Posted by fxckfeelings on July 23, 2012Share This Post
There’s nothing better at inducing helplessness than being molested as a child, but it’s easy to forget that helplessness is a feeling, not a measure of strength and character. If you’ve been traumatized in the past, don’t let the helplessness of this or any other overwhelming experience make you feel like an ineffective victim. Instead, learn to respect your existing effectiveness, regardless of how helpless you felt then or still feel now. You may always feel helpless, but your very survival is proof that you’re stronger than your emotions.
My life is pretty stable now, but I’ve had a lot of major problems this last year and, in the middle of my troubles, I started to remember being molested by a family friend when I was 14, just after I hit puberty and got breasts overnight. I’ve been struggling to get my daughter help for a major health problem, and then I got fired and had to find a new job, and then my mother started to slip into dementia. Now, I’ve got a new job, my daughter is getting good help, and my father is taking good care of my mother, but I can’t get over a rising feeling of helplessness. If it’s because I was molested, my goal is to get over it.
Before you can even try to recover from the helplessness of current crises, you have to get around the sneaky way it has of making you feel personally ineffective, in part by playing on your memories of the helplessness of being molested. After a while, you can feel like you’re drowning, which is about as helpless as it gets.
In other words, you want to move forward, but helpless feelings cause helpless beliefs by awakening helpless memories. Your mind gets stuck in the notion that you couldn’t do anything in the past, you’re not able to do anything now, then things will probably get worse, and you’ll be powerless to prevent it.
Expressing helpless feelings can give you short-term relief while also reinforcing negative beliefs that hurt you in the long run. Coming up with an explanation for your feelings can feel like progress, but insight won’t help if it deepens your belief in your helplessness instead of strengthening your awareness of how you coped with it. If therapy awakens negative feelings without confronting negative beliefs, it does more harm than good.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with helplessness is to avoid focusing on what went wrong and what you didn’t do and recognizing the positive things you did to survive afterwards. If helplessness is pulling you down, those are the memories you hold on to like a life raft.
Don’t assume that you can ease your helplessness by confronting offenders or telling the parents who should have protected you that they fucked up. Often, perpetrators are truly certain they did nothing wrong (like Sandusky), no matter who tells them otherwise. As for parents, many are too defensive to admit they’re sorry, and others are so sorry they’ll make you feel guilty for bringing it to their attention. The result is more helplessness rather than catharsis.
Instead of delving into memories of your fears, remember also what you did with fearful situations, and if there was nothing you could do, take pride in enduring. If there was something you could have done better, then learn from that insight and be better prepared for the future.
The important thing in dealing with past trauma, be it from your childhood or last year, is focusing on the fact that you weren’t, in fact, helpless; you did the right thing when you could, and you’ll choose even wiser solutions going forward. That you acted effectively in spite of your fears is a measure of your real strength that should give you the confidence to keep you from going under.
“I wish I could get risk of this shaky feeling and the memories it’s awakened but I know that life can be overwhelming and, so far, I’ve risen to the challenge. That’s about the best anyone can do.”
My son was about to graduate from high school when he told his guidance counselor that his father was molesting him. I believe him, because my husband is an isolated, angry man, but I never suspected what was happening, in part because I work all day while my husband stays home and does very little. What money I’ve made has been committed to the boy’s college fund (he’s my only child), so, while I want to do what’s best for him, if I divorce my husband, kick him out, or file charges, it will take money from the family that may cost my son’s college education. My son and I have talked, and I’m actually angrier than he is—he just wants to get through this summer and move far away. My goal is to help him get over this horrible experience.
My first impression is that your son shows remarkable strength by being able to reveal the sexual abuse he’s endured from his father while, at the same time, focusing on what he wants to do with his life. Your own response is exceptionally strong; regardless of your needs or anger, you simply want what’s best for him.
It seems clear that your son’s future safety is not an issue– you and the state authorities legally responsible for evaluating this situation are sure that his father can no longer coerce or threaten him. As such, you’re left wondering what to do to heal the emotional wounds.
Unfortunately, as explained above, justice and punishment are not the cure they’re cracked up to be. Not only are child molesters always able to rationalize their actions to themselves, kids aren’t able to stop loving an abusive father just because he’s evil, and his punishment may add to their trauma. The legal process often creates additional helplessness while satisfying the public’s need to see justice done.
As in the case above, trying too hard to get rid of your son’s feelings of helplessness can make them worse. Don’t make him talk about the abuse more than he wants to and be careful not to let him dwell on what he could or should have done to stop it. Yes, you’d like him to tell someone what happened, but you want him to focus on how well he coped, not on why he didn’t stop it.
Of course, you may well find yourself fighting off self-recrimination, and you can find support from a therapist, coach, or friend who can help you focus on the good things you did and not on the horror and misery you failed to prevent. While you’re at it, find someone like that to be your son’s therapist, and use the same approach with him yourself.
You can’t undo the abuse, but you can help your son manage it and keep going. So far, you’re both off to a good start, and with patience, you can find some peace, as well as some distance from your husband.
“I can’t avoid feeling that I’ve exposed my son to the worst trauma imaginable by marrying a monster and not noticing what he was doing, but I know I’ve never turned a willful eye away from my son’s distress and I’ve worked hard to give him a start. I’m going to keep on giving him the best parenting I can.”
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