We Endure Abuse to Survive, Part 1 by Karen Tate

I considered myself savvy and educated and an advocate for peace, fairness and equality.  I thought abuse was something that happened to others, not me.  But it was happening to me.  It had happened to me and I didn’t see the danger signs as my life careened off the road.  I became aware abuse and the resulting trauma can happen to anyone.  I came to realize we have to examine all aspects of our lives for both blatant and insidious abuse.  We must recognize it and take steps to eradicate abuse from our lives and society.  That’s where I’ve been on for the last five years and I’m only now able to begin to share that journey.  To write a new book, Normalizing Abuse, and bring my radio show, Voices of the Sacred Feminine, back on the air after a long hiatus.

Part One

If you knew me before my unraveling, you might remember I was the hostess of the Voices of the Sacred Feminine podcast for more than a decade where I had the privilege of interviewing some of the most prominent thought leaders in spirituality, politics and academia. I’d published six books, gave talks at the Parliament of World Religions, the Academy of Religion and various other public and private associations. I had done dozens of interviews and was all over YouTube. I was out there and then gradually I wasn’t. I faded away and became a shadow of my former self.  And for a time I don’t think I cared if I ever came back. I had no motivation or inspiration.  I didn’t open my closet for three years. I didn’t care if I bathed or brushed my teeth. I was dreaming someone was trying to push me into a dark hole in the wall of a building. I’d hear floorboards creaking and feared the foundation of the house I was living in would collapse. I’d wake up with heart palpitations because the latest dream was one where our home had no ceiling or roof. I’d think cars slowly driving by my house were surveillance. 

How did I escape the trap of this deep and dark abyss? Well, my escape or healing from the darkness actually began with insight and raised awareness triggered by my second Saturn return around the age of 60. I began to take stock of life because I was a tree with bare branches where nothing seemed to want to grow. Life hardly seemed worth living and I can remember beseeching Goddess, crying out to Her from my porch, asking if this was what I had to look forward to for the rest of my life…isolation, doctors and trips to the pharmacy. But all this anxiety and suffering was the result of what had come before I began to turn the corner during my Saturn return. Let me start at the beginning. 

As I look back, lifting the veil of memory, I, probably like so many of you, are saturated in some form of abuse, neglect and the resulting trauma – only we don’t know it. We don’t language it. It’s life. We just keep moving forward if we can. We obey authority. We endure the hardships to survive.  We hear this is just how life is.  We don’t know to call it abuse or neglect or exploitation or trauma – or sin. We just try to put one foot in front of the other. My earliest memory of trauma was the abandonment anxiety I felt when I first started school. I’d vomit every morning when the bell would ring calling the children in to class. Once I even peed my pants in grade school, too afraid to be disobedient and ask to be allowed to go to the bathroom, then suffering the humiliation of urinating on myself. Then there was the mysterious gynecological exam at age nine that left me traumatized as this ghoulish-looking doctor penetrated me with his fingers. Whenever I see the color orange I’m reminded of the chairs in his waiting room and become nauseated. Having my stomach pumped when the surgery to remove my tonsils resulted in hemorrhaging.  I can still remember the feel of that hose down my throat. Almost drowning during Hurricane Betsy as river water rushed down our street and rose up past our roof tops. When the plane I was in caught fire in the air over the Rocky Mountains and made a crash landing. My parents ongoing lack of interest in my accomplishments.  The whispering around family secrets no one talked about. My step-father’s abuse of my mother and then his abandonment, resulting in my mother’s alcoholism. The abusive bosses and co-workers. No one really tells us what’s acceptable in the workplace. The hemorrhaging again, so many nights, sitting on the toilet with blood pouring out of me because of uterine fibroids. The uncontrollable gushing making me fear leaving the house lest I bleed out in the car or in the grocery aisle.  Experiencing patriarchy in a skirt and woman’s inhumanity to woman within my spiritual community. Then there’s the religious and cultural abuse women are all subjected to within society. That’s the icing on the cake of our personal life already probably filled with a wide spectrum of abuse and exploitation, resulting in trauma.  And there are so many flavors of abuse…

Equal pay doesn’t exist, yet we are the heads of households. Maybe we belonged to a religion that messaged suffering and sacrifice are noble. We live in patriarchy where women are institutionally discriminated against and it’s considered normal.  Religion tells women they are second class citizens who don’t even have the right to their bodies and they must submit to husbands, the dogma of a male-led Church and their male god. Women’s purpose in life is to churn out babies and put a hot meal on the table and raise the kids. No wonder so many educated women resorted to medicating themselves!  

It wasn’t that long ago women couldn’t vote or have a bank account and some men today can be heard among their peers still lamenting women having those rights – afterall, if someone is desperate and dependent you can do almost anything to them. The new movie, Women Talking, takes on the gut-wrenching subject of Mennonite women being drugged and raped by the men in their congregation while the women are duped into believing their bruises and assaults were acts of Satan.  They feel trapped because they can’t read or write and haven’t even seen a map of where they live!

No doubt you too have been abused in the workplace by little people who bullied you or took some kind of advantage of you. Maybe you didn’t get acknowledgement or a raise because you were gay or you were let go because you reported some infraction of management to Human Resources who we usually find out is there to protect the company not the workers. We go into the world so unprepared. And we accept the misuse as normal. It’s just the way it is they tell us. We accept the abuse to survive.

No doubt you’ve been abused or exploited by some family member or friend but it’s really hard to hold someone so close accountable. They may be your safety net or your lifeline in society. This betrayal is sometimes the worst kind of abuse and the hardest to admit because you want to belong. You need your tribe and maybe that roof over your head. You ignore all the red flags and rationalize their behavior.

What I’ve described here amounts is the mere tip of the iceberg. There is so much more societal and cultural abuse…from government, the military, academia, the media, religion, police, from corporations…Only we make the mistake of not calling it abuse and exploitation.  And that’s what I decided I wanted to talk about in my new book, Normalizing Abuse.  And many of the contributors shared as well in their short snippets.  To expose the inundation because many of us may be enduring some kind of pervasive abuse or we are witness to it and may not even be aware of it. We’re being bombarded from so many directions that we may have become blind to it. The abuse almost feels normal. We might sense something’s not right, yet the problem is not apparent. That could be because abuse and the resulting trauma are not always blatant or obvious. It can be collective, insidious and pervasive. We may also be conditioned to it so deeply that is no longer recognized as abuse by the victim, perpetrators and greater society.  

(Continued in Part Two, next Wednesday)

Karen’s newest book, Normalizing Abuse will be out in early 2023. 

BIO: Karen Tate is a thought leader, speaker, seven-times published author, podcaster and social justice activist, Karen is a Caring Economy Conversation leader and Power of Partnership presenter.  She has a certification from Smith College in the Psychology of Political Activism:  Women Changing the World and she can be seen in the award-winning docu-film, Femme: Women Healing the World.  She has been named one of thirteen Most Influential Women in Goddess Spirituality.  Her newest book, Normalizing Abuse: A Commentary on Our Pervasive Culture of Abuse is scheduled to be published in January along with the return of her long-running podcast, Voices of the Sacred.  For more information:  http://www.karentate.net

10 thoughts on “We Endure Abuse to Survive, Part 1 by Karen Tate”

  1. This is a critically important post. Burying pain, abuse, anguish is normal for women in all cultures and uncovering it and speaking out takes enormous courage but each time we do we may touch one woman… help her to begin her own process of retrieval of self. FAR is a safe place and we can simply be grateful it exists.


  2. Thank you for this clarifying vision, as well as your passion for forging a better future for us all. I do think that future generations, living in that better future, will look back on our lives and wonder how we survived. When we look through this lens and see how many different names we use for what is really normalized abuse it becomes clearer how to address it in so many elements of our lives. Naming is so often the first step to responding effectively. I look forward to both your next post and your book!


    1. Carolyn I think so many of us are living in our own private hell scape. We’ve become detached from the reality of the abuse. We are obedient little hamsters on the wheel, sheep being led, enduring for the paycheck or the belonging or the education, etc.


  3. Thank you so much, Karen. You have detailed so many aspects of what I would call women’s historical trauma. This is so important.


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