If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been very vocal lately about my past experiences with child abuse and domestic violence. However, I originally came out about my victimization long before #MeToo or #TimesUp ever swept the internet. In fact, I came out during my early marriage, in 2006, when I publicly denounced my dad as a violent and perverted criminal to our church.
For over a decade I’d been planning to write a book about my experiences, but it wasn’t until early 2017 that I finally found the words to start writing. Many survivors want to come out. Many long to tell the world (or maybe just their friends) about the horrors they’ve endured. However, it’s a scary step to take.
Some have asked me, “What are some of the negative reactions I should expect if I come out about being an abuse survivor?”
Whether you come out privately to friends and family, or publicly online, you’re going to encounter idiots. Most people will be extremely sympathetic, upset, and some will be heartbroken for you. Those are the people who will build you up and help you heal. However, there are others who will say foolish things, judge you, accuse you, or even disbelieve you.
For example, someone once told me, “You don’t seem nearly messed up enough to be an abuse survivor.” I wasn’t sure whether to be offended or complimented!
The following is a list of caricatures I’ve encountered who responded negatively to my story. My hope is that by reading this, you’ll be able to brace yourself against them, and not let their stupidity hurt you. Or, if you’re not an abuse survivor, this may give you an idea what sort of challenges survivors face.
This person doesn’t believe your story. Maybe they think that bad things don’t happen to good people. Maybe they find it unbelievable that something so terrible could happen, yet no one saw your abuser for who they really were. Maybe they know your abuser and are in denial that their friend could ever commit such a heinous crime. Whatever the case, they don’t believe you.
These people oftentimes are very arrogant, and will be reluctant to admit that they have been fooled by an abuser. They want to believe they would have seen signs of abuse, and that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as you say. They’re likely disturbed by the idea that they never suspected anything was wrong. To admit that they were fooled is to admit that they were conned, and they don’t like that possibility.
The Silencing Ostrich
This person wants to bury their head in the sand and pretend that everything is awesome, and they expect you to pretend along with them. They may say things like, “Let’s not talk about this,” or, “These sorts of stories are what you tell therapists,” or they may just give you a disapproving glare.
They want you to stop talking because your story makes them feel uncomfortable. They may honestly believe that if you don’t dwell on your suffering, your sadness will disappear. Out of mind, out of sight.
These people are cowards who fear dealing with messy emotions, disturbing facts, and the potential that they might be morally obligated to help you. They are selfish in that they want you to suck-it-up so that they don’t have to experience unpleasantness. They may also be prudes who view your stories as inappropriate, embarrassing, or taboo. Instead of being merciful and responsible, they silence victims.
The Phobic Blamer
“What were you wearing?” is a common question.
“What did you do to make her so angry?” is another.
These people are terrified of the idea that abuse can happen to anyone. Instead of confronting reality and accepting you as innocent, they shame, question, insinuate, and accuse. They would rather shame a victim than admit that they and their loved ones aren’t immune to abuse. They want to diagnose why you were abused, in hopes that they can explain away what happened and keep pretending they are not at risk. However, they won’t act scared. If anything, they’ll come off as cocky and self-righteous.
These people are perverts, but they start out seeming like friends. They believe your story without question. They want to hear every gory detail, every lurid episode, and every embarrassing fact. But it’s not because they sympathize. It’s because they’re obsessed with pain, sexual deviance, and victimization. They may act like your supportive confidant, but really, they’re abusers who feed off your story like a parasite. If you ever feel creeped out by someone who pretends to be your friend, drop them like a hot brick.
The Forgiveness Demander
These people often call themselves Christians, and they may be, but their definition of love falls tragically short of Christ’s. They think you should forgive and love your abuser, just as Jesus forgives and loves you. They never pause to consider that your abuser might not be sorry, or could continue to be dangerous.
“We’re all sinners,” they may say. “We all do bad things. You need to work on your anger issues, and learn to love your rapist as God does.”
“You should visit him at Christmas,” another might recommend. “After all, you only get one dad.”
While on the surface this might sound loosely Biblical, or worldly wise, it is in fact a terrible heresy and completely idiotic. It ignores the fact that not even God forgives people who aren’t repentant, and that Jesus flatly condemns abuse in Matthew 18:6.
