Over the last month or so, I’ve seen several stories of victims of abuse of some kind come forward to name their abusers and describe the abuse. One thing I see pretty much every time this happens is “why did they wait so long to say anything?” I want to try to explain it.
Often, when a person is experiencing abuse of some kind, be it mental (emotional/verbal included), physical, and/or sexual, he/she will go to someone to get help. Sometimes, the person is believed and helped. More often than not, that doesn’t happen. The person will be met with inaction, blame, disbelief, or perhaps all three. All the while, the abuser is working to convince the person being abused that it’s deserved.
Here’s my personal example. Fifteen years ago, I experienced about a year of constant, severe mental abuse. I was told by the people abusing me that I deserved it. There were “consequences for my actions,” and I wouldn’t be experiencing it if I hadn’t messed up first. At the beginning, I went to a leader to get help who said “oh, I can’t get involved.” Message: you’re on your own, I’m not helping you. I remember vividly crying at an elder’s wife’s house after experiencing another “consequence.” Baffled by my emotional response, she said, “did you honestly expect it to be different?” Message: you deserve this. I told a friend what was happening and she said, “that can’t be right. He wouldn’t do that.” Message: you’re lying. Told a friend’s parent what was happening and he said, “this wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t made the mistake first.” Message: I’m the one to blame. I deserve this.
I stopped looking for help. I stopped talking about what I was experiencing. What was the point? It seemed like every place I turned to for help turned me away. My already low self-esteem became basically non-existent. Every unkind word, every move to ostracize me- it was all deserved. I was a hypocrite and a failure. I wasn’t welcome. Because I did mess up. I did make a mistake. If they’re all saying these are the consequences, it must be true and I’m a terrible person who should be grateful for whatever kindness I receive. I’m thankful I had my parents and my (now) husband during that time or things may have gotten worse. I’m also thankful I had a good doctor who asked the hard questions and upped my medicine.
Through good friends, an amazing therapist, and my family, I now am able to say I didn’t deserve the way I was treated. Fifteen years later. While I have no desire to call out anyone by name or try to “cancel” anyone, I can understand why others would. If I thought for a moment they were doing to someone else what they did to me, I’d shine the brightest spotlight on them to bring that darkness out. I would do whatever I could to protect those who needed it (because no one should be treated the way I was, let alone a teenager). Maybe that’s why people wait so long. They’re content to accept what happened to them as long as it’s not happening to someone else. Or maybe it’s taken 10 or more years to find their voice and accept and understand that what happened to them wasn’t deserved. It wasn’t. It takes time to get over that, to unlearn the lies you believed to be truth. So, after all that time and all that work, maybe they want to use that new-found voice to say “what you did to me was wrong” and work hard to ensure their abusers aren’t in a position to hurt someone else. Because, like I was told so often during that awful year: your actions have consequences.