Dancing in the Shadows by Laura Bryannan


Please note that when I wrote Dancing in the Shadows I was actively facilitating healing workshops for survivors of incest and sexual abuse. This is no longer the case. However, rather than rewrite the book to change phrases like, "In the groups that I run...." to past tense, I decided to put it up on the Web as it was originally written.---Laura Bryannan, 1996.

This book was written to support women who are seeking to explore and begin healing their experiences of incest and sexual abuse. In my work with women survivors (and as a survivor myself) I have found that activities involving the body, the emotions and the spirit often bring the greatest awareness and healing.

The mind protects the survivor of trauma and abuse; it locks the experience away in a safe place so the child is not overwhelmed. However, one of the consequences of the mind taking this action is that it often becomes the paramount ruler in the woman's psyche--the body and the emotions become blocked, the woman has trouble knowing how she feels and often has little regard for her body or its needs.

By adulthood, when the survivor seeks to heal the wounds of her childhood, it is often the mind that provides the greatest resistance to growth. It reasons, "The structures, blocks and barriers I've set up have kept her safe so far, so I must thwart any attempt to change them." Thus, old and untrue attitudes about the self and the world stay entrenched. Some survivors can talk to a therapist for years without any of the emotions or body awareness of the abuse coming to the surface.

Body-oriented exercises that utilize art, dance, play, ritual, story, mythology, meditation and guided visualization often bring transformation earlier and easier simply because the mind is not as engaged. These kinds of right brain activities require imagination and creativity, not rational thought. They reach beyond the mind's protections into the heart and soul of the woman seeking healing--sneaking in the back door, so to speak--and bring change before the mind knows what has happened!

This is more subtle and gentle than the "lets get together, tell our stories and cry and scream about them" approach. In fact, telling one's story is never a requirement in my groups. Bits and pieces of her past the woman feels comfortable sharing will come out during the various processes as the weeks go by. It is a way of allowing healing to occur without creating another abusive environment.

There is enough material in this book to provide at least ten weeks of activities for a group meeting once a week. Most of what is written here can also be utilized by individuals working on their own. The exercises are not presented in any official kind of order, nor is it required to explore every exercise presented. However, I have found that the "Woman Ritual" works best with women who know each other well, so wait until you've had six to eight sessions together before you try it, or use it at your last meeting as a wonderful send-off experience.

Turning your attention to the pain in your past is never an easy thing. The exercises and meditations in this book come from the position that "rubbing your nose" in your abuse is not the answer. You can approach the abuse gently and lovingly, reverently aware of the spark of Holiness in you that kept you alive and sane. Choosing to work with this kind of healing is incredibly brave--please let yourself acknowledge this. Congratulations! I wish you all the best in your search for wholeness and happiness.

Chicago, 1992
Laura Bryannan

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Last Updated: 10 mar 99
Laura Bryannan