It’s been a while since my last blog post. In fact, I thought for a while I might give up the blog altogether and just focus on my life. Or what I usually want to call my life. The positive stuff. My work, my writing, my fitness… all these light, easy and fun things. The things that most people would call life.
But my life is not just that. My life is also the persisting repercussions of the trauma of being raised in a severely dysfunctional family. My life is the legacy of being a family scapegoat. My life is the legacy of being subjected to abusive behaviours of my parents and have everybody in my family call me a liar and crazy and looking for excuses for the abusers while vilifying me.
I am realising that by trying to disown this part of my life, I am committing against myself the same crime that those people, the abuse enablers, and apologists, committed against me.
It’s a burden. But it’s correct to say that my childhood keeps affecting me today. My CPTSD, caused not only by my childhood but also by a narcissistic man that I got enmeshed with because of my childhood, still saps my energies and prevents me from ‘living life to the full’, to use a very worn cliché.
The faulty programs
I have recently realised that despite all the work I have done on my healing and all the self-education on matters of psychology, communication, and relationships, I do continue being drawn to toxic people. I do keep getting enmeshed with people who are not my friends but rather covert enemies and who don’t think twice about causing me harm and treating me with all sorts of disrespect.
And just as I was conditioned to do with the members of my family, I keep looking for excuses for their behaviour and put all the pressure on myself to walk on eggshells, to not trigger them, to not challenge them. Because deep down I know they will never own their shit and all they would do is to blame me.
All these realisations have recently prompted me to join the Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families. It’s a nice organization that offers free help through belonging to a community of people who have been through similar hardships.
The implicit shame of child abuse survivors
But something jars with me there. I sense a pervasive feeling of disempowerment. What I find quite troubling is that Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional families keep stressing that their goal is not to blame the parents nor to serve as an authority on matters of toxic child rearing.
I find it problematic. To make an extreme comparison, imagine a group of holocaust survivors or victims of Larry Nassar spending endless hours discussing their traumas in closed circles but swearing to never talk publicly and never to hold their abusers accountable. That would be absurd. Yet, Adult Children of Alcoholic and Dysfunctional Families seem to be very much like that. Let’s just not talk about it outside of these four walls. Almost like the abusive family itself. You know your father was hitting you and calling you a freak when you were three. He was telling you to die when you were twelve. But don’t talk about it. Hush. Hush. In fact, it never happened. Because if you speak about it, you would look crazy, because, in fact, dad is such a fun guy for the rest of the world.
No wonder that the energy in those meetings is so heavy. People talk about the pain never going away. And I agree. Some damage cannot be undone. Some holes can never be filled. But we need to rise above it by owning the story and holding the perpetrators accountable. If they refuse accountability when we challenge them face to face, we have the right to make this accountability request publicly. We have the right to make the wider community and society accountable. At the end of the day, child abuse and child neglect are criminal acts. Enabling and ignoring child abuse is criminal behaviour.
The unpunished murder of the inner child
Let me use another extreme example. Imagine someone murders your child. You know who did it but you brainwash yourself into forgiving them (like a proper new-ager) and will never report them to the police, allowing them to happily exist in the community, enjoying a respectable reputation (perhaps killing other children).
The comparison is not that far off. Child abuse and child neglect kills the soul. Sometimes not just the soul as victims and survivors are at a high risk of developing mental health problems, committing suicide and suffering from bad health early in their lives (refer to the Adverse Childhood Experiences studies for more data on this topic).
Yes, my insomnia, my hair loss, my depressive episodes, most likely even my fibroids. That all probably would not be a thing if I had grown up in a loving, nurturing and supportive family. It may not even have been a thing if only one single adult from my extended family or wider community did the right thing, stood up for me and held my parents accountable. But that never happened. And so here I am.
Yet, when I join a community of those who have been through the similar struggles, I hear “hush, hush… we don’t want to blame anybody, we don’t hold the murderers accountable”.
Do it for them, do it for you
I tend to believe in reincarnation. And something tells me that if I refuse to accept this task and speak the truth out loud, I will be in this situation again. And I really do not want to. I really can’t bare the idea of once again being born into a family of enemies who would use me as a release valve for their mental health issues, never apologise, show zero empathy for me and try to silence me by all sorts of overt and covert abusive tactics if I try to seek a reparation.
With this belief in mind, I feel I need to do it for myself (as well as for all the other future victims). I need to do everything in my power so that the society as a whole becomes more attuned to the problem of child abuse and neglect, learns to spots its symptoms and does on the whole hold the perpetrators accountable rather than excusing and enabling them.
The blindness of the enablers and the stigma of the victims
I am aware of my blessings in all that mess. In spite of, or maybe because of, all the trauma of my childhood, I managed to exceed my own expectations in my professional life and burst through quite a few boundaries that fifteen years ago I would have considered impenetrable. I feel that puts me into a position of extreme responsibility.
People find it so easy to dismiss victims. There is still a widespread stigma in claiming a victim status, in showing anger at what happened to you and calling for accountability. Emotional and psychological violence, especially the covert type, is still normalised. Unless you have broken bones and bruises on your face, no one is interested. People are uneducated in matters of emotional and psychological violence. Many are conditioned enablers, who grew up in toxic families where individual members had different rights, where some were assigned the scapegoat status while others were the entitled control freaky hegemons.
Waking up to the truth hurts and because it hurts a lot of people don’t want to do it. They prefer living in a lie, disowning and silencing anyone who tries to bring the uncomfortable truth to their awareness.
But closing your eyes in front of the harsh reality can hardly produce anything good (think about covid and the climate change, think about the Nazis).
The power of the scapegoats
But the change needs to start with the scapegoats, those singled out to take in the abuse. They need to muster the courage to stand up for themselves and hold the abusers accountable. It is not an easy task. The abusers will do everything in their power to silence the daring scapegoat. I have experienced that in so many forms from so many people. Ostracisation is usually at the end of the process.
It also involves breaking through a lot of deeply ingrained psychic conditioning. We have been trained to accept their stories of us since our first breaths.
It seems to me that if you come from poverty but manage to rise to a better life, you should never forget about the detrimental effects growing up in poverty had on you. It should be your obligation to do everything in your power to contribute to eliminating poverty for the others, who might not be so lucky.
In the same way, every child abuse survivor, who didn’t go under and against the odds managed to carve a decent (although difficult and painful) life experience for themselves, should make it a commitment to speak the truth and make it better for the others. And this is my commitment and my pledge. I will never shut up. I will not let myself be shamed into shutting up and accepting that I am in any way odd. Because I am not. The problem has never been me. It has always been them. And I should no longer shy away from speaking the truth.