I have, thankfully, many people in my life who have never experienced abuse.
And as I have grown in awareness, I see the example they have shown me.
Abuse and trauma always leave an imprint throughout one’s life in both big and small ways. Recovering involves realizing how this imprint may be still stamping its way across one’s life.
It is not as if those who have not been abused do not have difficulties in life, personality challenges and so forth. They, of course, do. What is striking though is their different mindset.
My husband, for example, did something in his teen years that would have me ( with my own strange post-abuse perceptions) cringing in shame and self-hatred. If I had done this act, I would still be chastising myself with “I hate myself. How could I do something like that?” decades later.
When my husband recounts his story, he expresses no such thing. He talks about what he learned from the experience, how immature he was, but none of the self-hate and shame so common to abuse victims.
He also does not express the ridiculous standards most abuse victims hold themselves to- I.e. “I should have known better. I should always anticipate. I should be perfect. I am so worthless if I can’t be perfect.”
Abuse victims think they must control everything in life, because it is the only hope they have of escaping the abuse.
I have friend, who I admit, I have at times idolized. She is so friendly and warm and giving and everyone likes to be with her. As importantly, I have come to realize, she LIKES being around people. She is confident with people, and her ability to relate to people.
She wants others to come talk to her, while I sit and hide and try to avoid eye contact. I am an expert at “let me get out of here” maneuverings when other people are involved. Unlike her, I do not trust others will accept me, so I think symbolically hiding is my best route.
With this friend, before my awareness, I would mentally beat myself up. I would ask myself why I could not be more like her, more confident, more natural with others and so on.
And she made an off-hand comment over coffee one day discussing the arc of her childhood, certainly not in reference to me, and she said, “I have my own childhood narrative, not one of abuse…”
In these words, I found a different sense of myself and my reactions. it is not that I have failed in some way to be more like her, but rather, the imprint of abuse causes my reactions to be different than had I not been abused.
I am not being a victim here, indicating because I was abused, I can never have a social life and so on. It’s not that.
It is simply learning that having been abused my approach to life is a bit different. This experience colors my responses and perceptions of the world.
Those people who have not been abused in my life have shown me that one can enjoy one’s self, truly, and enjoy others along the way. They have also taught me that shame, self-hate, and overwhelming self-judgment and guilt are not “givens” for living the good life.
Sometimes we learn a great deal from those who have walked our paths. At other times, we are equally blessed to be shown a completely different path.