As I am here alone at Christmas, I think of Christmas past. Seventeen years ago I miscarried my son Toep. I held him in my hand for a moment, not bigger than my palm. His face, hands and feet were already developed, he had the tiniest fingers and toes.
I buried him in the front garden and planted a tree on top. As the grief washed over me, wave after wave, his father was cold and heartless. My cries annoyed him. My sorrow angered him. I ended up running away from him, with our son, fearing for my life. He died last year.
Now my son only has me, and my other daughter, his half-sister. And I grieve alone. I look back and I realise I have always ever been alone.
Just like that Christmas Star. It is enveloping me, like a comforting blanket. But it is time to get out there, and face my fears and demons.
So my goal for 2021 is that I make new friends and truly connect. I need to show my real me, but also set boundaries and protect myself. Because I don’t want to be alone at Christmas or any other day. I want to live outside the cage I built and truly enjoy life. And I want to share it with someone.
But only with someone I can trust and who is interested in me, someone who actually cares.
So for all of you out there, cherish the people who love you, and love them back. But most of all love yourself. At the end of the day, the person you have to live with every second of the day, is yourself, so you better get to love that person most.
If you are like me, treated badly all your life and you can’t trust your own parents, you have to trust and rely on yourself. What has happened to you is not your fault. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t mean you are worthless. On the contrary, you are precious.
If you can’t think of any reason why you should live, make time to discover your talent, your joy, your reason. Dig into yourself and discover the gem inside. There is one. But it all has to start with self love. Find the little spark of love inside and shield, feed and care for it. It’ll grow bigger, the care becomes easier. And you’ll suddenly find yourself enjoying something intensely. You are then on your way.
That is my Christmas pledge to myself and my message to you. Life can get better, just work on it one tiny step at the time.
In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim.
Herman (1992*, p. 8)
These are the first lines of a chapter in my learning materials I was studying this morning. And they hit me like a brick. To me, this is so recognisable in my life. Most of my abusers, including my parents, have done exactly that, secrecy and silence and attacking my credibility.
In fact, since starting this blog I have received an angry email from my father blaming my personality disorder and accusing me of publicly slandering his good name and venting lies about them on social media. Then he went on to say I had to delete it and how and what I could say instead.
Since I was a child he has been telling me to shut up, be quiet and let others speak. I had a big mouth and was always exaggerating everything. He was always telling me how things should be done and what was best. And now, nothing has changed, he still thinks he knows best. Well, I am an adult now, and in my experience people learn by example. He might have told me many times over what was best, but he didn’t show me in his actions. His actions are that of a coward, hiding behind his infantile wife who bullies him and her children around. And even now, 40 years on he denies facts and tries to silence me.
I think it is absolutely crucial to let others know about the abuse, to talk about it and bring it out in the open. As long as it’s hidden, and nobody talks about it or knows who commit these crimes it will continue and perpetrators will know they are safe. By saying here, publicly, what happened and who did it I hope somehow I can find a way to stop history repeating itself, and it also is an opportunity to learn. I imply here, that I am not merely a victim, but also a potential perpetrator. Because the sad truth is, because this is my example I find myself in similar situations with my own children. I feel incredibly lucky to have a sense of self reflection, which allows me to change my behaviour. I have to work hard for it, because it doesn’t come natural to me to be a warm, loving mother. I have made mistakes, I have been unable to give my children the emotional safety and care they need many times, but I recognise it now and I can start to change it.
So perpetrators are often themselves victims too. Because of this it is often extra hard to admit, recognise and work on breaking the chain. But there are always opportunities both for the victim and the perpetrator to start recovery. There are lessons for both.
At the bottom of all of this is a deep lack of love. There is probably a long line of loveless parents before me, my parents, my grandparents and so on. If you are victim of domestic violence you learn you are not worth love, you are worthless. And because you don’t love yourself, you can’t be around people who show you love, and you can’t show it yourself. You will be on the roundabout of looking for confirmation of that self-loathing. And so the cycle continues into eternity. Except, you can do something to stop it. By owning up to it, to your own faults, by starting to recognise how you can’t be vulnerable to others, even your own children, you can try practise and face that deep fear. Be uncomfortable, feel anxious, be brave.
Surely that is less hard than see your children turn their backs on you, see your children suffer like you did, see them try and run away from it all, see them in unhealthy relationships, see them lose themselves in addiction and sometimes even kill themselves. I am determined to let the buck stop with me. Or at least as much as I can. Cause I know I have already passed on some of the bad stuff. But at least I don’t want to be a coward and stick my head in the sand pretending it isn’t there. It IS there. My own daughter is afraid of me, at least sometimes. But that is one moment too many. She shouldn’t feel afraid of me even one moment. I need to make her feel safe, I need to protect her. I need her to love herself. And that can only happen if I learn to love myself.
So, facing the facts is important, but also accepting that the way you experienced something might be different to somebody else’s. In my opinion a perpetrator is not allowed to devalue the experience of the victim, their feelings, nor their way of expressing those feelings about it. As a perpetrator you can only accept the facts and live with it, own up to it and do whatever is in your power to not repeat it. This is off course not even possible or feasible for a lot of people, because they simply lack the ability, deny it and continue their abusive behaviour. The consequence is this endless cycle of violence, passed on from generation to generation.
*Herman, J. (1992) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, Basic Books.
