Strains in relationships in my family are becoming ever more apparent. It’s not just strains. For my part I’m watching two people I care about in the family and worry about be knocked down, put down, undermined and controlled by another family member. I’m on the receiving end too. Right now I’m more worried about the two other people. I can get a little more distance. I’m struggling myself and upset and every anxiety is worse because I find myself in situations that resemble my traumatic childhood and that’s triggering – and the very fact I find it upsetting is used against me to say I am the problem. Yet I have someone else who loves me and a day to day life full of so many blessings with them.
When you see someone you love being hurt, even emotionally abused, by another person, what do you do? When do you speak up? When do you ask them something about it or tell them what you’ve noticed? This is is a situation where the two people suffering seem in one case accepting of being treated like that (even as they are upset by it) and in the other case totally oblivious to it and actually idolising the person doing it to them (likely because they have come to accept it, think it’s normal, actually believe themselves to be the problem).
I’m sure some people would tell me it isn’t my business and I should not interfere. The two people I’m worried about are both adults with their own decisions to make, although if this were a professional environment, one of them would be classed as “vulnerable” because of her mental health. However, in my personal and even work life, I’ve seen too much terrible behaviour and even abuse continue when, if someone had spoken out earlier, it might have been stopped. When I was a child more than a couple of people who knew our family had concerns I was being sexually abused but did not say anything, or when they did say something the person they told didn’t act. (I found all this out as an adult.) In my previous jobs, on two occasions I saw colleagues be victimised and bullied and accounts of events be twisted by other colleagues and superiors who disliked them; after months this led on one occasion to the person leaving and on the other to the person being dismissed unjustly. I’ve also been treated like that by a boss who intimidated, bullied and lied daily, until I was forced to leave my role. Almost everyone saw how the bosses in these situations were behaving but nobody did anything about it; it was accepted because of the bullies’ enormous power and threats. Recently there was a TV programme about a couple who kept over 10 children prisoner in their house in two different towns, neglected and malnourished, sometimes restrained and tied to their beds. It was years before the alarm was raised and the children rescued. In this time neighbours and locals had realised something was wrong, sometimes when one or other of the children managed to get away and ask for help, sometimes when the couple’s bizarre behaviour was observed. Again, for the most part nobody spoke up about their concerns. Could the children have been rescued sooner if they had?
Basically I’ve seen too much abuse go unchecked and nobody saying a word about what they see. I’m hyper aware of this because it would have taken very little, in a way, for the abuse that I was a victim of through my whole childhood to have been uncovered. How might things have been different if the GP who suspected the physical abuse when I was 6 had contacted authorities, if the school had followed up why I was suddenly withdrawn from the education system and isolated at home when I was 4, if the family friend who saw signs I was being sexually abused by my mother had said something to someone other than my dad or if my dad had believed her… might the abuse have been uncovered? Might I have been taken away from my abusers and kept safe when I desperately needed it?
Possibly not; I don’t know. Someone reporting concerns doesn’t guarantee action will be taken. If action is taken, it doesn’t guarantee that the extent of the abuse will be uncovered or that the right help will be given. Abusers are very clever at covering up the truth and twisting explanations and beliefs. I should also emphasise that in most circumstances I don’t think anyone who does not speak up about their concerns is responsible for the abuse continuing*. The responsibility and guilt for abuse lies with the abuser alone, not with the victim or their friend, doctor, neighbour etc. People who don’t speak out often don’t for the best-intentioned reasons, such as not wanting to accuse someone falsely or not wanting to make the situation worse if the abuser finds out that concerns have been raised.
I recognise that the situation today for the two people I’m worried about is not the same as in my childhood. I’m conscious that the traumatised me may feel similarities a lot stronger than they actually are, when my memories surface. This situation isn’t about a child trapped and controlled by an adult who has total power over them. It isn’t the same intensity of abuse. But it is about power and control being used to manipulate and exploit people’s vulnerabilities – vulnerabilities made greater by previous worse abuse they’ve lived through.
It hurts to see loved ones being treated like this. It hurts that they can’t see what’s being done to them or that they think it’s okay they are treated that way. I wish they could leave the relationship but it’s not up to me what my loved ones do. I can’t make them see the situation how I do. Nor should I try.
Is there some way I can help them realise what is happening and that they don’t have to just accept it? For me, something of a turning point came when it was made clear to me how very much not normal my relationship with my abuser was and that the abuser’s view of me, the view she indoctrinated me with, was not the truth and was not how other people saw me. It took years to start to gain this understanding. It doesn’t happen in one conversation.
My main fear is that if I raise the matter now with my loved ones and tell them what I’ve seen happen to them or what the person does to me, they will become so angry or feel so insulted (bearing in mind they are in close relationships with the abusive person) that they no longer want to listen at all or even end our conversation or worse still, cut off / cut back contact with me. Thus they’d potentially get sucked deeper into the abusive relationship. If they told the abusive person about the concerns I raised, she would use it as further ammunition against me and to turn them against me. Our relationship would deteriorate and they’d be more isolated.
I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know where to get advice.
*Sometimes, this can be complicated and I might write about it in another post.
Picture sourced with thanks, from istockphoto.com