Posted by: Judy | December 20, 2011

Sharing Vanci’s post…

She posed a question on her blog, and I felt it deserved an answer. Not My Rock Vanci shares a specific example of someone who claimed there was no abuse in their home, but when you read what was done it was clearly mental and physical abuse.

What is abuse? As Vanci states, the basic descriptions follow under physical, sexual, emotional, mental, spiritual, and neglect. My posts of November 28 through December 1, cover my perspective on those in more detail, as they relate to my life experiences.

That being said, I grew up believing I wasn’t abused. I deserved what happened to me because I was wicked. If I had been more obedient, cooperative, smarter, cleverer, helpful, faithful, a boy instead of a girl, then none of those awful things would have happened.

When I finally accepted that I had been abused and refused to remain silent any longer, I was amazed at the number of people who would say that they hadn’t been abused, and then described abusive behavior in their home. When I would point it out, they would explain that it wasn’t as bad as what had happened to me, so it wasn’t really abuse.

Years ago, when I tried to volunteer at a crisis shelter they asked why. I admitted that I’d been abused and wanted to help. The woman interviewing me asked, “How severe was the abuse?” Before I could answer, she continued, “I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say. Abuse is abuse.” I had never considered that perspective before.

And yet, that is what society does. Abusive behavior is dismissed if it wasn’t as bad as what happened to someone in a worse case scenario. My sister and I have talked about how I thought I had it so much worse than she did, because she hadn’t been abused like I had. That was when she didn’t remember anything. Then she started to remember what had happened to her, and it was so much worse than anything that had happened to me. Adding guilt was the realization that she had bargained me out of even worse. (I have let go of the guilt.) We Are One

I spent years trying to figure out what abuse is. So often I was told that I wasn’t being abused. I was oversensitive. I was short-tempered. I was uncooperative. I was unreasonable. I was wrong.

There are legal definitions, but how many people are familiar with them outside the legal system? And how often do we see in the news children who are returned to abusive homes? I listen to what happened to some of those children and think that what happened to me wasn’t as bad. Except, some of it was, but I didn’t want to believe it. Without the legal definitions, there is that little voice inside my head that tells me I shouldn’t say or do something because it will hurt someone else. So why is it okay for someone to do those things to me?

In my effort to understand the boundaries between what is abusive and what is not, I needed to explore what behaviors I considered abusive. I had my perceptions turned upside down when I read about what Navy SEALs go through to prepare themselves. I could never do it, on so many levels. I kept thinking that in everyday interactions with people, what happened to a SEAL would surely be defined as abuse. However, SEALs recognize that the brutal treatment is required to prepare them for what they have to do. It is life saving. Here are some the important things I learned to recognize: They are not only adults, but they choose this road. The trainers that push them know that what is learned could mean the difference between life and death. And it still comes back to the fact that a SEAL in training has the option of walking away at any time, without recriminations. No one who drops out is ridiculed for doing so. Respect and honor are paramount.

Someone who is abused is not allowed to walk away, and ridicule is par for the course. Abuse requires a fundamental lack of respect. And there is no honor.

I’m one of those who has been touched by every form of abuse in one way or another. So I found myself wondering what is the common denominator? What is it that all the abuses had in common?

Lies. The abuser is a liar, and the victim must lie to survive.

Fear. The use of fear to control another human being. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being molested. Fear of being abandoned. Fear of not being loved. Fear of being rejected. “If you tell, you’ll be in trouble.” “If you tell, you’ll regret it.”

Perhaps that’s why so many people class fear as a negative emotion, a bad emotion. It can be. But healthy fear also helps us recognize danger and run away. Like everything good, abusers twist and distort and corrupt what is good for their own gratification, their own ends.

It’s important to note that it’s also true that there are people who claim abuse as a way of gaining attention or executing revenge. Because a parent yells at their child or spanks them, it does not constitute abuse. A parent cleaning up a child with a messy diaper is not molestation. A parent allowing their child to cry is not neglect.

So, what constitutes abuse? In many ways, once you step outside the bounds of legal definitions, it seems to depend on your point of view. What I consider abuse: Any behavior or choice of words meant to cause pain, belittle, degrade, or humiliate.

Reading that, all I can think is that it’s a pretty broad definition. Then I must step back and remind myself that I am defining what I allow into my life and what I don’t. There are people who tease me and I know it’s intended to be silly. There are other people that tease me, and I know it’s belittling, by their tone of voice, and prior history.

I’m endeavoring to learn to develop healthy boundaries with people who seem to enjoy hurting me and “putting me in my place,” and instead surround myself with people who bring out the best in me, who add to my life, as hopefully I add to theirs.


  1. I am sorry you feel guilty. I don’t think you should but that doesn’t change feelings. I think my counselor thought I was truly certifiable when I told him I would do it again to protect you but it didn’t really protect you. Making a deal with the devil is a loosing proposition because he lies. You are right, the lies are what keep it going and the victim lying to protect the abuser is the cruelest lie of all. Stopping the lying is one of the hardest challenges.

    • (((Ruth))) I think I felt more guilty about assuming that what had happened to me was worse, and you couldn’t possibly understand. There wasn’t much I could do about the other, so long after the fact, though I am grateful I was spared the worst of it.

      • Its OK. I don’t think you need to feel guilty at all. We did what we could with what we had. Thanks for being there for me while I learned.

  2. Wow; well written and very well thought out. The idea that an abuser chooses to inflict their abuse and that the ‘victim’ of the abuser has no choice really resonates with me.
    Thanks for posting this, yes, much to ponder. 🙂

    • Thanks for asking the question, Vanci.

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