A lot of popular culture notions of resilience speak of it as “getting up and dusting oneself off after a fall.”
In some cases, that might be applicable. But, this quick fix notion, packaged as wisdom, does not always apply. At least not to major life changes, where no preliminary acceptance of adversity as a part of life, or placation that things will get better, actually enable resilience.
Isn’t there a difference between tripping over a little stone versus the entire road cracking open due to a massive earthquake?
And that is the difference that helps understand what we can offer to ourselves and others when experiencing difficulty. When we do that, not only does it soften the blow, but it can also become the very space for us to witness the incredible power of human resilience.
Children when as young as Madhav (5) may not have language like adults do, but do feel, sometimes with great intensity, everything they experience. They may not be able to tell you exactly what is wrong or unsettling, but they surely can let you know that something is not right.
Madhav was just 3 years old when his father started abusing him. It was only when he turned 5 that his mother Neeta, a demure woman conditioned into silence, learnt of the abuse and immediately reported it.
Before this revelation, this family of four – Madhav, his parents and his younger brother – on paper, had a simple lives that matched with society’s expectations for them; both, as individuals and as a unit. Madhav’s father was the patriarch and the (only) breadwinner who set the rules in the house. Part of this norm was that Neeta was meant to remain within the confines of their home, managing the household and raising their children. She was never allowed to work and that was their world for the 6 years of their marriage.
The revelation of abuse and its reporting tore apart this once idyllic image of their family. Madhav’s paternal family immediately disowned Neeta, Madhav and his brother, effectively abandoning them at the time of dire need.
Overnight, Neeta’s world changed completely and abysmally. Not only was she now left in the lurch by what was supposedly her family after marriage, but she was also completely clueless about how she would make ends meet and provide for her two very young children. All this, while navigating the emotional and psychological toll of her partner’s betrayal, the end of her marriage and the traumatic experience of her child.
Without savings or an active or prospective source of income, Neeta held Madhav while facing an impending doom.
Becoming the ground beneath their feet
When CSJ met them, Madhav and Neeta were in acute distress. Madhav could not fully articulate what had happened, but it was clear that he was afraid of being left alone without his mother and felt extremely distressed around people he did not trust.
Healing for him needed working with both, Madhav and Neeta. Our first step was to ensure the creation of a safety net for Neeta to find her footing in the aftermath of everything. This was crucial for her to truly be able to care for Madhav in the way he needed, while we provided him with consistent counselling support.
Survivor Support often is like becoming the ground beneath the feet of those struck by adversity, so that they, at their own pace, can find within themselves the resilience and strength to stand up again.
At their pace
Neeta needed time to learn the ways of the world, now that the rule of “never working outside of the house” was not applicable anymore. We worked with her to find jobs, and with Madhav to expand his circle of trust. Little by little, they showed progress with Madhav feeling more at ease, while Neeta beginning to imagine better possibilities for her and her children.
Survivors of gender-based harm suffer from the very violent aspects of patriarchy and hence, support for them primarily requires helping them in regaining their dignity, by moving at their pace.
Their lives had just begun to find a steady pace, when in the middle of the pandemic, Madhav’s school wrote in asking for immediate clearance of due fees, threatening his expulsion from school. Neeta had just begun to learn walking, and now the school wanted them to sprint without having had the time to develop the ability to!
CSJ immediately approached state authorities to step in and help Madhav in continuing education, to allow Neeta some grace.
And, it worked!
With the help of designated state authorities, the school fee for the remaining academic year was waived off, giving us the time to help Neeta identify affordable state-run schools for the next year, without loss of learning for Madhav.
Today, Madhav continues to go to school, while his mother is navigating life as a newly independent woman, who amid her grief, is breaking deeply internalised gender norms, expanding possibilities for herself and undergoing a new birth in her own journey.
The impact of Neeta finding safety and assurance that she has a whole system behind her, has also ended up creating a ripple effect for her children who now look towards a future of greater empowerment and love.
Currently, CSJ is supporting over 200 such families of child survivors of sexual abuse in navigating life after abuse with dignity and true healing. We want to help many more, and here is where you can help. This story is part of CSJ’s 2021 campaign, ‘Begin Again’ and we hope that you will join is in helping children like Madhav to have a fresh start.
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