my friend uses her sister’s assault as a motivational story at work

A reader writes:

I’m asking this on behalf of a friend, and I want to caution that this question includes potentially triggering content about sexual assault. But this is bothering me so much that I need help from somewhere. Now, here’s the context and backstory.

I have a good friend, Amy, who I have been friends with for many years. She and I do not work together nor work for the same company, but we do work within a couple of miles of each other. We often have lunch together and will even carpool to and from work sometimes.

Amy also has an adopted sister, Lynn. Amy and Lynn were friends in high school many years ago. During that time, Lynn’s father was sexually abusing her. When Amy found this out, she told her parents, who in turn called the police. Long story short, Amy’s family adopted Lynn and raised them as sisters from then on. Lynn has never spoken to her seen her biological family since. She has blossomed into an incredible woman. She is married to a good man with two children of her own, and is a very nice person (my family has known Amy’s family for my entire life, so I know almost all of her relatives).

Amy is a team leader at her job, and part of her role involves coaching, correcting, and directing newer employees. She is supposed to assign work to them, but also guide them along to make sure it is done properly.

During one of our recent lunches together, Amy told me that she often tells her direct reports the story of Lynn’s rape and recovery as a “see, you can overcome anything” type of motivation. I … was very taken aback by this. I told her that seemed wildly inappropriate, and surely there were better ways of sending that message. I also told her that she shouldn’t be telling strangers such a personal, painful story about her sister. Amy insisted that the story always went over well and that people were always very moved. She also said that Lynn doesn’t mind if she talks about it and is happy if her story helps someone else. That may be true, but I think that Amy is way overstepping her boundaries on this.

I’m also not convinced that her story is going over as well as Amy says. Amy tends to see things how she wants to see them, versus how they actually are. I also foresee an uncomfortable employee complaining to Amy’s boss, which could lead to her being reprimanded or fired.

I don’t want to get involved in this from a work standpoint. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to contact anyone at Amy’s organization. But I would like to find some way to get through to Amy that this is Not Okay. I realize I am not really involved and there is only so much I can do, but I do feel obligated to at least try to get Amy to stop. If she won’t then she won’t, and things will happen however they may.

Oh noooo.

This is problematic on so many levels: this not being Amy’s story to tell, plus the incredible wrongness of using someone’s sexual assault by a family member as a workplace motivator (WTF?!), plus the high likelihood that Amy will or already has relayed this as a “motivator” to someone who has similar trauma in their past.

I assume Amy means well, but this is so, so wrong and weird. And it’s no doubt seeding intense discomfort with her among the people she’s coaching and managing. Her insistence that it always goes over well is troubling too, because it indicates a lack of awareness of power dynamics — of how people often respond when someone in a position of power over them does something weird and uncomfortable, especially when they’re put on the spot and didn’t see it coming. Few people have the presence of mind to push back in the moment, so she’s absolutely wrong to take the lack of pushback as an indication everyone is fine with this.

As for what you can try… If you haven’t already, you should definitely point out to Amy that, statistically speaking, she’s highly likely to tell this story to a rape victim at some point and maybe already has.

And suggest that if she’s really convinced it’s fine, she should run it by her boss for confirmation of that. If it’s totally fine, her boss will confirm that, right? And if not (spoiler: it’s not!), then it’s important for her to hear that from someone with the authority to make her stop (and it’s important for someone in authority to hear this is going on).

{ 377 comments… read them below }

    1. Lynca*

      I honestly feel like if someone is going to double down this hard only the inevitable consequences of their actions is going to have an effect. I doubt that anything OP is going to say will make Amy change her mind. It’s extremely good of them to try though.

      1. Quill*

        The only track I think could possibly help is making this all about Lynn’s feelings, because the fact that OP had thought this was work appropriate material means that she’s not going to be flexible there. But a direct line to “do you have permission from your adopted sister, who you presumably love dearly, to be spreading this all over town?” might stop her, or at least make her think.

        1. AKchic*

          She claims that Lynn knows, but does Lynn *really* know how often it’s being told, and in what context, and to what goal/end result? And just how is it being told? I know how my mother likes to tell her version of “my” life story, and it is such an edited version of events that gloss over the horrible things that she does know about, ignores a lot of the things she doesn’t want to think about, doesn’t touch on anything I never told her about, and paints herself in such a flattering-bordering-on-savior light that it truly isn’t actually even recognizable as my own history. But she makes sure to tell anyone she’s talking to that she is *proud* of me for overcoming whatever it is that she has assigned as my deeply inspiring problem (I think it’s me leaving my “deadbeat” first ex-husband, rather than leaving my extremely abusive first ex-husband, who she denied was abusive and actually helped keep tabs on me and my kids until my grandfather threatened to cut her off financially; and she still ignores the rest of my history because it would mean she’s partially responsible for my childhood traumas).

          But for people like Amy, they aren’t actually going to see what they are doing as wrong because as far as they are concerned, since they are involved in the story (she “saved” Lynn), it’s her story too, therefore she is just as much allowed to share it as “her” story as Lynn is. Not only did Lynn have something to overcome, but Amy did too. She had to overcome the fear of potentially losing a friend, and risk adults not believing her and by golly, she did. She stood up for what she believed in and she saved her friend and gained a sister.
          That is the mentality LW may be fighting.

          1. Quill*

            Oh, the *spin* when telling someone else’s story is real, but I think it may be easier to persuade Amy that she shouldn’t spin the ‘shared’ tale from an emotional perspective rather than a work boundaries perspective, because she has a complete lack of the second in this area.

            1. valentine*

              She had to overcome the fear of potentially losing a friend, and risk adults not believing her and by golly, she did. She stood up for what she believed in and she saved her friend and gained a sister.
              This is actually a better story, though it erases Lynn while naming her.

    2. LW*

      Hi all, I wrote this question, and I wanted to jump in and provide a little more context.

      A lot of people are saying that Amy seems to be lacking in empathy. That is probably true. Amy is generally a nice person, but she has a hard time empathizing with things that she has not experienced herself. If she knew that she had hurt someone, I think she would feel remorseful. But otherwise, she tends to plunge full-steam ahead without thinking about the ramifications of what she is doing. This isn’t the first time we’ve had this problem with her, but this is probably the worst. Amy comes from a good, well-off family and has never been mistreated by them once. Because Lynn has been part of this same family for many years now, Amy feels that Lynn should be “over it” because it’s been so long. That is, of course, a grossly inappropriate assumption.

      As for Lynn, she truly is well-adjusted and happy now. She’s a very vital, funny person and is a lot of fun to be around. I think this is a big part of why Amy assumes that Lynn is “over it.” However, I am not going to assume that everything is all rainbows and kitty cats for Lynn now. Yes, she is happily married to a good man and the abuse is long behind her, but if you’ve ever been abused (I have even), you know that it sticks with you forever, no matter how good your life gets. Amy just does not get this.

      Also, some people were mentioning that Lynn’s story doesn’t seem to have anything to do with an office job. I didn’t want to give out too much personal info, but I did want to say that Amy does not lead in a traditional office setting. The people she leads and coaches are younger people who have come from traumatic/dark backgrounds (abuse, drug problems, parents in jail, etc.). The program that Amy works with is supposed to get these young people on track so that their past does not determine their future. So, with that in mind, Lynn’s story does have some relevance. That said, I still do not think it’s okay to share. And many people were mentioning that sharing this story could even make things worse for people, which I agree with.

      I realize this is a strange job for Amy, giving her lack of empathy. But this is what she is trained in and has been for many years. She started her career working with very young children, and now she has moved on to this. She has an impressive resume in her field that will get her a job interview just about anywhere. Amy is not unkind (at least not intentionally so), but she is a little too clinical sometimes, which I think can cause her to forget to show the proper care and emotions sometimes.

      I like Alison’s suggestion of telling Amy to run this by her boss, so I’m going to do that. I’m not sure if she will listen to me, but hopefully I can get through to her in some fashion.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Disregard my comment below; I thought she was telling it to coworkers.

        But it’s still cringeworthy, especially if she is identifying the survivor as her sister. If my sister did this without my express permission, I would never speak to her again.

        1. valentine*

          Amy comes from a good, well-off family and has never been mistreated by them once.
          You might want to reconsider this.

          I’m wondering if Amy really has Lynn’s consent because Amy tends to see things how she wants to see them.

            1. Marie*

              So she’s working with people who likely are distrustful (part of their survival tool kit), and she’s telling them someone else’s story. Not only is this inappropriate in terms of confidentiality, but telling someone else’s story does not build trust and is easily seen as manipulative and counter productive to what I hope is the mission of this place. Yes, her manager needs to be told.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, I’ve run into people like that before. Had a boss who didn’t seem to understand if x bad thing happened in your life, it might still affect you years after the fact. Some things become a part of a person and never really go away. They might be affecting that person less obviously after a while, but it’s still there in the background.

      3. Mattieflap*

        So what’s going on is that Amy is telling this story to a population of people that are statistically more likely to be survivors of sexual violence. And in doing so possibly making them feel ashamed that they haven’t found the happy ending that Lynn has; that they aren’t trying hard enough in the face of their history.

        That’s so incredibly hurtful. This is just not a good look.

        1. Potsie*

          Alternately, they could be hearing that their problems aren’t that bad because Lynn had it so much worse and is fine now, invalidating their struggles because it doesn’t meet the arbitrary bar Amy has set.

        2. Nesprin*

          Nevermind how triggering this sort of discussion can be- discussions of assault can trigger the fight or flight response

        3. JayNay*

          oh my lord, I know right. This is so wrong on so many levels, and even more so considering Amy is telling this “motivational” story to people who possibly have had to experience similar traumas.
          Even if that wasn’t the case, DO NOT use a trauma story as a pick-me-up. The work that’s involved in overcoming trauma is so, so hard. It often falls almost entirely on the victim themselves. Plus, you never know who well someone really is, because are they sitting there unpacking their trauma for you so you can judge how “well-adjusted” they are now?
          LW, good on you for realizing this is not a good approach. I hope you’re encouraged to keep pressing Amy on this, it’s just a terrible thing to do to her sister.

        4. Another Millenial*

          Correct, as someone who is part of this population, if someone was telling me this like I should “get over” what happened, my hands would be flying. It’s been a decade, and I’ve succeeded career-wise, but it was so much work (it is STILL a daily effort) and everyone heals differently. I still have PTSD that affects my personal life.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          omg, yes.

          Amy is talking many levels over their heads. This so not how to help people. Don’t tell me a decades old story and expect it to help me with my recent upheaval. I am not there yet, I want to know how to get through the next five minutes.
          I remember when my husband passed, I had a few people say to me, “I remember when my SECOND husband died….” What! NO! I did not hear their point because I was so horrified that they had lost TWO husbands.

          Telling a traumatized person that other people have had similar trauma does NOT lighten their load, rather it makes their load even heavier to know that others have suffered similarly.
          Has Amy even checked with experts to see if this is therapeutic to tell people? holy crap.

        6. JSPA*

          Or they don’t yet have light at the end of the tunnel in the very basic sense that they’re not yet in a place where they have a safe home to escape to. Or one of the things that’s holding them there is the fear that someone will tell their story (and they’re NOT ready for that, whether or not Lynn is). Or the life they aspire to isn’t, “husband and kids,” and the one they do aspire to (enough food and safe place to sleep, for self and cat? Safe squat with other self-defined “misfits and rejects,” without a return to drugs?) is being vaguely negated by Amy’s glib “see, status quo and smiles defines success” story?

          “A close friend was deeply abused in her birth family. She got help, got out. She took several years to heal and to think about what a healthy relationship would be like. Now she’s the mom of the sort of healthy family she always dreamed of having” is a reasonable degree of disclosure and detail and pep talk.

          Names, relationship to self, type of abuse, exact timeline, husband and two kids? Nope, Nope, Nope.

        7. I Need That Pen*

          This times one million.
          Certainly Amy can find a better motivational story than something like this – “I worked my way up the ladder working nights and weekends and by gosh here I am.” Anyone would take this over a traumatic, extraordinarily personal, and as others have stated – very close circumstances among the population. I’d be very upset after hearing this story and not inclined to work with Amy or any extension of Amy after that.

      4. AppleStan*

        Thank you for the clarification. In some ways, this makes Amy’s behavior better, but in other ways, it seems worse.

        I know some people might be in a place where they can look at someone else’s pain and say…they made it through, I can too. But some people may not be. And hearing a story like that may make it worse, not better.

        Moreover, I’d especially be concerned if I were a young person that Amy might share my story…I wouldn’t want to tell her anything.

        Also, I can’t imagine if Lynn had kids what she might do if her kids came home and said “Mom, I heard a story about you.” Because I can sort of see that happening.

        I wish you luck, LW, because it sounds like you’re going to need it, in this situation.

        1. Quill*

          It clarifies Amy’s motivation for sharing the story but it makes the impact far more immediate and directly awful on the people she’s sharing it with.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          Yeah, my first thought upon reading this was “If she were my boss, the message I would take away is that I should never tell her anything remotely personal, lest it be shared with the entire city by next week.”

          It being clients, presumably in a context where confidentiality is important and/or required by law, makes this so, so, so much worse. You can’t counsel someone without a base of trust, and who would trust someone who gossips about her own sister’s private trauma?

          If you want a nuclear option, OP, I might suggest either asking Lynn if she’s aware of how often Amy is sharing her story; or even looking into what Amy’s professional standards and/or legal responsibilities are, and seeing if there is a violation to report to a licensing or professional body. These are KIDS. Professional standards are there to protect them. If she’s in a licensed profession, like a social worker, she has legal obligations to live up to those standards.

          1. SW123*

            It being clients, presumably in a context where confidentiality is important and/or required by law, makes this so, so, so much worse. You can’t counsel someone without a base of trust, and who would trust someone who gossips about her own sister’s private trauma?

            If you want a nuclear option, OP, I might suggest either asking Lynn if she’s aware of how often Amy is sharing her story; or even looking into what Amy’s professional standards and/or legal responsibilities are, and seeing if there is a violation to report to a licensing or professional body. These are KIDS.

            I think you’re making assumptions here. No, what Amy is doing is quite possibly a bad route to take, but there’s no evidence that she is :

            1) gossiping (she’s not telling her neighbors for salacious reasons)

            2) working with children (“Young people” is unclear)

            3) Breaking any legal obligations (Lynn was never her client, for one thing, so there’s no expectation of HIPAA or client confidentiality. The OP also doesn’t mention any licensing, so we have no idea what professional obligations she has).

            Again, I agree that Amy needs to rethink this, but I wouldn’t jump to calling in authorities.

