Don’t Censor Your Inciting Incidents

As a writer, I find it unfortunate when I hear others say that they are not defined by their past. I often wonder at that phrase as we are creatures of habit with an insatiable curiosity of our world and its history. We compile historical records of cultures, empires, nations, epidemics, wars, and even our genealogy for study, however, we dismiss negative or traumatic events in our own lives. Some believe that denying any impact these events have had on our lives is empowering. Some believe they have ascertained some measure of healing when they can say they are not defined by such an event. Others simply cut out that part of their life like it’s a cancerous growth. I understand the need to extinguish pain, suffering, and grief.

2014. Natalie Edwards. Åland, Finland.
2014. Natalie Edwards. Åland, Finland. Used with permission.

I recently had this conversation with a man who felt that my activism was linked to some horrible tragedy and I should let go of the past and not let it define me instead of being an advocate. He didn’t like my views, specifically my feminism, and after mansplaining IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) as it pertained to a murder victim and how this woman’s murder was her own fault, he went on to discount all that I said. My activism, my voice, my advocacy were all discredited if I had suffered any type of abuse or trauma. My words were biased, my voice and views suspect and subsequently discarded. Obviously, this man was a fool, but it concerned me that there are those who routinely tell others not to let the past define them. Sadly, many will listen.

We are defined by our past and that’s an inescapable truth.

Those who are struggling with some tragedy will be inclined to listen to any advice they get without much choice in the matter. When our mental health is compromised, we may not trust our own instincts and will rely on others to help us regain the wholeness we lost to tragedy. We don’t take our mental health serious. We suppress. We downgrade. We rename things so they’re not offensive and scary. We conceal mental health struggles and depression from those around us out of fear, shame, and a need to be accepted. It bothers me that so many would rather ignore their past completely than consider the actual meaning of not being defined by tragedy and how this view could negatively impact the healing process.

In this world, we are all characters in an ongoing story. To deny your past is to cut out a chapter of your soul. Threads from the tapestry of your story weave together to create a unique design. Any one of those threads may be ugly, dark, and lifeless but should you pull it? Should you separate yourself from that thread just to show others how much you’ve healed?

Inciting incidents are never pretty, but they’re not meant to be the end of the story. 

A story has many parts, but more often than not, the most crucial part is the inciting incident. Don’t censor your inciting incidents when they occur in life. Don’t be afraid to own them. Telling people they don’t have to be defined by their past is a convenient way to shame them into silence, especially where matters of abuse or injustice have occurred, (depending on who offers such advice).This counsel dismisses a victim’s experience. It gives the adviser the ability to assuage their own guilt for perpetuating that trauma or for looking the other way as it occurred. Sometimes the person offering this advice is actually the one responsible for the trauma. More often than not, this advise is well-meaning and offered to sooth. That doesn’t make it right. You may have no control over some life situations, but you are in control of how you respond to them. By weaving those harsh colors in your life’s tapestry, you have the potential to create something beautiful out of what was once ugly  and dark.

In art and design, colors don’t exist just to be named, but to be transcended. Artists must go beyond the interpretation of color. A painting is defined by each of its colors and they all perform a function by adding value, shadow, contrast, emphasis, light, balance, and structure. That one dark thread you wish you didn’t see is doing a lot more than causing you pain. No one’s life is an image with one hue. Some colors may be muddled when viewed up close, but when you step back you see how that one color you hate so much, the one you sought to extinguish, is actually part of a much bigger picture.

2014. Natalie Edwards. Åland, Finland.
2014. Natalie Edwards. Åland, Finland. Used with permission.

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason or that there’s some master plan of supernatural design guiding me and my life events. I don’t believe a child’s abuse or a person’s rape happens for a reason. I find it rude, insensitive, and dismissive for someone to suggest that some deity had a reason for a person’s disease, their experience of abuse or violence, or the death of their loved one. This supposed reason is usually some lesson the deity intends for the person to learn. Bad things happen, and not because of the opposing forces of deities or supernatural forces. Tragedy is a part of life. These colors exist. It’s what you choose to do with those colors once they’ve spilled onto your canvas that makes the difference in how you’re defined (but remember what’s most important is how you define yourself). Ever try to erase watercolor or ink from paper? Not easy. If you try to cover up spills, blotches, or imperfections it can rip your canvas. Pull a loose thread and it can unravel the entire tapestry. The past can’t be erased so why deny its existence? We are defined by our past and that’s an inescapable truth.

All good stories have conflict and begin with an inciting incident. The character grows through action and at the end of the story readers can see their arc. These arcs are a work of art. They are paintings filled with contrast, sharp angles, stark lines, and blotches, unified through harmony and light  and structured by rhythm and balance.

I am defined by my past. I am all the things that have ever happened to me and around me, and I refuse to deny my history or to censor my story but to learn and grow from it. I embrace my past, whereby in my present, I am able to write my future.

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2014. Natalie Edwards. Åland, Finland. Used with permission.

With special thanks to photographer Natalie Edwards and artist Desiree Edwards.

 

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Don’t Censor Your Inciting Incidents”

  1. I am baffled by the guy who discredits your activism because it is born out of personal trauma. Does this mean that he has discarded all of his “baggage” and his own personal activism has nothing to do with his past?

    Does he advocate for anything?

    Even if he’s one of those nutter white dudes who thinks because he’s a white dude that makes him amongst the most discriminated in the country. Clearly he would feel this way, and advocate for that position, because he feels he’s been discriminated against on account of his white dudeness.

