DISRESPECT & ABUSE
A VICTIM'S VOICE:
TRANSFORMING CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE...
The Idyllic 1950's
If You're Good, I'll Read You God's Words
Hiding In Front Of Everyone
FEAR IN THE HOME CREATES TERRORISTS IN THE WORLD
TRANSFORMING CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE
Despite Many Accomplishments, Recurrent Depression Has Prevailed Until Now
© 1999 Connie Cook Smith
(Approx. reading time: under 10 minutes)
For me, the new millennium can't come too soon. I was born near mid-century, but now, seeing my first fifty years as pretty much a wash due to childhood sexual abuse, I've decided to aim for living 100 years. And I want to make my next half-century something altogether more healthy, more productive, and more pleasant.
Like the Titanic, a disastrous wreck for many decades that is now regarded as a grand story, I've come to a place where I want to stop seeing mostly my sorrow and my ruin. Instead I am beginning to realize there are treasures littering the debris-field of my life, and I believe I can begin to salvage them for myself and for others.
"THE IDYLLIC 1950's"
My first 7 years were spent in a village in the midwest. Idyllic in many ways. A perfect place to raise children - or so it appeared. Hardly any traffic. Everybody knew everybody, and every mom looked after every other mother's child. Even that nice old widower - I'll call him Charlie -- was so good to the kids. He let them pick a few vegetables from his garden and pump delicious cold water from his well.
My mom and dad and grandmother - I had three conscientious caretakers! - regarded Charlie as a bit of a pest. But on the other hand, he was old and lonely. Out of compassion, a neighborly relationship was allowed. So besides all of the ever-watchful moms in the village, there was Charlie to help out with kids as well. Retired, always home, always friendly.
When Mom or Gran couldn't see me out playing and would call for me to check on where I was, I would usually yell out the front door of one of two houses across the street, and they would say, "It's okay, she's at Halls'. It's okay, she's at Charlie's." It certainly should have been okay. But it wasn't. But who ever heard of child sexual abuse in the 1950's?
"IF YOU'RE GOOD, I'LL READ YOU GOD'S WORDS"
Charlie's approach with me was, I see now, particularly perverted. He knew I loved Sunday School, so he put me on his lap and said that later he would read me "the red words, the actual words of God," if I would "be a good girl."
Then he proceeded to read his own favorite passages - about Eve being created as a helpmeet for Adam, and how they were naked and not ashamed. He made it clear that it was an honor for me to be chosen as his helpmeet. But he also made it clear that God could get mad if I told others about it. He read to me passages about Moses and his soldiers being commanded to kill the married women, and keep the girls for themselves.
I think I therefore believed that God might kill my mother and give me to Charlie permanently, if I told. Later in my life, I looked up these words in the Bible, Numbers 31:17&18, to make sure I wasn't insane.
But Charlie didn't have to resort to threats from God. As utterly emotionally and physically overwhelmed that I felt each time he molested me, I was sure that I was the one who was doing something wrong. And, in my child's mind, I was sure that my parents would be very mad at me if they found out I was involved in something "dirty." I was not about to volunteer this information, no way.
One day my slightly older sister walked in Charlie's house and caught him with me and threatened to tell. But later, she and I sat behind the waterfall in the woods and agreed that we could get in a lot of trouble if we ever told what I'd been doing.
When my family moved to a larger town just before I was 7, I was the happiest kid in the world. I felt so free! There was a bit of family disapproval when I wouldn't visit Charlie when he was sick a few years later and when I expressed no grief when he died. But how could they possibly know my good reasons?
My happiness came crashing down, though, when I hit puberty in high school. That time is hard enough for any teen, but for a girl who's been sexually abused, the floods of hormones can be accompanied by floods of agonizing shame. It was so clear to me that my friends were "nice girls, good people," but that I certainly never could be. I knew I was damaged goods.
HIDING IN FRONT OF EVERYONE
With my particular personality type, I hid behind a lot of clowning around, but I longed to be taken seriously. Thirty years later when I walked into my old high school for my daughter's freshman orientation, it felt traumatic to sense the memory-ghosts flitting all around me. It felt horrifying to hear the echoes of my giggles and wonder why some wise adult didn't hear the near-hysteria in my voice and help me. But how could they? I had become expert at hiding "what I really was." But oh, the load of stress inside my body and my soul. Mom frequently took me to doctors, but they could find "nothing wrong."
