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This particular false belief strikes at the heart of one of the hardest questions we grapple with: Why me? We want so much to understand how it is that we were abused and the person sitting next to us in the coffee shop wasn’t. We think, “Surely, there is something engrained about who I am that caused the abuser to pick me.”
First of all, given the tragic statistics that one out of four girls and one out six boys have been abused, that person sitting next to you in the coffee shop probably has more in common with you than you think. Keep in mind that these statistics only come from reported cases, so that number is probably much higher!
One of the ways we attempt to make sense of the abuse is by trying to uncover what it is about who we are that caused the abuse. For example, I was an extremely cuddly little girl. To this day, one of my favorite memories of time spent with my father is when I would crawl up onto his lap and play hair dresser. I would “curl” and comb his hair and pretend to give him a shave. Physical closeness came naturally to me; I hugged everyone! When I began trying to understand the abuse, I decided that my being physically affectionate toward my grandfather must have given him the go ahead to abuse me. Some of my clients have believed they were weak, too quiet, or disobedient. Some people even blame their own bodies (genitals) or gender for causing the abuse.
Whatever we come to believe was the cause of the abuse dictates how we then think or behave. I didn’t become frigid (as might be expected) as a result of blaming my “cuddliness.” But I did withdraw, experienced physical touching only in a very superficial way, and withheld any real cuddling or intimate touching from my partners.
If we blame our bodies, we may eat too much or starve ourselves in order to create a body that won’t be desirable. If we blame our gender, we may resist being feminine or masculine. We may come to believe that remaining unattractive will protect us from future abuse or being taken advantage of and so don’t take care of our appearance or hygiene. We might become loud and boisterous, unable to enjoy a quiet moment so that no one can make us suffer silently again. We might avoid sex altogether or become promiscuous ... the list goes on and on.
This false belief is extremely heartbreaking to me, because we lose pieces of who we are in an effort to suppress the parts of ourselves that we hold responsible. We try to eliminate the attributes that “caused” the abuse in order to control and try to prevent future instances from happening.
It is time to take back who we are by understanding that there is nothing about our character, personality, or appearance that caused the abuse to occur.
False belief (Story): The abuse happened to me because I was ...
Example: I was very cuddly.
Truth (What happened):
Example: I hugged my grandfather as any granddaughter would.
Example: My grandfather’s choice to abuse me is in no way tied to who I am as a person.
In case you’re curious, I am an amazing cuddler these days!