            1. JSPA*

              Agreed. And for all you know, Lynn IS totally on board, given the nature of Amy’s job. But in that case, it might make more sense for Lynn to come in as a free motivational speaker, rather than having Amy blah blah whenever she sees fit. There’s a mistaken assumption that people who have dealt with a lot of trauma become magically able to empathize with everyone else’s, and OK with hearing about it. On some level, it makes emotional sense, because people do bond over adversity. I know I believed it, when I was, I don’t know…14?

              But that was several decades ago. I am not 14, and the world has actual data on trauma and re-traumatizing people, and how stories like this can put someone into complete shut-down mode.

              Amy has probably been doing some version of this since she was a teenager (and was processing her own reactions to Lynn’s disclosure). If OP can address it as a crappy habit that grew out of a teenager’s coping tools, she may be able to keep sympathy with Amy, while also insisting that she reconsider the process in light of her (more recent) learned expertise.

      5. anonymous 5*


        That is an ORDER. OF. MAGNITUDE. WORSE. than telling it to professional subordinates. Holy forking shirtballs. It’s one thing to tell someone underneath you on the org chart, who might feel they lack the standing to push back. But to tell a younger person in a vulnerable population???? Dear god.

        1. Lynn*

          Agreed. I mean, it seems to me (as someone who has had issues, but never abuse issues) in my life that hearing “My sister got over her trauma completely in order to live a life of rainbow unicorns, fluffy bunnies, and happy chocolate cupcakes (thanks to my wonderful family who saved her, aren’t we just perfect angels). Why aren’t you doing better-are you a ” would have the potential to be hurtful and even downright damaging. Recovery stories have a place, but this sounds like it is 158.5% (give or take 0.5%) NOT that place.

      6. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        I’m glad you gave this context, since it makes things click a little bit more. That said, I just want to address this:

        “The people she leads and coaches are younger people who have come from traumatic/dark backgrounds (abuse, drug problems, parents in jail, etc.). The program that Amy works with is supposed to get these young people on track so that their past does not determine their future. So, with that in mind, Lynn’s story does have some relevance. That said, I still do not think it’s okay to share. And many people were mentioning that sharing this story could even make things worse for people, which I agree with.”

        I agree that it’s likely related to the struggles of the people she leads/coaches, but that means that the power dynamics involved are worse. Like, it’s not simply a boss speaking to an employee, but an older/successful/connected person to a young/poor/traumatized person (and if it’s at all connected to the criminal justice system or social services, Amy might hold more power in the sense of revoking privileges or benefits), meaning they are far less likely to speak up about how inappropriate it is, if they even realize that it is. And the nature of her work means that she’s not merely likely to encounter someone who’s been sexually abused, but she is practically guaranteed to have done so already.

        You say that she’s not intentionally unkind and is skilled in her field. Is it possible to frame it to Amy as “everyone deals with their own struggles at their own pace and in their own way, and you may hurt people by making them think that they should be exactly like Lynn”? Or, “it’s possible that you may just re-traumatize your workers by reminding them of their own trauma, which could hurt their personal growth and work productivity”? (This is assuming that situation is, uh, re-framed by Amy during her talk with her boss, and she comes back saying something like, “I talked to my boss about how I motivate my workers and she’s fine with me using inspiring anecdotes,” or however she spins it to be less bad than it is.)

        1. Fikly*

          Everything I’m hearing from OP drops my opinion of Amy’s skill in her field, frankly. Triggers are a pretty basic notion in anything relating to trauma/abuse/psychology/mental health/etc.

        2. Anonny*

          I volunteer with a charity that does similar work – I do admin, but I get to see the materials we use. We do have ‘case studies’ that we use, mostly in our educational aspects. Thing is, we have permission to use those stories (most of them are told by or are read from writing prepared by the person in question) and we are extremely mindful of how and when we use them.
          We wouldn’t just tell a random person’s story to one of our young people.

        3. Spero*

          Speaking from my personal experience in a related field: 95%+ of homeless and substance involved women and LGBTQ folks had an experience of sexual violence prior to or during time on the street/using. Therefore I agree that she’s practically guaranteed to have a client with this past already.
          Furthermore – if she is not aware of this history on their part that’s incredibly telling. If you disclose a ‘motivational’ story about abuse to a person who is likely to have been abused, and they do not respond by disclosing their history/turning to you for support, that’s a clear indication that the way you told your story shut the door to their disclosure rather than helping or motivating them in some way. Yes, some clients want privacy. But most will share if the door is opened in a sensitive and nonjudgmental way by a person they think is able to assist them. If she’s in a role that can offer assistance and not receiving disclosures, she’s doing something to tell the clients she will not be sensitive and nonjudgmental.

        4. JSPA*

          Maybe tell her, “People have known that triggers can re-traumatize for a hundred years or more. Mentioning the war to shell-shocked people was bad manners in 1920. You have no idea who you’re doing that to, just by starting on Lynn’s story.”

      7. FakeName*

        I mean, if she thinks everyone should be able to “get over” things, this may not work, but…what about pointing out that if she tells this to someone who has suffered a similar issue and *isn’t* doing as well as Lynn, it may make them feel more demoralized (rather than inspiring them). It’s like, you come down the stairs and trip and fall and cry, and then your sister goes down the stairs and also falls but gets up like nothing happened and keeps going, and your mom says to you “look at what a good example your sister is of overcoming obstacles.” Instead of thinking “gee, that’s so inspiring”, you might think “great, now I’m terrible at going down stairs AND I’m a cry baby.” (An asinine example, I know. Best I could do on short notice.)

      8. Akcipitrokulo*

        Thanks for coming back to comment. I absolutely believe you that Amy is basically a nice person. But what she is doing can hurt people.

        And could get her disciplined, up to and including being fired on the spot. If I were her manager, the very least I would do would be to pull her from any further training or motivational sessions until I was 100% convinced she understood, and would never raise the topic again. But my first instinct – and I am VERY pro workers’ rights – would be to suspend her while I asked Legal if I can fire her now.

        I think she sounds sympathetic in theory, and wants to empathise, but the last step of truely considering other positions is one she has yet to take.

        Best of luck, and I hope you have success.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Her lack of empathy makes me question how “nice” Amy is, in reality. Just having read all this, I strongly suspect that she’s not nice as much as she is skilled at mimicking nice, because it smoothes things socially so she is more likely to get what she wants out of people.

          She sounds manipulative, not nice.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            I say this largely because it appears to be a consistent, lifelong pattern for her, not just a horrible one-off brain fart. So she occasionally misses the mark on what “nice” is because she truly doesn’t understand it — she is only imitating behavior without understanding the motivation behind it.

          2. Fikly*

            Plenty of “nice” people hurt people.

            And then they or other people justify their behavior as ok because they “meant well.”

            Save me from people who mean well.

            The thing is, if you are actually nice, when someone tells you “when you do x it hurts me” they will stop (or at least try). They won’t question whether or not their behavior actually hurts you, or whether or not being hurt is a reasonable response. They will just apologize and stop.

            But these people don’t do that. They say they mean well, or are trying to help, and continue with the harmful behavior. Because it’s not actually about helping anyone. It’s about making themselves feel good.

          3. AKchic*

            I agree with your assessments.

            Based on the information we’ve been given, I really feel like Amy works in the field she does because doing so makes her feel good, rather than any benefit to the clients.

          4. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

            She may just be “nice” in that she’s not straight up malicious, and obviously has some good instincts (recognizing when Lynn was being abused and reporting the perpetrator.) However, she also sounds kind of arrogant and overconfident in her ability to interpret the world. I know some people like this. It’s due to a combination of personality and being very privileged, I would venture to guess. (In a weird way she reminds me of Emma Woodhouse from Austen novels. She does things out of good intentions, but ironically ends up harming the people she tries to help.)

      9. Mary Whitney*

        OK, the fact that she’s mentoring young people coming from traumatic backgrounds makes it WORSE. If she can’t keep her sisters story private, how are these young people supposed to trust her to keep their stories private? Especially considering abuse tends to lead to trust issues…

        Having been one of those kids I would have noped right out of there SO FAST.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I have to disagree with this point, someone sharing a traumatic story with someone’s permission is not that same as someone sharing a client/employee’s traumatic story without permission. While a lot of people would not want this type of story shared, there are people that might very well be okay with it.

          I agree the Amy should not be sharing Lynn’s story so freely.

          I know this is not anywhere near the same level, my brother and I know “embarrassing” stories about each other and we share them with permission pretty freely with others. People have asked us why we are okay with these stories being shared. But if I witnessed someone or someone told me an embarrassing story and they did not want it shared I would never tell it to anyone else.

          1. Marmaduke*

            The problem is, the clients have no way to know for sure whether Amy actually has Lynn’s permission to share.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              That is true, and maybe I am naive or very trusting, but I believe/trust someone until I know they can’t be trusted. Anyone COULD be lying about anything at any time, I usually don’t have the ability to verify many things people tell me so I believe them until I know for a fact they are lying and then I don’t really trust anything they say after that.

              1. Spero*

                You say that because you are familiar with professional ethics that require confidentiality, and are trusting that helping professionals are following them. Clients generally are not familiar with these standards. They’re familiar with the horrid gossiping attitude most of society has towards trauma. If they hear what they may interpret to be a gossiping person, they don’t stop to think ‘oh this person is in a profession that requires confidentiality, they probably got consent before sharing this story.’ They just think ‘gossiper, don’t trust.’ You need to put yourself in the client’s shoes not the shoes of someone who knows there might be more to a story.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            In this situation, why would her clients assume that she has Lynn’s permission to share this story? I mean, I’ve never been traumatized, but if she’s working with young people from traumatic backgrounds, she’s probably working with people who aren’t inclined to trust authority figures easily. Again, I’ve never been traumatized, but I’ve had enough bad experiences with authority myself that if this happened in the first few sessions I had with Amy, I would be booking it.

      10. HB*

        Thanks for coming back to comment, this is very useful context.

        One stray thought I had is that Amy may be telling this story because it makes *Amy* look good. She saw someone in trouble, reported it, and things turned out much better for Lynn because of it. Obviously I don’t know if that’s her true (or subconscious) motivation, and I certainly don’t know how she’d react if it was pointed out to her… but there might be something there you can work with.

      11. Archaeopteryx*

        Turning someone else’s assault into a motivational story is, besides all the other obvious problems with this, dangerously close to implying that it’s “worth it” or something that this happened to her, because it gave her strength and resilience or something ridiculous like that. This is a very common and problematic storytelling trove in both movies and the media in general- women are mistreated and it’s justified by how overcoming that makes them grow.

        Her sister is probably incredibly inspirational in the strength she showed overcoming adversity. But that doesn’t make her adversity some kind of neutral motivating element. It’s something evil that someone else chose to do to her, full stop. and it’s not Amy’s to use for any purpose.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Yes. In many ways her sister’s story is very inspirational, and I do kind of get the urge to use it with her clients. At the same time, it is not at all OK to be doing so, especially not in the way she is using it.

          If we were talking about an extremely edited, very vague kind of, “I know this is rough, but I really don’t want you to lose hope here. My adopted sister had a lot of really bad things happen when she was younger. It was really hard for her for a long time, but she doing great now and is really happy. It is possible, hang in there.” kind of way MAYBE, MAYBE I could see it for SOME of her kids, but the level of details and the indiscriminate way she seems to tell the story to a significant number of her clients is really not good.

      12. TootsNYC*

        also, I wonder if Lynn really wants every random person she meets when she stops by her sister’s office to look at her and immediately think, “She was molested by her dad.”

        Because they will.

        I read a novel about a small-town teenager who was raped on a date, and her alcoholic dad blasted the news out, and one of the hardest things for her was that everyone she knew, knew this painful thing about her.
        She met a new guy from a neighboring town and wanted very much to keep the info from him so it didn’t influence how he looked at her.

        And when I was wondering whether my DD’s college derailment might have been assault-related (I don’t think it was, but it’s always a possibility, and she was pretty vague about it), I realized that if it had been, she very probably would never tell me about it, because she wouldn’t want me or her dad to have the thought in our heads every time we looked at her.

        It would probably feel to her like a continuation of that (only hypothetical) assault.

        1. Spero*

          This is SOOOO common. I had several clients who had a very strong faith that they essentially were exiled from because their parents put them on a church prayer list due to their rape. And then every single time they went to their church people shared how much they’d been praying for them to get over the rape and wanted to see how they were doing. To a person, they stopped going to church and lost something that was incredibly important to them because of this misguided ‘kindness.’

        2. Avasarala*

          This is what I thought. I can’t imagine Lynn wants every fresh crop of newbies to hear about her private trauma. I wouldn’t want the worst day of my life to be used as a training exercise or motivational story for my sister’s workplace.

      13. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        LW, please give some thought as to how best to broach the subject with Amy. Given Amy’s blindness as to the problems with what she is doing, the seriousness of those problems, and your understandable desire to barge in the door with guns blazing and make her stop, there is a possibility that the conversation will go very badly.

        You know you friend and how to approach her on difficult subjects. Hopefully you can enable Amy to see you as an ally with concerns for all rather than a busybody interfering with something she thinks is a great managerial practice.

        Good luck!

      14. Artemesia*

        Identifying that it is her sister in the story is what makes it totally out of bounds. It would be less so if it were a story about ‘someone’ — not one in which the victim was identified. Anecdotes are a useful tool in this kind of work — but it is never appropriate to identify people in these anecdotes.

        1. Fikly*

          No, traumatizing vulnerable young people who are statistically more likely to have been victims of assualt is what makes it totally out of bounds.

      15. Oranges*

        One thing that I haven’t seen addressed in full here is the underlying issue of pain Olympics that many survivors go through. And why sharing Lynn’s story isn’t… good.

        The issue is, I felt like a failure and a horrible human for letting something so little as my trauma hurt me. The messages I got:
        It wasn’t a big deal (it was to me).
        That shouldn’t have hurt you (but it did).
        Aren’t you over it/There isn’t anything to “get over” (yes, there is).
        You’re being a “drama queen” (I’m hurting).
        You’re weak, this person got through something much worse (I still need help).

        All of this lead to me not getting help for many years. And even now I can’t tell my story because the concepts of how it hurt me aren’t really in our language/lexicon. I can only say I was sexually traumatized which is the closest I can get.

        TL; DR: This story would’ve reinforced to teen me (and even to adult me) that I’m weak for letting what happened in my life effect me so much.

        1. Pommette!*


          Amy’s retelling of Lynn’s story could easily come across as a “I’m sorry that you are verbally abused/neglected at home, but this girl was sexually abused and she’s fine now, so you should be too!” sort of statement. Which is harmful because no matter what kind of abuse you suffered, you are allowed not to be fine! Having been hurt and struggling with that hurt does not make you weak, or wrong, or guilty.

