Archive for Child Sexual Abuse

A Perpetrator Apologizes?!

 

I’ve read books about other’s journeys towards healing from the effects of childhood trauma.  I have read about other’s experiences in confronting their perpetrators.  So far, I have not read one story about a confrontation with the perpetrator that has gone in accordance with the survivor of childhood trauma’s wishes.

So I’m now questioning whether it’s actually realistic and possible for a survivor of childhood trauma to ever get the apology, the acknowledgement, the recognition or the peace that they seek and undoubtedly deserve through confronting their perpetrator with their truth (March 23,2014 blog post)

Is it never possible to get the perpetrator to confess? Almost never? Never? Under certain circumstances?

Many years ago in my practice as a trauma therapist, I worked with a family where the father admitted he’d sexually abused his daughter when she was little. The man’s wife stood by him as he expressed his guilt and sadness for the harm he had done to their child, who was now an adult. Part of the therapy was coaching him in telling the victim he was sorry: that he was the only guilty party and that he would do anything in his power to ease her burden.

Now I’m writing a novel. In this fictitious work, the heroine turns out to have been sexually abused and is dealing with her father. I didn’t plan to have the plot revolve around child sexual abuse, but fiction has a way of writing itself. My characters have come alive and, in a way, have taken the story out of my hands.

In 2010, I published my memoir, Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: a Memoir of Healing and Transformation. The memoir is not fictitious. It’s a very personal account of my own experience as a victim of child sexual abuse, filtered through my professional experience as a trauma therapist.

In the piece of fiction I’m now working on, (tentatively entitled Miranda’s Secret) I had Miranda’s father inform her that he’d sexually abused her. It just didn’t ring true. I’ve had to change the plot and tell a story of Miranda gradually realizing the truth about her childhood and her family. That’s the way it happened for me and for hundreds of clients I’ve had the honour of accompanying on their healing journey.

Except for the one example in my practice years ago, does anyone know of similar cases?

I need your help. Please let me know your own experience in confronting – or not confronting – your perpetrator.  Use the space reserved for comments following this post.

 

Confronting the Perpetrator

It’s fairly early days for me in my journey towards healing from childhood trauma.

I’ve read books about other’s journeys towards healing from the effects of childhood trauma.  I have read about other’s experiences in confronting their perpetrators.  So far, I have not read one story about a confrontation with the perpetrator that has gone in accordance with the survivor of childhood trauma’s wishes.

So I’m now questioning whether it’s actually realistic and possible for a survivor of childhood trauma to ever get the apology, the acknowledgement, the recognition or the peace that they seek and undoubtedly deserve through confronting their perpetrator with their truth?

Typically, there is often another party involved, this other person typically plays the role of ‘the allower’, turning a blind eye, avoiding stepping in to stop the perpetrator’s damaging behaviour and to protect the innocent, vulnerable, defenceless and harmless child.   The allower is typically weak, passive, compliant, a people pleaser, with a low self-esteem.

Being able to apologise to another person requires a level of maturity, self-awareness, inner strength, security within oneself, a willingness to take responsibility for oneself and actions, selflessness, a genuine concern for the other person’s wellbeing, the ability to put another’s needs ahead of their own and a love for the other person.  Is someone who abused and caused a significant degree of harm to an innocent, vulnerable, defenceless and harmless child capable of apologising?  Is expecting, demanding or hoping for an apology from a perpetrator realistic or just setting a survivor of childhood trauma up for more pain and disappointment?

Both the perpetrator and the allower are not normal, balanced, mature, responsible and capable adults.  So why then, does a survivor go seeking an acknowledgement and an apology from such people for their abuse, betrayal and exploitation of a sacred trust?

In most cases, both the perpetrator and the allower are simply incapable of giving the survivor the resolution and the peace that they are seeking, just as they were also incapable of giving the survivor the vital sense of safety and protection that they needed when they were a young child.

Survivors have already been horrendously betrayed and exploited by the perpetrators and the allowers in their lives.  Why would the survivor ever go back to the perpetrator and the allower ever again?

Why give the perpetrator and the allower yet another opportunity to betray them and to let them down?

Typically a survivor of child abuse suppresses their traumatic childhood memories, with their challenging and disturbing memories often emerging in mid to late adulthood.  The survivor’s memories are often so challenging and disturbing that they hide their memories and keep their memories a secret from themselves!

A survivor stands to gain a lot from re-accessing and being able to process their excruciatingly painful traumatic memories.  Through working with their painful traumatic childhood memories, a survivor can potentially regain a sense of self, a sense of wholeness and completeness, a retrospective understanding of issues that they have may have spent significant portions of their lives struggling with, valuable insights into who they are, increasing inner strength, increasing inner peace, understanding, acceptance and a genuine love for themselves and who they are.

