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Posts Tagged ‘dealing with judgmental people’

I have spent the last couple of day responding to a reader’s question about how to deal with judgmental people and the stigma of child abuse. You can read both blog entries here and here.

Getting over the stigma of child abuse starts inside of yourself. You need to believe in yourself. You need to love and accept yourself and your history of child abuse. You need to reach a place of recognizing that you were a victim of child abuse when you were a kid, but you are a survivor of child abuse as an adult.

You are a warrior, and nobody has the right to mock you for overcoming something that is much, much harder than just about anything else a person can experience. Yes, other atrocities happen in life, but few involve being tortured by a person who is physically four times your size, and few require you to figure out how to survive that trauma with the mind of a child, not an adult. The deck is stacked against the abused child, but we managed to survive it, anyhow. Not only that, we managed to survive it without becoming a heartless monster like our abusers. We managed to hold onto our true essence – our compassion, empathy, and tender hearts – against all odds. Anyone who mocks rather than admires this about a child abuse survivor is ignorant, woefully uneducated, or just plain evil.

The only opinion of yourself that really matters is your own. (If you have faith, I would also add that your higher power’s opinion should matter as well.) Only you (and your higher power) truly know where you have been, and only you know how hard you have worked to heal from the trauma that you did not ask for. The only person you need to convince of your self-worth is yourself. Once you really believe in yourself, you will no longer care about any sort of stigma in having endured what you did. In fact, you are likely to choose not to be around judgmental people, and you will also likely find yourself putting them in their place for making sweeping judgments about you.

You also need to believe in yourself regarding the steps you have taken to help yourself heal. I don’t keep it a secret that I was in therapy for a few years and still keep my therapist on my speed-dial just I case I need him. I wouldn’t feel ashamed of doing the same for my oncologist if I had cancer, so why should I be ashamed of doing this for the child abuse, which is a “cancer of the spirit”?

Nobody messes with me about my history of child abuse or stigmatizes me to my face. They know better than that! If they choose to talk behind my back, I really don’t care because that is their problem, not mine.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Yesterday’s blog entry Dealing with Judgmental People/Stigma of Child Abuse got a little long, so I had to end it before I was finished with the topic. This blog entry continues the discussion. I will be focusing on the stigma of child abuse.

From what I understand, in some circles there is a stigma associated with having been abused as a child. I say that this is something that I “understand” rather than “experience” because I will not spend two seconds with a jack@$$ who is going to judge me because other people hurt me. Anyone who thinks that there is something wrong with me because a predator hurt me as a child is completely uneducated about child abuse. I am happy to try to educate him if he is open to it. Otherwise, he can go straight to h@#$ as far as I am concerned. I am not going to spend one second of my life enduring the judgmental stares and whispers from people who are that woefully uninformed about the realities of child abuse.

My attitude toward any “stigma” of child abuse has evolved from developing a deep love and acceptance of myself. It also comes from having interacted with hundreds of child abuse survivors, both online and offline, and seeing the amazing strength that they have. As a group, child abuse survivors have seen the worst in humanity but still find a way to have compassion, kindness, and goodness inside of them. Everyone wants a hero, and heroes abound in the circle of child abuse survivors. Anyone who is too ignorant to see this is not worth a minute of my time.

Gaining confidence in your story and the power of the healing process will do wonders toward your ability to stop giving a d@#$ about any possible stigma for having been abused as a child. I climb up on my soapbox about child abuse in all sorts of places, the most surprising place to many being at my local United Methodist Church, where I am an active member. I have made elderly women’s hair curl in shock in response to ignorant statements that they have made when the subject comes up. (I participate in a lot of Bible studies by Beth Moore, who was, herself, sexually abused as a child, and she weaves this theme into many of her studies.)

When one woman said that, in her day, you minded your own business and did not get involved in other people’s problems, I said, “That is exactly how my abusers managed to abuse me for a decade. The Bible says it is your responsibility to speak out for those who have no voice.” When a woman tried to defend abusive mothers by saying that all mothers just do the best they can, I replied, “I’m sorry, but raping your child is not doing the best that you can.”

When the topic of forgiveness comes up at church, I am always quick to remind people that forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation. If they argue with me, I raise the topic of the woman who was raped jogging in Central Park. I asked if she is now required to eat her Thanksgiving dinner with her rapist as a show of forgiveness. They, of course, say no. I say that a parent raping a child numerous times is much more heinous than an adult raping another adult one time in a public park, so why do you expect that grown child to do something you would not ask of an adult rape victim?

I have gone too long again. Can you tell that I am passionate about this topic?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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A reader emailed me and asked me to write about how to deal with judgmental people and the stigma of having a history of child abuse and/or the stigma of the reaction to the child abuse, such as checking into a mental institution, attempting suicide, etc. The reader points out that the stigma can persist even after the child abuse survivor has become much more emotionally stable and even after many years have passed.

I my own words, it is like you will always be “Crazy Aunt Sally” because you checked yourself into a mental institution for treatment 15 years ago. No matter how much progress Sally has made or how functional she has become, nobody seems to acknowledge the changes. All that matters is that Sally once tried to kill herself, so she will always be “Crazy Aunt Sally,” no matter how stable she is for the rest of her life.

I, personally, think these judgments say much more about the person making them than they do about the person being stigmatized. Anyone who will continually throw your history in your face, even after decades have passed, is a person who has not grown much himself. Anyone who has experienced personal growth is going to recognize that we are alway evolving, hopefully into a healthier version of ourselves. Those who are most resistant to my healing in my offline life are those who have experienced very little personal growth themselves.

I ran into this problem with my mother-in-law before she passed away. The healthier I got, the more I felt judged by her. I think this is because I was easy to manipulate before healing, and I was my own person after working in therapy for a while. Her judgment was a way to try to regain her power over me, which is clearly an unhealthy dynamic.

My therapist gave me some great advice. He said that an in-law is always going to be viewed as the “out-law,” and there is a lot of freedom in embracing the role of the “out-law.” In other words, stop trying to fit in somewhere that will never be a good fit. He said that if she is going to judge me no matter what I do, then I might as well do whatever works for me. This doesn’t mean letting go of basic courtesy, but it means not giving a flying flip what she thinks when I make my own choices. If I don’t want to put up with something, then don’t. It was scary to try this out at first, but it wound up working very well for me. Once I stopped caring about her judgments, I found them to be pathetic rather than biting.

The same thing applies to all of the other relationships in your life, whether we are talking about family, friends, or co-workers. People’s judgments about you only matter if you give them power. What matters is that you love and accept who you are. Once you truly love and accept yourself, then the opinions of others will no longer matter to you.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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