Why Think About Abusers? Because It Wasn’t Your Fault

Last night I stumbled into the #sexabusechat on Twitter, mostly by happening to be looking at twitter when it started up more than by design, I have to admit. The topic of the evening was on generational abuse, and how it carries down from one generation to the next. In response to the question of why we should care to examine the family history  of the abuser, I had this to say:

Now I know what you’re about to say. I’ve seen it said over and over again by survivors and others. The person who abused you is evil and you shouldn’t spend any time thinking about them or trying to understand what they did, there is no explanation for it!

OK, yeah, that is true, in a very shortsighted way. The reason I think it’s shortsighted is because if we don’t let survivors examine the reality and history of the person who abused them, they are still going to wonder why. Why me? Why was I abused? That’s the wrong question and leaves us only looking for answers that lead to a conclusion that I did something to attract, or even deserve the abuse. Instead of seeing the truth of the abuser, we are left with figuring out why they chose me.

By allowing survivors to examine that history, maybe, just maybe, they can begin to get a clearer picture of what happened. They can look at the larger picture, that the abuser was going to abuse due to reasons that had nothing to do with the survivor at all, the only thing they “did” to attract this abuse was exist in the path of the abuser. In essence, this was a storm that was coming, and it was going to hit someone. It wasn’t your fault it hit you.

That doesn’t mean the abuser isn’t to blame, regardless of how traumatic their own life has been, but understanding that this person was going to inflict pain on someone, can help survivors stop trying to figure out what they did to attract it. They didn’t do anything, and isn’t that a better understanding of childhood abuse?

I think it’s a healthier place to start healing myself, even if you don’t have any background on your abuser, it can help to understand, in general, that abusers are a storm waiting for a victim, you weren’t a victim waiting to be abused.

What do you think? Do you know what kind of history your abuser(s) had before they abused you? Do you even want to?

There are no Simple Hugs To Survivors

I was bemused when I saw the title of a recent article on Psych Central:
The Power of a Simple Hug as a Natural Anti-Depressant

Not that the content of the article surprised me, I’ve long known, and written about, the power of touch, and the ability of a hug to calm the boy and mind. There is plenty of research out there that shows this. No, what bemused me in thinking about it was this concept of a “simple” hug. Survivors of sexual abuse, especially those who are very early on their path to healing from abuse, don’t have simple hugs. The act of being hugged by someone is anything but simple! It’s fraught with all sorts of things that are going on in our heads.

In fact, it reminded me of a saying that a group of us used to share about romantic relationships and survivors. “To a sexual abuse survivor, there is no such thing as non-sexual touching.” We grew up without boundaries when it came to touching, and equating being touched with sexual violence. To suddenly say that the best thing for our depression would be to be hugged, is completely ridiculous. And yet, if we could reach a point where we can experience a simple hug as a simple hug, it would be so beneficial to us in our struggles with depression, sadness, and all of the other day to day mental health struggles that we have as a result of being abused.

In other words:

  • I struggle with depression because of my childhood experiences.
  • One of the best ways to cope with that struggle is being able to accept support, and even hugs, from those close to me.
  • My childhood experiences taught me not to trust anyone who acted kindly toward me, especially those who want to touch me.

We can’t win for losing.

On the other hand, I am at a point in my life where I do understand, and even appreciate, simple touching. A hug from a friend is a fabulous thing to me, not the beginning of a panic and worry about what they really want from me. It took some time and work to get there, but it was well worth it. I hope all of you can start to experience that same connection with other people that touch, and hugs, can bring.

Do you have issues with touch, or have you found that overcoming those issues has opened a door to healing from depression? Share your story in the comments!

I Had Victim Written All Over Me

I saw this quote in a local news story about a sexual assault that occurred involving a couple of players from the Oregon State football team 16 years ago. They were spoken by the victim in the case, then-24 year old Brenda Tracy.

Now, I don’t normally get into assault and violence against adults on this site. Not that it doesn’t bother me, but this site is about child abuse survivors and I don’t want to have to start writing about every case of violence that occurs. There’s just not enough time in my life for that, so I try to stay focused. I’m not making an exception here because, as it turns out, Brenda was a victim of child abuse prior to ever being in this situation:

Tracy said she was sexually abused as a minor, up until age 5 by a family member, then again at 9 by a neighbor. She has not talked publicly about the earlier incidents. And while it’s the practice of The Oregonian to not name victims of alleged sexual assault, Tracy insisted she be identified here.

“I’ve spent all this time trying to prove to the world that I belong here,” she said. “That it’s OK to take up space, that I’m not garbage.”

As a young woman she found herself in abusive relationships, a partner to men who were volatile, angry and dangerous. She’d been emotionally and physically abused. She remembers wearing a turtleneck in the summer once to cover bruising on her neck after being choked by a boyfriend. The father of her children was incarcerated, first for drugs, then a Measure 11 sentence for robbery. She was prey, and the predators often found her.

“My self-esteem was gone,” Tracy said. “I didn’t think I was worth anyone really loving me.”

This is how childhood abuse plays out in adulthood for many people, male and female. The abuse becomes an ingrained part of how we see ourselves, believing that it was deserved. As adults, why would we believe we deserve anything else?

If you never get out of seeing yourself as a victim, your adult life may not look much different than hers. If you can get past that though, and start to understand that you are not garbage, that you have value and have a contribution to make, then you can overcome. You can stop being a victim, and become a true survivor.

Brother and Sister Survivor Show How Secrecy Works

The latest episode of the Survivor Stories podcast, featuring Ben Glade and Annaka Vimahi, brought home two important things to know about child abuse:

1. How deep does the secrecy surrounding child abuse run? A brother and sister, 4 years apart, have no idea they were both being abused until they were in their thirties.

Think about that. When we talk about child abuse being a secret epidemic, this is a prime example. Abusers groom kids and do everything they can to keep them silent. Survivors grow up and face all kinds of stigma, so they keep silent, and the cycle just continues. The only way out is to keep talking, and let kids being abused, and adult survivors, know that they aren’t alone.

2. Survivors truly are all around us. We just don’t talk about it and therefore we don’t know how many people right in front of us can identify with what we are dealing with. We need more survivors willing to identify themselves and let it be known that they survived, and have overcome, childhood abuse.

What’s the End Result?

Tomorrow I get to do something that, according to statistics, is one of the things adult survivors of sexual abuse dread the most. I have to have some dental work done.

I was terrified going to the initial appointment for an exam, I’m terrified of going back to have this work done, and I’m terrified of the number of appointments I will have to have to fully complete the work. Luckily, we found a dentist here in Corvallis who specializes in sedation dentistry, so I will actually be sedated long before I step foot in the office tomorrow, but even with that added bonus, just the thought of being in a dentist chair makes me feel queasy.

The only thing that is getting me through this, and the thing I’m counting on to get me through this whole process is the knowledge that the end result will be worth it. I’m looking forward to getting these things fixed and moving forward.

I think healing from abuse is a similar reality. Some of the steps toward healing can be scary, and many of them won’t be all that pleasant. Facing what happened, and facing the self-destructive behaviors we’ve developed over the years to help deal with it can be pretty terrifying. Healing isn’t always pretty. Sometimes, it can be a lot like taking a drill in the mouth, but we do it because the end result is worth it.

A life beyond “surviving” is out there, and it’s possible, but you have to show up to each appointment to get there. Keep your eyes on the end goal and keep moving forward!