|| Facing Abuse and Each Other
by Teresa Joyce, NAASCA representative in the United Kingdom
Understanding the effects and assessing the damage caused by child abuse can take many years. Sadly, there will be those who are never able to do so. For those who remain within the pain of their child abuse, life will always continue to be a struggle, whether for the child abuse adult survivor, or a loved one, and at times both, because child abuse is not only felt by that child abuse recovering adult.
Understanding, or connecting, with a child abuse adult survivor is painful. At times it may seem easier to avoid the subject entirely. Looking into the face of that painful abuse to achieve that understanding, for many, is something they will never be able to do. But, if they were able to address each set of their emotions independently, it would be extremely enlightening. Quite simply, there would be two very different sets of emotions, although inexplicably linked.
The child abuse adult may have openly chosen to stay hidden and withdrawn from the world, because they just can't face that experience of movement, which may enable them to dig within their shadow self. On the flip side, the subject matter is extremely sensitive for their partner to address. Their loved one's child abuse is, of course, within their realm of acquired knowledge, but how can they truly understand? How do they approach that conversation, while maintaining complete safety for them both?
To the loved one, it must feel as if they are about to enter into a dark hole somewhere out there in the abyss. Ever present at the forefront of their mind is to comfort the adult survivor, by saying that they understand. But in all truth, they are fully aware that they really can't understand. That, of course, is not a failure on their part, it is just the reality of the situation. The subject matter they are facing was never within any mainstream curriculum, so where do you go to experience such knowledge without the experience? That doesn't mean that they are not trying to understand; they can plainly see the pain that their loved one is consumed with, so that has never been the problem. But trying to support without real knowledge is so extremely difficult that, at times, even the professionals put their hands up in desperation.
If an adult child abuse survivor has chosen not to look towards their own recovery, or to share openly with their loved one, for the most part, they have convinced themselves that it is safer not to do so. This can be for a multitude of reasons, and they feel they can only share with their broken child within. For some, a choice is made to stay in denial, which comes with its own set of concerns. In time, they will hopefully find that strength in which to address their shattered past. For the person who is sitting on the outside of that abuse, still searching for the knowledge of understanding, there is the pain of not knowing how to help.
It is a huge challenge to be able to sit and converse about this painful subject, because once entered, it will be without the aid of any safety net. They've arrived there without the experience of child abuse themselves and, for most, they may feel that whatever they say could never make a difference. If their loved one is completely within a self-enforced positioning of exclusion, how can any movement be made in addressing their pain? Surely, they feel, this is of their loved one's choosing. Maybe they wish to stay within that place, other than to painfully address their abuse. Could that be right? So, what can be achieved if they have chosen that for themselves? Clearly, they don't want that painful interaction? But don't they?
Just maybe, they are acutely aware and can recognise the adverse effect on the person that they love. They may even feel that the knowledge of their abuse is already too much for their partner to hold. Holding is very difficult and they are so aware that they have become masters in holding, when they were forced to hold that secret, all the while being told that not holding it alone would bring immense pain to those that they loved. And holding on hurts.
They have never really shared that secret in its full capacity, they are just so used to holding it alone. As an adult survivor, they may also feel that they can't, or won't, put their relationship in such jeopardy. There will always be an underlying feeling even if it is not explainable – a legacy left to them long after the abuse has subsided. Just how much can they divulge within their approach to that loved one? Should it be head-on letting the pain escape? Commit to full expression? For many, they truly feel that the end result of doing so, may mean that they lose everything. How can they judge what is too much for their partner to digest? Will it change how their loved one sees them? That feeling is simply felt, because of how they see themselves. They have no chance in hell of knowing their full reaction on impact. Just maybe, they can't find the trust within themselves in which to try. Because once out, there is no putting it back in the box.
Whilst writing this article today, it is within all hope, all of the above will be achieved for every child abuse victim. To feel nurtured and loved in life is so very deserving for every one of those child abuse survivors. Life has already tormented them for so long within their wakeful hours, within their sleepless nights and within their childhood and beyond. My hope is that peace, love and understanding in every way will one day reside in a place where currently there is none. Love in all sense for a child abuse recovering adult has not always been something that was looked upon with joy. Their abuser will have almost certainly used that word so many times throughout their abuse that they are left questioning themselves endlessly, is that really love? For them, it would have seemed extremely preferable to be unloved and not abused. We can't help but see their confusion around this emotion called love.