Since my separation and divorce from my ex-husband I have not had a serious relationship with anyone else. I got hurt so badly that I decided it would be best to be alone. Not in the least because I nearly lost my children and I wanted to protect them from any more trauma.
But slowly as I recovered, I turned my thoughts to why I am always attracted to emotionally unavailable, distant, violent and manipulative men. I have had a few relationships with loving, kind and caring men but after a short while I felt uncomfortable, anxious and basically ran for the hills. Breaking hearts as I did. For which I feel very guilty and if any of you read this: I am sorry.
I have discovered that as I have never known unconditional love, as a child, I have not learned to love myself. Only if a child has the experience of unconditional love from a parent or carer from birth they will develop a sense of self-love. I have clearly been taught the opposite. I witnessed terrible violence against my sister, and was told to shut up and stay out of it. When I was 2 my sister was adopted, which subconsciously told me I must have not been good enough if they went all that way to adopt another child. She then got a lot of attention, mostly negative but still attention as I was the ‘good’ child. But the biggest overriding message was that I couldn’t trust my parents, they did not keep us safe, they violated our trust and loyalty towards them by abusing and starving my sister and neglecting both of our emotional needs and allowing it to continue. This is a very powerful message of rejection and abandonment which to me clearly said: ‘you are worthless and you are not worthy of love’.
Then when I grew up it felt safe to be with people who weren’t interested in me, who didn’t show care and protection and love. And when somebody did show interest, care and love it felt very uncomfortable, uneasy and scary. So I ran. Instead it felt much better to have my internal message of self-hate enforced by violent, abusive, manipulative men, because I actually believed it to be the truth!
So the inevitable conclusion is, that if I want to experience true love I have to start learning to love myself. Only once I feel comfortable with that feeling, I can allow somebody else to love me back and be in a successful mutually loving relationship. But how do I go about that? For decades I have worked on enforcing the feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing, and I have come some way of practising self-love by looking after myself better, live healthier, engage in therapy and support but I don’t think I have even scratched the surface of starting to love myself more.
The evidence of that lies in that I am still attracted to unhealthy men, bad boys, tough guys, emotionally damaged men who are in one way or another not emotionally available. Still, I am very comfortable in my own company, I look after myself physically and mentally and I don’t engage in risky behaviour anymore. But I just don’t know what the next step is, except that I have to draw boundaries and stick to them.
As a severely emotionally damaged person, it is hard to get my head around the concept of love. I only know dysfunctional love, which in my book is no love at all. When I was thinking about this I could come up with two essential ingredients; trust and equal distribution of power.
To start with the latter, to establish equal distribution of power between 2 people they both need to be self-aware of their personal boundaries and immediately communicate to the other person when they approach a boundary, and off course when they cross it. Being self-aware is one thing, but then to communicate it in an assertive, but not aggressive way is much harder. It becomes even more complicated when you take into account that people are naturally lazy, I mean they usually choose the way of least resistance. So over time, people just can’t be asked and give in just to get some peace. But off course, this is totally counter-productive because from that point on the relationship will go out of canter, power wise. One person will start to dominate the other and if not corrected by both parties the relationship will become dysfunctional.
Another factor is behaviour patterns and habits which become more and more engrained over time. So when you struggle to stand up for yourself and have low self-esteem a pattern of behaviour can develop out of self preservation. For instance avoidance. So your partner is approaching your boundary, you give a warning, they ignore and step over your boundary and violate your space in some way. You don’t address the violation and ignore that it ever happened. Next time you don’t even give a warning, you allow your partner to cross the line unchallenged but you see it coming and you avoid the situation. This then becomes your survival technique. But the consequences of this behaviour is that the whole relationship is based on a lie, because you have not addressed your true feelings of being violated and your partner hasn’t checked if they have crossed your boundaries. When this becomes a pattern the relationship will develop in a dysfunctional way.
Then the issue of trust. For love to blossom there needs to be trust between two people. This also is hard work. One needs to trust the other, and the other needs to respect the trust one has entrusted onto him. This is a constant interaction between the couple. Both people need to be absolutely honest about their feelings and actions, and communicate this assertively. The problem is, if your trust has been violated from the start, by your own parents or carers you don’t trust anyone and you start to develop self-preservation type behaviour and patterns.
Now I have come as far as realising all this, and I acknowledge that my dysfunctional behaviour is for starters that I avoid having to be vulnerable. Being able to show vulnerability is important to gain trust. But I have learned as a child that when you show vulnerability you will get abused, killed, beaten. You don’t get trust. Because I was part of a dysfunctional family. So when I became an adult I was always attracted to manipulative, emotionally unavailable, needy and violent men. I always liked someone who needed ‘saving’, ‘rescuing’ or care in some way. Like alcoholics, drug users, people like that. But as soon as someone wanted to look after me, I was gone. I just felt so uncomfortable, it just never felt right. But then, as a child I have always had the role of parent. Parent to my mother, parent to my sister, parent to myself. When you are emotionally neglected as a child, this is how you develop. It is pure self-preservation.
Now though, I’m through with that. I don’t want to have that in my life. I want the real thing or be alone. But unfortunately if I want to break this pattern, I will have to show my vulnerable side, communicate my boundaries on time and accept care and attention. This notion scares the heebie-jeebies out of me, but I will have to find a way to do it, and test it out. So that’s where I am at. Wish me luck!