Extended Family Dynamics for an Abuse Survivor

Blogging in between visits with my therapist gives me a platform to organize my thoughts and see multiple options.

I still struggle with my role in extended family situations and feel that my past holds me back from doing things I otherwise naturally would, and I am honestly not sure the best route to take yet.

Specifically, My abuser, my dad, is still alive. I have barely any contact with him, only the extended family get-togethers where most people do not know about the abuse. I was unable to (personally) tell my Aunts, Uncles, Cousins what my dad had done. And now that 20 years has passed, it seems pointless to blurt it out now.  The fact that I was sexually abused by my dad is just a fact, like my name, like my dazzling green-blue eyes, just a part of me. But that is not how others react to this fact, and I don’t know who to tell or how to tell, so I tend to remain quiet. But if someone were to ask me why I don’t talk to my dad, well I’m not sure what I would say.

I have avoided many family reunions with my dad’s side for many years now, knowing he will of course be there, and I don’t feel close to anyone else there either. I know he has put his magic spin on things to them, that I am selfish, ungrateful, and think I am too good to see them. I know he tells them he chooses not to associate with me, not vice versa. I know they think what a shame to have such a dishonorable daughter. (OK I don’t know any of these things – I assume them)

My dad’s sister has been battling cancer. I was never exactly close to this Aunt, but I do love her. My only memories of her when I was little she is cursing and blowing smoke in my face as she tells me to go play outside or tells dirty jokes to my dad. That’s how I remember all of my dad’s siblings, beer-guzzling, overbearing, chain-smoking, crass. She is currently in the hospital in a different state, and my heart is torn. I’d like to go see her, out of respect, and out of love, out of some sense of obligation, but mainly just to show her she is loved.

But the questions have already started from the cousins in facebook chat.

“When is your dad coming out?”

“I don’t know”

“Can you ask him and let me know? We’re trying to plan how many visitors are here, ICU rules”

“No, I don’t talk to him”

(big long pause) “Oh.”  “Well my dad said your dad is coming out tomorrow, are you guys coming with him?”

“I don’t know what my dad is doing, but my brother was thinking of going on Friday”

So what happens when they ask *why* I don’t talk to my dad? I don’t want to start any drama and take away from the supportive environment around my Aunt. My Aunt’s husband works in a prison for sex offenders, and I have heard him talk about those evil prisoners, and I’m pretty sure he would kill my dad right then and there. He is one I think that believed the rumors, used to dealing with psychopaths on a daily basis he saw through it a bit. But only a bit. I do think he would scream and possibly hit him. The old man in a motorized scooter, so weak from end-stage emphysema that he can no longer stand. Right, he looks dangerous. No, it would be ugly, and no one needs that.

And why did I write that chat that way? Looking at it now I wonder if I was trying to get her to ask that question? Do I want to *accidentally* share this news? Do I really want to tell but not have it be my fault? Hmmm. Impromptu chats have a way of showing true feelings perhaps, since we have less filter when we speak spontaneously, and without the voice to convey meaning, it can easily be misinterpreted.

It seems to me the more loving choice to my Aunt right now is to offer my love from afar. I have not seen her since my wedding 13 years ago, and have not spoken to any of them other than occasional facebook updates from the cousins. And yet I feel torn, and of course guilty, because it wouldn’t be a day on this world without me feeling some guilt.

Am I protecting my Aunt and cousins by not going, not telling them. Or am I protecting myself from further drama and trauma? And if so, is that actually a good thing?

I know I would go to the funeral, (which barring a miracle, seems likely at this point) but I also know people don’t tend to talk at funerals like they do sitting helplessly in hospital rooms. My Aunt currently can not speak, and can barely move. She communicates through hand squeezes, my cousin said. So other than my guilt, I am not sure what going to the hospital would help.

Is it helpful or hurtful to disclose past abuse to the extended family of the abuser? I don’t want to make choices based on fear, so I need to examine this choice carefully, as I have many fears.  Am I afraid they will not believe me? Yes. Am I afraid they will believe me? Yes. Am I afraid they will be angry at me for not telling them? Yes. Am I afraid they will cause a scene? Yes. Am I afraid it will cause stress to my sick Aunt? Yes.

