“Get over it.” “It wasn’t that bad.” “It was worse for me.” “You just want pity.” “You’re a liar.”
After surviving a childhood filled with abandonment, neglect and abuse at the hands of my family members and their partners, I thought I’d seen it all. I mean really, after you’re forced to live with a convicted sex felon whom your mom met on the locked psych ward, a place she ended up in after you found two empty pill bottles by her bed, not much surprises you.
The experiences I had and the relationships that formed during my childhood still influence me, from the way my brain functions, to how I cope with stress, to how I feel about myself each and every day. As survivors, we don’t cast off our painful pasts once we become adults. All of those moments, for better or worse, become inextricably woven into who we are.
As I got older and established a life very different from the one I knew as a child and young adult, I found myself faced with some difficult decisions: Do I stay in touch with my family and accept the way they treat me? Can I change how they interact with me? Or do I leave and begin anew? The right answer for me came after my daughter was born. I realized that my version of history would never overlap with my family's in any significant way. They would never express sincere remorse or treat me in a way I'd feel proud for my daughter to see. And I knew I deserved better.
Unlike many, I’m not afraid to say that I was a victim. Perhaps it’s because I’ve reached a level of success, at least outwardly, where no one can assert I use the word “victim” as an excuse. I’m highly educated with an Ivy League Master’s degree. I’m happily married and have a full, rich life. I share my past but usually I try to put a triumphant spin on it so as not to evoke pity. Why has our culture determined that the words "victim" and "pity" are so abhorrent? If I were a thrice-divorced drug addict who’d been in and out of prison six times due to being stalked, abandoned, abused and manipulated by the adults around me, I’d still deserve compassion.
What I wasn’t aware of until I started talking about my experience publicly is that a whole new level of dysfunction awaits those of us who finally speak up about abuse and bad parenting. It's called double victimization and it essentially means that yes, while you may have dealt with some unpleasant times way back then, you now need to move on and get over it. Oh boy. I thought abuse was the hardest thing I'd have to endure. Little did I know that someday I'd be told told by those directly and indirectly related to the abuse that I need to shut the f*ck up.
Some of my favorites in recent years…
You’re a liar, you’re a fake, didn’t you have food on the table, you're living in the past, you just want pity, it’s all in your head, you just want people to kiss your ass and feel sorry for you, I suffered way more than you did, and the list goes on and on.
For those of you still holding on to your secrets of abuse, I want you to know the truth. Your life will not be perfect once you break away. That's why it's critical to build a network of people who love, support and respect you. Those relationships will help when the people who caused your deepest pain and those who enable them call you a liar and a fake. When they go on the offensive and tell you that you're being selfish or saying half truths, remember that they are wrong. Your family members are attacking you and denying what you suffered because to acknowledge your pain means to admit their own failings. And that will probably never happen.
Sadly, extended family members, friends and even perfect strangers will also resent you and criticize you for speaking up. Why can’t you just let it go? Why must you live in the past? Look at how much better your life is than theirs, what do you have to complain about? Or they will simply sit quietly and say they don’t want to take sides. The biggest shocker out of all of this? How family members I know have been abused themselves are my most vociferous critics.
Since you are likely to never hear it from those who hurt you, allow me to say it. I am sorry. I am sorry for your pain. And I am sorry that in addition to the initial abuse you endured, you now have to go through a second round where you defend yourself against people who just want you to shut the f*ck up. Please, don’t shut up. You deserve to be heard, no matter how much it enrages or inconveniences those around you. You no longer need to hide their secrets or carry their burdens. Yes, freedom comes with a price, but it's infinitely better than the alternative.
(photo credit: sattva/freedigitalphotos.net)
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