Enlightened Witness

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Enlightened Witness


In her writing about childhood abuse, one of my favorite authors, Alice Miller, has coined the term "enlightened witness." To Miller, an enlightened witness is an understanding person who helps a victim of abuse "recognize the injustices they suffered" and "give vent to their feelings" about what happened to them. From my reading of Miller's writing it is clear she believes that having an enlightened witness is essential to helping you recover from abuse.

In her book, The Truth Will Set You Free, Miller writes, "If mistreated children are not to become criminals or mentally ill, it is essential that at least once in their life they come in contact with a person who knows without any doubt that the environment, not the helpless, battered child, is at fault."

In my own case, I would say that originally it was not so much one, individual person who played the role of my enlightened witness. Instead, it was a variety of sources I discovered through my online research on the subjects of self-harm, depression, and suicide. This research led me to the field of abuse, and from that I began to see, for the first time, that it was not so much something wrong with me, as I had been led to believe, but something wrong with my environment - exactly as Miller explains throughout her extensive writing.

Later I was also fortunate enough to have found several people who fit Miller's description of an enlightened witness, though I did not really think of them in that way at the time. I just thought of them more as emotionally supportive people who I felt safe talking to about my abuse. In early 2013 when I read her book Free From Lies, the importance of an enlightened witness became more clear to me.

According to Miller, enlightened witnesses are "people who have understood and recognized the consequences of child abuse", and are therefore able to help others who have never had the reality of their dysfunctional environment completely acknowledged or taken seriously.

I see a lot of value in this idea, so now, several years after discovering Miller's work for the first time and several years into my own recovery from abuse, I am offering to be an "enlightened witness" to someone who needs it.

In my life, I have noticed how much it really helps to have someone on your side who understands the long term effects of abuse; someone who doesn't judge you, who doesn't minimize your pain, or make you feel wrong for simply feeling the way you do, and who doesn't defend those who abused you.

To me, an enlightened witness is someone who not only listens (as a therapist or counselor would), but who also: Cares, Understands, and Supports

Enlightened witnesses care because they know how serious abuse is and how it affects every aspect of your life.

They understand because they have also been abused and they know that it is a big part of who they are today, and who you are today.

They support you because they know that you did not receive the emotional support you needed while growing up, and they know this support is necessary for recovery. They also realize that only someone who knows about abuse first-hand can provide the kind of support you need.

As I see it, here are some things an enlightened witness doesn't do:

Analyze or diagnose you.

Defend your parents, culture, country or any religious or spiritual beliefs or practices which may have damaged you.

Invalidate you.

Give you advice.

All of the above is how I would define an enlightened witness in general. More specifically, I also want to give you some more information about how I would personally try to help you:

I will tell you how I feel about things you share with me. I will tell you when I feel sad or worried. I will use feeling words to express myself, and I will help you do the same. I believe this will help us have a safe, emotional connection - something neither you nor I got while growing up.

Besides helping you identify your feelings, I will help you identify your emotional needs that correspond to those feelings. For example, if I see that you are feeling rejected, I will help you connect that to your natural need to feel accepted. For me, this idea of connecting a painful feeling to an unmet emotional need has been one of the most useful things I have learned to do in my recovery process (and something I am still working on.)

I believe I would also feel real empathy and compassion for what you are going through because I am also suffering from result of the many years of abuse, neglect and lack of emotional support by my own parents, teachers and classmates.

I want to add that I'll probably limit how many people I can emotionally support to 1 or 2 at a time, for my own mental health, but also so that I can be better involved with supporting you.

As far as fees, I work on a donation basis; whatever you feel comfortable with as long as I have the time available.

If you'd like to contact me about being your "enlightened witness," here is my
contact page.

Thanks for reading.

Priscilla