Invalidation is a common occurrence for those of us who have experienced sexual assault. At one time or another you have probably had someone say something that made you think they had no idea what you endured.
Depending on your experience, people might say different things to you when you tell them your story. When I share my story I leave out the horrific details because they can themselves be traumatizing to another person. (At least now that I’m more aware off of most medications.) I know what is inside my head and I don’t want to put it into theirs. I share specifics sometimes with my therapist, but he is trained to handle what I bring up. If I’m not comfortable sharing I journal what happened out to get it somewhere besides rolling around in my head.
With that being said, when I share my story I will mention, as I become comfortable with someone, that I have significant trauma history as a child. I don’t mention what it is yet, until I feel comfortable enough to say sexual abuse and rape to them.
Last September I attempted to try a new Bible study and being around 15 women who were married with children was too much. That has been taken away from me as I have been working in recovery during the prime of my life. I walked out and made it to the stairs before I starting crying so hard I had to sit down.
A lady that was at the church came and sat by me and I found myself spilling my guts to her. Normally I wouldn’t share with a stranger, but I was hysterical enough that I said, “I just can’t handle being around women holding their babies and talking about their husbands and children. I will never have that because while I should have been getting married and starting a family I was in therapy working through my trauma. I have significant trauma from my childhood to work through.”
After I said this to her, she said, “Well honey we all do.”
It was extremely invalidating. She made it sound like I’d chosen to take my time working through my trauma when others get on with their life. She had no idea how many years of trauma I endured, and I just started crying harder and said nothing. I didn’t know her at all and felt I’d said too much already.
Other times when I share who one of my abusers was people ask, “Well, how old was he?” Like that makes a difference in the trauma I endured. People are sometimes just ignorant to what has happened in our lives. I don’t mean that mean, it just is what it is. If they haven’t experienced a significant trauma they don’t know what it’s like to deal with it.
I will admit that before I began to remember all that happened to me, I had no idea the toll trauma takes on one’s life. If someone had told me they had complex PTSD I would have assumed they’d been at war not at home enduring abuse.
The only way to help people understand is to educate them. Kindly share what we can to help them realize the toll trauma takes on us. I am still learning how to share with others, because honestly speaking to someone is hard for me. I can write for hours, but put me face to face with someone and I freeze.
We will most likely be invalidated by people, but what we need to realize is we know what we have endured. Our therapist usually knows what we endured, and most of all God knows more than anyone here on earth. So, the next time you are discussing your history with someone and they invalidate you, take a moment to pray for the right words to educate them and one by one we can begin to change how the world sees sexual assault and its effects on the victims.
© 2020 Susan M. Clabaugh. All Rights Reserved.