Greatest myth of all time: “Children are resilient.”

Wrong. Children are fragile. They break easily.

My maternal grandfather broke me. I was 7 or 8 when the sexual abuse began. The psychic damage was extensive. I am now 58, and I am proof that having competent doctors and doing the hard work helps over time. Still, I have struggled with CPTSD most of my life.

My mother’s sister, my aunt, came forward with accusations against her father when I was still young. She was mocked, derided, and dismissed. The family labeled her mentally ill. No one believed her. She was cast out and cut out of the family. Her most vociferous – and vicious – critic was her older sister, my mother.

My grandfather was a  bishop in the American Lutheran Church, and he was a powerful man. He had position, reputation, and friends in high places. He was a man of God. No one believed that he could be a pedophile who preyed on little girls in his own family.

My parents were solid middle-class members of society, devout, and principled. They believed in Jesus Christ and went to church each Sunday. In fact, we attended my grandfather’s church. He was the family’s pastor as well. Ironic.

My mother has staunchly defended her father for decades. Anything but the highest praise for his (supposed) righteousness and upstanding character will draw punishment from my mother. Her reaction when I came forth with the truth was not the reaction of a mother. She attacked and launched a pervasive smear campaign against me. Ultimately, I wrote a book, Family Legends, Family Lies, that delves into these family dynamics, but her behavior confounds me to this day. It’s bizarre.

I had serious issues with depression as a teenager. Unfortunately, my older brother had even deeper, more severe problems. By his preteen years, he was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, in trouble with the law, into drugs, expelled from every school, and eventually sent to juvenile hall. Our parents faced a court order to attend joint counseling with him. My brother spilled every detail about corporal punishment, and the psychologists pointed their collective fingers at my parents as causing my brother’s problems.

As a result, they ignored my pain and avoided any more contact with mental health professionals. I was a straight-A student, so that’s all that mattered to them.

As an adult, I experienced great distress. I couldn’t maintain any kind of relationship. I job hopped, although I wasn’t fired. I simply moved on. And I moved residences frequently. I was always on the go. But in reality, I was always running away. I didn’t feel anything but anxiety or numbness.

The anxiety increased exponentially in my mid-30s when I had to deal with sexual harassment at my job. However, I didn’t really crack until I was 39. 2002 was a pivotal year for me. In one split second, the sound of a fist pounding on wood split my psyche apart and connected my memories to the actual physical pain of the childhood sexual abuse. For several years, I experienced dissociative episodes and all the classic symptoms of PTSD: hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, intrusive and repetitive memories, nightmares, depression, and flashbacks. I called my brain a broken record. My memory of those years can be spotty, although I kept notes and began blogging in 2006. So, I can piece together what happened.

Yet as I look back and ponder certain events, I ask many questions. How could my parents be so blinded to what was happening even when my aunt raised a red flag?

Denial is powerful, addictive, persuasive, and eerily reassuring to the denier. But there is something much more powerful than denial.

Shame.

Shame fuels denial. Shame brings disgrace and ignominy. Shame causes you to become a social pariah, isolated, untouchable, and outcast. This is what pedophiles rely upon. They are master manipulators who control the narrative. And, they succeed in placing the shame onto the victim in large part because society enables the misdirection.

Another question I ask is this: why didn’t my mother protect me? Even if she didn’t believe her sister, why didn’t she find ways never to leave me alone with my grandfather? The opposite happened. She served me up on a silver platter to her father.

Where were her maternal instincts to protect her child?

Nature gives us very few examples of animals who fail to protect their young. However, infanticide does happen in some species. Typically, a male competitor may kill the offspring of another male. Scientists have recorded a monkey known as the mustached tamarin killing her own young. But, for a mother in nature to fail to protect her own offspring is exceedingly rare. Most will go head-to-head against anything that threatens her offspring. A mother bear wouldn’t hesitate to shred a predator going after her cub.

So why do so many human mothers shrink from the innate duty to protect their children, especially when the evidence of misconduct is clear? Is it to avoid conflict? To keep up appearances? To protect the family over protecting an innocent child?

In my mother’s case, the latter is true. News that her father the bishop was a child molester would bring shame on the family in her eyes. I know this for a fact because she said it. Protecting the family from shame was huge. But, protecting herself from shame was greater. Although my mother will deny her father was a pedophile until she dies, there’s no doubt in my mind that she was also a victim.

So, my mother has two problems: shame and guilt. She has overwhelming guilt because despite knowing what her father was, she didn’t protect her daughter. Thus, the denial continues, and the smear campaigns continue.

I don’t have answers to all my questions. However, I have come to one significant conclusion.

Society needs an #metoo revolution within the core family unit. On occasion, I see #familytoo used as a hashtag on Twitter. However, I’ve never seen it trending. #familytoo needs to trend.

We need to put the shame onto the perpetrators, not the child victims or the rest of the family. And mothers must be prepared to protect their children even if the entire rest of the family sides with the child molester. Society must be prepared to support that mother. Yes, perps are innocent until proven guilty according to the law. However, if the accusation has been made, a parent should never, ever allow that child to be alone with the alleged perp again.

Children are fragile. The damage that sexual abuse causes a young child is profound. We must work together to stop pedophiles.

The author, age 5, and her maternal grandfather, a pedophile.

 

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