Low Self Esteem, Shame, Depression and the First StepBy
Debbie V. wrote a comment today on my last post (Survivors of Abuse) that just hit me in such a way that I thought I would respond with a new post about this topic.
Debbie said “I am working on what you are speaking of. I know right where it began, I can even remember the feelings I had as a child….embarrassed and ashamed “who did I think I was anyway”??? And how the adults felt looked like “job well done” when I’d been taken down a notch…..what crap. I am grateful you asked me to relate experiences I had as a child to my own daughter…as in ~ what would I DO if someone did to her what was done to me or how would I process that. It makes things VERY clear to me now. I can’t BELIEVE anyone could do to children what seems to be done over and over and over again.”
It isn’t always easy for survivors of abuse to hear the stories of abuse suffered by others, but it far easier to react to the stories of others then it is to feel our own feelings about our own stories. I sought out people that suffered worse abuse then I did, so that I could reinforce the fantasy that it wasn’t really that bad. Who told me it wasn’t really that bad though? THEY DID; it was the ones that abused me and the ones that didn’t have the guts to protect me that convinced me that it wasn’t really that bad. I believed deep down inside of me that for some reason something was just wrong with me and that I deserved what happened to me. This is how they get us to keep the lies and maintain the secrets. Do not bring shame on this family by exposing the truth. So many of us remain in denial about the way we were treated, not protected, not valued, because it is so painful to accept the truth about our lives. But that truth is the truth that will set you free.
What Debbie is referring to in her comment is that in a attempt to make her react to her own terrible story of abuse as a young child, which included being grabbed by the hair and beaten, and having her skin twisted so hard that it came off, I asked her to imagine her reaction if her own young daughter came to her with that same story. How would you process it if someone you loved came to YOU and told your story as though it happened to them. Would you shush them? Would you make light of it? Would you say that they were exaggerating, lying, or trying to get attention? Would you say that they must have done something to deserve it? Somehow I don’t think you would. I think you would be outraged. I think you would weep tears of anger and frustration for them and for the innocence that was taken from them. I think you would want to do whatever you could to reassure them that it could not have possibly been their fault, that it could not have been deserved and that it was the abuser was wrong to treat someone that way.
We don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain of the treatment we received when we are sure that the pain of accepting that being devalued to that degree would be worse than any other pain. We want to stay in denial that our own family could not possibly have neglected to protect us, or worse yet, our own parents could not possibly have used and degraded us in that way. I think my biggest fear was that if I faced the whole truth about my past that I would find out it was true… I really was not loveable or worthy of love. Blaming it on myself was safer then accepting that I was nothing.
And it is very painful to go back and face the events of the past. We were children; innocent children who were told that we deserved to be beaten; we were told (not always in words) that we didn’t deserve protection, that we didn’t deserve love and that we needed to be disciplined because we were bad, unruly and wrong. We felt defective. In psychological abuse, or emotional abuse we were told not to feel, we were told that we were stupid, in the way, whiney or silly and it was clear in our fragile minds that we were not valued for who we really are but only for what we could do to make someone else look good. In sexual abuse we were told that we needed to be taught the ways of the world, we were told that it was love, or that we were special and if we told on our abuser we lived in fear for our lives or the lives of our siblings, parents or pets. We lived in fear. We were told that we were lying or that it was no big deal, or that we must be insane to make up such a story. Some of us were brought in front of a church so that everyone could pray for us, further reinforcing our belief that the problem was within our own selves. This is not love.
And so we grow up thinking that it was our fault, that we are the crazy ones. And when we struggle with mental health issues, low self esteem, and all manner of depression, then they point at us and declare “there is the proof. We always knew that it was you, you have always been the problem!” By that time, we are in such a fog and so used to living in the spin that it doesn’t take much for us to believe once again that they are right. We take medication; we often land in institutions, all the while never realizing where it all started.
I am encouraging you to take a step outside yourself, tell yourself your story as though you were hearing it from someone you love, and see how that makes you feel. It is okay to be angry. That anger is justifiable; blame and anger are important stepping stones to freedom and the pain is temporary when you face the whole truth. Hear your own story and realize that you deserve to know the truth. You are enough, you are loveable and you are worth it.
Thank you for reading my rant today. I encourage you to post your comments about how this post affected you; how does it make you feel? Did I get too blunt? Push too hard or was it exactly what you needed to hear?
All my love, Darlene Ouimet