Closing sentiment is directed to my dad- Screw you abusing A-hole that has made every decision in my life so difficult and putting this choice to disrupt or to not disrupt, to shatter or not shatter the worlds of people I care about onto me through your own cowardice, denial and psyhopathic ways. I should not have to think twice about visiting family or expressing love. My whole life you have been in the background, limiting my ability to feel love or show love. Everything I loved when I was little was hurt or taken from me – my mom, my brothers, my pets, my friends. So if I love my Aunt from afar, you can’t steal it from me.

**UPDATE – Based on some comments, I need to be clear that I already told the people immediately around me about what my dad had done –  20 years ago. I did not call everyone I knew or that knew my dad and tell them. Word got out when the police and child services came to question him at work. Believe me, I knew his anger all too well at that incident of how I *embarrassed him and ruined his good name*. Word got out. My dad used his powers of persuasion to convince everyone I was insane and just asking for attention. I am not holding in deep dark secrets. I can see how it appears that way after reading this 1 post. This is so hard to explain in a few words. His family lives in a different state, and even when I was little I saw them maybe once a year. After I got away from my dad and got married, I have lost touch with most of those people, choosing not to visit when my dad would invite me each year to various family events. I have no idea what they think they know or don’t. It was not my responsibility as a hurting teenager to broadcast his wrongdoings to the world. It was my responsibility to heal. Why is the man not in jail? Because no one thought I would survive a trial process. But it wasn’t my choice, I was a kid. So I hear my Aunt is suffering, and start having awkward conversations with cousins that may or may not recall something they heard so many years ago. I really don’t know these people, and my fear is more that I will be unable to hold my tongue and cause pain and drama and draw attention away from my Aunt. I assume my dad uses my absence of proof I am cold and uncaring. I have no idea who thinks what and I guess I just don’t feel the need to know. If they choose not to heed my warnings, there is nothing more I can do.

Ugh, this is too hard to explain. Unless you were abused from birth to age 16 by a psychopathic pedophile.


13 thoughts on “Extended Family Dynamics for an Abuse Survivor

  1. Tough decisions. I’ve chosen to maintain a safe distance, for me, because I will not lie. Only by staying away am I able to keep from lying. I figure I’m also saving them from lying. If they thought the narcs in my life really were so wonderful wouldn’t they keep in better touch with them?

    • Exactly. I will not lie either. And all my dad and his family does is lie with every word. I have no idea if my dad has stayed close to his sister or not. I have no idea if he is going to visit her. If my cousin asked me to come, that needed help, I would go. As of now, it sounds as if she has many people there already, possibly too many for an ICU.

  2. From my experience, it doesn’t do you any good keeping a secret. It is not your responsibility to worry about how others take your information. You can tell people in a matter of fact way and answer questions, but how they react is not your problem. Every abused person who keeps their silence is enabling the problem to perpetuate and make others fearful of coming out and getting the help they need.

    I’m not saying you need to go on a crusade against your abuser, but it is unkind to the kid you were who was terrified of telling to continue to let your abuser malign you and behave all holier than thou.

    And just an aside from my personal psychological abuse, I tend to tell people I’m an alcoholic too. I am not ashamed. I am being good to myself now and I hope I set an example for others worrying about the stigma. As they say in recovery rooms, you’re only as sick as your secrets.

    • Hmm. Thanks for this open response, really making me think. I applaud you for putting aside the stigma of alcoholism and telling people, that’s takes strength. I guess I don’t feel like it is a secret anymore or something I am holding onto. I care for my Aunt more out of obligation than any sense of knowing her as an Aunt. Same for my cousins. If it weren’t for facebook, I wouldn’t even know about my Aunt’s illness. So I am examining the situation and trying to make good choices for everyone, including my own family. Also, these people do know what my dad was accused of, but have chosen to believe him, not me. I think staying away from all of them is best for now, as any interaction with my dad turns out to have terrible repercussions.

      • I hear you. I stand by my statements about you not being responsible for the behavior or reactions of others to your situation. So, if it’s important to you to fulfill your feelings of obligation, hold your head high.

        I know I hate it when people tell me that my mother did the best she could and that I should forgive her for my own sake. I’d just as soon not deal with that, soI weigh the hassle of hearing that garbage with what I want to do. Whichever is more important to me wins out. I recently went to my grandmother’s funeral (my mom’s mother) and was none the worse for it, although I minimized the time spent near my parents, declining their offer to stay at their home and doing the 8 hour round trip in one day. Slightly inconvenient but saved me a lot of psychic grief.

        But that’s what’s worked for me so far. You may have your own path better suited to you.