    No matter what position you are advocating for, it’s because it was seeded by your past experiences. To quote Agent Smith, “It is inevitable.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This guy was was full of white privilege (unknowingly so) and felt my feminism was of the militant variety. We were discussing the murder of a woman whose boyfriend had disemboweled her with his hands. My point in the discussion was that news headlines routinely diminish crimes against women and in this case many headlines were calling it a crime of passion wherein the man reacted violently after the woman had called out another man’s name during sex.

      Her murder was the most gruesome and violent I’d ever heard of, and I couldn’t believe how the media chose to run the story. I questioned that this even occurred (calling out another’s name) given the crime scene layout and police reports. The man with whom I was speaking believed the killer was telling the truth (HOW do you take the word of a confessed killer let alone one who kills in such a violent manner?!) and said it would have pissed him off too if a woman did that to him. He went on to say he understood how someone could commit this level of violence.

      His comments were frightening and I told him as much and he said I was taking the whole discussion out of context likely because I had issues with men.

      This is largely how most conversations go with men who feel threatened by feminism. It’s futile to discuss women’s issues with an MRA, but I didn’t realize these were his leanings when I questioned his response. These discussions usually end in verbal attacks being made against the woman, and his notion of my feminism being biased due to some personal issue was nothing I hadn’t experienced before. What gave me pause was that he said he had moved on from personal experience and didn’t let it define him and suggested I do likewise. That silence is a huge part of the problem when it comes to issues of abuse. I realized then that many victims had likely been taught that silence is the best recourse for moving on and I immediately began writing this post.

      I’m not inclined to follow advise offered by MRAs and given the subjects I write on, I know to expect a backlash. I closed my former blog after receiving threats of violence and rape, not realizing this was the norm for women on the net. I came back and this doesn’t bother me anymore nor does it bother me for someone to discredit my activism. There’s always going to be a backlash against feminists from those who fear a loss of power or from those who fear women’s rights is an attack on their faith.

      But what I couldn’t abide was for any victim to be told that if they’re speaking about their abuse or the abuse of others then they must have daddy issues or maybe someone raped them or they haven’t been able to get over their past. It’s victim shaming of the worst kind, in my opinion. When victims do come out, they’re blamed, their word is questioned, they’re victimized all over again by the justice system and all while their abuse is still so fresh. To think that after coping with these issues victims must then keep quiet, smile, and be expected to not be defined by something that changed not only their life but changed who they are at their core, is bullshit and it’s another form of victim shaming.

      With the rise of mass shootings and violence in the US it’s unbelievable to me that we don’t take mental health more serious, especially given advancements in genetics. We don’t reach out to those we know are suffering or have suffered. We support our troops overseas until they come home and then they’re left on the streets, in the cold, to deal with the horrors of war alone.

      It’s still taboo to deal with depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. We all know about it, but we still don’t talk about it openly, and of course I understand why. There’s the fear of losing one’s job, of losing one’s children, of losing one’s credibility, and of being laughed at or not being accepted. It’s not surprising that one of the most used devices in horror genres is mental health, and sad with this much awareness that we still remain apathetic to its treatment and study.

      I don’t care how many seek to silence my activism. That’s a given. But I feel compelled to tell victims that their silence is not a badge of mental health achievement.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Kimberly,

    We are all informed and defined by our pasts. The idea we are not is just a glib phrase bereft of meaning. Because as humans we mostly share similar emotions, it is our past…our history that gives us some degree of uniqueness. Where this notion of not being defined by ones past comes from is a misunderstanding of psycho-therapeutic thought. A person who is stuck in living their lives based on unpleasant histories does not allow themself to grow emotionally. The process then is to allow people to process those traumatic past experiences and give themselves permission to move on.

    The “moving on” though, is not repressing those past memories, but refusing to allow them to control ones life. As a psychotherapist I went through five years of my own therapy to allow me to come to terms with the pain I was carrying from my past, that was constricting my actions in the present. When I went into training, I went through another five years of psychotherapy that coincided with my training at an institute. Therapy has allowed me to live and grow and most especially change as a human being. Yet the trauma of my own childhood remains in my memory and informs me for how I encounter life.

    As a child there was an incident that led me to the concept of “Don’t Hurt Little People”, which I’ve written about. That concept remains with me, has been expanded to all areas of my life and is the source of my empathy for others. As Paul Simon wrote in “The Boxer”:

    “In the clearing stands a boxer,
    And a fighter by his trade
    And he carries the reminders
    Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
    And cut him till he cried out
    In his anger and his shame,
    “I am leaving, I am leaving.”
    But the fighter still remains”

    We all carry the scars of our childhood, which contribute towards making us individually unique and I am skeptical of those who say that they have put them aside..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Perfectly said. I included a paragraph on repression versus processing but struck it. Thank you for adding that because it’s important to differentiate between the two. I’m no counselor and appreciate your insight and experience on this process. I have scars too and like you, am skeptical of those who say their past has been put aside.

    Like

  4. Wow, this made me question everytime i said “don’t let this define you” with good intentions. I had meant it as a way to try to make them remember that it is not their fault and they are not still a prisoner from the pain of it, but I never realized that by not allowing them to have it, it was a form of victim blaming. I guess they can be not independent from it and still be empowered! I’m glad I read this, thanks for sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think we forget that victims have been blamed and shamed for so long in our society that the meaning of this advice, even when its purpose is meant to be empowering, could be misinterpreted as … if I talk about this, people will tell me I’m letting it define me or they’ll think I’m not healing or moving on. What you’re saying is don’t get trapped in that one moment. Move forward, but they may be hearing something completely different. They need to own it, study it, dissect it, and take their power back from it, to be utterly in control of that healing process. 🙂

    Like

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