Conversely, what does a perpetrator and an allower have to gain through being confronted with a survivor’s memories and accusations?  Painful admissions of weakness and failing?   Painful admissions of breach of a sacred trust?  Painful admission of their inability to be able to live up to what others reasonably expected of them?  Painful admission of their failure to fulfil their responsibilities?  An admission that they have spent a significant portion of their lives acting in a way that is appalling, destructive, damaging and shameful?  An admission that they have horrific secrets?

What often occurs when a survivor expresses their truth and shares their memories with the perpetrator and/or the allower figures in their lives is that they are met with at least some of the following reactions: denial, dismissal, criticism, rejection, resistance, attack, conflict, agonising invalidation, further pain, hurt and angst.

Heartbreakingly, survivor’s attempts to speak their truth with the perpetrator and/or allower figures in their lives can back-fire because their perpetrators and allowers can turn and twist their truth back around against them (like some sort of horrendous emotional boomerang), wrongly, unfairly, ironically and painfully, labelling the survivor as the ‘trouble maker’ and ‘offender’.

The Non-Offending Parent

How do you tell your non-offending parent that you were abused?  Here’s one survivor’s letter to her father. Names have been blocked out to assure her privacy.

 Could you write to the person who should have protected you and didn’t?

Remember, you don’t have to mail the letter. Carefully writing it, editing and re-editing, can be healing.

Questions you probably ask yourself:

Was that parent aware and doing nothing?

How could the non-offending parent allow this to go on right under his/her nose?

Was that parent abused himself/herself, which might account for why he/she didn’t notice? (That is, dissociated.)

Let me know your thoughts on my questions.

Your comments are welcome. So are your letters.

——-

“Dear Dad:

 The time has come for me to disclose something to you and I do not want to do it over the phone.  I had tried on two different occasions to talk to you about this deep dark secret, but I could not bring myself to open up to you. 

I remember you were complaining about Mom only serving us cereal for breakfast every morning during the week and you thought that was crazy.  You felt that we should have had a better breakfast.  I have to admit I agree with you 100% as I remember she used to beat me every morning to eat my breakfast.  To be honest I don’t think you knew anything about the beatings because you were getting ready for work.   You see by the time you came out of your bedroom into the kitchen to have your coffee I had already left the table to get dressed for school and she had already put away the belt that she used to hit me with.  You may think this is the deep dark secret I want to tell you but the answer is no.

Anyway Dad, I should get to the point of my letter.  Dad, I want to let you know that I was sexually abused by *** (Mom’s youngest brother).   The sexual abuse started at a very young age.  I believe I was about five years old or younger I don’t remember the exact age.  The sexual abuse continued all the way up to when I left *** for good and even when you sent me a ticket to come home for a visit every year.   I believe everything came to an end not until I was about 26 years old as I was able to find my voice and told him to stop touching me.  He still tried to continue this behaviour even when I told him to stop but I was strong enough then to fight him off and I ensured I was never alone when he was around.

I have to admit to you this is quite hard disclosing this information to you.  I am not sure how you are responding to this letter but at the moment for me I am nauseated just writing about my sexual abuse.  I am also shaking inside and once again I feel a migraine headache coming on.  I don’t know if you remember how I used to suffer regularly with migraine headaches when I was quite small like from the age six years old.  I know in those days we did not call it migraine headaches it was just a very bad headache and both you and Mom could not understand the reason why I had the headaches so frequently.

The sexual abuse used to take place at Granny’s and Pop’s place when you and Mom would go out for the evening and leave us there to spend the night at their place.  There were many times I went to school crying inside of me because I was too afraid to tell someone.  No, *** never threatened me not to say anything.  He always told me I was being a good little girl because I allowed him to fondle me.   . 

Dad I am guessing you will be quite angry at *** and I believe that may be another reason I withheld this information from you.  Besides wanting to protect you I believe you may lose your anger on *** and may have wanted to kill him.  Now that he has passed away I feel this is the right time for me to disclose this information to you. 

Dad I just want to let you know, you are the best father I could ever ask for.  You know I always looked up to you and you always encouraged me to fulfil (sic) my dreams.  You were the one who always wanted what’s best for me.

With all my love your daughter.”

Write a Letter But Don’t Mail It

Have you ever thought of writing to your abuser with no fear of being hurt in the process? Writing a letter – and not mailing it – can help release some of the pain and rage victims inevitably carry for their perpetrators.

I wrote a letter to each of my parents and carefully edited and re-edited my words. I never mailed it. Expressing my feelings really helped. I included that letter in Confessions of a Trauma Therapist.

Here are excerpts of a letter a reader has given me permission to show you. Of course, she has no intention of mailing it.

