IN THE memoir-writing circuit, abuse is a recurring theme and writing the best form of therapy, published or not. The abundance of stories seeking an audience is a healthy sign of real cultural change. Less healthy is the sadistic glee when some abuse survivors refuse to entertain protecting the identities of their villains, regardless of the spectre of legal action.
I am of the view that the writer should never take responsibility for how others react to the truth and that wrongdoing should be exposed. However, if a memoirist cannot demonstrate the humanity that was denied to them, then they have learned nothing that will be of real value to their readers. A memoir is about how the writer handled their shit not what So-and-So did to them.
Both ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ are the products of a corrupt value system that first takes us prisoner in the classroom. By the time we reach elementary/primary school, we know all about what ‘it’ is to be a boy or a girl. We are subsequently introduced to a host of other opposites. Something is either good or bad, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, big or small, nice or nasty, smart or stupid – in-betweenness is viewed with scorn. We are trained to pigeon-hole even ourselves and this can occur in any combination of positives and negatives. The end result of this process, as we are ‘knocked’ into the right shape, is polarisation – some children become bullies, if not abusers, while others become the abused.
So in a sense both parties have been wronged. This way of looking at things creates an environment in which it is easier for the bully/abuser to accept responsibility for their actions and a basis through which some common ground can be achieved. Personally, this is a far more satisfying possibility than revenge.
When all other avenues have been exhausted and if an abuse survivor has no choice but to drop someone in it, a mature writer will show any redeeming qualities that they were aware of. Painting them in as balanced a light as possible will go a long way to reducing the amount of fallout and reduce the likelihood of being accused of being a liar. Intent is everything and karma is still a bitch.
It also falls upon the professing self-healer to shine a light on their own darknesses and failings. The idea that we are a bastion of all that is good and the ‘bad’ guy is scum is not credible and, um, quite frankly, boring.
Causing your outed villain(s) discomfort is inevitable and to a degree, desirable. After all, discomfort is a vital part of the self-healing process and both parties have a right to self-heal. Wanting them to suffer, though, brings you to their level. How can the teller of the story self-heal effectively if they add another layer of baggage by wilfully hurting those that have hurt them (and their families and friends)?
My motto is and always will be “Treat others as you would be treated, not how they treated you.”
Note: Yes, my memoir has a ‘villain’ (or two) but, for the avoidance of doubt, GB is not one of them.