“To all of the people along the way who hurt me, lied to me, betrayed me and broke my heart…
You unknowingly pointed me in the direction of my own North Star. Without the messes, I wouldn’t have a message.
You gave me more than you ever take from me, so thank you.”
My friend posted this on Facebook yesterday. I instantly connected with it because it is something that I have believed in, and lived by, for quite a while now.
People often tell me I should be angry – at my father, at other adults who did not protect me, at the family and friends that have, as a result of the legal process against my father and his subsequent death, turned their backs on me.
What use to me is anger?
I spent the first 38 years of my life being angry – angry that I had to live this life. Every one of my emotions expressed itself as anger – even when I didn’t ‘feel’ angry – and it was a horrible existence.
For years I wondered ‘why me?’ What did I do to deserve all of the pain I felt, both physically and psychologically? What had I done to cause my father to be so angry? What was that I did that made him sexually abuse me? Why did I have to be born?
From the very second I made the decision that I mattered, that I was important, and that I was going to stand up and do my very best to protect other children from experiencing what I had experienced, my anger started dissipating. I started to look at the crap dished out to me by other people in a whole new light. My perspective changed, and so did my attitude.
I no longer approached everything from the ‘why me?’ perspective. Instead, I looked hard for ‘what can I learn from this?’ Let me tell you, it was hard, unbelievably hard, but it was so amazingly worth it.
Why was it worth it? Because the more I looked for the lessons in what I was experiencing, the less others controlled me. The more I learnt about myself – what were my thoughts, what were my feelings, what were my beliefs, what were my vales – the less the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and values of others that I had unknowingly adopted as my own, impacted me. The power of other people to hurt me reduced dramatically.
I had always believed the world would end if I dared to tell, or that Dad would make good on his threats to kill me, or that the family would implode if the secret ever got out.
Well, the family did implode – but I survived!
There are numerous people out there who would be horrified to know that I write about my experiences of child sexual abuse. They are the family and friends who chose to protect my father and the family’s public image. Not one of these people know all of the facts. These are the people that will do whatever is within their power to stop me from getting my message out there, just as they have used a variety of actions and threats to try to stop me, and those who have supported me, in the past.
There was a time when having the possibility of conflict hanging over my head would have sent me into a tail spin, if not a complete melt down. I would have been flustered, depressed, and upset, but mostly I would have been angry that others ‘just don’t understand’.
Now, however, I know that the actions of others are not a reflection of me. In fact, their actions have no relevance to me at all, because the actions of others belong to them, and those actions are motivated by the thoughts and feelings of the people that carry them out. Just because other people behave badly towards me, does not mean that I am a bad person.
About six months into the legal journey, I had to go on medication because I was barely able to keep myself breathing, let alone be a mother, a partner, and continue to hold down a full-time job. Over the next 18 months my ability to function improved, and my outlook on life had really started to change. Everything went down hill very quickly after Dad passed away.
To be honest, I didn’t even really notice. It was my partner that made me sit back and take stock and see how I was returning to my old, comfortable, but totally unhelpful, ways of coping.
After much discussion, we identified the turning point.
My brother was speaking to one of my father’s friends the day after Dad died. The conversation was going well until my father’s friend, thinking that my brother did not support my decision to speak out, said to my brother, “Well, your sister should have thought about the consequences before she went to the police…”
This statement from my father’s friend sent me right back to square one.
If other people said bad things about me, then they believed I was bad; if they believed I was a bad person, then it must be true that I am a bad person; if it is true that I am a bad person, then I must believe that I am a bad person. So, if anyone indicated that they thought badly about me, I believed them. This was the way my mind worked for 38 years.
The challenge was, did I want to go back to that way of thinking, or did I want to continue the work I had been doing and reclaim the progress I had made in the two years following my decision to speak out?
I had worked far too hard, and experienced way too much pain, to go back now.
This meant I had to analyse the way I processed things in my mind. I had to ask myself, “Am I a bad person just because someone thinks or says that I am?”
The answer is a resounding, “NO!”
What other people think is just their opinion. Just because they, or I, think something does not make it true.
The next step was to ask myself if I, taking away all of the opinions of others, thought I was a bad person?
No, I don’t.
I am generous, honest, loyal, trustworthy, open, friendly, loving… and a whole heap of other adjectives. I say what I mean, and do what I say. What you see is what you get. I don’t say this to one person and that to someone else. I don’t judge people by what they have or don’t have, do or don’t do, or any of their personal preferences. I call a spade a spade, but I am also able to be tactful and understanding.
(Gosh, do you know how hard that would have been to say or write not that long ago? I have come a long way!).
Anyway, my long-winded point is this – it does not matter what any one else thinks or says about you. It is their opinion. It is only your opinion of yourself that matters.
What the opinion of others is good for, however, is as an aid to identifying those parts of you that are not truly you, that you have taken on from someone else.
How do you know if something is truly you or not? Sit with for a while and it will either feel comfortable or uncomfortable – it will either fit with your values or it will irritate and itch and not feel ‘right’.
It is in this way, that people who do not like us, who hurt us, lie to us etc., can teach us the most wonderful things about ourselves and our purpose in life. So, just like the meme posted by my friend on Facebook, be grateful to those people for the lessons they lead us to, and in doing so, such people and their actions can no longer have a negative impact on your life.