Sexual Trauma Recovery: The Last Battle with Mary Ellen Mann, LCSW
We met Mary Ellen Mann at a Behavioral Health conference in Nashville, TN. She was sitting at a table signing copies of her book while trying to answer questions at her booth. The subject matter was something freely and openly discussed at this conference – refreshing and affirming.
Sexual abuse is, thankfully, no longer a taboo subject. Mary Ellen is an invited guest on Mental Health News Radio. We share her mission in supporting recovery from sexual trauma, awareness, and education. Please enjoy our heartfelt yet information discussion.
In your private practice as a licensed clinical social worker, you specialize in trauma recovery. Talk to us about the trauma of sexual abuse and the devastating impact it can have on a person’s life.
Survivors or “Princess Warriors,” as I have renamed them, wage a battle against terror, shame and contempt that others often cannot understand. We battle a vast inner landscape of self-doubt and our doubts about God’s goodness. Many of us act out in ways that reflect the damage of the shame and insidious assumptions that it was our fault. The idea that sexual violation is a form of predatory violence is lost on many of us. Thus, many Princess Warriors will battle with behaviors that range from fearing people, marriage, parenting, touch, pregnancy, to compulsive behaviors such as perfectionism, legalism, self-abuse in the form of drugs, drinking, cutting, eating disorders, promiscuity and unsafe sex and other self-sabotaging behaviors. Self-hatred and fear of the world can get insidiously wired into our mindset. This happens to such a degree that we don’t even recognize it’s there until someone validates us and teaches us to start standing up for ourselves, whether that’s setting boundaries or engaging in basic self-care.
Personally and professionally, I wanted a resource that was written by a female professional therapist who had recovered from this. I also wanted a book by a believer who captured the importance of reclaiming our true identity, which starts with knowing that we are made in God’s image.
Secondly, while I had understood myself to be a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse for quite some time, it was when a dear family member came forward with her story that I knew female survivors needed validation of their honor and dignity. I saw this family member’s worth so clearly and wanted her to know that she had purpose and value so that is when the wheels got turning.
It became obvious to me that I needed to reframe this issue and retitle the survivor, “Princess Warrior.” The landscape of recovery needed empowerment, too, so we titled the reality of sexual violence against women, The Last Battle, hence the birth of the organization Last Battle, whose sole purpose is to create a dignifying and informative online community for Princess Warriors and those who care for them at www.lastbattle.org.
Sexual violation often carries with it, a stigma of guilt and shame. Explain how the title “Princess Warrior” encapsulates your perspective on the true identity of survivors of sexual abuse and assault.
Princess Warrior was born from my love for the women I work with in my practice but especially from the moment a family member disclosed her childhood sexual abuse and later her sexual assaults. Despite being a loving wife and mother, I saw her reeling from the pain to the degree that she considered suicide. I wanted a new term for women who had survived this evil. I started to see that this was Satan’s best way to take down a woman’s vibrancy, purpose, and any future impact she would have. To me, “Princess Warrior” validates two things: first, our royal birth and design– being made in the image of a dignified, royal God. Second, it clarifies that we are being attacked—we’re in a battle—that is supposed to silence us with shame. Thus, we fight back because we’re not going to let someone else’s dark issues keep us from pursuing the life we alone were designed to live.
What is LastBattle.org and how are you using the digital community to provide a safe, supportive place for Princess Warriors?
Last Battle was born from the idea that we needed a place with information on ways to recover, to be encouraged, and to be seen. We also wanted to provide information to the community on ways to respond to loved ones who are recovering from sexual violation. The various features of the website include: a blog, videos, radio shows, podcasts, ideas of living well (which has PDF’s some of which are derived from my book and provide ways to be a husband and a parent of women who have suffered from this, as well as, meditations, scripture and much more), a beautiful and informative monthly newsletter, and a gallery for images that depict the recovery process We’re also in the process of teaming up with someone who has spent years gathering resources for sexual trauma recovery. We have a store where you can buy my book, From Pain to Power as well as Princess Warrior jewelry. The heart of it is to create safety and respect so that Princess Warriors can more readily take back the dignity that was taken without permission.
Your book includes powerful prayers and meditations for survivors. What role can the prayers and meditations play in leading someone through recovery? Why is it so crucial?
I see the ravages of sexual abuse nearly every day. If you’ve experienced, it you know that it strikes at a person’s basic human value. Our value is inborn so I wanted to retrieve that inborn value spiritually first, as I have seen it most rapidly help people reclaim their original worthy and purpose.
I also believe that as the Bible says, we have been known since the beginning of time and are made for God’s purposes and to experience his glory and to live in his authority. These prayers reinstate our spiritual authority so that we become the decision makers of what we believe, what stays in our lives, and what must be rejected from our lives. The meditations are designed to rewire our brains to accept that we are valuable, and to reclaim our personal rights to live according to our original design, before these events of sexual trauma ever occurred.
According to the statistics, 93% of rapes occur at the hands of someone known to the victim. This trauma is happening in dating relationships and even in marriages. What are some of the signs women can look for to determine if a man is likely to be a predator?
