When I was a kid, I didn’t tell anyone I was being sexually abused until years after it had happened— because I didn’t think it was a big deal.
To hear “sexual abuse” described, you’d think it was this overtly traumatic, painful thing— and what I was experiencing did not feel traumatic or painful at the time.
BECAUSE I didn’t feel like it was a huge deal, I figured that the abuse I was experiencing wasn’t the same thing as this apparently awful “sexual abuse”…so I kept my mouth shut.
I didn’t want to make waves.
My parents and the other kids already thought I was weird and an attention seeker, so I figured they would’t believe me, anyway.
Besides, most of the attention I got, certainly from my peers at school, was negative— the times when I was being sexually abused were among the few times that i was being paid non-painful attention. Why would I want to give that up?
Not to mention, if I told somebody, I assumed everybody would then look at me differently— specifically, that they’d look at me as someone who had been sexual with a man, and who hadn’t reacted with revulsion. I assumed this would be the first thing everybody would think about, when they thought of me…and I knew I didn’t want THAT.
So I didn’t tell. Not for years.
At school, they’d tell us that no adults should be sexual with kids, and no adults should ask us kids to keep secrets from other adults. Whenever they would lecture us about how bad sexual abuse was, I remembered feeling both guilty and alone— as if I had this dirty secret that, the longer I held on to it, the heavier and dirtier it got.
It’s hard to separate out the factors that contributed to how unhappy I was as a kid.
A certain amount of it was biology, certainly. There is depression and addiction on both sides of my family tree.
A certain amount of it was the fact that I was a kid who was more intelligent than average, but who had undiagnosed ADHD— thus I was always struggling to follow through on academic tasks and “not living up to my potential,” and the prevailing hypothesis was that I was “lazy.”
A certain amount of it was the negative feedback I was receiving daily from my environment. I didn’t get along well with my peers— and after awhile I developed social defenses that specifically made it difficult TO get along with my peers.
And, along with those factors and others, was this secret I was carrying, about having been sexually abused by a grown man when I was a young kid.
The reason I’m writing about this today is because sometimes I hear people blame themselves for not having been happier, or better adjusted as kids— for not having “tried harder” to fit in, for not asking for help, and specifically for not telling anyone they were being abused.
When we’re kids and we’re going through a lot, we often literally don’t know what to do, where to go, who to tell.
It wasn’t your fault, any more than it was my fault.
We were kids. We were overwhelmed, and unhappy, and had no idea what our options even were.
Even if we COULD muster whatever we needed to muster to tell someone: would help have even been available to us? Maybe not.
Yet, we often wind up blaming ourselves. Angry at ourselves. Down on ourselves.
In my case, it only made sense to blame myself, because I was getting blamed for my “irresponsible” behavior anyway (much of which I now understand to have been heavily influenced by my difficulties with attention and emotional regulation).
When we’re kids, we don’t know what we don’t know.
Maybe the adults around us were doing their best, maybe they weren’t— but regardless, it wasn’t on us to know what to do and how to do it.
Blaming the kid we once were for the pain we endured isn’t fair.
If I’d known what to do to feel and function differently, I would have done so in a heartbeat. They may have called me “attention seeking,” but believe me: I did NOT want the kind of attention I was getting.
As I write this, I’m aware of the sadness of the kid I once was.
Easy does it, little guy.
I’m here now.
It wasn’t your fault.
And you’re not gonna be left out there on your own ever again.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free email newsletter!