Still Think the Abuse Was Your Fault? Take One of These
source: Margot Silk Forrest
Unlearning the lifelong habit of taking responsibility for our childhood sexual abuse takes practice. I want to share with you some of the practices that have helped me silence the voice that shouts, “It’s all your fault.”
Simply look at the size of a child compared to the size of a grown man or woman. Does someone that small have any power? John Bradshaw points out that “when you’re two, it’s equivalent to hanging around with people five times your size, five times your weight.” He asks, “What if you went home to somebody five times your size and weight tonight? Some 24-foot, 900-pound person? And they said, ‘Sit up straight.’ Boy, you’d figure out a way to do it!”
Read When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner. Kushner is a rabbi and a very wise and compassionate man who has had his own share of tragedy in life. In a gentle and thoughtful way he dismantles, step by step, the belief that a person deserves or is responsible for the bad things that happen to her. He is especially emphatic that “God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people, and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws.”
Make a list of things you can’t control. Being a resident of California, my list starts with “Earthquakes.” Start with the forces of nature and work down to the personal things you can’t control. “My therapist” is always a good one to put down. Make the list very, very long. At the end, be sure to include “Having been sexually abused as a child.” Next time you feel bad about your role in the abuse, pull out that list and read it aloud. With feeling.
Hang out with kids. You’ll see that although they try with all their might to hid the fact, they are much less competent than their verbal skills might lead you to think. For example, I worked recently in a kindergarten. There was one especially bright little girl there called Brianna. Brianna was five. She always arrived clean and well-brushed. She learned the words to the rhymes immediately. She didn’t lose her lunch box and she didn’t forget to put her paints away. When I met her, she introduced herself and then, frustrated after my third attempt to pronounce her name correctly, she spelled it for me—both first and last names. I figured her for a very bright kid.
One day, when the kids were changing into their “outdoor shoes” for recess, I noticed Brianna’s new shoes.
“What nice sandals,” I said.
“They’re not sandals,” she replied.
“Oh. What are they?”
“Oh. Well, buckle them up so we can go out.”
Brianna looked up at me in amazement. “I don’t know how,” she said simply. There it was. I had fallen for appearances. She was intelligent and alert and I forgot she was only five years old. How could I, at age five, have been responsible for my abuse? I probably couldn’t even buckle my own shoes!
Laugh at your “omnipotence.” I have a friend who is a therapist and an incest survivor. She is always on the alert for clients who blame themselves, who inappropriately take responsibility for past, present, and future events. When she hears a client doing this, she looks at her with a loving and skeptical smile and asks innocently, “Oh, you have that kind of power, do you?” I have written that little zinger on a Post-It and stuck it on my bathroom mirror.
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