To make a long and painful story short, I nearly died in childbirth due to my tilted uterus from sexual abuse. And I have spent most of my life with an ever-increasing desire to not be seen. There have been some spectacular exceptions, when wonderful experiences caused my inspiration to override my need to hide and brought forth my abilities to share "good stuff" with the public. Or when injustices and religious abuses against women have caused me to write or speak ferociously.
But in college, I just couldn't finish, because the pain of "good people" looking at me became too great. I would lock myself in my dorm room and pick my face bloody all night - self-mutilation. It seemed strangely satisfying and absolutely necessary to have the ugliness inside me be made visible, so that my hiding would be more justifiable.
Out in the work-a-day world, despite my high IQ and great variety of abilities, I lost every job I ever had. Many a boss may still be bewildered at what they did to make me so very angry.
Paradoxically, I believed that if I were really "a good girl," I ought to defer to all men, and this attitude brought me many jobs and many relationships. But eventually, I just couldn't tolerate being "ruled" by anyone, and I always angrily quit everything. This is what I mean now -- looking back at "the debris-field of my life." Mostly 50 years of wreckage.
But as I also stated, now I'm realizing there are treasures there. It's taken my dear (third) husband, a whole team of therapists and support groups, and lots of family cooperation for me to begin to value myself as the determined survivor of a disaster with a true and helpful story to tell.
The miracle will be -- and it's coming -- when I no longer automatically think of myself as permanently damaged goods, as someone unfit to be seen. It will be glorious when I no longer repeatedly cut myself off from the world and avoid "being out there with good people."
IN THE HOME CREATES TERRORISTS IN THE WORLD
FEAR IN THE HOME CREATES TERRORISTS IN THE WORLD
© 2001 by Connie Cook Smith
Maybe we need to better understand how terrorism develops. Before the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, there were school shootings. Before that, we’ve always had criminal aggressors. Throughout time, there has been domestic abuse.
Terrorism doesn’t exist only as international acts of horrific scope, such as September 11th. It lives in our own society as common, but tragic, crimes.
We need to consider as well that the opposite of terrorists are persons who feel much like invalids. Such people are afraid to make a move for fear of doing something wrong. They are deeply confused as to how to proceed in their daily lives.
What is a common denominator in the background of both hateful aggressors and fearful invalids? It is childhood exposure to frequent anger.
We see on the news how militant people, whether Islamic or Christian or Jewish, are immersed as children in fear and anger towards a perceived enemy. These dynamics are obvious.
But less clear in our own society are the more secretive goings-on – the uncontrolled rages in some homes. This is less obvious in how it plays out, because often it does not involve targeting an enemy. Often a child in such a home feels like the enemy, even if the fury is not directed at the child. Mostly what the child experiences is fear, is terror.
It’s too ironic that a parent who does not bother to control his or her anger is a terrorist in their own home. And what that fear does to a developing child is now scientifically documented.
A few years ago, a Peter Jennings Special featured a psychiatrist who spoke of the damage to children who are subjected to frequent anger. Besides yelling, hitting, and throwing things, the doctor included in his definition of anger: everyday criticism, sarcasm, insults, and teasing. He said these can cause a child to have "no chance at a normal life."
Even if there are many occasions that are pleasant in the home, it is documented now that frequent subjection to anger and its related behaviors causes a part of a child’s developing brain to enlarge abnormally.
Adult outcomes can be that the pleasant memories of the past become insignificant, in comparison to the fear which was implanted by rages, criticism, and insults. The enlarged fear-center of the brain, the amygdala, can then overwhelm normal adjustment and healthy behavior – can even override a high IQ.
Then we may have another terrorist-aggressor on our planet – or a virtual invalid who self-mutilates, self-destroys, cannot "get on with life." So sadly, when either the aggressor or the invalid "spills the beans" and cries for help by telling what they suffered in the past, often they are injured once again – by not being believed, or supported.
Therapy helps, for those who seek it. Forgiveness and spiritual transformation work -- unless such behaviors as criticism and insults continue, despite direct requests to stop. Then safety and distance may have to take priority.
There’s a page on the Internet which explains how such frequent fear mis-wires the human brain: http://www.h2net.net/p/nslade/Papers/fear.html
But in addition to scientific knowledge, hopefully our society will listen to "the ones who’ve been there." Reluctance to believe and understand those who were terrorized in the home only delays solutions to terrorism and misery in the world.
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©1999 Connie Cook Smith
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