Posts Tagged ‘feeling responsible for child abuse’

This is the final post in a series on feeling responsible for the child abuse you endured. The series begins here .

Now the final truth — Children do not act and react like adults and should not be judged for not doing what an adult would have done.

In Janet’s comment, she said the following:

I even went along with what [my abuser] asked me. Doesn’t that make me worse than her? Aren’t I the one still hurting me now? ~ Janet

It is very easy in hindsight to play the “should have, would have, could have” game. From the perspective of safety and an adult body, it is easy to look back on your decisions as a child and judge yourself for not acting like an adult. While this is a very natural thing to do, it is extremely unfair to your wounded inner child.

My nine-year-old son does not think like I do in part because a child does not have the ability to think past this moment. As adults, we have many years of life under our belts, and we know that three months is not a very long period of time. As a child, summer vacation seemed to last F-O-R-E-V-E-R because three months out of a seven-year-old child’s life is a pretty sizable percentage whereas three months out of a forty-year-old person’s life really is not that long.

Until a child reaches the age of 18, he cannot sign a binding contract without a parent or guardian cosigning. Why? Because children simply do not think like adults do. They do not have the ability to think through the long-term consequences of their choices. My son would rather live on candy and popcorn than eat his vegetables because candy and popcorn taste better. At age nine, he does not appreciate that his body needs vitamins to grow big and strong. The pleasure of a better taste in the moment is all he sees: he cannot think through the short-term “sacrifice” of eating his broccoli to the long-term benefit of developing a healthier body. That is why he has a parent to make these decisions for him.

When your abuser hurt you, you were just a child. You believed in the existence of Santa Claus. (Think about that – You really believed that one person could deliver presents to every single home in the world in one night!) You were not a short adult. You were a child with very limited life experience.

I, too, had a very hard time with this. I hated the little girl I was and judged her so harshly. What really helped me was finding a picture of myself at the age that the abuse was happening (which was, unfortunately, during most of my childhood). I chose a picture of myself when I was two years old. I hated the child in that picture.

I forced myself to stop seeing that little girl as “me.” Instead, I imagined that this was another little girl that I was seeing for the first time. When I could separate myself from this little girl, it changed my perspective. I noticed how tiny her hands and feet were. I noted the boyish haircut and clothing that made her look more like a boy than a girl. When I was ready, I noticed the pain in this little girl’s eyes. Just about every picture of my son from age two has him grinning ear-to-ear, but this little girl looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. When I saw her as a separate little girl, she broke my heart.

As I felt a little compassion for the girl in the picture, I developed a little compassion for myself. I carried that picture around in my purse and looked at it often. Each time, I felt a little more love for her. I wanted to reach into the photograph, hold her in my arms, and give her love. She so desperately needed love. The more I grew to love that little girl, the more I embraced my inner child and learned how to love myself.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I working through a series on feeling responsible for the child abuse you endured. The series begins here .

Now the fourth truth — Hating yourself instead of your abuser is a coping mechanism.

In Janet’s comment, she said the following:

If by chance I remember a feature of [my abuser’s] face, or remember an instance of something she did to me, I don’t feel any anger or hatred towards her. I feel it towards myself. What does that make me? ~ Janet

It makes you human, Janet. It also makes you a “normal” child abuse survivor.

Once again, we need to go back to the mindset of a child. As I shared previously, my nine-year-old son is strong-willed. He also has a temper. A big difference between my childhood and his is that it is safe for him to express his anger. I have taught him that it is okay to feel angry, but he is responsible for his actions while angry.

For example, no matter how angry my son gets, it is not okay for him to hurt another living being (person or pet) or harm anyone else’s property. However, it is completely appropriate for him to express his anger in safe ways, such as by punching pillows. My son is very physical, so I encourage him to express his anger using his body as long as he doesn’t hurt anyone else or damage their property.

Child abusers do not teach abused children that is it okay to express their anger. In fact, expressing anger is not even an option for the abused child. Because the child is feeling the emotion of anger (and for good reason), she must do something with that energy. Emotions are meant to be expressed, and they do not simply “go away” when they are repressed. Instead, the anger turns on the person repressing the anger, frequently in the form of anxiety or depression.

I struggled with this enormously before therapy. I repressed my anger so deeply that I truly did not believe that I had any. My therapist assured me that I did and that I would need to give that anger a voice.

The first time I gave my anger a voice was through punching pillows. I decided to invite the anger out by pretending the pillows were my abusers. I felt like a complete idiot with the first three punches, but the anger exploded out of me with the fourth, and I beat the h@#$ out of the pillows in a complete frenzy for 20 minutes. I felt such enormous relief afterward.

I have since moved on to visualization to process my anger. I used to have very angry alter parts that would constantly berate me and blame me for the abuse. I would tell those angry alter parts that their anger was aimed toward my abusers, not me. I would file through the faces of my abusers in my head. When the right abuser’s face appeared (the one that caused that particular anger), I would visualize myself beating the h@#$ out of that abuser. At first, the visualizations disturbed me because they were so graphic, but the relief I felt afterward reassured me that this was a positive thing.

