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Whether to Expose Abuse in The Family?

(20 Posts)
JohFlow Thu 25-Jul-13 13:37:10

At 37yrs I have decided to really get to 'base level' problems with my childhood. I have completed sessions with a counsellor and pyschologist. Self-motivated work is ongoing at the moment.

Certain revelations have come to light in the course of the therapies. Here are two...

1.) Mum is likely to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder and this has severely affected her capacity to mother, her acceptance of me and affected relationships with my siblings. There is a 'public' and 'private' face with her.
2.) Abuse and Neglect have been mentioned by both professionals (I had entertained this idea but told myself that what I experienced was 'too subtle and insidious' to be outright abuse - denial on my part).

Now that abuse has been recognised; I feel the need to seek support from the family members that I have a strong relationship with. I feel that I can turn to my aunty and older brother. I recognise that to heal; I need to be able to reveal my 'secrets' and then re-build according to how I want my future to be.

My problem is how to let them know the content of some of my sessions carefully and sensitively to elicit support. Because my mother is very clever at making abuse seem like natural parenting; I anticipate that there may issues initially at them accepting some of my explanation.

Does anyone have any advice?

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 25-Jul-13 13:46:26

Rather than support per se, I suspect what you need is acknowledgement that your memories are accurate. It's easy to reminisce with family if you spark things off with a photo album, for example. I think it's a very natural conversation to have with your brother or aunt which starts .... 'do you remember that time when?' ... talk about old times (good as well as bad) and then proceed to fill in some of the blanks together and discuss whether it was normal behaviour or not. Do be conscious, however, that memories of the same event may not be identical.

JohFlow Thu 25-Jul-13 13:47:57

I should also say if you have personal experience of anything like this (and have any nuggets of wisdom to share) they would be most welcomed. However; please only share what you are comfortable with.

CogitoErgoSometimes Thu 25-Jul-13 13:59:04

I have some experience of this but don't really want to say what it was. Suffice to say that having others acknowledge something happened is one thing, but be careful that you are not anticipating a particular response or building up your hopes of exactly what this exercise will achieve. You have professionals that can help you sort your thoughts. Your brother and your aunt are not professionals. Everyone deals with painful events differently and you may find, as much as you need to talk, they need to be quiet or to rationalise.

JohFlow Thu 25-Jul-13 14:20:16

Thank you for that response Cogito.

I am not sure what to expect in response. So I guess that I am open to what happens. I think my aunty is the first person to approach because I know she will listen all the way through and tell me honestly what she thinks - even if she is not sure how to respond/disagrees with my account. I am certainly not expecting this to be easy. I am trying to imagine what it would be like for her to hear this news about her sister in preparation.

Working with professionals does help me somewhat; but time frames/funding is limited and I am aware that this process could take some time. I am also aware that professionals are afforded a unique standpoint in the situation because they are not personally involved.

I like what you say about the gently, gently approach at first. I recognise that in my circumstances where there has been subtle abuse for years - a slow, cautious approach may be prudent. It is best for me to just 'get it all out' but I know that that may overwhelm others.

JohFlow Thu 25-Jul-13 14:32:38


Twinklestein Thu 25-Jul-13 14:42:06

I feel the need to seek support from the family members that I have a strong relationship with. I recognise that to heal; I need to be able to reveal my 'secrets' and then re-build according to how I want my future to be.

Yeah, well that's the theory. In practice I found quite quickly that a) people can't remember & b) insofar as they remember the past it's heavily edited according to how they want to see themselves & the people in their lives.

They may not want to hear about your issues, not because they're not caring, but simply because they'd prefer to think you & other relatives are happy nice people. And some people just can't do support.

If there are key things you want to establish happened, you can ask family members, but please bear in mind the may genuinely not or choose not to remember.

Ime you kind of have to sort your past out on your own: your experiences & memories are valid no matter what.

BeCool Thu 25-Jul-13 15:21:02

From my experience I would suggest treading very carefully for many reasons. What you are doing is truly wonderful, however you are coming at this from your perspective - you don't know what is going on in the lives of others. I'll talk from my experience a little.

I talked with my Aunty, and whilst she is loving and intelligent and usually very supportive, discussing the abuse with her opened up issues for her (of being abused as a child/teenager) that she had long held buried. So it was extremely difficult for her not to mention a shock all that came up for her from my situation. It still is.

