We live in a strange era. On one hand, we have all sorts of oppressed and victimised groups such as black people and sex abuse victims speaking up against their victimisers and rightfully requesting reparations and justice.
We also live in an era when the body of research on complex childhood trauma and the impact of all sorts of child abuse, neglect and deprivation on the quality (or lack thereof) of a person’s life is substantially growing. There simply is no question anymore that childhood trauma, neglect and deprivation set up a person for a life of hardship.
The toxic stress affects DNA, shortens telomeres and turns on all sorts of ‘bad genes’. The abusive and neglectful behaviour creates non-adaptive patterns of thinking, behaving, and reacting. The unprocessed traumatic emotions stay in the body and lead to all sorts of health problems.
Statistically, people who have been through a lot of adverse childhood experiences are way more likely to develop addictions, mental health problems, early health problems (including cancer, heart disease and liver disease). They may end up in toxic and abusive relationships or become abusive themselves. Economic problems as a result of underachievement are typical too.
In fact, the consequences of childhood trauma are considered a leading cause of premature death.
Shaming child abuse and neglect survivors
Yet, for reasons I absolutely don’t get, it is still common for child abuse and neglect survivors to be exposed to shaming when they open up about their past.
There is this notion that if you reach adulthood and still feel resentment towards your parents, you must be an immature, childish person. You should take responsibility for yourself, let go, move on, forgive, and shut up.
But guess what, it’s only in adulthood, with more time between your grown self and your childhood, that you start truly comprehending the damage that was done to you. It’s only from a standpoint of an adult that you start understanding what a child is and what you were and how you should or should not have been treated.
The damage done can even be quantified. The money you have to spent on therapy to pull yourself from the ground. The productive days lost because of battles with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and insomnia. The inability to progress in a career because of all the above.
Lack of knowledge, denial
Frequently, those who victimise and shame the victims have zero knowledge on the subject, have spent no time researching and studying it, but for some reason feel entitled to spout their opinions in the most arrogant and entitled way.
Toxic families function like cults. The victims are frequently raised in a Stockholm Syndrome situation. They can’t avoid forming emotional attachments to their abusers. The abusers are the people that those children depend on for their survival. They represent their world.
The victims (children) are also led to believe that they deserve the abuse and that they are somehow faulty, wrong and evil. If only they weren’t like that, all would be well.
I am sure you have met those people who well into their adult years would claim that their parents used to beat them but that they meant well and that it was for their good and much needed (brainwashed victims in denial of their victimhood).
The extended family is usually based on toxic and skewed relationships with some members being assigned the role of scapegoats (those seen as problematic and not to be trusted) and others being the ‘cult leaders’ (members of the toxic system whose abusive behaviour is tolerated, excused, justified, rationalised, minimised and blamed on the victim/scapegoat).
Who is the victim shamer?
Victim shamers might come from various ranks of the toxic family system. They are either victims who are not yet aware of their situation and the nature of the relationships in their family. They might also be abusers from other toxic family systems (abuse includes covert aggression such as passive aggressive, controlling and subtly demeaning and devaluing behaviours) or their enablers who somehow benefit from being part of the toxic cult. Sometimes, shamers might be people who have not experienced a toxic family situation but have no education and knowledge of the subject (but still feel entitled to make judgements).
If an awakening victim encounters someone in the outside society who is from a similar cult (toxic family), that toxic person will be highly triggered by the self-aware victim and would feel an urge to silence and shut down the victim by means of covert aggression and invalidation (or even overt abuse). They will try to make the person feel inadequate for ‘still’ being resentful towards the parents (how childish and teenager-ish, right?)
It is possible that unawaken victims, enablers and abusers raised and trained in family cults whose toxic behaviours run back generations genuinely think their behaviour is OK. They might have no comparison and knowledge of what constitutes healthy behaviours. And since it’s usually the scapegoat (the one portrayed as difficult and not to be trusted), who starts speaking the truth, the victimisers find it very easy to further dismiss and disregard that uncomfortable voice.
Why do we need accountability for ruining people’s lives?
As I described above, child abuse and neglect have lasting effects that are hardwired into the brain and DNA of the victim and cannot be easily overcome or erased (although some new age proponents might claim so). It requires years of hard work in psychotherapy and self work to plough through the layers of defences, dysfunctional patterns and the amount of pain, grief, fear and anger before one can even start seriously thinking about re-building a healthy existence.
It costs money. It costs the best decades of a person’s life. Yet, the victim is asked to let go of anger towards the abusive family members, take accountability for their current situation and move on.
How is this fair? If someone crashes your car while drunk, they will be liable and will have to pay you damages. Yet, if someone destroys your life, you are told to take responsibility for the damage that they caused, do the work yourself and move on.
Who should be accountable?
We unfortunately have to accept that the abusive family cults run for generations and that their members truly might not be aware of the dysfunction. They are frequently uneducated, simple, alcoholic people. They are suffering from personality disorders (of which they are completely oblivious). They themselves were raised in dysfunctional systems, which damaged them. Or they might be high functioning entitled psychopaths and narcissists. Either way, they might not possess the capacity to see the truth. Ignorance, however, should not be an excuse.
However, we should hold the wider community and society accountable for ignoring and enabling child abuse and neglect and further ostracising and scapegoating the victims. Most of my anger today is not directed towards my parents, who I see as mentally ill people. Most of my anger today belongs to the wider family (among which where special needs teachers), and the wider community – the school system, namely, that itself contributed to the abuse and victimisation.
If things are to change for future sufferers, we have to scream loud today and make ourselves heard just like the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements. Our lives matter too. Our suffering should not be forgotten. We have to fight to improve education in psychology to make the knowledge of how childhood trauma manifests and how toxic families function way more widespread.
Victims, instead of beating themselves up for feeling anger towards their abusers, should channel this anger into bringing about the change that the world needs. The trauma cannot be undone. But it can be turned into something positive, so that no one in the future has to suffer the horrid consequences of child abuse and neglect ever again.