          I think that it’s also harmful that Amy uses this particular story as if it was emblematic or typical of abuse and survival more generally. She’s portraying it as if it were a really “simple” story: one with a before and after, in which everyone recognizes that abuse has taken place, in which everyone agrees about who was the aggressor and who was the victim, and in which the appropriate authorities intervene to protect the victim, who goes on to receive support. For lots of kids, that’s not what abuse looks like. Many people who grow up in abusive or neglectful environments face abuse and neglect on multiple fronts, with little support. Lots of people get blamed for the choices they make while trying to cope with abuse and neglect.

          Thank you for your comment.

          1. Nee Attitude*

            To add to your comment, not only do victims of abuse get blamed for the choices they make while trying to cope with their abuse, they also get no credit for the efforts to get to the place where they happen to be outwardly successful and doing well.

            What Amy is doing is addressing a group of young people who are experiencing fresh trauma and raw wounds, and telling them that they should already be trying to look like Lynn. It may have taken Lynn 20 years to get to the point where she is now, so judging a young person who is in the throes of abuse, poverty and/or addiction by what Lynn has accomplished only serves to further alienate them while they are still coping.

        2. Fikly*

          Pain is not a competition.

          I have said this so many times, and I will continue to say it.

          I have had so many people apologize to me when they express that they are in pain from something, because it’s “nothing” compared to what I’ve been through.

          It doesn’t matter. It matters that you’re in pain, and how it affects you.

        3. AKchic*

          ALL of this.

          And whatever metric for Amy’s professional success may not be measured correctly.
          If her measure of success is “my clients aren’t coming back” it might be because they have decided that they don’t *want* Amy’s brand of “help” (and are possibly saying/doing whatever they can to avoid seeing her again), for example.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          Oranges, you so hit the nail squarely on the head.

          So many adults are willing to use these statements on younger people. Adults should know better, these statements did not work on us and they will not work when we use them on someone else.

          Proving to me that I am weak does not make you stronger by default.

          What it does do is double the pain load and make the sorting and reweaving process take oh-so-very-much longer.

      16. Gail Davidson-Durst*

        Surely there are some figures out there who had difficult backgrounds and have made the proactive decision to publicly share their journey to help/inspire people? Like people giving TED talks or working for advocacy organizations? Actually, she should really call RAINN and ask them for guidance on all this, including the best way to help kids who might be coming from this background without further traumatizing them.

        Either way, Amy’s story has no place in it.

      17. Anal-yst*

        This is several orders of magnitude worse.

        For context the volunteer work I do requires me to complete ongoing training and education for appropriate crisis intervention and behavioral health services.

        A lot of people have the idea like your friend does that they can “fix” someone. This centers care on the ego of the person “fixing” as opposed to properly centering client needs in the discussion.

        Ethically, she cannot be taking this depersonalized, egotistical approach to mentees. In part due to the “pain Olympics” Oranges mentioned above. Everyone experiences things differently and when providing care it’s inappropriate and ineffective to de-center that person’s own experience of their own history. When someone is going through a trauma or crisis, it’s important for them to be empowered to make their own sense of narrative and to make their own decisions to regain some sense of control over their own lives. Not to placate someone’s ego.

        Given what you’ve told us, it may actually be appropriate for you to escalate this to her employer depending on the nature of her position. It would be extremely concerning for say, a counselor to be engaging in this type of “I can fix you!” behavior.

      18. Kat*

        Hi LW maybe you can approach the discussion with Amy from the perspective of its great she wants to help these youth but here’s why that story doesn’t help them:
        1. They may worry about confidentiality if Amy talks about Lynn, they may distrust Amy and won’t open up to her which defeats the point of what Amy wants to accomplish.
        2. They may feel shame about not being “over it”
        3. Their situation should not be compared to Lynn’s – everyone’s trauma is different. Even two identical traumas are different because the people experiencing them respond differently.
        4. Telling Lynn’s story may be triggering and do more damage to the person hearing it
        5. And this is most important – Amy talking about the end result of Lynn’s so called “recovery” glosses over all the things a young person would need to cope with a similar trauma: therapy, support, community, physical safety, financial support, etc. etc. that I’m assuming Lynn most likely was able to access because Amy’s family took her in. If the person Amy is telling the story to doesn’t have an Amy of their own to adopt them, then how do they go about moving forward with their life if they have no idea how to obtain support or a sense of community? How do they ensure physical safety if that’s not something they can control? How do they access therapy or medical care if they can’t afford it?

        So maybe you come at it from the perspective that “I get what you’re trying to do, but here are some really critical ways it misses the mark, that I’m sure you don’t want to do (because you play to her need to be a “good person”). Maybe it would be more helpful to these kids to show them or explain to them how they can access tools or support to help them try to heal. Because holding up Lynn as the shining example focuses on what Lynn has now, and not how she got there or what tools she utilized. This way she shows the kids that she understands how much trauma can affect someone and how much support and outside help it can take, that they don’t have to do it alone, and Amy is there to help them with that.

        Given what you’ve said about Amy I think if you play to her ego and give her a way out by offering a different approach instead, that still utilizes her knowledge of what Lynn went through, it might stick with her more than simply trying to explain what what she’s doing is so horribly wrong.

      19. Anawn*

        I would be… pretty offended, as someone from a similar situation to Lynn, to hear someone else take MY story as their motivational speech. They’re not the ones who went through the trauma and years of recovery, and yes, things look superficially fine now but they won’t ever be 100% ok.

        And of course, the triggering content and the lack of empathy. If you can pick up on it, the vulnerable population definitely can. We are… familiar with it, and it is harmful to outright dangerous.

        Ugh I hate this. But thank you for writing in OP.

      20. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

        Yeesh this description of Amy sort of reminds of a former coworker, though I’m not sure even she would be clueless enough to do what Amy is doing. Basically, she was an all around nice person, but seemed to aggressively pursue her brand of “nice do gooder” to the point of dumb vigilante tactics. That being said, I’m sure even she would think Amy was a nutcase.

      21. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think the additional context of her job makes it both better and worse. It is a little more understandable as to how she would come to the misguided idea that story is relevant and helpful, but it is also significantly increases the statistical probability that she is telling this story to someone who has already been through their own assault experience.

      22. Dagny*

        “As for Lynn, she truly is well-adjusted and happy now. She’s a very vital, funny person and is a lot of fun to be around. I think this is a big part of why Amy assumes that Lynn is “over it.” However, I am not going to assume that everything is all rainbows and kitty cats for Lynn now. Yes, she is happily married to a good man and the abuse is long behind her, but if you’ve ever been abused (I have even), you know that it sticks with you forever, no matter how good your life gets.”

        This is 100% true.

        Abuse does impact your life in a variety of ways, and being told that you are “over it” because life worked out is really damaging.

      23. Diamond*

        I mean I can see how the story could potentially be helpful, like if someone who went through similar things needs some reassurance that it could be possible for them to have a fulfilling life. But the messaging and delivery would have to be extremely carefully considered.

      24. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        (First time commenting here)
        Some people are saying that Amy likes to tell this story because it shows her in a good light and I can’t help agreeing with her.

        Lynn is the victim and Amy is the saviour. Telling this story to other victims actually teaches them that what they need is a saviour. It’s like telling young girls that one day their prince will come, only far worse because of the abuse.

        Motivational stories are all very well but they need to be anonymised. The way Amy casts herself in the saviour role may lead to some young people putting her on a pedestal and hoping she will save them too. She can’t adopt them all. The young people will simply feel jealous of Lynn and it kind of rubs in their noses the fact that they don’t have a saviour, which reinforces their helpless victim status
        In my volunteer work, we are recruited precisely because we have first-hand experience of what the people we will be helping are going through. Yet the first thing they tell us in training is that we don’t volunteer any personal information. This is because the people we are supporting may judge us for what we tell them about how we overcame our problems.

        If they judge us negatively, obviously that invalidates any form of support we may provide them. If they judge us positively, they may put us on a pedestal and just blindly follow whatever we may suggest without thinking things through. Then if things don’t work out, we fall very hard from our pedestal. And even if everything works out fine, it’s still not good because they are totally dependent on us, whereas a huge part of what we aim to achieve is to empower them to take the right decisions for themselves.

        A lot of us do use our own stories as examples of what (not) to do, but we will preface the story as being that of “a woman in our group”. It’s no lie, I’m very much part of the group, they don’t need to know it was actually me. The only time I will recount an anecdote is if it’s one where I screwed up royally, and I tell these stories precisely to show that nobody’s perfect, to prevent them from putting me on a pedestal.

  1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*



    That is profoundly, incredibly not okay. Alison’s covered why it isn’t very well.

    I’m also going to submit that it’s not good motivation! “See, this other person overcame something terrible. You can overcome less terrible things” often comes across as condescending, as a way to play suffering olympics, or as minimizing whatever challenge the person you’re talking to currently faces. Add onto that, surviving sexual assault by family members has very little to do with overcoming workplace challenges. It’s not even relevant, let alone appropriate for the office or thoughtful toward her sister.

    1. Dragoning*

      If I heard something like this from my manager…I would assume my manger was a gossip. Because it would feel like she’s treating her sister’s abuse as a juicy, exciting story.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Same. This absolutely does not sound like Amy takes her sister’s suffering seriously.

    2. Potsie*

      Exactly. If I went to a team lead with a work issue I was struggling with and get told a story about how their sister overcame sexual assault so I can overcome the work problem, I would never take problems to that person again. It’s not relevant or helpful.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          It isn’t – there’s no way to step back, squint, and see it as so. These are two totally unrelated things, so Amy’s reasoning here is flawed.

          1. Artemesia*

            The OP hopped on and explained that the story was relevant to the audience; the person is working with young people with similar issues in their past.

        2. boo bot*

          Yeah, in addition to being horribly inappropriate (all I would be able to think about is, OMG, does her sister know she tells this story?) the only ways it could be relevant are terrible.

          It comes across as either, “Don’t bother me with your silly problems, my sister was abused as a child, now that’s a REAL problem!” Or, “I know you can overcome the problems of this workplace, just like my sister overcame problems of her abusive childhood home!”

          My guess is, she means it as some combination of the two, but imagines it’s somehow a positive message?

      1. Shadowbelle*

        I absolutely agree with you. Analogy:

        When I, as a child, complained about some lack or difficulty, my mother would not infrequently respond with the momily: “I wept because I had no shoes until I met the man who had no feet.”

        Being the child I was, I would respond, “I’m sorry for that man, but I still don’t have any shoes.” (Mind you, I agree with the principle, but I still think the example is silly.)

        At least use some example that is germane to the situation! This is all part of the Nanny Corporation where we have to fight to keep personal that which is personal, in the face of corporate actors who strive to merge work and life in a very disagreeable way. For example, the boss who wants to be your life coach, having to write a poem about a traumatic episode and read it a staff meeting, the boss who insists you define personal goals so he can “support” you, and so forth, ad infinitum, all the many examples we have read here.

        I remember none of this occurring when I started corporate work in the late 1970s, and I certainly don’t think it has contributed to my on-the-job joy, or increased my “engagement” as an employee.

        1. Botanist*

          Dang, I wish I had been that articulate as a child, seriously! I think that’s a great response, even from an adult!

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah. Really. How I hated that expression.
            “So where are you going with that? You, yourself, have shoes. Does that mean you never think about the foot-less person?”

            There are shoe stores where we can buy more shoes. Foot stores, not so much. It’s two very different problems with two very different conclusions.

      2. JessaB*

        I’d also be really worried that they would use my problem as an example to someone else identifying me and doing so without any pretense of permission at all. She can’t be trusted with private information.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        I wonder if people are responding like that and this is why Amy thinks this story goes down so well. “After I tell people this story, they figure out how to solve all their problems without my help! It’s so motivating!”

        And of course people are “moved”. You don’t listen to someone in a position of power tell a horrifying story without giving the socially acceptable responses of “oh, how awful!” and so on.

    3. LadyL*

      Yeah, I imagined how I react if Amy were my boss and told me this story and my main thought was “…what does this have to do with me and/or my work??? How does your sister’s trauma have anything to do with my job???”

      I used to have a boss that would try to tell me “motivational stories” about his life (bone as intense as what Amy shares) and every time I just mostly ended up annoyed that he was wasting my time with parables that did not directly relate to the actual problem I was having. I think something like, “I know this is stressful, but I have faith we’ll figure it out, I’ve seen people overcome much worse” is potentially dismissive but mostly fine, I can get the concept without some unrelated story attached. Also my assumption would not be that Lynn is cool with the story being shared, I would probably assume Amy is just taking ownership of someone else’s trauma and that would impact how I view her as a person (and what I’d be willing to share with her!)

      So not just inappropriate and potentially triggering for someone, but I think fairly useless as a motivator.

      1. Dragoning*

        You’re motivated to be self-starting and solve all problems yourself because by God, you are not listening to that story ever again, or maybe even a worse one.

        1. Pommette!*

          And even if you don’t go on to solve all of your problems – or go on to encounter new ones, you’ll do everything you can to make sure that Amy never hears about it!

      2. EPLawyer*

        If I go to the boss with a problem I dont want a motivational speech I was assistance on figuring out how to solve it.

        Knowing you walked 10 miles to school in the snow UPHILL both ways doesnt get the work done.

        1. Quill*

          It also makes me question your judgement. If you’re walking uphill both ways you’re really bad at planning routes, if you think your hike to school is relevant to my tech issue we have huge priorities and relevancy issues. :)

    4. Antilles*

      It’s terrible motivation.
      And…how do you even bring that up in a context?
      Like, your staffer comes to you with a problem like, “we lost two clients this week, should we reconsider our pricing structure?” and Amy responds with a horrifying tale of abuse? Or do you just jump straight into it completely cold – ‘this week, we’re starting with a teachable moment’.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Very odd segues.

        Whenever someone tries to do this dismissive thing with me in the workplace (albeit without the weird sexual abuse tales), I always say, “I’m not seeing the correlation between what my issue is and what you just said.” That usually gets the speaker flustered and then they backtrack to actually addressing my concern. I would do this to Amy if I were one of her direct reports because she should know that her little motivational speeches are irrelevant to workplace problems (and it’s just shitty to put your sister’s childhood trauma out in the street to score brownie points with others).

    5. KayDeeAye*

      It’s both horrifying and ridiculous. Using someone’s deepest *personal* pain and anguish to motivate people to overcome *work* problems is horrifying . And equating things like “Be the best employee you can beeeeee!” with “Overcome massive psychological and physical trauma inflicted by the people who were supposed to love you the most” is ridiculous. And I agree that it’s not motivational at all, unless Amy’s goal is to motivate people to donate to child support organizations.

      It’s just so clueless, you know?

    6. kittymommy*

      Oh my dear god. I agree, this is horrible motivation!! Comparing life struggles (whether it be trauma, finances, medical, whatever) in some weird “who’s is worse?” game is bad enough (“I have breast cancer, but it’s treatable. Oh yeah, well my husband has pancreatic cancer and that’s much worse”, is truly a conversation I have heard at an office) but to then use that to inspire others! What happens if someone on the team also has an abuse history and hasn’t had a recovery or support system as successful as the sister? What then?

