A natural process of expression, as the result of unnatural experiences.
In general, a person who acts on the belief that they know the mind of God or of another man, except in the most basic way, diminishes their own honesty and empathy toward others. They may even tell themselves that their criticism of others is Love. They may call it “tough love”, believing their moral criticism of others actually helps them, but I tell you there is only tender Love, that includes empathy, and strives to understand another’s perceived “inadequacies”. More times than not, they turn out to be injuries not moral inadequacy. Love contains no moral judgment! It seeks to find resolution, understanding, and connection. It does not shame or diminish.
Recently someone in my extended family harshly criticized my sister for perceived “ir-responsibilities” over the years, and framed it as a moral issue, shaming my sister, despite the fact that that my sister has struggled with something that looks like depression, PTSD, and panic, because of the chaotic and terrorizing environment we grew up in. I was affected in the same way, because I experienced the same environment. I have struggled my whole life with PTSD/Depression/Panic Disorder. I have been gravely affected by injuries received growing up. My ability to “be like everyone else” striving towards all those things in Life that we want, like a good job, nice home, financial standing, etc. has been sorely lacking. I will never “be like everyone else”! My experience is different. My inadequacy is injury. The perceived inadequacies that come from PTSD are normal reactions to an abnormal experience. We have experience that others do not have, and cannot know from the outside!
Either PTSD is a real thing or not. Either Depression is a real thing or not. Either Panic Disorder is a real thing or not. You cannot have it both ways and make” inadequacies” that come from those very real medical conditions a moral issue.
My sisters and I grew up in a family with a mother who was severely mentally ill. Extreme violence and periodic terrorizing left my sisters and I affected, each of us in our own way. We lived through it, we are the “experts” of that experience and of its effects.
We can still love my mother despite her injuries/medical conditions (she was probably suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder), but we do not have to see her as morally deficient, because the truth of it is, that she had injury or disease as well.
Nor do we make her behavior normal in our minds, and take upon ourselves the effects of that violence and chaos! Understanding and empathy have brought us to this point, not moral judgment. Moral judgment would have interfered with our quest for resolution of our own injuries from her behavior.
I can never be like everyone else because my experience is different. In order to manage my PTSD (manage not control) there are many times when I “look” less responsible than others because I need more downtime than others, or have to withdraw from situations that activate the PTSD. I may be seen as spacey, ir-responsible, confused or lazy. But the truth of the matter is that your judgment of me is all about you, not me. Your judgment of me is none of your business, and the same is especially true for others who grew up in the same kind of environment as my sisters and I did.
Quite frankly, abuse survivors should be seen as having the incredible resolve and courage for continuing to find their way in Life, despite how difficult that quest is and we should seek to understand that. In doing so we grow, both in empathy as well as honesty, finding forgiveness in the process.
I believe answers to our current dilemmas are always found in the present moment through our undamaged, undiluted, unfiltered awareness. I have found this to be true, time and time again. When “things” do not go well, upon reflection, I see that I had lost focus, that I had been focused in my head on either the past or future, or I had blindly accepted some societal or religious “rule”, which means that I was following someone else’s answer, not my own. Fear takes me out of the present moment, out of my body and into my head, out of my other feelings, out of myself, out of the Truth. Fear is the fundamental dishonesty, that we don’t have what we need in any moment. Truth speaks to us from the core of our being in the present moment. It is both nonverbal as well as Archetypal. We put our own words to it, but those words are our words to convey Truth that wells up in us when needed. Words convey things, ideas, experiences, themes, solutions, feelings, states of mind, but are not what they convey, they are less than what they convey. God doesn’t need words and is not less than or separate from anything!
Absolute honesty is the path back to our Birthright, our Primal Awareness. Human beings seem to have a propensity for taking the easier path. We don’t want to do the hard work that Honesty requires. Instead we rely on rules and suppositions and explanations, doctrine, and the descriptions of others of an inner relationship with Truth, with Life, with God. Those descriptions do often have value, but in relying on them exclusively in each situation, we are not trusting ourselves, and we put this precious Gift in jeopardy, giving that Power to others, allowing their descriptions of Truth to over-ride our own. It’s not enough that our Primal Awareness has been diluted countless times over the years through injuries by others who have had their Awareness injured, or diluted, but then, we continue on in their footsteps, and do it to ourselves! We do this unconsciously. Even in the process of recovering access to this precious Gift we often find ourselves replacing this Birthright with something less.
