by Christina Enevoldsen & Darlene Ouimet
Christina: The other day, I was felt unsettled about some things and, as usual, I poured out my heart to my husband. He’s a good listener, so as I processed my feelings I realized that part of the solution had me stumped and part of it I just didn’t want to do. That left me with my pain. I changed the subject and we discussed a mutual friend’s issues instead. When I just about had the friend’s problems all figured out, it occurred to me that I changed the subject as a form of denial. It was easier to talk about what our friend should do to improve his life than to talk about what I needed to do to make mine better.
I think that’s what happens sometimes when we focus on the reaction of people outside of us. We get hung up on what they are doing instead of on what we need to be doing. So many survivors of abuse stay focused on the whys? the hows? And the what ifs? “Why don’t they believe me?” “How could they protect my abuser, but betray me?” or “What if I talk to them one more time?”
When I first separated from my parents after they refused to honor my boundaries, I celebrated my freedom. But eventually, the pain pierced me. The loss of my mom haunted me for months. In my desire to stop the pain, I grasped at the ‘what if’s?’ “What if she misunderstood me?” “What if I explained it better?” “What if she’d like to make up, but is afraid?”
I got caught up in those questions as though the answers would extinguish my burning ache. It didn’t make sense that the person who was meant to love me, protect me, nurture me, and teach me right from wrong would betray or reject me. Could this be a huge misunderstanding? Was I taking what my parents said too seriously?
Darlene: I kept second guessing myself, because that is what they taught me to do. They taught me that I was wrong. They taught me that I was the one who had the problem and that I was selfish and self-centered. I think that is why I kept trying. I really believed that before I could hear myself, they had to hear me. I wanted them to suddenly realize that I had been wronged.
I wanted to prove several things to them; that I had in fact been abused, mistreated and unprotected, and that I was worthy of love. I got stuck when the condition that I put on myself was that when they would finally agree with me, I could believe it. The problem was that I would not hear or validate myself until they heard me. I thought my freedom and wholeness depended on if they said I could have it or not. I thought that I had to prove that I was right in order to draw those boundaries. I thought that I had to prove (to myself even) that I had been neglected, or emotionally abandoned by my family before I could actually stand up to them.
One day I saw this for the truth that it was. I realized that I was rejecting my own truth by letting them decide if I was telling the truth or not. I realized that I was letting them define me as unworthy and unlovable. I was now doing what they taught me to do—discounting myself; abandoning myself; mistreating and devaluing myself and neglecting myself. As long as I was doing this to myself, they didn’t need to bother too much with me because as long as I was fighting for them to SEE me and HEAR me, they actually had control of me and the situation.
Christina: That’s a good point, Darlene. We’re so used to remaining the child in the relationship, that we feel the need for their permission and validation. I had to own my own power, recognizing myself as a mature adult. I also had to own my own feelings and opinions. Right or wrong, they are mine and I don’t need anyone’s permission to think or feel them.
The abuse violated my boundaries. Someone invaded my body and soul. They disregarded my will and my feelings. One of the most powerful expressions of our boundaries is the word “no”, and yet the abuse took away my “no”. Part of healing from the abuse is to take back my “no”:
“No, I won’t stay silent about the abuse.”
“No, I’m not going to protect another’s reputation at my expense.”
“No, I’m not going to continue to submit to your abuse.”
The abuse taught me that I’m responsible for others and that caring for myself is wrong. I’ve had a hard time saying “no”, but I also had a hard time hearing “no”. Many of us continue to struggle with confused or blurred boundaries throughout our lives. We have a tendency to either take care of other’s responsibilities or neglect our own—or both.
My family was saying “no” to me when they rejected me:
“No, I do not believe you.”
“No, I won’t support you.”
“No, I won’t admit I did anything harmful to you.”
“No, I won’t apologize.”
“No, I won’t stop telling you to get over it.”
“No, I won’t end my friendship with your abuser.”
To focus on other people’s boundaries—their behavior, their responsibilities, their choices, their beliefs, their opinions, their feelings, their attitudes, their values—is to assume responsibility for them. Focusing on my parent’s boundaries keeps me from my own responsibility. When I focus on them, I lose clarity about me.
My family may not behave, think, or feel the way that I would or the way I want them to, but they are free to make their own choices (and free to reap the consequences of those choices). It’s not my job to correct them, convince them, or punish them no matter how they failed me.
Darlene: Yes, Christina, that is exactly how I feel too. The key to freedom is not in understanding why other people didn’t take care of us, or why we were emotionally, physically or sexually abused; The key (well at least one key) is in understanding that we were powerless and that we are not who “they” say we are.
I will never understand my mother, and I don’t even want to. I don’t know if I ever did get my head around it, but what set me free was that I got my head around that it was up to me to take my life back. I realized that this was about HER and not about me. I don’t have to take it and I don’t have to understand it. I found the truth about her and then about me and what she taught me about me was all lies.
When I stood up for myself and when I stopped asking, hoping and waiting for them to hear me, believe me and validate me, I began to blossom and thrive. I began to grow into the person that I believe I was born to be. I met myself on the road to healing and for the very first time I felt like an individual. It wasn’t long before I stopped chasing the lie; I stopped believing that the illusive butterfly of happiness could only be found in parental love and acceptance which would set me free and solve my problems.
Christina: I may never know the answers to why? how? And what if? But I don’t care anymore. Those answers promise protection and closure, but they fail to deliver. They don’t have power to help me move on. Knowing the answers doesn’t change anything. They won’t take care of me, take away the pain, or make up for my loss. The past still happened, and I am the one who has to deal with it. And as an adult, I’m equipped to do that successfully. The responsibility for taking care of me lies with the person who cares the most: ME.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
Darlene Ouimet is an inspirational speaker, certified professional life coach and mental health advocate. While speaking in mental health seminars about her complete recovery from dissociated identity disorder, chronic depression, and a lifetime of low self-esteem, Darlene realized that her journey to wholeness had a unique kind of impact and she embraced a new life purpose—to deliver this message of hope, healing and full recovery to a hurting world. Darlene authors a high traffic blog called “Emerging from Broken—from surviving to thriving on the journey to wholeness.”
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