I’ve had enough
Which way is up
Tears on the ground”
– “Topsy Turvy” by Family Force 5
Child abuse victims are often scapegoated for the disharmony within their families.
The narrative fabricated is that child victims are troublemakers, “bad seeds”. According to this distorted view, victims are by nature disobedient and rebellious, trying the patience of their loving families. They deliberately prompt family arguments, and “deserve” to be punished for the hurt they cause.
Outrageous as it may seem, the needs of child victims – for food, shelter, and comfort – are seen as an unreasonable burden in dysfunctional families. Victims are viewed as provoking the abuser to act as s/he does. In the case of sexual abuse, child victims are seen as “tempting” the adult, therefore, responsible for the abuse.
This is all a fiction – a false explanation for the dysfunction which allowed the abuse to occur, in the first place. It is, in effect, the rationalization of the abuser.
Any negative emotions the abuser may experience, in connection with his/her moral transgression, are projected onto the victim. The Bible story of the rape of Tamar by her brother Amnon illustrates this.
“But she [Tamar] answered him, ‘No, my brother, do not force me…Do not do this disgraceful thing!’…However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her exceedingly…” (2 Samuel 13: 12, 14-15).
Other members of the family may buy into the narrative, in self-defense. That does not, however, give it validity.
In a topsy turvy way, the very opposite of the distorted family narrative is true.
Child victims were never the cause of their families’ unhappiness. Contrary to the image dysfunctional families try to project, they are far from loving in their harsh treatment of the children under their care. Whatever discipline problems victims do develop result from the harm done to them, not the reverse.
In a normal family, a child’s basic needs are not considered a burden. It is for the adults to protect and support their children, not for children to keep the family secret and shield those adults from inquiry at all costs. No child is responsible for the neglect to which s/he is subjected or the abuse inflicted on him/her – emotional, physical, or sexual.
Much of this dynamic applies to abused women, as well. No woman deserves to be abused.
The emotional pull of a family narrative can be extremely powerful. By dint of endless repetition, the deception starts to “feel” true. We take on the persona attributed to us, and come to believe revealing the family secret (and seeking help) would only cause more harm.
But the evil at the root of our pain did not originate with us. It was to disguise that fact the narrative used to torment us was created. We have the right to cast off the lies, and leave that deception behind.
The world should be experienced right-side up.
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17 responses to “Topsy Turvy”
Anna, as you know, I grew up in a totally dysfunctional family where my mom was from a broken home and never had a father’s love and my father played out his own demons from growing up during the depression with a hard-hearted father and then losing a leg on a land mine in France and coming home from that war with PTSD. Alcohol was how he self-medicated and then there were the drunken wife beatings that still scar my memories of him.
So I grew up trying to be the perfect child and not add any more stress to their relationship as my father rejected me and my mother longed for affection and love that she never got from my dad and I became her confidant as she shared things with me that should not have been my burden to carry. Even with all my care to not add to the pressures in our home, at 18 my dad invited me to leave as soon as I graduated from high school, so I did. I still remember the guilt I felt when I found out in my thirties that they were getting divorced. All that effort to keep them together was for nothing. Yes, everything was upside down as I tried to be the responsible parent and they acted like children. I was never allowed to be a kid. I still have a hard time with people’s children being normal rebellious kids as they act out their childhood. I want to grab them and “put the fear of God in them” and give them what was done with me.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight on here, dear sister. Yes, child abuse comes in many forms and I pray for you often.
It brings tears to my eyes to hear what you suffered, Michael.
I don’t believe the burden placed on you was ever remotely your responsibility. When children are co-opted in this way, they are made to feel responsible for things outside their control. Even had saving your parents’ marriage been your responsibility, it was not within your power. For better or worse, the marriage was between the two of them and God. So you certainly did not “fail” them.
As for what you call the wasted effort, you were forced to carry an emotional burden never actually yours, and vastly in excess of anything appropriate for your age. Had your parents not divorced, you might never have allowed yourself to put that burden down. And, after all, the effort stemmed from love — on your part, at least. God knows that. Love is never wasted in His eyes.
Thank you for your prayers. I can always use those. God be with you, Michael.
Thank you, Anna, for your kindness, You remain in my heart and prayers. Michael
Thank you Anna, for validating our existence and for setting the story straight. Today, you described both my childhood experience and my present situation as well, right when I needed it! Scapegoating is very damaging to anyone, but especially to those who have been and are hurting from both old and new wounds.
It is an honor to do what little I can for abuse victims, Q.
“Topsy Turvy ” is a perfectly appropriate title for this twisted family dynamic. It helps to explain why most adult women who have been abused as children, refuse to prosecute their abusers. Yes, we know that going through a trial has it’s own difficulties, but I know, personally, several women who were sexually molested by the same relative, who don’t want to further “hurt” their abuser or break up their relationship. It’s both sad and frustrating to see that. I always appreciate your insight into these matters, thank you!
