Are we all Perpetrators and are we all Survivours?
I am planning this beautiful weekend away with my boyfriend. It’s a rustic looking house surrounded by lush greenery and silence. I don’t expect any phone reception so we can really have some quality time.
Friday evening comes and I am all packed up and ready. We decide to go in my car (it’s an SUV and definitely more comfortable than his sports car). He has asked his ex to take care of his two cats so all is set and we set off to this amazing place an hour and a half away from the city.
As we drive and leave the city and smoke behind, it starts to get quiet on the roads and I get this strange sense of “something not right” but I am not sure so I keep driving and we casually continue to chat. Then we turn in on what seems like an unsealed, narrow and windy road and that excites me even more but I get the sense that he is not that comfortable.
We finally arrive at the cottage. The first thing he notices is that there was no phone reception and this freaks him out. The thought of leaving his cats in someone else’s care and him not being available to answer any emergencies makes him very anxious.
Our first night is not comfortable and I am not really sure what is going on. Next morning, he asks if I can keep my phone on for the weekend. I say No but I let him use my phone to communicate with his ex. He uses my phone to send a message to his ex. He lets her know that he won’t be available and he gives her the emergency numbers in case, something happened to his cats. She responds to his message and I let him know that she has responded in case, he wants to read the message.
I think he doesn’t hear me. I turn off my phone again after a while.
Things spiral down faster before I even realise what is going on. By the end of the weekend, he has completely shut down. We both have headaches and we both haven’t slept well all weekend.
Sunday morning arrives and it’s time to check out. I can’t wait to get out and get away. I drop him off at his place and quickly drive away as soon as I can. I am upset at him for ruining my weekend and I am not really sure what has happened…
We talked about it later on. He had recently had a medical emergency with his cats and the idea of this happening again scared the shit out of him. He had never been in a cottage away from human reception and he wasn’t ready for that either. He was completely and utterly traumatised by my refusal to keep my phone turned on.
For him, I was as good as a perpetrator during that weekend.
He and I are no longer together but that weekend kinda etched in my heart.
I think of myself as a good person, who tries hard to care for others around me. Being a Survivor, I find it hard to believe that I can cause trauma to someone else yet, I managed to traumatise someone I deeply cared about in ways that I never thought I could.
I can say that cats’ trauma is trivial and he should get over it. The point is that it doesn’t matter what I think. The trauma has been very real to him and has its impact on his life. We both have talked through this and have sorted the issue but, if he was a child, I may have scarred him forever without even knowing.
What is the point of this story?
In my experience, we like to put people into a box – someone is a survivor and someone is a perpetrator. By putting the people into one box, we kind of forget that they have other aspects of their life too.
Perpetrators deserve hatred and anger and survivors deserve our sympathy.
Perpetrators need to be punished and survivors need more resources and help from the Government.
Perpetrators should be locked away to keep this society safe.
and so on…
The point was shown to me by my mentor Nina Potter. I was talking to her about people who are in prison for child sexual abuse and that they only deserved our hatred. She said something very simple – people are more than their act of abuse.
Before this point, I wasn’t able to see my perpetrator as a human being – capable of human love and contact. The abuse defined him and there was nothing else to see or notice about him.
This changed my outlook. My hatred redirected itself from the person to their actions and I started seeing them in a bigger light. Maybe the answer doesn’t lie in hatred but it lies in understanding what causes people to cause harm to others. If we can understand that, we can make this world safer for people who come after us.
Maybe perpetrators are survivors too…
Maybe survivors are perpetrators as well…
We all are humans; sometimes we get hurt and sometimes, we hurt others; sometimes, we do it unconsciously and sometimes, we do it consciously.
Maybe we are everything and we are nothing… but this way of thinking does require us to see beyond our own pain and heal our way through it.
The question is – are we ready?