A few years ago Mackenzie Phillips was on a book tour for High on Arrival, her autobiographical book about her adult incestuous relationship with her famous father. A friend commented over brunch something to the effect of, "Is it really necessary to put this out there? Haven't we heard enough from stars?' I replied that, as a survivor, I live vicariously through those who choose to be vocal, specifically regarding the support I witnessed her receiving. I can only imagine what it would feel like to have it.
I did not get a lot of support early on in my recovery from childhood incest. While my close friends and professionals were wonderful in helping me manage the intense emotions associated with the betrayal, my family and others were not as forthcoming with the needed comfort and care. Eventually secondary wounding, the responses from others when sharing your history that minimize or dismiss the effects, caused me to become silent again for many years.
Being vocal about what happened to you as child at the hands of others is generally not something other people want to hear. I don't think they want to believe that someone you love and trust could do that. I don't think they know what to say. I don't think they want to have to imagine living day to day with that reality. How would you move on when something like that is part of your reality?
More recently in the news, Dylan Farrow has spoken out about her experience with childhood sexual abuse. Both Dylan and Mackenzie have stated being surprised by the fallout of sharing their stories. I am not.
People can be very ignorant and cruel with their responses. As a survivor, I have lived through the decades of deciding whom I tell about the abuse and the many close friends who have no clue about my past. It becomes a gut instinct to know whom you can really trust with the most intimate and vulnerable details of your life. It can be a very lonely place to live your life with the majority of the people around you having no idea of what you are truly feeling and thinking on the inside.
Deciding to speak your truth or remain silent is a personal decision; there is no right or wrong. As I survivor, I have watched the fallout that Dylan Farrow and Mackenzie Phillips have endured. I am saddened that after 20 years of incest being more prevalent in the media, survivors can still become the target of mass persecution. It's one of the factors that keep this epidemic behind closed doors. What happens within a family is no one else's business.
For many years I remained silent to protect my family. I know how molesters are viewed, and I didn't want to put my family under that microscope. I know what it feels like to be ostracized and wouldn't want them to go through it, too. The lack of acceptance led me to stop risking having others truly know me. My fear of the societal assumption that those who experience childhood abuse turn into abusers as adults has also been a factor. I worry about what speaking my truth will do to the generations of my family. I feel like a bad daughter.
If someone you know comes to you with a heart-wrenching experience it is important to listen first. Here are some of the best responses I have heard over the years:
I'm sorry that happened to you
That was stupid of them
I'm honored you trust me enough to share this with me
I'm sorry someone did that to you
You deserve to be treated well
You deserve to be happy
And here are some of the worst:
Can you blame them for not admitting it?
Well, such and such happened to me...
It's best to just forget it
Everyone's family is dysfunctional
That must be hard on them
I'm far enough down my path of recovery to know I can't keep silent anymore. I need to let others know the horrors incest inflicts on a life. Remaining silent only perpetuates my feeling responsible for what others did to me, and it's not okay. I know it's within the realm of possibilities to experience both incredible support and unfathomable cruelty. I will live with the fallout that comes. I have been through worse. I hope I can remember to listen to the intelligence of the heart and not the fears of ignorance.
Dusana Michaels has spent over 20 years in the process of recovering from childhood incest. In addition to her personal experience, she has an M.A. in counseling and has interwoven her professional knowledge throughout her journey. She draws upon her sense of humor and spiritual connections to discover the next step on her path. Her book, Chopping the Onion, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Balboa Press online bookstores. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook or read her blog at authordusanamichaels.wordpress.com
"Chopping the Onion"
By Dusana Michaels
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