When you were a kid, it was not your responsibility to set or enforce boundaries with the adults around you.
When you were a kid, it was not on you to understand things like an adult, respond to things like an adult, or understand the motives and behavior of the adults around you.
If hurtful things happened to you as a kid, you did not “make” them happen. You did not “let” them happen. You are not responsible for things that happened TO you.
As adults, we read statements like this, and often we intellectually agree— but our gut tells us a different story.
Our gut often tells us that if we were abused or neglected, it MUST be because of something WE did or failed to do.
Our gut often tells us that there MUST have been something we could have done to prevent the bad things from happening to us.
After all, we tell kids over and over and over again to tell someone if they’re being touched inappropriately or hurt or bullied…so doesn’t it follow that if those things happened to us, it MUST be because we DIDN’T tell someone?
The truth is, there are LOTS of reasons why kids struggle to speak up about bad things that are happening to them.
It’s often not at all clear to a kid what’s happening when they are being abused or neglected.
(It’s often not even clear to ADULTS when they’re being abused or exploited— but that’s a different discussion.)
Those who abuse or exploit kids often go to great lengths to create confusion about what is happening.
Almost always, adults in a kid’s life are in positions of power— and they leverage that power to instill doubt, fear, and embarrassment in a kid’s head about what’s happening.
As adults, we’re often told that “what we tolerate is what will continue” in relationships, and “we teach people how to treat us.”
Those statements are…complicated, even for adults. It’s just not that black and white, even in adult relationships where we have comparatively more autonomy and power to set boundaries and escape bad situations.
Kids, however, are NEVER responsible for “failing” to put the brakes on a situation being perpetuated by an adult.
It wasn’t your fault.
It wasn’t your responsibility.
You were a kid.
They were the grownups.
Many of us carry shame about not having stopped an abusive situation. Many of us carry shame for not having told someone.
Many of us carry shame because we’re retroactively applying the “what you tolerate is what will continue” standard to relationships when we were children.
I’d tell you to forgive your past self for not being able to put a halt to abusive situations when you were a kid…but that’s not something you NEED forgiveness for.
Abuse did not happen to you because you were bad. It did not happen to you because you were irresistibly attractive to or seductive toward an adult.
It happened because an adult made a choice.
Neglect did not happen to you because you were unlovable or unworthy of care.
It happened because an adult didn’t or couldn’t do what it was their responsibility to do.
These are not excuses. They are statements of fact.
It was never as easy as “what you tolerate is what will continue”— especially when you were a kid.
The kid you once were needs to know that you know, that you really, really accept that.
The kid you once were needs to know they’re not bad, dirty, or unloveable.
The kid you once were needs to know you don’t blame them.
Because it wasn’t your fault.