In the Wake of a Tiger

Facial markings on “Sultan” (T72), Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, India, Author Dibyendhu Ash (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

“Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night…
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil, what the grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”

The Tiger, William Blake

“How do you do? I’m an incest survivor.” You don’t hear that often. When should abuse victims first introduce the subject of abuse into conversation with friends and acquaintances [1]?

It is, of course, up to victims whether or not to disclose the fact of their abuse. We tend to err in one direction or the other – disclosing to strangers, before a sufficient degree of intimacy has been established to support discussion of such personal subject matter, while keeping the abuse entirely secret from friends (even spouses), sometimes for decades.

Victims can choose the setting, and establish parameters for this conversation. We can speak with one individual or several. “There’s something about me I’d like you to know.” “Let’s take a walk (or sit here for awhile, before the others get back).” “This is hard for me to talk about.” “It would be easier, if you asked specific questions (or didn’t ask questions, right now).”

But the topic of abuse makes people uncomfortable. No doubt about it. Few people unfamiliar with abuse – physical, emotional, sexual or neglect – will know how to respond to such information, at the outset.

Not that any sort of etiquette applies. Still, do they ask for more details? Or would questions be intrusive, insensitive? Should they hide their discomfort, move the conversation along to a less personal topic, as if abuse had not been mentioned? Or should they express shock, reach out to us – appalled that we would have suffered to such an extent?

Keeping silent allows some victims to ignore the painful reality of their abuse. A few will attempt to build a life on this fragile foundation. But the victims of a tiger attack will inevitably reveal their scars. We may as well enlist the aid of friends and relations in dealing with those scars…or, at any rate, attempt to do so.

Some people will not be able to handle the subject of abuse, no matter how it is presented. They will always prefer discussing sports and film stars. This is the reaction we fear most – withdrawal, as if we were disgusting, unclean. But that inference is ours. Withdrawal may simply reflect the limited capacity of a given individual for empathy.

Others may find an initial conversation with us difficult, but subsequent conversations on the subject gradually less so. Genuine friends will be supportive. In fact, they may feel hurt, if we keep the information from them for an extended period.

The experience of abuse is, after all, a part of who we are.

There is no shame in having been attacked. Our physical and psychological scars are not a sign of weakness. They are a memorial to the severity of our wounds…and the strength it took to survive in the wake of a tiger.

[1] This post addresses only relationships which may develop after the abuse has ended. It does not deal with our initial disclosure of the abuse secret (in an effort to obtain help) or with our confrontation of the abuser.



Filed under Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

7 responses to “In the Wake of a Tiger

  1. Thank you, Anna, you are right. In the last couple of years I have come across many victims of abuse and I kept asking God, WHY me? It has been a steep learning curve of what to say and not to say and when to just pray and listen. I know enough now that I really know NOTHING at all as I ought to know and without the guidance of the Spirit I will blow it every time. But if God is in it, His wisdom is there for us as we need it.
    “Dear Father, continue to give Anna the wisdom she needs as she reaches out to these precious people. Amen.”

    • Thank you so much, Michael — both for your prayer and your friendship. I am sure the victims you have encountered have been blessed by your kindness and sensitivity. I know I have.

  2. Thanks Anna for the post, I’m trying to learn how to get rid of my shame. This was a much needed timely message. I am learning to hold my head up high and move forward with the Grace of God and His love for me.

  3. Many years ago, with great fear and trembling, I gave my first testimony of having been sexually abused and how the Lord was healing me before a congregation of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I later learned five women went to the pastor and complained. “We don’t need to hear that kind of stuff in church!” Praise God the pastor backed me up and it was later revealed that all five of these women had either been abused themselves or had a family member that was. We aren’t always privy to the reasons people turn away. I’ll tell you what though, when I stepped off that stage the shame was gone and I haven’t shut up yet!

  4. Reblogged this on Cyber Support Group and commented:
    The experience of having been abused is a part of who we are. There is no shame in that.

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