When L’Oreal wanted to tell women “I’m worth it,” they selected Erin Gray to deliver the message. She was also the face of Virginia Slim’s “we’ve come a long way, baby” campaign. She’s still delivering these messages for many domestic violence organizations including Haven House and the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
Ms. Gray played Kate Summers, the woman who had it all (marriage, family, career) on Silver Spoons. Her portrayal of Colonel Wilma Deering (beauty with brains) in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century made her a comic book cult icon. It didn’t hurt that she’d been one of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.
Path to Wellness and Empowerment
Ms. Gray witnessed her mother’s abuse and experienced sexual molestation and abuse as a child; and she experienced emotional abuse in her first marriage. After it ended, she lost six members of her small family. She went on a spiritual journey along a diverse, unstructured path. She investigated exercise techniques, philosophy, and psychology:
I’m somewhat of an orphan except for the family I’ve created. . .Every six months somebody would pass away. I had a very small family. . .difficult to lose my mom and dad. . .going through a divorce. . .teenage son. . .It was rough. . .you get through it. . .
I feel like I cleaned out the forest and got rid of the dead wood and trimmed the trees and now my forest or garden or whatever is ready to have a regrowth. . .feeling strong physically and mentally.
She told her story at the Hubbard House memorial breakfast in 2006:
The affectionate hugs [from her stepfather] turned to sexual abuse. The girl now lives in silent rage. Until one day she picks up a knife and says, “if you ever touch me again, I’ll kill you.” That child, that woman, of course, is me.
Therapy failed, but she found help for the emotional issues at Haven House:
People don’t know about the conditioning of abuse, the development deficits that result. The biggest question is “why doesn’t she leave?” They don’t understand the traps that are self-imposed.
She told the 800 people in the audience about the symptoms of abuse:
Muted sense: Abuse victims block out their painful experiences by withdrawing ~ isolated amnesia.
Attempts to meet unrealistic expectations: Abusers typically try to make their victims meet unrealistic standards of behavior and punish them severely when they fail.
Feels responsible for other people’s actions: Often told they have done something to deserve abuse.
Difficulty with decision-making: Told repeatedly what to do and how flawed they are; they don’t think, therefore, they can make appropriate choices.
Inability to trust: Cautious of new relationships ~ isolate themselves ~ low self-esteem.
Can’t separate emotions from actions: Act impulsively.
She closed by asking the audience to be what Alice Miller calls an enlightened witness:
It takes somebody in the society to say, “there is something wrong here.”
With her “spiritual sister” and fellow actress Mara Purl, Ms. Gray launched PurlGray Productions to produce PSA’s about domestic violence prevention:
We need to educate the public as to how to help people to get out of abusive situations, to recognize what a negative situation is, to help women not to make the wrong choices with men, to create self esteem within every individual and particularly every child.
Ms. Gray is married to photographer Richard Hissong. The couple met on the set of Silver Spoons. They work together to produce Chi Kung and Tai Chi videos.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.