One of the most damaging things about childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, is that the victim is taught not to trust their own emotions, instincts, and perceptions. Their sense of themselves as precious is damaged (“how could this happen to me if I’m worth anything?”). Their sense of being able to trust their parents is damaged even if the parents are not directly culpable (“no one can protect you. If you tell, I’ll kill you, and hurt your family.”) And their very sense of reality is challenged (“what are you talking about? You’re making that up.”) For the abuse to continue, you have to be “gaslit.” The perpetrators and their conspirators are “crazy-makers”, specializing in forcing you to doubt your own sanity. Did it happen? What did it mean? What am I worth?
And one of the consequences for adults is the tendency to pay more attention to what people SAY than what they DO. Abusive spouses (“I’m sorry I beat you up. Again.”) Cheating (“Are you accusing me of something? How dare you!”) General dishonesty: (“I have no idea where that money went. Yeah, I had a business trip in Vegas. So what?”) and so on.
Behavior is truth, FAR more than what people say. I’d say pay 80% to action, only 10% to the explanations of those actions. For those who have been damaged in childhood, or “gaslit” in intimate relationships, or told their adult social perceptions are inaccurate (if they bought it!) the consequences can be awful. So many times when I counsel people, the evidence of abuse, dysfunction, lying is RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM, but they cannot let themselves see it. They keep expecting people to exhibit behavior in alignment with spoken intent, rather than historical pattern.
And they are disappointed and confused again and again and again, until they no longer trust themselves, and are either totally controlled by a predator, or trust no one at all, close up and seal themselves from the world.
Both are tragic. I would love a conversation about these two things in your own lives, or the lives of people you’ve known.
- What triggering events created the dysfunction? (Examples: sexual abuse, physical abuse by family, denial of negative social patterns like prejudice, pressure from employers when you can’t afford to leave the job, cult programming, etc.)
2) What effects did it have? What were the obvious clues that were ignored, such that when you are healthier, you look back and think “oh my God. Why didn’t I see?” Or behaviors/events you would have recognized instantly if they had happened to a friend. Or relationships you would INSTANTLY have known were toxic if you’d seen your own son or daughter sliding into them.
Say it again, and again, and again: Behavior is truth. Say it out loud. Take your damned power back. Protect your heart, please.
Ultimately, you’re all you’ve got.