What An Incest Family Looks Like

Sep 2nd, 2012 | By | Category: All Posts, Incest

Incest Familyby Don Enevoldsen

I normally don’t comment on OSA since Christina and I often discuss the subject matter of her posts and the limited contributions I could make, when relevant, are reflected in her words. This time, I want to add some thoughts from a perspective few others could have. The comment posted by Christina’s mother, Mary, on “My Story by Christina Enevoldsen” the day before Christina’s birthday, prompted excellent comments from many people. One in particular caught my attention. Pinky, speaking to Mary, said, “…because it is as if you have read the manual on how to be an abusive parent.”

That observation, accurate as it is, was based on only a few lines from Mary, typed into the OSA comments. I am in a position to add to Pinky’s statement from firsthand observation and knowledge. I know Mary and Fred, Christina’s dad, very well. I knew them even before I knew Christina.

Mary’s comment inspired Christina to write a blog post in response with a letter to her mother. “It’s Not About You, Mom” and now I’m motivated to write my own letter to Mary.

The more I read about incest family systems, the more I find that Fred and Mary fit the profile, as Pinky pointed out, as though the profile was intended to describe them. So, for Mary’s enlightenment, I feel that I should share some of the reasons why every time she and Fred open their mouths, I am more convinced than ever that Christina’s account is dead on accurate.

To Mary:

I know you have studiously avoided this information, and since you seem committed to your lies, I don’t expect this to change your position, but here are some facts about abusive and incest families.

From the outside, they look like other healthy families. They fit in well with the community and are often very active in church. The abuse is hidden. When abuse is exposed, people around them always find it difficult to believe. Abusive families are generally admired by everyone else. The fact that you and Fred are in church leadership and greatly respected does not remove you from suspicion.

Often, the abuse is even hidden from the family members themselves. Each one has ways of shielding themselves from the truth. They may redefine things they see, hear or experience as a way to explain away the abuse. “Grandpa has always been quirky like that” or “Aunt Jane just wanted to make sure Johnny was really clean” or “Dad just loves me so much that he can’t stop touching me”. They believe they are normal because they’ve never known anything else.

Abusive family members feel loyalty to the family, showing the rest of the world the image of a caring, strong and devoted family unit. Even victims of abuse fit this description, which is why it is so difficult for them to break free and open up about the truth. They are trained from a very young age to believe that telling is a horrible thing and it’s often too horrible to admit the truth to themselves. Those who talk—even if they feel a great sense of relief—are frequently plagued by overwhelming guilt. Before they are able to talk freely, they usually have to get away from the abusive family and its influences for a while or somehow find healthy support outside the family. Since outside relationships, especially healthy ones, are so foreign to the victim of abuse, that’s not easy or common. Frequently, other relationships aren’t encouraged and in particularly dysfunctional families, they are forbidden.

It’s no coincidence, then, that Christina didn’t start talking about her incest very openly until she married me and we moved 400 miles away. It was extremely unlikely she would say much before that. That is quite consistent with the dynamics of incest families.

It’s especially telling the way you, Mary, handled the conflict with Christina that eventually led to the demise of the relationship. In a healthy family, conflict is allowed. Boundaries are respected. In abusive families—or any abusive system for that matter—questioning authority is never allowed. When Christina came to you to ask you for a healthier, more honest relationship, you treated it like it was a personal affront. You refused to enter into meaningful dialogue, choosing instead to hide behind pathetic protestations that you are supposed to be honored as a parent.

By your account, all was well before that. Yet this is an indication of a history of abandonment that Christina writes about, the things you claim are lies. Do you recognize yourself in any of this?

Each family member in an incest family takes on one of three roles—Abuser, Denier (also called an Enabler or Bystander) or Victim. Let’s take them in that order.


Victim mentality is the driving force behind abuse. Abusers don’t believe in equal power. In an abuser’s mind, equal power doesn’t exist. The only two options in interactions between people is to power over them or they power over you.

Abusers are driven by fear. They have no security in their own identity and they lack a sense of personal power. That’s why they are so easily threatened, even by very little slights. Someone cutting them off in traffic or failing to return a greeting is enough to set them off.

When their sense of power is threatened, they feel a need to power over someone else. Since they have so little self esteem, they don’t “pick on someone their own size”. They restore their sense of importance through choosing someone smaller or weaker or in some other way less powerful then themselves. In this way, they transfer the pain and the shame to their victim.

There is much debate over whether or not all sexual abusers were sexually abused. Certainly, all abusers were victimized in some way, hence, their victim mentality. I don’t know if Fred was sexually abused as a child, but by his own account, he was certainly physically and emotionally abused and learned the “rules” of the abusive system.

I always found it odd, and a little disconcerting, that in virtually every conversation, Fred reminisced in lengthy detail about the women he had dated in his life, even when you were in the room. His obvious pride in his many romantic conquests expressed in the most inappropriate venues, fits the profile of an abuser. His statements reinforce his “power over” way of thinking, not only with the women from his past, but in his devaluing treatment of you, his wife. His willingness to discuss those things in your presence says, “I revel in my past sexual relationships and it’s more important to me to impress others than to protect your feelings.”

Abusers also develop unnaturally strong bonds with other abusers. A few days after Christina’s ex-husband, David, was arrested, Fred called me. Among the many outrageous things he said was this gem: “I’ve known David for a lot of years. As a matter of fact, as you know, even Christina will tell you, I kind of adopted him, with the family, in a situation like that, he was actually more of a son to me than my son, Tom.”

In fact, he chose David over both of his children. When David verbally assaulted Christina in front of both of you, Fred openly took David’s side and reminded Christina, “Your husband loves you.” After Christina divorced David for his financial and emotional abuse, Fred supported David and even preferred to spend holidays with him.

Abusers protect other abusers. The whole reason Fred called me was to defend David and try to mitigate the serious charges facing him. He kept trying to find out how much money we wanted to call off the arrest. He not only defended the man who molested Bethany, his own granddaughter, he tried to point the blame in Bethany’s direction. Here are a few of the comments he made in that regard:

In response to me pointing out that Bethany had been molested for twelve years: “Let’s do away with that.”

And a few seconds later: “You know, all of this thing, when you really stop and think about it, is just being judgmental and all this other stuff. It doesn’t—it’s not making it.”

And a little later: “Now, how badly is he hurting someone?”

And, “How the hell is he gonna bother her?”

And: “But he hasn’t bothered anybody.”

All of this in denial of David’s defiance and his reaction to the accusation that he had continued molesting Bethany, which was, “Yeah, so?”

Then Fred added: “If you weren’t so screwed up in your head and so convinced that Bethany is the perfect little person…”

And regarding all of us: You guys are to be, being the guys that are trying to screw up somebody’s life.”

Every one of these statements scream that Fred is an abuser. They fit the profile with remarkable accuracy.

In Fred’s mind, Bethany was the abuser and David was the victim. He dismissed the twelve years of incest perpetrated on Bethany and thought the horrible part of this family drama was that David, the child molester, was in jail.

The Denier

Deniers are the members of the family who turn a blind eye to the abuse and defend the Abuser, making exactly the kinds of accusations you have leveled at Christina.

Deniers believe the best way to survive is to ingratiate themselves to the Abuser and keep a low profile. They, too, are driven by victim mentality. They either “hide” by staying out of the way or by making it very clear to the Abusers that they won’t interfere with the abuse. Deniers are the most vehement and loyal supporters to Abusers. They go to great lengths to cover the abuse as though their life depends on it.

