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When people defend those who hurt you

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Betrayal trauma. Its impact is not simple to overcome. I think when someone is recovering from abuse, they sometimes spend more time healing from what happens after they speak up. This is what I think most cultures, religious spaces, and communities miss most when they inflict pain on another person.

The survivor’s point of view:

1). When abuse occurs, there is nothing in the mind and body that is prepared to name and understand what has happened. So the mind and body prior to being abused is living, breathing, scanning the people around you, processing and then…abuse. All of these functions change. Living becomes surviving. Breathing becomes catching your breath. Scanning the people around you, becomes scanning the world around every potential hidden danger. The space spent processing becomes skilled at hypervigilance and reshaping tunnels to live in with the hopes of never experiencing abuse again.

2). The amount of time spent adapting to life after abuse can hardly be named by calendars. It’s not just a date and time that it happened, but every date and time the body remembers. In that remembering, survivors sit with a lot of shame. The lack of exposure to compassion, curiosity, a listening ear, turns that pain into a dance with self-blame that models the tango, but never ends.

When they finally speak up, it is big. Huge. They have weighed the pros and cons of who will most likely believe them. They have bore witness to many innocent people being told by their communities to prove their innocence before their pain is marked “valid.” This is betrayal trauma.

3). In my limited experience, people take an abuser’s side when:

  • They have hurt others in similar ways and are protecting their past.
  • They have been hurt in similar ways and are not ready to address that.
  • They have seen enabling modeled a great deal and it is what is most familiar to them.
  • They are dependent on the abuser themselves.
  • They feel a sense of belonging when defending the perpetrator, as if they want to be in their good graces or chosen.

So, how do you heal from this? The betrayal trauma? I wish I had the power to put 1-2 sentences together that click for you, and Voila! You have relief. But, there is a lot of nuance needed for this type of complexity.

I don’t know that healing from their support of the abuser is what is needed, as much as healing from the loss of them in your life. I am always hesitant to tell anyone to cut people out, as it is a personal experience. However, enablers are dangerous. They are hard to spot, and they play a role that fades in and out, leaving you uncertain.

Until you get to a place where you recognize they are supporting who hurt you–your abuser. Even still, so many survivors will then try and make that make sense. They sometimes stay. They try to explain it better.

They work harder to get the enabler to wake up. And this is also something you have to grieve. The additional labor trying to get someone to do the work needed for themselves to heal.

I think healing from this is allowing this to be their story. Yes, it was incredibly painful to experience this betrayal. But, these were not your actions. This is not yours to mend. This is not for you to make sense of when it is senseless. I don’t mean “let it go,” as if this is casual and simple.

I mean healing from those who took their side, is giving them their story back. These are their actions, their choices, and what they are mapping out for their next steps. Is their grief in that for you? Confusion even? Yes. But this is not your story now. Your part in this story ended when they chose to comfort someone who abuses others, and that has to be a path they walk on and sort through on their own.

I think so many survivors are compassionate, empathetic, and sensitive, and we think we are trying to heal from people supporting our abuser, and what we are grieving is the loss of our reality. The fact that we were in relationships with people that were always unsafe, but we didn’t know it. The people supporting your abuser have always been in denial.

This isn’t new; it’s just been challenged by your new reality of speaking up, a reality that challenged everything that existed in your relationship to them.

To heal from this, is to grieve what was.

To heal from this, is to hold the complexity of fury that they did not stay with you and relief that you know their intentions.

To heal from this, is to give them their story back. These were their choices, and it will be their choice on whether or not to heal from harmful ways they lived and pretended to love.

This is not yours. The aftermath is, yes. But this is not your story anymore. If you can imagine a new tunnel in your mind that allows grief, anger, and sadness to pass through and leave.

It can validate how much it hurt to have them betray you, but also remind you that they have revealed to you things you never knew about them. Let them take it from here. Let that tunnel have a wide exit where other people’s bad decisions are theirs to live out.

To acknowledge that if you being abused wasn’t enough to get them to do the right thing, this was a time to heal from the loss of them, while you also heal from who they support.

I’m so glad you are here!
Nate

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