Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Silent Treatment

iTunes Podcast Version

Silence can be golden but silence can also be one of the main weapons in the arsenal of an abuser. Time and time again, I read so many stories of people who were silenced in their families to keep the dirty secrets of abuse hidden from the outside world. It is a cunning and crafty weapon full of evil that happens without the blink of an eye or the initiation of a thought.

Many times, those outside the realm of abuse struggle to understand why a victim stays silent. What seems as opportunities for a victim to speak up or to to flee or to ask for help is nothing more than a fantasy land for the victim. In addition to the trauma that has been imposed upon the victim from day one, there is the fear of what will happen if they do and there is the altered reality of what seems normal to a victim and what does not. Through trauma, the biology and physiology of a person is changed and so things that may look like normal reality to most, will not look the same to the person who has gone through this. It is two different realities and both have the feeling of it being normal.

Most abuse occurs right before people's eyes and it often goes unnoticed. Much of the reason that this occurs outside of the fear and shame that is present, is that the abuser is able to silence the victim. The victim may often not be aware this is going on and by the time they are, the patterns have been so ingrained that to change this, is nothing short of rock climbing up the tallest mountain.

In many homes where religion is practiced in some form, the church and its teachings play into the silencing of the victims. For it is taught many times that children must be seen and not heard as well as they must obey their parents. In many churches, obeying the parents also translates into obeying a priest, minister, pope or some other figure. These basic things are taught from our own early years and so they become a way of normal reality and of life instead of something that should be questioned.

A child looks up to their parents when they are born. In the early years of life, the parent is the provider of everything to that child. The parent is the sole authority and if the abuser is a parent, than the silencing plays into normal development but it is anything but normal for the child. In the hands of the wrong person, an adult can manipulate a child through silence into doing things or being a part of things that otherwise the child would not do. Children are naturally curious as well and so if they are offered something that is unknown to them in safety of silence, many children would gravitate towards it. When adults abuse this basic innocence and curiosity in a child, they forfeit their ability to be human.

Often silencing is done through threats. Threats can be anything from "you might break up the family if you say anything" to "others will just not understand". It may be more dramatic in that if you say anything, something terrible might happen to your brother, sister, pet, your sacred belongings, home or other parent. The ways to silence a child are limited only by the imagination and creativity at the evil hands of the abuser.

I speak from my own experience in all of this because there are things that I'm just now finding out which happened in the family and I did not know. Here I lived in the same family and still did not know. That is mind boggling to me. Unfortunately, this is often the case in most families and most situations where children are being victimized.

Look at what has happened in the Catholic Church with the sex abuse cases involving the priests. Much of this went on for years often unnoticed by the parents or other adults. It isn't only the Catholic Church that has this going on either. Most churches have something that is hidden deep from view and most likely hidden from the people who go there. For me, I was abused in the bathroom of a church basement while the church service was going on overhead. If anyone knew about it, no one ever spoke up or acknowledged it. I doubt that most of the congregation even knew what was happening below them as they worshiped God that Sunday morning.

My family was very adept at hiding all that was going on. Most people were shocked and horrified when they found out I was being molested on a daily basis. To them, we had the ideal family with the well behaved children who always minded their parents. It looked like we were the perfect family to those around us and not even teachers in school suspected anything. If they did, they remained silent.

While we all want to gasp at the news of someone who has been exposed from abusing a child, the child abusers and molesters aren't out in some unknown place. It usually happens right in our own neighborhoods, schools, churches and communities. Most children that have been abused know who their abusers are. The unknown sex offenders do strike but most are known to the child. Think about that for a moment! So do not think for a moment that you are far removed from this horrible, deep, silent secret running through our society. It is everywhere and it is much more prevalent than anyone wants to admit.

A little bit about my own story in how I was silenced. My abuser was good at putting the fear of God and the fear of everything else into me. As an early child, I was separated from my parents because of illness. While I was too young to really remember this, I can feel the affects of it still in my life. What young child wants to be separated from their family and the fear of that is enough to make any child do what is asked of them. On top of that, you add some violence deeply rooted in anger and the fear of being separated is reinforced a hundred fold. So when things were done to me and backed up by the violence, the fear and being told that if I ever said anything, I would be splitting the family up; my choice at that early age was to go along with what was being done. I was too young at that time to make a rational choice and by the time I was old enough to truly understand what was going on, it had become a way of life.

