I am curious and would like to take a poll. I wonder how many people grew up in family in which it was acceptable, even encouraged, to speak the truth. I know some people grew up in an environment in which it was okay to speak what you thought. I just don’t know enough of them.
Most people I know, no matter what the circumstances of not telling the truth, were supposed to be quiet. You were supposed to observe and not emulate the behavior you were seeing, but you were never supposed to say anything about it. You were never even supposed to ask a question to help you understand what you were seeing. To say the least, this creates a confusing environment. At the worst, it can create an environment in which the child can be groomed into silence by an abuser. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of grooming, Jennifer wrote about it in this post.
Under most normal circumstances, are children and people not supposed to be curious and ask about what is going on around them? Generally, I think curiosity is supposed to be a good thing. It is supposed to encourage interconnection to the world around us, creativity, thoughtfulness, the quest for more knowledge. It is supposed to be good.
There are many situations, however, in which the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is strong and fiercely enforced. In the home of an alcoholic parent, children are quickly taught to not ask mommy why she is drinking something for breakfast the child had previously been taught was just for special occasions. In families where one person is a drug addict, kids are told not to wonder where the money from their piggy bank went. In families in which sexual abuse is present, children learn very quickly not to ask why mommy takes a bath with her teenaged son.
In many cases, this atmosphere of not telling is not even said out loud. We are just supposed to know what not to say. We are supposed to say it with a smile, while inside, we are feeling utter despair and blaming ourselves. We are supposed to smile and say, yes, my dad is the best dad I could have ever asked for. He is so sweet and works so hard to support our family. The words that go unspoken are how he comes home from a tough day at the office and beat the crap out of our mom because the carrots were cold.
We are told to “Tell the truth.” We are told, “Don’t lie.” In so many circumstances children are supposed to know which truths to tell and that there are many you do not tell. Ever. It would be a betrayal of the family.
Um. Hello? Wasn’t the family betrayed when dad got AIDS from his intravenous drug habit, for which he never wanted to get help? Wasn’t the family betrayed when the brother held his sister down and raped her and her parents told her to forget about it when she tried to tell what happened? Betrayal came long before the truth even started to form on one family member’s lips.
The truth is not betrayal. The truth is the beginning of healing. When I was being abused, I wanted to write the truth for the answer to every question on every test I ever took. Question: What is the capital of Kentucky? Answer: (I’m being sexually abused by my father) Frankfort. When I went to the emergency room with debilitating stomach pains the doctor asked, “What brings you in tonight? Answer: (I’m being sexually abused by my father) It must have been the greasy food I ate.
When I reported my father to the police, I did not betray my father. He betrayed me when he started watching me in the shower and calling me into his bed. I was telling the truth. He was the one doing all the betrayal. I did not betray my family. I was doing what I’d always been taught. Tell the truth. If someone is hurting you, tell. Apparently that was only supposed to apply if a stranger was hurting me.
People will hate you if you tell the truth. They will blame you. They will malign you. They might not talk to you anymore. They want you to be quiet. Be a good girl. Don’t speak ill of your family.
If you do not tell the truth, you will hate you. You will blame you. You will malign yourself. The abuser wins because your silence comes easily to them. It does not come easily to you. It can and probably will destroy you.
No matter what the betrayal was, I hope you find someone to tell. I wish it would always be a supportive family member who said, “I’m so sorry you are going through this and I will do everything I can to help you and to help keep you safe.” I also hope they really follow through. For most of us, that doesn’t happen. If that is the case for you, I hope you find someone in your life to tell. You deserve the freedom speech can bring.
Telling is not right for everyone. If you have chosen not to tell, that is your choice, but make it for you. Not for them. They don’t deserve your silence.