The heavy burdens of the sexually abused child
A sexually abused child believes that she is responsible for everything bad that has happened to her. She is responsible for her father hurting her, she is responsible for her mother’s anger and later in her life she takes responsibility for the all the bad around her. Being sexually abused means that your boundaries are violated, you are not given the chance to say no or to express the hurt and pain that you are feeling. You are made powerless and voiceless, and physically forced down by someone much bigger than you and made to do things and feel things that are far beyond your years
How do we learn how to create healthy boundaries?
There’s no doubt that creating effective physical and emotional boundaries is an essential part of our growth and development as a human being. With healthy boundaries, we are able to protect ourselves from harm and say no when we need to. Our relationships with our primary caregivers should teach us ways in which to establish these healthy lines around what is acceptable and what is not. Being able to do this successfully builds one’s self-esteem, self-worth and self-awareness.
If I am able to express what doesn’t feel right to me, then I feel valued, respected and loved unconditionally. If I have healthy boundaries, I can accept responsibility for my own feelings and actions and not take on the responsibility for the feelings and actions of others. There is a very distinct line I can draw between myself and the other.
The dysfunctional patterns prevalent in abusive homes
In abusive homes, just the opposite is true. I am realising now, that I have carried this insidious burden of responsibility for others for too long. I blamed myself for what my father did. I believed that I was bad because I allowed it to happen. This is a very natural reaction for a child, and this is the reason why children often blame themselves when their parents get divorced. I blamed myself because I believed that I was bad and I carried this heavy burden of misplaced blame and guilt for all these years.
As a five year old girl, I wasn’t able to process, much less articulate what was happening, so I rationalised that it was all my fault. That I was a bad girl. It didn’t help that my mother was so emotionally distant and didn’t protect me. I used to have dreams about my mother being an evil person and I would wake up feeling guilty for having those dreams. I always felt that my mother didn’t love me and resented me. Well of course she did, I was the “Other Woman”. I was her sexual rival, but obviously not by choice. I was responsible for their problems in the marriage and I was responsible for her hurt and pain. I also made myself responsible for protecting my father by keeping his dark secret safely locked inside of me.
I need to fix everything
Throughout my life I have been incapable of setting healthy boundaries and have avoided situations where I have to confront people. I have always avoided instances where I have to express disapproval and disagreement in an effort to protect others. I have been very busy protecting other’s feelings and working very hard not to offend or upset anyone. Yet, I have neglected the one person who needs compassion, understanding and love the most; ME!!! I married an abusive man and for a long long time I took responsibility for his bad moods, his emotional outbursts and verbal rants. I constantly looked within myself to find the flaws in my marriage. I searched and searched; praying sometimes, reading self-help books to try and find what was wrong with me, so that I could fix all that was wrong in my marriage.
Even in my daily interactions with people at work or in social settings, I take responsibility for the long awkward silences believing that it is somehow my fault and my job to fill them. After chatting to a friend, I will go over the conversation in my mind and berate myself for not saying the right thing or being helpful enough. I think these things long after the encounter has been completely forgotten by the other person. It’s like I have been stuck as a five year old girl looking around and feeling responsible for everything!
Challenging the long-held erroneous beliefs
These awkward encounters happen everyday and it is only recently that I am beginning to challenge these thoughts of being responsible. It is only by questioning that I can correct them and stop them from making me feel bad again. I am not responsible for every bad mood, every bad feeling of my co-workers or the people that I meet.
I am not responsible for my husband’s abusive behaviour and I am certainly, absolutely and without a doubt not responsible for what my father did to me when I was five years old. I was not “The Other woman”, I was a helpless, voiceless innocent child and my mother should have protected me. I am learning to stand up for ME and draw the line between my feelings and others and not being drawn in to feel bad for other’s feelings and actions. I can only be responsible for ME!