The Lie of “Letting It Go”

Dec 16th, 2012 | By | Category: All Posts, Christina's Blog

by Christina Enevoldsen

My lifetime of abuse gave me the feeling of being the constant target of a nameless, faceless bully. Unable to conceal my terror or prevent whimpers from escaping, every sign of protest fed his lust for more suffering. He was never satisfied; the more he saw the pain he inflicted, the greater his appetite for more.

My only hope for relief seemed to be in pretending I didn’t notice. I desperately wanted to be someone who could say, “Is that all you got? You hit like a girl.” I couldn’t have conceived of chasing off my attacker or in defending myself. The only thing I could imagine was coping better by developing tougher skin.

It’s not a mystery to me where I learned to cope. While I was growing up being sexually abused by my dad and emotionally abused by both my parents, I had no voice, no impact. There was no escape from the bullies in my own home and it was unthinkable for my child self to say, “Mom and Dad, the way you treat me really hurts me and I deserve to be valued and respected. If you don’t change, I’m moving out on my own.” I was at their mercy. The way they treated me was what I was stuck with.

My survival strategy was to try to avoid more abuse. Nobody had to tell me to overlook the ways my parents hurt me. Of course I had to “let it go.” It was survival to discount myself and focus on pleasing them so they might love me.

As an adult, those lessons of abuse were so engrained that I was still convinced that I didn’t have any other options. When I didn’t overlook insulting or degrading treatment, I was punished. Even weak objections were met with accusations:

“You blew it way out of proportion.”
“You’re too sensitive.”
“There you go again, putting words into my mouth.”
“You’re always thinking the worst.”
“Why do you have to be such a victim?”
“You’re always overreacting. Just let it go!”

The verbal assaults increased when my former husband and I visited my parents. All of them would join together in discounting my objections to abuse. It was better to trivialize insults than to be ambushed. I didn’t seem to have any other option than to let it go.

In a healthy relationship, vulnerability is wonderful. It leads to increased intimacy and closer bonds. When a healthy person realizes that he or she hurt you, they feel remorse and they make amends. It’s safe to be honest.

In an abusive system, vulnerability is dangerous. It’s considered a weakness and showing “weakness” is an invitation for more mistreatment. Abusive people feel a surge of power when they discover a weakness. They exploit it, using it to gain more power. Crying or complaining confirms that they’ve poked you in the right spot.

I’ve been physically, sexually, spiritually, financially, and emotionally abused and the most pain I’ve experienced is from the emotional abuse. The message of my dad’s sexual abuse communicated to me that I wasn’t good for anything except sex, but my mother’s emotional abandonment—treating me like I was invisible—told me that I wasn’t good for anything. With her, I had absolutely no impact. I couldn’t do anything, good or bad, to gain her attention or win her affection. It was like I didn’t exist. I don’t know any pain worse than that.

I coped with the pain of having no impact by trying to tell my abusers that THEY had no impact. If I ignored their hurtful behavior, maybe they’d wonder if they had any affect on me, which gave me a false sense of power instead of having any real power.

I convinced myself I was the “bigger person” for letting it go. The truth is, I didn’t overlook cruelty or rudeness out of a sense of personal empowerment, but out of my belief that I was small and insignificant. My experience taught me to avoid feeling even less significant by keeping my mouth shut.

“Letting it go” sounded like a shield against the mistreatment, but that was no protection at all. Ignoring the problem didn’t make it go away and pretending like it was no big deal didn’t render it benign. I wasn’t letting anything go. It was all being compacted deep inside of me. While I was telling myself it was all rolling right off my back, it was infecting me, making me feel smaller and smaller.

The only way I’ve taken my life back from my abusers and from the effects of abuse is to embrace the truth. The truth is that the abuse did hurt me. The truth is that in standing up for myself, I don’t have power to change my abusers, but I still have options other than enduring the abuse.

This past year, I’ve stood up for myself in big and small ways. One of the most significant ways I’ve objected to abuse is when I confronted my dad for sexually abusing me. I knew there wasn’t much chance of any change of heart or action on his part, but just speaking up was liberating. I’ve never felt so empowered in my life. I didn’t feel any smaller when he refused to apologize or admit his crime. It wasn’t about his response or lack of response. Standing up for myself was an expression of what I already knew about myself—I matter. I knew that no matter what he did or said, it didn’t define me or inform me of my value.