To lose more within their salvaged world, is something that they are not sure they could survive. They are looking at the situation through their eyes, not their loved one's. That feeling remains alive and it is real and deeply felt. There are questions they ask of themselves often. Can I really dispense of my pain in that place? How could that be fair? Should I ask if it is OK to do so? Will the reply only be obliging? That list is endless. The reaction from their loved one is unknown, even armed with some knowledge. It is the unknown which is feared – that is a place in which they once had to survive – that is the place they will never forget to return to. A tirade of voices within never seem to stop asking the questions, whilst they are never quite able to correlate any reply. This stance can also be used as a great tool for avoidance, in the convincing of themselves towards abstaining. It can also be the direction that they themselves prefer; it is their choice. For some, that avoidance has been in place for so many years that it has become an art form.
Even so, they may feel that there is no real need for full disclosure. What would it achieve? They are afraid to look towards any real answer. Is it not safer for them both if they let it stay where it sits? In all truth, often, they just can't or don't want to dig within that painful place. This may seem as if they are being somewhat callous, or uninterested, but that will not be their intention. It is fear which guides them towards abstaining, because getting it wrong is a huge weight to carry. They may feel that if the said abuse were to erupt beyond all control, they would then be consumed, deep within an overriding feeling of helplessness. So do they then choose to carry on like nothing is wrong? Do they stand toe to toe with it? Their thoughts at that moment in time are a disjointed mess, only able to revolve around that particular day. Is it easier to convince themselves that tomorrow will be different, that everything will settle down? But will it?
For a child abuse surviving adult within this relationship, altering the events in order to defuse will be completely confusing. They don't want to look within themselves because it is still painful. But equally, they just can't understand why their significant other is choosing to withdraw. But whilst embedded within their past abuse and those painful memories, there was never any real sense to be found in which to rationalise. So here it is that they find themselves facing each other whilst trying to control the situation, while also trying to control their own set of emotions. Both or either may feel at that time that talking about the said abuse would only serve to inflame the already igniting situation. They have reached an impasse. No movement can be felt in either direction, whilst neither may really understand why. It is the elephant in the room, as large as life, taking up all the space. It is far too huge emotionally to push into a corner.
They are deadlocked. Any entry into each other's emotions remains firmly locked it is just too difficult to share. Whilst in truth, they each hold the key in which to unlock that shared suffering. That elusive locked imagination truly exists. Sadly, they just don't know how to approach the other. They are both locked within the fear of bringing pain to the other, emotionally held within a place of unknown fear, whilst gripping tightly on to their own world. They fear that the unimaginable will always override everything else completely. It is as much as they can do, just to hold on to their own life raft.
They say that love makes the world go around – does it really? Sadly, not for all. Not when that emotional turbulence is still so deeply embedded within, and the memory of abuse seems to be the only thing within their world. Sadly, even love somehow seems to stand alone in the shadow. Within a journey towards recovery, there are real needs to be addressed, alongside the emotion of love – a place of understanding, a place to understand, a place to feel held, to know how it feels to hold without the pain. Before that achievement, there is not much which will meet these requirements. Love, of course, is seen and recognised in their here and now, but it still stands alone. Those accomplishments are sorely needed, to reach a complete place of healing. For a broken person, desperately trying to become whole, there is a real deep-seated need to be loved. But just what is this thing they call love? Standing on the precipice looking towards a sheer drop into oblivion, the abused child lacks the understanding of the word love within any natural sense. Love had, so very long ago, fallen off the podium.
That confusion is also easily understood within the mind of their significant other. Although very different, nevertheless there is confusion. It will never be a walk in the park to watch someone that you love within a world of pain. At times, there will be a real need to reassure that love felt towards them. Nor is it easy to get the balance right on the tight rope of what if? What if? That is so very daunting. What if the choice made on approaching their loved one's abusive past is not the right one? Just how do they enter a dimension that for themselves was never experienced, and feel confident that their input will be well received or even helpful? Wow, that is a tough one. But nothing in life is unachievable if given time. Well, that may be the one thing that they have in abundance.
The sorry story that surrounds child abuse is that no one will ever have all of the answers. As for myself, I can speak from my own understanding. I also have the experience of my own child abuse in which to draw upon. So, I'm guessing that maybe I have a few answers. I can also draw upon the many heart-warming, although painful interactions, of those I connect with whilst conveying their emotions also. Albeit through my own website, my many radio shows, or the huge amount of emails in which I receive daily. My feelings around this are that any interaction is better once shared. We are inexplicably linked through the devastation of our past, so let's use that force to the full capacity. Together, we have never been in such a powerful position.
They say that love shouldn't hurt, but sadly it does, when love has been somewhat mired.