    7. annakarina1*

      I remember an episode of Speechless in which one of the main characters is a teen boy with cerebral palsy, and he gets really annoyed when one of his classmates wants to do his report on an “inspirational figure” on him, because he finds it incredibly patronizing and insulting for able-bodied people to use people with disabilities as “inspiring” figures, like not seeing them as true people. My mom works with kids with developmental disabilities, and is also against that kind of patronizing and/or condescending treatment to “inspire” able-bodied people to do better in their lives.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I’ve heard it referred to as “inspiration porn” in spoonie circles, and I love the term — because you’re right, it’s similarly exploitative and dehumanizing.

      2. Impy*

        There’s actually a TED talk by comedian Stella Young called “I’m not your inspiration,” about this issue.

    8. Jadelyn*

      Seriously. I hate stories like that used for that purpose, because 1: I’m not that person so I don’t think it’s fair to expect me to respond the same way, 2: that situation may or may not be in literally any way analogous to what I’m dealing with, 3: my coping resources and mechanisms will be different than that person’s, and 4: it just comes off as either condescending or guilt-trippy, neither of which is helpful.

      Especially with this particular example – unless the issue the person is having is that they’re being harassed/assaulted by someone at work, how is that in any way relevant?

    9. Quill*

      It reeks of the “no true scotsman” of abusive, toxic positivity ‘motivational’ speaking: someone, somewhere, has always had it worse so I don’t want to hear ‘negativity’ about your discomfort with Creeper Bob, your back pain requiring medical leave, your need for mental health FMLA… because other people have been able to hide their problems well from me, or spend decades in therapy that I know nothing about!

    10. Mary Whitney*

      Yes. I have a boss that likes to talk about growing up poor and working with inner city kids like no one in our rural, high poverty area could EVER UNDERSTAND THAT. Ugh.

  2. Jessie the First (or second)*

    When Amy tells this to a rape survivor who struggles with trauma, it may well feel demoralizing, not motivating.

    What Amy is doing is awful and infuriating. Not at all empathetic or compassionate or motivating.

    1. AlsoAnon*

      As a survivor of childhood rape and abuse who still has the physical and mental scars from that, if Amy told that story to me as an attempt at motivation I would be going to HR, to Amy’s boss and their boss as far up the company as I needed until someone listened to me and waving a giant red flag all the while because that is an absolutely horrific thing to do.

      And yeah, it’s demoralising. Everyone’s recovery looks different and using someone’s recovery against someone else is galling to me. Especially because I’m not sure what’s worse; Amy glossing over any more difficult moments in Lynn’s recovery or Amy airing those difficult moments to show how “motivational” the story is. The former is a slap in the face to anyone who is struggling, the latter feels even more invasive than being told about a total stranger’s rape as a motivational tool.

    2. Kelsi*

      Yeah. Not only is it wildly inappropriate for like…anyone, if the person you’re telling it to has sexual trauma in their past, it feels like victim blamey “she got past this so you should too.”

      1. Quill*

        With the context above she may feel like she’s providing a role model but… I’m worried it has the opposite effect when she works with traumatized youth. Because access to mental health resources and the ability to leave an abusive family with any sort of stability as not just a teen, but a young adult, are ABSOLUTELY dependent on finding someone outside of your abusive family to provide for you in some way. (Pretty often there’s a financial component) I can easily see a lot of bitter, traumatized teens sitting around passing notes about “to do list: make friends with a rich girl so I can be adopted by her parents and maybe go to college some day.”

          1. Quill*

            I may… have sat through multiple anti-bullying seminars with similarly bitter and snarky notes on “to do: find an adult who actually believes you, then progress to ‘see something, say something'” and whispering with other kids about how messed up it was that they had apparently no idea about who got bullied vs. whose parents *claimed* they’d been bullied to excuse that their bullying behavior towards others.

            I figure the same principle applies to these kids.

        1. Marmaduke*

          And sooner or later, one of the kids Amy works with may ask why she and her family can’t adopt THEM right out of their awful situation, too.

    3. TraumatizedButFineAtWork*

      I definetly would feel completely off kilter and have my confidence undermined by this. My sexual abuse history doesnt affect my work life much at all, but it’s something I struggle with intensely in my personal life. This story in this context would mess up my mental boundaries and it would just augh. It would not be good. And my story doesn’t resemble the sister’s… I cant imagine what it do for someone who it hit closer to home

    4. Sally*

      And even if she had enthusiastic encouragement from her sister (which I find very hard to believe), anyone she tells this story to is not going to assume it. In addition to the damage she can do/has done to people at her job, she is also painting herself as someone who is very insensitive (to everyone, it seems).

    5. tamarack & fireweed*

      As an AMA item this is hard because the LW doesn’t write about her own workplace. As a topic, though, it’s very very clear-cut.

      I think among friends it’s time for spelling things out in as much clarity as possible: “I’m thinking of a situation where your coworker is herself a survivor of awful sexual abuse or rape. And maybe she’s secretly struggling with it. Maybe she’s able to be effective at work but has trouble holding it together. Maybe she went through a phase so dark, much darker than the Lynn in your retelling of her story. Put yourself in her shoes. And now imagine that another woman, someone who is NOT a rape survivor, tells you this “you can overcome anything” story. A story which to her sounds that she’s not as good as your sister. This could go over sooo badly – and she’d be right to be furious with you. So you could get in real trouble over it.” (This doesn’t mean hammering “how could you!” or raised voices or reproachful looks. Just the facts, Ma’am. In as serious a tone as is feasible.)

  3. AnonForThis*

    No no no no no.

    I’m a survivor of abuse in early teens, and oh hell no. I don’t care if Lynn is OK about it – which I doubt btw – but *I’M* not OK about it.

    And I wouldn’t feel able to give that feedback.

    But aside from all that…

    ‘ “see, you can overcome anything” type of motivation’

    A whole other level of hell no. If anyone is struggling with whatever their individual circumstances are, that holding up of an “inspiration” is horribly damaging and guilt-inducing. You want to motivate them, not induce shame and self-blame for not being Lynn-like enough.

    Oh, and I wouldn’t give that feedback either. I’d just put on a smiling mask and crumple in private.

    1. Mama Bear*

      I’m so sorry you went through that abuse. I suspect that there are others who like you are not comfortable confronting Amy (who is their new boss and mentor) at a new job and it’s not going over as well as she thinks it is.

    2. Kiki*

      Yes! It’s very disheartening to tell someone that you’re struggling with something and have the response be “X went through something much worse and they’re fine!” Sometimes it can be comforting to know that other people make it through and come out the other side, but yeah, in work situations it often just comes across as patronizing and very much focused on work output. “So and so was able to work full-time at 100% after they went through __insert_difficult_experience_here__, why can’t you?”

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, if you’re not the one in recovery? Get the heck away from me with your “oh, I know someone who recovered from X” unless you 100% have a concrete, science backed, non-intrusive recommendation for professional assistance OR a fellow sufferers group that this person found helpful.

        If it’s a physical problem I don’t want to hear your random bull about people “getting over” a vaguely related problem either, just offer to fetch me advil or something, but when it comes to mental health there’s the huge caveat of not being able to measure progress objectively or externally. When it comes to your family and friends “getting over” traumatic experiences, you are John Snow: you know nothing. Even if they confide in you, you know nothing that is transferrable to random people you meet.

        There’s a reason doctors and therapists don’t give advice outside of their practice.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        I’ve actually told people “Oh, so-and-so had it much worse. I’m fine.”

        Luckily, nobody’s ever believed me when I told them that! I’m a bad liar.

        The weird part? I actually thought I was fine. I was the last to know I had untreated depression. After all, I’d read so many stories about depressed people who couldn’t get out of bed and were too tired to take a shower. Or even care about taking a shower. Since I couldn’t even relate to that, that meant I wasn’t depressed, right?

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Oh gosh, me too! I totally thought I was fine after this one incredibly traumatizing situation, which I never told anyone about and took me decades to process. I think it was… like twenty-five years later that I realized, “Hey, that was so not fine, and I was not fine afterwards.”

    3. AnonAnon*

      YES YES YES! This comment is exactly what I was thinking! Telling this story is 100% making others feel guilty for not being “over” their trauma. If a supervisor told me this story, I would feel uncomfortable and unable to approach them if something of a sexual harassment nature happened to me in the workplace. I would be under the impression she would tell me to suck it up and that others have it worse.

    4. Smithy*

      My mother is also a survivor, and I can echo how deeply damaging and painful this would be for her as well. And I know this unfortunately, because she’s had it happen when other relatives tell her stories of other survivors with the “see what they have done” ending – and it truly is cruel. Especially when there’s a power imbalance.

      Professionally – I’ve worked in humanitarian organizations that inevitably encounters many people who’ve survived situations of true horror and shown great resilience. And while it’s always good to be reminded of the individual people and families aim to reach, I’ve often found it most effective at work when it’s coupled with messages of “we all need to take care of ourselves, so when we come to work – we can do the best job possible in reaching and supporting our beneficiaries”. It’s never a case of “look what they’ve gone through – in comparison we’re great and our challenges/troubles/concerns can just be overcome”.

      1. Marmaduke*

        Several times when I’ve opened up to someone about my own experiences of abuse and assault, their response is a similar story of a survivor who survived the “right” way. It’s insulting and humiliating and it certainly doesn’t improve anything.

    5. Sharrbe*

      I get the impression that his has less to do with Lynn’s success than it has to do with Amy and her family being the heroes here. I mean, they legitimately ARE heroes for pulling Lynn out of that house, but Amy seems to think that she now owns the “rights to the story” in perpetuity. That’s just gross.

      1. AKchic*

        That’s how I feel, too.

        She is the “hero”. She is perpetually the hero. She has a savior complex and now she wants everyone to know that she is everyone’s rescuer.
        “I saved my sister. I’m here to save you if you let me!”

        She’s not doing this for them. She’s doing this for her.

      2. Dr. Pepper*

        She could also be legitimately proud of her family and their role in helping Lynn. Some people don’t realize how they appear to others, even when they’re being wildly inappropriate. Not that it really matters whether she’s telling this story out of a pollyanna-like ignorance or a desire to be seen as an amazing person. It’s ludicrously out of bounds and it’s only a matter of time before someone complains.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        As I am reading down it’s spooking me a bit because it feels like Amy is re-rescuing her sister through new people.

    6. MechanicalPencil*

      As someone who has more recently gone through a similar situation, I would also have smiled to Amy’s face and then dissolved later when it felt more appropriate. There is never a “right” way to survive. There is only surviving.

  4. Jennifer*

    Lynn very well may feel comfortable with sharing the stories. There are some survivors who feel comfortable sharing the story in order to help others. The issue is that the people Amy is speaking to may not feel comfortable hearing it. Everyone’s recovery is different, and someone who is not in the same place as Amy right now in their recovery may feel uncomfortable or like they are doing something wrong. Plus it’s a workplace and people don’t necessarily want to be reminded of painful incidents from the pasts in that environment.

    1. Arctic*

      Many survivors want to share their story to others who have experienced similar trauma.

      I don’t know of many who want to do it to inspire others to complete all of their tea pots on a short time-line.

    2. KimberlyR*

      And does Lynn truly know the context? I’m sure Lynn is happy for her story to help another teen girl in a similar abusive situation find the courage to seek help. But she truly not mind her sister blabbing her personal trauma to her casual workplace acquaintances and direct reports? There is a world of difference in that context!

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s a good point. I assumed that Amy had explained the context to her but re-reading the letter, I see that Lynn said she’s happy if her story “helps someone else.” She may not know her sister is giving a “motivational” speech about it in weekly staff meetings.

      2. Lynca*

        Honestly Amy says that Lynn “knows and is okay” but that is a really convenient answer from someone that the OP admits sees things the way she wants to.

        I would not be surprised if Lynn didn’t know or didn’t know the extent to which her story is being used.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      Given Amy’s attitude, I can believe that she has either misunderstood a weak “I suppose it might be alright…” on one occasion as full endorsement for all time, or has manipulated/guilted/cajoled Lynn into saying yes.

      Lynn may be fine with it. But I’m not going to take the word of someone who has demonstrated their lack of empathy and understanding.

    4. anonymous 5*

      Also…I’m perfectly happy to share my story in the event that it could ever help others. I’m NOT happy to have *other people* share my story.

    5. AKchic*

      I’m a survivor, and I willingly share my stories. I allow others to share my stories, but I generally prefer to keep control of how the stories are shared.

      I agree with you that yes, some survivors are very open. However, in the context of Amy, I don’t think she’s doing it in the “here’s a survivor success story” so much as a “I saved this person” kind of way.

        1. Anon right now*

          I’m open with my story when I feel it’s appropriate, but I ask other people not to share it. My husband asked once if he could share it with a childhood friend of his who had recently experienced an assault and I asked him not to, but did end up telling her myself later. I had very little control when I was assaulted, and so now I want to have control of the story.

    6. PVR*

      Plus Amy didn’t experience the trauma so she can not relate to someone currently in that situation. Perhaps the people Amy is telling the story to would be comfortable sharing with Lynn (maybe) but that doesn’t translate into being comfortable with Amy.

  5. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    I can tell you that if Amy told me that story, you would actually be able to hear the walls going up in my psyche. It would scream to me: This is not a safe person. This person does not respect boundaries. This person does not keep confidences. This person will feel free to own any story I tell them. This person is at best naive, at worst lacking empathy, when it comes to trauma.

    If those things are true – well, maybe let Amy keep going? She’s giving people information about her that they need to have.

    1. Mama Bear*

      This is another good point. What is to stop her from using anything you tell her in confidence as her rah-rah speech?

    2. The Original K.*

      I completely agree. I would not speak to Amy any more than I absolutely had to after she said this to me. I wouldn’t even make small talk about the weather. I would address work issues and work issues only, using the fewest words possible.

    3. anonymous 5*

      YES to all of this. So many layers’ worth of wrong in this whole situation, but even without those, a story like this would still send a message that Amy has zero discretion. Even in the most charitable interpretations, that is NOT a good look.

    4. ursula*

      YES. Catch me silently mentally marking this as an unsafe person to whom I should never show any part of my real personal or internal life. And also, frankly, downgrading whatever I previously thought about how smart and capable they are.

    5. Captain Facepalm*

      Agree. I feel this way about most of my colleagues who gossip to me constantly about others – I would not trust you to have my back EVER. Do not let this person know any weakness or problems you have, otherwise the entire corporate office will know about it in ten seconds flat!

    6. Blueberry*

      On the one hand this is truly useful information about Amy, but on the other, ye gods and little fishes, hearing this horrible story related so gratuitously and salaciously could be anything from deeply off-putting to re-traumatizing. For example, there was a time in my life this could have sent me into a flashback. Ideally she’d *change* (but we can only wish) but I think at least she really needs to stop.