That’s the truth I know today that I didn’t know when I was a child. The way I’m treated doesn’t actually define me. I’m valuable whether or not others recognize that. Knowing that truth empowers me. Now, I’m free to act independently of other people’s actions. I can afford to acknowledge the impact others have on me since I’m the one with the biggest impact in my own life.

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.

Related Posts:
Forget About It
Peace and Protection From Abuse
Domestic Violence: Why Did I Stay?
Standing Up For Myself: Reclaiming My Self-Worth
Dysfunctional Family Holiday Survival Tips

Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and five grandchildren.

[read Christina’s story here]

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestTumblrStumbleUponRedditDiggGoogle GmailOutlook.comShare
Subscribe
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

14 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. “I convinced myself I was the “bigger person” for letting it go. The truth is, I didn’t overlook cruelty or rudeness out of a sense of personal empowerment, but out of my belief that I was small and insignificant. My experience taught me to avoid feeling even less significant by keeping my mouth shut.”

    I love this – it reminds me of this time when I was in my first year of recovery from addiction and I was at a women’s gathering – and one of the women with 20 plus years clean asked everyone to go around the room and state briefly how they were feeling in that moment. I said something like “peaceful” which I totally felt was true. After everyone went she said “DId you notice how everyone who is new to recovery said ‘I feel fine, happy, peaceful… etc…” and the women who have been around longer said “angry, frustrated, sad… or whatever…”

    I had this belief that it was best if I just made everything okay all the time, even when it wasn’t. It took a really long time for me to feel anything. I didn’t feel like I mattered enough to experience my emotions, and I also didn’t feel like it was safe. So I was one of those annoying “everything is love and light” or “it’s all good” or “no worries” person. Those phrases irritate me profoundly at this point in my life with some exceptions here and there!

    Today I am grateful that I cried my eyes out at a movie, expressed frustration, stuck up for myself, did some work, and just lived my life from a place of centered emotion – feeling fully what I am feeling in this moment and knowing that not only is that okay, but it is living in truth.

  2. Kylie,

    Today I am grateful that I cried my eyes out at a movie, expressed frustration, stuck up for myself, did some work, and just lived my life from a place of centered emotion – feeling fully what I am feeling in this moment and knowing that not only is that okay, but it is living in truth.

    YES! I’ve been celebrating my full range of emotions also. Even when I’m feeling a lot of pain, it’s wonderful to feel so connected to myself and to my experiences and to the world I’m living in. That is indeed living in truth! Thank you so much for sharing that.

    Christina

  3. there’s a difference between ‘letting it go’ as a survival tool and ‘letting it go’ once one has worked through the pain, the memories, the grief and having come to a core-firm understanding that ‘it was not my fault’, ‘i am a worthwhile person’. it becomes a sign of recovery.

    the ‘letting it go’ as a survival tool is a sort of covering up the wound.
    the ‘letting it go’ as a sign of recovery is something one reaches once the abuse no longer defines who i am or how i relate to the world. once it is ‘only’ part of my history, not an overt or covert part of my present.

  4. Henric,
    Yes, there’s a huge difference. One comes from a lie (or a stack of lies) and the other is the fruit of working through those lies and finally coming to the truth.

    The irony is that in telling myself to let it go, I was preventing myself from letting it go by not validating the damage that was done to me or the pain I was in.

    Thanks for pointing that out and welcome to OSA!

    Christina

  5. I’ve been physically, sexually, spiritually, financially, and emotionally abused and the most pain I’ve experienced is from the emotional abuse. The message of my dad’s sexual abuse communicated to me that I wasn’t good for anything except sex, but my mother’s emotional abandonment—treating me like I was invisible—told me that I wasn’t good for anything. With her, I had absolutely no impact. I couldn’t do anything, good or bad, to gain her attention or win her affection. It was like I didn’t exist. I don’t know any pain worse than that.

    This paragraph exactly describes me , even my father didn’t sexually abuse me but I feel that I am nothing than a sexual being and for my mother I’m nothing too than a good certificate ”something to be proud of’ actually I hate my home , wish to be out as soon as possible , I can feel more safety outside
    but I wanna ask if my feeling toward my father like that , is that means I was sexually abused by him , ?
    thnx Christina

  6. Martha,
    There are many forms of sexual abuse and they don’t all include physical contact. It’s possible to have a sexualized relationship without sex. That can happen through things that seem more subtle like sexual comments, sexual looks, a sexually charged atmosphere in the home or even being exposed to a parent’s sexual preferences. Whatever the source of your feelings, I’m glad you’re detecting the lies you’ve been told about your value and know that you deserve to be treated better.

    Christina

  7. I like this sentence:
    “When a healthy person realizes that he or she hurt you, they feel remorse and they make amends. It’s safe to be honest.” This doesn’t happen with abusers as it was stated in the article.

    This other sentence is similar to my case:
    “I’ve been physically, sexually, spiritually, financially, and emotionally abused and the most pain I’ve experienced is from the emotional abuse. The message of my dad’s sexual abuse communicated to me that I wasn’t good for anything except sex.”
    This all happened with my therapist. Therapists are like parents during therapy. Therapist abuse is like an incest, some say it is rape at an emotional level.

    This paragraph also called my attention: “The way I’m treated doesn’t actually define me. I’m valuable whether or not others recognize that. (…) I can afford to acknowledge the impact others have on me since I’m the one with the biggest impact in my own life.”

    The problem is that when people say mean things or behave badly with me, it hurts me. Is that bad since we all are valuable and the way we are treated doesn’t define each of us? What are the other options besides standing up to yourself instead of enduring abuse?

    Thank you for your comments.

  8. I can relate to this so much Christina. Trying to not react, trying to tolerate or calm them down never really worked–it just led to more abuse. My abusers never ‘let go’ of any opportunity to exercise their emotionally abusive hyper-criticism and judgement, so I’d much rather stand up for myself then “go with the flow” of an abusive situation today.

  9. Amber,
    I felt weakened when others criticized me since it echoed the same thoughts my abusers had about me and how I learned to think of myself. I believed that not only were they right in what they said, but that they had a right to say it and to say it in a mean way. In the abusive system, when the abuser was right and I was wrong, that meant I deserved to die (maybe not a literal death, but some type of punishment). Also, when a weakness was discovered, that meant I didn’t deserve to live. Any violation of the “rules” of the abusive system meant it was okay to punish me. Some of the rules were: Be smart, be pretty, be skinny, be correct, be talented, be hard working, be fast…

    Dealing with the layers of shame that abuse heaped on me helped me with that SO much. Now, those things don’t hit me in such a personal way. I don’t believe that I deserve to be treated meanly, no matter what “weaknesses” I have. It doesn’t feel life-threatening to be “caught” being imperfect now.

    You asked what other options there are other than standing up for yourself or enduring abuse, but I don’t know any. Even when I don’t actually say anything, I still stand up for myself in my mind and heart and I’ve noticed that the message of “BACK OFF” comes through. There are some things that are just not worth my time or effort, but I still set a boundary in my heart. To me, that means acknowledging that the other person had no right to say or do those things. That’s acknowledging my right to define myself and my boundaries and what I’ll allow or not allow. Sometimes, my most empowering moments aren’t seen by anyone but me.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Christina

  10. Caden,
    About five or so years ago, I noticed a several instances where I tried to calm down an abusive person or tried to “soften” the situation out of a fear that he would escalate. That was eye opening. I realized in doing that, I was trying to control the abuser. It was sickening to me that I would try to power over someone else like that, even if it was an abuser. I decided that I needed to deal with my fears and be more direct so that I was using my power to change me instead of trying to change someone else.

    All of that to say, trying to smooth things over never worked for me either. It’s generally accepted that you have to stand up to bullies or they won’t back down, but when the bully is in your family, you’re expected to “let it go”. That doesn’t make any sense.

    Thanks for your insight.

    Christina

  11. I thought I had done all the right things when I started opening up about the abuse, I spoke about, although not able to call the abusers on it due their death, but rather with my therapist, wrote about it cried about it and went through the emotions and then a had a horrible nightmare of it recurring and my world was shattered. I had a panic attack and now I am definitely back to square one. What did I do wrong ? I know it takes time but I now feel like all the work leading up to me talking about it was a waste of time, because the terror is still there and now I am not sure how to handle these emotions, any suggestions.

  12. In your conversation above with Kylie she shared:

    “I had this belief that it was best if I just made everything okay all the time, even when it wasn’t. It took a really long time for me to feel anything. I didn’t feel like I mattered enough to experience my emotions, and I also didn’t feel like it was safe….feeling fully what I am feeling in this moment and knowing that not only is that okay, but it is living in truth.”

    and you responded:

    “YES! I’ve been celebrating my full range of emotions also. Even when I’m feeling a lot of pain, it’s wonderful to feel so connected to myself and to my experiences and to the world I’m living in. That is indeed living in truth!”

    Any advice on how to deal with past sexual abuse and trauma and get to the point where you can indeed feel emotions again? I am trying to get to this point and struggling with how to get there…

    Thanks!

