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Posts Tagged ‘others had it worse’

On my blog entry entitled Judging Your Childish Actions Through Adult Eyes, a reader posted the following comment:

I’m right now dealing with coming to terms with the fact that what happened was a big deal. I have seen it as “no big deal” because that is what I was taught. Even now, as an adult, I have trouble seeing it as a big deal. If I hear about it happening to someone else (a child in the present day, for example), I am furious. But, I am having trouble giving myself that gift. I feel very few emotions about all of it. ~ Marie

Minimizing the abuse (seeing the abuse as “no big deal”) is a normal reaction to child abuse, and it really does make sense once you understand where it is coming from. Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery explains this reaction well. I strongly recommend this book, especially if you are having trouble accepting that your own abuse was a big deal. I found this book to be very helpful because it focuses on all forms of trauma (not just child abuse), which helped me see the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a disorder rather than as a collection of symptoms that were unique to me (and not a big deal).

Here are an excerpt that explains this phenomenon of seeing the child abuse as “no big deal:”

Though [the abused child] perceives herself as abandoned to a power without mercy, she must find a way to preserve hope and meaning. The alternative is utter despair, something no child can bear. To preserve her faith in her parents, she must reject the first and most obvious conclusion that something is terribly wrong with them. She will go to any lengths to construct an explanation for her fate that absolves her parents of all blame and responsibility.

All of the abused child’s psychological adaptations serve the fundamental purpose of preserving her primary attachment to her parents in the face of daily evidence of their malice, helplessness, or indifference. To accomplish this purpose, the child resorts to a wide array of psychological defenses. By virtue of these defenses, the abuse is either walled off from conscious awareness and memory, so that it did not really happen, or minimized, rationalized, and excused, so that whatever did happen was not really abuse. Unable to escape or alter the unbearable reality in fact, the child alters it in her mind. ~ pp. 101-102

There’s so much more, which is why this book is in my list of recommended book resources. If you find this helpful, I would read this book or at least the chapter devoted to child abuse.

Minimizing the abuse make perfect sense. When you are a helpless child, the alternatives are to “forget” the abuse (repress the memories), minimize it, or sink into utter despair. By minimizing the abuse, the child holds onto hope that the abuse is survivable. It is a coping mechanism that enabled us to survive the abuse.

Many of you have read my story, which I share beginning here. While there is no question that my abuse was severe by anyone’s standards, I, too, struggled with believing it was no big deal, others had it worse, etc. The bottom line is that any abuse is a big deal, and even one time is too many.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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This series is focusing on the issue of struggling with focusing on your own needs. The series begins here.

Here is the last part of the reader’s email:

And I feel selfish for thinking sometimes that soooooooo many people have been abused that my experience is diminished because it almost seems like it’s the norm for a woman to have a past history of sexual abuse. Does any of this make sense or is it just rambling?

Unfortunately, it is normal for child abuse survivors to minimize their abuse. In the book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman explains the reason for this:

Though [the abused child] perceives herself as abandoned to a power without mercy, she must find a way to preserve hope and meaning. The alternative is utter despair, something no child can bear…By virtue of these defenses, the abuse is either walled off from conscious awareness and memory, so that it did not really happen, or minimalized, rationalized, and excused, so that whatever did happen was not really abuse. Unable to escape or alter the unbearable reality in fact, the child alters it in her mind. ~ Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery, pp. 101-102

This is what we do as adults when we minimize our abuse, and we learned it in childhood. Most people who have heard my story tell me that it is one of the most extreme stories of child abuse that they have heard. Nevertheless, it took me a long time to pull out of the “others had it worse” mentality.

The bottom line is that even one incident of abuse is too many. If some monster raped my son one time, it would be far too many. That one incident would cause him to have nightmares, flashbacks, self-loathing, etc. There is no value in comparing our abuses because every incident of abuse is damaging.

I sometimes have people tell me that they feel like, after hearing my story, their abuse didn’t matter. I always tell them that, if they want to compare abuses, then let’s compare the healing. If I can heal after what I have been through, then you can heal, too. Let’s not focus on what broke us; let’s focus on the hope of healing.

I agree that having a history of sexual abuse is pretty much the norm for women (statistically one in three to one in four women, depending upon which study you cite). Rather than making the abuse less important, I think it makes society more terrifying. Child abuse is an epidemic, but society doesn’t want to believe it.

Let’s put this in perspective. President Obama recently declared the swine flu a national emergency because more than 1,000 people have died from it, over 20,000 have been hospitalized, and “many millions” of Americans have already had it (presumably without long-term aftereffects). People are referring to this as an epidemic, right?

The United States has over 307 million citizens. Statistics are that one in four women are sexually abused by age 18. Let’s assume that half of the Americans are women – that makes 153.5 million women. If one in four have been or will be sexually abused by age 18, we are talking about OVER 38 MILLION WOMEN who have been or will be sexually abused. (I am not even factoring in the one in five to seven men who have been sexually abused.) We are using words like “epidemic” to describe a flu that has only been serious enough to hospitalize or kill under 25,000 people, but we don’t see the brutalization of 38 MILLION WOMEN as an epidemic??

Never minimize the impact of abuse. These same women (and men) struggle with flashbacks, eating disorders, self-injury, drug abuse, suicide attempts, and all of the other crap that we deal with. Your abuse WAS “that bad,” and it needs to be healed. You deserve to heal and be freed from the aftereffects of the abuse.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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