In the blogging world, there are many fantastic writers who are recovering from abusive childhoods. I enjoy reading what other survivors have to say about the affects of abuse. It is a virtual support group. Surprisingly, I can read articles about sexual violence and be mostly unaffected. I don’t usually get angry because I lived that life, so I have already experienced the anger. And almost nothing shocks me. I have experienced too much to be shocked. With that said, my friend at Behind the Mask of Abuse wrote three little words in her recent post that affected me more than I expected.
She listed some helpful statements when responding to a survivor, and one of those statements was “I believe you”. To most people, this might not seem significant. Most people may think that goes without saying. Most people may assume that someone is going to believe them. Not me. I have always believed the opposite.
I have always been a talker. I am an extrovert by nature. In my family, that made me a problem child. They couldn’t get me to shut up. I was threatened with my life and physically assaulted many times because I was exposing the family secret.
My experience with unsupportive responses started with the women in my family. The most common response from my mother and grandmother was, “Don’t make things up because that’s not nice.” During one conversation with my grandmother, she explained that, “Men have urges and it is our job as women to meet those urges.” There are so many things wrong with that statement, but there is one point that stands out for me. I was not a woman. I was a child.
I also tried to stand up to my grandfather and my father. My grandfather was more passive. He would say that he had no choice but to abuse me. He would also threaten not to love me anymore. My father would beat the living daylights out of me. He broke my finger and hit me in the head countless times. I remember going to the hospital with a concussion on more than one occasion. I am not sure how he talked his way out of trouble at the hospital, but I am sure he made up a good story. He was good at getting out of messes. While child rape may be somewhat invisible, physical assault is not. And he did both.
I also told several outsiders about my abuse. I am not sure if they believed me initially, but they certainly were questioning the possibility. I am not sure why they didn’t go to the police. It is possible that my parents just told them I was the crazy one. I am aware of several instances in which my father threatened them. He loved power, and he was able to end careers and out secrets in some truly manipulative ways.
I came to realize early in my life that I was not believable. I would not be taken seriously. And when I started to reveal my past a few years ago, the initial responses were not positive. My old energy patterns were were there as the only way I could relate to people, and our discussions were not providing the healing I was hoping for. They would respond with disbelief that my abusers would be capable of such a thing. They would ask if I was sure. They would encourage me to keep it quiet for the sake of my family. I almost shut down again, but I intuitively knew that wasn’t the answer. I knew there were people in the world that were ready to hear my story. I just had to keep trying.
I continued to work with my belief systems about the support (or lack of support) that I was expecting from others. As I started to have more faith in myself, the people in my life started to have more faith in me. I started to interact with individuals who were ready to hear what I had to say. I started to get messages from people who were grateful that I was willing to tell my story. I have to admit, I was a little surprised at first. Now I realize this is how humanity should respond.
I am still getting my voice back. I work at it every day. I still notice my self-censoring at times. There is still fear about telling some aspects of my story. But I am changing and shifting. And so are the people in my life. Soon, the words, “I believe you” won’t sound shocking. They won’t bring chills. Of course, they will always be special. I will always be grateful to have support. Because I know what it feels like to have none.
So, the next time a sexual violence survivor opens up to you about their experience, tell them you believe them. It may not seem important to you, but to them, it means the world.
Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project. Want more?