What no one wants to know

One afternoon ast year, I was walking up the street to catch the bus I was taking to get to my grad school classes at night.

As I was walking, a little girl came out of one of the buildings and started walking just a few feet in front of me. She was around six years-old, and was walking alone. I started to panic. I felt sick to my stomach. I was hoping she’d go inside somewhere, but she just kept walking in front of me.

I was scared for her. This girl is in danger. She’s going to get hurt. I wasn’t scared that she was going to get kidnapped or anything like that. I was scared that she was going to be hurt by me.

I am scared to be near children. It’s a crippling fear of mine. I don’t want to hold anyone’s baby. I don’t want to babysit anyone’s toddler. I avoid children at all costs. When I see them, I run away. It’s part of the reason I have not, and never will, have children of my own.

It’s not so much a fear of children (although some are quite scary). It’s the fear that I will hurt them. The fear that I am a predator, an abuser just like my mother was and is. They say the cycle of abuse continues, the abused become the abusers. I think that’s true, because I think that is me.

It’s a topic you won’t find in any support groups. It’s something hush-hush, something to be ashamed of. And I agree. I never told a soul what I had done until I hesitantly brought it up to my therapist last year, after suffering from painful flashbacks of incidents from my childhood, incidents in which I hurt other children.

I didn’t know any better. I was a child, too, a child who believed that all little girls were supposed to be “helped” in the bathroom, a child who thought it was normal to touch parts that shouldn’t be touched. I didn’t know it was wrong. I didn’t know I was hurting other children. I was just doing what I was taught was okay.

I realized the reality of the situation when I started getting flashbacks in my early 20s. At that point, I knew what I had done. I knew I hurt children, in the same ways I was hurt. I was no better than any other abuser.

I hid it from the world for so long, even after I told my therapist. It was the one topic I never discussed with anyone else, the one topic I could never write about on this blog until today. I was still ashamed. I still am ashamed. And I carry that shame and guilt with me every day of my life.

They say the best way to counteract shame is to tell people the wrongs you have done. I realize that this may hurt me further. I realize some will respond with disgust, and even hatred. But I am taking the chance that at least one person will understand. I can’t be the only one out here. I don’t want to be the only one.

Why talk about this now?

I did something last week, something I’ve been afraid to do. I acted against my fear. In DBT, they call it opposite to emotion action. If your fear is unjustified, you don’t run away or avoid, you approach. And that’s what I did.

I was in the mall trying to get to the bus stop. All of a sudden, a group of Daisy girl scouts ambushed me. Usually, I would dash and run away, but I couldn’t do that because I am still using crutches. I froze for a minute, physically and mentally. Then I remembered, approach don’t avoid. You are not your mother. You are not a predator. I came back to reality, and stood there and listened as they sold me two boxes of cookies. The anxiety was still there, stewing inside of me; the panic was, too. But after a few minutes, it was all over. I got my cookies. I talked to children. And I didn’t hurt them.

I faced one of my biggest fears head on, doing something I had avoided for so long. The fear was still there; I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. But here was evidence that I could be near a child without hurting her.

I shared my experience in program the next day (without sharing the details of what caused the fear in the first place). I’m not sure anyone quite understood the gravity of my fear, because they don’t know my story much at all. But they didn’t judge me.

And neither did my therapist at program. We talked about it more in individual session the following day. It was uncomfortable for me at first, because I was afraid she would ask me the question I had been avoiding every time someones asked have you ever hurt someone? 

My therapist asked if my fear of children was justified or unjustified, and I told her I wasn’t sure. I really wasn’t. In a way it is justified, I thought. I have hurt children in the past. But not in the present. Not as a conscious adult. Not as a perpetrator. So then it’s unjustified. She asked my reasons for the fear being justified. I felt the shame rising up again. I told her I hurt a child, but I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I was just a child. I was afraid of her reaction. This was a woman who knew me all of two months, and yet she knew so much about it already — and now this.

She asked if I ever had urges to hurt a child. I never have. I can’t even imagine myself knowingly hurting a child. It’s not like that at all. But there is a fear of an urge. A fear that if I am left with children, an urge will come and I will hurt them. Like it’s something that has been ingrained in me. Like it’s something I inherited from my mother.

It’s fear that is both justified and unjustified. There are no easy answers. There is no easy explanation. The only thing I know is that I’ve hurt someone, but I am not my mother.

When you approach your fears, over time, they gradually lose their strength and you are able to overcome them. But this is not one of those fears. My therapist said it might get better over time, but I also may always be afraid of being near children; that fear may never go away. That’s understandable, and that’s okay. But it hurt me when she said that. Even though I know she’s right, I realized it’s just another part of life I have lost because of my past.

