Friday, April 25, 2014

Why Families Turn on Those Who Tell

Why Families Turn on Those Who Tell
What can I do to make my family see that what I'm telling them is true?  Why do they believe the abuser over me? How can I get my family to embrace me instead of my abuser? In my work, these are questions I get in many forms all the time.

It's no surprise that I don't support confrontations. As I've said before, they are rife with denials, minimizations, and the worst of all, shifting the finger of blame onto the victim. So when survivors tell me they want to confront their abusers, I pass along the benefit of my experience and expertise.

But that doesn't always dissuade them. And to be truthful, I'm not all that surprised. When I share what I share, I'm not really trying to change their minds as much as I'm trying to get them to understand the risks associated with confrontations.

If they choose to go forward with a confrontation, I also advise that they need to be as far along their own unique healing path as possible. If they've just started walking that path, they are at great risk of re-victimizaton as a result of how the confrontation unfolds.

But alas, the need to confront is very strong. Most don't wait because they have the expectation that they will get what they need by confronting. Rarely does this need get met. Instead, they are unprepared for being thrust back into feelings of betrayal and abandonment, and all the emotions that accompany those feelings.

And what of the adult survivor who wants to tell the family what has been too hard to tell them before?

How do I tell my parents that my uncle sexually abused me?

How do I tell my mother that my father was doing terrible things to me in the middle of the night?

How do I tell my mother that my stepdad made me do disgusting things to him?

How do I tell my parents that an older sibling molested me? And what if that sibling is a sister?

As a child, telling is critical to get the abuse to stop. Most children don't tell because they are afraid they won't be believed. And that concern is backed up by the evidence of so many who have told and were not believed.

Trouble is, abusers, particularly sexual abusers, don't stop until they are made to stop. But not telling does not make the abuse the child's fault. It's never the child's fault. Fault lies with the abuser because the abuser choose to abuse.

As an adult, telling can be cathartic. But who you choose to tell can mean the difference between continuing to walk the healing path and falling further into the abyss of despair. Depending on how the person you tell responds.

Trust is critical. But trust always brings risk into the picture. There is always risk that the person you tell will not believe you.

Families often deny what the victim discloses because to believe the victim is to tear at the fabric of what they thought the family was. It means accepting responsibility for their part in what happened. And it means accepting that someone they raised or married or trusted is so vile that they could commit such heinous acts. That's too great a leap for many family members.

So instead, they would rather put their head in the sand. Or worse, choose to label the victim as the "black sheep", the one who is out to "get attention", the "troublemaker". And the family bands together to demonize the victim, finding all sorts of instances along the life of the victim that sets that demonization in stone.

Suddenly, in the blink of an eye--a blind eye at that--the survivor of the horrendous abuse becomes the villain as the family bonds and strengthens its ties with the abuser. The survivor becomes the outcast and is left more betrayed and abandoned than ever.

How can the survivor overcome not only the abuse, but also the betrayal and abandonment from the entire family?

Survivors, you must first understand that you cannot make someone believe you. They either do or they don't. If you continue to make it a competition between you and the abuser, you will lose. Harsh as it is, your family is not interested in your version of the truth. They don't see it as the truth. They have already accepted the abusers version. Heartbreaking as it is, if you don't accept this reality that is based in their blindness, you will stay in the prison of pain and suffering.

You must decide whether or not you want to continue a relationship with these people. If you do continue a relationship, you will be required to take back what you told them, which means betraying and abandoning your Self.

If you think that continuing a relationship with them will give you opportunities to convince them of what really happened, re-read the paragraph above. Your family is vested in the belief they currently hold. You are far more likely to be struck by lightning, twice, than you are to get a change in their commitment to the abuser.

The fact they they have chosen the abuser over you says more about them than it does about you. Nothing you did or said, nothing you didn't do or say is responsible for the way they believe.

As much as it feels as though they rejected you--perhaps again--they are actually rejecting what your disclosure represents: that their choices were harmful to someone important to them. This is too much responsibility for many family members to take. They are too self-absorbed to see what their role was, let alone admit to it.

You must choose a life for yourself, independent of your family. Find purpose in what you endured. Then find ways to bring that purpose into your life and the lives of others.

Your happiness cannot be tied into your family. It can't be tied into anything external. Joy resides inside of you as your natural state of being.

Just because your family doesn't treat you with dignity and respect and love doesn't negate the fact that you are worthy of all those. When you believe this yourself, you will begin to treat your Self with that dignity and respect and love. And when that happens, you will find yourself surrounded by people who treat you this way too. People you choose as your family.

Is it possible that your family will come around? Anything is possible. Miracles happen every day. But you can't live your life waiting for this to happen. If you do, you will have wasted many precious days, weeks, months, even years. Fill your own life with joy and purpose. You're worth it. You've always been worth it. You will always BE worth it! 
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