Category Archives: Abuse

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.

Sexual abuse: The curse of femininity

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My mother is an amazing and strong woman. She is a living example of both the best – and worst – aspects of traditional femininity. When I say this, I mean that she is a nurturing and caring woman who always does the best she can for her family – but she has also been owned by men her entire life.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that a bitch is a woman who is owned by men. But, not every owned woman is a bitch. Unlike the woman described in my previous post, my mother recognises that the situation she finds herself in is not healthy. She does not choose it for herself, nor does she hold any illusions about how much power is granted to her. It’s just that noone has ever tried to show her how to escape this situation, and despite all her efforts, she remains unable to change the culturing of decades.

When my mother was young, she was raped repeatedly by more than one close family member. Her own family not only taught her to be used by men – by uninvolved family members failing to stop this situation, they taught her that she was powerless to stand up for herself, and that even if a man’s behaviour was inappropriate, there was nothing she could do.

The experience of rape, especially in an environment which doesn’t provide the support and justice this serious situation deserves, is one that does not easily go away. My mother does not complain about what happened to her. If she mentions it at all, it is invariably in such a casual voice that belies the seriousness of the crime. But inside, my mother is still a wreck. She suffers from depression, mood swings, and breakdowns, and also has incredibly low self-esteem. Worst of all, she is incredibly wary and cautious of the whims of men. She has been socialised to feel that the safest way of dealing with a man is to refrain from doing anything that may be construed as a challenge to his masculinity. Scarily, this includes running away.

My mother and I once found ourselves in an empty train carriage late at night when a young man boarded the train. From the beginning, it was obvious that there was something wrong with him. Possibly he was drugged out of his mind. As soon as he boarded the train, he noticed us. Coming over to where we were sitting, he began swinging from the poles in the carriage, and proceeded to make moves on my mother.

Obviously, the whole situation was very unsettling, and possibly dangerous. All I wanted to do was move away, and find some people to be witnesses in case the situation turned violent. My mother, equally uncomfortable, had a different instinct. She smiled. Politely, without moving from her seat, she proceeded to answer every single one of this man’s questions (unfortunately, none of which I remember clearly).

Ever since I remember, my mother has been making numerous attempts to resolve her own psychological issues. For a while, she bought every spiritual healing book she could get her hands on. The likes of Deepak Chopra held pride of place on her dresser table. “Think positive thoughts,” many of these books seemed to say, “and your life will become positive.” Well yes, maybe that would help someone whose only problem were severe pessimism. But my mother’s issues understandably run much deeper than that.

Somewhere along the line, she appears to have guessed that gender might have had something to do with her problems. And so, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ appeared on the bookshelf. What she learned from that can be summarised by some relationship advice she once gave me. “Men don’t like to talk,” she informed me, “Don’t try to make him communicate. Just let it go.”

And so, everything my mother has ever read to try to help herself with her deep psychological scarring has not addressed the problem at all. All it managed to do was reinforce the idea that the core of the problem lies with her. If she can’t think positive thoughts, and she needs things that men are apparently unwilling to give, then the problem is her fault, and hers alone. Is it just me, or is that all bullshit?

Over the years, I’ve browsed various self-help books and ‘pop psychology’ publications like ‘Men are from Mars…’. I have yet to come across a single book designed to help someone in her situation, which is frankly astounding. The CASA Forum* states that 1 in 5 women in Australia experience sexual violence after the age of 15 – increasing to a scary 1 in 3 sexually abused before the age of 16. This is Australia, not the Congo. But these figures make it clear that situations like that of my mother are far from uncommon. And the occurrence of rape is just a symptom of a deeper problem with the way we have structured society and femininity. This issue affects everyone. So why won’t anybody talk about it?

We, as a society, need to put more effort into educating both women and men about this issue. It is no longer acceptable – if it ever was – to tolerate, and worse, ignore these blatantly negative aspects of social gender division. Women are not accessories to be owned and controlled by men. Logically, this is a recognised fact. But many women still act like submission to men is unavoidable, and many men still act like it is their right to treat women however they fancy. Both these behaviours must stop. Further, we need to give more assistance to those who are trying to get out of this trap, but are not sure how to find the way out on their own.

*http://www.casa.org.au/casa_pdf.php?document=statistics

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Is our society really as resigned to sexual assualt and gender division as the data would have us believe? The below comments section should be used as a discussion board for this topic. If you have an opinion, theory, personal story, etc., please feel free to share it with us.