Friday, July 20, 2007

What to do if you're an adult child of abuse

I received a letter from someone in response to the video I made about being an adult child of abuse.

Characteristics of Adult Children of Abuse -- Roy's Story

The video is on YouTube, and the letter was sent via their mail system. When I tried sending my response, I got the message that the body of my mail was too long. So I've decided to blog it, and ask the person who emailed me to read it here.

Basically, the person is an adult who grew up in an abusive household. This person has asked if it's a good idea to stop seeing the abusers.

Here's my response...
Hiya L...

Thanks very much for your message. I really appreciate your getting in touch with me.

In the grand scheme of things, it nothing actually 'hurts' a person. IF we look at things from a specific point of view. I'm particularly fond of seeing EVERYTHING as a learning experience.

You mention that you're entering law school. What's the very worst that can happen if you don't complete your law degree? What's the worst consequence? Not a hell of a lot. Maybe you'll have spent some money. Some time. Maybe someone will be disappointed in you. Whatever. Regardless, YOU've learned stuff. Whether you think so or not.

So neutralise the fear by putting it into perspective.

That's the first step, I reckon.


The relationship one has with the abusers in one's life.

This is not a trivial subject, and it totally depends on the individuals involved.

Here's what I'd do in your shoes...

1. Get yourself into therapy. Doesn't really matter what kind of therapy. But it's probably a good call to go with a therapist who has dealt with abuse before. You're pretty much going to need the support of a professional when you start dealing with this stuff. You might think that you don't need such a thing. It's a resource. Use your resources.

2. Get yourself into an AACA group near you. While AACA is pretty much about the effects of having grown up with an alcoholic, those effects are almost identical to ANY form of abuse. One key reason to get into a regular AACA group is that you find yourself surrounded by real people with real issues just like yours. I find that it 'normalises' the crap.

3. Move slowly. Whatever your status quo is surrounding the two abusers you've mentioned, it's probably better for your sense of self to just keep things stable for now. UNLESS they're currently abusing you. If you're being abused by them now, get away from the abuse. But seriously, do this under guidance from a therapist. It's hardcore stuff.

4. Read stuff. I can't tell from your intro video whether or not you're a dude or a gal. Doesn't entirely matter. But one of the books I'll recommend to you is geared towards males. (But all of these things are actually gender-neutral, so it doesn't matter too much.) WOUNDED BOYS HEROIC MEN: A Man's Guide to Recovering from Child Abuse by Daniel Jay Sonkin is excellent. And THE COURAGE TO HEAL WORKBOOK: For Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis is a must-have, regardless of what type of abuse you've suffered.


I strongly urge you to get professional help. When you start scratching at the surface of abuse, the worms start wriggling. It can get hectic. Very strong feelings emerge. Rage. Despair. Suicidal feelings are possible.

Are you at all suicidal at the moment? Have you been in the past? If so, get help BEFORE you go anywhere near examining this material.


I can tell you my own response to my parents. But it's MY response. And there's no such thing as a typical response. And there's certainly no such thing as a 'right' response. It reallllllly is all totally individual.

In my case, I dutifully visited my parents for many years after I left the house. At first, I visited every week. Then it quickly tailed into every second week. Then every month. Then, those monthly visits started getting shorter. I used to have meals there. I stopped that. From two hours or so, my visits got down to a hellishly long ten minutes.

At that point, I still wasn't aware that I was an adult child of abuse. I was just incredibly uncomfortable being there. My mom and dad hated each other actively. And blamed me for their marriage, cos they got married 'because' of me.

At a certain point, I started questioning why I kept going there.

And my visits shrank to a hellishly long ten minutes every third or fourth month.

Then they left town, and retired to the coast. And I didn't see them for ages. And I felt unburdened somehow.

Finally, one day my mom pulled a terrible guilt trip on me on the phone, and I said something like this to her: 'I really don't need to be guilt-tripped by you. You keep complaining how I don't phone you. But you have my phone number. You have a phone. I can complain about how YOU don't phone ME. If you WANT to communicate with me, please do YOUR bit.'

And that was pretty much the end of active engagement with my parents. I saw my dad once before he died. And I saw my mom once before she died. And I'm glad they're gone. I now no longer have to deal with their crap.

And my brother and I have started getting along better too.


The one thing you mention in your story is that they aren't completely healed.

There's something very potent I've gotten from going to the AACA meetings. And that's that I can only control my OWN responses to things. And I can't cure the abuser. In fact, I have nothing to do with the abuser.

So I'm afraid I have to tell you that there's no control you have over your desire for them to be healed. Sure, you can introduce the issues to them in conversation or whatever. But they'll do with that information whatever they end up doing. Their reaction might be what you're after. It might not.

To my mind, it would be best for you to DO WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU. If that means staying away from them, do it. Sure, there'll be guilt feelings stirred up. Loads of them. Strong feelings, as I mentioned before. They're part of being an adult child of abuse. Once you're aware of the patterns, you can release their grip on you.

If it's best for you to continue seeing them, do that with awareness too. There'll be pain. Discomfort. But discomfort is NOT the enemy. It's an indicator. It's a resource. It TELLS you stuff. Listen to what it tells you. Learn from it.


Now get into therapy. Seriously. Just do it, regardless of any rationalisations about why you shouldn't or can't or won't. Do it. Do it NOW. Even if it's to go to a free emergency crisis counselling service.


I hope this has been a helpful response to you. It's a tough situation you're in. And I empathise with the stuff you're facing.

Take things one day at a time. Take control of the things YOU can control. Learn from things. Be aware of your patterns. Allows your feelings. Do what's best for you.

Blue skies

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