Keeping in touch with this birthright in a group is particularly difficult. From birth we have given up what we know and what we see and what we feel in order to fit in. Our relationships are important to us. When we were little, that was a matter of life or death. To lose the love of a parent or parents, or of the whole family could have meant that we would perish. We knew this Instinctively. To lose the love and acceptance of parents or family would mean that we would be trapped with others who didn’t care about us. Children see this kind of situation as both life-threatening and never ending. To be totally ourselves despite a situation like this is beyond the capabilities of a child. What is most important in us becomes Unconscious. We then carry this learned behavior into our adult lives, so that belonging is often more important than Being Ourselves! And of course, we are not aware of this propensity. This Unconsciousness is particularly active and powerful in all or almost all groups.
A group will have its own story or description of Life, or the part of Life that it is associated with. When we act from our core in a group we are often at odds with this story that everyone who belongs must accept in order to belong. Group stories are often about separation from others who believe differently, and about a focus on “otherness”. Protection of the group becomes more important than the protection of Individuality. Groups gives a sense of safety in numbers, but are often about fear of others even if that is unconscious rather than acknowledged. The injuries of individuals in a group, then act unconsciously to protect the group, and the group story, whatever that may be.
I was born into a particularly fearful family. My mother was the main conduit of that fear and much violence. Later, however it was others outside the family. I was molested by a man who did “volunteer work” with underprivileged youths in our area at 13, and by the parish priest at 14, a scout leader at 15. I have carried those injuries ever since. This year I am 60 years old. I believe that not only do we carry our injuries with us, injuries that need resolution, stories that need to be told fully, but Life moves to heal those injuries at the appropriate times in the appropriate way. Healing is just as personal, as our relationship to Truth, to Life, to God. We cannot fit our healing, we cannot fit our story, into the words, or views, or rules, or stories of others. That healing, that relationship is deeply personal. It doesn’t fit inside Anything else.
I live in The Deep South. Lots of injury. Lots of Unconsciousness. Lots of mistrust. Lots of churches. Much of the work I do is for churches and ministers. My best friend is a minister. Recently I was doing some contract work for a church, and found myself having to constantly set and reset boundaries, explain, then re-explain what I needed to do the job. I really needed the money that was coming from the job, at least that’s what I told myself. Their behavior in terms of providing what was their responsibility to provide, was very out of control. They wanted more and more and more, regardless of the contract, and regardless of what should have been their own later responsibilities. I asked for digital, they’d give me paper. I’d ask for original, uniform, digital pictures, I’d get cropped, cut up, paper copies. They’d call and call and call. They started forwarding email suggestions from 20 different people in their congregation – all with different ideas about what should be despite the contract. I felt like I was being pecked to death by chickens! In me, uneasiness turned to fear, then panic. I knew my reaction was about my past, about being hurt by the priest, although I didn’t know what, specifically, I was recalling. To date, my memories of that particular injury are very dim. All I knew was that the world didn’t feel safe to me anymore. Other people were acting crazy and out of control, and I felt trapped and vulnerable to their craziness.
Then I had a dream. In the dream, the priest who hurt me was a shadow, but I knew it was him. He was reaching for his gun to come after me with it. I told my best friend about this, and having been trained as a minister, he suggested praying for the priest, that perhaps I had not forgiven him. I replied that I was not angry anymore (even if I was, that energy of anger is often the fuel to tell or to say No!). I did not feel animosity, only fear, panic in fact . He suggested that sometimes things are hidden from us. I know that only I hide things from myself. He suggested perhaps there was something underneath that fear. I knew that at least in me there is no other feeling underneath the fear, it is a primal emotion, and panic is about fear for one’s life. I trusted my friend enough to push back with what I believe from my own experience, and I told him I would “take it to God”, withdrawing from our “back and forth”. I also left “room” for what I might not be aware of. I felt strong having stood up with my own Truth.
