The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Power of Denial – 1992 Entry Five - Then vs. Now

My heart breaks when I receive an email from a survivor who believes the abuse was/is all her fault, or questions whether it is really abuse at all. I’ve read many horrific stories of abuse from women asking me for a frame of reference. “Is this really that bad?”

The question leaves me stunned and grief-stricken for their pain. And I answer, “Yes, you are describing horrible abuses and huge betrayals.”

Today, it is hard for me to believe that sixteen years ago, I too, questioned if my abuse was “really that bad.”

I used many survival tactics as a child - such as dissociation and denial. Yet, when I began recovery, I discovered that the very mechanisms that saved me as a child – harmed me as an adult. My therapist tried to “gently” shake me out of my denial. It was a long process. Sometimes, his eyes would well with tears when I told him a story, and I wondered – “why?”

At one point, Thomas told me, “Nancy, on a scale from one to ten, your abuse was a ten. The sooner you accept that, the better off you will be.”

And still I lived in denial.

The following are a series of entries from my 1992 journal spanning a couple of weeks:

Thomas said, “I have an assignment for you. I’d like you to write an indictment.”

“I don’t understand. An indictment against whom?”

“Whomever you think should get one.”……..

……..I went to the library and got a copy of an indictment and the RCW on child abuse. I studied them. The definition of Child Abuse is so vague, it seems as if anyone can worm out of it. I can’t tell if what happened when I was a kid was prosecutable. That’s driving me nuts. I recall my phone call to the hotline when I was fifteen. The volunteer told me to call the police. I can’t remember why she thought I should…….

……….I told Thomas, “I can’t write the indictment. I’m not sure my abuse was prosecutable.”

He said, “That’s Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad.”

Boy did that make me crazy! When I left Thomas’, I felt like I was having an anxiety attack. What if I have exaggerated my abuse out of proportion just as Mom always said. Maybe it didn’t really happen the way I remember it. If it didn’t happen, then I really am nuts. My family has always told me I am nuts – maybe it’s true. It’s like looking at a color. I see red, but everyone in the family is mad at me and says it is blue. I need to find out for myself……..

…….I called some childhood friends that might have seen something. I am overwhelmed by the response I received. Even after all these years, many still had vivid memories and were more than willing to talk. Some of what they saw were –
  • I remember Ed chucking Rob down the basement stairs. Not pushing or shoving, but literally picking him up and chucking him right down the stairs.
  • Once Rob spilled something on the kitchen floor. Ed came running in from the other room and grabbed Rob by the back of the neck and yanked his head to the floor. He rubbed Rob’s nose in the spill like a dog…Just like a dog.
  • I remember that when I’d eat dinner at your house, Ed often stabbed you guys with a fork.
  • Ed had this thing about “watching.” He used to line you guys up - turn to me and say “watch this” and go down the line beating you with a wooden paddle just for sport.
  • I saw Ed beat you once. I can still hear the tremendous “whack.” I ran from your house and never went back. I was scared to death of him.
  • I saw Ed pick up little Randy and throw him against the fireplace brick wall………

…………“I was shaken when I left here last week, Thomas. I had to find out. I’m always so scared I’m going to get bashed for talking about my childhood. I always have in the past. Even now, talking to you, a part of me is still scared you will say it was all my fault, or that I’m making it up. It runs to my core. But it did happen. It’s not just my imagination.”

“I know.”

“I know that you were just trying to “jar” me with the indictment assignment. It was prosecutable.”

“I know.”

Even after working through this assignment with Thomas, it took years to fully accept the extent of my abuse. It took receiving a great deal of validation and acknowledgment from many people before I became stronger and clearer about what happened to me and the effect that it had on my life.

Although I was already aware of my childhood experiences, I lived in denial about the effect the abuse had on me. It was necessary to have other people bear witness to my trauma. This allowed me the opportunity to admit to myself the ways in which I was damaged by my abuse. Support and validation offered from others, dissolved my isolation and gave me the necessary strength to journey forward to the life I deserved.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy

Thank you for your insightful blog. I understand how important validation from others can be, but in a sense you (and others) who keep on dealing with this stuff, year after year, are our own validation. I often question whether the abuse I suffered was really "that bad" or even real. But then I tell myself that I wouldn't have made such a mess of my own life (initially, at least), wouldn't have been in so many abusive relationships as the "victim", wouldn't have done what I have done to my own children, if my own childhood had been as good as my parents would now like to believe. We are all shaped by our early experiences, so in a sense, we are walking talking validation of our own abuse. Or so I think today :)
All the best

healandforgive said...

Dear Pamela,

Thank you for stopping by and sharing a great perspective on self-validation.

Although I needed external validation to "shake" me out of my denial, you make an interesting point in that the reality of our lives provides an excellent source of proof of our mistreatment. I hadn’t considered that in terms of validation before!

Thank you for offering another point of reference for survivors!


Anonymous said...

This post and the feelings you express of the fear you had early on of being blamed or judged for what you endured as a child so resonated with me. My experience as a child of eight years old and onward, of being cited as the cause of that which I tried my heart out to prevent, aka my own and my siblings abuse, ie being scapegoated instead of heard for so many years, left me with all the fears you had expressed. Self-doubt that I might choose unwisely a therapist who does not understand, or might judge or reinjure me is a biggie. Nancy if ever you have time, and believe it is something that you might like to write about, would you please share some insights and/or resources for guidance in choosing wisely and finding the right counsellor or therapist. I am in need of a "Thomas", but the fear of finding a "Mr or Mrs. Hyde" is very powerful. Were there questions that you asked up front, or an interview process which helped you to know that Thomas was safe and the right person to talk with? Thank you so much Nancy for any insight you wish to share, and for sharing all that you do about your experiences and insights gained. Your blog has been life changing for me, and I am thankful. With Love, Tina

healandforgive said...

Hi Tina,

I remember well the fear you describe of finding a helpful not hurtful therapist.

I'll put together some thoughts and write a post when I get a chance.


Anonymous said...

hi nancy, i've been thinking about your blog lately as i've been recently going through what i consider to be some kind of a relapse. i experienced a strong trigger and had someone i had trusted and thought was a friend pushing me to be forgiving, telling me i was being a victim, and that sort of thing. i got to where i felt very afraid of the person and felt like i couldn't tell what was real or not. then i backslid into thinking that what i experienced wasn't all that bad and it's my fault i got triggered and felt so afraid because i've focused on my history too much and that sort of thinking. i've written some in my blog about what i'm currently thinking about trying to sort this all out. but i came looking to your blog because i had the feeling you would have some words that would help me feel comforted and less alone and more clear-headed. and i was right. this post especially was helpful for me. and i wanted to say thank you so much for what you write. for the work you do and for sharing your wisdom. thank you so much.

healandforgive said...

Hi MM,

I read your blog post. You eloquently described the pain involved in the "get over it" and/or invalidated experience. One that was a very painful part of my journey.

I'm glad you found some comfort here.