My Abusive Childhood Wasn’t that Bad because His was Worse

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abuse was not that bad according to who?
Who says it wasn’t that bad?

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 what happened to me 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;

Darlene Ouimet

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing

 

Related Posts ~ Sexual Abuse ~ Devalued, Discounted and Unprotected

I organized my world around trauma and abuse

Also see the colored words within the body of the article for other posts

133 response to "My Abusive Childhood Wasn’t that Bad because His was Worse"

  1. By: January Posted: 24th April 2013

    So very true Darlene! I’ve heard that too. Thank you for setting the record straight. Abuse of any kind is abuse, period. Saying anything else is not just invalidating to the abused, it’s also an excuse.

    I think the reason that so many people say such insensitive things like that is because we’re taught to accept it by society. As though a survivor never really endured such painful or destructive actions caused by another (as if we don’t remember our past accurately with the abuser?). When you drop a glass into acid, it leaves its mark through etching into the once smooth surface. It’s forever changed! The longer it stays in the acid, the deeper the etching…so it is with the human psyche. Excuses let the abuser off the hook, & shuts the target down. Since the abused caused the abuse to happen. It says that our memories deceive us, & the abuse wasn’t so terrible just because we made it through to adulthood. Therefore, we ought to be unscathed by past events? How invalidating of anyone to say that…even when it’s about his/herself…that what was endured was not so bad. It’s not the abuser who suffers…in fact, most don’t even remember the “incidence(s).” I know those who abused me act as though they were the nicest people 100% of the time. I wish! My memories tell a completely different story.

    It’s just sad that so many of us are taught from an early age to accept abuse. With that acceptance, especially when it reoccurs frequently, we start blaming ourselves for the abuse. This happens with abused kids & it happens in situations involving domestic violence. It’s not going to stop unless society across the board brings abuse out into the open. The longer it stays a “dirty little secret,” the sicker our society becomes.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 26th April 2013

      Hi January
      Yes, we were all taught to accept unacceptable treatment! And then the mixed message of being taught NOT to accept the same treatment from friends or co-workers and round it goes! And we are taught to discount our memories. Abuse is normalized and on and on. That is the fog we are busting out of!
      Thanks for sharing,
      Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Dianne Posted: 24th April 2013

    Great post Darlene…

    I think every single one of us has heard the common mantras of abusers that have the purpose to deny or minimize the pain we felt / feel. I know that it’s part and parcel of the whole misplaced ‘guilt’ I’ve been trained to feel and own as belonging to me.

    I have begun my journey into healing – sometimes I feel good and other days I still struggle – it’s a long and winding road (as the song goes.

    I too dream; the common reoccurring dreams from years ago including being driven with my family,various friends and neighbors (always different people) along a country road to a path between tall reeds where we would walk till we came to lake with tall reeds across it – magically each person would walk safely across to the other side – everyone except me as I would sink into the murky waters and wrestle giant snakes, sometimes drowning and other times not. Weird. The other dreams involved my parents being viciously murdered by robotic earth-moving type machines – they were very bloody and hanging lifeless in the jaws of these huge metal monsters. Again weird!

    My latest dream was very different though – I was my adult-self in my old childhood bedroom, complete with same furniture / furnishings except for a chest of drawers in my home now – I went in to feed my turtles living in the top two drawers of the chest which was over flowing with water, bottom drawers empty and closed. There were so many baby turtles…I spoke to them lovingly and turned to leave the room. Two enormous crocs – one laying on the floor next to my bed – along where I had to walk and the other one standing upright next to the doorway. I looked the upright one straight in the eyes and said “I know you are hungry BUT do not eat me!!! I’ll be back with your food…Got it?” and pushed it hard as I walked past.

    Analysis of dream –
    the chest of drawers represents my subconscious with the turtles being new beginnings / creative aspects of the self / etc and these were overflowing!
    The crocs – one laying down was my dad – passive enabler and also abuser none the less – the other one – my narc-mother ready to devour me! But I took my power back instead!
    It’s amazing how dreams can tell us so much.

    Anyways; thanks again for the great post. I no longer have to go over and revisit my pain quite as often as I did before – I know I was not to blame and more importantly I also feel much lighter inside.

  3. By: Lora Posted: 24th April 2013

    Thank you for this post Darlene! I’m in a tough patch right now. Lots of anger and rage. I’m venting lots and crying to release. I didn’t realize how common this was. I watch Dr. Phil all the time which I find very helpful for putting pieces together. When I hear the horror stories of others I do the same thing. I minimize my own abuse and i guess it makes sense because isn’t that what our parents did. For them not to be accountable for their own behavior and make us feel wrong for our responses to them is so messed up.

