There is nothing mindful about abuse. However, it is a terrible problem in our country and often goes unreported, especially when family members don’t recognize the behaviors as abusive. I felt it necessary to write this article. There are Internet resources listed at the end along with 3 books that I have found very helpful.
I don’t know the percentage of people who come into my office living in abuse or needing to work through past abuse. The ratio is astoundingly high. When I worked in substance abuse residential care, the percentage was probably 99%.
Physical abuse and verbal abuse are easier to recognize because we hear and feel them immediately. Words sting and a punch in the jaw or a toss across the room is painful and frightening. Emotional abuse and sexual abuse are often difficult to identify, especially when the abuser is someone we love and his or her behavior is passive rather than overt and aggressive.
Sometimes I don’t think we recognize the meaning of emotional abuse or sexual abuse. Most of us think sexual abuse is molestation or rape and nothing else qualifies. Passive sexual abuse is as damaging as the kind that happens violently.
Sometimes with passive emotional and sexual abuse, we aren’t sure of what happened until it happens several times. The abuse is so low key, we shake our head … almost like we didn’t really notice it … or maybe misunderstood the meaning. The incident is so sly we don’t speak up right away because we are confused or feel unsettled and unsure. Abuse can come in the guise of protection. It can come in the guise of friendship. It can come in the guise of love or even the love of God and religion. It can a means of control or manipulation. And, it often happens within a trusted relationship. It can make you feel like YOU are the one who is misbehaving or our of control.
Abuse can happen in any home regardless of social status, level of income, level of education, religious beliefs, gender or age. Abuse happens to boys and girls and often starts in infancy and lasts through the growing up years. Sometimes it begins as the child reaches puberty and lasts into the teen years. It depends on the offender and the living situation of the individuals involved.
Some Examples Damaging Passive Sexual Abuse:
- Dad and mom like to watch pornography. Your are 3, 4, 8 or 10 years old. You happen to walk into the room while they are watching. They let you sit and watch with them, maybe even cuddle with you while you all watch together. There is no sexual contact with either parent, and all seems normal except what you are watching. You can’t tell your parents because there the ones who invited you to watch with them. You are upset, but don’t know who to tell.
- Dad and mom invite you into the shower with them and ask you to stand in between them while everyone showers. They may even wash your hair and everyone is talking about normal things. It seems innocent. Your eyes are right at the genital level of both parents and it leaves an impression you can’t get out of your head. Dad may even have an erection, and you just don’t know what to do or say. So, you keep quiet and hold all the feelings inside.
- Granddad has a huge collections of pornographic magazines and a huge video library. It is kept on the book shelves in the TV room. Grandma told you not to touch it, that she hates it and wishes Granddad did not have all this horrible stuff. When no one is around or paying attention, you watch the movies and look at the magazines. You repeat the routine each time you visit. Strange things are happening to your body and you want to try out what you have seen and heard. You begin to explore your sexuality and create sexual games with the neighborhood kids. You are 8.
- Your parent’s never close their bedroom door. You are not allowed to close your door. Mom says she is safety conscious and feels safer when all the doors are open. You can’t sleep because you hear their conversations and their sexual activity. If you turn your head to the left and open your eyes, you can watch. You are trapped in a nightmare.
- You catch your Dad’s image in the mirror. He is watching you dress. As he catches your eye he smiles and you are uncomfortable with the look on his face. You realize that Dad might not be safe … that if he is watching you put on your clothes after a shower, he might touch you. You begin to anticipate what “might” happen to you. You live in fear.
- Mom tells you stories of how men have hurt her. She tries to keep you away from Dad because she is terrified he might touch you inappropriately. You learn to be afraid of men, learn not to trust any man in your life, and you hate being a girl and try to hide your body so no one knows you are growing up physically.
Some examples of Damaging Passive Emotional Abuse:
- Mom won’t allow you to play with the neighborhood kids after school because she has to work and does not get home until after 6. Dad works out of town. You are 12, your brother is 10 and your sister 7. You and your siblings come home everyday and lock the door as directed. The world goes on outside, and you have no friends. You don’t have play dates because there is no time. Mom thinks she is keeping you safe. You feel trapped and can’t say so because she yells and punishes you for asking for something she feels she can’t provide. You are isolated.
- Dad does not allow you to touch any thing that belongs to him. He “booby traps” his drawers and his closet so that he knows if you have opened a drawer or moved anything. Mom asks you to put the fresh laundry in the drawers. You are terrified. You know that if you do, there will be hell to pay when dad gets home. You also know that you’ll be punished by mom if you don’t follow directions. You can’t win no matter what you do.
- You have red hair and everyone else in the family has brown hair. Your family teases you with words like these. “Your father must be the red haired guy at the grocery store and he is weird. You are a mess … lets cut that red hair and get you a wig so you look like you belong. Wear a hat so that red hair does not show … you look like a clown”. You learn to feel ugly and feel you are an outsider in your own family. You even feel guilty because you are different.
- Your husband is critical or judgmental in front of the kids. You mention it, but it only gets worse so you shrug it off because you know he is opinionated. You try to live with it. He says things, without yelling: “I thought I told you not to cook that casserole any more. Kids, don’t eat this stuff it will kill you!” Then he slams out of the room, pounding the table and shaking his head in disapproval as he leaves. No one knows what to do. Mom makes a joke, looks away and everyone eats in silence while dad sulks in the bedroom. This happens each time he is not happy with a meal. Sometimes he picks up all the food and dumps it in the garbage leaving everyone without dinner.
- Your wife or husband is in control of the family money and you have to ask for every penny you spend, even though you work, are responsible and get a regular pay check. You get a $15 per week allowance for personal use, and no matter what happens you can’t have a penny more. You can’t go to the bank because you are “not allowed” a bank card and your name is not on the account.
- You are asked to lie for a parent or a spouse due to alcohol abuse. You are told to call the person in sick, and you feel guilty because you are telling lies all the time. You are severely punished when you refuse so you stop refusing. You are ashamed and burdened by guilt.
- “You don’t remember that? Are you dreaming? Stop making things up! You are just a trouble maker. Shut up … The dirt is smarter than you!” Yet, you know what you saw and what you heard, but others in your family make you feel you are crazy when you mention it or ask about it. Everyone pretends, and you no longer trust your own judgment and wonder if you are going crazy. You begin to to have panic attacks.
Internet resource for adult survivors of abuse:
- Stop it Now! http://www.stopitnow.org/resources_comprehensive
- Male Sexual Abuse: http://www.mencanstoprape.org/info-url2699/info-url_list.htm?section=Resources%20for%20Male%20Survivors
- Psych Central: Abuse. Ritual abuse. http://psychcentral.com/resources/Abuse/Ritual_Abuse/
- Growing Beyond Emotional Abuse: http://www.webheights.net/GrowingbeyondEmotionalAbuse/articles.htm
- Survivors World and associated support pages. For women with a sexual abuse history.
- Tricia McNight is the moderator of this closed, private Facebook discussion page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_170448106332988&id=175309252513540
If you are living in chaos, feel trapped and angry … or have suffed inwardly for years, this is a safe place to take a safe step into the world of recovery.
Some books that might be helpful:
- Repressed Memories – by Renee Fredrickson, PhD
- Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus – by Russell Willingham (This is a book for Christians wanting a Religious approach)
- The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse – by Wendy Maltz