Q: What an incredible story, Melanie! I know you're a mom - how did this experience change how you mother your children?
A: Today my kids are 17 and 20 and I do think my childhood experience affected the way I raised them. I tried to make it safe for them to disagree with me or other adults. Today they’re comfortable speaking up for themselves, even to an authority figure. They’re confident and assertive. I’m not sure how much I consciously tied my parenting style back to my childhood trauma, or to what extent it was subconscious.
Q: Did the reporting help to give you your "power" back?
A: It did. It was the moment when I took charge of my story and made decisions about it. That said, giving this TEDx talk has taken my healing to a whole new level. Standing on stage and sharing my story, and now having it on the internet where anyone can see it, is a whole new wall of smoke and flames for me. It’s still early so I can’t say for sure, but I believe this is going to make me even stronger and more resilient.
Q: Melanie, looking back how has this trauma affected other parts or relationships in your life? More importantly, how have you continued to overcome them?
A: It’s hard to say how this has affected my relationships because I don’t know what my life would have been like if I hadn’t had this trauma. I do know that my relationships - with my now ex-husband, my children, my parents, my sisters, my close friends - have been life-giving and healing for me. The people in my inner circle have shown and shared love with me, and they have accepted me just as I am. Their love has helped me grow up to be a confident, happy adult.
Q: I read that you won the Moth competition, how do you think this childhood experience has impacted you as a storyteller now?
A: This TEDx talk is the first time I’ve talked about my childhood trauma on stage. However, I remember when I was a child, some days it took a lot of courage to walk into a new situation or to talk to a new adult or to be alone with a man. I think courage and boldness might be skills that we develop and build, and if so, in my childhood I build up a lot of strength. And today when I walk on stage to tell a story I tap into that strength. My heart is still beating a mile a minute but my muscles know how to overcome that.
Q: I’ve recently read a book where a therapist was working with a patient and was using hypnotherapy. They had buried their trauma so deep that they don’t actually remember but it was having a major impact on their life. I’m curious if your trauma was always with you, meaning you were conscious of it. Or was it something that came to the forefront more suddenly?
A: I’m not sure if this is typical but as a child I reviewed my story in my head on a regular basis. I went through the details, moment by moment, almost every day. I think I was afraid that I would forget. I knew it wasn’t recorded anywhere and perhaps I even felt my subconscious trying to bury the memory, and I was fighting against that. I didn’t want to forget.
Q: How does 2020 look different than 1977 in the way people think about reporting?
A: So many things today are different. In 1977 there was no sex offender database and sentencing for the few sex offenders who were caught was much lighter. There was no concept of trauma-informed care, so the act of reporting was often more traumatic than the assault itself. As a result, I think people were more hesitant to report. Our systems weren’t set up to take these reports seriously and deal with them appropriately. I’m not sure that was exclusive to the reporting of sexual assault though. It’s probably true of many other aspects of society. I hope that over the decades, as a culture we’ve become overall more compassionate and more kind and more just.
Q: Erin— Why do some people get to have “resilience” and some people seem to not? Is resilience also a brain neuro “function”?
A: There are many factors the contribute to resilience. Some are genetic / biological while some factors are environmental --- Nature and Nurture! Genetic and biological factors include things like…
There are many more than what I’ve listed but this gives you a general idea
Q: Dr. Watt, how much can neuroplasticity help trauma survivors’ brains? Are there things survivors can to do instigate greater neuroplasticity?
A: Neuroplasticity simply means that our brains have the ability to change through growth and reorganization. This can positively and negatively impact a trauma survivors’ brain. Some things that would promote healthy neuroplastic changes are:
Q: I was the victim of a molestation when I was 18 (in Nashville). I did not report it. I would like to consider reporting. I am now 50. How would I begin?
A: First, I’m sorry you had this experience. If you haven’t already, I would suggest you start by sharing your experience with a counselor. If you arrive at the conclusion that you do want to report, you can call the Metro Nashville Police Department, Sex Crimes Unit at 615-862-7786. If you want additional support on this journey, you can call the RAINN hotline at 800.656.HOPE. For local support, you can also contact the Nashville Sexual Assault Center at (866) 811-7473.
What is TEDx?
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TED has created a program called TEDx. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Our event is called TEDxNashville, where x = independently organized TED event. At our TEDxNashville event, TEDTalks video and live speakers will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events, including ours, are self-organized.