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  1. #1
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    When Abuse Becomes Denial

    When Abuse Becomes Denial
    By Sarah Newman, MA, World of Psychology
    October 6, 2015

    “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.” — James Baldwin

    I used to think that abuse victims who lived in denial of their situations had to know they were in denial. Who could possibly ignore what’s happening to them? Who could just pretend that nothing’s wrong year after year? From the battered wife who claims “he’s a changed man” to the alcoholic who doesn’t “have a problem,” I thought they had made a concerted effort to ignore reality. And then my own reality hit me.

    I lived in denial of the abuse I suffered from my own father for about 30 years, until I decided to seek help. Now I have a new respect for denial. Now I know that reality can be so distorted that we can never get to the truth. Reality can be walled in on all sides with every kind of defense and faulty thought pattern imaginable.

    “The lengths to which children go to distort their perceptions are striking,” wrote Ellen Bass and Laura Davis in their book The Courage to Heal.

    When you suffer at the hands of your own parent or parents, the people who are supposed to care for you the most, it’s impossible to face the truth. You aren’t capable of standing up at the dinner table and saying, “Right, you’ve molested me for the last time,” then pack up a suitcase and move out. Your parents are all you’ve got and logically you decide to re-frame the situation so that it is “livable.”

    For me this translated to hating myself as much as my father seemed to hate me. I hated myself for being abused. For that reason I kept it a secret, never telling my friends or other adults that my father slept in my bed with me every night. I didn’t tell other kids that I would’ve been beaten at home for doing any of the childish things I did at their homes like shouting or running or telling silly jokes or accidentally spilling my Coke.

    When I became an adult, I did follow one, nagging instinct and that was to move out as soon as possible, but I still lived in denial about what happened to me. When I thought about my childhood, I didn’t pay too much attention to my feelings. I didn’t wonder why so much of it was full of disgust, anger, helplessness, and depression. I didn’t wonder how I could feel so certain that I was worthless when I was just 10 years old, or why I first attempted suicide at age 12.

    I remember telling my husband I was afraid to have children. After thinking about it for a long time, I decided it was because I couldn’t imagine they could ever be happy. I couldn’t conjure up a single moment in my childhood in which the shadow of menace wasn’t looming over me. It wasn’t until I began asking “Why?” that my healing work began.

    Working with a therapist, I started pouring over memories I never shared with anyone before and labeling them accurately as wholly inappropriate. I finally asked myself if I could ever imagine doing those things to another person, let alone my own child. The answer was an easy no. There I met the truth. It was unwieldy and unpleasant, but it was honest.

    I was just a helpless little girl then, but learning to face the truth has made that girl powerful. Now there is no grey area when it comes to my trauma history. Abuse and not abuse are as absolute as day and night. There is no excuse for any of the things that happened to me. They are simply wrong.

    On the path to healing, I learned to place the blame squarely on my abuser. I’ve learned that there is nothing I did or could have done to deserve that abuse. I did what I had to do to make it through those abusive years and in some ways that’s impressive.

    But now the time for denial is over.

  2. #2
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    Re: When Abuse Becomes Denial


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