Also confronting my own Mum was useless. It took me years to eventually realise she is not going to engage with me in the way I want her to, or even from a place of openness and honesty. She was not going to face what I wanted to face. She even denied stuff. I had to get to the point where I accepted that she too was damaged by things that happened in her life - things I'll probably never know about. She made the "best" decisions she was equipped to do at the time. I found my peace within - and this plus empathy I found for her, plus living on the other side of the world, ment I could forgive her and move on. We now have an OK relationship. Not wonderful, but much much better than being estranged completely.

My siblings didn't want to know - again I think they simply aren't emotionally equipped to process what happened in our family. Just because I was ready, doesn't mean they were. They might never be ready and that is their choice. I can't force them to deal with anything - this was a hard but important lesson to learn.

So for me, I really had to deal with it on my own, with my own therapy and my own choices and life. I have taken the view that by dealing with myself I am breaking the 'chain' of abuse. Which along with my own self knowledge, acceptance and preservation makes the painful process so worthwhile.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 25-Jul-13 15:27:09

I would recommend you wait.

Your feelings are very raw at the moment. Your family members may not be willing to give you the validation you seek, which will feel like the original betrayal by your parents all over again, and make it even longer before you can heal.

Use your therapy sessions to get validation of the hurt you experienced. Turn to family when you feel strong and stable again.

I was lucky to have a very supportive aunt. However, I never turned to her for support: I just carried on with my own healing, which involved going NC with my parents at a time when I felt ready to do so, and ready to deal with fallout from extended family members. When she heard about my NC, my aunt came to me, and offered support and validation. It was a great help. But I know I would have been asking for a lot of painful rejection if I had come to her and other family members asking for them to confirm that my parents were inadequate -- few people want to do that, to be honest. And all the more so family members who are all involved in some way in the dysfunctional family system.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 25-Jul-13 15:31:05

oh, and everything that BeCool said.

There is a lot I don't discuss with my supportive sister, aunt and uncle, because of the similar childhood experiences that they experienced but are not themselves willing to face.

I couch all discussion of my decision in "I" terms only: not "Mom is an angry narcissist and Dad her cowardly enabler, and both were damagingly inadequate parents", but " I find it difficult and uncomfortable to be with them, and choose not to see them for now."

That, they can deal with and understand.

JohFlow Thu 25-Jul-13 16:00:04

Thank you for that Be and Hot - very helpful.

I know that my Mum has had her own problems going way back; but I am not sure whether these were down to her own upbringing or individual to her. I respect that my disclosure may bring up painful memories in others and that is something definitely to consider before deciding on any action.

Just a question...

You both have entertained the idea of bringing up your ideas on your past. What would you/have you wanted from that discussion?

BeCool Thu 25-Jul-13 16:59:03

Sorry I'm not following your question - do you mean what did I want from my discussion with my mother?

JohFlow Thu 25-Jul-13 17:03:36

Yes - what were you hoping for when you raised questions with your family members about past grievances. Sorry that could have been clearer.

BeCool Thu 25-Jul-13 17:28:37

I was young and quite naive.

I had been mentally ill from it all - very depressed and I admitted myself into a residential therapy centre. It was the first time ever I felt emotionally supported. And safe to talk about stuff.

So initially I told Mum that I was sorting stuff out, working stuff through etc - I got a "that's nice for you dear" - she made it very clear it was nothing whatsoever to do with her or the paedophile who groomed her in order to move into our home.

Even a further 20+ years later she doesn't think anything wrong happened! The last phone conversation we had she even tied to pass on some general 'chit chat' about this man - so she is still in contact with him. Even all these years later I am upset that she would even think it anyway appropriate to mention him to me. Like I fucking care! She knows very well how I feel about him.

of course there was more to it all than that.

But what did I hope to achieve? Openness, honesty, rebuilding of trust, an emotional connection with my family I guess.

It's still all largely fucked - my family. It works on a largely superficial level. I don't feel emotionally close to anyone except my sister and we must not discuss these things. I've been ripped off of an emotional family life - but sadly I'm not alone there. It's all to common.

So ultimately, I wanted internal peace, freedom from feeling responsible for it all, acknowledgement of my feelings and hurt, some love and understanding. And I did get all of this - but not from my family. I got it from myself, with help along the way from a few good therapists, time, self knowledge and support.

Sorry have to go now - will check back in later.

JohFlow Thu 25-Jul-13 18:13:08

There is a mixture of feelings when reading your response. It must have been a very uneasy/unfair situation to navigate at a young age. I'm sure that you did the best you could at the time. It's good to know that you took charge in seeking help early. Even as kids we just know when something is wrong.

