Author, speaker, and advocate, Joelle Casteix discusses The Power of Responsibility at TEDxPasadenaWomen Conference…
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Power of Responsibility by Joelle Casteix at TEDxPasadenaWomen
OK, everyone, let’s do an experiment. Close your eyes and think of a happy memory. One that makes you smile every time you recall it. OK, got it? Now open your eyes.
Now when you search your memory banks, were the events of your life a linear progression of everything, from birth until right now? No, of course not. What you recall were moments. And when I ask you to think about a happy one, a particular moment just popped into your head. I bet you didn’t even have to think about it, it’s just there, and you feel happy.
And you know what? That feeling of happiness doesn’t come from the actual moment, but instead, how we decide to react to the moment. That’s called our emotional response. We decide how to react, we decide what to feel. You decided, consciously or unconsciously, that the moment you remembered right now is a happy one.
So what does this tell us? It’s not the moments that define us, but our choices and our reactions that make us who we are. And in those choices resides our biggest potential. It is called responsibility. My story today is a story of responsibility.
I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. I’m 15 years old, and my high school choir director is sexually abusing me. The abuse lasts two years until I become too old, and he moves on to one of my friends. But before the abuse even starts, I’m very carefully groomed. Grooming is how a child’s sex predator weeds out the strong kids, with high self-esteem, because a predator doesn’t want those kids. Instead a predator targets the weaker ones, like me, a sad kid, a kid who needs love.
Predators use manipulation, flattery, attention, gifts, and time, to fill the holes in a child’s weak and suffering self-esteem. Let’s face it, my self-esteem has a lot of holes. I already have a history of depression, and I’ve been hospitalized for being suicidal. I crave time with an adult who will listen to me and validate me. I want a mentor. I need love. But I do not need, crave, or want sexual abuse.
When the abuse is in full force, my predator manipulates me into thinking that what is happening is not rape but love. And he does this to isolate me from my friends and family, and make himself the center of my world. That’s how a child’s sex predator creates a compliant victim. A victim who is too scared to say no, a victim who is too scared to fight back, a victim who is too scared to leave, and a victim who then becomes too scared to report.
By the time the abuse is over, I am wounded, and I am scarred. And I’m 17, I’m pregnant, and I have a sexually transmitted disease. And I am also utterly alone. In seeing the intended effects of grooming, but not understanding what’s going on, my friends and my peers, they think I wanted the abuse. They think I’m happy with it. They are scared of my predator, and they are disgusted with me. So I am totally isolated. A-ha! My abuser’s grand plan has worked! Because, you see, predators are cunning, and my friends and I are not.
Things are much better at home. My parents are old school, but my mother is nuts. So, when they find out about what is going on, it is very easy for them to point the fingers of blame at me. They tell me I should have known better. So without intervention and without support, my emotional development comes to a crashing halt. All I know how to be is a victim.
And as time progresses after the abuse, I find myself more and more in victim-like situations. I get into bad relationships, I am self-destructive, I hurt people who love me because, you know, all that is just true: hurt people, hurt people. I sabotage every chance of success I have. You see, I want to hurt, because pain is a feeling I understand. Pain is my friend, because you know what? Pain will never abandon me. But I hate myself for it.
You know, by this time, I’m a college grad, I was a straight-A student, I’m supposed to be conquering the world, not conquering myself. The years go on, and I still live like a victim.
Then, one day, I have this moment of clarity. Because I’m so steeped in self-loathing, moments of clarity are few and far between. And I realize that I’m dangling from this precipice of my own creation. All I need to do is let go, and I will crash. And it will all be over. How the hell did I end up here? My abuser didn’t force me here, my parents didn’t force me here at the point of a gun. My high school friends and peers didn’t force me here with torches and pitchforks. I put me here, by remaining a victim.
That day, I realize I have a real choice here: I can live or I can die. I can take responsibility and I can heal, or I can remain a victim and soon I will be pushing up daisies. So, in that moment, I decided I am going to do something that is totally against how I have existed for the past 10-12 years. I’m going to live. No; I’m going to thrive.
But the first thing that I have to do is going to be the hardest: I have to take responsibility for putting myself on that precipice. I have to take responsibility for my life. I have to take responsibility for the fact that my abuse happened. Not blame but responsibility. I was an innocent child, and the abuse was not my fault.
But you know what? I can’t change the past. So I have to make peace with it. And the only person who can do that for me is me. I have to take responsibility for the fact that, you know what, my parents, they weren’t perfect. But you know what, I turned out OK. They did a good job, and they love me, and they are sorry.
My choices, and my actions, and my reactions after the abuse were my doing, not theirs. It’s time to let go over anger, it’s time to forgive my parents. I have to take responsibility for the fact that the circumstances surrounding my abuse hurt a lot of other people. Oh my God, I finally understand why my friends were so mad. I realize that I can’t change their opinion of me, and it’s a opinion that still stings, but what I can do is I can tell them how truly sorry I am about what happened, and I can do it without blaming myself. When I do that, the sting starts to go away a little bit.
And then, as I take responsibility, it is like this veil is lifted. I can see –like holy smokes! — If I take responsibility, I can create the future that I want. I can create my potential, I can create a world full of happiness, joy, and engagement, and connection, I can use my story to empower and inspire, instead of using it to shame myself. I can be happy, and that’s startling, because I don’t even know how to be happy. But I was a straight-A student, so I’m going to buy book on how to be happy.
But I have to take control, I have to stop letting other ideas, people, and events trigger me into depression, or anger, or defensiveness. I have to choose to no longer be a victim, and I have to regain the power in my life.