Stigma – Damaged Goods?

I saw this post over at Psychology Today and it’s been lingering in the back of my mind for a few days now. Specifically this:

Most child abuse survivors are closeted. There is a stigma attached to what we lived through, like we’re some sort of damaged goods. Sure, we’re brave and strong and all that crap, but you don’t want us marrying your sons, right? You’re so impressed that we’ve made it out intact, but maybe you don’t want a sexual abuse survivor teaching your third-grader.

We are not damaged goods. Yes, we are broken in many ways, ways in which we may never be fixed. However, we need to stop feeling like we need to pass for whole. We need to be able to stand up and say, “I’m affected by what happened to me, and that’s OK. Because I’m also a strong, capable person.” We need to know that it is safe to talk about what happened without fear of judgment, because being a victim does not make a person damaged goods.

There’s always been something about the idea of survivors as “damaged goods” that has troubled me. Obviously, I feel very similarly to the author when it comes to being stigmatized by my childhood, but on the other hand, I don’t buy that abuse survivors are not damaged goods. That would seem to imply that what we went through was not quite the devastating experience that we know it to have been. She says so herself, stating that we are “broken in many ways”. To me that is the definition of damaged goods. Those broken bits are there, and have to be dealt with by those who wish to be intimately involved with us.

Of course, I would also be very quick to point out that everyone has been affected by various events in their past, and no one could actually pass for non-damaged. Survivor or not, we all have issues we take into adulthood that we must learn to overcome, and that can be challenging for anyone. However, it’s also true that, despite the damage done to us in our childhoods, we have the capacity to heal, to overcome, and to lead lives that are amazingly worthwhile. That’s the message I would like survivors to hear.

In the course of running this site, and the network, I’ve seen plenty of examples of the damage caused in people’s lives by child abuse. I’ve seen plenty of adults who lack basic social skills, who have great difficulty interacting with others in accepted ways, and who do not understand proper boundaries. These are all the effects they have carried into adulthood of their past abuse. They are clearly damaged, but not to the point of no return. I will agree, however, that these people need not be shamed for having been damaged, but free to talk about what happened, to try and make sense of it, and overcome it, the same way that opportunity was provided for me.

One of the things I’ve always set out to do with this site is to highlight not just myself, but other survivors who are out there. To me the reason for that was always two-fold, and maybe this is why I find myself caught in the middle on this idea of damaged goods. On one side, I wanted to provide plenty of examples of survivors, in various stages of healing, to let other survivors know that they are not alone. Secondly, I also wanted to show, through connecting survivors to each other, that there are plenty of us out here, and we are truly everywhere. Just because survivors have traditionally stayed silent about their abuse doesn’t mean that we aren’t already married to your sons and daughters, teaching your third-grader, working beside you, living next door to you, etc. We have our damage, but that only makes us just like the rest of the world. Struggling to find our way on this great big ball.

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  1. Thank you for posting this Mike. Maybe the stigma is not as great as I think it is. The problem is that I feel it permeates me. Which is why bloggers out here use just first names or pseudonyms. If I were a cancer survivor, I would have no problem with my first and last name.

  2. We are damaged goods, but realize the strengths as well. Yes, we are emotionally crippled, but also very strong in disaster. Our DID/MPD system is a SURVIVAL mechanism that still works rather well: we are tough, able to face challenges. But also we are … many things. LOL, I reckon that’s part of being MPD/DID. However, get this: the ‘social stigma’ thing is so bad that my brother and I have much difficulty in admitting to each other: yeah, we were abused. And the molestation issues are such a big no-no that it is not even hinted at – he grows SO angry at the slightest hint. Yet – I know. I was THERE; I SAW it, we participated eagerly and with a willingness – which is, of course, a hard cross to bear, row to hoe, whatever you wanna call it. BUT: we are also good people; compulsive rescuers, hate cruelty, protect children, and donate what we can. So there you have it: is being ‘damaged goods’ so bad? I don’t know. but I do know the social stigma thing is tough. That ‘look’, ya know? (Can anyone define ‘the look’ undamaged folks give us? My wife wants to KNOW more, but she is helpless, and we have trouble explaining. Anyone? No takers? sigh o’tay.)
    Until later . . . this is Elvis, signing off on behalf of our personalities.
    Thank you very much, and until later.

  3. In my day ( very distant now ) there was an element of fear involved, people assumed that a child who had been abused might well go on to be an abuser in adult life. What was known as ‘The Vampire syndrome’ seemed to take root in peoples minds. I have even heard of one chief constable who promoted the idea relatively recently. With such ignorance entrenched the victim gets it both ways , on the one hand he is abducted and abused and on the other , he is looked at with great suspicion by the outside world.No wonder we keep secrets. I can still remember parents at the school gate whispering and pointing. I feel things are slightly better today but even so, opportunities are missed and victims are treated badly even by their own parents, and if you happen to be a boy , God help you , the other boys will be merciless , not all of them perhaps , but enough to make life miserable. Try watching the film ”I know my first name is Steven” a documentary featuring the ill fated Steven Stayner. You’ll pretty soon see what I mean.

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