I was thinking a lot today about perspective. Actually, I’ve been thinking about it for a few days. I’ve read a lot of stories of the way people have suffered. I’ve read about women raped by their fathers, the horrific story of Fritzl and how he kept his daughter in sexual slavery for 24 years, and tales of children who were forced to dance naked in front of a group of strangers. The tales that people recount about their lives vary widely. Some people talk about things like forced oral sex or anal penetration, while others refer back to being made to sleep with gloves on because of some archaic masturbation taboo and an overbearing psychotic mother.

I’ve noticed something. They all speak with the same tone. What happens to one person, such as a one time incident where a stranger raped her and what happens to another where she or he is systematically violated for years by their father all comes out in the same horrible, painful light. We don’t weigh the violations perpetrated against us and decide how much it will affect us. Our trauma and our pain does not listen to statistics, and doesn’t care how much worse it could have been. The triggers and fears and ways that it changes us don’t hinge on it being “bad enough”.

The other day, I was talking to a friend. I asked him point blank, “Did someone hurt you?”

He replied, “Not like you were hurt. Not nearly.”

That struck me. Am I any less a victim of childhood sexual abuse because it is compared to abuse that is ostensibly worse? Was my friend any less traumatized by his past just because no one forced him to do what I was made to do? I don’t think so. My friend explained that his father had been incredibly emotionally abusive and his mother hadn’t stood up for him. That made me think as well. Is there some sort of balance to that – he didn’t suffer physical violation, but at least I knew at the time that my mother thought what happened to me was wrong.

I feel, pretty strongly, that the trauma caused by abuse is entirely in the perspective of the one suffering it. We do not, we Children of the Secret, set out to compare our trauma to others and heal our troubled minds by saying, “Oh, I didn’t have it as bad as her, so I’m all better!”

When I was in my late teens, I was in the car driving with my mother and her then boyfriend to a wedding. We were cruising along and I loudly complained about being tired, but stopped there and mostly flopped against the seat to try and rest. My mother took this as an opening (a tactic so many parents love) to lay into me about my sleep behaviors and how my choice to stay up ridiculously late was my own damn fault, and screwing up my life, and on, and on.

Now maybe it was because I was in the back of a car (see my abuse history), and maybe it was because I was tired and overwrought and already on an emotional rollercoaster because weddings are giant overblown affairs, but I broke down and started to cry. I vented that I was afraid to go to sleep because of what the Monster had done to me, that I had to stay awake because I wasn’t safe, and nothing could change that.

My mother did a peculiar thing. She looked in the rear view mirror on the side of the car and said, “You know, whatever, what you’ve been through was nothing compared to what I’ve seen. Get over it.”

The other person in the car, her boyfriend, immediately leaped straight down her throat and told her in no uncertain terms that she was to take that back, right now, or she would regret it. He reminded her that what happened to me occurred when I was eleven, vulnerable, a child, and what happened to her took place when she was in her twenties. He reminded her that I was her daughter, and that she had no right to tell me to just get over something so terrible. He was right. For that moment, for we have had many ups and downs since, he was a hero to me.

So that’s something I’d like to say. If you read stories and think on your own trauma like you had it so much better and you shouldn’t be upset… Don’t.

A speaker I saw at my college was talking about privilege. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that privilege is something we don’t notice we have. It doesn’t make us bad people. A man doesn’t notice that a parking lot is scary because he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder the way a woman would. A Caucasian person doesn’t notice their privilege because they’ve never had racial slurs thrown at them on the subway. A woman sitting in a classroom doesn’t notice or care how she got there as anything other than an after thought, whereas the girl in the wheelchair has to constantly evaluate how she’s going to get to the second floor.

If you’ve never been raped, violated, humiliated, belittled, abused, or any of those things, you are not complicit in our pain. You are not a bad person just because you can’t empathize with me without conscious effort. In fact, I hope you never can.

We Children of the Secret have lost the privilege of our innocence, and no amount of comparing “levels” of trauma will make that any less so. We wake in the night and wonder what that sound was, we don’t trust, and we don’t love as easily.

How can you compare trauma anyway? What are the factors? Which of these two scenarios is worse:

1. A woman is pulled into an alley, raped an beaten. She has a rape kit done and successfully confronts her accuser, putting him in jail for ten years.

2. A small child is told by his father that he is a useless piece of shit, and his mother just averts her eyes and walks out of the room.

There are too many factors. The woman was more physically violated, sure. But when she went to court and faced her accuser, she was vindicated, and he was put away. The child gets no such satisfaction, but was never physically violated – just convinced he was a piece of shit by a father who abused him and a mother who was complicit in that abuse.

You can’t compare trauma. People are hurting because of what happens to them, not because they’ve measured it carefully by what happened to someone else.


~ by oniongirl13 on March 26, 2009.

6 Responses to “Perspective”

  1. I’d just like to thank you SO MUCH for this entry. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse,too and I know how we often compare ourselves to others and their stories and tell ourselves “it’s all not that bad”. But you are just damn right, you simply can’t compare trauma. thank you.
    I’ll come here again 🙂

    • Welcome aboard, and I hope to see you again soon. I’m glad the post helped; it’s something I rarely see said in reference to childhood sexual abuse, and something I wanted to make sure I said.

      Thank you for your response – it made posting all that so much more worth it.

  2. Hi OnionGirl,

    Thank you for posting this. You know, it’s funny – I often think about other experiences of abuse, and often theirs seems way worse than mine. Yet in my head I know I am not supposed to compare abuses because each person’s abuse is terrifying to that person, and each person’s experience is uniquely horrifying.

    • It’s so true. I remember reading your blog (which I’ve now caught up on) and thinking briefly in that way we all do that, “Oh, I didn’t have it that bad.” But it isn’t something you can quantify. It’s like that old adage, “Would you lose your sight, or your hearing, if you had to lose one?” Either way, you still lost something.

      Thank you for reading, and thank you for stopping by. It means a lot to me, coming from you. I don’t mean to sound hero worshiping, but it was your blog that inspired me to finally just say all this, and keep it coming.

  3. Hi OnionGirl,

    I am so touched by your sentiment. Thank you so much, and thank you for writing your own blog as well. I hope that all of us tell our story to the point where we are louder than they are.

  4. Thank you for your blog and your words.

    I too have come across this weighing of pain and abuse. It is counter-productive to anyone who has ever been hurt. Seeking and needing a hierarchy of abuse tends to inflict further pain.

    It makes some feel unworthy of therapy and healing, when they obviously need it.

    It makes us feel that others have it worse and so we can’t speak from our own core and our own pain lest we invalidate someone else.

    I think this is a kind of denial that we all caught like a disease from the society that we live in, one that invalidates and denies the realities of abuse and it’s long-term conseuences and aftereffects. We all deserve much more from our society than that. And I think that if we lived in a world that really did get it, instead of embracing denial, we survivors would not be tormenting ourselves with calculations of degrees of damage and abuse.

    Thank you for posting on this. I think that you are very brave.


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