My Abusive Childhood Wasn’t that Bad because His was WorseBy
It wasn’t that bad. What happened to me wasn’t “that bad” and I told myself that for YEARS. When I was in my early twenties and struggling with trying to quit the coping methods of alcohol and drug use, some of my memories of child sexual abuse were coming up and I was trying really hard to get rid of them without resorting to alcohol or drugs. At that point in my life I had never told anyone (outside of family but they didn’t validate the abuse OR me) what had happened to me.
One day I was having coffee with a friend of mine who I had met in a 12 step program. In an attempt to mentor me and validate an issue that I was struggling with he told me that from as young as he can remember his parents sandwiched him in between themselves while they had sex. He told me that he can never remember a time growing up when he didn’t have sex with both his parents. He told me that by the time he was 5 he liked it and by the time he was a young teenager, he loved it. He didn’t know it wasn’t “normal”. It was his normal. And now he was struggling to learn what the truth about “normal” actually was and to overcome the damage that had occurred in his life. He was having all kind of relationship problems as a result of child sexual abuse.
Although I felt extreme compassion for him, I didn’t hear any of what he was trying to communicate to me. He was trying to communicate that it wasn’t his fault and that his body reacted to being sexually stimulated. He had been sexualized from a very young age. All I heard was how horrible his childhood was and how horrific the child sexual abuse that he endured was. And the biggest thing I “heard” was that what had happened to me did not compare with what he had survived.
I remember thinking “what the hell do I have to complain about? It wasn’t that bad for me.”
I found so much comfort in that statement. I told myself things like “at least my parents didn’t do ‘that’ to me.” It was as though I believed that because they didn’t take me to bed with them and have sex with me from as young as I could remember that the things that did happen to me were irrelevant. I could just forget the abuse I suffered because it wasn’t “that bad.” I could just be grateful that “that” didn’t happen to me. I used the extremely abusive and dysfunctional family situation that my friend told me about to cancel any right I had to feel hurt by the dysfunctional family situation that I had lived in just because I decided that it wasn’t “as bad” as what he went through.
I told myself in an almost reprimanding way that If he lived through that, then I can live through the “little bit” of pain that I had in my own childhood. Every time I thought about my own childhood and the abuse I suffered, I thought about his situation of horrific child sexual abuse and I minimized what happened to me. And I used his situation to trump mine and to discount and discredit my pain and my hurt. I used his story to invalidate my own story. I told myself that I was a wimp, told myself to suck it up, told myself to be grateful that what happened to him didn’t happen to me. I invalidated my own rights, so I could stay in denial of the child sexual abuse that DID happen to me.
I told myself “But it wasn’t every day”
I told myself “But it wasn’t both my parents together
I told myself “But there was far more emotional abuse than any other kind of abuse…”
I told myself “But it wasn’t “violent” sexual abuse”
And I told myself “but I deserved the beatings…
But but but…
People comment on this blog all the time saying “Oh my gosh Darlene, it wasn’t that bad for me.” Sometimes people tell me that they don’t think they have a right to call what happened to them “abuse” or that they feel as though they don’t have a “right” to feel as though they had been wronged in childhood. And these feelings are common! I had them all too. It wasn’t “that bad” for me either. In fact even today when people write to me saying that they are grateful that their lives were not as bad as mine was and go on to tell me of their childhoods, my first reaction is “WHAT? You think what happened to me was worse than what happened to you!!”
Denial is a funny thing. Denial enabled me to avoid facing the damage that happened to me. Denial was one of my favorite survival tools. When I hear these kinds of statements today, I think about my friend who told me his story of family dysfunction, incest and child sexual abuse and how I thought the same things. That it wasn’t “that bad”.
Most survivors of child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and psychological or emotional abuse will all say the same thing when reading about someone else’s child abuse stories. They will say to themselves or to the other person; it wasn’t that bad for me. It wasn’t “that” bad.
It was when I finally faced what that statement was doing for me that I reached a new level of healing and understanding. Like a coping method, that statement allowed me to stay in denial of the truth that I had been abused, devalued, discounted, not protected as a person. I had to set aside the story about my friend and the child sexual abuse that he lived with almost daily, and validate my own life experience. I had to face and validate that what happened to me was just as damaging to me as what happened to him was damaging to him. It WAS that bad.
Abuse is abuse and for the record, emotional abuse, verbal abuse and psychological abuse is no less damaging then physical abuse or sexual abuse; the damage is done to the person ~ the value of the person being abused is diminished. The value of the “victim of abuse” is defined as not worthy of more, not lovable, not important. The self esteem is squashed, tarnished, broken, harmed and torn apart. And it is the damage that has to be validated and faced in order for healing from that damage to take place.
There is no “not that bad” when it comes to being devalued or discounted. There is no “it wasn’t that bad” when it comes to helpless powerless children.
Please share your thoughts on this topic. It might interest you to know that even while I was writing it I was still reminding myself that what happened to me WAS THAT BAD.
There is freedom on the other side of broken;
Related Posts ~ Sexual Abuse ~ Devalued, Discounted and Unprotected
Also see the colored words within the body of the article for other posts