Boundaries in Communication is the subtitle of this post. All of us, including me, have an issue with saying too much, in the beginning of relating to another. Survivors of abuse are more guilty of this than anyone else. The unconscious idea is thought, “If I tell them everything they will either stay or go. Like me or leave me, get it over with now!” If the person stays, the false assumption that we are now securely bonded from stating our emotional travesties is about as silly as thinking pregnancy will make him love you. The person is not staying for your emotional insecurities they are staying because either they feel just as pathetic and didn’t realise someone was worse off than they were or because it is convenient. Not that they are thinking this consciously either, it is the unspoken denial of desperate-to-be-loved relationships.
I hear the chains clinking from holy matrimony, aka save me please! We have to save ourselves. Don’t ever expect anyone to save you.
This is a topic of communication that comes up in therapy a lot with survivors of abuse. Should I tell him/her? Yes and No. It is important to communicate to your partner, that you plan to spend your life with, what your life was like growing up. It gives them a chance to see, eyes wide open OR listening but not hearing, what they have to look forward to in a partnership with you. It also gives you the chance to see what kind of person they are and will be. Be careful though. It might haunt you for the rest of your life if you do.
Here are some steps to take in divulging your trauma to a loved one:
Scenario One – Conversation: I came from an abusive household. My past has some skeletons in the closet. A healthy response to either of these would be “Do you want to talk about it?” A wise answer to this question should be something like, “Not right now, I just thought you should know, if we are going to plan our future together. I wanted to acknowledge that I had an emotionally unhealthy upbringing.” Or even better, “You know, I think I will leave it up to me and my therapist. I am working (or I have worked on this) on dealing with what happened so that I can have good relationships going forward. I just wanted you to know.”
What generally happens is “My father sexually abused me when I was ten.” and the response is “Uh huh,” which is misinterpreted as “Oh, you really must have been hurt, why don’t you tell me all about it.” And then the person proceeds to tell them for about 30 minutes to an hour the long dark emotional trail of tears from age 0-18. As the victim is telling this story to the person who continues to look at them and maybe make comments like “wow, really,” or just stare. Often the appeal of someone who continues to sit there through the conversation is that they are listening. Maybe the person is listening but they are not a therapist and are completely wrapped up in wondering when the football game is going to begin or “God I hope someone calls me now! Now! NOW!!!”
How to do it best: Be in a safe place – restaurants aren’t really accurate facilities for divulging emotional trauma. The conversation should be in a home or out in nature. It is preferable that you do it looking at each other rather than having them hold you. This way you can see their face and understand when they are bored and could care less or are actually concerned. If you get an emotionless face that reminds you of a wall, stop. If they want to know all the graphic details, STOP!
Take lots of breaths. If you feel yourself going on a tangent or starting to stare out into space while you are talking, stop. This is a signal you are being traumatized again. The memory is re-surfacing in your body and causing you to go “there” again psychologically. It is easy to think, getting it all out, you will never have to say it again. A partner is not the person to do that with. No matter how nice they seem. Telling a partner everything can cause them to have new issues in their relationship to you. Keep it brief and lacking in details. Not all partners are as accepting of past emotional details as you can be.
Scenario Two – Sex Talk or Not: If you choose to have unsafe sex, a one-night-stand, or just jump into bed because you felt like it sex, OR you thought his eyes said “I love you,” you are setting yourself up for trauma. The ideal way to have sex with a partner, when you have been abused, is to get to know the person – very well – before you have sex. Secondly, before you have sex have a sex talk. This is a gentle conversation where you look at each other and talk about the sex that you wish to have with the partner. It is okay to say “There are some things I am not willing to do.” Many people say I am uncomfortable with… If this is the wrong person the word uncomfortable is a recipe for re-traumatization by that person who you will soon realize is a manipulator. It is also okay to say “I was abused as a child and I need you to be gentle with me.” Or “I am a little afraid to have sex,” or “I am shy about sex.” This probably sounds corny on some levels but corny is better than being raped, causing yourself to be hurt again emotionally or being sexually abused because they didn’t know (and you came across as a person who was willing to do whatever).
Being sexually abused as a child or raped/abused as an adult, means we often come across as willing participants, even when we really aren’t. This is our emotionally traumatized psyche that has a hard time creating sexually boundaries.
What generally happens is: You are in bed with your partner and in the middle of passion, say “No you don’t, my uncle used to do that and there is no way in hell I am going there again!” Or the S&M clothes are on and the partner is completely prepared for role plays and suddenly you have a flashback and find yourself as a twelve-year-old all over again. You are on the floor wailing like a little child and everyone is uncomfortable with the situation. OR the twelve-year-old shuts off emotionally and you proceed to be sexually abused again and don’t really remember what actually happened (out of body experience, numbness, dissociation).
Scenario Three – Therapy: What happens in the therapists room, stays in the therapists room. It is not a good idea to bring home what you discussed in therapy. Your partner is not a therapist and you will not get the same empathic response as you did from the professional. It will not heal your relationship, change it for the better or make you more secure with your partner. Most likely you will tell your partner, they will not give you the emotional feedback you desire and you will be hurt and suddenly feel as if your partner is the worst person in the world.
If you have been abused, you owe it to yourself, your family, your friends, your partner and your children, to find the right therapist (who you feel connected to) and whom you feel is taking you in the right direction spiritually, mentally, psychologically and emotionally. Give it time to happen and don’t expect results in a couple of sessions.
First time to a therapist, when you are a survivor, it might take some time to go down the road. Second time with a different therapist, you might open up a little more than the last time. Third time, you begin to talk about abuse from an easier perspective. Then suddenly find you thought you had dealt with everything but there was some other issue bringing it right back again. There are stages of therapy that we have to be patient with. Therapy is not the only way to move forward either. Do your homework that is recommended. Take workshops, join support groups, listen to other survivor stories at non-profit benefits.
Your partner is not a professional, they are just your lover and possibly the person you will spend your life with. If you have been abused, you owe it to yourself and to them to be a healthy person. Don’t spend your life hiding from the abuse. Find a therapist. Talk to them.
- Sexual Abuse – Why Children Don’t Tell (simplysenia.com)
- The Silent War (rochellefoulk.com)
- Tomorrow is another day (kaalratri.com)
- Love, Lust, and Laughter – Overcoming Sexual Abuse – 04/02/13 (prn.fm)
- Cure A Child’s Anxiety With Child Play Therapy (childplaytheraphy.wordpress.com)