While children bring most people joy, they will bring me fear. And I may never be able to change that. Just like I can’t change what I have done, who I have hurt, or those who have hurt me.

I am sorry. Every minute of every hour of every day, I am sorry.

16 thoughts on “What no one wants to know

  1. You are brave, incredibly brave, to write and talk about this. I suspect many of us have stories somewhat like this (sadly). I have one, too, and I can’t bear to talk about it.

    But I know I’m not a threat to anyone now, and neither are you. We are thoughtful and aware and nothing like the people who have wounded us.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I don’t think I’m very brave. I didn’t admit it for a very long time. I thought I was alone and was afraid of the backlash of admitting something so terrible. But I guess I’m not so alone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s an incredible relief to know we are not alone in our pain, isn’t it? Not that we want others to suffer, of course. But it just means that our own suffering and shame are part of our shared humanity. We are not separate from everyone else, scarred and broken. We are like everyone else, scarred, broken, and yet still precious and good. I really do believe this.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Extremely difficult, but also courageous. The truth be known: everyone has something in their past. WE don’t know what it is to be sure but to that effect, we are all guilty, thus the need for salvation. Thank you for expressing yourself without holding back. I believe it will get easier for you as you encounter your fears head on. God be with you.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I applaud your courage and like Q said, I know that you are nothing like those who hurt you. You are taking so many steps to not be like them.

    That being said I so understand the fear. Keep talking about it. And remember, like you mention in the post, you were a child and literally had not been taught differently.

    I have a small idea of the courage it took to share with us and know that I really am glad you did. You are not wrong or bad, you were not aware of what you were doing. And I have so much love and care and empathy for all of you.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I share your fears. While I haven’t experienced CSA, I’m pretty sure I’ve harmed other children. I’m not judging, not disgusted, simply saying me too and thank you, thank you fir sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It seems so much easier to forgive others than to forgive oneself. As if I am any less deserving of the same understanding I give to others. But you are right, so right.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One of my therapists used to have me write out the sentence “It wasn’t my fault, I was a child” repeatedly. It helped with my unfair guilt I had about my abuse. Perhaps, something like this would be helpful to you. We were programmed to take on our abuser’s guilt and its kind of like programming the truth to cast out the lie.

        Like

  5. Hi,

    Your post touched me deeply. I have DID and been a victim of abuse for as long as I can remember. I to have hurt other children. Not with much force but it went further than the usual ‘exploring that you are a boy or you are a girl’ normal things.
    But now, I’m a mom. Of three children, and I never never never can imagine hurting them in anyway, I never have and I never will. So the things I did as a child were never about being the same as the abusers. They were the acts of a frightened little child who was trying to make sense of what was being done to her, of a child who didn’t understand what was happening or was taught that is was normal. For me, it was never about potentially hurting other children. I don’t know if that was case with you? Even if it was, I don’t feel like you can blame that hurting child, ever, the adults in your life should have kept you safe and set a better example of what’s normal and what is not.
    For me, since having children, the fear of being like my abusers has faded. I know I’m nothing like them because my children are happy and confident and safe. Because they are strong and not afraid to speak up. Because they know right touch from wrong touch.
    people are so fast with the ‘cycle of abuse’ comment but I think sometimes (not always) but sometimes people who ware abused make better parents, because they know how abuse can scar you for life. Because they know what Is wrong. Because they can do better.
    I think your brave,

    Julia

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Julia. You are brave, too.

      I wish I knew what my intentions were back then. I’m so emotionally disconnected from it, and haven’t been in a place where I could further try to process what happened. It’s frustrating to me, but understandable I guess.

      Your comment about parenting is true. The cycle of abuse isn’t always the case. Like you did, people can go the other way because they understand the gravity of what abuse does to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing this. It is very brave to admit – I think there are many people with these sort of fears, whether it relates CSA or some other sort of neglect or abuse, and it is all kept hidden because it is often judged so harshly by people who don’t understand where these fears and actions come from. You were just a child and not in a position then to know that what you did was anything other than normal and right. It is still hard to make that fear go away now that you are an adult.

    My story is different from yours, but I do relate to the fear of hurting children (In my case babies) through my actions or inactions. Some of the reasons behind this are ones that I doubt I will ever feel comfortable sharing. Spending time with my baby niece earlier this year was an enormous struggle, but it did get easier the more I did it. I admire you a lot for facing your fears and trying to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It feels different hearing that these fears are shared by other people as well. Even though the stories aren’t the same all the time, the fear is quite similar.

      Like

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