When I started writing publicly about my healing from sexual abuse, I did it to validate my own history and journey and to inspire hope in other survivors. It’s been wonderfully empowering to record my triumphs and to share the process with thousands of fellow journeyers.
However, being so public about such intimate feelings and experiences has been costly. For the most part, I count it a bargain compared with the expense of silence, but that resolve isn’t always very convenient or comfortable.
One of the recent costs for being so vocal is a lawsuit from my parents. They are suing me for defamation of character and emotional distress. Through their case, they want to shut down OSA and silence my voice.
In the minds of my parents, they are the victims; I am the abuser.
My mother has said of me:
“She has always longed for attention and recognition and the negative recognition is so satisfying to her.”
“I regret to say that we raised her to be self centered and spoiled.”
“She is also without scruples, vicious, extreme and without boundaries or a conscience.”
In the suit, my mother describes several incidents from my life, even from my childhood, to demonstrate how awful I am. It’s clear to me that she believes I’ve been wicked from a very young age and that, though she did her best to instill goodness into me, she was overpowered by the evil in me and by my strong will. She was the victim; I was the abuser.
That’s an accusation I’ve heard internally for a long time. Years ago, when I broke the “no telling” rule, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was guilty. After disclosing my abuse to a roomful of people, I went to bed knowing I’d be punished. And that I deserved it.
A vague but persistent fear loomed over me. Anytime something bad happened to me, I felt shame. From haircuts gone wrong to being laid off at work to being rear ended in my car, I believed it was all the consequences for my badness. Every negative experience was confirmation that I was undeserving of love, pleasure, safety, respect, or comfort.
I believed that my parents deserved protection and that some unstoppable force was on their side so they couldn’t be opposed. They were completely justified in whatever they did to me since I was without any value or rights. There was no “abuse” since you can’t abuse a Nothing.
Though I’d already confronted some of those fears and false beliefs about telling, like most things in the healing process, there have been many layers to this. Another layer started to surface last year.
Before the lawsuit. I’d heard reports of my dad’s deteriorating body and mind. Though I felt sorry for him, his vulnerable position also angered me. My feelings confused me, but as I examined them, I discovered the source: I believed that I had to stop talking about my abuse now that my dad was in a weakened condition. Because my father was no longer physically, emotionally or mentally stronger than me, I feared that I was taking advantage of someone who couldn’t defend himself.
Once again, I felt like I was bad.
One of the most eerie parts of my dad’s sexual abuse was the glassy-eyed expression on his face. It was as though he didn’t even see me. I was just an object to be used, not a human being, not an innocent child, not his only daughter.
I was afraid that I was discounting his personhood in the same way he’d done to me and that it made me abusive. The truth is that telling my story isn’t abusive. Abuse is about powering over someone else. I’m not taking away my dad’s power; I’m claiming my own power. I’m exercising MY right to tell MY story of MY life.
My parents groomed me to accept an identity that made life easier for them–to protect my parents’ feelings and reputation and to be ignorant of my value so I wouldn’t complain or protest.
As I’ve faced the truth about my value and identity, I’ve also recognized more universal truths. I haven’t caused my parents’ emotional distress. My parents’ distress comes from their own failings and pain. To ask me to carry it for them is dysfunctional. To have expected that of me as a child was morally wrong.
If my abusers want to stop their pain, they must begin by acknowledging the truth—maybe not to the whole world, but at least within their own hearts and minds. I know the way they mistreated me wasn’t the beginning of their pain and if they were honest with themselves, they could have the same freedom and healing that I have. I don’t have the power to make them feel bad or good.
I know from my own life that there are two kinds of pain that come from the truth; there is the pain from dodging it and the pain of facing it. Refusing to deal with it leads to more pain. The more I ran from the truth, the more abuse I encountered—from others and from myself.
As I’ve faced my pain—the pain from things done to me and the pain I’ve caused others and myself—I’ve moved through it. On the other side of grieving is joy with life affirming decisions and behaviors.
A victim’s silence isn’t good for anyone. Those types of secrets are destructive to everyone who keeps them. TRUTH doesn’t destroy families and it doesn’t even destroy the abuser. For incest to occur in a family, it takes more than just an abuser and a victim. It’s part of an entire dysfunctional system. Exposing abuse gives the entire family an opportunity to heal and to learn more healthy and functional ways to relate to each other.
Unfortunately, when most families are confronted with the truth they don’t choose to heal. Instead, they blame the victim so they can continue in their dysfunctional ways. People don’t want to face their own internal demons so they demonize whoever triggers them.
When the truth is hidden, abuse flourishes. When the truth is revealed and accepted, it has the amazing ability to set people free. The lie is that pain can be avoided in the midst of abuse. But there will be pain. The question is: Will it be the continuing pain of destruction as a result of the lies or the diminishing pain of facing the lies so healing can occur?
Even if the rest of my family would benefit from my speaking out, I’m not doing it for them. I won’t be swayed by their feelings like I was as a child. I’m loyal to the truth and I’ll honor the truth with my life. I’ll continue to speak out for the little girl I used to be and for all the innocent children who were abused and are still being abused. All of us deserve a voice.
How about you? Have you ever struggled with feeling guilty for exposing your abuser or even thinking about telling? I’d really like to hear your experience and feelings. If you’d like to comment, you don’t have to use your real name and email addresses are never made public.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how I found my voice after abuse, I invite you to read my new book, The Rescued Soul: A Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. In it, I spell out the details of exactly how I’ve healed, using excerpts from my journal, very candid stories and detailed examples. It’s definitely up close and personal! It’s healing guide, workbook and journal all in one. I put a lot of love into all 518 pages!
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.
I Blamed Myself Since I Didn’t Tell
How Do I Disclose My Abuse?
Why Do I Need to Tell?
Why I Talk About My Childhood Abuse Over and Over
Male Childhood Sexual Abuse: Suffering in Silence