A few days ago in our survivors of sexual abuse group, we discussed “unhealthy” families in which sexual abuse occurs. As you may know, there aren’t many signs or predictable qualities that warn people that a new family will be one where sexual abuse takes place. Most perpetrators look relatively “normal” and fit into society. But there is some interesting consistencies in the families in which abuse occurs and we found it fascinating how many of theses traits were in each of our families.
According to On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Mandt Langberg, abusive families “often have multiple problems, are rigid in their relational patterns, confused by individuals’ roles, and send destructive messages.” As we went through these pages of her book, my family falls into each one. (In the group, the average number was three.) Read the examples from my family and see where yours fits.
Multiple problems: My mom is bipolar and a mean person. (I’ll have to write about her one day.) There were definite boundary issues and tons of denial.
Rigid relational patterns: By first grade, my brother and I were isolated from our extended family and punishment was severe.
Confused roles: In all ways, I was the surrogate wife for the father. For my brother who is nine years younger than me, I took care of him a lot. (But he is one of the reasons, I didn’t commit suicide at 14. I was afraid no one would take care of him in a healthy way.)
Destructive messages: Always be smiling. You can NEVER have a problem. You must be perfect. Always look like a close, loving family. Stay out of mom’s way.
The saddest part for me was that each of our families had the last trait I listed. This is unfortunate, because according to Langberg, “these children are deprived and desperate for attention… They have been taught to blame themselves. Self-hatred comes easily. These children have learned how to numb their feelings and continue on as if nothing horrible is happening.” Doesn’t that describe each and every one of us?
The question now is what do we do with this information? I can tell you that it helped us to just talk about this. You know the adages: strength in numbers and you aren’t alone. As simplistic as this may sound, talking about this is what we do with this information. The more our stories are shared, the less our burdens become. And giving a face and a voice to this horrific form of childhood abuse will heal others and bring the end to someone’s suffering.
So will you take a stand with me and my group and bring a voice to this issue for all the other broken girls? Remember: there is strength in numbers 😉
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9