Monday, September 16, 2013

Autism Answer: ONE: It's not your Fault. TWO: What can you do different?

I wrote this article with a focus on sex abuse survivors. 

However, the idea that we are often afraid to learn from accidents or traumatic events where we really aren't to blame, but did play a a role, is universally problematic. Traveling down the "what could I do differently" path often reveals harmful choices we ourselves made that may have encouraged a disaster, or put us in the path of one. 

As parents we have to get comfortable knowing that the way we played, or didn't play, with our children is part of who they are becoming now. We must be willing to look at some of the rules we made, or didn't make, that may have been accidentally harmful to our children, because at one point we just didn't know better.

I see a willingness to look at our own part to play, even when it really wasn't our fault, as strong, brave and powerfully important. 

If you choose to read the article I wrote, please keep that point in mind. It's not about sexual abuse so much as it's about being open to learning from ourselves, even if it means seeing what we could have done different. 

Especially then!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Us teens enjoying some sun.
Man, that was long ago!! 

ONE: It’s not your Fault
TWO: What you can do Different

When a child is molested or an adult is raped they are told—rightfully!—that it’s not their fault. 

However, it is far less common to then point out what they could do different so that it’s less likely to happen again. It’s in this place that many of us survivors of sexual abuse are let down and harm ourselves even further. Because if it isn’t our fault, but there are no steps we can take to avoid it happening again, then the world is dangerous and unpredictable. And it has chosen to hurt us specifically. 

My step-dad (who we all called dad) molested me when I was twelve. I knew it wasn’t my fault, and I knew that if I told my mom she would not only believe me but would also make it stop. But I also felt like telling my mom would mean ruining our family, and that a strong woman could keep her mouth shut. I mention this because no matter how sincerely you tell a victim that they are not to blame, they’ll find something to feel responsible for—so it’s important to give them more. After my dad came into my room a second time I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle life in our home if I didn’t tell my mom. Plus, by then I’d started to see all of the other things he was doing inappropriately, even outside of the midnight molesting. It took some time and an unlikely opening (my mom told me I needed to keep my room cleaner and so I yelled at her, “Well maybe if someone would stop sneaking into my room at night to touch me, I would!”) but I did disclose the happening, and she did believe me. She also made it stop and we spent years learning about the cycle of abuse. 

After telling my mom our lives did change. For my mom it meant taking care of eight kids (six adopted, four on the spectrum of autism) by herself, but with a freedom to learn and teach and become who she’d always wanted to be. Life was much better, but also harder. Learning what you could have done differently is important, but it hurts. Because before you knew, you made dangerous choices. My molestation wasn’t my fault, and it also wasn’t my mom’s fault, but we both could have made choices that would have kept it from happening. 

This is what we are afraid to tell victims, because it sounds dangerously like blame. But it’s not blame, it’s knowledge and power. And if we care enough about victims then we need to be strong enough to listen, believe, and then let them hate us while we reveal what habits they can change to stay safe. In truth it is the victim themselves who will have to discover their own habits that need changing, but a friendly push in that direction is often needed. And potentially lifesaving. 

Think of it like this. You’re on your way to the mall and stopped at a red light. The light turns green, you go, and some distracted dork runs the red and hits you. The accident was not your fault, but you’d be a fool not to change a habit. From now on you’ll hopefully look and assess before going through the green, even though it should be perfectly safe. Likely you’ll also start wondering if it was your fault—were you thinking about that purse you want to buy or the hot guy that works in the shoe department? Regardless, it was not your fault, but there are things you can do different. 

When I was twelve, all I had to do was tell my mom about my step-dad’s lingering fingers when I was saying goodnight and he never would have actually molested me. This is an absolute truth, because my mom would have kicked him out. And if my mom had taken the steps to learn why she had been raped, molested and beaten as a younger woman, she never would have married my step-dad in the first place. This is an absolute truth. 

So if you are a victim, if you know a victim (or even an abuser, but that’s for another post!) please speak up and out. Don’t blame, but don’t ever be afraid to see what can be done different! 

The world is full of all types of kind and cruel, and though it isn’t your place to judge which is which in the lives of others, it is your place to judge for yourself. It is your right to keep yourself safe. You are your most important responsibility. Love yourself, respect yourself and take care of yourself. Almost always that means to learn from yourself.  

It’s not your fault. Now discover what you can do different and take control of your healing. Take control of your happiness. 

It happened, so give it a reason.