The next day, I remembered that the priest that hurt me did in fact have a gun. I had known that all along, but did not have access to that. He showed me that gun, in a black holster, the same color as his clothing. Showing me that gun, was his subtle way of warning me that if I told, he’d come after me. That was the story about my past, that Life sought to show me, once I got past other people’s stories, and created both time and space to receive my own. © 2012 Ken Scully All Rights Reserved
Not long ago I went to my appointment with a new health care professional. I felt wary and a little defensive because he was new, and I was put into a position of having to trust him. I have trouble with that. He seemed like a nice fellow, with a good sense of humor, and I gradually started to relax. When seeing a health care professional for the first time, I believe it is important for adult survivors to mention that they are child abuse survivors, if they feel that it is important to do so. I attempted to do that, to give him information that I believed was necessary. Survivors often have issues that are reflected in the complaints they take to professionals. Survivors often have issues with touch, with trust, and many have PTSD symptoms that masquerade as physical problems. Survivors often have problems such as depression and panic disorder. Survivors also may have difficulty instituting new habits or regimes, which might affect treatment by a health care professional. Also, because of the non-linear nature of recovery, one time they may be just fine, while another time they may need medication to get through a particularly difficult period, perhaps having panic attacks, severe depression or despair. We can be very different from time to time, although that lessens with the length of recovery.
He smiled and said to me something to the effect that “I tell people that they have to stop thinking about it” (the child abuse). “All they have to do is stop thinking about it”. Without ever having met me before, and without knowing anything about me except from my medical chart, he proceeded to tell me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you might be using the abuse as a crutch.” “Some people use it as a crutch, telling everyone they meet that they were abused”.
I immediately felt exposed and awkward. I had a very hard time wrapping my mind around his uncalled for comments. Unsolicited advice is disrespectful. Interjecting oneself into such a very personal, private area of a person’s life without being invited to do so is extraordinarily tactless and hurtful. It shows a lack of empathy and understanding.
I thought ,”would you say that to a woman who was raped, if she was having difficulty recovering from the PTSD that follows the rape?” I also thought about those who, as adults were hurt in war, and suffer from PTSD and have difficulty recovering from that experience. I knew that it was not ok to say something similar to them. How much more are children hurt than adults! Often the trauma in their young lives happens not just once, but hundreds of times, sometimes more than that. They have neither the skills, nor the understanding, nor the training, nor the stamina that adults might have. The effects are more devastating, and more difficult to recover from, some lasting a lifetime. Often their recovery does not start the next day, but decades later. The fact that survivors are now adults makes no difference, other than the fact that we have more skills and resources. I knew it was not ok to say what he said to me. My anger rose, and kept me from “shrinking” (becoming “less than”).
I handled this experience surprisingly well. Of course I did. I have 22 years of “training” through various therapies, have read as many books as some “experts”, and have practiced what I have learned through my recovery since I was 35. I am 57 this year. I struggled with the fear, shame, and finally the anger I was feeling. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I struggled with the dissociation that threatened to overwhelm me. I took some calming breaths for a few extremely uncomfortable seconds. My response was simple. I said calmly, “I don’t do that. You needed to know because you’re the doctor”. His response was something like, “We’re all the same as everyone else”, as if that was some lesson he was delivering to me. I felt my anger rise again, and felt like I was in a “power struggle”. I breathed again to give me time to react the way I wanted to. I assumed he didn’t mean it in a negative way. We all have equal value in God’s eyes, and we should in each other’s as well. But in a very real sense, some survivors have experiences far beyond what others experience. They have experiences that can teach others about things that can literally change the world we live in. I am more in some areas, and less in others. That has to do with skills, experiences, but not value. I saw that I knew that, and that he didn’t seem to know that. I said, “yes we are”, holding back the rest of what I knew.
I did not “get into it” much further with him. I was surprised and somewhat confused that he didn’t know why that information might be useful, or for that matter necessary. Perhaps he believed that the type of abuse I experienced does not exist, or since I seemed rational, it could not have been severe. He could not have been more wrong.
