I was reading an article on Quora about a woman who discovered the past of an odd uncle she barely knew. In going over his belongings after his passing, the family discovered his hidden past. He had been a victim of sexual abuse by a priest. The why of the idiosyncrasies and oddities of this relative came to light. Her putting the pieces together after going through his stuff was a feat in of itself. She says about his life: “It was a lousy life filled with sadness, failure, misplaced loyalty, an inability to nurture relationships. ” The person writing felt guilty even though she had not even been born at the time all the abuse transpired and obviously had nothing to do with it. Why is it, abuse makes the victim feel guilt when the guilt is not theirs? Sometimes this carries over to others who care about us. It’s a hard thing to wrap your head around, isn’t it? Please understand, I am not a therapist. My observations are that of a former victim.
Guilt. It is a sad burden to carry, why does it torture us? I can’t imagine her why. Perhaps, because of their shared DNA, she felt compelled to shoulder some of his pain? I can’t say because I just don’t know.
Some people can overcome the trauma of abuse even if not forgotten. Some cannot. I can only imagine the suppressed anger and guilt, he must have kept inside all those years which stymied his growth, kept him from successful relationships and contributed to his reclusive later life. One never knows what was in the mind of this person.
What many people don’t know is how much guilt is shouldered by victims and how that guilt affects all facets of their life. Guilt? Yes, guilt.
I have been doing my three pages every morning as my assignment and as I study the book, The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. My assignment in Chapter Three is to describe my childhood room and what it was I liked best about it and what my favorite things were. I had none. NONE! No memories. I could not describe my room! After stretching my memories a while, I could only remember a bunkbed that we kids would roll off the top of and that’s it! Did the room have windows? Were there other beds? I don’t remember anything other than my dad sneaking into the room at night to single me out for his perversity. I’ve always wondered, where were my siblings? I couldn’t say. I couldn’t sleep tonight, mourning the loss of innocence, the loss of not having a fond memory, no special toy or anything. My loss. The earliest images I have of a bedroom, were later as a teen and not of my room, but my brothers and his model airplanes suspended from the ceiling. I have been searching my brain for a memory, but obviously I blocked it out. All of it. It’s no wonder my only fond memories as a child were being outdoors, far away from the house.
I’m not a therapist and I can only speak from experience, but a victim always wonders what it is about them that abusers seek out. What did they do to “invite” the abuse? Did they do it intentionally or is there an invisible brand on their forehead that tells others they are easy targets? Do they trigger something in certain personalities that draws the perpetrators?
Victims experience so many false starts in life others cannot understand. Their self talk tells them they are not worthy. Even when things start to look up and success looks like it’s coming their way, they inadvertently do something to self sabotage. It is not the same for everyone and it doesn’t just relate to sexual abuse. Like the uncle above, a life of constant fails seem to follow them.
They can be accusatory and suspicious. But, it all stems from their own guilty feelings.
I had an attorney tell me once, while I was going through my divorce and in regards to my ex-husband’s philandering and infidelity, he said “you can’t put guilt unless guilt is there”. I now think back on that statement and wonder if perhaps that wasn’t just to make me feel better but a narrow and prejudicial view of his own?
Let me back track a bit here. His comment was in response to me telling him that my husband, who was a constant cheater, blamed me for his affairs, saying I always made him feel guilty, as if to excuse his cheating. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but the issue between us was obviously more complex than any of us knew.
Knowing what I know now and years after the fact, there were several dynamics going on. We were both broken and because we were broken, and neither of us knew to what extent, we couldn’t help each other.
His background: I don’t know his early, early years, but I do know his father was a womanizing alcoholic and was gone a lot. He died the year we were married of cirrhosis of the liver. The ex was a middle child, with an older sister and younger brother. His mother was a nurse and worked hard to provide for her family. She was obviously depressed because one day she shot herself. She was found by his younger brother. That young man suffered tremendous trauma and died at a fairly early age of drugs and alcohol.
I recall later telling my then husband, “You’re just like your father who you’ve always hated”. Even though he admitted it was true, did my saying it aloud reinforce his own lack or self talk of not being worthy? I don’t know.
I wonder if for some, like myself, guilt comes from not doing something or the inability to notice that others might need help and perhaps fall short of helping them?
It is my belief that broken people can’t help broken people, yet we tend to gravitate to one another. I truly believe that. Not because they don’t want to but because they just don’t know how. They’ve not had the template of what a successful relationship looks like to go by. So, guess what? I felt guilty. I really didn’t have the tools to help him. This person married several times since and once before me and each time, he created circumstances that obligated all the women in his life to leave or give up on him. He is now living a loveless life with no one. He even pushes our children away from him.
I also always wondered how much is genetics. I think genetics plays a part in our temperament to receive and counter information. Perhaps its a conditioning from the womb, environmental absorption pre-birth? Theory.
Perhaps not though. My father beat mother, he beat us, but there was no way in hell I’d let anyone do that to me. When the ex raised his hand to me one time, I stood straight up, my 5’2″ to his 6’1″ and looked him straight in the eyes with my finger pointed at him and said, “Don’t you dare!” He backed down immediately. The memory of that day still makes me chuckle. He apologized. It apparently wasn’t in his DNA to be a hitter. Yet, he sabotaged every relationship he ever had and drove people out of his life. Sad.
For some time, I felt guilt and a sense of obligation to not give up trying, despite the fact I did take him back three times. Since that marriage and before this one and after the last one, I had extensive therapy and realized I was in no position to have helped him. At the time, I was too broken. It took a while to learn and realize that.
When my sister died and after her diagnosis, I shared with all of you the burden of guilt I felt that fortunately has lifted since. I just couldn’t shake it for a long while. The guilt of not having been around to help her and/or recognize her illness. At some point, we have to let people make their own decisions. We cannot force them to see the doctor, which I tried to convince her to do. The guilt is not mine. Resentment? Yes. I miss her and I am angry she left me too soon, but I will not feel guilty. I believe her choice was intentional and the consequences of that choice was realized long ago.
I think of myself as broken china mended with gold. Each crack makes me more valuable.
I am okay, but then… maybe not yet, but I will be.
Let me counter what I said earlier on about broken people not being able to help broken people… the truth is many therapists are former broken people, so I think broken people may be able to help other broken people once they’ve been fixed . I could be wrong.
Guilt and shame prevents growth. I’m digging deep and though I may not have many years left, I intend to clear out the junk and live wholly.
Like I said, I AM NOT A THERAPIST and this is not therapy. I’m only sharing this because I’ve had to come to terms with a few things in the last few months and I can tell with this new workbook, I will be delving deep and as I grow, I’m sharing. I hope you don’t mind. It’s MY therapy.
I still wonder what my room may have looked like.