Lady Gaga, Stigma and Surviving…

Erica's Camera 5.17.17 4427This winter Lady Gaga told the press that she has PTSD because she was sexually assaulted at age 19, and someone told me what people were saying about the news in town.

“Who does she think she is?” one guy apparently said. “She never fought in a war!” His friend agreed and scoffed at Lady Gaga.

Those words hit me in the gut. I too have PTSD because of sexual assault — and many other incidents of abuse and trauma. There’s clearly a stigma against survivors of sexual violence and there’s also stigma against people wresting with a mental illness like PTSD. Those two stigmas come together to create a unique breed of awfulness.

That stigma says that traumas I have experienced are my fault. Resulting injuries (especially mental injuries like PTSD) should be hidden because who wants to advertise that they are basically weak? Besides, the mental disability confirms that the problem was me in the first place; clearly I was a little crazy all along. I have placed myself beyond the community’s sympathy and protection.

It’s not true. None of that is true. The voice of that stigma is just as disgusting as the abuse itself, and it walks hand in hand with violence against women, justifying it and allowing it to continue.  If survivors are seen as responsible for domestic and sexual violence of violence, then we will never be able to confront the real source of the problem – which is the behavior of abusers and the culture that supports that behavior.

The problem has never been that many of us have come through hell and stood at the edge of the abyss and have gone on to throw ourselves into the work of building fruitful lives with the gut-wrenching effort of scaling a cliff. We sometimes fall or get hurt, and sometimes we look awkward or defeated. With the drive of Olympic athletes, we keep trying. We are, after all, survivors.

We are not the problem. Not me. Not Lady Gaga. Not the throngs of us who are in the same situation, fighting this fight every day as if it were a solitary struggle instead of some hidden, undeclared war right here in our homes and our communities. Survivors have plenty of comrades, even if our shared experience is not always visible. We are here, and as much as it feels otherwise, we are not alone.

Stigma survives because people are afraid. They don’t want to confront their own vulnerability to hurting others or to being hurt by others. Staying in denial is easier, and it lets people feel strong. Feeling strong is not the same as being strong though. We show our strength by looking at the truth, even if it isn’t attractive, and then taking our wounded selves to that sheer cliff and trying again to climb it.

Written by HOPE Center Volunteer Elizabeth O’Sullivan
You can find more of her writing on her website: