Stand-In or Star: Taking Center Stage in Your Healing

Mar 17th, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Sharing Hope

by Bethany

A friend of mine used to be a stand-in on a network show. While the actors were in their trailers, he stood in front of the camera. He was examined from every angle while the crew perfected the lighting and worked out the camera positions before filming. But when the time came for the director to yell “action”, the real actors were brought in to perform.

He was the same height and build as the star he filled in for. He had the same hair color and skin tone as the actor. But he was no replacement for the talent. His only purpose was to help the crew prepare before the real work began.

Reading about other survivors is like having stand-ins. Having a stand-in allows you to be able to see a situation on someone else before you try it on yourself. You can view it from different angles and see how the same might apply to your life. You have the opportunity to see if you identify with a story, a situation, or an emotion.

Since my mom and I started Overcoming Sexual abuse, many readers tend to label me as the child. Since my first post, messages have flooded my inbox. Some of them have been people who wanted support in their healing process, but the majority are survivors who offer to help or comfort me in my own healing.

You’re the star of your own healing journey.

No matter how far along in my healing or what I write about, many survivors see me as struggling in pain or still victimized. They assume that I still feel the emotions that I haven’t felt in a long time.

But I’m just the stand-in for your healing.  Empathizing with the pains of my past does nothing for your own healing.  It’s necessary to try the emotions on for yourself. What do you feel?

It’s hard to acknowledge such painful memories.  It’s much easier to imagine my pain and to seek to comfort my inner child than your own.  Empathizing with my emotions is easy. It’s safe. Cheering me on might help you feel like you’re above the situation instead of in the middle of it.

It’s even harder to realize where those feelings come from.  Maybe your favorite uncle didn’t love you after all, maybe your mother betrayed you, maybe your family really did know what was going on.  Facing those truths can be agonizing.  It’s much easier to help me heal than to help yourself. Dealing with my inner child does nothing for your healing. Identifying with someone else’s story isn’t doing the actual work. There’s no replacement for the star.

You’re the star of your own healing journey. Healing requires you to allow the spotlight to be on you. Healing means sifting through your past, getting into the character of that inner child and reliving emotions that are dark and painful. Healing takes facing the lies you believed and seeing the truth. Being the star is hard work.  But the star gets the biggest pay-off. Your healing journey is unique to you. Let your healing take center stage instead of being upstaged by the stand-in.

Related Posts:
Preparing to Heal from Sexual Abuse
Six Million Dollar Healing: Completely Invested in the Process


Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.

[read Bethany’s story here]

Does this resonate with you? Please join in by leaving your thoughts and feelings about this topic and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments.

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  1. Bethany,
    Another great article that hits home. It is so easy to get caught up in other’s problems in healing and I find it always helps me to ask myself ‘what does this mean for me and my issues’ when a topic stirs me up.This was a theraputic tool I was taught to use. No one can do this work for us and this is a good reminder to us all not to get distracted from that goal. I don’t want a stand-in when i can have the real thing. ((HUGS)) and thanks, Linda

  2. Bethany,
    This reminds me of what we were discussing on the OSA Facebook page today. I used to be so busy ‘helping’ other people. The good feelings I got from that helped to mask my pain. As long as I was occupied and running around taking care of others, I could avoid my own issues. I never saw it as the coping method that it actually was. Thanks for sharing this, Bethany!

  3. Thanks, Linda! That’s so good that you ask yourself that. When we actively seek out healing it comes much faster than just waiting for it to “come to us”.

    Mom, that’s so true. It’s way too easy to keep busy to mask the pain. Too often there is never a break to hear yourself think. And without knowing what’s going on in your head it’s impossible to heal.

  4. While I am not a blog writer, I do belong to several support groups on fb…OSA, EFB, RSOSA. I am ever grateful for those who have friended me or friends that message me or friends and nonfriends who comment on my posts. I don’t know what their motives are and that really is irrelevant because I can do lots of things like not respond, delete the person, or tell them if they were bothering me; but I know I when I friend or message someone it is because I feel we have something in common in our journeys. I never offer to help them as I am not a professional, but I do offer to listen if they ever need. I know sometimes they may not want it, as I may not want their support sometimes…but in truth if I identify strongly with someone’s blog or post sometimes I feel like if I were them I might need someone to talk to and I want them to know that I am here…that’s all…just here and I will listen and that’s it. I won’t tell you what to do, I will just let you tell me whatever you want to tell me if you need someone to vent to or a neutral uninvolved party to just listen. And yes, it is because I identify with the blogger or poster. But you do raise an interesting point… I have never thought you and your mother were are stand ins…I always viewed you both as part of my peer group who write blogs rather than just post on the group wall – co-survivors if you will; sometimes I agree with points you bring up…sometimes I don’t…and that’s okay doesn’t make either of us right or wrong.

  5. Wendi, This isn’t about not offering eachother help. It’s about not neglecting yourself. It’s possible to be working on your own healing while offering encouragement to another, but sometimes helping is a substitute.

  6. Out of curiosity, how do you know when someone is neglecting his/herself rather than reaching out? Who decides that?

  7. I think it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves if they are neglecting their own healing. I wrote this blog to raise awareness of what is pretty common place for survivors. It’s really easy to disassociate, and reading about someone else’s pain can be an opportunity to do so. I think a lot of people do want to offer help just for the sake of caring. The survior community is extremely compassionate. They come with a good heart, but it’s good for everyone to examine what thier motives are and if they are covering up thier own feelings. I want to make sure that anyone who reaches out me with concern gets taken care of as well. My desire is for them to put thier healing as number one. But again, it’s not up to me. it’s up to each survivor to decide that.

    What do you think?

  8. Hi Bethany, I just wanted to tell you that I love this post! Some people think we post our stories because we are so lost in our grief and our pain and they feel sorry for us. I don’t want pity and so forth. I only want to encourage others to face the truth of their stories and the lies they have believed so that they too can find healing. Many will embrace our pain as a way to escape their own. I love your post here because it is a great reminder to not get lost in someone else’s story but to stay focused on our own and do the tough work of facing and accepting our stories. Thanks!!

  9. I think if I am confident and aware of my own feelings it doesn’t matter what anyone’s motives are, nor does it matter what they assume are mine (as their thoughts are most definitely a reflection of their feelings just like mine are of mine). I try very hard to be aware when I am making assumptions about what other people think, feel, or mean…and realize that is not my place and is likely to be inaccurate as I am making judgment based on me – because I have no idea what it’s like to be them. All I have to do is be aware of how it makes me feel and react accordingly…and I try to do so with compassion.

  10. Bold! Very bold and very true. Thank you for writing this Bethany. I think I’ve been doing this very thing. I recently discovered that in addition to abusing my sister and me, my father also abused my nieces. I’ve been focused lately on helping them and comforting my sister. I can feel outrage and empathy for everyone else, but I feel flat or dead when it comes to me. I wrote a letter to my dead father and brought it to my therapist this week. I hadn’t even realized that I began the letter with, “Dear Daddy.” I was making great strides in my recovery until it came to the point of having to feel angry with my father. I can feel angry with my sister, my mother, myself and my poor husband all day long. But the one who raped my tiny self? Nope. Nada. Nothing. What the heck? I need to step up and let the stand in take a break. I just don’t seem to know how to do that…

  11. Bethany,
    I like the picture you painted in this post!
    As a blog author myself, I have run across this issue too and sometimes it is almost as though people want to argue with me about my own life and my feelings about it. It took me a while to realize that when this happens it is usually about them and what is triggering them and not really about me. And it also took some time for me to realize that when I had certain reactions to other peoples posts that often they triggered something in me too. It really does come down to each of us doing our own work.

    Here is the way that I took what you were writing about getting emails or comments where people don’t seem to believe that I have recovered ~ that happens to me too, and it seems to be the way that it is worded that makes me either feel judged, or supported. Sometimes people offer to come along side me and that is fantastic. Other times people seem to look down on me or insult me and indicate that they feel sorry for me or that they “know” I can’t possibly have dealt with whatever issue they are writing me about and that takes me back to when I was abused and always told that I was wrong, or crazy. There is a big difference in those two types of comments or emails.
    Hugs, Darlene

  12. Here is the way I took what was being written about in this blog…you were bothered by some or all, or maybe the sheer number of messages you got…either the content or just the fact that you were getting them. So, you made assumptions about the intent of the messages based on how you felt in reaction to them and you projected that on to the message senders as if you know that was their intent, and my opinion is that it was done in a kind of cold way. And you not only told us we should take care of ourselves and our issues, and how sending you messages means we’re not…but you did it in the name of taking care of us and our issues which is exactly what it seems you thought we were doing for you. I have no doubt at all that what you say about others projecting onto you is true…and I agree it is easier sometimes to do something under the guise of taking care of others than to say this is about me and how I feel.

  13. Thank you, Dwyanna. So glad you enjoyed it. :)

    Gabrielle, it’s great that you’ve come to realize that. It’s such a huge step in the right direction, huh? It’s so easy to disassociate from our pain when others’ pain is so close to us.

