Many abuse survivors get told, over and over again, that it’s not their fault.
I was sexually abused as a kid. I was told it’s not my fault.
I’m not sure I necessarily ever thought it was my fault.
I think I kind of had it in my head that I was sort of at fault, at least in a collaborative way. I knew that I had chosen not to tel my parents about what was going on, and that that had likely given my abuser— a family friend, who regularly babysat me— both the opportunity to keep abusing me and the confidence that he wouldn’t be found out.
So I suppose I sort of had the idea in my head that it was kind of my fault that the abuse continued.
But I never had it in my head that I was getting abused because I was somehow a “bad” kid.
I don’t remember ever thinking that I “deserved” what was happening to me.
The thing is, however…I DID think I was a bad kid. But not because I was getting abused.
Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was an awkward, intense kid.
I was EXTREMELY sensitive, and I just didn’t naturally have the tools I would have needed to connect easily or well with my peers. So I got rejected a lot.
Which meant I was a lonely kid.
I know now that I was also an anxious and depressed kid, who was struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder— but at the time, from inside the fishbowl, there was no way I would have had the words for any of that.
All I knew was that I was not popular.
And I assumed THAT was because I was a bad kid.
I didn’t think there was something wrong with me because I was being sexually abused. I assumed there was something wrong with me because no one wanted to hang out with me.
Why am I telling you any of this? Because I want you to remember that how we think about ourselves— our ideas of whether we are good or bad, worthy or unworthy, normal or abnormal— are complicated.
It’s often stated that abuse survivors often develop a sense of shame about being abused, because they assume they must be at fault.
(Often, abuse survivors are explicitly TOLD they are at fault, over and over again.)
But for many abuse survivors, that’s only one piece of the puzzle.
If you are working to relate to someone who has been abused, or if you are struggling to come to terms with your own abuse history, I want you to remember that the aftereffects of abuse are frequently not straightforward or predictable.
Knowing that I was sexually abused may tell you a part of my story.
But if you didn’t know the rest of my story— about the social alienation, the highly sensitive temperament, the ADHD— you wouldn’t really know me as a kid.
People are complex.
Our histories are complex. Our stories are complex. Our reactions are complex.
To really know someone— especially yourself— you have to dig deeper.
Many people struggle with emotional pain that is not readily explained by what we know about abuse survivors, or depression, or anxiety.
Everybody’s pain is unique.
It can only be understood with patience and compassion.
Please: extend those to both yourself and the people around you today.
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