Back when I was nine or 10 years old, I lived in my home country of Australia. One particular night, my family and another family were over at a third family’s house.
If memory serves correctly, us kids had just finished playing ‘spotlight’ (hide and seek in the dark played with torches). Me and a guy, who was not that much older than me and was the older brother of a female friend of mine, were sat alone at the bottom of the front yard.
I don’t know how but the conversation turned to different types of kisses. Then he asked me if he could kiss me. I thought he meant a kiss on the cheek, but no, I ended up with his tongue in my mouth. It was actually unpleasant and completely unexpected. Then he asked to see beneath my skirt, I’m pretty sure I was wearing a skirt that night, and I obliged.
Thankfully, nothing else happened that night and I’m pretty sure I mustered up the courage to go back inside so I wasn’t alone, but I never told anyone about it.
Why? Because ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always struggled talking to people. I was painfully shy, my father said it was like pulling teeth trying to get me to talk to people, and I never learned how to express myself, my wants, my needs, my experiences, I don’t remember it being actively encouraged. In fact, I struggled to say no to things, or leave a group of people, even when my shyness was making it really uncomfortable. I would just suffer in silence.
Later in high school, in England, I had a few guys flirting with me and singing that “bowm chicka wow wow” thing from the Lynx commercial back in 2009/10 , can’t remember exactly when it was but it was definitely in my GCSEs. Man it was irritating. I think they may have been discreetly bullying me as well, though I can’t be certain as I have social anxiety, and mostly live in my head, so I’m usually oblivious to these things.
This one guy in science wouldn’t stop pinching me inappropriately in one lesson, no matter how many times I told him to stop. A girl in my class told me to tell the teacher about it. Like a girl with severe social anxiety, and who struggles expressing herself without stumbling over her words is going to do that. Not that she knew that of course. I didn’t tell the teacher obviously, but I personally feel that if you know something is happening, you should most likely say something. Because some people can’t do it themselves for whatever reason.
Of course, when you have a younger brother who always got punished for defending himself from bullies, instead of the teachers dealing with it before it escalates, what incentive do I have for telling the teacher with or without social anxiety?
I even had a guy, tell me he’s looked into my window and seen me getting changed. Nope. He doesn’t actually know where I live and I always have the curtains closed anyway. But that still does not make a comment like that appropriate.
Again, I never told anyone.
Though I have never had anything truly terrible with regards to sexual abuse, I have had the more minor forms of it. You know, it wasn’t until the last week of January 2018 that it finally occurred to me that it was indeed sexual abuse. Not the more commonly known aspects of it i.e. rape, but the lesser known, the more subtle forms of harassment.
But how did I become vulnerable to this? Why did I, and indeed still continue, to struggle so much with expressing myself, standing up for myself and saying no to things that I was uncomfortable with?
In my personal, at home life, my father had always been an unpleasant person, I don’t know what he’s like now as he lives in America with his second wife and we have no contact, but every time my siblings and I ever did anything wrong, we would be slapped for it. He would yell at us. Threaten that we were never too old to bend over his knee.
At one point, still in Australia, I even called him out on it, saying that it was child abuse. He responded with “no, it’s not. It’s discipline.” I don’t know if 10 year old me genuinely recognised it as abuse or if I was just trying to get out of being slapped, but this really dented me. “It’s discipline” and so that’s just the way things were. It was okay to be slapped for doing anything wrong. We were essentially slapped for being kids. We never told our mother about it so she never knew. The sad thing is, I always thought she did know, that it was just the done thing in our house.
No, she didn’t. And if she did, based on her own childhood experiences, we would probably have been out of there as soon as possible.
He rarely worked and when he did it was commission only and so he never brought in much income. My mother had always wanted to be a stay at home mum. But, with my father’s lack of being a proper husband and father, doing his role of provider for the family, my mother had to go out to work. Leaving us at home with dad.
He rarely spent time with us. He spent most of his time on his computer playing video games or tinkering around with a website for a business idea that he would never follow up with. Instead of being a good role model with regards to household chores, he chose to bribe us with money to do them. He rarely cooked and we had to learn how to do that ourselves. In fact, we had to learn how to do most things ourselves because mum was unfortunately too busy at work and dad was too busy neglecting us.
At one point, in England, I felt like we could become homeless any moment. We always had hand-me-downs, which in itself was not all that bad, but we were nearly always hungry and barely had any food. We never had any flashy gadgets or anything cool like that, which is not really essential, and would have been nice, but we barely had our basic essentials.
Play fighting was hard. When we didn’t want to play, his response would always be that in a real life situation an attacker will not stop just because you don’t want to be attacked. He would go too fast, it would hurt, but his response was always, in a real life situation an attacker …
Okay dad. Got it. But this is not real life. This is a play fight. Where we slowly learn to defend ourselves from said real life attacker.
We would get tired of it and resort to hiding behind mum. She always said that someone was going to get hurt and, more often than not, that someone was, you guessed it, dad. But even then, she didn’t realise.
When my parents were finally getting divorced, and we had to spend every second weekend with him, he still did not spend much time with us and usually we had to go wherever he wanted to go. He always got annoyed at me for wanting to go to bed rather than staying up with him and my siblings, even though he should have known that I get headaches staying up past a certain time.