A Letter of Farewell …

“Mum and Dad,

For, as I go further and deeper into my journey, I am learning, discovering and coming to understand and accept that in actual fact, the harrowing trauma and the pain that I experienced as a vulnerable, defenceless child growing up in our home, under your ‘so-called’ love, guidance, care and protection has had and is having very real, deep, dark, devastating, catastrophic, far-reaching, all-encompassing and life-long effects on me.

The tragic reality is that, as a 40 year old woman, I am still recovering from the trauma and pain that I experienced as your child.  The truth is that I’ve spent close to 17 years, almost half of my entire life and most of my adult life, working with therapists trying to comprehend, understand, ‘undo’ and release all of the overwhelming, pent up, unexpressed, repressed fear, terror and pain that I’ve been carry inside me since the origins of my inner pain; the original traumatic events which occurred when I was a child.

 After years of giving and trying to get along with my siblings, I’m now letting go of them too.  I’m accepting the inevitable reality that they have absorbed into their thinking, habits, beings and lives much of what you had to ‘offer’ us, just as I did.  I’m realising that, for the most part, they are unwilling to acknowledge the truth of our painful pasts.  I understand and accept that, for now, they have chosen to live in denial and to replace the ‘darkness’ of our pasts with ‘bright, fancy colours’.  I’m acknowledging and accepting that they have a right to see ‘their world’ in their own way.

 I already know through my previous experience, that attempting to confront you all with my truth is futile and only fraught with denial, criticism, rejection, resistance, attack, conflict, agonising invalidation, further pain, hurt and angst. Heartbreakingly, my attempts to speak my truth in the past have back-fired, you’ve twisted my truth back against me, turning me into the ‘trouble maker’ and ‘offender’.

It’s simpler and for the best, for me to just take this next big step back, create more distance and let go.

I’m making an informed, insightful, courageous, unconventional, vital decision.  I’m choosing to take care of myself and my needs.  I’m choosing to take care of my own family and to attend to our needs.  I’m choosing to take yet another big step away from all of you.

 I’ve reached a point in my life now where I am happy and secure in my relationship with my husband, I have a healthy, solid relationship with my father-in-law and I’ve also surrounded myself with loving, caring and supportive mother and sisters figures who I’ve chosen to ‘hold close’ over the years.  These ‘mothers’ and ‘sisters’ are all strong, capable, wise women, functioning in the world, who have qualities that I respect, admire and aspire to.  These women all love me, respect me, admire me and value me for who I am.  They are women who I can trust and rely on to offer me the real effective support that I seek, want and need.

 Be aware that I will no longer go out of my way to help you, support you and care for you.

I am no longer willing to ‘rescue’, ‘save’, ‘carry’ or ‘prop’ you up.  It is up to you to take care of yourselves now.

You need to take full responsibility for your own lives, for your choices and for what is going on for you in your lives now.

I know that I have already given substantially and excessively, too much, to my own detriment.

I do not owe you anything.

I am under no obligation.

I need to charter my own course.

I’m now choosing to be the ‘black sheep’ over the ‘sacrificial lamb’.

Now is the time, and it’s long overdue, for me to stop giving out, it’s time for me to re-direct my focus, energy, efforts, love, care and attention inwards so that I am able to heal, nurture and restore myself and my sense of self.  It’s time for me to thrive and to prosper!”

Readers, if you write a letter, would you send it to me? We’ll safeguard your identity. You can do it anonymously. Think of all the other people who are struggling whom you can help.

With Each New Memory I Feel Better and Worse

 

I know that feeling so well. A letter from a woman who follows this website’s postings wrote me a letter. I love it when those of you who read my posts connect with me by email.

When people who have benefited from my book write to me, it fulfills the reason I wrote Confessions of a Trauma Therapist in the first place. That is, I wanted to use my personal experience and my professional wisdom to guide others in their healing journeys. Everyone’s journey is different, but a number of struggles are common to all of us who are recovering from childhood abuse. When no one writes to me, I’ve no idea if I’m actually reaching and helping people out there.
Here is part of this brave woman’s letter:
 
I have just read your book: Confessions of a Trauma Therapist.
I too am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of my father.
I have found your book so helpful.  It’s like a ‘roadmap’ for me, helping to validate many of the strange, unusual and unpleasant feelings that I’ve been experiencing for at least 20 years!
It’s also useful for me to gauge from your book, the broad series of steps and stages that may lie ahead for me in my recovery journey.
I am 40 years old.  I am a wife and mother to two girls.
My memories of childhood sexual abuse have only recently surfaced.  It is a very challenging time.  I can relate so much to what you said in your book:
‘With each new memory of sexual abuse I felt better and worse.  Better because life made more sense.  Worse because I was forced to give up another chunk of my personal history.  I was not who I thought I was.’
***

In a future post I’ll tell you more about her efforts to heal. She wrote a letter to her parents, the sort of letter you don’t mail. More of that later.

Meanwhile, please write if you’ve been helped or have something to share with others.