Deniers are masters of offering trite phrases in response to pain. “Don’t dwell on it,” “Let bygones be bygones,” “Forgive and forget,” and “You can’t change the past” are common platitudes deniers deliver when confronted with sexual abuse.

I don’t have to look any further than your remarks on Christina’s recent post, but a better example might be your letter to Christina on February 15, 2009, in which you state that she “dredged up old, dead history.” In your words, Mary: “I call it carrying an offense and not getting healed or forgiving. Isn’t it about time that you take it to the cross and leave it there? Why do you want to carry that stuff in your heart?” That’s but one example from many that fit the profile of a Denier.

The responses of Deniers are designed to protect the Abuser and are often completely self-involved and ignorant. They show a lack of compassion for their children and a selfish focus on their own lives.

The first time Christina mentioned to you that she had been molested, you ignored it. Fred shouted from the adjacent room, “No, you weren’t,” and you simply continued with what you were doing as though nothing had happened. Wouldn’t a statement like that normally get a mother’s attention? Even when you expressed, over the next few years, that you accepted the truth that Christina had been molested, you never once asked who had done it. One would think an issue of that kind of serious nature would at least warrant some curiosity.

Your self-focus was also evident when David was arrested. When you did talk to Christina, you had no concern for your granddaughter, except to accuse her of destroying the family. Instead, all you could talk about was how inconvenienced you and Fred were because you had to end your vacation early.

During that conversation, when Christina asked you if you believed that David had sexually abused Bethany, your reply was, “I don’t know.” For years, you accepted that Bethany’s father had molested her, yet when there was a cost to you and you had to either take the side of the Victim or the Abuser, you chose the Abuser. Your self-centeredness is typical of the profile of a Denier.

Deniers often viciously attack the Victim to protect the Abuser. Your words were: “Christina is using these accusations as a way of hurting her parents and getting the attention she craves. So sad that she is willing to create a fantasy world where she is the hero / victim. Will she ever come to her senses and ask for forgiveness?”

Several of your letters and emails have repeated these and similar claims. In addition, when you came to the hearings regarding David’s case, you chose to sit on the side of the courtroom with David’s supporters, in opposition to Bethany, demonstrating agreement with Fred in the same contempt for your granddaughter’s pain as you have for your daughter. In these comments and actions, you fit the profile of a Denier.


Victims tend to become people pleasers and unhealthy caretakers. Child victims of incest families take on the responsibility of keeping the system together. It’s the child’s job to take care of the sexual and emotional needs of the sexual abuser(s) and also to care for the emotional needs of the Deniers. When they are children, this is a matter of survival, but the trait becomes ingrained and carries over into adulthood.

In Christina’s life, she protected your emotional well-being by trying to be the perfect daughter and by pretending to be happy so your peace would not be disturbed. That continued even into adulthood when she sought to spare your feelings. When you never asked her who abused her, that was in indication that she was supposed to continue protecting you.

Victims often suffer from insomnia. For as long as we have been married, Christina has only rarely slept through the night uninterrupted. For many years, she woke almost every morning at about the time that Fred used to come into her bedroom when she was a child.

Victims have an excessive need to control their surroundings. Christina feels great stress when things are not in order. Clutter of any kind makes her feel very unsettled and she cannot relax until they are cleaned up. This desire for control is likely one of the factors that prompted her long standing interest and career in interior design. It enables her to control her environment in a way she never could as a child.

Victims make unhealthy choices in members of the opposite sex, frequently marrying Abusers. Nothing more needs to be said than pointing out that Christina married David. A choice, by the way, which was driven by an intense desire to get out of your house as quickly as possible.

Victims often act out, especially as children. Sitting around with the family, I heard many stories about things Christina did as a child, like the time she shaved off her eyebrows. That kind of behavior does not happen in a vacuum. It indicates something is seriously wrong. Children just don’t normally behave that way.

Since marrying Christina, I’ve observed characteristics in her life that are consistent with the profile of a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Her blog posts recount the numerous effects of her abuse and I’m witness to the effects.

That’s the book on a typical abusive family, and remarkably it’s the same as the book on your family. When I put all of these observations together, it is clear that your family fits the profile of an incest family remarkably well. Fred is a stereotypical example of an Abuser. You are a stereotypical example of a Denier. Christina was a stereotypical example of a Victim.

The only thing that doesn’t fit the normal pattern is that Christina has escaped the family’s influence and has worked to become whole. Knowing what I have learned about sexual abuse in the past few years, I can see the traits very clearly. If I had no connection whatsoever with Christina, other than as an outsider looking in, I would be absolutely convinced that Christina has told the truth and that you have not. The evidence all supports her. It’s as though they wrote the book specifically about you.

Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts about this, I’d love to hear yours. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to partake in the discussion. If you would like to protect your privacy, you don’t have to use your real name. Email addresses are never made public.


Img 2Don Enevoldsen is a writer, pastor and the co-founder of Counter Thought, a site dedicated to non-religious, biblical dialogue challenging the abusive system that is so often part of traditional and accepted church life. To members of OSA, he is best known for one of his most fulfilling roles in life as Christina’s husband.


Related Posts:
Power Play: How to Recognize an Abuser
The Wolf in Shepherd’s Clothing: The “Benevolent” Abuser
What We Wish Our Parents Understood About Our Sexual Abuse
Straight Talk to Parents About Protecting Children From Sexual Abuse
Peace and Protection From Abuse

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  1. Don,
    Thank you so much for sharing this. I was just thinking back to when we were engaged and I told you that I’d been sexually abused by my dad. I wasn’t sure how you would respond or if you would even believe me since you were friends of my parents. You supported me then and your support has never wavered. I couldn’t ask for a better partner by my side as we stand up against abuse together.

  2. I do remember that you were pretty nervous about sharing that bit of information with me. And now look at you, sharing it with multitudes in an effort to help as many others as possible. I’m proud of the work you do.

    And for the record, running away was never a thought, and I’m glad to be here now. It feels a little like Elijah when he sat in the desert feeling like he was the only one to stand against the oppression of the ruling powers. Then he found out there were a whole bunch of others around, too. I’m amazed at how big this community is and how powerful it has become. And they’re only starting to find their voice.

  3. A accurate description of the abusive family. I have seen families like this and tried to help the victims. Do abusers or deniers ever see the truth?

  4. A really fabulous letter of support for your wife, and I’m so grateful you wrote it. In many ways, your letter accurately describes families ravaged by a domestic violence batterer as well as sexual abuser (indeed, perpetrators of domestic violence often perpetrate sexual violence against both adult and child victims in the home). I would just like to propose for your consideration that not all “deniers” are alike: there are many (far too many) as you describe; but there are others who, in fear of lack of support from the community (police, courts, child protection, etc.) and personal resources use denial as a coping mechanism until they can navigate themselves and their children out of the maze of abuse, who–despite appearances to the outside world–are making significant efforts to protect their children in the face of significant barriers to safety. As a victim advocate and survivor, I know many of the second type, also. I only wish that Christina’s mother could have been that for her, and am so glad that she could break her mother’s cycle and be the protection her daughter needed her to be. You, Christina and Bethany are all testament to the power of God to change “evil for good.” Bless you all in your efforts to confront this evil.

  5. What a beautiful letter of support from a man, displaying deep understanding of the dynamics of abuse. I agree with Kathy Jones – your description can be applied to any type of domestic abuse, which often leads to other forms of abuse, albeit sexual abuse is an especially egregious one.

