August 15, 2023

Why Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors Fear Criticism.

Dear childhood sexual abuse survivor,

Being vulnerable for the sake of healing, or the sake of growth in self-awareness, is courageous of you. I applaud you.

I know how hard that is. But I also know how necessary it is, especially in relationships, to vulnerably share what we are going through.

I love being vulnerable because I learned that my vulnerability opens doors for other people to share their deepest inner thoughts with me. It sparks conversations and leads to healing.

We all need healing and we all seek to be understood. But we cannot be understood if we fear opening up. If we don’t share our heart, we can’t be heard. Being open and vulnerable is brave and honorable: I admire you if you can do that.

Opening up our hearts leaves us vulnerable to attack. That is why vulnerability is so courageous.

The other day, I posted a vulnerable thought in a social media community. I’ve been particularly good at sharing how I feel or what I’m thinking about. I can no longer stay quiet and pretend. I wasn’t always like this.

I spent decades not being authentic. I used to be timid. I shied away from looking into people’s eyes. I never shared how I really felt and constantly let people know that I was “okay.” Even when nothing was okay. I was proud of the fact that I could be okay even in the worst moments. I wasn’t really okay. I just was too afraid to voice my concerns because of fear of criticism.

After I went through my divorce, I began to connect with my soul, on a personal level. I accessed memories I didn’t know were there and began to share what I remembered with my journal, my therapists, and new friends. I was seeking to be understood by allowing myself to be open and vulnerable. I realized I could no longer hide myself.

I tried to understand myself and in the process help other people understand me.

Sometimes people would attack me, insult me, or claim that I was wrong. Every time I was faced with anger and denial, I would shrink a little inside.

The harsh words of criticism would leave me wishing I had never opened up and shared myself with others.

Words can trigger anxiety and cause a panic attack. This is the reason why we sometimes say “trigger warning” at the beginning of a potentially triggering post in a trauma support group. Fact is, not everyone is self-aware and many people carry hidden trauma they are not aware of, so they don’t always mean what they say; they can’t see you on the other side of the screen and don’t know you suffer from post-traumatic stress.

They are so self-unaware and emotionally immature that they inadvertently hurt you with their thoughtless comments and false virtue. Sometimes, a whole bunch of people gang up against you and bully you online. The old childhood trauma repeats all over again.

Adding insult to injury, we are often told to get over it or that its nobody’s fault that we are “so sensitive“.

It hurts to hear that because if I could, I would change what happened to me and quickly heal for you.

After living for many years in an unhealthy environment with a childhood sexual abuser, I no longer have the luxury of changing my nervous system to how it was before the trauma began. My brain has forever changed.

There is a maximum amount of stress I can manage after being exposed to severe trauma as a child, which is much lower than many people who never experienced that.

I can’t stop feeling the anxiety creeping up inside of me as I am reading someone’s comment to one of my vulnerable posts online. This is the reason why I often delete all my social media apps for a couple of weeks. I cannot manage the stress the images and words of unaware people cause me online. I can’t manage that in person; now it’s in my living room on a screen.

What have we done to ourselves? We invited the whole world’s anger, rejection, and denial into our homes that are supposed to be a safe haven.

I learned the other day that our needs for safety and understanding in a relationship can invite narcissistic people into our lives. Filling our needs makes them desirable and gives them free range to control everything, because they know we need them.

I realized that it is I who need to provide that safety and understanding for myself. Others can’t do that for me. And when I do that for myself, bad relationships can no longer happen because my boundaries become strong and I pick up on red flags in an instant.

We cannot assume that our partners know what is happening inside of us; we must share with them. But every so often, when we share ourselves and think we are doing the best we can to help our partner understand us better so that we can have a harmonious relationship, we find out that they forgot all about what we shared.

After all the vulnerable sharing, they still don’t seem to have learned who they are dating. But at this point, you, my friend, have done all you could.

We cannot make other people understand if they don’t want to.

We cannot make other people see things from our perspective if they are stuck in their own ways.

Eventually, we must choose our own peace and happiness over people who cause us distress.

Dear childhood sexual abuse survivor: you deserve better than that.


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