It also fails to account for the fact that God commanded Joseph and Mary to flee the violent King Herod to protect baby Jesus, and that David fled the abusive King Saul in order to protect himself.
There is nothing biblical about recommending someone stay with their abuser, or maintain a relationship with them. In fact, such demands are dangerous and grossly unbiblical. Instead of ministering to the abuser and motivating their repentance, these courses of action will likely perpetuate their sin and feed their ego. In addition, it can put you at physical or emotional risk.
The Happiness Guru
Hoards of these people infest Prosperity Gospel Churches and the Cult of The Perpetually Happy. They think that depression and anxiety are signs of a weak faith or a bad attitude.
“Believe and achieve! Name it and claim it! God helps those who help themselves! Choose joy!”
They think that if you could just muster up some gratitude, try really hard to think positive, and motivate yourself into happiness, you’d be fine. They are not interested in concepts such as mercy, weeping with those who weep, or sad little stories like The Good Samaritan.
They only care about works. They treat emotions like a to-do list. If you’d do, do, do enough, and work, work, work enough, they think you could be living your best life now. These people have apparently mistaken The Little Engine That Could for a Biblical parable.
This person supposedly cannot believe that anyone could survive such horrible suffering and remain sane, emotionally balanced, or capable of healthy relationships. I cannot tell you how many times people have questioned by sanity or my ability to lead a healthy life, simply because I’m an abuse survivor.
Instead of being in awe of my strength and tenacity, they accuse me of having a mental illness, being damaged goods, or think I’m too biased and broken to possibly have valuable opinions about religion, politics, parenting, or life in general. They weaponize your past and use it to make you feel inferior.
This person calls you a liar and claims you’re just an attention-seeking narcissist. They believe you’re in it for the money, the media coverage, or internet stardom. They may be a friend of your abuser, or they may just be a jerk.
I encountered a rash of these people during the Roy Moore scandal. Diehard political zealots with a complete lack of empathy went to great lengths, not only to discredit Moore’s accusers, but any woman who claimed to be an abuse survivor.
One troll on Twitter told me he couldn’t believe me because, “Women lie.” Another demanded proof, saying, “If you can’t prove it, it legally never happened.”
But don’t for a minute think these clowns only exist on the Right. I’ve also had trolls from the Left claim that, as a white person, I’m too “privileged” to have ever been abused.
The Problem Projector
These people are particularly upsetting to deal with, yet greatly to be pitied. These are trauma survivors who did not cope as well as you did. They may be abuse victims, war veterans, alcoholics, or come from any number of troubled backgrounds.
They assume that if you went through something traumatic, you must be damaged in exactly the same ways that they are. I’ve had people accuse me of all sorts of off-base things from man-phobia to addiction, only to find out later that those were their problems.
If you tell them that you don’t suffer those afflictions, they may take it as a personal insult. They feel like you’re telling them you are stronger or better than they are, simply because you don’t manifest pain the same way they do.
For example, I had one man refuse to believe that I was happily married. When I confirmed that I was, he angrily retorted, “I guess God loves you more than he loves me.”
If you made it this far in my article, you might be feeling discouraged about coming out. Please, don’t. Coming out is extremely healthy, although difficult and fraught with challenges. You might never encounter any of these people. You may only come across a few, or mild versions of some. While these are all real people, I met them over the course of 10 years. I wasn’t deluged by them all at once.
My hope in writing these down, is that you’ll be able to prepare yourself emotionally for the stupid things people will say online, the dysfunctional reactions of some friends, and the mismanagement of some pastors and leaders.
Most people will encourage you. Most people will build you up and help you heal. For every rotten person I’ve encountered there have been dozens of stalwart supporters. Don’t be afraid. Be prepared.
Very interesting post… ! I would love say more about this, but it is not easy (for me) give opinions or share experiences in a foreign language that I don’t speak so well… but I can say, I feel pretty related with the first one, because I’ve always wondered if is possible that someone never have noted signals or behaviors that could show something “weird” from the abuser, specially if they were closed to him or her. Or simply they were fooled or conned like you mentioned. These are always my thoughts: It’s really possible that any of my family couldn’t note something? Or maybe they didn’t want to be confronted with the reality? And, if is really possible that an abuser can be unnoted by his closest ones, this make me feel sometimes terrified about my loved ones security, and warned from people around us…