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TWO: THE SURVIVOR STORY
Beyond building a sense of agency and expectation of positive change, the therapist uses the idea of a strong, healthy part as a symbolic resource for the reinterpretations that constitute the survivor story. In stage two, the therapist takes the client through a process of reframing her view of herself and others in light of the survivor rationale. The therapist has already led the client to link her adult problems with childhood abuse and to commit herself to reject all that being an abuse victim entails. Now he works to identify a broader pattern of deviations from therapeutic norms in matters of the client's sense of self-worth, the way she manages her personal boundaries, the coherence of her identity, and her social skills and relationships. In the process of decoding her life according to the survivor rationale, the therapist persuades her to see problems with the way she is living that go well beyond the issues that brought her to therapy. He creates for her a fuller picture of the "false self" that, he argues, has informed and divided her identity. The false self is the benchmark against which the therapist contrasts the true self. By describing this true self as embodied in a strong, healthy part within her, the therapist positions his teaching as the natural drawing out of a story and a reality that were always present but heretofore unrecognized and unexpressed. The idea of a strong, healthy part suggests that by collaborating with the therapist, the client is authoring an undistorted account of her unique self. Because of the strong part, not only the victim story but also the survivor story has narrative fit for her life.
The survivor story is a story of personal change, a story about overcoming the conditioned responses of the false self. Building on the idea of her "survivor strength the therapist emphasizes risk-taking, experimentation, efficacious action, personal development, and new possibilities for relationships. As in the victim account, where the therapist has the client act out key elements of the drama-for example, remembering, expressing anger, disclosing, grieving-so in the survivor story, he will lead the client to act out a new way of knowing and possessing the self. These actions are the preconditions for telling the story and create experiences that can then be conveyed in it. A new reflexive relationship to the self, including skill with the authorized "technologies of the self" - techniques for managing emotions, interpersonal relationships, the body, and so on- for living this reflexivity, is the key sign of healing. A new sense of her self-worth is where the next story begins.
Although principally framed as a story about growth and healing, the survivor story is built directly on the victim story about abuse. Survivor strength is defined in terms of resistance to abuse, and personal change in terms of overcoming a self conditioned by abuse. As therapy moves toward its denouement, therapists encourage clients to move beyond the view of themselves as survivors. Abuse remains a part of their story, but because they have made and are making desired changes in their identity and consequent behavior, clients "no longer need to define themselves in terms of their experience of childhood sexual abuse" (Draucker 1992:116). Thus, "Counselors, in the later stages of treatment, might well discuss with the client the process of giving up the survivor identity" (ii6). At this advanced point in therapy, the transitional stories of victim and survivor have accomplished their purpose. The therapist now readies the client to end therapy and reincorporate into normal life with a positive, thriver story, which moves abuse and overcoming abuse to the background. He does not ask the client to let go of the thriver story but to embrace it as the ongoing story of her life. When therapy ends, the thriver story is just beginning.
The thriver story is the end of the mediating narrative and its climax. It is the conclusion that is anticipated throughout the process of constructing the narrative, guiding the building of the therapeutic relationship, the selective recruitment of past events (whether real or imagined), and the interpretation of present life circumstances. It is the goal, the lesson toward which the whole narrative builds and takes its meaning. It is the promise used to motivate the client and justify her efforts to part with old understandings and patterns and learn new ones.
The thriver story is a story of liberation. According to the plot of the mediating narrative as it has unfolded in the victim account and survivor story, the pathological secret has been identified, and its effects progressively overcome. The hold of the past on the client has been broken; she has been freed from who she was, freed from the wrong story, freed from encumbering relationships, and has the power to become someone new. In the thriver story, she is free to let her true self flourish fully for the first time. She "is ready to infuse her life with new hope and new choices" (Roth 1993: 65). She can live with new vitality and satisfaction, express her creativity, enjoy intimacy, and define her goals and strive to reach them. She can become who she wants to be and do what she wants to do. In the thriver story, the future is unscripted, open and full of possibilities.
The therapist emphasizes themes aimed to confirm her transformation and motivate her to continue to act according to the new norms and relationship strategies she has learned. By linking her old ideas and behavior with abuse, and by framing his teaching in terms of health and normal development in the survivor stage, he has already made a forceful case for not returning to old or other patterns. Moreover, because the survivor story represents a commitment to a continued course of action, ordering her self and renegotiating her relationships through that story constrains the client to continue to act in a manner consistent with the commitment. In the thriver story, the therapist connects future growth and vitality with a steady living of the new story and emphasizes themes of self-determination and responsibility to reinforce it.
In leading the client to tell the thriver story, the therapist contrasts two journeys, one now nearly complete and another about to begin. In the first journey toward healing, the client has moved, via the mediating narrative, from a life that was abuse-determined to a life capable of being self-determined, from a life shaped by domination to a life empowered with agency. In the second journey, she will move into the future choosing her own path. For the second journey, as thriver, she no longer needs to depend on the guidance of the therapist. She is ready, he argues, for "healthy separation" (Courtois 1988: io). Although "it is all right for the client to have needs again" (Roth 1993: 70) that might warrant a return to the therapist, any such return in the next journey would be qualitatively different and temporary. She is now, the therapist tells her, able to reflexively direct her own journey. He has taught the normative orientations and a technology of the self that equip clients to become their own therapists. The therapist's message is that if the client follows these new principles, she can do for herself in the second journey what he did for her in the first.
Because she is believed to
be self-determined, the client is also now responsible to herself for her life
and her choices. While the past may have been outside her control, and thus
she is blameless with regard to it, in the journey that begins with the thriver
story, things are different. In the new journey, she has "total responsibility
for her own destiny" (Draucker 1992: io8). She is becoming an individual,
free of false consciousness, and therefore able to shoulder the burden of responsibility
for all aspects of her life. The victim account was an "excuse:' an "appeal
to defeasibility" (Scott and Lyman 1968) of responsibility for the problems
the client has experienced, because her will was not free. To tell the thriver
story, she cannot make any further excuses. If she continues to live her new identity,
therapists imply, she will never need to.
- Davis, J. E. (2005). The Victimization Account. In Accounts of innocence sexual abuse, trauma, and the self (pp. 179). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Reflection Exercise #6
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