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!!