I stumbled on this photo today. Well, not quite in this condition, of course, I had to hide the identities of all of them even though I would LOVE to put this picture on a billboard somewhere in all its clarity and colour!
That’s the thing about Christmas and New Year, even long before social media or even the internet, it was a time to connect, share, take and send out family photos and news. This is good for many of us, we love to connect and embrace and celebrate. It is part of the core of our beings to be part of a tribe and to celebrate together.
But with 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys being sexually abused before they are adults, most of whom were/are abused by family members, this holiday season is a time of immense trauma! Why?
- Abusers/ex-abusers are often present at these family gatherings and we are forced to be in their company and say nothing.
- Abuse often happens when families are staying in each other’s homes, bundled into rooms and onto couches around the house. So family get-togethers are often also anniversaries of past abuse.
- Alcohol flows, emotions are high, abusers are triggered and are more likely to “need” to act out and “self-soothe”.
- For those same reasons, abused children’s emotions are more likely to be invisible, lost in the chaos, the booze, the fights and the general busyness. People are also busy and don’t have resources left to see or hear things that aren’t quite right around them.
The list goes on, but there is another one I want to highlight today. And that is the family letters, the photos, the gatherings captured all over social media and emails. One can ignore an uncle (or aunt) who abused us as much as possible during the year, but at this time of year their faces pop up all over the place and it can send many people into a tailspin.
This is the photo I stumbled upon this morning, and here are the characters:
G is not in the actual picture, I have simply placed them at the bottom so I can explain the connections. G is someone I love. This is their story to tell, not mine, hence all the cloaks and daggers. If I had my way, I’d be shouting this from the rooftops!
A is married to D (marriage circled in pink). (F is their granddaughter through C but I’ll leave her out for now).
B is married to E (marriage circled in pink, I’ve left E out for now too).
A & B are siblings (blue line).
C is the adult child of D, stepchild of A, and parent of E. – C is also the older cousin to G.
Supposedly, this is a run of the mill family Christmas photo, shared today with lots of news. “Innocent” in so many ways. But here is what it means to G when they see it (hopefully they haven’t and won’t).
Those thick orange lines are verifiable sexual abuse! We won’t even go into emotional abuse and other forms of control and manipulation within this family. But:
- Siblings A & B each sexually abused their child and stepchild.
- C (at 16) went on to abuse G (at 14) on a whole new level of physical sexual abuse.
Those orange lines are from G‘s own personal experiences and knowledge. But we have no choice but to ask ourselves if A abused his stepchild (C), then why not his grandchildren as well? I can’t say. If C abused G, then which of the many other cousins did they also abuse? I have no idea.
If 2 siblings sexually abused their own children, then did the other siblings in their generation also abuse? And if not sexually then in other ways. Were they also then abused themselves? Not all people who are abused go on to abuse as well, in fact, most don’t, but those who do abuse were abused one way or another themselves. Familial patterns like this one which popped up not 2 hours ago are scary!!
I feel physically ill, and my blood is boiling. But the things that boggle my mind the most about this happy snap shared with the world today are the questions in my head; Do they pretend there is no abuse? Do they all just get together and act as though nothing ever happened? Has it even stopped? Or has it been passed down to another generation? Do the spouses know? What is it like to be these people? To be C and stay within the fold and face their abuser on a very regular basis? … I don’t get it, but I understand that many people risk their own healing for the sake of remaining within the tribe. It’s all in or all out. There is no middle road.
G has left from this equation entirely and at enormous cost, but it has been vital to their survival. They have never and will likely never confront this lot or the rest of the extended family. This has been the only way to stop the cycle and to protect their own children. It’s not worth taking on the whole tribe.
Whether you have chosen to remain or leave, the cost is huge. And the photos going out there during and post-Christmas can have a massive impact on so many levels…
If you too are struggling through this season of family secrets and nightmares, know you are not alone. I hear you!! If, however, you need some more than just a little encouragement right now, I highly recommend giving a shout out to Matt Pappas at “Beyond Your Past“! He’s a fabulous listener with incredible personal experience.