October 20, 2011

Consequences of Abuse on the Next Generation

Last week, I finished up a series exploring the false beliefs we develop based on the messages family members send and how our recovery can either be helped or hindered by our family.

In response, a reader contacted me with a very interesting question, "What about the impact on the children of a survivor when they find out their parent was abused? How do survivors determine what to say, how to say it, and how to deal with the consequences? Where is the support for these children?" These are great questions! So, today, I'm happy to share this reader's experience, and I hope others who are struggling with this issue will gain some insight or encouragement from her story. Names have been changed to protect the identity of this reader and her family.

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The effects of child sexual abuse do not end when the abuse stops. They are carried within a victim until they are addressed and for many this is done so in silent agony. Abuse in childhood becomes abuse again in later years when memories surface and hurt as though being abused again.

Sexual abuse of children is more likely to have been carried out by either a member of a child’s family or a close and trusted relation or friend. This makes it even harder for a victim as the feeling of having no one to turn to for help overtakes them along with their fears and hurt.

Sally, a woman in her 40’s, was abused when just 10 years old. She kept her secret for over thirty years, managing to cover up her mood swings and feelings of shame until finally she could no longer do so. The first person she told was her husband of twenty-five years. Her disclosure to him hurt him deeply even more so when she told him who abused her – her elder brother. Her husband’s pain was evident, but he was what she calls, “One in a million.” After the initial shock and plenty of tears, he held her tight and promised they would get through this together. Of course, he felt sick and angry as this was his brother-in-law. Many family meals and celebrations had been shared over the years and now hatred was taking over. They decided not to tell their children. This seemed a good idea at the time, but Sally began thinking of her 12 year old daughter and panic began to set in. “What will happen to her if something happens to her father and I? Who will protect her from her uncle?” Sally could take no more, and she told her oldest child who would soon be 18 and could therefore be her daughter's legal guardian and protect her. This was to prove as heartbreaking and soul destroying as the past Sally had tried so hard to blank from her mind.

Her son’s reaction to the “news” was a mixture of so many different emotions that Sally began to hate herself for telling him. She had asked him to not tell his sister as she felt she was too young to cope with it. This made him even angrier, as his reaction to this was, “So it’s okay to hurt me like this but not her?” Sally understood this was just his anger talking, but it upset Sally to see her first born hurting so much and guilt began to set in. Changes in his behaviour soon became evident. At times he would explode with rage and others would cry as if still a little boy. He felt this great need to know more about his mother’s abusive childhood. For him, abuse was just a word, something that didn’t happen in his close loving family. He felt sick at the memories of times he had spent with his uncle.

She was determined that she would become the victor of the events she could not control in childhood, she would control the rest of her life. The abuse Sally endured had made her live a life of loneliness and pain. Now she was faced with seeing the pain on the faces of her own family. This made her even more determined to overcome her past. Life in the house was often unbearable, tension seemed to overtake the once relaxed atmosphere. The situation began to take its toll on Sally’s physical and mental health. She began to keep a diary of her feelings and thoughts. She sat in bed at night crying while writing. At times, she cried so much she could barely see the words she was writing, but this didn’t matter, what mattered was she was releasing her suffering.

Her abuser was arrested and no one had believed Sally that he would admit to it. Sally knew him for the coward he was and never gave up hope of this. Finally, the police called and gave her the news that he had admitted to abusing her. Coping with her own feelings was one thing, but now she was trying to cope with her family’s. This was tough as she never knew what to expect or what to say.

Her parents refused to believe it and made it clear they wanted nothing more to do with her. Now her children had lost their grandparents. Although speaking out felt right, she felt that she was ruining the lives of her children. Watching them both suffering was at times too much to bear. Both in their own way had set on a path of self-destruction and although she had spoken to various professionals, she couldn’t find the support for her children. All she heard was, “They have to understand that it happened to you, not them.” Eventually, she had to inform the school of what was happening. Her daughter began counselling and after 3 years she still attends sessions. That may seem a long time but it shows just how much it hurts to find out one of your parents was abused as a child. Family life is still difficult at times, but Sally no longer has to mask her feelings.

Speaking out about her abusive childhood gave Sally a lifeline in regaining her life. Although she was a victim of childhood abuse, she now considers herself a survivor and this feels good....

Her father passed away the year after she spoke of her abuse but her mother did not tell her and Sally found out after he was already buried. She eventually managed to find out the details of his passing and where he had been buried. To this day, Sally visits his grave and sadly always asks the same question. “Why wouldn’t you listen to me daddy? I love you sweet dreams......”

6 comments:

  1. So many survivor stories have a similar vein. Continuing with the silence tears us apart, yet if we share it we hurt others. If we remain silent, the abusers will continue to abuse others. There's a torment inside that never goes until we do face it. I for one applaud Sally. My daughter never found out till she read my book. The brother that abused me, abused my daughter & I'm ashamed of trying to live my stepford wives life. I had pretended everything was perfect when indeed it was anything but. I am now in a similar position. A very lonely lady, outcast by the family for unearthing the shame. It puzzles me as to why any family would encourage the silence of anyone that's been harmed. If I had been shot or stabbed by the people involved... It would be a different story but unearth a dark family secret & lift the curtain of shame is a no win situation. Although it sets us free. A large price to pay but certainly the right move to make. I applaud you Sally & I hope one day you can move in from this.

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  2. @Liz: thank you so much for taking the time to comment. You make such a great point when you notice how people respond to physical/violent harm with compassion and support but to sexual abuse with fear, shaming, or dismissal. I wish the best for both you and Sally and hope that, in the end, you'll find a way to honor and appreciate this step as an important one in your journey of recovery. Very best!

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  3. Remaining silent quiets the outside world from hearing what happened but it does not stop the internal angst. Working with the terminally ill elderly population, it is always interesting to hear people complain about the adult children who will not get involved with their dying parent. When told that the adult children were abused as youngsters, many people will ask "Why can't they just let it go and take care of their parent?" If the child never received any support, these feelings will continue to fester inside and when the parent is dying, many of the children are now left with conflicted emotions. For many it is easier to distance themselves from the offending parent than to risk being victimized again.

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  4. @Vickie: thanks for bringing in such a interesting perspective to the conversation. Definitely an aspect of the family relationship I hadn't even considered. Great insight! and thank for you for taking the time to comment.

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  5. I'm catching up with your postings late but that......This is such a sad story. Unfortunately my three daughters had been sexually abused, the two oldest by my ex husband and my youngest by a masked bandit who put a gun to her head as he raped her. She was working at Taco Bell. So all 3 had no problem believing it. My son was another matter. He refused to believe it and we haven't discussed it since. I don't even know if he believes me now or not. My perpetrator was my father and my two brothers believed it. My oldest was very angry and wanted to drag my father's body out of his grave. My sister at first said she remembered it happening, she witnessed it (she slept on the top bunch and I slept on the bottom). She also said she ran away from home a year after I did because she could tell he was coming after her next. The next day she called and said I made the whole story up and denied anything she had said the night before. She said her husband told her this. It's such a shock to people, not an easy thing to disclose. Thanks for the posting, Margie

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  6. @Margie: thanks so much for taking the time to post and for sharing your experience. It's so difficult to talk about csa with our family and when they don't believe us - well, that just makes things harder. I know you've made your peace with it, but your story will hopefully help others as well!

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