  6. Kathy,
    Thanks for bringing that up. I think that’s so important to talk about, especially since so many of us here who are in the process of healing are also realizing ways we have failed our own children. I agree that not all Deniers are the same. I was one of those wives and mothers who lived and functioned in denial for most of my life, yet I eventually addressed that. I completely agree that the lack of support from the community contributes to remaining in that role. How many times have I heard the response, “Where was the mother?” as though she was the perpetrator. Our culture is quick to blame the victim or the bystander, but rarely holds the abuser accountable. This, too, is a coping mechanism stemming from victim mentality. The only effective way I see to stop abuse is for the victims of abuse to heal, no matter the role they presently play–victim, denier or abuser.

  7. Thanks for your encouraging words, everyone.

    Shary, yes, abusers and deniers occasionally see the truth, but it is very difficult to get out of that system. A lot of pressure is brought to bear and the habits of submission are learned from earliest childhood. That’s a lot to overcome. Christina is an example, though, of a denier (in reference to her daughter, Bethany) who managed to get out of the abusive system. It does require being brutally honest, and it usually involves no small amount of courage. Christina’s story also demonstrates that deniers are also victims. They are also threatened with personal harm if they don’t keep quiet. It’s tough, but it can be done. The most important thing is to find a community of people who will support you, which is probably the most significant contribution of websites like OSA and others associated with it. What a great community of people to draw strength from.

  8. Kathy, you are right in pointing out the similarity to other forms of abuse. Christina and I have seen that in reality, all abuse works on the same basic principles. That includes all forms of domestic abuse and it includes abuse by organizations, such as churches. They all use shame and fear to maintain power and keep people under control.

    Also, Kathy, you are right in pointing out the complexity of this issue. I have not given a complete, detailed analysis of abusive systems, just my observations of how Christina’s family fits the profile. To completely discuss it would take an entire book. And I’m only beginning to learn the subject well enough to speak out about it. Fortunately, there are others, like yourself, who can fill in other important details. It is not enough for one person to speak out. There needs to be a whole bunch of us. And this community seems to be getting more vocal all the time.

  9. Danna, thanks for your kind words. When I married Christina, I honestly had no idea what I was getting into, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I find great delight in seeing Christina grow in so many ways. I am always aware of the need for support in walking through healing, and that is what I’ve tried to provide as much as I am able. I know she also draws much strength from others who have shared their experience. In a conversation about a week ago, we marveled at the number of very supportive friends we have. It really is remarkable and we love love it. So thank you for being part of our circle.

  10. In terms of finding a community of people: Pastor Jeff Crippen has a 20 sermon series online, addressing abusers hiding in the church. He references Lundy Bancroft’s books about abusers in his sermons. It’s uncanny how similar abusers are to each other, and yet how much lack of awarness so many people have about their markers and manipulation methods, in addition to the markers of their targets’ (victims’) resultant behaviors. Thank you for spreading awareness.

  11. My parents never talked about it. They saw me in the back seat of the car w/ my brother. They knew it was not normal. They turned away. Every time I screamed, asked for help or cried.
    They failed me. Again I was molested by our neighbor. They
    Said we will talk to his parents. The perp was beaten
    W/ a belt.
    Now I tried to communicate w/ my brother but I
    Can’t. I’m lucky to have my hubby and my 2 girls.

  12. Kudos to you for supporting your wife in her healing. I don’t have that kind of support from my husband and crave it. That lack of support has left a void in my life and when I found a way to fill it, I hurt him pretty badly. I still have a hard time getting him to see it, and even the marriage counselor doesn’t seem to get through to him. Christina is very lucky to have you.

  13. Thanks, Candie. It is tough when you don’t have any support within your family. That’s part of the reason I’m glad Christina and others who do this kind of work have fostered the online community. It might not quite be the same as someone sitting in the same room with you, but there are a lot of people here with shared experience and lots of love and encouragement to give. I’m glad I can be a part of it.

  14. Cat,
    I’m so sorry you were betrayed by your family like that. I’m glad you found love now. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Thx for a most articulate and insightful post, Don. I started my work in exposing this unacknowledged horror in the church world almost 30 years ago and am so gratified to see other pastors speaking up boldly and shining the light on this heinous evil among us.

  16. Tim, sounds like you’ve been blazing the trail for the rest of us. I really wasn’t aware how serious this was until about ten years ago, and even then, I had no idea what to do about it. It has been a growing concern and passion for me. Thanks for starting when you did.

  17. You painted a picture clear as a bell for far too many families.

  18. Far too many, Calvin. And far too often in churches that I know of. Hopefully by exposing the truth behind the facade, we can help to eliminate at least some of it.

  19. Your so lucky Christina to have ur husband who
    believes u and stands up for u and obviously
    loves u lots! U deserve that! Thanks to u both
    for sharing this!:)

  20. Very good article, and pretty accurate too. My mother was abusive to me and my sisters when we were growing up, and it can be hard even for outsiders to say anything. It was years after I was an adult when one of my mom’s best friends finally admitted the truth and apologized. Just that little bit of recognition was like a weight lifted from my shoulders. There are courageous people in the world, just not enough of them.

  21. I hear so many abuse victims express the relief of just having someone actually believe them. Christina has had that reaction on occasion. We were with some friends one night, having dinner at a restaurant, and Christina was talking about an incident related to past abuse. One of the friends said, “Oh, I remember that.” Christina almost started crying. She told me later that her thought was, “I’m not crazy. Someone else remembers.” It’s amazing to me how little support it takes to dramatically change people’s lives. Thanks for sharing your experience, Tom.

  22. Don – thank you for shining this bright spotlight into a very dark and destructive corner. As one who has prosecuted hundreds of child sexual abuse cases with the family, I can tell you that your description of the abusive family is tragically spot on…especially the abusive families that publicly cloak themselves with faith. It is these very dynamics that we (at GRACE) encounter virtually every time we confront such abuse within a “Christian” environment. I am grateful that your post also clearly demonstrates that there is hope for those who find themselves in such a sick and dangerous world…Christina is a living example of that hope. Again, thank you both! Boz

  23. Powerful article. Much of what you wrote also applies to spiritual abuse in churches. It fits the dynamics of non-sexual child abuse accurately, as well. Thank you for dragging this mouldering carcass out of the basement and into the light. Evil which is unseen is still evil and needs to be exposed.

  24. Christine, I agree. I’m very thankful for Don’s support! All of us deserve to be believed and supported.

  25. Great article Don.

    The more we heal, the more we are able to see the abuse world at work. It makes it easier to see the games that are played in order to justify that abuse. And even to the point of understanding each game and why these games are used in the way they use them.

    Thank you for pointing them out in such a clear way.

    I’ve got this saying that always rings true for me…… “the more you talk the more your true colors will shine thru.” and this is what is happening with Mary. She honestly thought that she was belittling and hurting Christina, when in fact all she did was show her true self. Those who are getting free from the abuse world can “see” it. But those who remain in the abuse world will continue to try the manipulation in order to gain control of those who try to leave it. Even to the point of using God as a weapon and turning their back on their own child.

    Thanks again Don. You and Christina are a great team.

  26. Boz, the thing that abusive systems seem to fear the most is having the truth spoken publicly. Every time I do that, I make people really mad. But then that’s not really a surprise. Abuse is done in secret and requires secrecy to maintain its power. So exposing it is one of the best ways to deal with it.

    Art, the thing that strikes me is how consistent these things are from one case to the next. Consistent and predictable. And yes, it is with all kinds of abuse. They all work the same.

    Patty, you are right. Listen to someone long enough and their world view will slip out eventually. You just have to keep listening.

    And to Christina, yes, everyone does deserve to be supported and believed. And I’m glad I can do that in your life. It’s been a great journey so far and I have no doubt will get better.