I could understand if your Mum's dismissiveness leaves you wretched. It is in direct opposition to your want for openness, honesty etc. which must make progress more difficult. In a similar vein - my Mum neglectfully states that my brothers and I 'have problems' in the same expression she may use to summise the weather. Big kick in the pants!! It's interesting that you mention about feeling responsible. I too have felt this. I think that this is common when a parent does not accept responsibility for their own actions or cannot take criticism.

I can also relate to the closeness with family thing. We meet up every now and again - because 'that's what families do'. But there is always massive underlying tension and even 'How are you? and 'What's your news?' questions can be awkward. This Friday is my aunty's birthday - everyone will be there. I am going to try to sit away from my Mum because even small talk feels false. To say I hate family dos would not be an understatement.

I'm glad that you have found some ways to work through what has happened to you. I hope that I can find my own methods too

BeCool Thu 25-Jul-13 19:40:32

Joh it seems that you are indeed doing this.

I started the selfhealing process aged about 20. I was NC with my Mum for approx 3 years. It was right at the time but it was hard.

I'm now 45 - it's been a process and still is.

You might not want to hear this now but the most important device if you can call it that is forgiveness. It's essentially the most powerful thing. And I mean for myself. Carrying around anger and hurt is very negative and hurtful for ourselves. To Forgive those who hurt you and forgive yourself is an act of strength. Rewards are profound. You can move on. If you aren't there yet that's fine of course. But it's possibly the ultimate place to be and to start again from.

It took a while to get there and it sat hand in hand with learning about myself. Ultimately we can only change ourselves. Forgiveness is a huge release and relief. I've not forgotten. But I have forgiven.

BeCool Thu 25-Jul-13 19:41:15

And yes- we can only ever do our best with what we have at the time.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Thu 25-Jul-13 22:52:40

BeCool, I was impressed by the paragraph where you stated "I found my peace within - and this plus empathy I found for her, plus living on the other side of the world, ment I could forgive her and move on."

I think that's what I want to reach eventually, I know I'm getting closer, but not quite there yet. I've been a year and a half NC, and my emotions have evolved so much in that time -- from boiling anger and depression, to a feeling of "meh" now. Maybe the next stage is empathy and forgiveness. It's a process indeed.

Joh, to answer your question, when I confronted my mother, I wanted to express my anger, and what better way than to direct it to those who had wronged me? But mostly, mostly, I wanted them to acknowledge my anger, and make amends. That never happened, obviously, and never will: they are too damaged to be able to take it on board. They could only deflect it through denial, rage, martyrdom, and blame. So I only ended up hurting myself more: setting up an expectation, that was dashed yet again.

So I would also urge you to be cautious with any confrontation with your parents, if any part of you at all is still hoping that they will make good. They won't, and you will only hurt yourself more by having your expectations dashed all over again. By all means do it if you must -- it seems that nearly all the Stately Homers eventually do, all of us with the same result. But for me and many others it has proved part of the process. Just one that, with hindsight, we would now choose to avoid... As Susan Forward says in her book: after all, if they were capable of listening to us and taking our feelings on boards, they wouldn't be toxic parents in the first place!

BeCool Fri 26-Jul-13 10:30:28

HotDAMN I think there must have been an element of detachment for me - that preceded the forgiveness. It's hard to remember all the details now as it was such a long process, and all the while life continues.

Having space from my family was a huge step. For a family so detached and uninvolved, the release I felt when I left the country and came to London was enormous. It enabled me to focus more on me and my stuff. Still I was quite messed up - I can see now how I drank/partied etc excessively through my teens and 20's which was how I coped with all the crap in lots of ways. Not great.

But carrying anger really is self destructive. If nothing else, getting to a place where you can release that burning coal of anger from your body, mind and soul is the ultimate reward.

JohFlow Fri 26-Jul-13 16:06:06

I agree with what you are saying Be and Hot - in that anger needs to be released and it is from then that space is made/detachment occurs so that you can come at the situation again on a more even keel. During my psychology sessions - a lot was about drama therapy/writing. This helped me to picture myself with my Mum and Dad so that I could have a rant/write very intimately. I also have a dictaphone I pick up at home for those between -sessions vents.

I am at a stage now where I am ready to put some distance between my Mum and me so that I can think things through more thoroughly. I agree with Hot that even detached/uninvolved families can't help but affect each other. To me there is a good level of aggressive silence in the air even when we are apart.

Hot - I think some form of respectful, family discussion is necessary with me. I am not someone who doesn't deal with conflict. I can only be responsible for how I put my ideas across and the words that come out of my mouth in response. If it goes well - hopefully we can move on. If it doesn't' at least I know where I stand and can give myself permission to not give a f**k anymore.

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