I call it the “sixth sense effect”. Once you wake up to the realization that a relationship has been abusive, you replay the scenes of your life with that person (or people) through the lens of this newfound information and a growing understanding of what you lived through. It’s a splash of cold water in the face, for better and worse. Again and again, you go back through your memory and you see what now seems obvious–but was once desperately confusing and emotionally torturous for you.
Being stuck in the role of the scapegoat is a lonely experience. Your place in the group never really feels secure. You live with a constant sense of being blamed and shamed–even if you can’t point out exactly how, or why it happens. You have probably been told that your feelings are wrong so many times you‘re not sure which end is up or whether you can trust your own instincts. But still, in your gut you know things are not right.
That’s why you chose to speak up in the first place: to bring issues out in the open and hopefully address them together. Sadly, it’s also why you’ve been cast as the scapegoat by those who are hell-bent on denying difficult truths and maintaining the current power structure. As the scapegoat, you are subject to ostracism, victim-blaming, scolding, and shaming. And for some, a campaign of lies and half-truths weaken their perceived credibility both in and outside of the group. It is a painful way to live.
The following is adapted from a bonus Truth & Consequences podcast episode recorded during the Covid-19 quarantine. I post it here because it addresses retraumatization and the resurfacing of past trauma and loss.
If you have a few extra minutes this week, I’d like to share a story and some thoughts with you in the hopes that you’ll find it useful. It’s a story about going to the grocery store. Something that used to be an annoyingly frequent chore, at least to me, but has now become a whole different experience for a lot of us…of course, that’s IF you’re actually still venturing out to buy food in person.
Because our world has changed.
You 100% deserve to be believed.
Though it’s nearly impossible to gather accurate statistics on false reporting of sexual abuse, we do know that it’s rare. If we look at sexual assault reports made to law enforcement, research tells us that false reports make up about only 2 to 6 percent of cases. It’s probably safe to assume the number is at least this low in sexual abuse cases.
Let’s be realistic. Survivors have very little reason to lie. As one survivor pointed out, “A small child couldn’t make that stuff up”. So then…why are so many survivors doubted, questioned, and outright disbelieved? Even when we ARE believed, why is our trauma so often minimized, brushed under the rug as if it doesn’t matter to anyone but us?
There are many reasons that explain the heartbreak of disbelief and minimization. I’ve done my best to explain them here.
[Originally published on PsychCentral on November 24, 2018.]
Living with the emotional effects of sexual abuse is painful enough. Unfortunately, many survivors open up about their abuse only to find that their family members’ reactions toward them are just as painful — if not more so — than the original trauma. It may shock some people to learn that family members often choose to side with sexual abuse perpetrators and against their victims, especially if the abuse was committed within the family.
Becoming estranged from a relative is a sad and difficult decision, one that is usually made with grave consideration and based on the belief that the emotional cost of continuing contact is simply too great to bear. Most people wish there was another choice they could make, especially when the family members are their own parents.
Yet, there are probably far more people in this situation than most of us realize. We tend not to talk about estrangements much. Naturally, we hope to avoid the general awkwardness and potential judgment of others. Perhaps there is a dark side to families that we would prefer to keep private.