I’ve been stalked for a year and a half.
It’s not something I talk–or write–much about anymore. I’m not interested in having my life defined by what others do to me. Much more important to that definition is the choices I make; as I learn and grow by the day, these are getting sounder..
Why write anything about it, then?
If you’ve read my last few posts, you probably suspect it has something to do with Brené Brown,
If you’re thusly suspicious, you’re right.
I just finished rereading Brown’s first book, Women & Shame. In this book, Brown emphasizes how critical genuine connection is to overcoming shame. Only by speaking shame can women escape it, and, powerfully, help other women learn to escape it.
If I’m completely silent, I cannot help other women escape shame.
If my values are courage and growth, then, I must say something–not against those who gain only the illusion of connection by stalking, but for those who are still struggling to put one foot in front of the other. Still wondering if it’s worth it.
I’m no longer ashamed of being stalked. I’m not ashamed of how my earlier shame, a feeling for which I did not then have a name, turned me into a temporary shamer and blamer. Turns out, this is a common reaction to a somewhat uncommon situation.
I describe it as “somewhat” uncommon because it’s far more prevalent than those who haven’t experienced it would like to hear. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s May 2001 Stalking and Domestic Violence Report to Congress, “One out of every 12 women (8.2 million) in the United States and 1 out of every 45 men (2 million) have been stalked at some time in their lives.” According to one NIJ report, there are “an estimated 1 million women and 370,000 men stalked annually.”
Sadly, I am far from alone. It’s because I’m far from alone that I feel compelled to write.
Two of the most common responses victims face when disclosing stalking are disbelief and victim-blaming. Both of these approaches reflect a listener’s instinctive effort to separate self from victim. In Women & Shame, Brown describes this as “insulation”–an effort to distinguish self from other that helps the listener feel calmed by the fact it just couldn’t happen to them.
When I disclosed stalking to one woman I’d previously trusted, she exclaimed, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!”
I thought, without then having the words for it, “When you say things like this, you’re telling me less about the reality of the world than your ability to hear its truths.”
I want no part in shaming–not even those who aim to shame me.
What I do want is a part in letting other victims–women and men–know they’re not alone. If you’re being stalked and you think there’s no way to survive the shaming and blaming you experience on top of the stalking itself, you might be as surprised as I was to find truly healing clarity, connection, and empathy in Brown’s many works.
I also want to encourage those who aren’t directly victims–whether of stalking or otherwise–to try laying down their insulating disbelief and victim-blaming. First off, the illusion of safety is not safety; it cannot protect you. Secondly, if you aren’t hearing about acts like these, it’s not necessarily because those around you aren’t experiencing them. You might not be hearing about them because those who suffer quietly in your vicinity would rather suffer quietly than also bear the weight of your vocal efforts at self-insulation.
If people aren’t opening up to you about their suffering, you, too, might benefit from reading Brown. It’s not a shameful thing, to not (yet) know how to practice empathy in our increasingly disconnected world.
Empathy can be learned. And, thankfully, Brown and others are here to model its pursuit, compassionately distinguishing act from actor and thus opening a whole world of possibilities well worth not only exploring but celebrating.
Note: This is a post about empathy, which is the antithesis of shame. I will happily discuss Brown and empathy. I will not discuss my personal experience of being stalked.