As abuse victims, the majority of us have trust issues. Intimacy, in other words, is a challenge for us. Lovers are likely to be selected for their inability to permit intimacy (or might as well be). The closer they get to us, the greater the chance they will run.
In the agony of trying to hold onto someone unwilling to commit, we lose sight of one essential fact. The closer they get, the greater the chance we will run. The attraction evaporates.
Our trust issues may be such that we cannot even allow for friendships. If we have managed to form valued relationships, we may still keep friends at arm’s length. While we need not fear or distrust genuine friends, it can be difficult for us to believe friends would remain loyal, if they knew all our flaws.
Our “true” selves.
Painful as it is, abuse victims often rely on distance – geographic and emotional. Intimacy can be so unfamiliar it makes us nervous. Distance provides us a “safety” zone within which our secret selves live.
There is no actual safety in such a zone. It is merely a no man’s land with which we surround ourselves. Isolation takes the place of barbed wire, keeping us in and others out.
The Secret Self
Secrets can flourish within that zone. We need not explain the myriad after-effects of abuse (after-effects for which we may have been rejected in the past, for which we may despise ourselves).
We need not explain our eating disorders or sexual difficulties. We need not explain what has compelled us to sleep with “so many” – or “so few” – men (or women, for that matter). We need not explain our complex reasons for remaining in abusive relationships – reasons we may not fully understand ourselves.
The Hidden Self
None of these secret flaws – these “terrible” aspects of what we view as our true selves – is harmful to others .
Strangely, we take no notice of our many positive qualities. It is as if these qualities were invisible to us, hidden in the same way we hide the worst details of the abuse and its after-effects from others.
There is a simple explanation. Our positive qualities were not acknowledged when we were children, so they faded from sight. All we heard was the barrage of criticism which now echoes in our heads.
We may have fought some of the battles over abuse since childhood – battles with misplaced guilt, perfectionism, procrastination, self-neglect, and self-deprivation. We can expect to fight others until our dying day – battles with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, for instance.
These struggles can be exhausting. They require enormous courage, and enormous strength — qualities we regularly exhibit, but rarely recognize in ourselves. Suffering has, also, increased our compassion for others. It may have deepened our faith.
Unrelated to the abuse, we may be diligent, reliable, sensitive, ethical, creative, and countless other positive things. But we resist the description, since it does not conform with the criticism directed at us in childhood.
While disclosure is not appropriate with all issues, to all people, or in all settings, it can be a great relief .
At very least, the secret self should be introduced to the hidden self. After all, it is the combination of the two that is the real self. That combination provides a more accurate picture of reality, and a more balanced picture of who we are.
It is in that combination – and the acceptance of our very human flaws – that the possibility for change (and intimacy) rests.
 The situation is somewhat different for those of us with children. None of us want to pass these problem behaviors on. We attempt to shield our children from them, insofar as possible.
 Disclosure of the abuse and its after-effects is in the discretion of the individual. Each situation is unique. Professional guidance and support are highly recommended.
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