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Archive for October 28th, 2009

A reader sent me an insightful email asking questions about whether other child abuse survivors feel uncomfortable with focusing on their own needs. My answer was a resounding YES! In fact, I would say that this is the norm for child abuse survivors. This reader really needs validation from other child abuse survivors (not just me), so, if you struggle with feeling okay about taking care of yourself, please post a comment to reassure this person.

I will be focusing on this issue for the rest of the week because it is such an important topic that affects so many of us. I will share parts of this email to kick off each blog entry. Here is part of the email:

This makes me feel really selfish but here it is….I want to know if and how other’s deal with self pity? I don’t even know if that’s the right wording for it. But I feel shamed and selfish by focusing attention on myself.

There is a good reason that child abuse survivors have trouble focusing attention on themselves – we were taught in childhood that life was never about us! Think about it. Whose needs mattered? It was always your abusers’ needs that mattered, right? Your abuser “needed” to hurt you to cope with his or her own internal demons, and that need took precedence over your very normal childhood need to feel loved, safe, and valued.

I have an eight-year-old son, and most of our lives are wrapped around his needs. We are home by 8:00 p.m. because of his need for more rest. I run around like a madwoman half the time trying to get everything done that I need to do during school hours because my son needs me to do his homework with him, take him to play dates and sports, etc. Most of my schedule revolves around my son’s needs.

My son’s experience is very different from mine. Even setting aside the obvious overshadowing of needs through the abuse, my needs did not matter. My mother went grocery shopping when the dog food supply got low. If there wasn’t enough food for me, too d@#$ bad. My need to play a musical instrument was constantly overshadowed. My choices were to play the instruments that my parents chose for me or none at all, so I didn’t get myself a piano until my mid-thirties. It didn’t matter that I felt drawn to dance lessons and had no interest in horses. My mother liked horses, so I spent a good part of my childhood taking care of horses instead. Heck, I wasn’t even allowed to wear a girl’s hairstyle, so I was mistaken for a boy throughout my childhood until I hit puberty!

My needs did not matter in childhood, so I grew up believing that my needs did not matter in adulthood, either. I always did what my husband wanted because his needs mattered, but mine did not. I had no backbone at all because I did not believe that it was okay for me to have needs, so what was the point in trying to assert myself? It was only through becoming a mother that I learned to stand up for need (my son’s, not mine), and I only found the strength to enter into therapy because my son needed a healthy mother. I did not believe that it was okay to focus on myself until I was in therapy for a while and saw the difference it made by having one hour a week to focus on myself.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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