  27. Part of honoring your parents is to expect them to be their best when it counts. This made me grateful that my Mother did not become such an extreme and long term denier. But for a while there was a point in her life where she was getting very close to that. She made excuses for the abuser. She began to come up with reasons to not believe me. It took 4 years to convince her to leave him. (From when I was 8 to 12.) The abuser is long gone now. She married again, and has been with her current husband now for about 27 years. He’s not an abuser, but he’s still the typical narcissist that has always been in Mom’s life.
    Your description is dead on. Exact. That’s my abuser in your words. And my mother in many ways. And that’s me. Right there.
    I’m so glad Christina has you. Thank you for writing this. -Tan

  28. Don said abuse is “Consistent and predictable.” Yes it applies to all kinds of abuse the sameness and if we are looking can be easily recognized abuse when we see it. The healing journey is totally different each persons journey varies. God is still the creator and He makes each journey to healing exactly fit each person. Sometimes in helping each other we feel they should do what we did. I have listened to many people’s stories. It is easy to identify with the abuse, and always a new story of their road to healing. We also need to remember the journey is a life time journey. There are some deep valleys we struggle through, and some mountain top times when we can look back and see everything in perspective, and look forward to see a victorious end.

  29. It is chilling and confirming to read such a perfect description of my family. I was the victim and although my brother was the main abuser, my parents added elements of both denier and abuser. The challenge truly is to relearn, as an adult, what “normal” and “healthy” families and relationships are supposed to be. As it sounds like your wife has done, my only chance for anything resembling a healthy future was to completely remove myself from my family. I live on the other side of the country and did give my mother (my father passed away a few years back) the opportunity for a healthy relationship. Simply stated, I set my boundaries and three times she was unwilling/unable to respect them. She actually continued to stereotypical role of denier — complete with blaming me in both the past and present. My only healthy option was removing myself. I was most relieved to read that the guilt I feel for that decision is “normal” and common among victims who choose to demand their boundaries be respected. I plan to subscribe to your posts and her blog (I happened along this particular post from a link off Facebook).
    Thanks again for writing and offering an option of support for people who are making the transition from victim to survivor to thriver.

  30. Bobbie, what you describe is such a common story that it’s no wonder so many people think of it as “normal.” Christina and I have heard that kind of thing over and over and over since starting to speak out about abuse. Thanks for sharing your experience. I know it will be an encouragement to many others, if only to let them know they are not alone or unusual or crazy. We had to move away, too, not quite to the opposite coast, but 400 miles. Even then it took a while. So good for you to take that courageous step. And thank you for your kind words. I support Christina in what she does, and on my site, CounterThought.org, I supplement her writing by writing primarily about religious and spiritual abuse. Having been in church leadership our whole lives, we’ve seen a lot, both the best church has to offer and the worst. Unfortunately, because church gives so much attention to unconditional forgiveness and keeping families together, abuse of children is frequently ignored. We are doing as much as we can to change that.

  31. I’m reading this with almost shock after seeing it linked from the GRACE site. To Christina, I’m so very sorry for the abuse and pain you have endured and for the family system that lets these things happen. My heart breaks to read what you suffered! To Don, I’m so glad you are standing with your wife!
    As for the rest, I don’t hardly know what to say. I feel sick and confused. I feel like you are describing parts of my life that I don’t want to be reminded of. Christina, please know you aren’t alone!! I hope you find complete freedom and healing with your husband who obviously loves you!

  32. Kyra, I appreciate your encouraging words, and I know Christina does, too. The real point of sharing the details of this story is to let others know that they are not alone. And from the responses we’ve gotten, it’s obvious that this is a very large problem. I am glad to support Christina. One of the messages I would like to get out there is to the spouses of abuse survivors. Only in the past couple of years, as I have watched Christina grow, have I realized how important a spouse can be in the process. At some point, I hope to distill what I have learned along the way about what to do and what not to do to be helpful. Right now, I’m still learning, but the more I learn, the more important it seems to be. That doesn’t mean you can’t heal without a supporting spouse, but it can certainly help.

  33. Don ~

    I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this post! My eyes have been opened even more. The more the eyes are open it often feels like its also more open heart surgery. I wasn’t sexually abused but was abused by a mother who fits the profile of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Someone asked me about it once and the only way I could describe her abuse was that it was like being abused by a pedophile but without the sex. I know I’m right because, what you posted here so fits the description of my family. The things they will do to cover it all up – and yet here I am, the one who is trying to heal, trying to overcome false guilt and what I call a false anxiety about all of it.

    Thank God for you, Don. This is further validation that my family really is a nightmare. I guess all this time, I really didn’t want to believe it – but they were, they are this nightmare. How I wish God would just sweep me clean to be rid of all this negative stuff!! Some days I feel like I am merely existing through the day – and they are awful.

    I hope, one day soon, I can be free from the effects of this abuse. It is my ongoing goal.

  34. Thinking about it, I think the anxiety I live with has to do with the difficulty in accepting that my family really is a nightmare of abusers and deniers. I wonder if it has to do with not being able to truly accept this truth about them … any thoughts? Anyone??

  35. Painful to read this. It’s even more painful that I am actively being a victim even though I thought it was over. I hate my life. I’ve been working so hard at opening up and being honest with myself. It never seems to end.

  36. Rizae, I would love to hear some thoughts from others on your question, too. From what I’ve observed in walking through this with Christina, though, I think you are right that it is difficult to accept. Your head tells you that it is true, but the emotions are not that easy to ignore. In spite of the abuse, there are very strong emotional bonds that develop, and even when you know your family is destructive, it’s not easy to just walk away without feeling loss. In some ways it’s like grieving the death of a family member, and I suspect that the emotions are about the same as that. You are losing something that is very important to everyone. Those connections are real and you feel them the moment you face the truth that your family is a nightmare. Admitting that even to yourself is very difficult. I’ve watched Christina go through the ups and downs of dealing with the emotions, and they are real. The good news is that by facing them, acknowledging them, and dealing with them openly and honestly, you do make progress and life becomes better. So the fact that you are even having this dialogue with yourself indicates that you are making real progress. I think that’s a good thing.

  37. Don, thank you so much for being a wise and supportive healing partner for Christina! It is heart warming to hear that people like you DO exist, and I know that the road is not an easy one. Christina’s story is much like mine, I had to cut communications off with my mother (who is still married to my main abuser some 40+ years later) 10 years ago. I spent that 10 years in extensive childhood sexual abuse therapy, thanks to a great organization where I was living, along with the help of medications and decent insurance to help pay for it all.

    This history, along with other horrible traumas during my younger years resulted in PTSD Complex. I was devastated when I was diagnosed with this about 4 years ago, as I was already struggling with successfully handling emotionally challenging parts of my life. This news just about broke me, as I was already in entrenched in a battle of trying to cope with a very abusive/bullying work situation, along with a failure of my long term medication regimen, which was Paxil. I endured 2 months of horrible withdrawls from this med, which set into motion severe body memory pains. Every inch of my body that had ever been injured was on searing fire. I was put on a psychotropic drug cocktail which caused me to want to sleep all day, eat carb-laden voraciously (which I had NO control over), along with not trusting any of my senses. I was afraid to drive, as I didn’t trust that I was actually seeing what my eyes were telling me. Every time I drove through an intersection, I was sure I was going to cause a massive fatality.

    My doctor kept wanting to experiment with the levels of the various contents of said cocktail, until I adamantly demanded that she take me off of them. I was somehow able to keep my job through all of this, even though several times a day, I would find myself staring at my computer screen, not seeing anything and not knowing how long I had been doing so. My employer, incidentally, was absolutely no help through my ordeal. In fact, she ordered me on several occasions to not bring my personal life to work. She then complicated things further by changing my days off so I was no longer able to get to see my therapist.

    Once I got my medications squared away and reached a functional level, I decided I’d had enough and went to the Director of our agency (I worked for state government) and told him of everything that had been going on. Spent a good hour going over what I experienced. The following week, there was a HUGE buffer around me at work. I decided shortly thereafter that I could not get any further in my healing process while I was working in the setting. My work entailed reviewing a lot of triggering information on childhood abuse and deaths. I left that job last December, and decided to leave the Pacific Northwest (a contributing factor of my mental health was living in a gloomy climate for 26 years, adding SADD to my list of things to deal with), and move back to my birth state. I’m now back in sunny California, and while I have not yet been able to find work (so thankful for unemployment!), I’ve found a peace and happiness I have never known.

    Oh yeah, I’ve also been able to go off all my medications but one! That one is to regulate my sleep patterns. No more psyhcotropics, no more anti-depressants or anxiety pills!! I just keep taking one day at a time, trying to build a healthy community and discover what my dreams are!

  38. Don,

    Wow…first of all let me say how amazing I think it is that you are so supportive. It would make all the difference in the world to have the person closest to me care so deeply about what I deal with on a daily basis. I’m sure your support helps give Christina the strength and courage to push on, even through the most difficult, pain-filled days. I know if someone I loved had say, a physical illness or malady, I would read every thing I could find on the subject, study its effects and learn everything I possibly could about it. In order to best assist and support my loved one in any way I could. It seems to me that this is exactly what you do and I wish more people would follow your lead.

    I know the profile of an abusive family first hand, albeit with some variations. In mine, I think there was more than one denier and, as in Christina’s family, at least one of the deniers was also abusive in some way. But then, isn’t denial in and of itself, a form of abuse? I know for me, not being believed has caused almost as much pain as the abuse. It’s a different kind of pain too. I endured the pain of the sexual abuse as a child and that comes back as fragmented, remembered pain. But the pain of denial, of not being believed now, I am feeling as an adult and it is a fresh, raw pain. As in everything having to do with abuse, there are layers and layers to deal with and the added pain of not being believed just adds to all the confusion and denial that we already have to deal with.

    I still have a hard time coming to grips with the reality of what my family is. Like so many abused children, I built a fantasy in my head. I can see it now for what it is, a coping mechanism, a way to survive the horror of my reality, but that doesn’t make it any easier to dispel. That’s why it’s so important to be believed. To have others add credibility to what we know, down deep inside, to be true. When we aren’t believed, or our truth is denied, especially by people that were a part of it, it makes it that much harder to believe all those fragments in my head. Its scary and completely disorienting to face the truth of my past. I feel like I’ve lost my moorings and been set adrift. As if everything I’ve ever thought to be true has to now be called in to question. At times I still want to deny it. I want to sink back in to the rottingly sweet oblivion of lies but I know that the only way to heal from my past is to face it. The only way to face it is to admit the truth, to myself and to others.

    The path to healing begins with more pain,
    we must die to live and lose to gain
    We must suffer in order to grow–
    To soar, we must first sink so low
    We must face ourselves and where we’ve been,
    it is only in surrendering–we win
    We’ve deluded ourselves for much too long,
    Denying truth is the greatest wrong
    Honesty is required no matter the cost,
    Without trust–all hope is lost
    Through our weakness we’re made strong–
    The journey to healing is life long

    And so…your tears that fall to share my grief and shame, say waters of the world connect–and tears of one, must cleanse another’s pain…

    Thank you so much for writing this, Don, and for loving, supporting and standing up for Christina the way you do. We should all be so lucky to have such a champion.

  39. The only one who believes what has happened to me is my therapist and lately she has been asking me is it possible that you were hurt so bad that you just created a dream world so you just wouldn’t have to deal with the pain.These are the questions she asks me when I tell her that I have a twin who was taken away when I was little, that my older sister is in fact my mother and my real father was sent away because my grandmother said he ruined my mother’s life. My grandmother and my step grandfather adopted me when I was born. These are memories of my childhood,I remember them as a child would. These memories all came out when my step grandfather died and when my grandmother moved to Florida. That year was so horrific for me the doctor heavily medicated me he said I had Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.There were ten people living in my family when I grew up( eight children) the summer my grandmother (adopted mother) moved to Florida I approached six of the eight about the abuse and neglect from our parents,each one denied that any thing happened. The two children I didn’t approach were the abusers along with my grandmother. What reason would I have to lie and make this all up I have been asking myself this for the past nine years. If this is all a lie and I made the whole story up then why do the memories not go away. Why are they as strong as ever. I have prayed to God that if these memories are just imagined if I made them up to escape then heal me and take them away but that has not been the case. In fact the opposite has been happening. God has only been validating what I believe to be true. What is amazing is that the two of you are working together to help others break their silence. I believe these things happened to me that’s where the healing begins. Thank you for sharing it has truly opened my eyes.

  40. Geri, stories like yours are heartbreaking. When I read them, I really don’t even know what to say. I’m glad you have made progress. It sounds like you’re moving in the right direction, toward freedom. It’s quite a journey but it’s worth it.

    Penny, thanks for sharing your experience, and your very insightful poetry. It really is a paradox, isn’t it. Kind of puts the biblical statement in perspective, that a seed must die before it can come to life. The good part is that there is fulfilling life on the other side of the pain.

    Jane, you have hit on what seems to be the greatest source of pain for victims of abuse, the refusal of anyone to believe them. Most of the people I talk to just want to know that someone believes they are telling the truth. From the comments on this page alone, you can be sure that a lot of people here know you are telling the truth. Your story is an encouragement to others who have felt the same way. Thank you for sharing it.

  41. Posts 36 and 38 ~

    Don ~ I often wonder if the anxiety will ever cease. I’d like to think that God is doing a work and that its ‘all part of the process.’ I know, logically, that my family will not change. I have given my mother many opportunities to not abuse – but when she doesn’t think she does anything wrong, there is no change. Her last words to me two years ago were, “You were always so hard to love.” Stab! Me? The compliant child? Really?! But like you say, its like it takes awhile for the heart to catch up with the logic one knows in their head … and not only is it the heart – but it’s also the ‘where on earth do I go from here??” The unknown is a scary place – even when a gal is in Christ and assured of her salvation … the unknown I speak of is, ‘Who am I without or apart from my family?’ This freaks me out!

    Penny ~ Like others here, I too had my own little world I lived in. In my world I was a princess – a secret one, no one knew and no one cared. I withdrew A LOT as a child to the point that being alone was actually a source of comfort. As I got older I developed a love for drawing and spend a lot of time being absorbed in that. Coming away from my ‘private world’ always felt like a threat and now that its being broken down, I wonder now if this is why I am experiencing so much anxiety.

    Even now, for me to recharge or feel relaxed – I need totally undisturbed alone time and not just an hour or two – I often need an entire day. I cannot handle conflict at all – conflict wasn’t ‘allowed’ in our house growing up. Being angry for any reason was wrong – no one ever said to another family member, ‘I’m angry with you because …” It’s only recently where I learned that it is actually okay to be angry and that conflict is a part of life. Sounds weird I suppose when I’m now in my late forties and just learning this now! Each day is a struggle and sometimes my heart bleeds and sometimes my mind swirls, there are days where I just feel like throwing up. Sometimes there are days where I start crying and cannot stop – I know its my body releasing pain, but I don’t see the benefits … yet.