In my family, silence was furthered by giving the "silent treatment" to those in the family that did not obey the rules or who chose to speak up and attempted to stand up. The silent treatment was meant to bring you back in line in no uncertain terms and if that didn't work, corrective methods progressed. The silent treatment may have been done for much lessor infractions as well or things that would appear to most people to not even matter in life. In my family, one could be beaten for putting silverware away wrong in a drawer or given the silent treatment for days and months because there was some misunderstanding. I saw these things time and time again and to this day, they still haunt me.

Many years ago, I created an online survivor site for victims of child abuse called "breaking the silence". I was so tired of being silenced all my life and living in fear that I knew it was time for me to speak up and to speak out. No longer was I going to live by the rules of the family where these horrible and despicable acts had taken place by my abusers. That was their shredded sense of humanity, love and life but it was no longer going to be mine. Since this time, I have slowly learned how to speak up for myself, to bring to light all that happened and to say once and for all from the highest mountains on the earth - I will not be silenced anymore! I gave up too many years of my life already in being silent and no longer will I be manipulated by anyone in this regards.

If you are reading this and it resonates with you, please accept my hug of support to you. I know how difficult it is. I was the child who sat off by himself not able to do first grade math. I was the child who tried to please everyone so as to not potentially upset anyone and drive them away. I was the child who put the happy face on when I left our house each day so that no one would know the secrets I buried each day within myself. I was the child who was hurting inside and no one either noticed or was too afraid to step up and help me. And if you're reading this and connecting to it, please know that you're not alone.

For me silence took another drastic step in my life. Part of this is what I did to protect myself but part of it is what my family further inflicted on me. One of the hardest things I had to do in my life was remove myself from the family. The incessant weekly letters ripping me to shreds resulted in having anxiety attacks just walking to my mailbox. At one point, I could take this no more and asked a friend to read the letters but only let me know if there was something I needed to know. Otherwise, I didn't want to see them. It was the beginning for me to start saying, enough is enough. While I remained silent for the most part with them except for occasional letters I would write, the silent treatment began in earnest. The things that happened were beyond belief. And in the years ahead, the silence between us grew to the point of absolutely no communication. At the time, it was excruciating to me to deal with this and to have no contact but it was necessary for my survival. The lengths that they went to in giving me the silent treatment would blow anyone's mind.

Now I view any communication with my family in a much different way. I have created a life for myself and with people who I love and trust. I don't need my family in the same unhealthy way that I once did. While I would love to have a normal relationship with them, I'm not sure if that will happen any time soon or even in my lifetime. I am ok with that because I know that I will never allow myself to be silenced again and the silent treatment holds no power over me. I'm moving beyond that part of my life.

If you have been given the silent treatment, I would love to hear your story so please feel free to write me or leave a comment. If you know of some child that may fit this scenario, see if you can find a way to help that child. Don't let them continue to be in the abusive situation because you are afraid to rock the boat. A child in an abusive situation often has no one to stand up for them. I wish someone would have come along and somehow rescued me or stood up for me. I wish someone could have helped me break the silence in my life.

*For more articles, check out the Mind Body Thoughts Blog

1 comment:

  1. I totally understand your point, I'm 24 and for the first time in my life I'm suffering the silence treatment, wed are engaged, and he's angry for a stupid thing i did 2 years ago, i reminded him the thing 13 days ago and since then he's applying the cold shoulder to me. We live across the ocean from each other and he blocked all communication with me sometimes he text me saying he's upset with me and that's all. I'm suffering, I feel frustrate but mostly I feel disappointed a man so caring like him treat me like garbage for a stupid thing like that. The date of our wedding it's approaching but still no news of the course of our relationship. I don't know what to do 'cause giving him space it's obviously not working. What should I do if I still love him?