    Darlene, yes! I can so identify with that. I definitely agree. There are two very different types of emails we receive. And I don’t always know which are which. But there are a select few that are very clear to me what is going on, it it does make me concerned. I want those people to face their issues, not my own.

    Wendi, Thanks for explaining how you took that. I was having trouble understanding your comments until you clarified that. I’m sorry if what I wrote sounded cold. I can understand how you might think I meant that I don’t want people contacting me or offering support. That’s not what I meant. What I was trying to say is that sometimes people identify me as the youngest and most vulnerable member of the OSA team and they project their feelings of vulnerability onto me. I appreciate the encouragement and support of fellow survivors. Like Darlene mentioned in her comment, some of them are condescending, but the majority of them are truly caring people. The condescending ones bother me, but I’m not trying to guess the motives of the other ones. Whatever their reasons for reaching out to me, that’s their business. I really wanted to say in my blog that supporting me is good, but only if it’s not at the blog readers expense. I encourage the support of others. That’s what we do here on OSA. We are a community of survivors who support each other.

  14. Among many other things, I am a widow and also as the mother of a teenager who was in residential therapy for mental health issues/treament. I can really identify with the dynamic you describe here, Bethany. I do my best to reach out and support widows and parents of struggling teens, especially when the widows are young or the teens are engaging in dangerous behavior. I remember how terrifying those experiences were at times, and it’s an honor for me to let others know they are not alone.

    There are times, however, when I find I respond with emotion that is inordinately strong and, in retrospect, misplaced. It is at those times I have to check in with myself and see where that is coming from. There are plenty of times I can engage in a healthy exchange of need and support, but when I find myself being overbearing or overly emotional, I pretty much come back to the fact that there is something in me that is calling out for my attention. I may need to apologize to someone, I may need to just back off for a bit, I may need to honestly share my struggle with the person I’ve responded to so strongly … but I definitely need to stop and take stock and take care of my own wounds which have caused a wonky response or interchange. If I ignore my own issues, the strength and inappropriateness of emotion seems to simply grow. If I get lost in ‘helping’ someone else while avoiding my own pain or need, no one really benefits from that. People aren’t dumb; they know when it’s really about you even when you try to make it sound like it’s about them.

    It’s a variation on a theme I saw as people tried to learn how to interact with me after my husband died or when my daughter was suicidal or in the psych ward. Oftentimes they said things that hurt or just came across weird, most likely because my loss sparked a fear or discomfort in them. Of course they felt odd around me. I felt odd around me. Knowing that I can get whacked out so that I need to stop and look closely at myself helps me to have a bit more patience with others, whether they bother to stop and look closely at themselves or not. (But honestly there are those times I’m not so patient and it just bugs me! ; ] ) It’s possible to walk a balance wherein we genuinely reach out to others while still taking care of oursleves; sometimes it takes constant readjustment, like tightrope walkers who continue to shift their weight or balance sticks so they can stay upright . We are wounded healers, and we won’t do life perfectly, but we can keep a healthy balance if we are willing to do the work.

    I’m so glad I came across this blog post; this is something I’ve been aware of and wrestling through lately. Thanks for letting me share my experience.

  15. That was a very generous message to give your readers.
    I am in therapy and having a hard time letting it be about me.
    I try to talk about my therapist instead, and he keeps saying “this is about you.”
    But I don’t want it to be about me, that idea make me feel alone, empty and depressed. That WAS me, so putting the focus on me feels like…”-Wow, focus on me…okay…lonely, alone, sad, afraid…really? Can’t we talk about you? You’re a guy, like I wish I had been so I would’ve been safe. You seem happy and friendly…are you sure we can’t make this therapy about you? ‘Cause you seem like a much better subject than angry, isolated, female me.”

  16. Dear Bethany, Your analogy and words gave me goosebumps. I thought I was well on my way to healing
    when, just this week, my psyche let me get to an even scarier place. I finally realized that my chronic , horrible
    pelvic pain is a direct result of my abuse. I now own that knowledge. When four doctors and I came to that conclusion the other day, I thought, “oh God, now I’m truly in the deepest part of this muddy swamp.” It terrified me.
    Then, just now, as I sat here reading your words, I realized that I may be in the mud, but at least I know where I am. And I see that it is, in fact, me in this place. I finally have a true picture & a real location. It sucks, but at least I understand what I am dealing with, I own the reality that was forced upon me, & I have faith I will be able to use MY TRUTH as a compass to guide me out of this place. Thank you for throwing a rope I can hold on to. Ur words just moved me closer to my healing myself. A huge hug 4 u! <3 Rachel

  17. Rachel, I’m so glad this moved you. Being in the thick of healing is both a terrifying and great feeling. It awesome to know you’re getting somewhere. :)

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