Advanced search

Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.

Is is possible to be unaffected by childhood abuse?

(24 Posts)
confused2345 Fri 30-Oct-15 15:18:44

Wondered if anyone had any thoughts on this.

My DH confessed to me last week that he was sexually abused as a child by a teacher, over a period of a couple of years. He said he'd never told anyone before and seemed quite upset about it, ashamed and anxious that nobody else should know sad

Since then, however, he's been on terrific form, happy, chirpy, affectionate - whilst I've been feeling a bit shocked and confused by it all. I asked him last night how he felt having told me, and he said he was happy, and relieved, and it's nice not to have a secret any more. I asked whether he thought it had affected his life, but he was adamant that it hadn't - because he didn't want it to have done, and it's unhelpful to start attributing things to that sort of thing. He doesn't want anyone else knowing, as he thinks people think of you differently if they know that sort of thing about you. In short, he doesn't want to talk about it any more, and wants to put it back in the past where it belongs and get on with his life.

But having looked at things online about support for survivors of abuse, there seems to be lots of people saying you need to be able to talk about things, to confront what happened, etc to deal with it and move on. Or is that not the right approach for everyone? Am I overthinking things being upset by it? I feel if it's not bothering him that it shouldn't bother me.

RandomMess Fri 30-Oct-15 15:23:15

He may have been able to successfully compartmentalise it until now, and it may stay like that for the rest of his life; something may happen in the future that makes it become an issue then and that will be the right time for him to talk/confront what happened.

confused2345 Fri 30-Oct-15 15:26:54

Yes, he said he had compartmentalised it, and that that worked for him. He's 50 now though, and his own DC are now older than he was when it happened, so maybe there never will be a time that's right for him to confront it. Maybe that doesn't matter I guess.

OurBlanche Fri 30-Oct-15 15:29:34

Well, he is experiencing the euphoria of having spoken out and not having been rejected for doing so.

You can only wait and follow his lead. He may or may not want to talk about it ever, or he may fall apart on you next week. But you can't pre-empt it. It is his experience and it doesn't matter what 'other people say about having to talk it through'. Unless/until he wants to that is not an option.

Good luck. I can't be easy for you. But you have to suppress your desire to fix it, make it better. Again, best of luck with this.

confused2345 Fri 30-Oct-15 15:45:12

Thanks blanche , I guess you're right that I just need to try to forget about it unless he wants to bring it up. As he's managed to keep it parcelled away for 40 years, I guess he may well go on doing so, unless having told me somehow changes things at all.

AnnieKenney Fri 30-Oct-15 16:56:09

How lovely that he trusted you to tell - this is honestly the hugest compliment a child sexual abuse survivor can give any person and tells you that you have created a space of safety for him that he has never felt before. For someone who has stayed silent for so many decades, that means the two of you have something very rare and special.

Breaking the silence is HUGE. This may be enough for now but not in the long term or it may be as far as he ever gets. As you may already know, every child abuse victim deals with it in their own way as best they know. Everyone is affected but it isnt always wholly negative and some do manage to find good coping strategies that work for them. All you can do is offer support if his ways of coping break down (they sometimes do post 'telling'). The key is to always walk beside and not to lead. Remember to look after yourself too. [Flowers]

ILiveAtTheBeach Fri 30-Oct-15 17:06:24

I have never been abused, however, I have 2 female friends that have - they were both raped. One by their Uncle. One by their Step brother. This was over 20 years ago. One of them leads a normal, happy, healthy life. The other is a nightmare. Constantly binge drinking, in and out of rehab, re hashes what happened to her all the time, even though it was 27 years ago, she's ruined her marriage, emotionally abused her daughter (telling a 9 year old "you won't see me tomorrow, mummy's going to commit suicide tonight". She's been arrested multiple times. She blames it all on this rape. So, I think it all comes down to the inner strength/personality type of the victim. That's not to say that anyone still upset is weak. IYSWIM. Some people can move on. Some will never move on. Your DH sounds like the former.

blueride Fri 30-Oct-15 17:33:41

I experienced sexual abuse as a teenager and it's something I dealt with best by compartmentalising. I've had MH issues in the past but not in a way that I can directly relate to the abuse, as I've also had other problems and it's quite difficult to separate just how much of it was down to the abuse rather than other issues. I have had quite extensive therapy (more than once, with different approaches) but in the end I never really raised the issue of abuse, and I didn't really think the therapy helped that much.

