Why being assertive is so hard for the sexually abused


It’s hard to say ‘No’, in fact I can say ‘No’ but only a weak ‘No’ with a smile and a noticeable smallness that colours the tone of my voice. In my session today, we talked about accessing that deep centre and using that power to say a meaningful ‘NO’. Such an important skill, to be able to defend oneself, to be able to put up boundaries. Adults like me who have been sexually abused, find this skill very hard. For me assertiveness is akin to aggression. I feel guilty and bad immediately and want to make up for it somehow by being extra nice to the person. I imagine how I’ve hurt the other person and how they feel rejected. So essentially, I forget about myself and use all my energy to look after them!

How weird and strange and weak that must sound to others who have a healthy self-esteem that was nurtured by love and security by their primary caregivers. But how real it is for me and many others. Last week in my counselling session I was able to tell my counsellor to stop holding my hand as it didn’t feel right. But it was so hard to do, she practically had to get it out of me and I spent a few days after feeling bad that I had.

So where does this need to be pleasing and affable come from? It comes from the very real need to be loved and not rejected or abandoned. If I am myself, if I am assertive then who will love me? Who will like me? I have to work so hard to be so nice all the time. It’s fucking exhausting being nice all the time, being the good girl of the family. Saying yes when I mean no, and smiling when I want to scream. But I’ve spent most of my life like this with only momentary flashes of showing that fire within. When I write, when I run, when I travel and when I do things on my own and I am completely responsible for myself and taking care of me. That’s when I am most strong.

The problems arise in face to face relationships where it feels so hard a lot of the time to say what I feel and be assertive. It will take practise, practise of putting myself first, practise of taking care of me and building those skills so that I can take care of the little me.

My favourite writers are all strong women who defy convention and the films I watch shine light on dark places. What appeals to me most are words and people who stand up for themselves and others and say it like it is; who are bold and firm. That’s what I aspire to, yet it feels sometimes like it is so scary because when I was 5 it was terrifying to stand up to a grown man who was holding me down for his dirty pleasures. I had no voice, I didn’t matter, I had now power. I was completely helpless and I learnt that I don’t matter and that I have no say, that I am not worthy.

I say now to my little girl. ‘You do matter, you are worthy and special and that it was not your fault’. Despite the skills I lack, I used that anger towards my father to work hard at school and university. I was the first girl in a very traditional extended family to leave home to study at a university in a different county. And after uni I returned briefly, only to get a job and save to buy a ticket to leave again. I never returned to the place where I was born to live. I got as far away as I could from his evil clutches and I became completely independent from him. Part of my drive was from that anger and rebellion towards him that was always there as I grew up. My mother tried to dampen that fire by telling me that he was my father and that I should respect him and love him etc etc. Fuck all that, he didn’t and doesn’t an iota of respect or care. I am a self-made woman.

It made me boil with anger because when I graduated with my Masters two years ago he got hold of one of my photos (even though I wasn’t even in touch at the time) and he started sending it out to the rest of the family as if he had any right to!! Look at MY daughter. As you can sense I’m feeling a lot of anger toward him right now and it’s an energy that I allow to pass through me. I suppressed it for so long.

I am angry that he took away my birth-right to be cared for in an environment where I felt worthy, loved, safe and protected. In a nurturing environment that gave me a strong sense of self.  It is now so many years later that I am doing the very hard work of learning how to step into my adult self and express who I am.

NO it’t not ok! NO you didn’t have a right to take so much away from me! NO NO NO you will never lay your dirty hands on me!!!! NO NO NO NO you don’t deserve to call me your child!!

8 thoughts on “Why being assertive is so hard for the sexually abused

  1. “I am a self-made woman.” Yes you are! And the power is there in deeds and actions even if it doesn’t always come up out of your mouth when you want it too. Having one’s voice ripped away by a loved one during the tender childhood years takes with it all that matters; trust, wholeness, safety, and the list sadly goes on. Yet in its wake there is you, a woman of depth, compassion and honesty. A woman of power, though you may not always recognize it or feel it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my God…. That’s all I can think & type. First, let me say I’m an early 40 y/o male/husband/dad. It pains me to read your post & I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through. I find myself on this website searching for information & education on being married to an abuse survivor. My wife & I are in couples therapy currently, trying to work through an emotional affair she had at work. I don’t mean to get into my details, but I’m searching for anything that will help me understand the what & why this could have happened. I’ve read countless number of articles & a few books about spouses that endured sexual abuse. Your post made my heart race. I believe my wife’s story, or at least current day feelings, are wildly similar- ‘taking care of me’, ‘favorite writers are strong women’ (Barbara Kingsolver), ‘assertiveness akin to aggression’. I’m sorry to repeat so many comments, but wow, I’ve never read anything like this.

    I know this is little or no consolation, but you have opened a part of my heart that I have been struggling to open. Our therapy sessions are just starting to address her history & the impact the abusive behaviors continue to have on her & our marriage. I’m trying to learn & understand along this process and journey, but have struggled so far. I feel I could have been reading my wife’s comments here & it has been very powerful.

    I want to thank you for sharing such a personal side of your life. I’ve read hundreds of comments on similar sites, but have never left a comment. I’ve got to tell you, after reading your post, I think you’re an assertive badass!

    God Bless!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your comment and I am so glad to hear that you are trying to help your wife through this. The trauma of sexual abuse affects us profoundly and no more is this more evident than in relationships. I can relate closely to what you relate about your wife. I too have had emotional affairs and finding a healthy balance in close relationships is an ongoing struggle. Trying to be assertive and not be lost in a relationship and countless other things that you will understand from your experience of being married to an abuse survivor and thriver.I am happy that my words could be of some comfort and help to you as you try to make things work with your wife and i wish you both all the best :))


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