    Penny ~ I loved that poem – so true, at least is was with me – as the truth came to light, so did the pain. “The path to healing begins with more pain, we must die to live and lose to gain.” Even Jesus says, “He who loses His life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 16:25 paraphrased)

  42. Rizae,

    I can so relate to what you say. Before my abuse began, I was by all accounts, very outgoing and talkative. When the abuse began, my personality changed. I became shy and introverted and as it continued, more and more withdrawn. I was literally afraid of people and often ridiculed for hiding when we had visitors. I spent a lot of time in the woods by myself or immersed myself in books. I wrote stories a lot and would have one ongoing in the back of my mind at all times so that I could disappear in to it when I needed to. I also felt most comfortable and safe when I was alone.

    I grew up in a home where things were never discussed. If there were problems, they were shoved under the rug. Children were to be seen and not heard. I was taught that I wasn’t important enough to listen to so I guess it should be no surprise that I never told my parents that I was being abused. I can also relate to your ongoing struggle. Some days the pain is just unbearable and I seem to cry all day. I experience a lot of flashbacks and night terrors. It’s like reliving the abuse again and again. And then, there’s the body pain. As my mind recalls the memories, by body remembers the pain and I spend day after day hurting. None of it is right and none of it is fair. It’s so wrong that you and I and countless others have to suffer for the selfishness and evil of others.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. Only by facing the truth about my past, however horrific and life-altering it may be, have I been able to find any hope. Denying the truth, especially to ourselves, is the worst thing we can possibly do. Even though I still have a really long ways to go, I know that I am moving forward and I cling to the hope that someday things will be better.

  43. Don,

    What an amazing post and brilliant insight. I think all of us on here can recognise the abuser, victim and denier. For me the denier is the worse one and it takes such strength to break away. My partner like you is very insightful and I feel so lucky to have moved past and away from my deniers. Like alot of people I really do miss having a family, people to care for and love me back but it was only when I broke away that I realised just how terrible their hold on me was.

    I have the upmost respect for the work that Christina and the team do on here she is an inspiration as are you. I thought for a long time that my family were weird but now I see after reading many other stories that they are acting out the same abusive family patterns. For so long I could not get ‘over’ the fact that my family stood against me and protected them. I think this is one of the biggest hurdles we all have to face.

    Please keep up your fantastic work as there are many on here such as myself who will always be thankful for what you do.

  44. I appreciate the point you make about abusers hiding behind spiritual or religious roles, prestige, or service. I know this all too well and spent many days of my childhood dining with priests, bishops, and even went to see the Pope when I was 9. The hypocrisy I witnessed was apparant to me at a very young age, and it is very sweet to see a “man of the cloth” (is a pastor a man of cloth, I’m not sure?) – be willing to look at the institutionalized abuse happening in churches and call a spade a spade. I appreciate your commitment to your spiritual path and truth while still being able to see and respond to organizational abuse. A rare quality, indeed.

  45. Kylie, the best way to avoid seeing corruption in a church is to just show up on Sunday morning, don’t talk to anyone, and leave before anyone talks to you. Unfortunately, any time you become involved to any degree with the leadership of the church, you start to see which leaders are the real thing and which ones are self-serving and abusive. Then you have a choice to keep quiet and perpetuate the problem or speak out and make a lot of people mad. My conscience doesn’t allow me to keep quiet for very long. There are good pastors out there, by the way. But there are also many very bad ones. We need more to speak up on the subject. (And yes, a pastor is considered a man of the cloth. As I understand it, the term originally referred to the livery, or any clothes, that distinguished a profession. Gradually it became restricted to clergy, and by 1700, it designated any clergy who wore distinctive clothing. Today, it simply refers to clergy.) More information than you probably wanted, but nevertheless, I appreciate you sharing your experience with hypocrisy in church.

  46. A wonderful tribute to your wife and very insightful/helpful to all survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

  47. Thank you, Diana. My wife is a remarkable woman. As I look back over the past 8 years and see the path she has followed and the progress she has made, not only in her own healing but in the way she has shared with others, I am both amazed and proud of her. It is an honor to be part of her life.

  48. Thanks Don for your response! Not too much information I’m a linguistics, history, philosophy and religion nerd :)

  49. I have just come the cross this site while I was doing some research for an article I am writing. I am very thankful that people are able to share these kinds of stories and to debunk some of the many myths that exist. I was particularly interested in the issue of denial in the church. I have been working as a pastor and psychologist for many decades on sexual abuse issues. I work with whole systems; perpetrator and those harmed (we refuse to use the word victim in the belief that it devalues and labels people) and the wider society issues including testifying in courts. What is distressing, time and time again, is the avoidance of Christians, their misuse of the concept of forgiveness and their unwillingness to demand accountability from offenders. It would seem that some Christians forget that forgiveness comes through a cross and that there is no cheap grace. I will continue to check on this site from time to time. Thank you for your courage to share stories for others. Blessings Peter

  50. Amen Peter.

    I agree – “victim,” is a word that makes shallow others recoil. It’s used as a word of derision, now. (So sad that people are so callous, but that’s the reality.) We have a world of bullies, who go in for the kill, when they sense weakness.

    Just like spitting on someone if he or she were to be very injured by a drunk driver, then blaming the injured party for the driver’s drinking and getting drunk.

    I use the word “target” for those harmed, because it conveys the hidden reality of what abusers actually do.

    They are uncanny in their ability to discern a vulnerability….any vulnerability, such as being too trusting….and then, they target the individual, in order to take for themselves, regardless of the harm it causes the vulnerable other.

    What’s missing from “target,” is the fact that targets are deeply harmed….injured….and it’s not their fault, even though shallow people shift blame to “victims,” by assigning an inordinate and unwarranted amount of negative characteristics to targets* – the technique used by potential helpers to absolve themselves from having to do the complex and difficult work of helping targets, instead of taking the path of least resistance and staying neutral, which, de facto, means they’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.

    * As proven by the famous Stanford Prison Experiments which put Philip Zimbardo on the map.

  51. I was having a rough moment when I made the decision to click on the website; it’s bookmarked for those moments when I feel like I cannot cope. Thank You. I know you were talking to your wife, but it was as if you were talking to me and describing my own family situation. I am not alone. I am not alone.

  52. Jackie, you are definitely not alone. I studied these profile characteristics because of my wife’s experience and the attempts by her parents to make her feel guilty for their bad behavior, but what really amazed me was how consistent these characteristics are. Abusers all pretty much act the same. Members of abusive families pretty much all act the same. Victims of abuse pretty much all have the same types of reactions as they try to cope. The whole story has been repeated over and over. So you are not alone. There are many who believe your story and who empathize with your pain. And there is definitely hope for your future.

  53. It was interesting to read your letter because I got involved accidentally with an abusive “Christian” family. I was married & had 3 wonderful boys & a non-abusive husband. The abusive “Christian” somehow convinced me to leave my family, which I deeply regret. He wanted a better wife & a cleaner home. I did marry him, but it always felt wrong. He wanted me for sex & married me while keeping everything the same for his original family ( he recently went back to them like nothing ever happened). But for me life around he & his abusive family was like hell on earth. He was abusive to my son resulting in him committing suicide at age 20. Then my abusive husband said his death didn’t even bother him. I found out after marrying him that my husband had a long term sexual relationship with his younger sister as teens. And he said they were both ” ok with it”. This is sick to me. The older sister mentioned that he was abusive to his first wife & kids, but then denied saying it when I tried to discuss it with both he & she. So now I have filed for divorce & he goes back to his family like nothing bad happened. They welcome him back like the prodigal son. I lost a child & they don’t even care. He had no consequences, but the minister I talk with said he will have to face God when he dies. Personally, I hope he burns in hell. Ps I have 6 years of college Ed & a professional job. This can happen to anyone.