Eventually, when I was getting EMA (education maintenance allowance) in my A-levels, I was saving up for a netbook computer. I was going to buy a brand new device and almost had enough saved up. My dad, took us to a second hand shop and convinced me to buy a second hand one. I guess, it’s not entirely a bad thing, but I did want to buy one brand new. One that was my own, my precious. 🙂 No, I just wanted the satisfaction of having saved up and bought a brand new thing. Not a pre-owned thing , I mean after all we always had pre-owned things. If he could manipulate me into this, what else could he manipulate me into?
He was never supportive of our hopes and dreams for the future. Always saying things like there’s no money in xyz. Or you wouldn’t want to do that it’s boring. How do you know what archaeology is like dad? Huh? We were never supported, so we never went for anything.
Oh, and then my social anxiety and depression got so bad that I really wanted to drop out of my A-levels. I was essentially forced into staying, by the head of 6th form. Just putting it out there. We did reach a compromise, I was going to finish psychology for that first year and drop everything else but then pick up two or three more subjects the following year. Still not what I wanted. I would have been perfectly fine with studying psychology and only psychology. But no, I’m just a number on a piece of paper not a real person with a deteriorating mental health.
I told my dad when we were at his place after my parents finally divorced. “Oh, but what about photography? I could have helped you with that.”
Wow, dad. Yeah thanks. No mention of my mental health whatsoever. He was only interested in us if we had something in common with him. Which was rare.
Although, I did come to the realisation that I, at one point in my life, had been moulding myself to fit his ideals. He used to be in the army but ended up quitting. Mum said that he tried getting my younger brother interested in that sort of thing but turned to me instead when it became obvious that he wasn’t interested.
I developed an interest in that sort of thing. At one point, I was thinking of joining the army, though my social anxiety was terrified at the prospect of such a thing. I was a little obsessed with guns and knives and survival stuff.
Slowly, over time, I realised that no, that’s not me at all. I was moulding myself into what my father wanted. I was losing my own identity.
With my parents’ divorce my anxiety got worse, I struggled with depression. I hated the fact that they were divorcing. I loved him and didn’t want things to be different. But, slowly with him no longer in our house, I started to realise that actually, no this divorce is necessary, essential even. Essential to our health and well-being. It’s funny how you get so used to something that you don’t seem to realise that you have lived in fear your whole life. It’s just your natural state of being.
When I was younger, I would never have said that I was afraid of him. No. I loved him. He’s my dad. But now that I’m older, it’s clear to me that actually, there was fear. It was unsafe and unhealthy.
With this realisation, came the desire to be away from him. I slowly stopped visiting him on the weekend, of course he blamed my mother. It’s always her fault, feeding us dribble and poisoning us against him.
Gee dad. Didn’t realise that that’s what that was. I don’t have my own thoughts, feelings and emotions. No, course not. Those are my mother’s not mine. How silly of me.
He tried to guilt me into going. It wasn’t working. I was so uncomfortable with him that I slowly began to allow myself to say no. To actually take care of myself properly.
Speaking From Personal Experience As A Child Affected By Divorce
To those people who are, or are considering, staying in a marriage / relationship for the kids, consider turning that on its head. Try considering the reality that, in some cases, getting out of the relationship is actually healthier for the kids. Are the relationship dynamics harming the children in mind, body and spirit? Would it actually be better / safer to take the kids and get out of the relationship? Not just for your own sake but for the kids’ as well?
Don’t ever stay in a relationship just for the kids. Chances are, you are actually harming them mentally and psychologically by doing so, whether it be through abuse from your partner, or the simple fact that you and your partner are arguing all the time.
Talk with them. Get to the bottom of how they feel. Do your best to take them into account. But ultimately, if a relationship seems to be falling apart no matter how hard you try to keep it together, or if there is any amount of abuse in any capacity, you get yourself and your kids out. Or you try your absolute hardest to.
Think about the kids. Think about yourself. Is staying in this relationship good for them? Is it good for you? No? Then take small steps to leave.
The Road to Recovery
Sometimes you need to take a step back from a situation before you can see it for what it truly is. And when you’re a child and this is someone you trust, someone you look up to, your own flesh and blood, it is especially more difficult to realise the truth. And with my current work as a dictation typist, typing up psychiatric letters, it’s clear to me that my father displays some narcissistic traits, though he has no formal diagnosis and most certainly would not recognise any of these traits within himself to seek help anyway.
Growing up with a childhood like this, is it any wonder I struggle with social anxiety and depression? I am still recovering. The road to recovery is a long and arduous journey, but I promise you it is well worth the time and effort that it takes to heal yourself from everything and everyone that has ever hurt you in this life.
You are worth so much more than what life has given you. You deserve to find your true, inner Self, who rises above all these things. Who makes life that little bit better for others to be safe to be true to themselves.
Let us all be a supportive circle of survivors. Let us all help to encourage, heal and support one another. Let us be the light that shines brighter than the darkness of this world, for someone once said, “the darkest nights produce the brightest stars.” Let us turn that darkness into light. Find good within the bad.
From my experiences I have learned to recognise different forms of abuse, I have learned what I most certainly do not want in a future husband or father of my future kids, I have learned to take care of myself better and am learning to find self-approval before the approval of others. I appreciate the need for basic survival skills, hey the apocalypse could happen people, and I am learning to express myself better.
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If you feel comfortable sharing, and even if you don’t, and feel that you need to share, in what ways have you encountered abuse? How did you overcome it? And if you haven’t yet overcome it, in what ways are you trying to overcome it? What is at least one positive thing that your experiences have taught you?
Let’s all support each other through difficult situations.
Whatever happens, don’t forget to smile!