  13. I am just 10 months after really truly remembering it all. All our stories sound similar in the emotional abuse level. My sorry is so similar only the sexual abuse was from my brother at night. Having to eat from your tormentors entirely messes life up. Beyond that my worse finding was hat I had a pattern where I was always freaking out every month that I was pregnant whether I had sex or not, and some times I was, all cause deep in my subconscious I wanted to re enact the fear of the possibility of being so wrongly pregnant and having an abortion that would leave me feeling like I killed my self, and subconsciously driven by purging the dirty feelings of possibly getting pregnant with my brother in my sleep.
    It started at 8 in bright daylight in the car in the presence of the entire family. I screamed bu lost my voice. I stared at my mothers eyes through the visor. nothing neither from my sister who sat next to me. it continued till I was 15 every other night. In my sleep, the little I would get. Somehow I survived I’m 38 and only last year all things made sense.
    My life was ruled by this of course and only then did I ever find out that it is so widely done everywhere……To the point that I started to wonder really. If abuse is so widely done and the victimized girls and boys have to one day recover and stand up and fight to survive and one day maybe reach the stage to help others ……. when and how is this going to stop??? I have my issues but in just ten months now I m tired of dealing with me and my issues. I want to move on but its not like that. It will be as it is and will take me as long as it will.

    But cant we do something to really effectively stop this sickness? I m really angry now that I can see that societies include such a great percentage of animals who are called humans under the facade of a two legged creature who abuses. In the end who know if they were abused and never found out…..And how outrageous is it that pedophiles have formed a political party to claim rights in other some parts of the world… how will this end????? I d rather fight it till I die, not just for me, or for th children near me bu for anyone else who needs it. I would love to help out in some way if there is something I can do for you.

    Personally, the best feeling is that I can finally share anything about the abuse to you and any one out there who has gone through this and FINALLY feel like I belong. It s been lonely. Thank you

  14. In thanks to you…..

    I’m in my sixties now and I thought I had done all the healing I needed to do until this year when I found myself in deep confusion and pain again. This is what happened and how I’m finding healing again.

    I have worked hard on facing, understanding and finding ways to deal with my childhood history. All my adult life I’ve chosen to live many miles away from my family, visit infrequently and always be accompanied by a supportive friend.

    My younger sister was not abused as I was, but she was a witness to the punishments I received throughout my entire childhood for being abused. She once described her feelings about being the witness many years ago. We haven’t referred to it again but I thought she was an unspoken ally and someone who understood the difficulties of my relationship with our mother.

    Our mother has become old, frail and sick and we arranged good care in her home and oversaw it carefully whilst still keeping my physical distance.

    My sister lives close by my mother, but in the last couple of years withdrew from communicating with me which made me sad. When challenged about it, she surprised me with angry accusations of selfish neglect of the family.

    Recently she made me feel obligated to visit more frequently to relieve her of the emotional burden and pressure she feels from our mother..

    So for the last 6 months I have been visiting frequently, on my own, finding ways to positively function whilst there. I’ve been kind, supportive and practical …it’s the best I can offer as I have no love in my heart for my mother.

    However my sister became increasingly bold in her criticisms of anything I did when there.

    I finally called her out on a particular criticism and a torrent of criticism, abuse and false accusations followed. The criticisms hurt and the false accusations confused me, but what upset me more was that she called me a fantasist and a pretend victim. As we hadn’t discussed childhood issues for over ten years I couldn’t work out what she was referring to and why these words felt like poison.

    It’s made me physically ill for the last two months and it took me back to where I was before all the therapy and work that I did to heal myself. Worst of all, I felt guilty and a failure for feeling this way ‘at my age’.

    And then at my lowest point I found your blog and read about two things…dysfunctional family patterns and being asked to ‘get over it’. I suddenly realized that my sister was following a recognized pattern. She wants to erase what happened but also now feels moved to abuse me herself.

    My history makes me vulnerable to self- blame and in that mode I don’t see the wood for the trees. It just felt that it must be a horrible mistake that was somehow my fault. Now I understand the mechanics of what is really happening my pain has lifted and I feel alive again.

    Here’s my new truth: For whatever reason, my sister has needed to erase my truth and start a whole new cycle of bullying and disempowerment.

    Thank you for being there when I needed a light shining…now I can deal properly with the grief of losing a sister I thought was an ally. I see that the evil that is done has a long hand and you are never finished with the work of healing.

Leave Comment