Do You Believe?

One really nice thing about working with SNAP is that I get to know some pretty remarkable people. I think we can all agree that abuse is a pretty dark subject. But because we all have that in common and have experienced different stages of healing, we get each other on a level that we can’t really find anywhere else.

Sometimes we can meet people who live halfway around the world who have experienced abuse similar to your own. Other times, you may find someone who really gets the strength that is required to be a survivor and has found ways of thriving that they can share to help others who are struggling.

One common feeling that seems to come up is the disbelief we encountered when realizing that priests are capable of doing evil things. That and the absolute extent of corruption within the church. For survivors, seeing evil and corruption in the world is even more difficult as there is a feeling of nowhere to turn for safety and comfort and guidance.

The majority of us have been ostracized. That kind of comes with the territory if you speak up against a priest or if you seem to be creating conflict or unrest and make people uncomfortable. We sit on the outside. No longer a part of the congregation perhaps. Maybe we are seen as unstable or undisciplined or evil.

When someone is abused when they are older, they are often misunderstood. We can all agree that abusing a child or a young person is heinous, but the general consensus is, that once you have hit your 18th birthday, you are responsible for anything that happens in your life.

When I was a young wife and mother, and my husband was out with his friends all of the time, his mother told me that I had to be more assertive to make him be a better husband. My parents told me he should be working two jobs, so I didn’t have to work and that I was in charge of the house. I felt trapped in between people who were more powerful. I was told how to be a mother and a wife. I had to work full time and had two children. I felt that I began to cease to exist.

Was I vulnerable at that time? Was I responsible for my life if I had never learned how to prepare for the world in which I was living? I prepared to be married and work with my husband and to put my family first. I was not trained for a career or to support my children on my own. And this is not how we were raised or how the world was at the time.

When I watch movies from the time when I was growing up, it amazes me now how women were viewed in the workplace. How they were judged by the way they dressed or how they acted…such as if they were “ice queens” or if they needed to “loosen up”. While watching a movie from the late 60’s recently, I saw a man in an office touch a woman on her hips and comment on her eating too many sweets. And that was considered funny at the time. And I can’t watch that stuff the same way anymore.

Maybe that’s a good thing that we see how things have changed. But I think it will take time before society really begins to catch up. Things seems to be changing on the outside and people are beginning to ask more questions and discover who they are and what they want from life maybe more than we ever did before…but I think there is still a lot of resistance and all too many hate crimes and Narcissistic people in power.

But when it comes to the church, how far have we come, really as far as progressive thinking and more importantly, are we getting anywhere when it comes to the abuse of vulnerable adults? And even what it means to be a vulnerable adult? And what about the congregations and the general public? Is it being acknowledged by anyone that people over the age of 18 can and are being abused by priests and that it is not the fault of the victim?

Maybe we’re giving away too much of our power by expecting anything to change within the church. Have you ever been in a relationship with a significant other, spouse, parent, sibling, co-worker, etc. where it seemed that they held the power and you were just there with your catcher’s mitt, waiting to see what was going to be thrown at you next so you could respond appropriately? Only to do everything “right” and end up disappointed with the results?

Ah, I’m guessing probably you have.

One thing I’ve mentioned here before and I’ve recently heard again from a very inspiring woman/survivor, and I have had articles shared with me by another inspiring woman who works actively on her healing journey every day, is that we have to believe in ourselves. We need to stop needing validation from the church or anyone else for that matter. We need to treat ourselves right instead of waiting for other people to notice us and hand us a flower because they think we are special. We need to buy our own flowers. And we need to take care of ourselves first.

This is a difficult journey, this being an adult survivor of abuse. Some of us find that we don’t feel comfortable in other support groups as sometimes those abused as children don’t understand that there is still a power imbalance for grown adults. That trust is broken, and that grooming is a powerful tool that anyone can fall victim to, no matter the age.

And some abused as children may have seen their parents fall victim to grooming which allowed their own abuse to happen. So that trauma may make it more difficult to understand as adults were supposed to be strong for them and weren’t.

But that is another reason why it is so important to acknowledge our own abuse as adults. Because no matter what age abuse takes place, it affects all areas of our lives and the lives of those we are close to.

It’s important to learn to listen to our instincts and our gut feelings. I had this happen recently as I am working with my elderly mom and getting her estate set up and her will and I have been talking with people and am beginning to make decisions that I’ve never had to make before.

We had someone come to her house who suggested she change something. It didn’t feel right to me. My mom didn’t really understand what he was talking about. I told him no, she is not going to change anything. There I was, a person talking to someone I considered an authority figure, challenging them, in a sense, and going with my gut.

It felt good. It felt powerful to say no. I respected my own feelings.

And again, it takes time. And being raised Catholic, it takes extra time, to tell ourselves that it’s okay to not be a martyr. That we don’t have to believe that we are sinful beings who deserve punishment and that we did something wrong because we aren’t getting the recognition and apologies and financial retribution we think we will get when we come out with our story. Instead, many have been ignored or harassed or threatened.

But we have to believe. We have to know in our hearts that what happened to us was wrong. It felt wrong. It hurt us in some way. It’s not up to anyone else to acknowledge that fact to make it so. We need to believe it through our fear. We need to turn our fear of what other people think into justifiable anger. How dare someone do that to me? That was wrong. Nobody else needs to confirm that for me. Because I believe it. Strength. We are stronger than we know.

You are strong and deserving. Take care of you. Have a great week!

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