These are dangerous words when spoken in response to concerns about potential sexual abusers. And yet, I regularly hear stories about people answering this way when confronted with someone who might pose a danger to children.
Growing up in second wound families, I think many of us learned to take what we could get. We were taught not to ask for much. We didn’t dare complain due to the risk of being shamed and blamed. We were not allowed to have strong voices within our families.
Perfectionism is a familiar affliction for survivors.
So many of us strive to achieve top grades and performance reviews, to dress just right for every occasion, and master the social skills that help us appear naturally confident. All the while, we’re scared to death of letting the mask slip to reveal our secret: the shame we carry as a byproduct of sexual abuse or assault.
At its root, perfectionism is often an unconscious attempt to cover up shame.
What if we lived in a world where victims of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment felt free to speak up? What if they were treated kindly, and almost always believed? What if perpetrators of these crimes were aggressively investigated and prosecuted on a consistent basis, their sentences reflecting the damage they inflict on survivors? What if we treated sexual violence survivors like victims of other crimes–especially those involving theft of money?
The answer is easy. We would live in a world with fewer sexual crimes. And for those who still chose to perpetrate sexual violence, they would be caught far more quickly and easily.
Because victims would feel free to name offenders.
My name is Miranda Savage Pacchiana and I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. My older brother, Adam Savage sexually assaulted me repeatedly over the course of several years, starting when I was seven years old.
As a child, this experience shook my sense of safety and crushed my self-confidence. For decades afterward, I dealt with periods of depression and near-constant anxiety. These symptoms interfered with all aspects of my life, stunting my career aspirations, and robbing me of countless simple pleasures. In my mid-twenties, I sought treatment for the abuse and so began a long, arduous process of working to address the emotional impact of my trauma.
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.
It’s American Thanksgiving today. In the midst of the bustle of holiday prep, I have survivors on my mind. Those, like me, who are estranged from their family. Whatever the status of our family relationships, so many of us feel misunderstood by loved ones who minimize or deny the weight of our experiences. They just don’t get it. And maybe they never will.
There is no substitute for feeling heard, understood and cared for. These are the gifts of human connection, an integral component of where healing begins from the trauma of sexual abuse and assault. For survivors on the path to healing, it’s vital we connect with people who will sit with us in our pain and struggle, appreciate our value and share in celebrations of our progress and triumphs. These may be therapists or other professionals as well as partners and caring friends. As legitimately scary as it can be to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and risk trusting others, doing so (in our own time and with careful judgment) helps to repair our damaged hearts and fulfill our emotional needs.
There have been many points during my parenting journey when I wished I could fall back on what I’d learned from my own mom and dad, to recall how they’d handled similar situations and use their actions as my guide. But based on the way things went during my childhood, I didn’t have that luxury. In fact, for a lot of parenting moments, I was determined to handle things differently from the way my parents had.