    It’s only recently that I have realized how abused my own parents were. Their abuse was not validated as abuse and they were in such deep denial that they couldn’t acknowledge us. I learned very inappropriate things at an early age and thought it was normal. My normal was so messed up that discovering the truth now feels incredibly uncomfortable. I feel how off everything was. It’s like being told the color red is blue all your life and then something else trying to convince you what red really is. My level of trust is very layered and it seems I get high for awhile feeling good about my life and then out of no where a new layer comes up.

    I have to just vent this out….I hate this journey with a passion right now. My dad would say to me that hate is a strong word and yet my body was just screaming in pain and wanted to express what I was feeling. I thought my dad was the good guy until I realized that he was a spineless coward. he knew my mom was being abusive and he didn’t stop her. He himself was manipulated by her because of the sex. They were a very sick team. I was hoping at least one of my parents loved me but there was no love happening in our family, it was all rooted in sickness. Just because they used the word love doesn’t make it so.

    I feel sick inside with all the anger that I have carried around all my life. i was afraid to let it out because I thought I would rip someone to shreds. To be honest I almost did want to kill my mom at one point and I swear I had an angel on my shoulder that held me back. To have that much rage inside is a very horrible place to be.

    Today is not a good day for me but I know tomorrow is a new day and it’s another day that I take a step forward in my healing journey.

    No one should ever compare their abuse to another. it doesn’t matter what happened, it’s how it made you feel as a person that matters most and everyone matters when it comes to being loved and cared for. I hope everyone no matter what they have experienced reaches out and receives healing. We all matter and I’m so grateful that we have all come together to share the journey. It’s because of all of you that I continue the fight for my soul. Thank you all for being the exceptional warriors you are. Love to all!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 26th April 2013

      Hi Dianne
      Wow that is awesome! Thank you for sharing your dream and analysis of it!
      Hugs, Darlene

      Hi Lora
      Feeling all the anger etc. has been so important for me. It was validating, even if I was the one validating it, it was healthy and necessary to feel it and to see the truth about it. Thank you so much for sharing this.
      Hugs, Darlene

  4. By: GDW Posted: 27th April 2013

    HI Lora-

    I think that is great that you are feeling anger and rage. That was a really healing part of the process. Darlene told me about some of the old articles from EFB she said to google anger and emerging from broken. Those were really helpful in validating how ok it was for me to be angry and even a guide for how to be angry (I wasn’t quite sure how to do it!).

    My mother too manipulated my father. She is very beautiful and spoiled (I know that sounds judgemental, but this is a woman who once didn’t tip because ‘the food was bad’). It’s your classic man marries woman for her looks, woman marries man for money. Neither will leave- she doesn’t want to work, and he doesn’t want to ‘look bad’. Neither love eachother really, but in some sick way, it ‘works’.
    My father always got angry at us, because guess what? We didn’t have sex with him to get our way! I always felt that was unfair and I can relate to you on that. What a horrible thing to do for a mother to use that as leverage to abuse her children without repercussions. I know how men can be so nice when you get involved- blinded by lust, etc. It’s just, she’s a mother- that’s her entire identity- you’d think she’d at least put in some effort, responsibility. But it’s all about sleeping in, getting together with friends, getting her hair done (we get limited haircuts but she ‘needs’ to get her hair dyed every month). If she’s late to pick us up, or forgets us, locks us in the car for hours, takes us to school late, doesn’t cook dinner, and so on, oh well, because SHE COMES FIRST. “I’m busy” usually really means, “I’m doing something more fun than taking care of you.”

    I’m so sorry to hear about that sick dynamic. But so happy you are finally recognizing the abuse for what it is!

    Cheers,
    Gillian

  5. By: Michelle Posted: 13th May 2013

    This hits home hard…I’ve been saying this to myself…. I need to think on this for awhile…
    Thank you for writing about it..I needed to hear it.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 13th May 2013

      Hi Michelle
      Welcome to EFB
      It is so very common for survivors of any kind of abuse to feel this way. I am glad you are here.
      Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: debra Posted: 11th August 2013

    I am feeling my anger also and its been over 30 years!! coming out will cause problems, but I dont care anymore>>>>>>>>

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 12th August 2013

      Debra
      For me it was time to overcome the problems that had already been caused; to me! I had nothing to lose!
      Glad you are here!
      hugs, Darlene

  7. By: debra Posted: 11th August 2013

    I am feeling my anger also and its been over 30 years!!

  8. By: Sarah Posted: 28th August 2013

    Hi Darlene,

    You’re amazing, thank you for this post and for being so involved in the comments section! I’ve read this post many times and while intellectually I fully agree, I still don’t feel it in my core.

