The Phenomenon of Re-Enactment

Esteemed memoir coach, therapist, teacher, author, and speaker JerryWaxler wrote a six week commentary about various aspects of my newly published book, Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe. In this post, I touch on some of his comments about which I either learned from or strongly reacted to. First, he talks about the lasting effects of sexual abuse. Wexler says, “Sexual abuse hurts for a lifetime, leaving behind a coating of shame.” Then he addresses, “reenactment”. ]

When one is “coated in shame”, reenactments of boundary violations are quite common and occur for a variety of reasons whether intentional (consciously) or unintentional (unconsciously). For example, I knew sometimes that I was getting into a relationship with a controlling person prone to override my boundaries but was unable to stop the process. Other times, I thought that I was making a solid choice only to find out I had chosen badly once again.

Reenactment mostly occurs inadvertently and results from the psychological vulnerabilities and defensive strategies characteristic of trauma survivors. One of the negative results for children who are sexually abused by someone with power, authority or physical size is that the developing child doesn’t learn appropriate bounderies. What seems “normal” to an abused child is to surrender, not only their body but also their thoughts, feelings, value, and beliefs (compliance).

Wexler writes, “The key event that started Dawn Novotny across the threshold from child to adult, was an attraction to a man who happened to be son of the famous baseball player Joe DiMaggio. She reminded Joe DiMaggio junior of his famous step-mother, Marilyn Monroe. Judging from the pictures on the cover, she looks like Marilyn, and based on the parallels of their abusive childhoods, she also had similar self-esteem and family problems.”

In a recent eBook called, Snippets of Marilyn and Me, I write about the similarities between Marilyn and myself that far extended any physical comparisons. I make the point that Joey Jr. was attracted to a felt sense that is common in persons that have a childhood history of abuse. An unhealed victim has a way of being in the world that unconsciously reflects their inner scars of abuse. It can range from subtle to overt. Nevertheless, there is a certain felt sense experienced by others.

Wexler went on to say, “Such an attraction is a fascinating example of “reenactment” meaning DiMaggio, Jr. was selecting a partner who would let him continue the journey of his childhood.”

I had a strong reaction to the words “let him.” It sounded as if I were consenting to a sky diving expedition to accommodate his fantasies. It is true that unhealed victims of abuse are often complicit in further abuse thereby “reenacting” their earlier circumstances but it is anything but an implicit or consensual agreement. I am sure “conscious consent” was not Mr. Wexler’s meaning. And he is correct in his examples of reenactment. Joey and I blindly bonded, then married inadvertently creating childhood reenactments.

Referring to reenactment, Wexler says, “And Dawn Novotny’s Ragdoll Redeemed is a perfect example of crucial life decisions that were based on the reenactment of primitive childhood experience. Joe DiMaggio, Jr. wanted to reenact his childhood fantasies of being close to Marilyn Monroe. And because Novotny had been repeatedly abused by men who looked at her as a sexual object, she was willing to go along with DiMaggio’s fantasy and become an object that would fulfill his needs. How strange and fascinating!”

“She was willing to go along with DiMaggio’s fantasy…” Again, I had a strong reaction to the use of certain terms like, “let him” and “willing to go along with…” And yet Wexler is right on when he states, “We are often pulled into life situations in which we attempt to replay circumstances of our childhood. The phenomenon often drives us to select partners uncannily reminiscent of our family history.”

Never underestimate the power of the phenomenon re-enactment. A powerful question for one to ask yourself is where in your current relationships might you be reenacting something from your history?







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