- They’re charming in a way that disarms their victims. They set a trap for their targeted victims by reassuring them that they are indispensable in meeting their needs. They volunteer their services and time. They see you as special, gifted, talented and worthy in their one-on-one attention. The attention they give you is swift, generous, flattering, and constant. An expectation of secrecy is rewarded with gifts and privileges, along with threats to harm you or those you love or to self-harm or to attempt suicide, if you decide to leave or report them.
- They isolate you by convincing you that others are not as “for you” as they are.
- They feel entitled to you.
- They set up a double standard. For instance, you can’t be late but they can. They have the right to punish you for your limits, but you can’t punish them for theirs. The predator will attempt to crowd out your legitimate wants and needs to the point where there is room for only him/her.
- A top priority of sexual predators is to create Stockholm Syndrome in their targets. This is a sympathetic play on the target’s compassion and pity.
It’s time to get help when there is an incapacity to function at work, as a parent, as a wife, as a student and among your social circle. Personal care issues may be present such an inability to sleep, to eat normally, to stop using alcohol and drugs, to stop cutting, or to stop being self-abusive with personal or professional relationships, with unsafe sex or promiscuity.
Please explain, for our audience, how someone can get help if they have faced or are currently facing sexual abuse.
Contact your insurance company, doctor, or faith center for names of people who specialize in trauma recovery. Those who know how to use Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Brainspotting, Theophostics, and prayer ministry typically make ideal practitioners. Buy books, like mine—From Pain to Power—that guide you, too. I did a lot of work through journaling and reading books that address this topic in a faith-based manner. There are hotlines that you can call, available through the internet.
What advice would you give to someone who knows a friend or a family member who has been sexually abused? How can that person provide support and encouragement?
Believe them. Show righteous anger on their behalf. Tell them that you stand with them. Don’t be afraid of their pain and leave. Stay near them in a text, a phone call, send a card, give a gift, make a meal, help them with their kids or their laundry, take them to their therapist, initiate time with them. Don’t share Christian adages (which aren’t scriptural) such as: “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” or “God will use this to make a better body of Christ,” or “There is so much to be thankful for, because it could’ve been so much worse.” Just as bad: “Why do you need to talk about this now—it happened so long ago?” Or “I’m not going to choose sides here.” “No one is perfect—a sin is a sin.”
How early should parents start talking to their kids about the dangers of sexual predators? How can they educate their children on appropriate versus inappropriate behavior?
As soon as your children understand basic language you can start talking about this. While I would bathe my boys or help them go to the bathroom, I would educate them that their body is theirs and made by God. They are allowed to say no to touch whenever they want. Their bathing suit area is the child’s private area, and the only people who should ever touch the child in these areas are doctors, and even then only when a parent is present. Parents can touch the child only to help with medications (if needed), or when bathing until they are 3-5 years old. Beyond that, they need to be taught to do this on their own.
Once my boys were old enough to hold their own washcloth, I taught them to wash their bottom. I taught them how to hold their penis when going to the bathroom so they could establish rights and control over their private area as soon as possible. We read books on safe versus unsafe touch.
We talked about different scenarios where an older kid or an adult might ask them for help, which we know is a ploy to isolate the child.
Even last weekend, I let my son play on a nearby playground while my other son played his lacrosse game. I told him, “No one needs a child’s help. Never leave with anyone. If you feel unsafe, don’t question yourself, yell ‘no’ and run to tell me what happened.” I still don’t let them go into a public bathroom alone. Either their dad takes them, or they go into a women’s bathroom with me. They’re 9 and 10 years old. The teaching is repetitive, and it starts as early as they understand language.
Where can we learn more about you and From Pain to Power?
On Amazon.com and at Lastbattle.org. At Lastbattle.org, I have posted my personal testimony and all related information to this talk will be there, under the “videos” tab, too. You can email me through the site, as well, by clicking on the “contact” tab.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker and President of Mann Counseling Group, P.C., Mary Ellen Mann has dedicated her life to empowering women devastated by the aftermath of sexual trauma. In From Pain to Power:Overcoming Sexual Trauma and Reclaiming Your True Identity (WaterBrook Press, September 22, 2015), Mann combines clinical expertise with profound Biblical truths. Her own personal experiences of having suffered through sexual violation, lends even more credibility and value to her fearless voice. Mann is an outspoken opponent to the victim status many women bear in silence and shame. She seeks to not just encourage women, but to also equip them with the spiritual weapons they need to thrive as “Princess Warriors.”
“While sexual injury is one of the many ways we can be violated, it stands to this day as the one that seems to create the deepest self-hatred and social stigma,” Mann explains. “In this book, I wanted to go into the darkest cave of these injured souls and turn on the light. I wanted to tell them they are not alone and they will overcome this. Sexual injury does not have to define who we are, only we as Princess Warriors get to decide that.”
Mann received her bachelor’s in sociology from Westmont College and a master’s degree from Columbia University. Recently, she also helped develop the first interactive website for survivors of sexual abuse, LastBattle.org, to help educate survivors, their family, friends, and Christian leaders about this devastating topic. Mann manages a private psychotherapy practice in Denver, where she lives with her husband and two sons.