by Christina Enevoldsen
When I used to talk about my childhood sexual abuse, I heard familiar accusations: “You just want attention” or “Nobody likes a crybaby.” As I poured out the same story again and again to my friends, I felt guilty for wasting their time.
I believed that there was a rule that I was allowed to share a bad experience with one or two people at the most and then I had to stop talking about it or I was “just being a victim”. Yet I was compelled to keep talking about it even with the internal accusations and the guilt that it caused.
I was warned that “dwelling” on things doesn’t serve any purpose—that it would just make me feel worse. But I was already depressed and it wasn’t from talking about my abuse. I was depressed because my trauma and the feelings that went with it were locked up inside of me. As I started to see some benefit from talking about my abuse, I started to question the limited talking “rule”.
Where did I get the idea that attention is bad or selfish? When I wanted someone to hear me, why did the voice in my head say, “You think you’re so important, but you’re not”.
One of my earliest memories is of myself as a two year old. I don’t remember what I needed or if it was a physical or emotional need, but when I found my parents, they were with my baby brother. They acted annoyed that I had needs too. Their reaction communicated that I was expecting too much, that I was selfish, that having needs was something to be ashamed of.
Throughout my childhood, that message was reinforced in so many ways. I was emotionally abandoned if I cried or expressed “negative” feelings. My parents ignored my crying, so I coughed instead. My dad would come to my crib and mock my fake cough, but he wouldn’t acknowledge my needs or tend to them. His mocking told me that my needs weren’t important and added the additional message that I was a liar who exaggerated my needs.
I learned that I wasn’t tolerable unless I was happy so I learned to shut up about my needs and my pain. Acting like everything was okay was the only way to avoid more pain from rejection.
As an adult, whenever I talked about the past, I hated myself for exposing my “badness” and “making” people walk away from me. I expected to be abandoned the same way my parents had abandoned me and I abandoned myself during the times that I needed the most comfort.
Seeing where those beliefs and behaviors came from allowed me to see that I’m a worthy of love even when I express my pain or talk about the awful things that happened to me.
In my healing from abuse, I’ve found that there are two parts to recovery: Dealing with the damage and providing the things for myself that are lacking. Talking about my abuse is the means to both of those things.
1. As I’ve talked about my past, I’ve come to accept that it really happened. After repressing the memories of my traumatic childhood, it was unbelievable that the images in my head really happened—and they didn’t just happen to someone, they happened to ME. I went over it again and again—in my mind and with others. Sometimes, when I shared my story, I felt like a liar even though I knew I wasn’t making it up. I’d go in and out of denial and then at some point, I really got it. Talking about my abuse helped me accept the truth. This wasn’t a TV show or news story—this was my story.
2. I talked about my abuse because I needed to know what happened to me really mattered. The way I was treated as a child told me that my feelings didn’t matter—that I didn’t matter. I was wasting someone’s time since I was a waste of time. The horror and tears on a friend’s face told me that what happened to me really was bad and that I wasn’t making a big deal out of nothing. What happened to me was wrong. I deserved to be treated better.
3. Telling my story has been a way to reach out for the validation I never got. Since I dissociated during my abuse and for so much of my life, I wasn’t connected to myself, especially to my emotional self. Talking to understanding and compassionate people was the gateway to feeling compassion and pain for myself and to acknowledging the depth of my loss. When I finally sat still with my experience and listened to my heart, I finally felt heard.
4. Talking about my abuse allows me to hear myself. As I listen, I hear myself emphasize details that I’d thought were insignificant. It’s given me greater understanding of my feelings and behaviors today. I’ve make connections between past events and current feelings and behaviors. I’ve solved today’s problems by looking back at how I got here.
For the most part, when I talk about my abuse now, it’s for someone elses benefit. However, when a new memory surfaces or I delve into a deeper layer, I share it with my friends and I give myself all the time I need to process it.
I used to feel the pressure to get it all out quickly since I wanted to stop before I was abandoned, but now I’m patient with myself and no matter how long I talk or grieve, I don’t abandon myself in the process. I know I’m worth all the time it takes to heal.
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.
How Do I Disclose My Abuse?
Forgetting About Abuse: Who Does That Really Serve?
My Fear of Being Alone
Dead Silence: Killing My Voice
Dealing With Triggers of Abuse
Why Do I Need to Tell?
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.