Tag Archives: childhood trauma

Misplaced loyalty

When we were in our mid-thirties, my cousin wrote me and asked if we could get together for dinner the next time I came home for a visit.

We grew up more like sisters than cousins, and as children, she knew me better than anyone else.

Her request to meet seemed a bit odd, though, because we had drifted apart after high school.

Now she was in therapy and had some questions for me. Her childhood memories were fuzzy and had some blank spaces; she hoped I would be able to bring clarity to her murkiness and fill in some of the blanks.

At dinner, she asked about one of our uncles. I shuddered.

“If we had known of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch,’” she said, “he would have been a bad-touch uncle.” I agreed.

As far back as I could remember, I had tried to avoid this uncle, who liked to bounce me on his lap and “tickle” my still-undeveloped breasts. She confided that she, too, had learned to give him a wide berth.

Even at a young age we both knew that other adults saw anything wrong in what he did to us, and no one would stop him.

“What about us?” my cousin asked. “Why didn’t anyone protect us? Why were we left to feel shame for something he did?”

God-healing-vulnerability

The memory of that dinner with my cousin thirty years ago resurfaced recently.

Lately, I seem to be tuned into the secrets people keep. In novels—where more is left unsaid than shared—and television detective stories—where people withhold facts from the police—what goes unsaid has been catching my attention.

Why the hesitation? The resistance? Why not tell all? 

The answer frequently is the desire to protect someone.

God-healing-vulnerability

Perhaps novelists and screenwriters are emphasizing the things people don’t say as a way of pointing out how common the practice is. Perhaps they are using their craft to nudge people into greater honesty because they know how harmful secrets can be, how damaging it is to protect people who are abusing their power.

Maybe I am more aware of the destructiveness of keeping secrets and protecting people because of what is happening in my church. Those in power seem to be willing to do anything to hold onto their power, covering up egregious acts and maintaining a code of silence. Or maybe it is because of politicians and celebrities demanding loyalty or paying hush money to keep their secrets.

Other than that dinner with my cousin, I have not talked about my uncle and the impact his actions had on me.

One thing I can see clearly, though, is how this early lesson helped shape my sense of “loyalty” and my understanding of the need to protect people who have something to lose—be it their reputation, job or family.  

In the end, the truth usually comes out. And it often turns out that people already knew, or at least had an inkling, of the truth.

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vulnerability-faith-hope

Finding my voice

When I approached the presenter at the cancer caregivers workshop to share my reaction to her words about hope, she responded, “I wish you would have said that at the mic.”

At the end of each presentation, we were invited to come to the mic and ask questions or share reflections.

But, I don’t do that; I don’t share in front of groups.

Ironically, I love public speaking and have done a fair amount of it for my nonprofit work. But there is a difference between telling other people’s stories and sharing my personal stories. Other people’s, ok. My own, not so much.

As a child, I was told that what happened in our house stayed in our house. We also did not talk inside our house about anything that happened. I felt invisible, as if no one cared what I was going through—or even noticed that I was there. I didn’t seem to matter.
vulnerability-faith-hopeBy my late twenties, I was an emotional mess and started going to therapy to help me process growing up in a chaotic house and to reconcile my past.

However, growing up in a home where I was told never to talk about what happened made sharing extremely stressful. Every time words formed about an experience or feeling, an alarm would sound inside my head. Do not say that!vulnerability-faith-hopeI was incapable of identifying what I was feeling, much less talking about it.

Early on in therapy, I shared one of my earliest memories.

I was four years old, playing in my back yard, when I found a dime. What luck! Even at that young age, I knew a dime could buy me something special. I remember how shiny it was and how fortunate I felt. And then my older brother saw what I had and claimed it was his. “No!” I shouted. “It’s mine!” He tried to take it from me, and I knew he would triumph, so I swallowed it.

My therapist commented, “And you have been swallowing every challenge since them.”

I once heard Fr. Richard Rohr talk about our shadow side, and he described it as a sack where we stuff all the negative things from our lives. The image that popped into my mind was of something like Santa’s bag—this huge sack, dragging behind me. I could feel the weight of it pulling me back.

My shadow bag was filled with twenty-eight years of negative experiences that I had swallowed and tamped down deeper and deeper.

As I began to unpack my shadow bag in therapy and at retreats, and look at my history, I started to realize that surviving those experiences had made me who I was; they had made me strong and resilient. Learning to talk about it—especially at the mic—is still a work in progress.vulnerability-faith-hope