I'm just not the type of person who needs to talk things through in order to work through them and your DH is probably the same. I think a lot of the attitude about having to talk things through often comes from people who work in therapy etc, so that is the kind of thing they would say, but it hasn't worked for me and I don't believe it works for everyone. These days I have a happy, settled life with good relationships and I've put the past behind me. I don't think the abuse has defined me and I've never felt any shame from it, and I've always had a very healthy attitude to sex and relationships.

TheRadiantAerynSun Fri 30-Oct-15 17:44:49

I was abused as a child. I told my husband about it after a couple of years, mainly because it was mentioned in passing my a family member and I didn't want him to be caught on the hop not knowing if it happened again (my family will insist on discussing my private business hmm). I have no interest in talking about it with anyone. I've done my own internal processing and that's enough for me.

I can't really say if it's affected who I am or not. I do OK in everything that matters to me.

confused2345 Fri 30-Oct-15 18:04:49

Thanks very much for all your comments. DH was very clear that he doesn't want me to mention it to anyone else in RL, so it's really useful to hear views from people on here.

I'm sure you're right blueride that the idea that people need to talk about things comes often from therapists, or people who've found therapy useful - so it may not be the same for everyone. DH is largely happy, successful, and our relationship is good. He has very occasional moments of breaking down, which I found scary at first as he was unable to communicate, and just sobbing, but he's always seemed to find his way out of them in the end. I don't know if they're related to his past abuse, though he's mentioned feelings of worthlessness and being a flawed person, which were similar to the way he felt about the abuse. He did seem to feel ashamed of it, and also feared that people would think he was a risk to children, because of having been abused himself - I tried to counter these views, but doubt that just one conversation would have entirely debased him of the ideas.

But yes, if he doesn't want to talk further, it's not my job to push him to.

springydaffs Fri 30-Oct-15 18:31:57

it all comes down to the inner strength/personality type of the victim.

I truly cannot agree with this at all. It is dangerously simplistic imo. Recovery has ZERO to do with the 'strength', or otherwise, of the victim. So, not only was she raped but she's crap at dealing with it hmm

This has become your burden too now op. I don't mean actual burden - the burden is his - but you know and there's no going back. Gen up on this yourself, find out what you can about it. Just so your ready.

Imo the fact he is ashamed of what happened indicates he still carries the mark of it in a deep place. Why should he feel ashamed, flawed? He was entirely the innocent victim, on every level.

But good advice above that he should lead. But do get yourself some support too.

cailindana Fri 30-Oct-15 18:57:07

For me, having people tell me I should have counselling/get 'professional help' was not helpful, in fact I found it very isolating as it comes across to me as 'I don't want to hear this, you're a freak that needs to be dealt with by people who know how to manage freaks.' Abuse has affected my life but I don't know if talking any more about it will help - the problem isn't really the abuse but the reaction of other people to it and I can't really change that.

something2say Fri 30-Oct-15 20:18:41

Confused, your husband has displayed some classic signs that it has affected him, in my view. But his approach is ok, as we are all different. I would say as a survivor myself as well, that telling you was huge to him, hence the crying. it may also be that he is thinking about it a lot. It is norms, to think about it.

People are saying that they didn't necessarily go for therapy but they have processed it in some way and that I believe is what does need to happen for us all. So I think your husband has been affected and this is part of him processing it. He is feeling shame, there are some classic self blaming thoughts etc, and he is isolated with it and how it has affected his life.

My advice for the immediate future is to listen to him when he talks. I think he will talk again and so just sit down and listen.

Two strains of could they do that to you, and you were not to blame.

X take care of yourselves X

something2say Fri 30-Oct-15 20:21:33

Cailindana, they say to get help because professionals know exactly what to say to make it better. Seriously, there is nothing like talking to someone who gets it.

I had problems with other people's reactions too. Some terrible ones. It helped to stop talking in real life and to get books on getting over it and talk to a professional, because I saw myself on every page and my counsellor helped me do things that changed the way I thought. And that was only dealing with the anuse itself, the changing of my patterns of behaviour really brought about massive change. I whole heartedly recommend books and therapy to other survivors, it will change everything. X

confused2345 Fri 30-Oct-15 23:25:26

springy I think he feels ashamed because what happened was "consensual", if that's the right word - I don't think it is, but at the time he says it seemed weird and wasn't forced. So he didn't try and stop it until he was a bit older. I agree of course that he shouldn't feel ashamed and that it wasn't his fault at all, but I guess that's where the notion comes from.

cailin, that's exactly what's prevented me suggesting counselling - that it would sound like I don't want to hear about it, and also that it makes out it's a big issue that needs addressing, when he's telling me it isn't.

I do think he could do to get rid of the notions of shame and being seen as dirty because of it, but overall he is a functioning , happy person at least 99% of the time, so maybe he can manage as he is.

Joysmum Fri 30-Oct-15 23:45:39

If it hadn't affected him, it wouldn't be on his mind now and he wouldn't have had anything to need to share.

I was raped and when I told my DH he didn't mention it again and that's what led to a downward spiral. I mentioned because I couldn't hold it in anymore and needed reassurance. When I didn't get that it was my breaking point. I then bought it up and DH said he didn't think I wanted to talk about it. If I didn't then I'd never gave confided.

DH didn't realize. What I needed was to hear how much he loved me and that he was there to talk if I needed and if he wasn't able to help then we could find somebody who could but it was my call.

AntiqueSinger Fri 30-Oct-15 23:50:56

So, I think it all comes down to the inner strength/personality type of the victim.

This is a tremendously damaging comment and extremely naive and simplistic. It gives the impression that if a person struggles with deep seated emotional or psychological harm as a result of being molested or raped as a child they should pull up their shoelaces and 'get on' with it, and simply strive to be 'normal' (whatever that is, have never met anyone who is) and if they are not 'happy' they are 'weak'. I think knowing people have thoughts like that make it very hard for people to speak up.

AntiqueSinger Sat 31-Oct-15 00:18:51

To answer the question: No it is not. Is it possible to develop coping mechanisms that allow a person to move through life in a manner that still allows for personal success whether that be relationships or otherwise? Definitely. Some people need more help than others to achieve this. Acknowledging the need for help is itself proof of strength. In all my experience working with SA survivors and friends, - some of whom have kept it so secret, their own family members don't know- and appear extremely 'happy' and 'functional' not one person has said they considered themselves unaffected.

What I do notice though is that those who seem able to cope easier have what I describe as 'compensations'. That is they have achieved a measure of 'good' things if you like that they perceive as off-setting the awful experiences they endured. That may be a happy marriage, children, a successful career, life affirming charity work etc. Those who may for whatever reason -shit luck- not achieved enough of the typical factors for what society deem necessary to a 'happy' life, may struggle harder to get past the negativity of their experience. Also context matters. A lot of children who are abused don't experience it in a vacuuum: there may be other background factors that contribute to making abuse likely in the first place; like an alcoholic parent, domestic violence, family divorce and breakdown substance abuse, the list goes on. The more negative life events a person experiences on top of SA the harder it may be for them to cope and handle their experience. On top of this there is now evidence that suffering the trauma of SA at young age (for some people) can prevent and delay the maturing of reasoning ability and thus the ability to handle stress at a neurological level.

So op., I'd say you must contribute to your husbands happiness a great deal if he is able to confide in you and deal with his experience so well!

something2say Sat 31-Oct-15 12:38:56

Very important to say that the husband in this case was groomed. it is said that the body responds to sexuality regardless of who is touching it, hence the responding is not wrong, but who is doing it to whom is the question. If people are not violently forced but instead cajoled over time, one thing leading to another, then this is grooming and having been groomed, having given in, done it ourselves, not hated it at the time etc are the burdens that we carry as a result. It is important to remember that we would be too young to consent, not knowing what sex is, and there would have been a huge imbalance of power at play,many the one with all the power may have been a dangerous predator set against us at, what, 6 years of age? 9?

TreeDweller3 Sat 31-Oct-15 14:10:19

I was sexually abused at aged 5. I can honestly say it hasn't affected my life. I don't even identify myself as a "vivtim@. It's true I don't talk about it, but it's mostly because people freak out and I worry they'll see me differently; for example, interpreting the odd low days I may have as somehow a result of the abuse, etc. I can talk about child sex abuse though, without getting particularly emotional.