    7. Duvie*

      Exactly. DH and I (briefly!) had a pastor like that. People asking him for counsel on something could expect to hear their problem used as a sermon illustration in the next few weeks. You could often even tell whose problem it was, when someone in the choir suddenly turned bright red.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I am SO glad it was brief. And I hope it’s because the pastor left that church, rather than you leaving.

  6. The Original K.*

    I am floored. “My adopted sister was sexually abused by her father and turned out fine, so surely you can remember to put the new cover sheets on the TPS reports.” Just … what? I cannot fathom making this connection and saying it out loud.

    There’s no way this “always goes over well.” I’m sure her reports are just stunned into silence when she says this stuff. If her boss has a shred of sense and Amy runs this by her, Boss’s jaw is going to drop.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I know, right? It’s bad enough to tell that story, but to use it as a workplace motivation speech about overcoming difficulties? That’s a whole nother layer of NO.

      1. BEEP*

        Survivor of abuse like this and similar situation. I would be absolutely humiliated if someone who knew something so personal was saying it in a professional setting. Also Lynn has children and there is the added terror of who Amy is saying this to because it could get back to them before Lynn can share that trauma if she wants or intends to with her children. This is so gross.

    2. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

      Right, like does this mean the boss is saying that work is supposed to be as horrible as sexual abuse, and you’re just supposed to persevere? This is terrible and I cannot imagine being on the receiving end of it.

    3. Schnookums Von Fancypants, Naughty Basic Horse*

      And what do you say if you find this story horrible? I suspect most people will say something positive simply out of empathy for Lynn. (“Oh, I’m glad she was able to overcome that” or suchlike). Sadly, it can be rather difficult to say what most people are thinking (“This story is grossly inappropriate”). I’d be tempted to say “Oh would you like to hear my story of sexual abuse so you can turn it into an inspirational Hallmark moment?” (And yes, I have been a victim of sexual abuse, I’m not just co-opting here)

        1. Auntie Social*

          “I see your abuse, and I raise you a kidnapping.” What happens when Amy doesn’t have the most lurid story any more?

          1. Saraquill*

            I’ve been on the receiving end of this. Feeling neutral? Sansa suffered The Worst Thing Ever, so I’m morally obligated to smile! In the middle of a depressive breakdown? Sansa will scream about The Worst Thing Ever, which will somehow heal me!

    4. Sparrow*

      Yeah, the fact that no one has complained or appeared upset is in NO way evidence that no one has been bothered. Especially because these are relatively new hires – even if they are comfortable potentially making waves when they’re so new (which isn’t terribly likely), they probably wouldn’t know who in the office they could even trust to properly address this. These seem like points OP could make and encourage her to consider before continuing to freely share Lynn’s story at work…

    5. Syfygeek*

      And is Amy using Lynn’s name or how they are related in the story? Are Amy’s colleagues going to meet Lynn at a company picnic, or other event and say something? “Nice to meet you, and oh, hey, good job on overcoming that abuse.”

    6. BeckySuz*

      Yeah I mean exactly what does Amy think her employees are going to say in response?? Honestly at that point she has said something so horrifying she’s basically forcing them to shut up about their own problem. Because any decent person will be full of empathy for the survivor, and also possibly shamed (wrongly) into silence at the relative unimportance of the work thing. This is so bizarre and tone deaf I have to think Amy just has no sense or management skills.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My go-to response (not by choice, it just is) is “freeze”. I can see how this can be misread as “it going over well”. I agree with you, this probably is how her reports are reacting.

      1. Marmaduke*

        Mine is to fawn, so she’d REALLY get the wrong idea. “That’s such a great story! Thanks for telling me! You’re such a great boss! Hey, can I ask you a question about literally anything else now since you’re such a kind and knowledgeable mentor?”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        My response is this is a person so stuck in their own past that they cannot see MY present. They have no idea how to help me with my setting.

    8. Iris Eyes*

      Right? Its so disconnected from the point she is trying to make.

      I would rather hear about how Amy screwed up something in her career and how she has rebuilt things at her current company. Or if I’m having more systemic issues I’d rather hear about how Amy coached another person through a similar situation or better yet how Amy herself was coached through such a situation. There are still slight issues with these but if she wants to send a “buck up kiddo we can get through this” general message maybe using a celebrity example would be a better idea.

      Maybe comparing it to examples you would prefer to hear in an interview would be a helpful way to frame things. Just like you would rather hear about how someone overcame adversity in their workplace than in their personal life (because its more relevant) those are the kinds of stories you should be sharing in work contexts as well.

  7. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Every time I think, “Wow, no one can top the last horrible thing I heard!” there’s a new contender. I am willing to bet almost anything that Lynn is not okay with it. I am also willing to bet she’s told someone who’s suffered in a similar manner and was triggered. Amy’s doing a lot of damage. Thanks for trying to do something about this, OP, and thanks for the trigger warning as well. Good luck. Hope this is resolved quickly and quietly.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Right? It seems like we always get a Worst Boss of the Year contender right off the bat as the year starts.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I have to wonder if Lynn even knows this is happening at Amy’s work.

      It could be that Lynn is fine with others knowing in a related situation about her story – but related situation is key. There may be some industries (think maybe working with vulnerable populations in counseling/support giving professions where Lynn is a inspirational she survived, there can be light at the end of the tunnel for you too – but I really doubt that Amy is in that sort of line of work.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Even if so, seems there is probably a different protocol for sharing someone else’s story. If Amy wanted to share it and Lynn was okay with it, and there was a scenario where the right people were getting value (not at Amy’s job), then help Lynn record it or write a book or a blog for something where she can share it. I think the reason why Amy thinks Lynn survived and thrived and the real reason are probably different. Amy’s probably telling it all wrong. Now, if Amy wants to share a story about how you can make a difference in someone else’s life, she could do that without any of the details. (Still probably not super work relevant, though.)

        How about Amy finds a “Susan” who got a bad annual review and was on a PIP, worked hard to recover, and now manages a department? That would be a lot better.

        1. fposte*

          I mean, Amy could be telling it all exactly right, Lynn could be delighted with the story’s use, they could be the closest of friends and sisters with no power imbalance, and it would still not be something Amy should be using in the workplace.

          1. AuroraLight37*

            EXACTLY. If I were Amy’s subordinate, I would find this horrifying to hear on so many levels. It may very well also have a chilling effect on other people who have to report harassment or assault to Amy, because what if she turns me into her next inspirational story?

          2. AnotherAlison*

            You are right. That’s true.

            I was trying to think of times at work when I had heard 2nd hand motivational stories of remotely similar nature, and I really just could not think of any. Couldn’t think of any, from anywhere. Not high school. Not sports banquets. The closest I’ve come up with was when an NFP that my company is supporting has come to present to us at a large meeting, but even those have been videos from the first person or in some cases, the NFP staff person has brought a client (like a guy who had a heart attack for the AHA).

          3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            That is true. But then again – picture a Venn diagram with one circle “someone on truly equal footing with their sister who has, in a sensitive and open way, obtained true consent to repeat the sister’s story of overcoming abuse in a way that respects her journey and the meanings she ascribes to it” and the other circle “someone who would share this story with their direct reports.”

            Can you imagine those two circles overlapping?

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Totally agreed – Lynn’s story is hers to share if and how she feels she should. It valuable in that she was able to get through to the light at the end of the tunnel. You aren’t alone, others have been there too.

          But not at Amy’s job, and not how she is sharing it. Amy sounds like somebody who doesn’t really think of others before speaking, and I doubt she’s really that good of a manager.

      2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        “There may be some industries (think maybe working with vulnerable populations in counseling/support giving professions where Lynn is a inspirational she survived, there can be light at the end of the tunnel for you too – but I really doubt that Amy is in that sort of line of work.”

        The LW posted upthread and apparently Amy IS in that line of work, but to me that makes it worse: “My sister Lynn was abused and got over it, so why can’t you?”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I put up my first post before the OP, so I now have that extra information. I think the value in Lynn’s story is more of a “you are not as alone” as the abuser wants you to think you are. Others have also been abused – and every way out is different, but this was the way out this one person found.

          I can also see with this population that you would need to be even more careful of how and what you share to make sure you don’t cause more hurt to the person you are striving to help.

    3. IdeaFactory*

      You raise a very good point! Lynn may very well also be unable to shut down Amy’s behavior. I bet she is not Ok w/ this at all.

  8. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Oh. Oh no.

    OP, show Amy this post. I have no doubt the comments will resoundingly agree with you.

    Given the statistics on sexual assault, I would be shocked if Amy hasn’t already shared this with a victim and potentially caused them harm in doing so.

    Alternately, maybe reach out to an organization like RAINN for advice on how to frame a conversation with her?

    1. Stay-at-homesteader*

      Here’s another one! Amy, please, please, please stop this. I am *not* a survivor of assault and I would *still* find this deeply upsetting to have to hear in the workplace. So even if you think you don’t have any survivors as employees (but you do, trust me), even non-survivors don’t want to be confonted with out of the blue stories of assault in the middle of the workday.

  9. Trek*

    Does this remind anyone of the employee who would respond to any complaint with ‘At least you don’t have cancer?’ It’s almost like she’s telling new reports that whatever they’re facing is not as bad as being raped so they should just over come it.

      1. Drew*

        And your liver works, unlike my late brother who died because my employees were too selfish to get tested.

          1. AKchic*

            And don’t forget to set your personal and spiritual wellness goals for the week! We’re going to discuss those in your afternoon session!

    1. Fly on the wall*

      Right? Whatever you’re going through, it can’t possibly be as bad as my adopted sister, whom you don’t know, but who suffered sexual abuse by her parent. So buck up already!

    2. Lena Clare*

      Yes right?! I came here to say this. It is a terrible thing that happened but for some people there may be worse! And when you’re in the middle of your own grief and blizzard of feelings, other people’s pain is awful to hear, in addition to the yucky underlying assumption you’d take from this that you need to get over whatever is bothering you because childhood sexual assault is worse etc etc.
      Is Amy a bit of a rescuer?

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Be incredibly self-centered, empathy-deficient, and confident that as long as you don’t receive immediate in-your-face blowback, it means everything is fine.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I wonder if Amy is somewhat thinking that it was her experience too, since they were best friends an all. (Not that this makes it okay in any way, it’s just that I do often try to figure out what peoples’ thought processes might be. Basically, “what odd idea was the starting point that they ended up here?”)

  10. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    I’m sorry. I know we’ve stopped doing this in general, but sometimes it just happens. WTF Wednesday.
    How can anyone think telling a story about a sibling’s sexual assault is a valuable object lesson or for new hires in an office?

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I just turned to my coworker and asked where she was going with a tablet. “Our staff meeting.”
        Um, it’s been on Tuesday for the last ten years.
        “Yeah, and it still is.”
        WTF Karma day!

  11. Mama Bear*

    Wow. Amy really needs to come up with another example for her new hires. I would feel very uncomfortable if that was the motivational speech my new boss rolled out when I started a job.

  12. anonnonnon*

    No no no no no no!!!!!

    I am currently in therapy to process childhood sexual trauma. And I’m having a hell of a time getting through the day at work as a result. If my boss (!!) brought up a story of sexual assault (!!) as a motivational story (!!) I would more than likely break out in hives, maybe have a panic attack, and 100% not feel safe at work.

    (And I give you my blessing to share that story, if it convinces Amy to discontinue this practice.)

    1. UbiCaritas*

      Yes, as a survivor of sexual assault, I wouldn’t be able to understand anything after hearing this story, and it certainly wouldn’t send me an inspirational message. All of my energy would go towards not having a meltdown.

  13. AnotherAlison*

    Aside from the specific not-for-work content, it’s also not Amy’s story to share. Amy also does not know all the facts of how Lynn has overcome this and how it is still impacting her life. Lynn may not even know. Sometimes, you have a, “See? She overcame everything and it was fine,” story and then you find out Lynn has some secret ways she is coping with trauma, or the trauma is about to hit her like a truck in 5 years. My family has gone through some of that–everyone seems to be living life normally, and then some truths about the past are uncovered and you realize that was all fake.

    1. Marmaduke*

      +1 on this. I’m 30 and still sometimes hit “pockets” of trauma from things that happened in my early teens. I recently reconnected with a friend from middle school and it brought back another wave of repressed memories and feelings. I’ve learned to take the “turned out fine” stories with a bucket of salt, because “turning out” is an ongoing process.

    2. BeckySuz*

      Yes to all of this! I have a feeling when Amy says Lynn is ok with this she doesn’t much care if that’s true or not. Also even if the trauma was actually Amy’s, it still wouldn’t be appropriate for her to use it as a motivational speech to her employees. I don’t know that might be even worse? Outside of maybe Amy being a sexual assault survivor therapist I can’t see any job where this would ever be appropriate to share. The whole thing is just horrible

      1. Adultiest Adult*

        Actually, as a trauma therapist, I am incredibly careful with stories of abuse, for all the reasons people have outlined previously, and for the simple reason that people are seeing me to deal with their own trauma. They don’t need to hear mine. It’s 100 percent more important to have good boundaries when you are doing trauma work, because the potential for harm is so high otherwise. Amy is way over the line.

    3. Meepmeep*

      Oh yeah. I know a lot of survivors of childhood trauma, as it happens. Superficially, they look “fine”. Employed, married, everything looks good. Until you get to know them really well and find out all the ways in which they still struggle.

    4. Doc in a Box*

      Yes. I have a trauma in my past that I keep in a tiny little box and work really hard not to let out. People think I really have it together — I’ve gotten that feedback on work evaluations, even — but they don’t see how exhausted I am at the end of each day from the effort of just making it through with a smile.

      1. scribblingTiresias*

        …If you’ve already tried this, please disregard, but… have you heard of/would you consider EMDR therapy? it’s a kind of therapy specifically designed to help deal with trauma and a good chunk of it is dedicated to helping you process the trauma so you don’t have to keep it chained up in a tiny little box.

  14. Jennifer*

    Also – I’m happy that Lynn is in a good place right now. That’s great for her.

    Amy may not be privy to everything that goes on in Lynn’s head in private however. There may be things she only shares with her therapist or maybe things she never speaks out loud at all. If Amy has not been through it, it’s not something she can really understand. I

    Amy’s repeating this story also comes across as “look at what great people my family and I are!” Humble brag much?

    1. Sharrbe*

      Yes! Just because Lynn appears to be happy and fuctioning to the outside world, it doesn’t mean that everything about the abuse is resolved. Don’t get me wrong, successfully functioning in the world is a great thing and should be applauded but it doesn’t mean one is “over” the abuse on the inside, however.

  15. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    And when you remind Amy of the likelihood that she has told this story to a rape victim, remind her that she should never ever give a subordinate employee even a whiff of suggestion that there is an expectation that they need to disclose or discuss past (or present) sexual trauma at work. Telling this story sends the opposite message, particularly to younger and less experiences employees.

  16. Arctic*

    Oh, boy.

    First of all, Lynn is in a position where she is likely forever grateful to Amy’s family. Meaning they may not have the equal relationship of most sisters. So, I’m skeptical that she’s totally fine with this. But it’s sort of irrelevant to the overall story.

    Also, what about people who never “got over” (ugh) their abuse or assaults? They aren’t somehow less than Lynn. People are different. This is not a universal story about the human will to thrive.

    Frankly, I don’t have the same confidence that the boss will shut it down, though. It seems likely her bosses know about it if she’s done it more than once. This is the sort of thing you see on motivational Ted Talk rip offs sometimes. Granted, usually it is actually the story of the person telling it. But fetishizing abuse or assault is a thing in some motivational management speaker circles.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I feel bad for Lynne for that Amy continues to subtley “other” her. My adopted sister, who suffered this trauma has become a strong, successful woman after I stepped in and my family stepped in.
      As everyone states, the story of the assault and overcoming it is Lynne’s. Amy is ultimately telling the story of how she affected someone’s life. She can do that without sharing any, much less prurient details about a specific person.

      1. You can't fire me; I don't work in this van*

        Yes, I was thinking the same thing. Does Lynn feel like she owes Amy and her family such a debt of gratitude that she feels like she can’t enforce a reasonable boundary? Does Amy have a savior complex about this?

      2. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, in addition to this and all of the other very good points already made about why this is so deeply wrong, I can’t help but feel like Amy tells this story in part because she gets to play the hero, even if she’s not saying so directly. Amy may not see it that way, but that is the vibe I’m getting.

        1. AKchic*

          nothing humble about it. This whole thing reeks of bragging to me. If I were on the receiving end of this little speech, I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut (I don’t freeze when angry).

      3. Can't Sit Still*

        Yes! This is Amy bragging about being a hero, while pretending to share a “motivational” story about her sister. She’s sharing that’s she’s a profoundly unsafe person to be around for people with empathy and/or are survivors, and telling predators that they’re safe around her. All around, what she’s doing is awful on so many levels.

    2. Jennifer*

      Yes, I thought of that too. I have read that adopted kids don’t always feel comfortable speaking up because they are supposed to be eternally grateful to their saviors, instead of being able to speak their minds. There’s a power imbalance there for sure. I wonder if Amy is quick to “innocently” remind her of all they’ve done for her. Honestly, they just did what any decent family would have done in that situation.

    3. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      Also, Lynn may feel obligated by her gratitude to perform “full recovery” for her adopted family.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Agreed. For Amy at least, very much of her own identity is tied up in Lynne’s success. How can Lynne let her down? Additionally, Amy is not trained/qualified to counsel someone, so how does she react if Lynne doesn’t give her the “correct” answer?

  17. WindyLindy*

    Ugh. And I fail to see how this is even motivational? If I was talking to my manager about how I’d been struggling to get back to a normal level of performance after grieving for a relative’s death, and my manager’s response was, “Well, my sister overcame abuse to be productive. You’ll be fine!” I’d want to flip a table.

    1. Paperdill*

      I was having a period of poor performance at work related to depression and managing work vs my young children. One of the things that made me feel infinitely worse was hearing how our new team member was working full time AND studying AND had all these qualifications AND had 2 young kids at home AND was outstanding at her work AND isn’t she fit/attractive/stylish….
      It did NOT HELP!

  18. school of hard knowcs*

    The fact that none of Amy’s employees has stated their discomfort or that Amy has heard their discomfort is troubling. It either means she REALLY isn’t listening, or they are too afraid to say something. Alison’s suggestion that Amy run it by her boss is good. When someone gets stuck, don’t push them into the ground on that spot. Point them in a different positive direction. ie A motivating story from someone overcoming a difficult situation at work would be more on point. The obvious one, is to tell your boss not to talk about her adopted sister’s sexual abuse as motivation.

    1. Allypopx*

      I am a vocal person who pushes back on inappropriate behavior quickly and loudly. But when I’m triggered I clam up. My body goes into a full defense mode and this like psychological armor clangs into place. I probably wouldn’t be able to push back on this. I’m not sure I’d be able to do anything besides job hunt.

      Amy needs to stop putting people in that position.

      1. londonedit*

        I don’t have any history of similar trauma, but I can imagine that my reaction would be one of stunned silence. Possibly with my hands over my mouth, wide-eyed, thinking ‘Oh good gracious no…she’s not actually talking about this…she really is not actually talking about this at work…’. I don’t think I’d have the wherewithal to say something in the moment. So I totally understand how you (and probably plenty of other people) would just clam right up at this sort of thing. It’s self-preservation – just sit there and pretend she isn’t saying what you think she’s saying, and get out of that room as quickly as possible. Ugh.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          London – I’d also probably be sitting in stunned silence as well. Lack of pushback because the listener is gobsmacked and doesn’t know how to respond isn’t the same and “taking it well and approving” of the story’s use.

    2. Susie Q*

      If Amy is the type of boss that thinks using your sister’s sexual assault as a motivational tale is okay, then she probably refuses to take any criticism or feedback well. PLus we also don’t know that people haven’t complained, etc. We only know what Amy told OP. And the people who are forced to listen to Amy are newbies to the job and career, so they are in a position of less authority and may be very nervous to say anything.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        With some time to think about it, someone is going to realize that Lynne is an emotional hostage to Amy, always having to reassure her that she, Lynne is fine because she, Amy did a great thing. Good information to have BEFORE you take the job.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Heck, I cannot even think of anything to comment but “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD”. This was my literal reaction to just reading the letter. I cannot imagine the reactions to being told the story, by your boss, as a new hire.

    4. Threeve*

      Possible outcome: boss will tell her in no uncertain terms to never bring this up again, but that in turn will become part of her warped narrative.

      She won’t stop sharing Lynn’s story, but will also add in how she’s determined to keep sharing it despite her boss trying to silence her, because she is just that inspirational and principled.

      1. AKchic*

        I actually have a feeling you might be right. It may take a multi-prong approach to actually shut Amy down and completely stop her from continued storytelling and white knighting of young Lynn. I mean, here she is, polishing her armor while regaling everyone of her heroic feats while Lynn had a fairy tale ending of marriage and kids (after living in suburban bliss with Amy and her family after being rescued from durance vile), that really, anyone can do it, if only they’d just *listen* to Amy’s tale.
        Please, don’t dwell on the fact that Lynn was really lucky to have been able to live with Amy’s family and be adopted (a very unlikely occurrence for most youth in crisis), lucky to be placed with a seemingly well-off family (another unlikely occurrence for most youth in crisis), probably had access to therapy that wasn’t just state-funded / poverty level and stretched thin…

        Yeah… it’s like a trust fund baby who was gifted a multi-billion dollar corporation telling poor people that if they just pull themselves up by their bootstraps like they did, they too can be rich.

  19. BasicWitch*

    I am not writing the many curses that sprang to my lips upon reading this.

    I am someone who survived sexual abuse from a family member. Hearing someone turn that kind of trauma into workplace motivation (what the actual f…) would be devastating. I would lose the ability to interact with this person and would immediately start looking for another job, at the very minimum. But there’s a very good chance I would go to war first, burnt bridges be damned, because this is a highly emotional issue.

  20. AppleStan*

    Oh. No.

    Amy, stop.

    Stop now.

    You have absolutely NO idea what you are doing to the people who hear this story. And while Lynn may be absolutely fine with telling this story it is simply NOT appropriate in a workplace setting.

    I can just hear the HR department dropping dead and then being reanimated as mind-blown zombies trying to protect the company from this…over-sharing (I’m trying to find the politest way to put this). Amy will trigger the wrong person, who will quit and/or sue the company and this will be such a cluster.

    I agree with an earlier poster — Amy, I would NEVER trust you with anything and I would never come to you with anything…and as Colin Powell once said “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” You will always be the one that told the horrible sexual assault story as a motivation technique. Your reputation WILL proceed you in and out of your company and it won’t be good.

    Yeah, Amy, stop now.

    You do no one, including yourself, anything good. JUST STOP NOW.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think your second paragraph is so key – it’s not just Amy here – it’s the whole putrid dynamic she’s making could blow up the company.

      And I live the third paragraph with the Colin Powell point – because it’s so true, you can’t lead if you don’t know the people you are leading. And you will never know your people if they don’t trust/respect you. I doubt the people under Amy trust or respect her. Who knows how many of them may be looking for the proverbial off-ramp right now.

    1. annakarina1*

      Yeah, going on like “She got married and has kids so she’s fine now!” is messed-up, like it just puts a Band-Aid on her trauma and any future PTSD. And I doubt she’d be fine with this story being told without her presence as an “inspirational” story to an office of strangers.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      $20 says Lynn has no idea that she’s been a workplace motivational story for a while now. And that she would not take it kindly if she found out.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      Who wants to bet she doesn’t even know? I could see Amy asking, perhaps quite awhile ago, if Lynn minded if Amy told someone (a single and specific individual) the story and Lynn said “ok” and Amy took that to mean “it’s fine for you to tell anyone and everyone, regardless of how well I/you know that person or how (in)appropriate the context”.

    4. Jedi Squirrel*

      Entirely this. It’s completely possible to hold things together on the inside because you have responsibilities and kids and you need to make sure the dishes are washed, and the cat is out, and the dog is in, and the electric bill got paid, but inside you’re just a mess.

      My hands are actually shaking as I write this. No abuse victim wants to become someone else’s motivational story. I am trying so hard to not write that Amy is a terrible person, but everything about this is just so wrong, I’m finding it hard to conclude otherwise.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I wondered if she was fine only when Amy was around.

      This is what I was told to do with busybodies, “just tell them you are fine”, so I did a lot of that. But I was not fine.

  21. SheLooksFamiliar*

    My sister and I were raised in a very abusive home – both parents were physically and emotionally abusive, and our father was a child rapist. My sister got the worst of it (I fought back, she didn’t), and she is the kindest woman I know. She’s really my hero because she could have been abusive to her own children. Beatings were almost daily occurrences, it was the only response to real or imagined behavior. It was all we knew. But she loved her children with all her heart and never laid a hand on them. She is a remarkable example of resilience, kindness, and survival…and I would never tell her story or use her as an example at work. It’s not only not my story to tell, it dismisses the reality for others who struggle with adversity. There’s no need to one-up anyone, just coach and support them as you find them.

  22. Anonacoon*


    As a survivor, this would make me feel like crap – but would come out as unrestrained, incandescent fury. If I didn’t quit on the spot, I would probably just… stop coming to work. Mentally at first, but then I just stop showing up – and I’d never orate why, because then someone like Amy might take MY story and use it as an example of being a quitter.

    OP- you have to show these to Amy to get her to stop. Please.

    1. BasicWitch*

      Burn. It. All. Down. Would be my only response if this happened in my workplace (speaking figuratively).

  23. Allypopx*

    I’m shaking with rage at this.

    I’m not sure I have much to contribute besides NO. and a series of expletives. But no.

    1. AKchic*

      I concur. I have been raging about this one all morning. The words I want to say will never make it past the censors.

  24. 2 Cents*

    Just some of the many problematic signals Amy as a manager (and human!) is sending with this:
    —if you have a problem in your life, I’m not going to believe you can’t overcome it / it’s not that difficult because [Lynn’s story]
    —if you have something happen of a sensitive nature, I will spread it around as I see fit

  25. Lora*

    Holy fk. Amy needs to cut this out, pronto.

    1. In the Oppression Olympics, there are no winners.

    2. Amy has NO IDEA what anyone she is speaking to have been through. None. It is certain that she has definitely told this story to someone who has been through the same if not worse.

    3. When stories like this are told to other survivors of (well, anything really), the message it actually sends is NOT “see you can overcome things,” it is actually “you’re being a victim WRONG, and if only you were being the right kind of victim, you would be better already and everything would be cool.”

    4. No, lots of people cannot overcome anything. There’s nasty horrible things in the world, many of which happen to perfectly good people, and justice never comes and they never get better. This is a reason to be ethical, careful, considerate and kind to other people – because you can do irreparable harm if you are not those things, you can do harm for which no apology or restitution will ever fix. This is a reason to be extremely vigilant about making sure other people around you are also ethical, careful, considerate and kind, and coming down like a ton of bricks on bad behavior. This is a reason to support people who are going through some sh!t as much as you can, by telling them you believe in them and providing them with whatever resources you can. This is not a reason to tell people to buck up because someone else had it worse once upon a time. See #1.

    5. Nobody needs her fking permission slip to be some kinda way. This is one of the more maddening things to me, when I tell someone that I am bailing on (bad job, bad relationship, bad situation, whatever) because I am just out of energy / money / time for it: “Oh but you can’t give up because if only you persevere like (Helen Keller, Gandhi, etc) you might succeed! You just can’t give up!” Yes, yes actually I can, there is a time to cut your friggin losses and move on to a situation less hopeless. If you disagree, then what is the magic number when I AM allowed to give up? When do I have your permission? When there have been X bad experiences in this situation? Y bad experiences? When do you, oh arbiter of all things, imagine that I should be ALLOWED to make that decision?

    LW, I know Amy is your friend, but if you can figure out how to tell her that the way she probably intends this story is definitely NOT how it is perceived, it would be a blessing to everyone.

    1. AuroraLight37*

      “Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over.”

      F. Scott Fitzgerald

    2. Marmaduke*

      Sorry if this is a stupid thing to say, but Moana is my favorite Disney movie just because of the part where her grandmother says, essentially, “You’re right. This is way too much to ask of you, and there is nothing wrong with quitting.” Obviously she doesn’t, because that wouldn’t make for much of a story arc, but I loved seeing the message that if something isn’t right for you there is nothing wrong with walking away.

      1. Lora*

        Based on what LW posted above, it seems like Amy would be a lot better focusing on getting the young people in question the resources to escape their various crummy situations, rather than inspiring them with the happily ever after that if only you have a White Knight to help you out, you too can ride off into the sunset.

        A lesson she might benefit from when it comes to her sister’s own experience is, the sheer amount of resources needed to get to that point – and the unfortunate shortage of wealthy neighbor parents willing to step into what others would consider a private family situation.

        1. Anon survivor*

          I agree. When I was a kid, I used to read novels about kids/teens with problems and or taught me that in order to get over my situation, I’d need to have either:
          *really great and understanding and empathetic parents
          *parents willing to learn + good therapy
          *foster parents, a group home, or even juvie

          Although I enjoyed the novels and they gave me hope when I was hopeless, it was ‘fantasy hope’. It was like a poor person reading about a poor person winning the lottery. Fantasizing about winning the lottery can help you be less sad. It doesn’t actually motivate, inspire, or provide any guidance on how to get out of poverty.

