I Am Woman, Hear Me Write

Laurel Lynch: I know how painful it is for a victim to be judged by others

As a friend and I were being escorted to a table by a restaurant hostess, a gentleman looked at my friend and muttered, "Hey lady, you're fat." She turned to him and replied, "Wow, so glad you pointed that out to me -- I would never have known!"

I laughed nervously as one is prone to do when embarrassed and at a loss for words in an uncomfortable situation. The notion of us judging others, of somehow thinking we need to tell people what to do or that somehow we know better than they do about what's in their best interest -- all without knowing anything about them? That's absurd.

I've been flabbergasted at the number of people who believe if they just enlighten someone, that person will suddenly do things their way. This judgment of others continues to resonate with me and has kept me from sharing my story for a very long time.

This judgment has been glaringly obvious in the razor-like focus on Janey Palmer's marriage to Ray Rice. How many times have we heard things like, "I cannot believe she married him" or "She deserves what she gets for putting up with being hit." As long as Janey Palmer has to defend her choices, her energy remains on external forces.

It's these seemingly "well-meaning" people, who all think they know better than an abused woman, that have kept me from publicly sharing that I am a survivor of domestic violence.

Neither Janey nor I can be reduced to a simple 30-second sound bite. The issue and the answers are complicated, and the judgment relentless. Can't we see that she needs to feel supported? Why not listen to her instead of judge her?

The barrage of negative and judgmental comments has triggered that old familiar shame once again, even though it has been more than 30 years. Feelings I've thought long-forgotten have resurfaced, and the feelings of failure float right back from the depths of where they were buried.

When I was young, away from home for the first time and vulnerable, I married a man who in more than one way felt a need to control me -- where I went, with whom I spoke -- and he resorted to violence when things didn't go his way.

I have shared with close friends over the years that I "get" domestic violence. After all, I've been an advocate for battered women and their children for 28 years, and I may have implied to those closest to me about

my first marriage. But I've never elaborated on the details. I may have made comments like "that was thenthis is now," all for fear of being judged.

If only all those well-intentioned people knew, no one could or would ever judge me more than I have judged myself.

I grew up in a family where being strong was celebrated. My grandparents, resilient Irish Catholic New Yorkers, recounted story after story about coming from "the other side," of having to work tirelessly in order to make it. I saw my grandfather's pride when he recounted how my father was the first person to graduate from college, and his clear displeasure when anyone ever showed signs of weakness. He believed fears should be pushed aside.

The importance of inner strength and self-assuredness, instilled in me by my family, is as much a part of me as my red hair and freckles. So admitting even to myself that there was a time I appeared weak, can still shake my confidence.

But for a time, I was weak. Scared. And vulnerable. So I "get" why Janey Palmer may be afraid to leave, afraid to admit to herself more than to anyone else that she feels weak.

So let's not point out to her what we think she should do, because only when people stopped judging me, insisting I leave my first husband, was I empowered enough to find the true inner strength to make a change.

Oh, and my friend who was told she was fat -- well, she's lost more than 100 pounds. Not because of some insensitive clod in a restaurant, but because she got to the point where she found the strength to change her eating habits.

So remember, when you point a finger at someone else, not only do you have three fingers pointing back at you, but you may in fact be keeping that person from finding the inner strength they need to make a change.

Laurel Lynch, executive director of HOPE Family Services, can be reached at laurel.lynch@hopefamilyservice.org.

COMING NEXT SUNDAY: Ashley Brown, executive director of the Women's Resource Center of Manatee, explores how it finally became OK to ask for help.