Sexual abuse: The ongoing influence

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Probably more than half my life, I have been aware that my mother has a history as a victim of sexual abuse. My mother, as I have previously mentioned, is a wonderful, strong and loving woman who never stops trying to be the best that she can be. But her experiences have scarred her in ways I can’t even begin to tell. No matter how well she may try to hide it, and pretend it’s all in the past, these things never go away.

One hears stories of children who, having suffered abuse at the hands of an adult, eventually transition from the abused to the abuser, and create other victims who suffer similar fates. Not every victim of child abuse grows up to be abusive themselves. But just because the continuing circle of abuse is a minority occurrence does not mean that most instances of abuse have no affect on anyone beyond the immediate victim. The experiences of one person have an impact on their relationships, which in turn have an impact on the experiences of people beyond themselves. No one who has a close relationship with a sexual abuse victim is truly unaffected, but children are particularly vulnerable.

One of my mother’s deepest fears is the worry that she has failed in her role as a mother. Her experiences have left her severely psychologically damaged, so much so that despite her best efforts, she couldn’t possibly conceal it all from the family that is so important to her. She suffers from depression, and a horrible amount of suppressed anger which breaks out occasionally in frightening mood swings. All she wants for her family, and in extension for herself, is a normal, happy and healthy life. But especially considering that her life has not been, as a whole, normal, happy or healthy, it is hardly surprising that the result may have been less than ideal.

My mother has always tried to be the best mother she could be, but thanks to her many psychological issues – a direct result of her experiences – our family unit wasn’t the most stable. Admittedly, my brother and I weren’t solely her responsibility, but – while my father is not by any means a bad guy – I suspect my mother didn’t exactly pick the most supportive man with whom to start a family. So my mother did the best with what she had, and I’m sure we were far from the most easy-to-raise children out there. On the one hand, I was severely stubborn and anti-social, and then there was my brother.

Possibly due to my own natural tendencies, although my mother’s mood swings sometimes scared me, I always knew that even if she was mad, she still loved me. I could see that she was doing her best, even if, as is natural for children, I didn’t always appreciate it. Her struggle with her own psychological issues resulting from her abuse certainly had an affect on my upbringing. In particular, I picked up aspects of my mother’s reaction to men that I still struggle with today, and which makes it difficult for me to say no to a man, even if I really want to. In a way, this blog is my own response to the various ways my mother’s issues have affected my personality, as I struggle to sort out the healthy social reactions from the unhealthy ones that my mother, with her damaged instincts, unwittingly handed down to me. As things are, I am on the psychologically balanced side.

My brother had it harder. If I was a problem child, it’s possible that my brother was more so. More than anyone, he needed a stable, authoritative presence that my mother just wasn’t able to provide. She never stopped trying, but wrestling as she was with depression, often on the edge of a breakdown, and so severely lacking in confidence that her parenting methods would change every few months as she strove to follow the best advice on how to raise children, she probably wasn’t the most suitable person to help a struggling child learn how to be a healthy, fully functioning human being. My brother doesn’t have the fondest memories of his childhood. He’s not forgiving like me. Although my mother is, to this day, the only one who continues to do her best to help him succeed in his life, he cannot see how hard she tries, or how much love she gives. He refuses to see anything but the times she struggled, and the times she failed.

As long as I can remember, my brother has always been angry – to the point of lashing out, physically or otherwise, at those around him. He suffers from the same mood swings as my mother, without the nurturing instinct that would prompt him to try to reign them in. He’s not a completely bad guy. Sometimes he can be outright sweet. But mostly he’s just angry, and it’s scary. Somewhere along the line, despite her best efforts, my mother’s messed up childhood left a negative impression on her struggle to raise her son. Undiagnosed with whatever behavioural disorder he may have, my mother’s battle to cope due to her own damaged upbringing did its own damage. My mother wasn’t abusive, but her own struggles with her psychological scars had the same affect on my brother that years of deliberate abuse had on her.

My mother’s personal problems caused her to struggle with parenthood in ways a healthy person could never dream of. But this doesn’t mean that she was a bad mother. One of the things I most admire about her was her determination that her life would not dictate what her children would become. She never wanted her children to be carbon copies of her. She tried her damnedest to allow us the freedom to become our own person, with our own values, and our own happiness. But children naturally mimic their parents from such an early age that the parent’s psyche has an unavoidable affect on the development of children’s personalities. No matter how she tried, she could not avoid affecting the social development of her children. But just that she did her best, in my eyes, makes her the most wonderful mother I could ever hope to have. I know she’s not perfect, but I think she’s amazing, and I love her.

My mother is strong, but rarely has she received the support she needed from those around her. Especially in her childhood, but also as an adult and a parent, she is too often left on her own with no one to rely on but herself.  In this, she is far from alone. Sexual abuse and child abuse are uncomfortable topics, and victims are too often ignored. We know that the problem doesn’t go away. But at the same time, as a society, we don’t want to acknowledge the extent of the damage, and nor do we provide the support that is really needed for an issue that has such a penetrating effect not just on the psyche of the immediate victim, but branches in so many myriad ways into the heart of social relationships. The effects of abuse do not stop with the abused victim, but go much further. It follows that support for victims of this issue should go further too.

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The impact my mother’s experiences with abuse have had on her family are just one of the ways the effects of abuse extend beyond the abused. Have you been a victim of abuse, or otherwise had the effects of abuse form an impression on your life? How have you seen this happening? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

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