          It really just told me that as I didn’t have great or even good-enough parents, and because I was too scared to do anything that would get me sent to juvie, there was no hope of my situation ever improving.

    3. Madtown Maven*

      Lora, this is all the right words and meanings. You’ve shared some big wisdom here. Thank you.

  26. PTSD from Abuse*

    Over the summer, 35 years after I was molested, I heard something that spiraled me into an episode of PTSD. I was damn near a complete and total meltdown. I thought I had dealt with my abuse, but it turns out I had just run far far away and pretended it never happened. I was married and incredibly successful, I am well respected in my line of work and speak often at conferences and am published in trade magazines and websites monthly. The “story” someone told me made me breakdown. My therapist was on vacation, so for 37 days, I slept only 2 hours a night, and not consecutively. I would sleep 15 minutes and plunge into a nightmare that would wake me up and cause a panic attack. Once my therapist was back I saw her 3x a week while waiting to see the psychiatrist to get on some medication for PTSD and nightmares. As soon as I started the medicine it was still 4 months before I had worked up to the full dose and was functioning.
    I am telling you this because these kinds of “uplifting” and “motivational” stories can do real damage to people who don’t even know they are vulnerable.
    Stop it.

    1. Jennifer*

      Hugs if you want them.

      Something similar happened to me when the deluge of #metoo stories started coming out.

    2. Blueberry*

      Thank you for telling us this (may the AMys of the world understand and do better), and you have all my good thoughts, fellow survivor.

  27. Hermione*

    Beyond all of the many reason why Amy needs to immediately STOP doing this, there is also a really gross sort of self-brag/posturing of Amy and her family as Lynn’s ‘saviors’ in Amy’s story. Ick.

    I hope that OP or someone from Amy’s company manages to get this to Amy’s employer, because Amy needs to be stopped immediately.

    1. Ginger*


      Your comment captured what I felt but couldn’t put into words. Making herself out to be a savior. So icky.

  28. Anonymous Poster*

    Incredibly inappropriate, as you know. Many people of any gender have personal experience with sexual violence and shouldn’t have to deal with this at work.

    It’s also very strange to use this in a motivational context at work. It sounds like your friend describes her sister as overcoming this to reach a happier life as parallel to… overcoming a work-related difficulty to reach a more successful professional life. Nah, dude. That’s incredibly inappropriate.

    1. Anonymous Poster*

      Amy strikes me as acting narcissistically, and I don’t mean that in the diagnostic sense (I don’t know enough about that) or the internet bogeyman sense. Her need to tell a story about being a hero is eclipsing logic, common sense, and empathy.

      I don’t even know how to tell her to knock it off, but maybe you could remind her to consider her audience’s needs above anything else. What do people listening to a motivational talk need? Encouragement, stories about other people who knocked it out of the park, some recognition for their own good work in the past?

  29. Ginger*


    That is not motivational. That is using a terrible, terrible trauma to shock people into being submissive to Amy.

    Submissive meaning yes Amy, I’ll do what you’re telling me to do right now because I am so horrified but what you just shared. That doesn’t mean the person is suddenly super motivated to do anything, they are probably running out of her office to get away from someone who peddles her adopted sister’s hugely traumatic experience (WTF!!!).

    The utter lack of self awareness is disturbing from someone who is supposed to be tuned in to people’s behaviors.

    And I highly, highly doubt the sister is truly on board with that.

  30. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


    Let’s just stipulate that this is inappropriate, in several different ways, as already pointed out above.

    It also just plain. won’t. work.

    How does somebody else overcoming a history of sexual abuse help me get the accounting department to fix my withholding? Or get the IT department to get the printer working? Or help me memorize 450 product codes?

    The entire personal inspiration-industrial complex is just a waste of time, money, and emotional energy. Amy should be giving her employees concrete, specific advice on their jobs. Not platitudes about overcoming any challenge.

    1. Jennifer*

      Plus, there are so many truly motivational stories out there that don’t involve sexual abuse if she insists on needing a story to motivate people. Pretty easy to google.

    2. The Original K.*

      Right! Unless Amy works with survivors of sexual abuse, Lynn’s childhood isn’t relevant to her & her team’s work. If Amy’s team has a tangible problem, they need her to help them fix that problem. Like … okay, it’s great that Lynn has overcome her childhood but the server is still down, so now what?

  31. Quickbeam*

    I really feel badly for Lynn who may feel pressure to say use of her story is ok. That’s a creepy position to be in.

    I happen to be an orphan (both died of cancer) and I had a nursing professor want to use my story as part of her qualitative research. She was fascinated by the weird roll of the dice of my life. I said no and felt she was swept away by a juicy grabbing narrative. She didn’t use it.

  32. IWishIHadaFancyUserName*

    If Amy so nonchalantly shares this kind of deeply personal private information about her sister, what would she say about me behind my back to her reports? This is not a way to inspire, nor build trust.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – I posed up above that I wondered how many of Amy’s reports are looking for the proverbial off-ramp? Her actions just second hand make me wonder if she “leads” through fear instead of coaching/teaching/building skills.

  33. Granny K*

    If a manager told me a story like this, I would think she was a terrible and/or new manager for inappropriate oversharing. Also, I would suspect she was lying it was about her adopted sister and think the story was perhaps about her, and wondering if she was in the middle of some PTSD and I would then have to treat her differently/carefully.

  34. FormerFirstTimer*

    Sharing sexual assault stories is important, so other survivors know they aren’t alone. Telling a sexual assault story that isn’t even yours, as a motivational tool at work, is beyond the pale. If I went to my boss and told her I was getting kind of burnt out and she told me that story, I would A) Have to pick my jaw up off the floor, and B) Think that she’s literally saying “If my sister can overcome horrible abuse, you shouldn’t even have an issue with burn out.”.

  35. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    Amy has no way to guage how other people feel about hearing this intensely personal story. I was recently with a group of women from my religious community and one very young woman started to share the story of her aunt’s drug addiction. There was context – she didn’t just casually throw it into conversation – but it made everyone very uncomfortable and several people asked her to stop. She insisted that her aunt didn’t mind and tried to explain the relevance but nonetheless the group collectively told her that it wasn’t appropriate to share. I’m pretty sure that in a situation where there is really no relevance at all, and people feel uncomfortable about speaking up, they must just cringe inside when it’s time for Another Motivational Chat with Amy.

    I find it difficult to believe that Amy really thinks this is the most appropriate example she could give of overcoming obstacles and that people feel inspired by it. There is something unsavoury about her repeated retelling of this awful story.

    1. anonymous for this, please*

      A very key factor in recovery programs is sharing ONLY your own stuff, not your kids’ or your spouse’s or your aunt’s. You’re not dealing with your own issues if you’re talking about others’, and as some have mentioned here, Amy is radiating insincerity and a sense she’s out of touch with normal, acceptable behavior.

  36. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I worked for a major national nonprofit whose name you definitely know that used to do regular trainings about fulfilling our mission and cause, and articulating it in a way that was consistent with branding guidelines. This included people discussing the ways they had touched the lives of various clients/patrons/employees of our organization who were in various sorts of need, in testimonials.

    Topics of these testimonials involved: child refugees/war crimes, child sexual abuse, hunger and extreme poverty, domestic violence, depression/suicide/drug abuse. Typically, everyone involved in the testimonial was crying.

    I did not think ANY of these were appropriate at work. Especially since in many cases, the person who was helped, had not given their consent to have their story told at trainings and in marketing materials. It grossed me out and made me uncomfortable. But…apparently my employer did think it was appropriate, since they had multiple trainings based on sharing these.

    I agree with you that this is wildly inappropriate, but Amy may work somewhere where it is considered appropriate and is even encouraged.

    1. Quill*

      Reminds me of the school “motivational speakers” who often turned up for assemblies. A decent chunk of the time it was bereaved parents sobbing about how if they’d just *known* they wouldn’t have lost their teenage child to suicide or drugs, and all of us sitting in excessively uncomfortable silence reflecting on how much this person needed a therapist instead of a speaking tour. The rest of the time it was either about drunk driving or “kid from the inner city made good and is here to be HIP with the YOUTH.”

      1. KoiFeeder*

        I’m not actually glad that this is a more universal experience than I had hoped, but I feel you.

    2. Malarkey01*

      I was wondering this. I’m on a board of a non profit that helps young homeless mothers overcome substance abuse, and as part of that many of them do work in the non profit to gain business experience. There is a LOT of discussion around the office about pretty horrible pasts (pregnant drug use, losing your children, abuse, etc), and many people do relate their PERSONAL histories into different work tasks. However this is a very specific place where this is part helping them adjust to the workforce and there’s a lot of muddying the water between employer/social worker.

      I could see where working in a place like that would have warped Amy’s expectations of appropriate.

  37. learnedthehardway*

    Of all the narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, insensitive, and selfish things I have ever heard of, this one really tops the list. Because that is what sharing someone else’s trauma is, when there’s no appropriate reason for doing so. And there is ABSOLUTELY no appropriate reason Amy to bring this situation up in a work setting.

    OP – make sure you NEVER share anything deeply personal with this individual, because you simply can’t rely on her discretion or judgment.

  38. Emmie*

    Living through secondary trauma, like Amy did, can make a person desensitized to it in a way. Is desensitized the right word? She may have lost perspective about when and where it’s appropriate to share her experiences. I am in no way defending Amy. She’s not sharing her story. She’s sharing someone else’s story. Amy lived through something traumatic. Her best friend was sexually abused, and she found out about this at a young age. I cannot imagine what that was like for Amy. I am still much more horrified for Lynn who must have been through unimaginable pain. It’s not Amy’s story to share. It’s NOT okay to do this at work. It’s a huge violation of Lynn’s trust. She still should not share this info with her coworkers for all the reasons here. It still may be useful to recognize that Amy may have been impacted in some way. I commend the OP for speaking up.

    1. Blueberry*

      This is a really good point about AMy’s secondary trauma which she may well not have conceptualized let alone dealt with. (And also, OP, if you see this, thank you, and good luck.)

    2. Quill*

      Even if it weren’t a question of trauma, Amy might need some professional assistance in boundaries, re: how to stay in them.

      But seconding that Amy could probably benefit from therapy for the trauma as well.

    3. Dorie*

      This is a good point and possibly a reasonable place to start. She may benefit from some support herself.

  39. Anonymous for this*

    Oh no. No, no, no.
    I’m a survivor of violence and sexual abuse in my family. I’ve dealt with it in an OK way (I still flinch when men raise their voice), and have a life of my own, including a happy marriage.
    I visualized hearing the “motivational story” – I would have dropped my pen/lunch, gotten up, said “What the heck! How can you tell a styory like that here!”, and left the room. May gone to my supervisor or HR.

    This is totally creepy. *anger*

  40. Abogado Avocado*

    Everyone in this story deserves our compassion. Lynn because she is the survivor of sexual abuse and Amy because she likely suffered secondary trauma as a result of hearing about the abuse from Lynn and may even have been traumatized as the outcry witness to the police. In my jurisdiction, outcry witnesses can be relied on by the prosecution to establish the sexual abuse. Thus, while OP is silent on this aspect, I know from criminal defense work that outcry witnesses often are extensively interviewed by law enforcement and prosecutors, even if they never have to testify at trial. Think about your minor son or daughter being an outcry witness and, even though it is right to report such abuse, ask yourself if they would be traumatized by having to go through such an experience.

    I say this not to excuse Amy’s actions, but to take some of the “how dare she” out of some of the comments here.
    I’m willing to bet she hasn’t had any counseling as a result of this experience.

    I’d also like to point out that Amy does have a stake in this story, but it is not to tell it from Lynn’s point of view, but from her own. I suspect if she were asked to do that, she’d discover that her premise, “Anyone can overcome anything” might change significantly.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      That’s something I didn’t consider – thank you for bringing it up as a point.

      It doesn’t make Amy’s sharing less problematic, but it could explain part of why she’s doing it.

  41. Bunny*

    Okay I’m going to out myself here that I experienced something similar to Lynn’s past, and if my new boss/manager/colleague used that story on me to “motivate” me, I would be sent home for a panic attack/puking everywhere and would probably be contacting HR right away. Just reading what Amy is saying makes my hands clammy and my breath short. Please speak to her about this, it’s so wrong.

  42. MOAS*

    Holy balls that is wrong on so many levels.

    As an junior employee, if I have a workplace issue, the last thing I want to hear about is “well so and so was sexually assaulted and turned out well.” That’s…..I mean it’s awful what happened to her but it’s not related to work! It’s like… the pain olympics? While it’s very much a motivational story, I’m still having issues. I just don’t see how it’s helpful. And…also as a junior employee, I wouldnt’ be able to push back.

    This is just…whoa.

    1. Impy*

      Honestly it would just make me feel worse. My trauma from being a survivor has affected me personally and professionally, and because I didn’t tell anyone it just looked like I randomly went off the rails. If someone told me about sexual assault as a motivational story. I’d just be like great. Not only do I have to deal with trauma and shame etc, I also get to feel like a loser because I didn’t use it as a learning opportunity to succeed at work.

  43. hedda*

    My wife attended a coding boot camp that had motivational career speeches on Fridays, and without any content or trigger warnings, did exactly this same thing. Multiple people were traumatized, spoke up… and nothing changed. No apology, just a shrug.

  44. BEEP*

    Survivor of abuse like this and similar situation. I would be absolutely humiliated if someone who knew something so personal was saying it in a professional setting. Also Lynn has children and there is the added terror of who Amy is saying this to because it could get back to them before Lynn can share that trauma if she wants or intends to with her children. This is so gross.

  45. Quill*



    Boundaries! Have them! For every “heartwarming story” there’s a flip side of someone’s medical or mental health privacy: is it being respected?

    If she’d brought it up casually and vaguely, in private and in relation to something actually related, like “I want you to know that not only do I take our sexual harassment policy very seriously, I have family circumstances that motivate that, so never feel pressured not to say something to me, I will reliably raise cain about it,” that would be one thing, but motivational speech material? NO.

  46. Interviewer*

    How many times do you think Amy has shared this story at work, with how many people? Does Lynn know how often Amy has done it? Would Amy be comfortable telling Lynn that number? I’m assuming Lynn lives in this same community. Once Amy shares the story, it’s out of her hands as to what happens next, but people talk. If I were Lynn, I would want to have far more control over how it spreads to others. I bet Lynn would put her foot down if she knew the context and frequency of Amy’s storytelling. Amy probably knows this, too – but she ran past the line a long time ago, Instead, she continues to seek out that validation & feedback that she’s doing a good job of managing & coaching by “moving” her employees with this story. Gag.

    1. Quill*

      I also wonder if it’s a case of not clearly defined permission to share this.