    I was shut down by my guidance counselor, the first time I talked about what happened to me. Since then I’ve seen many therapists and was always scared of getting the same response, so I usually wouldn’t even mention it. More recently I’ve been telling them, but I still won’t reveal details for fear that they will think it “wasn’t that bad” (what my first guidance counselor said to me).

    It was sexual abuse, but every time someone asks me how long it went on for, I feel like an idiot for saying it “only” happened once. It’s as though it doesn’t qualify as sexual abuse if it’s not ongoing. I avoid saying whether it was or wasn’t rape because I’m afraid people will minimize my pain if they find out it wasn’t. Even though I know how much it has damaged me and I know my pain, I still feel guilty for it.

    I keep waiting to finally find a therapist who will fully validate my pain, who will get angry and sad for me and tell me it WAS that bad as much as they would say so to someone who has been raped for years. And then again I feel guilty for wanting that so badly, because I wasn’t raped…for years…by my father… But while I have met some decent therapists, they haven’t done enough for me to make me feel as though my pain is fully justified. I feel like I’m chasing a shadow by always seeking that out, and I know that it’s only until I give myself that validation that I can start healing, but I still need someone else to validate me first before I can do it for myself, because I don’t trust myself. Is that the wrong approach?

    Thanks and Hugs,
    Sarah

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th August 2013

      Hi Sarah
      Welcome to EFB ~ I totally relate to what you are sharing! I needed someone to hear me too and when I found that, I started to really soar in my healing. (this is one of the reasons I started this site; I wanted people to be and feel heard since it was one of the first keys for me). I did have to validate myself of course ~ that was an even bigger key, but I couldn’t seem to do that until someone else validated my pain and the damage too. The fear of being told ‘it’s not that big a deal’ is huge and gets in the way of millions! (but there is hope!!)
      Glad you are here,
      hugs, Darlene

  9. By: Sarah Posted: 28th August 2013

    And just to clarify, I didn’t mean to imply it was my father who did it. It was a relative of my friend. Which again, makes me feel undeserving of outrage. I hate this urge to compare. I try to fight it, and yet just knowing that it’s a natural human tendency that will always exist (even if I get rid of my own, others will still have their judgments) makes me feel so helpless. For so many years I wish I had been raped just so I could stop feeling guilty for my pain.

  10. By: DXS Posted: 28th August 2013

    I still have issues calling my mom an “abuser.” I think in her case it was just “ignorance” and like what someone said on a different article on Darlene’s blog, “the done thing.” I had this “way” of making her see her own issues, she didn’t like it, so she flipped it around and made ME the problem. Denial. Rose colored glasses. She wanted me to fill some need she had, instead of guiding me to be the best I could be.

    Now, Darlene’s situation maybe wasn’t as bad as what that guy reported (HOW SICK!!!!), but I still call Darlene’s situation ABUSE!

    And Sarah! Even ONCE is abuse the way I see it reading your story.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th August 2013

      DXS
      It was (and sometimes still is) way easier for me to call other peoples situations “abusive” and other peoples parents ‘abusive’ ~ that is part of the way we are raised. I had to look up a lot of definitions of abuse, to see the truth about it. It struck me funny that I could see other peoples situations as abusive and even illegal, when I saw my own mother as ‘just the way she is’ or “just troubled”
      Thanks for sharing!
      hugs, Darlene

  11. By: Sarah Posted: 20th September 2013

    Thank you for your responses Darlene and DXS. Darlene, it’s nice to know that you can relate to my feelings.

    And I am so so grateful that you started this site. Since the last time I posted here I’ve been discussing this denial/minimization issue a lot with my therapist, and while at first I didn’t think that was helping, now I feel like it’s starting to. It just takes a while for new ways of thinking to get through all the crap in my head. Plus I’ve grown more comfortable with my therapist (after a really long time of going through many I didn’t love), and now finally being able to be so honest and vulnerable with a therapist I trust can make all the difference.

    Reading this post again today made me realize that I do FEEL your words more than I did before, and that’s progress! Lots of Love.

  12. By: Jeff Posted: 7th October 2013

    In a little over a month from now, I’ll turn 57.
    For much of my life, I have minimized the significance the life-long damage I’ve had to bear, largely, because I’ve said “At least I didn’t go through THAT!” How unfair to myself…NO MORE.
    Thank you all, for sharing.
    My respect and admiration to you all, for having the willingness to FEEL.

  13. By: 84 Posted: 23rd January 2015

    Thank you for this post. I’ve been struggling with these feelings all the time, helps to know others have too.