Many of us have a lack of understanding about the effects that child abuse has on adult survivors. Many of us have a lack of understanding of what “recovery” looks like for an adult survivor. Many of us have no idea of all that a survivor might have to deal with on a daily basis in their recovery, (and inside themselves). Many of us believe that when someone says they are a survivor, that they surely couldn’t be standing intact in front of them if their abuse was severe. Many of us do not understand that recovery is a journey. It is not a destination. Recovery is remarkably personal, and depends on our makeup, gifts and the type and severity of the abuse. Some journey farther than others, some have suffered more than others. There is no abuse that cannot be recovered from. Sometimes survivors “circle” an event or theme of abuse until they are ready to resolve it -sometimes even years. All survivors are looking for resolution, even if it looks like they are not moving forward! Who are we to judge what a survivor’s recovery should look like? Who are we to tell them that we know when it is time for them?
Another misconception is that if only a survivor changed his or her thinking, then they could get past the trauma. Although how we think, and what we think about, does play a large role in our daily attitudes, thinking mostly is not where we were hurt, and might be described as being in an “outer layer” of our being. Our emotional nature, and our acceptance of how we are, who we are, and where we are on our journey, is what are most damaged. Survivors are always looking for resolution. When they are focused on the past, they are doing so because they have not found resolution, and are looking for their own personal resolution, not someone else’s! Often our thinking reflects what we are feeling, even if we do not know that. Many Survivors have “frozen feelings”, meaning that they cannot get in touch with their deepest wounds. It takes sustained focus on the past to get to these feelings. Unless we go through the pain, feel it and share it, we will not get to the other side of it. It will sit in us festering, looking for expression in our daily lives, rather than describing the events of the past. In this way, the past contaminates the present. Although our outer thinking may influence our outer feeling, it does not affect those feelings near the core of us. In fact, much of our thinking is driven by feelings from our center. Some call this “primacy of emotion”. In my experience, no amount of thinking or not thinking will heal the wounds of the past. Discovering the frozen feelings from our pasts, giving voice to them, fully feeling them, having empathy for how vulnerable we were, and how tenacious – these are the things that lead us into the journey of recovery – no matter how long it takes us!
I stand before you in a process of recovery, even though I started that recovery 22 years ago. I stand before you relatively intact, although at one time I was completely crippled. I stand before you imperfectly healed. I stand before you not as victim, but as survivor, there is a difference. I stand before you sometimes with a cauldron of feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, feelings that most would recoil from, yet I do not fall apart, nor do I deny or avoid them. I am a survivor, and I am responsible for my own recovery. No one can do it for me, although I have invited God into the process of my recovery. I am proud that I am a survivor, because it embraces all of my past, not just the “acceptable parts”. I stand before you, and I tell you that I am both more and less, not the same as those who have not been abused. I am less in those areas that still interfere with what I want to do, and I am more, because I have experiences that can teach all of us how to behave with each other, so that no one gets hurt like I was. I stand before you so that you may hear my voice. I use my voice so that others may know it is ok to do so also. I use my voice so that others may start their journey of recovery. I use my voice to bring empathy into areas where we have none. I stand before you as a survivor, and it is a badge of courage and accomplishment, not some sort of excuse or crutch to gain sympathy.
After years and years of “revisiting” my childhood, I am still surprised at how powerful my feelings are when I look back, and at how much I have changed, and at how many “confining” rules I have broken in order to change. I was 35 when I had my first “flashback” of the abuse I suffered as a child. Here I am, sitting in my own computer repair shop, almost 1500 miles from where I started my Journey of Healing, and I am almost 53 years old! My two sons are grown, and I have remarried. I have changed so much, and I yet, I have so much still to change!
One of my three earliest memories is of myself at 4 years old or so. My grandparents, who only visited a few times each year were visiting. I was told to go to bed. Of course I didn’t want to go to bed, and I remember crying, and asking for water, and pleading to stay up. Eventually, my mother beat me because I kept crying, and I remember feeling such a huge rage inside of me. I could not hit her back. I could not protect myself. I could not get what I wanted. I remember biting the sheet on my bed, and growling and screaming with my teeth clamped down on that sheet so they wouldn’t hear my defiant rage. And in my rage, I yanked that sheet, and accidentally pulled one of my own teeth out. When my mother came in and saw what I “had done”, she beat me some more, telling me there was something wrong with me, that no normal child pulls their own teeth out.