      Amy: do you mind if I tell my At Risk Youth about your life to give them hope?
      Lynn, filled with compassion for a child in the same situation she was: yes of course if you think it will help them!
      Amy: *interprets this as blanket permission to use it as a motivational speech.*

  47. ArtK*

    Aside from the horror of sharing someone else’s sexual assault story to people at work, there’s the whole bit about how to motivate people. I don’t know where the idea that “someone had it worse than you and they pushed through, so suck it up, Buttercup” is a good way to motivate people. This isn’t a competitive sport. There’s no trophy for overcoming the most. Amy really needs some coaching on how to manage and motivate people. Hint for Amy: It lies in making people feel valued and rewarding them for actual accomplishments.

  48. autumnal*

    Hmm…I wonder if Amy uses this story to “motivate” her employers regardless of their sex/gender? Given get complete lack of boundaries, she just might but I suspect this may be reserved for female staff. Which leads me to wonder what horrific boundary-defying story she uses on the men? But what I mostly wonder is how Amy ever got into a position of authority when she clearly lacks good judgement or common sense.

  49. CL Cox*

    As a survivor, and thinking back to when I was younger and just starting out, if a manager had shared this story, I’d be freaking out wondering if they told me because they know or heard something about me. How do they know, from a friend or not? And do they think I’m not handling my life as well as I think I am? Is that why they’re telling me about someone who succeeded, because they think I’m not?

    And it would spiral badly from there. Jesus, I’m not unaffected now, and I’m fairly open myself with people about what happened to me. But if I ever found out my sister or brother were sharing my story at all, for whatever reason, I’d be pissed.

  50. MrsMurphy*

    Oh dear. This is horrible and needs to stop for all the reasons people have pointed out here.

    I am a survivor of abuse and I feel very comfortable in my office because generally, there will be little to no sexual innuendo or stories that are too personal. We‘re there to work, not to consider coworkers as sexual beings or attend group therapy. It‘s a safe space for me for exactly this reason. If my supervisor told me this story I‘d smile and bear it and never feel safe there again because she‘d have introduced a topic that I am very happy to leave out of my work life. I‘d be worried about giving off ‚odd‘ vibes and forever wonder if anyone can guess what‘s wrong.

    Just.. no.

  51. Elizabeth West*

    If I worked there and Amy told me this story as a motivational tool, I’d go straight to HR.

  52. Radiant Peach*

    Agree with everything you said – I also want to add a comment on Amy saying Lynn is “fine” with her story being used. I wonder if Amy has considered the power dynamic between them – i.e. Lynn feeling like she owes it to Amy to be able to use her story because she feels she should be grateful for what her adoptive family has done for her.

    1. Doc in a Box*

      Probably not, but it doesn’t matter if she is — what matters is that Amy is almost certainly retraumatizing survivors. Nearly half of women, and 1 in 4 men, are survivors of sexual violence (2011 CDC data). The response would be the same if Lynn were the one sharing her story as an inspiration to others to buck up.

  53. Ashley*

    Not only has Amy likely told this story to sexual adult survivor, she has likely told this story to someone who has lost a loved one to sexual and/or domestic violence. Not everyone survives.

    I went to school with a girl whose mother was murdered by her father and one of my closest friend’s cousin was killed by an ex-boyfriend.

    I don’t understand how she could think this is appropriate or motivational.

  54. Akcipitrokulo*

    On reflection… I think I’d be horrified, be professionally unreactive in the moment, and after gathered thoughts would call my union.

    Union would help me approach HR; we’d work out how I’d be comfortable approaching it and how involved I wanted to be, and a serious arsekicking would be delivered.

    But I’m in my 40s with a successful career in which I’m respected, which gives me more confidence and the experience to know that this is NOT a workplace norm.

    The people who are being subjected to this may have neither. A 20-odd survivor in their first real job may not know that this is wrong and something about which they can push back.

  55. tinybutfierce*

    I’m just absolutely flabbergasted by this. Just… how in the WORLD does someone think this is appropriate for a workplace? As motivation?!?!

    I’m going to hardcore second Alison’s pushback on how the story “goes over well”. If I had a supervisor who displayed such wildly irrational judgment as to tell me about the familial sexual abuse of a complete stranger as some kind of motivation, I’d have absolutely zero faith in their judgement, period, including when it came to pushing back on something like this. This is just beyond the pale absurd.

  56. Caliente*

    This makes me think that Amy is a terrible person, not some fabulous person. Ugh. Smart people being disingenuous is worse than people just being straight up unintelligent.
    And talking this way to the group that you says she does makes it so SO much worse. Why can’t she motivate without being all – so and so did was crushed down by (horrible horrible things) and so can you! How? Are they going to be adopted by some affluent (probably white) family, too? Rah, rah? Just ugh.
    Shouldn’t she be talking to these people about themselves and their own lives? This just rankles in every way.

    1. ACDC*

      I don’t think it’s fair to call Amy a terrible person. She clearly doesn’t realize that this is problematic and should be stopped. Hopefully she will learn from it and find another way to motivate the masses. Really not cool to jump to such a conclusion about someone you’ve never met and have no context on other than this secondhand account.

  57. Mary Whitney*

    If all these horrified comments aren’t enough to stop Amy from sharing this story… well, consider pointing out that she’s actually failing at her job of mentoring these kids with traumatic pasts by doing so. They almost definitely won’t feel like she’s a safe person to confide in/get guidance from. And she’s probably turning a lot of them off of her program, which (assuming it’s a good program to give kids a hand up) is hurting them in the long run.

  58. Tedious Cat*

    Begging forgiveness if this has already been said, but could it be pointed out to Amy that comparing challenges at a particular workplace to surviving sexual assault from a family member is really going to make new hires very concerned about what exactly goes down at this company?

    1. Tedious Cat*

      Okay, I see now from LW that Amy is telling this to disadvantaged clients rather than direct reports… Yeah, that’s worse. And the savior light she’s likely telling it in is also awful.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        It sounds like they may be occupying a sort of middle ground in the employee-client continuum? Like they are doing work training.

  59. Lives in a Shoe*

    I’m terrified that Amy WILL ask her boss if it’s ok and that her boss will be just as ….tone deaf (no other polite words come to mind at the moment) as she is and think it’s a great motivational story. I mean, I know managers can be disconnected, but surely SURELY this has already created at least some office gossip or comments that have gotten back to Amy’s manager.

  60. Paralegal Part Deux*

    I can’t fathom the thought process that gets you to the point of thinking this is okay. I don’t even know what to say.

  61. Is it Friday yet?*

    Amy seems like she has a savior complex. This isn’t her story to tell, and I can’t fathom how it would be at all relevant to share this story with her peers as motivation, seeing as everyone processes trauma differently. This would make me feel extremely uncomfortable sharing anything even remotely personal with Amy in the future for fear she’d use it in a future speech. Amy’s direct reports are not going to be honest with her about how uncomfortable this is by shitting on her sister’s rape story.

  62. Hummus*

    I want to share a little context about where Amy may be coming from, because I think it will help when you tell her she can’t do this anymore. And to be clear, I absolutely agree that Amy needs to stop.

    I grew up with older adopted siblings. The fact that my siblings had been abused was a normal fact. We spent time with other families with older adoptees, and we knew their stories as well. My dolls’ backstories were all about abuse (ie, This is Lucy. She was abused in X way, and now she lives with me. Her favorite color is yellow). Honestly, I still find it strange when I think about people having doll backstories that were about, what, childbirth? Storks?

    Anyway, what I’m saying is that these horrific facts feel normal and can get kind of over-simplified in the bio kid’s mind.

    So you may need to preface your talk with Amy with something like, “Amy, I understand that these facts are part of your family’s history and that your sister and you have found a certain peace with them. But there are some very important reasons that you cannot bring this story into work. ect.”

    Again, I’m not defending Amy’s actions, and I personally find them strange. I just think that understanding her will help you help her understand in turn.

  63. iglwif*

    There are just so many layers of OH HELL NO here that I can’t even count them all?!

    Maybe Lynn really is okay with sharing her story in order to help people! That’s totally possible! That does not mean she’s okay with the frequency and type of sharing that Amy is doing.

    I do not buy that it “always goes over well”. I am willing to buy that nobody has (yet) pushed back on it, because if my supervisor told me that story for that reason I would be too gobsmacked to respond in any rational way, but that’s not at all the same as it going over well.

    This is motivational how?! No, no it is not. (It’s also super-duper unrelated to any work situation I can think of that wouldn’t need to be reported to HR *immediately*…)

    I would bet Betan dollars to sand that Amy has already unknowingly told this story to *multiple* people to whom it was triggering and/or traumatizing, and that none of them has ever told her, because talk about a difficult conversation to have with your boss…

    So. Much. Nope.

    It’s wonderful that Lynn is now in a good place in her life. As someone with both a sexual assault and a super shitty parent in my past (not the same person), I am really happy for her. Amy, OTOH, needs to take a look at herself.

  64. Lily in NYC*

    It seems like Lynn is aware of and fine with the fact that Amy shares the story or did I misunderstand that? If that’s the case, then I don’t see how this is any of OP’s business.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      It is possible lynn’s consent is not as full as it shouldbe.

      But even if it is, her approval does not mitigate the harm it can do to Amy’s audience.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      That’s Amy’s take on things. But I seriously doubt that it is Lynn’s take on things.

    3. It's a No From Me*

      It’s OP’s business because good humans do what they can to prevent harm to other humans. Even if Lynn isn’t being harmed, it’s a virtual certainty that the people Amy is telling this to have been harmed, and others will be harmed in future if it doesn’t stop.

  65. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    Perhaps the way to get through to Amy is by appealing to her self-interest. Let her know that not everyone knows her as you do, and sharing Lynn’s story might make others see her in a negative light (without bothering to argue that it is, in fact, a negative thing to do) as insensitive. Tell her you wouldn’t want her to damage her professional reputation by continuing to tell her sister’s story. She may rethink it when she sees she may be harming herself.

  66. Lonely Monster*

    As an abuse survivor, I would be livid! No one has the right to publicity out an abuse survivor to strangers, no less.

    I doubt that Lynn “knows” or has approved for Amy to use her story in this way. And the way Amy is telling it seems more to highlight her role as savior.

    I may be bias as I’m still working through my abusive past, but I still have problems to this day dealing with triggers and anxiety. I feel that only survivors have a right to tell their stories.

    Also, hearing someone else’s story from a third party, would make me think, “will Amy tell others (strangers) my story too?”

    Trust is key when dealing with abuse survivors, and Amy has proven that she can’t be trusted.

  67. GreenDoor*

    Me not having the motivation to get those TPS reports done is not at all the same thing as someone needing the motivation to get past a sexual trauma. The fact that your friend thinks it is is just appalling!

  68. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Odd that it isn’t the mention of Lynn’s assault that I’m finding triggering, but the idea that a third party would use the retelling of it for unrelated purposes. I did not expect that.

  69. Edwina*

    Another thing that is so distasteful about what Amy is doing, is that it casts her and her family as the rescuing saviors, and also suggests that is why she is so very fond of this story. It is wrong on so many counts.

    1. yala*

      Noticed that too, huh?

      Bet she also thinks by telling her reports this, she’s coming across as a Magnanimous Leader who they can Go To With Problems instead of “weird person with no boundaries wtf”


  70. yala*

    Man, I DON’T have any trauma like that to deal with and if a boss decided to tell me that story as a motivator, I would have a serious case of WTFs and possibly go talk to HR. Like, just…wtf.

    wtf wtf


  71. Not So NewReader*

    OP, you got such a wide variety of inputs here, I am sure you can really put down some talking points with Amy.

    I also would not be surprised if you still can’t reach her. When you wrap up, you could consider concluding with, “Some day, Amy, this is going to come back on you in a manner that could be very upsetting for you. I want to go on record as warning you of this eventuality right now. Do as you wish.”

  72. LGC*

    Oh man. So, like – wow.

    So, even if we take Amy at her word – I’ll do her that favor and assume that Lynn is totally okay with this – and even assuming that no one she tells this story to is especially sensitive to assault, and even assuming people are genuinely inspired by Lynn’s story (I mean, I am)…people can also be uncomfortable with it at the same time. (I know I would be – I would feel uncomfortable talking about a third party’s trauma as inspiration. Heck, I’m a bit uncomfortable commenting here now.) I’m afraid Amy is treating it like an “either/or” situation – either people are inspired by it or they’re uncomfortable with it, and these are mutually exclusive. I think that might be something to lean into, although it seems like Amy is not great with nuance.

    Plus, to drop a super hot take for AAM, I don’t think the power dynamic in play is so much boss/direct report. I do think it’s definitely in play (and definitely the reason why she’s telling this to her employees as opposed to her bosses), but I think a huge reason why people aren’t responding negatively is…it can be really difficult to say that someone else’s trauma makes you feel uncomfortable, since it can sound like you’re rejecting their trauma. I’m imagining myself listening to Amy right now, and while I possibly could pull myself away, I’d feel very uncomfortable doing so. I know I’d very likely sit through to be polite and to “honor” Lynn. I’ve actually done so sometimes in similar situations.

  73. Nee Attitude*

    I can’t help but think of all the people that she’s lecturing to who are now terrified of really sharing the details of their stories with her out of fear that she’s going to use it as content for her motivational speeches.

  74. Christine Daae*

    “Few people have the presence of mind to push back in the moment, so she’s absolutely wrong to take the lack of pushback as an indication everyone is fine with this.“

    THIS IS HUGE. It probably goes for Lynn, too—I would be surprised if she’s actually that okay with it, to be honest. Amy essentially rescued her from a hellish situation, and abuse victims are usually conditioned to blame themselves and ignore their own needs and boundaries for the service of others. It’s very possible Lynn doesn’t feel she CAN answer otherwise, due to the power dynamic inherent in “rescuer/ee” relationships as well as very, very common psychological responses to abuse trauma.

    I’m someone who was sexually assaulted, and I’m horrified for both Lynn *and* Amy’s reports. Your instincts are spot-on, OP.

  75. AuroraLight37*

    I haven’t been assaulted, and I’m still seriously uncomfortable about this massive oversharing under any circumstances. Also, I would be very hesitant to tell Amy if I WAS harassed or assaulted, especially at work. She’s already shown she’s willing to overstep, why would I trust her to handle this without blabbing to the entire agency?

  76. Dinopigeon*

    As someone with close family who has suffered similar trauma… this is a oh fuck no. It’s honestly unbelievable that she thinks this is acceptable. And I get that having lived with this story for so many years has probably normalized it for her, but to have normalized this much is beyond imagination.

  77. NDawn90*

    If I was working with Amy and she told me that story, I think she would assume that I was “moved” by it. But, the reality would be that I was crying because my PTSD was triggered and I was spiralling into a panic attack.

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