In yesterday’s blog entry entitled Processing Feelings toward Those Who were Unwitting Abusers, I talked about my feelings toward abusers who did not know that I was not consenting to the sexual contact. Today, I would like to focus on my conflicted feelings toward more subtle abuse enabling – toward the adults in my life who did not know I was being abused and, therefore, did not stop it. For this topic, I am going to use my grandparents (my father’s parents) as my example.
I have no question that my grandparents had no idea my mother was sexually abusing me, much less bringing me to “family friends” to be abused. I doubt that my grandparents could even wrap their minds around that level of abuse. I have chosen not to share this information with my 90-year-old grandmother because that information would probably kill her.
While my grandparents did not know about the abuse, they had to have known that my mother was not completely sane. The same applies to anyone who had regular interactions with my mother, including my father, other relatives, and people at church. Here are some reactions that family friends who were not part of the abuse had about my mother:
She looks like she knows exactly what she is doing. She just doesn’t know where she it.
Did she do too many drugs in the ‘60’s?
Does this sound like the kind of woman that should be left alone with young children all day? I know — it always gets back to “it’s none of my business” or “it’s not my place.” I always tell people my abuse continued without a break for a decade because of those attitudes by “good” people.
I truly do not believe that any of these people suspected abuse. Nevertheless, parts of me do blame them for not stopping the abuse. My mother was abusive and crazy, and my father was enabling and absent. My grandparents were the only other adult relatives who were actively involved in my life at the height of the abuse, and parts of me resent them for not stopping it.
I still have not fully worked through those feelings. My grandfather is deceased, and my grandmother is very old and suffering physically as her body falls apart. Although I know I should make more of an effort to write to her (she lives in another state), call her, and travel to visit her more frequently, I don’t. It’s because of my anger – Where the hell was she when my abuse was going on? She wasn’t there for me, so I am not going to prioritize being there for her.
I confess that’s an ugly way to look at her, and I am not proud of this attitude, but I am being completely honest here. I have reached a place of accepting that this is a part of who I am, and I need to honor, not squash, those feelings from childhood. That doesn’t mean that I need to be cruel to her (I know that she is safe living with my aunt), but I am also not going to force myself to be this loving, involved grandchild when she was not there for me.
I go through periods of introspection wondering if I will regret not making more of an effort in her last days. I don’t think I will. I have no lingering feelings of guilt about my grandfather, and the same dynamic applied with him. Any reaching out would come from a place of duty, not love, and that feeling of duty simply is not there beyond making the trip to my hometown every couple of years to see her for an hour or two. The abused child in me believes she failed in her duty to protect me and, therefore, feels no duty to step up now.
Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt