Content Warning: This content includes stories about abuse and sexual assault.
Abuse is an interesting thing. You begin in a position of vulnerability because you’re smaller, weaker, more fearful, or have less power than the abuser, they take advantage of you. They steal things from you physically, mentally, and—worst of all—spiritually. After the abuse you feel broken, afraid, and powerless. I have suffered physical and mental abuse in my life. The worst was sexual abuse. It did something to me I never expected, adding so many layers of loss and destruction that at some point I began to participate in my own abuse. I unknowingly decided to join in.
I was molested for the first time at the age of four. The teenaged brother of a distracted babysitter decided that I was fair game. I was a small girl with a big smile who trusted the adults around her. I remember lying on the floor and staring over my right shoulder at the front door, begging someone to walk through. I didn’t know if I would die from the pain or suffocate from the weight of his body on me. Eventually it was over. In reality, it was just beginning.
The next thing I remember is my screams followed by my mother’s tears and anger. She put me in the bathtub and the warm, soapy water caused me to cry out in pain. She immediately examined me and realized what had happened. She was furious. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that she wasn’t furious at me. In one day, I changed from carefree, trusting, and friendly to ashamed, paranoid, and guilty.
I read somewhere that every time a girl is molested, she is seven times more likely to be molested again. That would explain the feeling I had, like I was wearing a sign that predators could see. There could be 25 girls in the room, but they would always notice me. Over the next eight years I learned that bathrooms, corners of big houses, and even sleeping bags weren’t safe. I created a list of places to avoid. I never thought that my own mind needed to be on that list.
At some point I internalized the abuse. Because I was constantly targeted, I figured it must be something I was doing—the way I stood, my smile, or the sound of my voice. This caused me to develop a destructive mindset. I identified myself as a victim and decided that abuse was what I deserved. I eventually felt that it was my purpose—all that I was good for. That’s when I started to join in.
For years I had been careful about where I went and did everything I could to keep myself safe. But as time wore on, I became reckless and treated myself with very little value. This was reflected in my relationships with men, peers, and especially those in any position of authority. I allowed them to treat me with no respect or value. I didn’t stand up for myself or demand to be treated with basic decency. I would swallow my complaints and smile like a proper victim.
This wasn’t always obvious from the outside as I pursued higher education and maintained an attractive, articulate façade. It took one day to set me on this path, and one day I heard something that would guide me off it.
One Sunday morning I sat distractedly in service. I was half-listening while I worried about all the things I needed to do later that day. Something broke through my cluttered mind and shook me by my shoulders: “You’re not what you’ve done, you’re also not what was done to you.” I couldn’t believe how simple it was. It’s so common to tell people to forgive themselves, that their mistakes don’t define them, but no one ever told me that included wrongs perpetrated against me.
I could feel my mindset start to shift immediately. This led to trauma-centered counseling, prayer, and guided journaling. It led to shedding all the lies I told myself about me. I can’t believe that I joined in with the people who hurt me. The silver lining is a message that I share with women whenever I get the chance. You are not required to participate in your own abuse. Don’t join in.Leave a Comment