Thank you for the compliment, Brenda, and your comment. Like you, I believe any negative consequences to an abuser that may flow from the abuse are his responsibility. There is no question that families may be torn asunder by abuse. If they are, however, the emotional pain rests at the door of the abuser…not that of his victims. And some families heal and grow stronger. Children are rescued. All that said, it is a difficult and personal decision whether to prosecute. The statute of limitations may have run by the time victims feel strong enough to take legal action. Another factor to consider is whether or not the abuser has continuing contact with children.
Allow me to quickly clarify a point about the statute of limitations…there are none in Canada regarding sexual abuse! Praise God for that. And these victims are now young adults. By the way, this perpetrator is my former husband who is now in jail on a charge of forcible confinement and sexual assault of a mentally-challenged young woman. My sons and I are very grateful that he has been held accountable in some measure, although not for the other assaults. Thank you.
Thank you for letting me know that about Canada. I can only think that dealing with your husband must have been very painful. You have great courage to speak up. I am sure you are raising fine sons. God bless you.
I don’t know how to introduce this thought without writing like a whole blog entry. Let me know if you’d like me to relocate this:
I was working on a team sermon at church. The concept was “Sin”, and the team assigned me to write on “The Devil Made Me Do It”. I guess they wanted some humor, but for whatever reason, I got deep into the issue of child abuse, and spent the whole month negotiating the content with my very resistant minister.
In the middle of that process, I was at the book store one night and this girl walked by, flushed from head to toe, looking at me with wonder in her eyes. She went down the stairs and back to her table. Ten minutes later I had this feeling of a surge of compassion moving out of me, but when I turned around to look for her, she had left.
On the way home that night, I had this strong impression of her sitting on the couch at home with her father’s head in her lap, letting him know that she would no longer submit to his attentions. What came out of him was this deep shame, and relief that she was going to survive the evil that he had inherited from his past.
My understanding of the etiology of child abuse is that it is often inherited.
My own experience of abuse has led me to believe that the sending of forgiveness back into the past is an important part of the healing. It’s like sending a rope down into hell. Those of us that have survived it are strong enough to ensure that evil can climb up it only against great resistance, which makes it easier from the good to come up into the light.
No, it’s not fair that we have to do this, but there is a great light that shines on us as we do. We pick up our cross and carry it. In my experience, the work does not go unrewarded.
Thank-you for your contributions to the healing of others. Blessings on you and your journey.
Thank you for this well considered and thought provoking comment, Brian.
In my own experience, the organized church has very limited understanding of child abuse. There is no question that abuse has a spiritual dimension, both for the predator and victim. Unfortunately, too many Christians advise that victims simply “forget” the abuse (as if that were possible). Alternatively, they spout cliches about forgiveness without any real comprehension of the degree of harm inflicted by abuse. That only deepens the wound.
Some people, I think, are simply naive. Others have not experienced suffering on this magnitude. If the abuse was sexual in nature, a few actually seem embarrassed…as if the victim had perversely selected that option, and a discussion of the abuse would only further offend propriety.
Like you, I am of the opinion that forgiveness ultimately helps a victim toward healing. Not all victims though can or will forgive. Some are consumed by bitterness. Though I find your remark about a rope into hell profound, the welfare of victims is of greater concern to me than that of predators. I leave the latter to God. I would not be as merciful.
Just for the record, child abuse is not “inherited” — genetically or otherwise. Many predators were never, themselves, abused as children. And, while there are no precise figures, the great majority of victims never become predators. An unknown number who might have been good parents self-censor, never having children from an abundance of caution about causing harm.
True, behavior tolerated in a dysfunctional family of origin, may be recur in a current setting. A woman abused in childhood may not recognize or respond to warning signs that her partner is abusing their children (assuming that there are warning signs). And true, the childhood violation can be so extreme that it leaves as a permanent scar the powerful tendency toward abuse. I am convinced, however, that the choice whether or not to act on that tendency remains the individual’s.
May God bless you in your journey, as well.
Thanks for bringing me up-to-date on the etiology of abuse.
However, I was not talking specifically about salvation of the abuser. As my story may reveal, I have a sense of the connectedness of time that does not fit into the neat linearity that Einstein proposed.
There were a number of people at the service that day that I had never seen before. One of them, a middle-aged man, came up to me and said “Thank-you for thinking of us.” What I had offered was this: when that child that was you calls from the darkness, tell them “I love you. We are strong enough. Come to me.”
Thank you for the clarification, and the advice, Brian. I did not mean to sound so sanctimonious. I carry my own soapbox around.
Anna: Please, there is no need to apologize. Words are such puny tools in the struggle against the sorrows of the world. They serve best when taken as keys to the heart, and that’s always a mysterious practice, requiring patience and good will on both sides.
Anna, having read the thread of messages, in no way do you sound sanctimonious. Even if you mis-understood slightly, your response was absolutely correct. Long may you carry your soapbox around!!
I’m going to have to hire you to do public relations for me (LOL)! Seriously, thank you for all your support, Marie. You know what it’s like writing a blog. As writers, we want to reach people, to be heard and useful. But distance is such an obstacle. Words, themselves, can sometimes get in the way.
Ha ha! So true what you say. 🙂 xx