Wednesday, 24 March 2010


I've been thinking through some stuff about childhood and abuse and memories that keep cropping up, partly precipitated by conversations elsewhere. It's... all a bit too personal to go into much detail here, I think.

In more general terms:

People talk about breaking a cycle of abuse as if it's a black-and-white thing, as if someone is either a monster or a saint. That isn't true. When I look at how my stepdad treated us compared to societal norms, some of what he did was pretty bad, and it's hard to see how anyone could do that. When I look at it compared to the abuse he suffered at the hands of his family, and I consider that he didn't have any sort of ongoing support or stability or guidance except from my mother (who was definitely as much a victim of his abuse as I was), I wonder how it wasn't much, much worse.

Abuse is systemic, even if it isn't systematic. For my stepdad to be abusive toward me, my mother had to not stick up for me. Later on that may have been because I didn't tell her, but earlier it was because she was also afraid. Why was she so afraid, too afraid to speak for her own daughter? Her own childhood, her own difficult background, a history of conditional support from others. It's very easy to talk about this and say that she was also responsible for what I went through, to apportion some sort of blame or fault. But that isn't useful, and I'm not trying to blame others for who I am now, just to acknowledge what happened (admittedly not easy when I'm also trying to protect anonymity). But breaking the cycle of abuse, if it can be done, is not only about teaching abusers other ways of relating to people: it's about teaching victims not to be accomplices, not to look the other way.

Given that my stepdad is clergy some who don't know the details would say that I have an obligation to report the abuse, in order to protect others who might be vulnerable. But despite my own experiences, I do not believe my stepdad is generally dangerous. His abusiveness was in the context of family life, not in the context of church work. Oh, he was (and to an extent still is) a bully and that permeates everything, but honestly? There are so many minor bullies about, people can deal with it. The physical abuse was generally poor anger management and would never get that far at work; the sexual abuse was rare and, I believe, accidental (no, I cannot explain this without going into detail. But what he thought was okay, what was an attempt at building intimacy and trust into a fractured relationship, was not okay with me, and I didn't tell him any differently because by then I'd been terrified of him for a decade... and yes, I think that is abuse, even if it was not severe or violent), and again would not happen in a work context where there are stricter guidelines.

However, I'm also aware that I can't think about this without bias... that my own issues make this frightening to me, to the point that I might rationalize away my responsibility. Maybe I am messed up enough that I could think he is not dangerous, even if actually he is; maybe what I went through is the tip of the iceberg rather than the worst of it, and I should be shouting from the rooftops in case anyone else has been hurt.

And yet I do not want to bear false witness.

I guess I need to have a good long talk with someone about this, someone who is going to be confidential about it no matter what and who won't automatically advise one way or another. I've always compartmentalized it... spent three years talking to the brainhacker about the emotional problems and a bit of the physical stuff but didn't have the courage to go further, have alluded to the sexual abuse without really discussing it properly. I don't know if the latter is protecting privacy or another form of false witness.

Meanwhile today I am remembering that the man who terrified me throughout my childhood also stood up for me. I had a paper route, and one of the kids from school lived on it, and he used to throw things -- tennis balls, rocks, whatever -- at me when I went past. One particularly bad day (I think there might have been broken glass involved) I came home crying about this, and my stepdad noticed (unusual) and asked why, and I (reluctantly) explained. And we walked to the house, there and then, me terrified the whole way, and knocked on the door. And he told the kid's father, calmly, what had happened, and the kid's father said he'd talk about it. I hope beyond hope that it was just talk. But that kid didn't throw stuff at me any more.

I'm really looking forward to Mass later.


UKViewer said...


Facing up to what happened is painful and takes courage. I have had to do just that in the past few weeks. 50 or more years after things happened.

I have been receiving weekly spiritual direction from a Priest, who is also trained as a counselor.

I have found it difficult to articulate orally, so wrote down my feelings, which we than drew out by questioning and prayer.

The spur to all of this was the release of records of my time in care, which released an avalanche of emotion, pain and memories (not false memories). It is something that needed to be done - If I am to be of any use to God in following the vocation he is calling me to.

In my case, the abuser is deceased, but forgiveness has been a foundational part of this process, of both the abuser and myself for keeping it locked away for all of this time.

I hope and pray that you are able to find the way forward with the right person to support and help you.

it's margaret said...

What you just said took great courage and clarity.

God bless you, Song.

my word: messes

Kathryn said...

Hugs and prayers...

Song in my Heart said...

It is late and I am tired, so I'm not going to reply at length as I feel I should.

Thank you all for your support and care.