Posts Tagged ‘feelings toward abuse enablers’

Child in field (c) Lynda BernhardtIn 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


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On my blog entry entitled Strong Trigger Reaction to Visiting a College Campus, a reader wrote the following question:

You saying about the group of boys who thought you were consenting made me think: how do you feel about people/incidents where you were abused unintentionally? For example I used to frequently be ‘starved’ by people who had been told I felt too Ill to eat, when they didn’t feed me they were contributing to me being abused however they were trying to be kind. And times where an abuser scared me beyond how a child should “normally” feel but without trying to, my fear being based on previous expereinces or expectations. For me a major part of healing is working out how I feel and relate to people or experiences but this is something I really struggle with. I am only now understanding how I feel about people who trigger me by accident, but that has taken a long time, do you ever feel any anger about that? ~Sophie

I touched upon this topic is the blog entry Many Facets of Teen Rape, where I discussed Jodi Picoult’s book, The Tenth Circle. I wrote that blog entry while I was still reading the book. My conclusion after finishing the book is that the boy experienced the intercourse as sex while the girl experienced the intercourse as rape. From a legal perspective, I would not convict the boy of rape because there was no intent. However, unquestionably the girl experienced the sexual contact as a rape victim and needs to work through all of the same emotions that any of us rape survivors do.

The same dynamic applies to my “gang rape” situation in college. I am using quotes because I do not believe that any of the boys who participated (other than the one who intentionally triggered me) had any idea that I was an unwilling participant. A traumatized, compliant child alter part was triggered and gave no indication to those boys that I was being traumatized by their actions. I would not convict them in a court of law. While I do not morally agree with a string of boys receiving oral sex from a consenting woman, that’s not a crime.

Now let’s get to my reaction to the same event – It was an extremely traumatizing night for me, so much so that 25 years later, I almost passed out on a military parade ground by being triggered by college boys in military dress. Until reading Jodi Picoult’s book, I did not appreciate that I could be traumatized this badly by people who had no intention of traumatizing me. I suspect this is one reason why my therapist advises me to stay out of my abusers’ heads – He doesn’t want me to cheat myself out of necessary healing based upon the motivation of the abuser.

Like Sophie, there were people in my life who contributed to the abuse in more subtle ways without even knowing that I was being abused. My father falls under this umbrella in many ways, and it has been hard work sorting through my conflicting feelings of seeing him both as my “savior” and “abuse enabler.” I also feel conflict toward my grandparents (my father’s parents) for not stopping the abuse, which I will cover in tomorrow’s blog entry.

Image credit: Amazon.com

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