      • Yes, I will try to do what is right, while minimizing psychic grief. well-put. Thank you for the first part, I do still struggle to keep my head held high with my family, so hard when they put me in the place of shame. Though I am quite confident everywhere else, so if I can just remember that and be me, and not that little girl, we’ll all be just fine.

  3. By not telling everyone what he did you are protecting him. He doesn’t deserve that.

    He deserves to be outed if for no other reason than he might be abusing someone else right now. Your silence isn’t helping them.

    • I updated the ending. I tend to forget that strangers are reading my story and I forget to fill in the blanks. This is not a book, but my personal thoughts, so I know the history. I *outed* my dad 20 years ago. I am not staying silent, not protecting him. It is more that I don’t want to deal with the topic every time I see extended family. They know something, but don’t know details, and I think may choose not to believe anything happened.Or maybe they do know their brother is a monster and choose to love him anyway. I just don’t know, it is all unknown.

  4. You must move on from the abuse and do what feels right to you. My brother abused me but not everyone knows. Like you, my immediate family knows of the horror but I have learned to accept and let go of his hold on me. Whatever “work” is left to do, is mine and mine alone. I’ve never told my aunts and uncles because they are not a part of my life. I share the trauma and afermath with only those who can support my healing.

    • I love the last sentence, as that is what my therapist says. Only share the trauma with those who can support my healing. That pretty much sums it up. It is not my job to feel responsible for him, others must do what they feel is right, and I have to let go of the rest. So happy you have been able to let go of his hold on you. I feel like i have finally done this as well, though the scars remain. And best not to reopen old wounds, let the scars continue to fade.

  5. Wow! My head is spinning. I can relate to much of this post, though my abuser (in my childhood) wasn’t a family member. I DID tell someone, yet my family is so “hush hush” about everything, they actually treated me like I lied about the abuse, swept it under the carpet, and it was forgotten. Me? I have always thought I had moved on…moved past…all of it. I have been able to function in some pseudo-normal way, while always struggling with feeling that I was wrong all the time. Being afraid of someone’s anger, and so-forth. I am only just realizing the significant roll all of the abuses has played in molding me into the person I am today. Yes, I function, but the way I have learned to function and protect myself, has been nothing short of debilitating. I recognize the areas that have been affected. I’m taking the difficult steps to correct the thoughts and reactions I do have, now.

    As far as whether or not you should mention the abuse to anyone? I have no definitive answers or advice. My thoughts? They probably already know, and are ashamed to confront the sickness, or acknowledge YOU as the victim. It’s too hard for anyone to swallow and find a “good” way to deal with anything. Unfortunately, you have been alone in your grief. Know that it’s probably not a secret. You ARE strong in spite of it! I understand how you feel when talking with ‘his’ side of the family. There will always be questions. As with my most recent situation, the best answer I’ve been able to find is, “It just IS”. Some things will never have definitive answers. Some things will never be completely settled inside ourselves. I wish you the utmost peace inside! That, alone, will rip the control your dad KNOWS he has had, and hopes he STILL has, away from him!!

    • Thank you for your comments. Unless you have been in this situation (And I’m so sorry you can relate) it is impossible to understand the turmoil in our lives as we make choices every day that others never have to make. Good for you, taking steps to correct the areas that affected you most, and get stronger and healthier. When I see how far I have come, to thinking I was worthless and wanting to die rather than live in this painful world, to a loving and LOVED mother, wife, friend, neighbor, etc. I see the value of every person and the power of love to transform lives. First I had to love myself. And yes, some things will likely never be completely settled inside me, but I’m ok with that. I have so much joy in my life, I can handle the unsettled parts. I am pretty sure most people know of the abuse, but I have never spoken to them so I do have some anxiety on what it would be like to speak openly with them as an adult survivor, rather than a scared little girl. I have no doubt I will find the right path, or make amends if I don’t. It frustrates me that others prefer to *hush* everything that happened, that makes me feel like I have been swept under a rug. I understand they don’t want to accept and deal with what happened, and that when they see me they are reminded of the ugliness. I don’t like this, but I do accept this. I try to approach everything out of love and strength, instead of shame and fear, and it seems to be working. I value the comments of all the readers here as it really helps me sort things through. Going to get my money’s worth at the therapist tonight, so much to discuss right now!

  6. Pingback: Approaching Sanity – Well some of us are | Roots to Blossom

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