Well I have to tell you, that no normal mother beats her child like that, or tells her child that he’s not normal. I believe it was one of my last acts of defiance, with only a few exceptions surfacing until I was 40 years old or more. My defiance was beat right out of me, along with any incentive, creativity, or willpower. I became compliant, and all the “Life” went out of me.
The Hexter Brothers taught me to put a stone in the middle of a snowball. I was 4 or 5. I was so proud of my new talent, and having been shown a secret process in confidence, that I showed my mother the first chance I got. She beat me.
The other “earliest memory” was not too long after the tooth incident. Since we moved when I was 5, I suspect I was 4 1/2 or younger, living at that same house. I had followed Chuck Hexter and a bunch of kids down the street, and we ended up playing in the open basement of a house that was being built. Now I realize that, but at the time I was too little to understand that. When they decided to leave, Chuck’s older brother told me I had to stay there or he would beat me up or something. Even after they were long gone, I stayed there. Finally, my mother came looking for me, and beat me when she found me. She beat me to make me compliant, then beat me because I was compliant. How crazy is that? I also see how she set me up to fail even then. What parent leaves her 4 year old child outside and unattended? What parent would blame a 4 year old child for wandering off, instead of blaming herself for not watching the child?
When I look back, there are things other than pain. There is also irony. On one side of us lived the Hexters. On the other side were the Beulah’s. You could say we lived between Heaven and Hell, but from my perspective as that little 4 or 5 year old kid, I didn’t have to die to go to Hell, I was already there.
Sometimes a news story has the opportunity to teach us that the way we experience the world is enabling terrible things to continue in that world. Often times those terrible things are happening to children. I’m sure you all have heard about the two boys who were rescued last week from the hulking 300 pound pizza parlor manager, turned child kidnapper. This past week, pizzeria worker Michael Devlin was charged with kidnapping Shawn Hornbeck, 15, who had been missing for more than four years when he was found on Friday (1/12/07). Devlin already had been charged with kidnapping Ben Ownby, a 13-year-old who had been missing for four days when he was found with Shawn.
On all the TV networks, commentators kept asking questions about why Shawn didn’t run away, or use the telephone or computer to tell someone where he was. They said that he seemed to make no overt effort to escape, even though he spent a lot of time unsupervised. Commentators had experts on Stockholm Syndrome giving heady, intellectual dissertations about this PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) reaction that is commonly seen in people who have been abducted. I don’t dispute anything that these experts were saying, but they, and most of our society, just really don’t get it. You can’t get it by looking at it intellectually. You have to get it with your heart, and truly “getting it” with your heart is a shocking and overwhelming experience! Most of us just can’t quite wrap our minds around TERROR. To really imagine what a child would feel in a situation like that, to truly empathize, we would have to FEEL those feelings inside ourselves. Either memory or imagination would have to bring those feelings alive in us, if we have the capacity to do that. Most of us can’t do that. We either have never truly felt a child’s terror (if that’s the case, then thank God for that!), can’t imagine being in such a hurtful situation, or we have purposely forgotten, and don’t dare go near the memory of it for fear of feeling it all over again (if we have suffered trauma as children). But I can, I’ve been there. I fully remember what it feels like. TERROR is this sudden lightning bolt, which explodes inside us, shattering everything we know in one single moment of time, and that moment feels like it will last forever. In a sense it does. Time stops, we cannot breathe, move, think, or feel anything but this overwhelming sense of dread and repulsion. We are suddenly locked and trapped in an isolation chamber more secure than any other on Earth. Nothing else exists, while terror is in us. Terror threatens to destroy our very existence. TERROR is the most awful, most absolute, most overwhelming, life-changing, mind-numbing, psyche-shattering, lonely experience that there is to have. It changes us forever, in ways that are both personal and unpredictable. It changes us profoundly at the core of our being. We understand this in only a general way about troops in combat. Even that understanding only just barely touches the surface of the soldier’s experience. A child’s experience of terror is a hundred times more powerful than that! It is as profound an experience as meeting the Devil himself, face to face. There truly are no words which convey the profound nature of the experience of terror by a child. The most important thing I have to tell you all today is that it doesn’t take a kidnapping by a stranger, or anything that seems to us adults as extreme as that, for a child to have the experience of terror. Repeated physical abuse within a family can have the same enormous impact on the child. Adults often do not see this exactly because they cannot truly wrap their minds around the experience of terror. When parents and other care-givers beat their children out of their own anger and rage, their children will most probably experience terror during those beatings. These children will have the same type of personal, unpredictable reactions to the terror that they experience. Some of you will say, “Oh, but I was beat by my parents, and I turned out OK”! Some of you may even say, “I was beat by my parents, and I deserved it”! Both statements are dishonest and arrogant! The first statement is arrogant, because it implies superiority, and knowledge of the unknowable. We only have a very general understanding of how a child reacts to terror. One child reacts one way, another child reacts another way. No one fully understands the dynamics of this, and no one can predict the outcome for a particular child. We often don’t really know ahead of time how we are going to react as adults in certain situations. If that is true, how can we know how a child might react? The second statement is worse. A child never deserves the experience of terror. To say, “I was beat by my parents, and I deserved it”, is to deny either the experience of terror itself, or its effects on the child. It is this attitude, this dishonest, arrogant lack of empathy, which allows child abuse to continue! Allow this discussion about how kids react in extreme situations to touch your hearts. Please know, that without having a similar experience, you can’t really know. Please know that all of us have a certain amount of dishonesty and emotional resistance inside ourselves. No one is exempt from that! Absolute internal honesty imbues us with humility. Humility strengthens our internal honesty, and both help us to experience our world without so many biases and emotional defense mechanisms. Allow your hearts to move you minds. Allow your hearts to change your minds, and change the way you experience our world! As we do this, slowly, our world changes!
I want you to read this. I want all of you to read this. Not because I like the limelight, or relish telling you about my past. I want you to know me, so that you believe me. The power of my words is dependent upon how you judge me. I would rather folks judge me because of the strength of my character, which can only be known by knowing my past, and not because I drive a rusty old truck, am soft spoken and sometimes nervous and self conscious, or because on the surface, I may seem to not have accomplished much by your standards even though I am 55 years old. Judge me by what I have endured as a child. Judge me by what I have accomplished despite my past. Judge me by what I have overcome, by the length and scope of my journey. Then my words will have the power that I intend them to have, because they must convey terrible truths that no one should have to know but that everyone must, so that we might protect the future.
Over forty-two years ago I was molested by a man named Warren Frye. I want to say “I use the term “man” loosely”, but that is the anger in me. He was just a man, nothing more, nothing less, a man who hurt me. He lived in our neighborhood, and took “underprivileged” kids on trips, that their parents could not or would not take them on. He took me and two other boys to the 1964 New York World’s Fair for three days. I was fourteen years old. I’m not sure if he was the first one to hurt me that way, but I do know he wasn’t the last. In the hotel room that he had rented, there were only two beds for three boys and a grown man. When he was in the bathroom, I remember that we boys argued about who was going to sleep with whom. Apparently I lost this tug of war with my buddies, although I don’t remember the details of that loss. I do remember that he had given each of us an ‘aspirin’ to “help us sleep”. Two of us didn’t want to take that pill, because we didn’t believe it was aspirin, but my buddy Glen, always the joker, smiling, tossed the pill into the air and caught it in his mouth and swallowed. I can’t remember if I or the other boy swallowed the pill. I do remember getting into the bed alone, while my two buddies got into the other. I was in my underwear, and I remember the terror that I felt when he got into the bed in his underwear, the kind of terror that makes you feel like there is no air in the room to be had. I couldn’t look at him; I couldn’t look at anyone or anything. At this point, my memory goes blank. The next day, I had excruciating pains in my bottom. It felt like I had a knife sticking into my insides. I also found blood, and I remember that I was afraid I was going to die, but I knew I couldn’t tell anyone, even though I didn’t consciously remember what he had done to me. I just knew to keep quiet. It was a very long day, while I waited in silence to die, and I remember that even though I was in this place that was almost like Disneyland, with all the people, and exhibits about the future, I didn’t enjoy one thing about it. To a certain degree, I have had trouble fully enjoying anything since that day. I don’t think I ever saw him after that, although he haunted my dreams throughout my thirties and early forties. In these terrifying dreams, he was this bald man who kept suddenly jumping on top of my car while I was driving, almost making me crash, and always damaging my exhaust system. I didn’t put the pieces together until sometime during therapy, in my forties, when I remembered how I knew to keep quiet the morning after he molested me. I had never forgotten that next morning.
Later that year or maybe before the trip, I’m not sure which, I had another experience of violation in my Boy Scout troop. An older boy named Oliver; maybe three years older did something to me that for the longest while, I thought I had consented to. All of the older boys, and some younger ones were involved in one form of sexual experimentation or another. I remember tremendous shame, and fear that I would be exposed, yet it wasn’t just me. It seemed like almost the whole troop was doing it. We were all “out of control” when no adults were around. We were given no direction by adults about sexual matters other than in Catholic school where they taught us that it was a mortal sin outside of marriage, and that we would go to hell. Fear of punishment and damnation was not enough to overcome our physical impulses to experience pleasure, especially for those of us who came from homes without much affection, or with a lot of violence. Both were true in my case. No one told us that sexual feelings felt good and might draw us into behaviors that could get us hurt in one way or another! The fact that adults who should have looked after us, but didn’t because they were embarrassed by sexual matters is a glaring fact in retrospect. I can only disclose it now, because I am sure about my sexual orientation, the pressures that existed back then, and know that experimentation like that is fairly common with boys, even in males who grow up to be heterosexual. Anyhow, this guy Oliver had a sort of a “cult following”, because he was older and in the Explorers, and because he wanted to become a priest. He was on the bed with his clothes off while we were at winter camp. He was in charge while the adults were away. He had all of us touching him, but then he tried to do the same thing that Warren Frye had done to me, and was hurting me. I hadn’t wanted him to do that, I hadn’t even thought of doing that. I remember that it felt like he was putting broken glass into me, it burned so much. Yet I didn’t say no. In fact, I couldn’t say no! All I could do was whimper. One of the other boys had to say “stop it, you’re hurting him!” I thought I had agreed to all of it. Now I see it was a matter of peer pressure, and this terrible fatal flaw in my makeup that I could not say “no” to anyone!
Why couldn’t I say “no”? I’ve heard that a lot of abusers “groom” their victims. Was that the case? Was that the reason I never said no to things I didn’t want to do? No it wasn’t, although there were aspects of their behavior that might look like grooming. They went slow. They “sized” their victims up. They wanted to make sure that the victims would be compliant, and that they would “Keep the secret”. But they didn’t do the actual “grooming”. In my case, my mother did.
I know, at this point you might want to turn away from what I have to say; how could I say such an awful thing? I say it because it is the absolute and undeniable truth. Was my mother a sexual predator who groomed her victims? No I don’t believe she was, although she most certainly did groom me to be a victim. I didn’t understand this fully until very recently.
Two and a half years ago, about a year before she died, I wrote to my mother, trying to develop an honest relationship with her, rather than staying estranged, or pretending the past had never happened. I wanted her to acknowledge that her anger had kept us apart, not my inadequacies or supposed faults. Instead she went into a diatribe of disrespectful insults, ones that I had heard my whole life. I confronted her about how her rage had kept me terrified throughout my entire childhood. I was finally able to express to her, how angry I was about how she had kept me totally impotent by her rage. My anger allowed me to stand up to her, to be the real me in her presence, not a pretend me that might win her “love” or acceptance. My sisters may never “forgive” me for doing that (even though doing so was not wrong, and even though my confrontation was RESPECTFUL, despite my mother’s disrespect!). By being honest, and breaking out of the mold that led me to be a victim, (by confronting her), I lost my sisters, and a sizable inheritance. I would do it again! I had lost my sisters long ago anyhow. That loss only came to the surface to be seen. It was already there. My mother got all her “power” by putting others down. By belittling others, she felt powerful. By using the approach of playing victim while putting others down, over and over, she drew others into her web of dishonesty. They got to feel powerful too, or at least, less powerless, and were drawn into her “inner circle”, accepted members of the family, unlike myself, a black sheep, and outside this circle. She didn’t only use this tactic, but violence as well. Her rages were unbridled, hitting me with her fists while she told me how lowly, and pitiful, and dirty, and what a mistake I was; that I should never have been born. She did this, while hurling obscenities in every sentence; spit flying from her mouth, her teeth, sharp like daggers – that’s how I saw her. I knew when she was raging, that I had better be docile and compliant, so that her violence would be over sooner. I didn’t dare provoke her further. I truly lived in a constant state of fear. I became “troubled”, and acted out even more, which brought her rage and judgment to bear even more, and made my shame grow, because I could not be good enough, perfect enough to make her stop, and I did believe her that I was “just no good” at the core. What a vicious circle! What a powerful way to train victims. If I had ever dared to say “No!” to her, I would probably be dead! As time went on, she escalated, her dysfunctional behavior culminating in her threatening me with a butcher knife, when I was 16 or 17 years old. When I was old enough, I finally moved away to keep her and all my painful memories at arms length, strengthening her (and my sister’s) judgment of me as disloyal, uncaring, unloving – “and after all she had done for me!” I moved 700 miles away, taking with me an enormous load of shame and terror.
My story is an extreme one, and I know, difficult to hear. But what I want you to know is this: I know that it takes far less to “make a victim” than what was done to me. A child is an extremely sensitive being, a being that deserves the utmost in respect. Hitting a child teaches them that others may do as they wish with their bodies. No amount of rationalizing or explaining will remove that lesson from their tender psyches. It is their reaction to our behavior and moods, not whether we feel or believe that we were morally or ethically justified in our using physical punishment that creates a victim mentality. We as adults have no control over whether that happens or not, unless we refrain from hitting them. Do you want to take that chance with your child? Remember, “Logic is not truth!” There are all sorts of supposed justifications that allow us to tell ourselves that not only is it OK to hit our children, but it is our duty as parents. Remember again, “Logic is not truth”! You have no control over whether your child will develop a victim mentality, if you hit them! Tenderness, honesty, time and attention, and a positive emotional and mental outlook in parents are all necessary to avoid creating a victim mentality in our children. They give us some control over whether our children become victims or not. Explaining sexual feelings and dangers is an integral part, without so much moralizing as we tend to do, because children really don’t see and experience the world like we do. They don’t think that bad things will happen to them (at least until many do happen). They do not have the ability of abstract thought. Spiritual matters are somewhat or very abstract – they have no way to really wrap their minds around such matters. Most important of all: we must never attack their worth, their right to be here, their “okay-ness”. We must teach them that like us, they are not perfect, but they are not bad, that everyone is a mixture of both “good” and “bad”. We all can be kind or cruel, sensitive or insensitive, happy or sad, peaceful or angry, satisfied or hungry, courageous or fearful. We all are a mixture of all these things at various times, in various ratios. As children, we see all these things in ourselves. If we are told that we are bad or defective or worse because we have these tendencies, rather than offering sensitive empathic understanding about what a struggle it really is to grow into who God wants us to be, then we help to create victims. Finally, teach your children to say “No!” Don’t beat it out of them. Have rules that they must follow (here’s where you model saying “no” to them), but allow them to win an argument occasionally when the situation warrants it. A good example is when a child says “no” to finishing a meal because they are no longer hungry. Allow them to win that argument sometimes. They need to be able to practice saying “No!” to people that are more powerful than themselves! Often parents are dictators in their own homes, rather than leaders. Be a compassionate leader. If a child is allowed to learn to say “no”, they can say “No!” to abusers, and they will also be able to say no to the “bad” things inside themselves, like beating their kids when they are parents.