A few weeks ago, a client of mine expressed frustration that there are no public child abuse memorials. She asked, “Why are there war memorials, AIDS quilts, breast cancer ribbons, but nothing for child abuse?” Her question echoed a statement by Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery from the early 1990s. Herman states, “The most common trauma of women remains confined to the sphere of private life, without formal recognition or restitution from the community. There is no public monument for rape survivors.” Although Herman focuses on sexual assault of women and my client was focusing on child abuse, both point to the common theme of the lack of public recognition of relational trauma.
Jennifer Freyd is an expert in the field of relational trauma, who authored the books Betrayal Trauma and Blind to Betrayal. We asked her whether she was aware of any public monument for survivors of childhood abuse, and she put us in touch with the co-founder of the Monument Quilt Project. The Monument Quilt Project is primarily a public healing space for survivors of sexual assault, including childhood sexual abuse. It is a public healing space for survivors all over the United States and aims to decrease assumptions and stigma about how sexual violence occurs by telling many stories, rather than one.
At ACT with Compassion, we aim to help clients move from the isolation of shame and fusion with negative self-content to connection with the therapist and others as well as a more flexible self-as-context view. Relational trauma survivors often maintain silence about the trauma, or have been punished when attempting to share their story with others. These experiences often contribute to a more rigid negative self-concept (e.g., “I’m damaged”). Although we as therapists intend to take a non-judgemental stance to help release the grip of such negative self-content, becoming part of a national sea of survivors may have a much more powerful impact. Publicly expressing one’s process about sexual assault, as in the case of the Monument Quilt Project, also combats the action tendency of shame to hide and withdraw, thereby increasing opportunity for new learning to occur through engaging in new behavior. We here at ACT with Compassion also know how powerful perspective taking strategies can be in terms of increasing one’s self compassion capacity. The Monument Quilt Project offers survivors the chance to see others’ stories, and through taking that perspective it may be easier for them to feel compassion for others who share their experience than it is to feel compassion for themselves. If so, this increased compassion can be worked with in therapy and through perspective training, may ultimately be applied to oneself.
Of course, it is a very personal decision for each person how to engage in healing from trauma, and becoming part of a public healing space may not be the right move for everyone, and it is not always the right time for such a move. In any case, the Monument Quilt Project is doing a great service by providing an opportunity for public, shared healing that did not used to exist.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Monument Quilt Project, you can go to their website here. You can also check out the blog post I wrote for their website that shares some of my personal and professional experiences related to the project here.