by Christina Enevoldsen
After I watched the movie, “The Joy Luck Club”, I felt hollow and sad. The feelings haunted me for days. In the story, four daughters struggle against their emotionally abusive mothers until they discover their mothers’ difficult and tragic pasts. Through understanding, the daughters begin to appreciate their mothers’ trials and their relationships are restored.
I thought that was my solution—not only with my parents, but with myself over my guilt for being angry with my parents. I tried to resolve the sexual abuse from my father and neglect from my mother by understanding them and their childhoods. I told myself, “My parents didn’t know any better” and “At least I had it better than they did.”
I validated their pain, but by doing so, I invalidated my pain. I identified with their feelings and experiences more than I identified with my own. While I allowed their childhoods to excuse their abusive behavior, I remained unreconciled to myself.
I’ve heard it said that people are products of their pasts. I understand that the way my parents where treated by their own families handicapped them. But to say they are “products” of their pasts as though they are inanimate objects who don’t have any choices about what their pasts “make” of them is an excuse. Yes, they were influenced. There are sick things they were taught to view as normal and things that they weren’t equipped to give me because of their own neglect, but they are responsible for their actions, no matter their past.
Even if they were robots who were at the mercy of their programming, all that type of reasoning did was to keep me trapped in my pain. Now that I’m being honest with myself, it’s true that my dad never threw me through a window like his dad did to him, but the things he did to me were equally destructive. Even to say “equally destructive” isn’t really relevant. I’ll never know everything my parents lived through as children and maybe they did have it worse than I did, but so what? It doesn’t matter who was hurt more. Comparisons don’t heal anybody.
In “The Joy Luck Club”, the daughters discover that their mothers have good motives for their mistreatment—the mothers are attempting to spare their children the harm they experienced. I tried to find relief and “make peace with the past” by looking for ways I might have misunderstood my abuse—they couldn’t have meant to hurt me. But those things couldn’t have been done unintentionally or without forethought. My dad didn’t use me as a sex toy and allow other men to rape me for my benefit. I don’t think any amount of digging into his history will explain away that kind of behavior.
Instead of admitting that my parents didn’t love me, I tried to find some other explanation. Attempting to understand my abusers was my way of separating from some of the pain. It was a lie to “protect” myself from really seeing the awful betrayal that I suffered. And their present treatment shows me more clearly just how little they care about my feelings.
A few years ago, the patterns from the past were repeating and weakening my relationship with my mom. Out of an effort to be closer, I confronted my mom about the ways she hurt me. Instead of hearing me out, she threw everything back at me. She sarcastically apologized for not being perfect and insisted that I needed to honor her. She didn’t care anything about my pain, only in defending herself.
My father still denies sexually abusing me and lets everyone believe I’m the liar. There is no remorse or admission of wrong-doing. Both of them continue to accuse me and lay all the blame at my feet. Neither of them have my best interests at heart now any more than they did while I was growing up. The way they treat me now is the way they’ve always treated me.
It really doesn’t matter if my parents intentionally hurt me or not; the bottom line is that their neglect and abuse damaged me. Whatever my parents’ histories, whatever their motives, they still hurt me and I still have the effects to deal with. As long as I looked for reasons and answers in my abusers, I remained damaged. In the process of searching for the solution with them, I missed finding the solution within me. I had to recognize that no matter how the wounds occurred, they did occur but healing is in my hands. I’ve made peace with the past, but it’s only come through facing the truth—and the truth can’t be found in them, but I did find it in me.
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.
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.