The anger you have directed toward yourself is really unexpressed anger toward your abuser. If you will give that anger a voice and direct it toward your abuser, you will stop feeling so angry with yourself. If you also struggle with anxiety and/or depression, you will also very likely experience improvement in those areas.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I working through a series on feeling responsible for the child abuse you endured. The series begins here .

On to the third truth — Child abusers f@#$ with children’s heads.

In Janet’s comment, she said the following:

I remember her telling me that my sister had told her she didn’t want to do anything with her, so she didn’t do anything to her. That information didn’t give me any ideas. I never told her I didn’t want to. I feel like that makes me my abuser. ~ Janet

This is a classic “mind f@#$,” and child abusers frequently do this. If you believe that you are responsible for the child abuse, then you are not going to tell anyone. After all, it was your own fault, right? WRONG!

First of all, we don’t know that your sister was spared. If she was, it wasn’t because she said no – it was because the abuser feared that your sister was more likely to tell. Child abusers have a “sixth sense” about which children will tell and which won’t.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the same children get abused by multiple child abusers while others are never harmed. Think about it. If you want to harm a child and get away with it, which child would you choose as a victim – the outspoken one or the shy one curled up in the corner? I truly believe that the best defense we can give our children against child abusers is self-confidence. The more self-confident a child is, the less likely she is going to wind up as a child abuse victim. The child abuser will go after the easiest prey when there are options.

Another part of the mind f@#$ is making the child believe that she is responsible because she does not recall being threatened. I struggled with this as well. I recovered numerous memories of my mother sexually abusing me from the time that I was a toddler, but none of those memories included my mother telling me not to tell or threatening me if I told. (I do have memories of such threats from other abusers.)

My therapist said that you don’t have to use words to communicate a threat, and my mother did communicate a threat in one form or another. The way he knows this is by the fact that I did not tell, which is not developmentally appropriate for a young child. As I can tell you from parenting my own young child, privacy goes out the window when you have a young child living in your home. Young children are, by nature, blabbermouths. My husband cannot pass gas without my son announcing it to the world. Little kids simply do not naturally keep secrets. For a child to override the natural instinct to tell everything to everyone, an adult has to communicate some form of threat.

I read an article about this very topic relating to adult women being date raped. Many date rapists do not have any weapons. To subdue their victims, they only need to place a hand on the woman’s collar bone, which provides an unspoken threat that he will choke her if she struggles. Once a man does this, most women will no longer struggle, even though the man has not spoken any threats. If this nonverbal threat is highly effective with adult women, how much more effective will a nonverbal threat be for a child who still believes in the existence of Santa Claus?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I working through a series on feeling responsible for the child abuse you endured. The series begins here .

Now, let’s discuss the second truth — Saying no is not an option for a child.

If you are not a parent of a young child, you might not fully appreciate just how helpless a little kid is. My nine-year-old son does not have the option of telling me no. When I say that it is time to go to bed or that he must sit at the table at a restaurant, the matter is not open for debate. He is not my peer who can tell me, “No. I would rather stay up until 11:00 p.m.,” or, “No, I would rather run in circles around the table.” I am the parent (the authority figure), and I have all of the power. If he does not obey me, I have the power to take away his toys, a play date, etc.

I also have the power to spank him, beat him, or pretty much do whatever I want with him (not that I do, but I could) because I weigh three times what he does. He cannot overpower me. He is a faster runner than I am, but I can still corner him. Even if he tries to flee in public, numerous adults who outweigh him by three or four times will catch him and return him to me. I provide the food, the clothing, and the shelter. At age nine, he cannot simply move out, get a job, and support himself. He is 100% dependent upon me. The cost of dependence is a lack of freedom. I have the power, so he has to do what I say.

So, let’s say I decide to take advantage of his vulnerability (as my abusers did). Honestly, what can this little boy possibly do about it? Unless I am leaving marks on his body, who is going to believe him? For that matter, who is he going to tell?

Let’s say he believes that he has the option of saying no. How is he going to enforce the “no”? I weight three times what he does. I can pick him up and force him to do anything I want. What power does a little boy have? He has none whatsoever.

In fact, my son does try to tell me no, and he is a strong-willed child. Some children are passive, but my son is not. He is, frankly, bullheaded (like his mother!), and he has been known to dig his heels in over some of the most ridiculous issues. None of the issues are serious like protecting himself from an abuser. These are issues like not wanting to pee in a toilet (when he was three – he knew how to use a toilet but simply did not want to). He can be very stubborn and fight me over issues that he is simply not going to win. I ultimately win these battles of wills because I am the adult, and I have all of the power. If my confident son, who has never been abused, cannot win a battle of wills with me, why do we child abuse survivors believe that we, as insecure, shame-filled abused children, would have had the power to win a battle over keeping our bodies safe?

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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