Abuse Occurs Within a System; Not in Isolation

Abuse happens within a system of people; it is not simply between the offender and the victim. It doesn’t occur in isolation, but rather where there is community, family, and friends.

My family laid a foundation for my abuse through an environment and a belief system that they created. For example, my father tickled me inappropriately when I was a child. I slapped him. When my mother saw that I had hit him, she scolded me instead of asking why I slapped him. This gave me the message that I was bad. Here I was attempting to stop his behavior, but his behavior was not important to her and she did not address it.

My mother and father argued and fought when they had different views and desires. Needless to say, I learned their way. My father controlled my mother, and when she tried to stand up for herself, she was unsuccessful. Life became filled with arguments and my father’s nasty behavior. To avoid his nastiness, my mother gave up on herself and accommodated him. She became depressed and anxious. She was not able to respond to my needs. Therefore, I experienced confusion, imbalance of power, and lack of support.

I sought out other people in my life that I hoped would support me or give me a perspective on my life. I talked to my Sunday school teacher and a maternal aunt. Neither gave me support or feedback, and conditions were worst after I shared. I learned to not share about my life, and I had fewer friends afterwards. I felt confused and believed life’s burdens were mine to carry all alone, even though I sensed something was wrong in my family.

When I looked around and saw other families, I saw children enjoying life with their parents. However, I was told that taking care of my parents was my task as a child. Thus I did that, even though it took away from my having an enjoyable childhood. When I listened to my mother or to my father, life was better even if they did not listen to me.

So later when I was abused by my father, by my mother, and by my aunt, I kept quiet about the abuse. I did not want more problems. I accommodated their behavior, as that was what I had been taught to do. 

My life continued to be confusing, yet I thought life was supposed to be confusing. I suspected that perhaps life did not need to be like that. But because that was all I knew in my life, I went along with it. I overate to compensate for the pain I experienced, numbing my feelings with food and repressing memories with each bite.

The church attempted to help my parents with their marriage. The church leaders glorified my father, supporting his dominate behavior, and they labeled my mother as emotionally ill. They tried to convince her to submit, reinforcing my father’s controlling behavior. After the pastors left my home, my parents argued even more because my father believed he was right and mother was not. I saw very clearly that the church was teaching male dominance and female submission.                                                             

After I had contact with others who responded to my life with compassion and understanding, my life changed. When I took a course on sex therapy as a part of my education, I saw the trauma in my life and became aware of previous negative experiences and abuse.

My journey into discovery and understanding the truth about my past began. I found that I lost weight. I spoke according to my knowledge and expressed my feelings rather than avoiding the truth and eating to numb myself. 

I sought professional help that was responsive and supportive to aid in my healing. I became assertive and did not allow others to abuse me. I learned to seek supportive, safe, and mutual relationships.

See more in Pauline Zimmerman’s memoir, I Heard and Saw Before I Knew, available through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.