There are times when something so terrible happens and you live with it, somehow accepting it because it’s all you know. There are secrets you keep because you believe you have no right to speak out about the things that happened to you. Maybe you’re ashamed of how people might see you as a result.
I have started to realise that I hold so much inside because I am afraid of what will happen if I “let it out”. What will people think? Is it wrong to share something so personal in such a public way?
What if I stopped fearing my own voice?
After some clear thinking about it, I truly believe there are times you just need to speak and have faith that it will do good in the grand scheme of things.
I am a survivor (not yet thriver) of longterm emotional/psychological and sometimes physical abuse.
Unfortunately due to certain legalities I am not at liberty to reveal the perpetrator. As much as I want to name this individual, the purpose of this post is not to bring them shame, condemnation, or play into their love of strife. And it is certainly not about dragging other people (other victims or witnesses) into it as they perhaps wish to maintain their privacy. The purpose of this article is to bring to light the value of being truly vulnerable because I believe it can have a powerful effect on lives and on our ability to love.
In my past, when the abuse was at its peak, I lived in total fear. Fear of this person’s unpredictability. Of their anger. Of their criticism and ridicule. I lived in fear of MY every word, action, inaction because I learned that I dare NOT displease or disagree. But the game was rigged because what I did wrong changed according to their mood. It was this person’s game and they always won. Meanwhile, I feared making any mistake, and was impossible to really know how to react or respond. The choice was always “Rock or hard place?”. It created an internal conflict as I bounced between rebellion and placation. I longed for the approval and affection of this person and, when it never happened (or was so conditional), eventually I started to believe that there must be something wrong with me. I internalised and began to really hate myself and a lot of problems started to manifest.
When I have researched this, and spoken to my therapist about it, I can see that it was textbook emotional and psychological (and sometimes physical) abuse. And it’s taken me a long time to admit that’s what it was, and not that I was just fundamentally flawed or just deserving of it. Any time I was myself for a fleeting moment, I got put down. I so desperately wanted to understand what was happening to me, yet it is only now I am really facing it. To be honest, it’s only when I see how these unresolved issues manifest in my marriage that I see I am still fighting ghosts.
There are a lot of negative effects of this kind of experience that I continue to deal with: For example, I have had a hard time trusting people in close relationships; I have feared that I’d fall into a relationship with someone like this person and lose myself in more compromises and fear. I often feel condemned and unlovable. I will flit between internalising (taking blame) and self-preservation (making blame). I fear I will end up being this way (the bullied becomes the bully) which makes me scrutinise every mistake I make out of fear that it’s coming true. The main motivator in my life, therefore, has been fear; I do things because I fear X, rather than because I love Y. Then I get caught up in trying to prove myself worthy of acceptance and love in pursuits that take me further from the person I want to be. I have often hoped that one day I’ll hear their confession and plea for my forgiveness; I get angry that hasn’t happened and that it seems it never will. They live blissfully unaware of the harm they caused while I pick up the pieces. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy for this.
Why am I sharing this? Because something has shifted and I am tired of the negatives ruling my life! It’s time to reweave this:
I want others “with secrets” or burdens to SHARE them! Free yourself! This is seriously one way to bring vulnerability to the foreground of our lives. We talk about how great it is to be vulnerable, yet we still hide our shame. We talk about loving ourselves, yet still hide the things we hate. It is my belief that shame only has power while it’s in the dark. It is my mission to do and be the things I claim to care about. And it is my mission to be vulnerable and accepting because I believe it is where courage, connection, and self-love lie.
The trauma of my past has haunted me all my life. It has claimed power over me (negatively) more times than I can count. I have often brushed it off as if I have got it wrong or exaggerated what really really happened, taking all responsibility on my own shoulders (because it’s wrong to cast blame, right? Oh the guilt over that one!). The truth is my hurt and my scars are real, and they are raw. But I believe I can take this hurt and let it be a door to healing through vulnerability because I must face all the things, even the things I’d rather keep hidden.
How can we love ourselves if we just exist as “edits”. Eventually, we start to believe it and forget the raw footage. We keep the cinematic, romantic parts and reject the messy parts.
Often I have convinced myself that “I’m fine” when what I really need is a friend. I have found that I have become afraid to share my struggles (and the roots of those things) even with my best friends and close family. It’s like I think I need to seem strong and capable to them. Yet my heart is screaming out to just feel connected with others who are hurting and feel validated for my right to feel this way. We all hurt, but hurt doesn’t have to mean a bad life or a that you’ll be stuck there. In fact I argue that if we are honest with ourselves and others we will gain so much by really embracing raw vulnerability, even the negatives. It part of the path toward healing. How often do we meet our friends and just complain about mundane things while there’s a torrent of deep emotions raging beneath the surface that we keep bottled up. Dealing with that torrent by acknowledging it and naming it is actually healthy. During this process we might even gain self-love and can then truly love others. If we accept and love the hurting in ourselves, then we can accept and love ANYONE!
I’m not saying go and start a blog to share every intimate detail (some folk do that tho 😉 ), but meet up with your close friends, your family, or your support network (and especially those of you who are the “mum” or “dad” of your group of friends. You really need to let your wall down!). Stop telling yourself that you can deal with things alone – you can’t. It is eating away at you!
Meet up and open up.
Don’t believe the voice when it tells you no-one will believe you, or that they won’t care. Don’t believe the voice when it tells you you are being a drama-queen or that boys don’t cry. Don’t believe the whisper telling you you’re selfish for “making it about your stuff”. Don’t let fear block that moment when you’re about to BURST to your trusted friend. Please don’t do what I have done!
I have allowed this anger, fear, pride, and unforgiveness fester until it seeped into every area of my life. The clean-up operation has begun, but I wanted to put this out there so that if there is some kind of trauma from your past (recent or old) that you work with others (it is so important to be vulnerable with someone who knows you as well as a professional if it’s necessary) to heal and learn the skills to really neutralise that poison. You not only owe it to yourself, but you owe it to anyone you love. And it has a ripple-down effect of encouraging others to do it too!
Sometimes I wonder how I would’ve ended up had none of that stuff happened to me, but all I know is that with these experiences comes a choice: let it use you for “evil”, or let it be used for good?
I choose good.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” — Genesis 50:20