  14. By: Kris Posted: 28th April 2015

    Hello,
    I was in an automobile accident 7 years ago which left me with a PTSD diagnosis (I won’t go into details, but I watched a 10-week old baby die, had recurring nightmares, anxiety, avoidance, etc.). Anyway, I was just reading an article about PTSD and it spoke of how children who go through violent, traumatic childhoods also usually have PTSD and that PTSD can reoccur (never goes away, really) all through one’s lifetime. Am I the only person that did not know this? After some reading, I am finding that while I may not have been diagnosed with PTSD as a child, I did indeed have many, if not all the symptoms then. So the accident just re-awakened it. Now, as an adult, I am having to deal with this yet again. The good thing is that this time, I am aware that it’s not something that I am to blame for – which is what I thought as a child.
    Thank you for your blog. It truly is helpful to know that I am not the only one in the world dealing with this or having these feelings. It helps to know that others feel this…that I am not imagining things or crazy.

  15. By: Kris Posted: 28th April 2015

    Also wanted to say thank you for your current article. I also have compared my experience with others and said to myself that mine wasn’t so bad. But it was just as bad because I had no other reference points with which to compare it when I was a child. It was all I knew. I tried to hide it from others thinking that they would not understand or think less of me, and that only compounded it.

  16. By: Elsa Posted: 28th April 2015

    Hi everybody. I’ve experienced the same as some of you for years. I recently heard a comeback to the “what do you have to be unhappy about, lots of people have it worse than you” which is “What do you have to be happy about, lots of people have it better than you.” When I first heard that it made me realize how ridiculous it was for me to minimize my pain.

  17. By: Stephanie Posted: 28th April 2015

    I have never posted here but have been reading the comments. It has been so helpful to know I am not alone, I have been down playing the verbal abuse by my mother, down playing the physical abuse because it didn’t happen as often. I know in my head it was a horrible, but others had it much worse…..I try not to think this way but it is hard not to. Thank you for listening

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th April 2015

      Hi Stephanie
      Welcome to Emerging from Broken
      I found the validation that was missing from my life through seeing the truth about this stuff. Really seeing the truth about it went miles towards my progress in getting over it.
      Thanks for sharing!
      hugs, Darlene

  18. By: S1988 Posted: 28th April 2015

    I don’t like that message either. It seems like in our society unless one was molested, beaten black and blue, or neglected with torn clothes and no food, then it’s not abuse. What makes this worse is hearing this from your own abuser. “I believe in spankings, not beatings.” “You weren’t abused. What goes on in movies and on the news, now THAT’S abuse.” “I thought my grandmother was mean, but I ended up marrying someone meaner than her.” (So, why did you end up with an abuser if you were raised so well?) Sigh. The senselessness of this.

  19. By: Lianor Posted: 28th April 2015

    For most of my life I thought I wasn’t being abused because it wasn’t as bad as some had had it. I wasn’t sexually abused, I was spanked but not beaten. I thought my ex-husband hadn’t raped me because he didn’t hold me down and penetrate me. I knew what had been done to me was wrong, and all the signs were there– low self-esteem, couldn’t remember most of my childhood, all the bad mental habits you learn as coping mechanisms. It’s good to finally be able to call it what it was, to acknowledge that I was kept in emotional starvation conditions for most of my life, that every time I tried to meet my emotional needs I was prohibited. My family hates me now, but I’m free.

  20. By: Raine Posted: 29th April 2015

    I agree with what so many have said. I think we minimise our story, 1 because we’ve been taught that we don’t have the right to complain, but also, 2, because it’s all a part of the brain washing that Narcs and dysfunctional people do to their kid, it’s not as bad as such and such… I swear, it’s almost guaranteed, having to survive in a home of abuse, of any kind, makes the child really understand and value what’s right over wrong, good over evil. It’s a horrible way to learn perspective and how NOT to live.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 29th April 2015

      Hi Raine
      Welcome to emerging from broken.
      yes exactly. Thanks for sharing!
      hugs, Darlene

      Hi Lainor
      yes, exactly. Abuse is abuse and all of it including emotional abuse and being discounted does damage.
      YAY for being free!!!
      hugs, Darlene

  21. By: Melinda Posted: 3rd August 2016

    This makes so much sense. I’ve always been made to feel like I have no right to feel the way I do.
    I’ve always been told that I have no right to share my story. I’ve always been invalidated and discounted.

    Even my dear husband is sometimes guilty of saying stuff like “be thankful because other people have it worse”…um, not helpful. I know that many others have suffered far more than I have.
    But it pisses me off to be constantly told that MY pain doesn’t matter. I used to believe that narrative and it kept me feeling ashamed, like I was some ungrateful jerk whining about nothing.

    But the truth is that I WAS hurt deeply. My experiences ARE real. I am a person, no less than anybody else, and I matter just like everybody else does.

    Abuse is abuse…pain is pain. Our experiences shape who we are. We can acknowledge that others have their own struggles, but that doesn’t take away what we’ve been through.
    Part of my journey in trying to make sense of it all is confronting reality and not living in denial the way people want me to.

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