In 1984, Sheila Ganz wrote, directed and produced an autobiographical play about her experience as a relinquishing mother for her graduate project at San Francisco State University. Along with the play she wrote this thesis.
Thesis to the play “they said, ‘pretend it didnt happen’”
(note: the apostrophe in didn’t is missing to symbolize the silence.)
by Sheila Ganz
“we ourselves are high art our world is honesty and the primal response.” – Ntozake Shange
In order for a self to survive an act of physical or mental abuse, without knowledge of physical or verbal defenses one’s thoughts and feelings – the vital spirit of the self – must be suppressed: and the ability for self-directed action will be hidden in silence for survival.
Powerlessness, “lacking authority or control over the environment of oneself” – Causes an inner struggle.
Anger, “an emotional reaction of varying degrees with intent to avenge or punish.” What is directed to the person with the power is unexpressed. The anger is directed inward with no place else to go.
Guilt, “for having committed a breach of conduct.” – One sees oneself as defenseless and ineffectual and begins to lose belief in one’s ability to take direct action. Through misplaced self-judgment a person may feel responsible for the powerlessness and for taking part in a socially unacceptable situation, “that causes shame or loss of honor.” And, when one feels anger toward the person with the power when there are established emotional ties, such as to parent, the guilt is intensified.
These necessarily concealed emotions become an interlocking mass of pain and inhibit growth.
Concealment, “to prevent disclosure or recognition.” Conditions a person to be wary and self-protect. This is held in place by fear, “an apprehensiveness.” One learns to hide, or avoid emotions by means of verbal silence, physical immobility, or action that is erratic and disconnected from tangible reality
This concealment, this silence is experienced on two levels. That which is felt safe to talk about in daily life and those thoughts and feelings one holds as secret memories and projections.
This conditioning becomes intuitive habit. It cuts oneself off from one’s inherent ability to express one’s thoughts and feelings. This creates the atmosphere that assumes the passive response.
The unspoken thoughts and feelings are frozen and buried in the unconscious causing pain and/or non-feeling. The silence serves to maintain the now self-imposed prison of passivity and alienation. This can bring about many forms of self-destruction in the effort to block, cut off, or obliterate the pain.
Only when there is an emotional recognition of the original and subsequent acts of abuse upon oneself can the suppressed ‘unlooked at’ anger and guilt be named and let go of. Thereby disintegrating the pain.
This ‘seeing’ and ‘naming’ breaks the chain reaction of powerlessness, anger, guilt, passivity, disconnection and silence. Breaking this silence is self-empowerment. It frees oneself to take direct action with “honesty & primal response.”
The ‘self’ leaves evidence, traces of images and experiences, inner and outer; past, present and future.
The play is my evidence.
It was several years after writing this play, that Sheila was inspired to make the documentary Unlocking the Heart of Adoption, a larger body of ‘evidence’ that includes Sheila’s story along with adult adoptees, birthparents and adoptive parents.
2023 (c) Sheila Ganz