I’ve been tracking the comments and responses to that last post about friendship and wanted to share some of what I’ve been thinking as I read through the responses.
Andy got the real key to what I was asking, the bit about whether our expectations are realistic.
Acceptance, understanding, love, protection, loyalty – that about covers the basics, but it’s never as simple as that, is it.
Being realistic – now that’s the crunch.
Yes it is the crunch. Because while all of the things he listed are things we’d like to have from our closest friends and family members, they aren’t always able to give them to us. Is it right for us to expect things they aren’t able to provide? Can I expect understanding from someone who doesn’t comprehend at all what being abused is like? Can I expect someone else to protect me or should I learn how to be an adult and protect myself? Abuse survivors tend, on the whole, to have a bit of a warped concept of what to expct from others. It’s an understandable misconception, but we have it nonetheless. Some of us simply expect the worst from everyone. Some of us are still waiting for our “rescuer” to make everything better. Neither of those are realistic.
Emily brought an interesting fact to the discussion that I want to focus on:
When I was younger I would say I liked the shock factor it gave. I thought, wrongly, it would make boyfriends stay with me. Then I would get more hurt when we broke up.
This, I’m afraid, is all too typical. This is an absolutely classic case of telling with the wrong motivation. We’ve all done it too, so don’t feel bad Emily. I too went through a spell where I thought that surely if people knew just how vulnerable I was they would be loyal to me and take care of me, so I would make sure to let them know all about my childhood. Sadly, the opposite result was more often the case. I came across so needy that people turned away from me.
I realized that allowing that to be my motivation wasn’t at all fair. I was asking someone to take care of me, instead of learning how to take care of myself. Only after I started to take care of myself, and make healthy decisions for myself did I reach a point like the one she reached later:
Things are different now. I am happy in myself and with who I am, so telling seems less important.
Telling others about my childhood abuse IS less important than it used to be, simply because the things I sought after by sharing with people, are not things I need any longer. That doesn’t mean I don’t tell people. But it’s more just a part of who I am rather than the defining event that I use to describe myself to eveyone I know.
For example, I still made sure to tell my wife when we started getting serious, not only that I was abused, but what specific areas I still struggled with or things that might cause me to feel unsafe and how she could avoid doing those things. That was an important part of our relationship. I didn’t expect her to even understand why certain things make me uncomfortable, just to respect me enough to not want to make me uncomfortable. In that case, it would have been more unfair to not tell her than to tell her, so it was necessary.
Most other relationships however, I don’t feel any need to tell people I was abused. Some have happened to find this site and know, some have talked to me about their own experiences, some know and have never discussed it with me. That’s ok. I don’t need them to.
Some I’ve told as part of a conversation about child abuse, or depression, when it was related to the conversation at hand. In discussing a common aquantaince’s struggle with depression, for example. Again, a situation in which there was no expectation, no expected sympathy or emotional response, just a fact about my life that is being shared. Not much different than “Yes, I am married” or “No, I don’t have any children”, but one that tends to come up far less often. 🙂
For me, the bottom line is this. If you feel like you have to tell someone, be very careful with your motivations. If your motivation for telling is to get something back from them, you’re going to be sorely disappointed more often than not. It may be a sign that there is something missing in your own life, and in your view of yourself. Emotional maturity, for me, is having the ability to be ok with whatever response you get in any situation from other people in your life. Not that you don’t care about their response, or that it can’t be hurtful to you, but that you can go on with your life no matter what it is. No one else should have the power to stop you in your tracks by not responding the way you think they should. If you’re telling someone about your abuse, and their response has that affect on you, you allowed them to have too much power over you. Feel free to be disappointed, and pained, by their response, but also be ready to move on with your healing and your life regardless. For example, earlier I talked about telling my wife about specific issues surrounding my abuse. I went in, obviously, hoping for a good response from her, one that respected me and was willing to help make me feel comfortable. Not getting that response would have hurt. It would have changed the whole tone of our relationship and probably resulted in it ending at some point. That would have been very painful, but I had to be prepared for that possibility and prepared to move on with my life when it came time to. If anything, that would have told me that she wasn’t the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and I would have had to be willing to accept that. In truth, I was ready to if I had to, but I’m very glad I didn’t have to.
Maybe the simplest way to look at it was Jennifer’s response:
When I tell people, all I expect is for them to respectfully listen.
Maybe that’s all we really should expect, common courtesy. When you speak to someone, they should listen to you, regardless of what you have to say, and if they can’t listen to you, maybe you don’t need to be talking to them. If they give you more than that, lucky for you. You’ve got someone in your life who can provide you some sympathy and love. That won’t always be the case, though. Some people won’t be able to give that to you in response to this, but either way you can love yourself and see the value in yourself. That way you won’t need it as much from other people who might not be able to give it to you.