Trigger warning: This post won’t go into the details of abuse but will discuss telling family members and friends about the abuse. If this is going to affect you poorly, please don’t read on any further. I have included details of a couple of helplines at the end if they’re helpful to you.
If you suffered any kind of abuse as a child, talking about it is very important and I would encourage it very strongly. Telling my best friend was one of the best choices I ever made, even though it was also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as soon as the words were out and he gave me a big hug, I felt a million times better. Also, in recent times, I’ve had much more positive reactions and attitudes from friends I’ve talked to about this.
But what nobody seems to prepare you for is how people might react negatively when you tell them that you were abused as a child. I’ve experienced three different reactions and I’d like to share this to help prepare anyone who is preparing themselves to talk to someone.
First reaction was when I told my best friend (incidentally, now husband). He knew something was wrong and asked. I could barely get the words out. As I said already, he gave me a big hug and basically offered all of the support I needed. He’s listened to me talk about it as much as a I want and he came with me to the Police station when I decided I wanted to make a statement and press charges. At the same time, I don’t think he’s ever treated me differently because of it. He doesn’t tiptoe around difficult subjects or not be straight with me about everything.
Second reaction was when I told members of my family. If I’m honest, I expected them to be extremely angry with my abuser, my older brother. I expected it to be treated like what it is: a huge issue. Something that had wrecked my life for years and made me feel incredibly depressed. Instead, they wanted it forgotten and never spoken of again. They seemed far more concerned about what other people would think if this ever became public knowledge, that it would be some kind of scandal. I have no idea if they even believed me. Neither of my parents ever asked me how I felt about it or if I was OK. They seemed shocked and confused when I left home, giving the reason that I couldn’t live under the same roof as my brother anymore. Even now, this makes me feel so angry and some of my PTSD symptoms are actually more about this than about the abuse.
Third reaction was when I told other friends. They believed me and showed sympathy. Many offered to go and physically assault my abuser, which I obviously said no to – nobody should be getting arrested over this except him. But they started treating me differently. They’d avoid talking about sex or anything related to it. They’d avoid talking about their own families, especially any older brothers. Eventually, one of my closest female friends admitted that she just didn’t know how to be around me anymore. While I appreciated her honesty, I was so hurt that admitting that this horrible thing that had been done to me, that I couldn’t have stopped from happening, was the reason we couldn’t be friends anymore.
Although I didn’t experience it myself, I do know that others who have spoken out about the abuse they’d suffered were not believed by some. I can only imagine how terrible it would feel to summon up the huge amount of courage needed to finally tell someone that something so horrific had happened to you, only to be called a liar.
Ideally, you would be able to expect support and to be believed and treated like a normal human being (for that is what you are!) but, as abuse victims are all too aware, the world is far from ideal. People do not behave well or as you would hope all of the time. Although I didn’t, I would now recommend to others that you have the number for a support helpline at the ready so that, if the person you choose to talk to doesn’t have a positive, supportive reaction, you have someone to talk to who can help. Perhaps you should call one of these helplines, and I’ll list a few I know of at the bottom of this post, beforehand to help prepare you.
I’d like to finish on this note. Despite everything, I’m so glad I decided to speak out. Keeping that secret, I really do believe, might have ended my life if I’d kept it for much longer. It eats away at you. So, if you have suffered abuse, please tell someone, whether it’s a good friend that you really trust or a professional or a volunteer on the phone. It’ll be a first step towards life getting better and life won’t get better until you do it. Just be prepared for what the reaction could be.
Thank you for reading.
NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) have two free helplines:
If you’re calling from a UK landline or a mobile provided by Virgin, Orange or 3, call 0800 085 3330
If you’re calling from a mobile provided by O2, Vodafone or T-mobile, call 0808 801 0331
Rape Crisis (England & Wales): 0808 802 9999