardless of the kind of trafficking involved.

        I also think gang trafficking is different than other kinds of trafficking. I don’t know what it was really like for the other women being trafficked with me, but I know it was different than it was for me. And I know I can tell my story and they can’t.

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      • I think one really big difference is feeling you don’t deserve better treatment (which some survivors feel) implies an assumption of a fair society. Society is fair and it is, according to this view, your own fault you are being treated badly. It is easier for a trafficker to convince a victim who has an assumption that society is fair that she/he deserves poor treatment than to change the assumption of fairness. But other people don’t have this assumption. They assume society is unfair. You can end up at the bottom of the heap quite by accident. In that case, all you need to do is strengthen this assumption that society is unfair to keep a victim in captivity. And I think this is what happened with others around me who were trafficked. They were being treated badly because society is unfair, and all that needed to be done was to intensify this assumption of unfairness.

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