  54. Jane, thank you for sharing your painful story, especially the loss of your son. Reading that grieves me deeply. I pray that you will find healing and strength as you move forward. You are right that this can happen to anyone, and does happen far too often. You are in my prayers.

  55. Thanks. I guess I just needed to tell my story so others can be aware of the evil ones. And it’s painful that he can go on as if nothing happened & a lot of people don’t know who he really is behind his charm & good looks. Thanks for letting me tell the world. I found your site because I was browsing, looking for answers & your letter describes his very family. And you can’t tell just how wicked they are until you get away from them. Even his parents. I am moving forward, but it is definitely one day at a time.

  56. This sounds so much like my family….thank you for helping me not feel so alone or crazy!! After coming forward with our sexual abuse my sister and I are rejected by our parents, grandparents, siblings. Feel as though your letter was written to them!!
    We all need to stand together and stand tall
    Thank you!

  57. Hi Don,

    Thank you for this article it resonates and hits the nail on its head.

    Makes me pyshically sick that my brothers and sisters choose to run around and protect both my parents. Even though they knew what they were capable of. He was a sick twisted violent drunk that terrorised us alongside her. Yet they all choose to run around and protect him as if he is the poor innocent party here.Somehow they all choose to forget this and pretend I am the story maker looking for attention.

    Like my sister said to me, get over and sort out what you need to I dont want to know. You always were sad and depressed crying in the corner maybe now you can sort your life out. A family full of deniers and offenders.

    What gets me and makes me soo angry is that having walked away and cuttting them out of my life. Looking at the family dynamics and seeing the paedophiles running rampant its the women who still protect them and stand in front of the men. I hate them from the bottom of my heart. May god have mercy on their souls. I have help and assistance from every corner around me helping me move forward. They have to keep all this inside of them eating away at their insides…. I hope their is a speical play in hell for all of them. Even now watching the “triangulation communication” happening in the family makes me laugh,playing out the “poor victim, mentality”..Im proud of how far I have come, all without any help from my so called pathetic family…..

    I is not a system I choose to be a part of.
    Many Thanks

  58. Sanita, I wish this story was not so common. Unfortunately when anyone starts to talk about abusers, they discover that the highest priority in an abuser’s world is silence. And they will do almost anything to get you to just shut up. In our experience, it has meant everything from bribes to intimidation and threats. But the truth spoken is the best way to bring the realities of abuse to light and curtail its effects. It not only is a necessary and important part of the healing process (that is, acknowledging what was done and recognizing that it really did hurt you so that you can stop trying to hide the wounds and actually work on healing), but it also warns others that there is an abuser in their midst. The abuse system is so twisted that those being abused frequently defend the very system that is hurting them, but that is because they honestly can’t see any way that they can survive outside of the system. So they will do anything they can to avoid being kicked out. Constantly telling your story is the best way to eventually show them that there is life after abuse. Some will take that inspiration and make their escape. So stay strong. I love the quote from Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

  59. Thank you for this article. I’m currently in the process of accepting what happened in my household when I was a child and beginning to estrange myself from my toxic family.

  60. Good for you, Nic. It’s a difficult journey, but ultimately, your personal health is the most important thing, and that makes the trip worthwhile. Keep it up.

  61. Thank you so much for the article! I have never heard it this way before but it is so true! Every teeny bit you wrote applies exactly to my family situation. The power, the silence, the cover up, the guilt for talking. I have a super husband and we’ve been married over 6 yr. A couple yrs ago a family situation made us realize that I did indeed have unresolved issues relating to many years of physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse all from members of the family. It was so hard to talk because anytime anyone talked about anything, there was always big trouble waiting for them from the family. My husband stood by me through counseling and I have even shared my story on 2 occasions once with a youth group and once with a prayer group. Even being away from it I still feel guilty, and Satan tried really hard to keep me from talking. Thank you again! I love it that there are guys out there willing to stand by the abused and help make them whole again and show them what real love and care is. God bless you both!

  62. Mrs. D,
    It takes great courage to start talking about it, even if your audience is just one or two close friends. The idea that people are supposed to be quiet has been so ingrained in us from early childhood that it’s very difficult to overcome. But there is great healing just in articulating the pain and the frustrations. That always seems to be the place where healing starts and it always seems to be the most difficult thing to do. Indeed Satan does try to prevent that first step. So I am glad to hear that you have done that. Keep it up. I’m delighted to that your husband is standing with you. Christina has told me many times that she could not have made this journey without my help. I’m not sure that’s completely true, but I know everything is easier when you’re not doing it alone. I wish more husbands (and wives, too) understood how important that support is. I must confess that ten years ago, I didn’t understand, but as I’ve walked along with Christina, I’ve learned far more than I ever thought I would, and it has changed me for the good as well.

  63. Thank you for making me feel that some where, some people care about this issue.

    One of the most sole destroying things from being abused, is the belief that you don’t matter and that no-one cares, and never will.

    Learning to care for myself, to stop believing the lies of the abusers and the enablers has been a hard process, sometimes it’s really too painful to allow myself to feel, to get past the denial and the secrets that kept me silent and trapped for over 40 years.

    Support makes all the difference, you are a rare person Don.

    Christina thankyou for being so courageous, honest and open. It helps to know that we are not alone, because sometimes facing our past feels like a very lonely journey.

    Denial, destroys lives.

  64. Mrs H, there are people who care, quite a few people. It’s just hard to see them when you are surrounded by an abusive system. And it’s good that you are learning to care for yourself. That’s what Christina has done. I’ve tried to provide an environment in which that could happen, but even then it has not always been easy for her. There are still the challenges and the pain of family members who accuse her of lies and who openly reject her and slander her. But in the end, the journey is worth it. So don’t stop. You are absolutely right in saying, “Denial destroys lives.”

  65. Thank you so much for your article. You articulated the dysfunctional family perfectly. Your wife is lucky to have such an intelligent and ardent supporter- and from what I’ve read you are lucky to have such a genuine, intelligent, strong and articulate woman.. Thank you, we survivors NEED this. Bless you both!

  66. Thank you Mrs S for your kind words (on behalf of both Christina and me). And I am very much aware that I married a woman with all the characteristics you mentioned. We share a passion for the downtrodden, but most of the time, my support of her work is little more than cheering her on. I believe she can do anything she puts her mind to. I am both pleased with the work she does and proud of her for doing it, in spite of the adversity she encounters because of it. Getting free of an abusive system is very difficult. Going back into it to rescue others is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

