Why are we silent? Why are we so reluctant to share our tales in public? Why do we delete post after post if we are bloggers? Why do we only feel safe sharing the full story anonymously on other writers’ pages?
Too many of us keep quiet about abuse because we feel we would be disloyal to spill the beans. But being loyal can mean allowing bad behaviour to continue, and children to see abuse as normal…
These thoughts have been triggered by a shared status (which I have, unusually, put my name to) on Facebook: Basically, those who have been abused are starting their own brief (or long) piece, which begins, ‘Me too…’ Already, I have seen many of my friends’ names at the top of these heart-rending posts.
Why, though, to go back to my original questions, do we not shout it out in the street? Name and shame our abusers?
Very simple. Part of the poisonous program of personalised abuse is an in-depth ‘seminar’ on mind control and silencing techniques. To put it bluntly, we have ‘This is not abuse. You are imagining it. You are the problem,’ engraved upon our shaky minds from the earliest moment. The training is cumulative and never lets up.
Undermining comments are rife. Punishment of the behaviour which stems from any kind of abuse is widespread and, by and large, accepted. Thus, when I got into trouble six months after being sexually attacked in the street, my then Headmaster made this comment: ‘I thought you were over all that. After all, it’s not as if you were raped.’
Surface impressions are taken as indications of depth of character, hence the many, ‘I have never seen this in him…’ or, ‘I don’t believe this. He is not like that…’ comments I received about my own main abuser. Because most abuse happens behind closed doors, and many abusers are charm personified in public, it is all too common for the abused to be blamed, ostracized and further tormented by those who choose to disbelieve every word he or she says about the abuse.
This all leads to terror and silence – and profound loneliness. This is especially harrowing and hurtful when friends and family members query the abused person’s testament, accuse him/her of lying or exaggerating or getting the wrong end of the stick -and, worse case scenario, take the abuser’s side.
This causes appalling psychic shock and such fear of a decaying mind that many abused people actually do go mad or have a nervous breakdown in the wake of months of disbelief. They start to question their own reality. I know I did. They start to think, ‘Am I the crazy one here? Am I suffering from some form of personality disorder that makes me say these things? Can I believe the evidence of my own mind and experience when no one else does?’
Silence is the end result in all too many cases. And, when statuses such as the one described earlier, show up on a social site, many of us go into immediate frozen terror, and think, ‘I cannot put my name to this. What if he sees it, or someone tells him it’s there, and he denies his involvement in public the way he always did in private?’
But the whole point is that abuse if rife, continuous, hugely damaging and ludicrously, frighteningly, easy to deny. When it is one person’s word against the other; when the abuser is not above using mind games including gaslighting; when important members of one’s potential support system have gone over to the enemy; when the media is full of doubt and denial and stories of women (very rare, this) who DO make up incidents of rape and abuse; when misogny hides beneath charm, good manners, excellent education and good looks; when not wanting to put one’s head above the parapet seems the more sensible choice, the effects of silencing become ever more toxic and wider in scope.
I want to make a very important point here. Every time I write a post of this nature, I am terrified, shaking, tempted to delete it (and often do); I am scared that someone who knows my abuser will read it and show him; I am scared that the whispers of denial, the accusations that I am after my pound of flesh, am mad, am making it up will start again.
If you replicate these emotions thousands, if not millions, of times, you will readily understand why silence is the option so many of us take. It is easier, less dangerous, less painful (on the surface at least), less confronting.
But every time we deny our own histories of abuse, it also means we are denying those of our fellow abused. Every time we read an article by a sufferer, and think, ‘Oh, yeah, bet he/she made that up to get money or revenge…’ we are denying a widespread and enormously serious problem. Every time we think, ‘I can’t tell my truth, but maybe some other brave soul will say the words for me…’ we are allowing abusers the world over to use fear and silencing techniques, to continue their campaign of mind control and intimidation.
I am a survivor of spousal abuse. Of emotional, mental, financial and sexual control. The fact that no mark was left on my body does not invalidate the previous statement. The fact that people I know have chosen to deny my words, to doubt me, and, in some cases, to side with my abuser, does not change the reality of what happened.
But, as I typed, with shaking fingers and teary eyes, upon Facebook this morning: