The Girl on the Train is a movie about the devastating effects of abuse (Platt & Taylor, 2016). While the film is not based on a true story, there are many people in real life who have had similar experiences. I do not recommend this film as being therapeutic at all—it is quite disturbing—but I do think the film shows us some examples of abuse that happen all too often.
One of the main characters in the film looks like a "normal" person, but actually we discover that he is responsible for committing brutal, sadistic acts in private.
Abusive people in the community may have a façade of “normality.” Some of them can look like the healthiest people in the community…
In the film, we see the villain fabricate stories to manipulate and disorient the main character (Rachel). As part of this “gaslighting” behaviour, he makes the victim believe that she is the worst problem of all. Why does he do this? It is to attempt to justify his abusive behaviours, to manage his “normal-looking” impression in front of others, and to attempt to alter people’s discovery of the truth.
Instead of receiving help and empathy from the community, Rachel is seen as a problematic person—a worthless, unreliable, untrustworthy alcoholic. It is a heartbreaking example—it is indeed true that sometimes victims of abuse do become disorganized in their thinking, or involved in substance abuse, such that others might have a hard time believing their words. In the case of Rachel, no one has much empathy for her, and no one tries to understand her story, even when she is struggling so much (Platt & Taylor, 2016).
People who are well-educated, who have a well respected job, who live in a mansion or an upscale neighbourhood, who have wealth and assets, and who look “fine” are often assumed to be normal. But there are many cases of severe abuse in which those responsible look “normal” on the outside. We often see examples of this in the news.
Generally speaking, a person from the West has more understanding and empathy about abuse and trauma than someone from the East. In the East, there is less education about psychology and mental health. Also, in Eastern cultures, it is less common to discuss family problems with outsiders. Unfortunately, when victims of abuse who are from an Eastern cultural background speak up about their painful, devastating experiences, they are more likely to be criticized or doubted.
It is time for more people, especially those from collectivistic cultures, to know what abuse is, the devastating effects of abuse, and the battles that victims are being placed in. Members of the Asian community need more education about the abuse which goes on in their midst. This will allow people in these communities who are suffering from abuse to have more support, empathy, and encouragement, rather than suffering alone. It is a whole new layer of suffering to have stigma, guilt, or shame on top of the symptoms resulting from abuse. Education is a cure for this problem, and thankfully I see that we are already starting to move forward on this issue.
I wish there would be more and more and more lectures, movies, books, memoirs, art exhibits, and education about abuse and trauma. If you are interested to learn, you will find how complex abuse is. In many cases, just as shown in the movie, you will learn that victims often have to suffer a confusing lack of empathy and understanding from others, in addition to the suffering caused directly from the abuse.
I urge all of you to learn more about abuse, and to learn more about showing empathy and support to victims. Even health care workers and other caregivers need to provide more empathic support and encouragement to survivors of abuse. We must teach children about this subject, starting at an early age in the public schools.
If you have the opportunity to attend an educational workshop on the subject of understanding the impact of abuse, and of providing meaningful support or therapy, I strongly encourage it! Just last week I attended such a workshop, and found it very holistic and encouraging!
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)
If you have suffered abuse in the past, I hope psychotherapy, support and encouragement from others, as well as your own determination, can help you choose a healthy, positive path. Alcohol and drugs can be a temptation—and can also be pushed upon you by abusive people—but remember that your voice and your story become much more powerful when you strive hard to take a healthy, positive path.
No matter where you are, there will always be people who lack the knowledge or empathy to understand your story. The healthiest intention of sharing your story is to empower yourself and others. If you see that the other person does not show empathy, does not have at least a little bit of knowledge, or does not have the capacity to understand your story, it is best not to share all the details of your story. Such sharing, under those conditions, would not lead to any kind of empowerment. There are many formats to share your story that could empower yourself and others, such as memoirs, artwork, blogs, lectures, and of course discussions with people who are empathic. It’s important to set boundaries and to know where your limits lie, so that your sharing will not become yet another upsetting incident, or even a trigger for you.
Last but not least, don't forget about all the witnesses and other people who were involved in your story, people who sincerely encouraged and supported you along the way. Remember and acknowledge all the people who admire your courage and cheer you on!
My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart. (Maya Angelou)
Love yourself enough to create an environment in your life that is conducive to the nourishment of your personal growth. Allow yourself to let go of the people, thoughts, and situations that poison your well-being. Cultivate a vibrant surrounding and commit yourself to making choices that will help you release the greatest expression of your unique beauty and purpose. (Steve Maraboli)
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I obtain knowledge about abuse and trauma and practice my empathy and kindness towards people who have been through abuse.
Platt, M. (Producer), & Taylor, T. (Director). (2016). The girl on the train [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.