by Christina Enevoldsen & Bethany
My daughter, Bethany, and I were both sexually abused by our fathers and were strongly opposed by our family when we dared to seek justice for her abuse. We’re sharing how we came to terms with our grief and how we learned to meet our needs apart from our family.
Christina: I lost my family in stages. There was the time I divorced my abusive husband and my parents took his side. They rejected me for awhile, but when my ex-husband got engaged right away and they saw how happy he was, they forgave me. A few years later, I confronted my mom about her years of lying to me and her defense was that since nobody’s perfect, my standards were too high. She also reminded me that I was commanded by God to honor her. We parted ways then. The last and final time I lost my family was about a year later when Bethany and I reported her father (my ex-husband) for sexual abuse. My parents attacked Bethany and defended her perpetrator-father. Until then, I still had some hope for reconciliation.
Bethany: When I first began the journey of reporting my father, I expected to make some enemies, but little did I know just how many were to be made. After my father’s arrest, the majority of my family rallied against me. They defended an unrepentant and unremorseful child molester. They attacked and persecuted me for finally standing up to my abuser. That came as a shock. Aren’t family members the ones who are supposed to love you unconditionally? Yet their love was based on agreeing with what I did.
The biggest blow was the betrayal from my grandparents (on my mom’s side). They accused me of destroying the family, yet failed to see how much destruction the secret caused in the first place. My grandma told me I was wicked – a term she doesn’t use lightly. And when I thought it couldn’t get any more painful they attempted to bribe me in exchange for me dropping charges. They tried to reduce my pain to something some unmarked bills could fix. I was the one victimized and they were making my abuser and themselves out to be the victims. It was confusing. I did something right, I stood up to my abuser, but my family treated me like I was wrong.
I was never in touch with the fact that my father’s abuse was a statement that said, “You’re unimportant, worthless and unloved,” until the sting of extreme and vocal rejection from my grandparents. Then I became aware of just how badly he rejected me as well. My dad’s pleasure always came before my needs. In this, the rest of the family was doing the same thing.
The amount of pain I felt was overwhelming. I began to see the people I’d known all my life for who they really are and realized that the family I held in such high esteem was just a facade.
Christina: I hadn’t had contact with my parents for nearly a year prior to the reporting incident and I felt so good to be free of them. I hadn’t realized until I broke contact how much oppressive energy I was carrying by having them in my life. It was a relief!
When they attacked Bethany so cruelly, I felt like I really saw them for the first time—my real parents, not the ones I imagined I had. I was outraged. All those years, I assumed my dad was sorry for abusing me, yet his reaction showed who he identified with— an abuser. He wasn’t sorry for what he did to me and it was like he was abusing me all over again.
I was finally angry at my dad for abusing me. I spent many months processing my anger. I expressed it by beating my mattress, yelling into my pillow, talking it out and writing about it. I wrote him a letter and poured out all my feelings on the paper. It was a relief to unload it and let the paper carry the rage. I spent my whole life being overpowered by him, just taking it. It felt good to finally be opposing him.
Bethany: I was always afraid to express my anger and didn’t know how to share it in a healthy way. I was afraid of losing relationships if I showed disappointment or unhappiness in anyway. I was too emotionally dependent on my family to risk that. The first time I remember allowing myself to feel angry was after I reported my dad. I hated that I had to suffer yet again for his issues. I wished that he would have done the right thing and turned himself in instead of dragging me through the court system. It was one more time he was failing me as a father.
A few months later, anger toward my grandparents surfaced. I put my feelings in a letter and sent it to them. I was finally able to confront the people who abused me and I wasn’t afraid of their reactions.
Christina: Facing the truth about my parents brought up memories from my childhood abuse. I wasn’t only grieving the loss of my parents, but I was mourning for what I never had in them. The pain of the current rejection opened the door to the original abandonment and abuse—that very first time I lost my family. The emotions from the past and present were mixing together. Sorting out all my feelings was like untangling a huge knot.
Bethany: When I had bouts of emotion, I stopped to examine why I was feeling that way. Some of the emotions had clearer roots than others, but understanding what triggered them helped me to come to terms with what had happened. I picked apart the reasons why I was experiencing it until I gained clarity.
Christina: On most levels, I accepted that I would likely never have a relationship with my parents, especially my mom. But on another level, it was hard to give up hope that she’d eventually come to her senses. In reality, I could never trust her again. Why would I ever want to settle for a relationship with someone who values me so little? Yet there was this little girl’s voice inside me pleading, “Mommy, please love me!”
But it was a complete fantasy because what I wanted wasn’t possible. I still had a hole in my soul that longed to be nurtured. That’s what I had to work on–nurturing myself so I could finally let go of my fantasies.
I’m re-parenting myself. To do that, I’ve had to address my inner child—the part of me still longing for a family. Taking care of my inner child has been one of the most challenging parts of my restoration. I had conversations with her in an effort to sort out my thoughts and feelings. At first, I’d imagine myself talking with her, but disgust and hatred filled me. I didn’t want to protect her; I only wanted to destroy her. It was surprising to see the intensity of my self-hate.
In my mind, it was her fault that all of this happened. It was her weakness and smallness and vulnerability that caused the abuse. Removing the blame from her and forgiving her allowed me to get closer, but I also realized that my feelings toward her reflected the way my mother felt about me. Once I realized that, I got angry that this little girl was treated so unjustly. I felt compassion for her and wanted to care for her myself.
Now, I pay attention to what she’s afraid of and comfort her. I listen to what is important to her and give her a voice. I give her the gentle treatment she never got. As I’ve taken better care of her, I’ve been able to take better care of myself. As my feelings toward her have become more loving, so have my feelings toward my adult-self. I’ve learned to give myself the love I never had.
Bethany: The separation from my family made me take a closer look at the people left in my life and people I meet now. Do they treat me well? Do they validate my true self? Are they growing toward emotional health? Are they supportive of my healing process?
Where do they fit in my life? I’ve had to learn to set appropriate boundaries for each person. When I make new friends I don’t allow everyone to have a deep place in my heart. I can’t share intimate feelings with everyone. I remind myself that there’s not some grand race to make everyone my best friend. Now, I get to know each person better than I would have before and take time to examine their intentions and qualifications before allowing them to get closer to me.
Christina: When I lost my parents, I was aware that I might have a tendency to fill the void with other people who might not be very healthy. I knew I had to go through the grieving process instead of using other relationships to cover my pain. I made new friends, but I was careful not to put unrealistic expectations on them by putting them in parenting role or any other role that would give me a ‘fix’. The more I healed and learned to meet my own needs, the more I was able to allow my relationships to develop naturally.
Now I’m surrounded by my Family-of-Choice. Most of my friends have been wonderfully supportive, even if they don’t quite understand it all. I communicate my needs to the friends who want to support my healing process. For examples of specific needs, “How To Support A Survivor of Sexual Abuse”.
I’m very aware of the environment I create during this season, especially in my relationships. I choose to stay away from anyone who pressures me to perform for them. I’m discovering the real me for the first time in my life and I can’t be bothered with those who don’t appreciate that. But I’ve also noticed that as I leave one unhealthy friendship behind, I gain a healthier one.
Bethany: I used to feel defeated by my family’s betrayal and wanted to throw in the towel. But the same hurt that kept me down also helped me to realize how much I needed to press on. I couldn’t live in pain like that for the rest of my life. I became determined to live a life without my family’s blinders on and without their constant rejections. I feel more of an individual. I no longer controlled by their beliefs about me or what they say.
Christina: Leaving my family was painful, butI’ve still had to work through my pain, but the pain of leaving was so much easier than the continual pain of remaining with them. This way, the pain is dissipating instead of perpetuating. I wish I would have seen sooner all the damage those unhealthy family relationships were causing, but I’m thankful to see the truth now. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made by finally taking a stand for myself.
Through my parents, I received the gift of life. Only by leaving them did I begin to fully appreciate and develop that gift.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.
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