Sexually, I'm perfectly normal and rather love sex! Mentally, I'd say I'm pretty well-balanced and have never experienced depression. Perhaps it's because the abuse happened at a very young age, although I can definitively remember it.

If your husband says he hasn't been too badly affected and he acts as if he hasn't, then why not believe him? Id be upset if people imposed this "rule" on me - you've been abused, therefore you must me messed-up and you're just lying to yourself. Nonsense (and offensive).

I don't mean to diminish for a second the agonising long-term effects that most victims of sex abuse suffer. But it can also happen that you are not affected significantly. Hope this helps.

confused2345 Sat 31-Oct-15 14:26:51

He was 10-12 something . I told him that that meant he'd started to say no at an age that is still 4 years younger then the law expects you to be able to able to give our refuse consent. The abuser was a 50 year old teacher, so he does realise there was a huge power imbalance.

That's interesting what you say about compensation antique - DH has a well paid job and I can see he gains a strong sense of self worth from being well paid and able to help others out financially.

not one person has said they considered themselves unaffected Yet that is pretty much what DH said to me. Not that it didn't bother him - he was clearly upset about it, and felt ashamed and bad about it. But he was saying clearly that he doesn't think it's affected other aspects of his life. He doesn't think he's damaged as a person because of it, or doesn't want to think that.

That's sad joysmum sad Hope you've managed to find someone to confide in since who can handle things better. I didn't want to leave it hanging like that with DH either, but equally don't want to pressurise him to talk more than he wants to. Maybe men and women are a bit different like that - I'd be like you, if I'd brought something difficult like that up, I'd want my partner to be able and willing to talk about it and help me process my feelings about it. But maybe your DH is like mine, and feels that simply sharing a bit of information is enough, and doesn't see a reason for talking more about difficult things.

confused2345 Sat 31-Oct-15 14:29:36

Thanks, treedweller , that's good to hear smile

TimeToMuskUp Sat 31-Oct-15 14:42:29

I spent my first ten years in foster care and was sexually abused at 6 years old. It hasn't dictated my life, my mental health or my happiness. I'm happily married to a lovely guy, we have two sons who are living the childhood I wasn't able to; it's all quite a nice life, given my start.

I think, though, that some people are simply less inclined towards depression and MH problems, and another person experiencing my first ten years might have grown up with depression and some quite odd relationship issues. I've been open about it in the past and am not afraid to say I was abused. Equally, I don't think about it or mention it often as it's just not a factor. There's no question that it changed me. It just hasn't affected me as negatively as it could have.

Pandora97 Sat 31-Oct-15 14:53:31

Sadly, my experience has been very different. My ex partner was sexually abused very young but it was really horrific. Don't want to go into massive details but it involved physical abuse and all other sorts of nasty stuff. The perpetrator was arrested but never convicted and that really played on his mind. I didn't know this until after we split but apparently he had behavioural problems as a child, and depression growing up.

Anyway, when we were together he seemed reasonably well adjusted. He had occasional nightmares about it and I did suggest to him about getting some therapy but he refused. I did talk to him about it but I didn't want to keep bringing it up either in case he thought I just saw him as an abuse victim. He could be quite clingy and needy and had mood swings, whether this was related or not I don't know. To cut a long story short, one day he was arrested out of the blue. He blamed the abuse affecting him for what he did - which may have just been an excuse. But I felt very guilty, even now sometimes. I thought maybe I wasn't supportive enough, maybe I didn't see how badly he was struggling and should have spoken to him about it more, maybe I should have forced him to go to therapy.

This is an extreme example. As your husband has got to the age of 50 without having any troubles then he's unlikely to now. My partner was a lot younger and has had problems his whole life. And like another poster said, there were other factors like growing up poor, his dad rejecting him etc. Of course it's okay for you to be upset by it, child abuse is an upsetting topic, especially when it happens to someone you love. I know particularly in male-male abuse the victims are frightened that people will think they're gay, especially in a situation like your husband's. I haven't really got any advice on how to deal with it - it's very hard to know what the "right" thing to do is. But with the feelings of worthlessness and worries about how people would perceive him like you describe, I would just reassure him that you accept him completely as he is. I have a lot of empathy for both of you, it's not easy dealing with this. flowers

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: