“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim“.
Herman (1992*, p. 8)
These are the first lines of a chapter in my learning materials I was studying this morning. And they hit me like a brick. To me, this is so recognisable in my life. Most of my abusers, including my parents, have done exactly that, secrecy and silence and attacking my credibility.
In fact, since starting this blog I have received an angry email from my father blaming my personality disorder and accusing me of publicly slandering his good name and venting lies about them on social media. Then he went on to say I had to delete it and how and what I could say instead.
Since I was a child he has been telling me to shut up, be quiet and let others speak. I had a big mouth and was always exaggerating everything. He was always telling me how things should be done and what was best. And now, nothing has changed, he still thinks he knows best. Well, I am an adult now, and in my experience people learn by example. He might have told me many times over what was best, but he didn’t show me in his actions. His actions are that of a coward, hiding behind his infantile wife who bullies him and her children around. And even now, 40 years on he denies facts and tries to silence me.
I think it is absolutely crucial to let others know about the abuse, to talk about it and bring it out in the open. As long as it’s hidden, and nobody talks about it or knows who commit these crimes it will continue and perpetrators will know they are safe. By saying here, publicly, what happened and who did it I hope somehow I can find a way to stop history repeating itself, and it also is an opportunity to learn. I imply here, that I am not merely a victim, but also a potential perpetrator. Because the sad truth is, because this is my example I find myself in similar situations with my own children. I feel incredibly lucky to have a sense of self reflection, which allows me to change my behaviour. I have to work hard for it, because it doesn’t come natural to me to be a warm, loving mother. I have made mistakes, I have been unable to give my children the emotional safety and care they need many times, but I recognise it now and I can start to change it.
So perpetrators are often themselves victims too. Because of this it is often extra hard to admit, recognise and work on breaking the chain. But there are always opportunities both for the victim and the perpetrator to start recovery. There are lessons for both.
At the bottom of all of this is a deep lack of love. There is probably a long line of loveless parents before me, my parents, my grandparents and so on. If you are victim of domestic violence you learn you are not worth love, you are worthless. And because you don’t love yourself, you can’t be around people who show you love, and you can’t show it yourself. You will be on the roundabout of looking for confirmation of that self-loathing. And so the cycle continues into eternity. Except, you can do something to stop it. By owning up to it, to your own faults, by starting to recognise how you can’t be vulnerable to others, even your own children, you can try practise and face that deep fear. Be uncomfortable, feel anxious, be brave.
Surely that is less hard than see your children turn their backs on you, see your children suffer like you did, see them try and run away from it all, see them in unhealthy relationships, see them lose themselves in addiction and sometimes even kill themselves. I am determined to let the buck stop with me. Or at least as much as I can. Cause I know I have already passed on some of the bad stuff. But at least I don’t want to be a coward and stick my head in the sand pretending it isn’t there. It IS there. My own daughter is afraid of me, at least sometimes. But that is one moment too many. She shouldn’t feel afraid of me even one moment. I need to make her feel safe, I need to protect her. I need her to love herself. And that can only happen if I learn to love myself.
So, facing the facts is important, but also accepting that the way you experienced something might be different to somebody else’s. In my opinion a perpetrator is not allowed to devalue the experience of the victim, their feelings, nor their way of expressing those feelings about it. As a perpetrator you can only accept the facts and live with it, own up to it and do whatever is in your power to not repeat it. This is off course not even possible or feasible for a lot of people, because they simply lack the ability, deny it and continue their abusive behaviour. The consequence is this endless cycle of violence, passed on from generation to generation.
*Herman, J. (1992) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, Basic Books.