  67. There are only two things I was able to get from the family home that the siblings didn’t fight for. One was a bookcase that Mom wanted to get rid of before she died, my daughter knew the emotional attachment I had to it and since it was a lawyer’s bookcase it broke down to 3 main pieces and she was able to fit it in the SUV, TG! It now sits in my living-room. That bookcase was my refuge during my childhood. Reading alone in my room seemed to be the only safe place to go, no one bothered me there. I could get lost in fantasy reading things like Lassie and wishing I had a father like his who explained things patiently to the little boy about life. It showed me other ways healthy families interact. I don’t know why they left me alone when I was reading, maybe it was as simple as out of sight out of mind., I could be up there all day and have peace. Soon as i made an appearance downstairs it was a different story. I was either molested by my brother, screamed at by my Mother or beaten by my Dad while the others sat by silent glad it was me, not them.
    I was the small one of a family of tall people., my husband concluded that that made me a target, someone they perceived as the weakest, on a level I’m sure he is right, though I feel now i was the strongest to escape all together,
    The other thing I got was a hummingbird feeder, love of birds and flowers were the only things I had in common with Mother. All the other memories of her suck. She blamed me for the abuse, that I enticed it by how I sat in a dress at 7 years old. I was appalled, and never had trust in her since, I never went to her with any thing I had problems with. She would minimize it anyway if I did.
    My siblings divided and conquered and scratched each others eyes out for all they could get out of Mom after Dad died, I figured them for that and by that time I was moved far away and glad I wasn’t mixed up in it. My entitled bitch of a sister generously offered Mom’s used underwear when we were cleaning out her apartment after she died, while the rest took anything of value not nailed down. i kept myself in check, she wanted to do battle and I wasn’t having it. She deserved to have me beat he holy hell out of her, but all I could think of was I was soon getting on the train to get home and would never have to deal with any of them again. I wrote a letter letting them know what low life’s they were and that their treatment of me all these years were sickening. Their heartlessness years ago almost put me in the grave, I will never give them that power again.
    I enjoy the quietness of the life i have now and happy to have my old friend, my bookcase here. Though my lyme’s disease doesn’t allow me to focus and read like I used to, it is still comforting.
    I sometimes feel sadness that I don’t have a real family, real sister’s that I can confide in or real brother’s to turn to. Sadly the only two brother’s that offered any of that died young, I miss them so, they were upright people, good people, loving people, in spite of the background we came from. Had they still been alive they would’ve never allowed my siblings to bastardize me and leave me out of the inheritance and that was the last statement I made to the one’s that remain.
    Oh they whine to anyone who will listen how much they miss me. but it is only to enlist more people against me by only giving them their half-truths. I have to say so be it for my own sake. I tried once to convince a cousin why their thinking was so off, but they had her so distorted from their lies and she vehemently denied it and told me I needed to grow up, it set me back so bad, I will never make the mistake of trying to think I can change anyone’s mind once it is made up about me. I have nothing to prove to family that has chosen sides.
    So the only two good memories I have to hold on to are in my possession now and I am happy about that, They can stick my parents millions up their ass, it hasn’t made them happy, anything but. they don’t speak to each other now because of how Mom left things. The 2 youngest, most conniving, creepy. sleazy siblings were left the lion’s share and the other two were left not even half what they got though they felt they did just as much for her, but Mom always played favorites and now they can’t stand each other. Oh and a million was left to the Catholic church so they could buy their ticket to Heaven. Sorry to say it doesn’t work that way, and God looks right through that! You are judged by your actions and based on their sad history I’m afraid they’ll be damned for what they did.
    My husband thought having these things around might be a curse, I said no, they are part of my happy memories, just the opposite. They will go with me wherever I go.

  68. Mary, you touch on what seems to be the most difficult part of breaking free from abuse, the detachment from family. Human beings are just wired to need that kind of community. To intentionally leave that behind creates emotional stress like little else in life. And then the abusive family invariably tries to add to the emotions by painting the victim as the problem. I’ve watched Christina struggle with the emotional upheaval from the day she decided to take a stand. First there were accusations that she was making up stories, accusations that often contradicted themselves. Then there were lies told to former friends and church members, lies which supposed friends delighted in perpetuating. We found out early on just who were real friends and who were not. Very few family members proved to be real friends. Even our mutual pastors chose to turn on the victim rather than acknowledge the abuse, a practice very common among church leaders. And the ultimate contempt came when Christina’s parents decided to sue her to try and silence her. That was an emotionally draining ordeal, but fortunately it didn’t turn out well for them at all.

    Fortunately, over time, she has found some balance. She has been able to remember the good things about her parents without compromising any part of her stand. As she points out in her most recent post, “The Death of My Molester Father,” keeping the illusion of a family was never worth the cost.

    The good thing has been that as family and former friends distanced themselves, they have been replaced with new relationships far better and healthier. Christina’s relationship with her own children has strengthened exponentially. We now know who our genuine and trustworthy friends are. Much of the pain is still there, but life is infinitely better.

    Thank you for sharing your story so eloquently. It is inspiring to see others stand for their convictions and find freedom and happiness.

  69. Hi, I am another Christina, figuratively and literally. This entire posting has my family written all over it. Makes me pretty damn angry and also want to immediately organize my cabinets! Very wonderful and honest post and I have a husband who would totally agree with what you have witnessed in your Christina’s life. Thank god we have mates like you who will stand by us while we try to negotiate life as we know it.

  70. Christina, sounds like I have a lot in common with your husband. I can honestly say, and I’m sure he feels the same, that one of the greatest joys in life is seeing my wife overcome and flourish. It is greatly rewarding, no matter what the cost. Thank you for your comments. I’m not surprised by the similarity in your story. The principles of behavior underlying all abuse is so consistent and pervasive that this story has happened over and over and over and over. I wish our story was unique, but it’s anything but. Keep speaking up so others can take heart and overcome as well.

  71. I must say thank you for the validation reading this letter gave me. The definitions offered are so accurate, it’s hard to think back at the time when I didn’t “see” the roles being played out. Four months ago TODAY I began my journey to healing. I’ve been in various therapies for about 20 years but, 8/23/2015 was the day I stopped running from my past and finally faced it. I spent my whole life, up to that point (41 years), minimizing what atrocities were done to me. 8/23/2015, I attended a 12 step meeting for incest survivors, this time I was sober and present. I had tried the meetings before, but was so triggered by even the slightest mention of abuse, that I would have a few drinks before I went, to gain the courage and buffer the “blows.” Obviously, that didn’t work. Since that day in August, the day I decided to change my whole life, I have worked every day toward growth and healing. I have a long way to go, however, I’m not in constant pain anymore. I still have PTSD, I’m still agoraphobic, I still battle daily but, now I FEEL, I LIVE, I LOVE, and reading I do like this letter, help to push me along in my growth, out of being a victim, and into a survivor. It took so much more effort and misery to be entrenched in the abuse but, it was such a scary proposal to stop running and face those feelings incest survivors feel but, I can attest wholeheartedly it is worth it. I will continue to work on healing every day but, facing it has been the most rewarding experiences in my life. Even my children have changed for the better, just due to my new peace and outlook on life. I am grateful for both of your willingness to talk about this subject, I held my secret until just recently, letters like those helped me make the decision to grow. I truly hope for those that resonate with the letter like I did, I want them to know that there IS HOPE. I still credit incest, and the family dynamic that was described in your letter, for “ruining my life,” in that I was trained to be a victim by all involved. Today, I can happily say I am SO much healthier, SO much more engaged, SO much more alive, and for the first time, LIVING my life. There is experience, strength, and hope out there. It’s hard, it’s painful, it’s arduous, it’s a lot of things but, it’s SO worth every moment.

    I appreciate both of you and your strength. Thank you for your continued work for incest/abuse victims and survivors.

    Much respect, Kristin

  72. Kristin, nothing makes me happier than hearing reports of people who are overcoming the past and beginning to live. To read your words, “I can attest wholeheartedly it is worth it,” makes it worth it for me. And you point out something that is not often talked about. “Even my children have changed for the better.” I believe that when we become what we were created to be, living in the freedom we were always supposed to have, it affects everyone around us. Your kind words are encouraging to me (and I know for Christina, too). We would have taken the journey we have been on regardless of whether or not it helped others, just for our own sake and for our immediate family, but it’s great to know it helps others as well. May you enjoy your new life through the holidays and beyond.

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