Sunday, February 1, 2015

I can’t get past the abuse I suffered as a child

A 39-year-old woman who was abused as a child feels disgusted and ashamed. She’s taken the first step, says Mariella Frostrup, now she needs professional help

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to
children in a playground
‘You’re a long way from the playground now and there is light, luminous and healing, at the end of this dark tunnel’: Mariella Frostrup advises a woman who was bullied as a child. Photograph: Denis Thorpe/the Guardian
The dilemma When I was five years old I tried to make friends with an older girl who was actually bullying me (which I thought was “normal” behaviour). She would spit at me, punch and kick me and rub herself and wipe it over me. She then masturbated me. In time I moved away (eight years of age) and went to a different school where I was also badly bullied, hair pulled, punched and kicked everyday. The children calling me names was the only game I knew when I chased after them. I tried to tell my teacher about the bullying and was told “to stop telling tales”. I also tried to tell my mum and she told me “to tell the teacher”. My body was covered in bruises. But I am very ashamed and guilty and so sorry to say that also I masturbated with another eight-year-old girl and feel so disgusted with myself. I am 39 now and this has cost me jobs and relationships and family members have turned their backs on me. I even suffered a breakdown.
Mariella replies Well I’d say it’s high time to put a stop to all this. You’ve clearly suffered badly, with no support from the adults around you when you were at your most vulnerable. That doesn’t mean you should be eking out an existence in a crepuscular world trapped by ghosts from the past. It’s not particularly helpful to point out, but it’s all too common that, decades hence, those early childhood traumas are still shaping your life.
Would you like to slam the lid shut on Pandora’s box and build a life that’s demon free? If so, it’s going to take some hard work from your end, but you’ve already taken a big step forward. Next, you must turn to qualified people who really can improve your life. Contact the National Association for People Abused as Children (0808 801 0330) or Supportline (01708 765 200).
I totally understand how badly scarred you must be from being left to fend for yourself in that environment, but you’re a long way from the playground now and there is light, luminous and healing, at the end of this dark tunnel. My contribution to the process will be minimal, but I do hope you let it propel you forward.
The experiences that you are allowing to destroy your life are nothing to be ashamed of. Children are inquisitive and often learn about their own bodies via their contemporaries or, perhaps less innocently, older kids. There’s no point in pretending that we don’t lay a hand on our own bodies or anyone else’s before we hit the age of consent. Whether it’s boys competitive masturbating or girls explaining to each other how to get that “nice feeling”, you’re not the first child to have discovered aspects of your sexuality with a mate. The issue is that those experiments, if they do occur, should take place between willing contemporaries, not in an abusive scenario like the first one you describe.
I had a friend whose eight-year-old used to masturbate furiously in the window of their semi-detached house, her mum only finding out about it when a neighbour complained. I tell you that to illustrate how most kids are naturally curious about their bodies and what we don’t explain to them they’ll find out for themselves.
You’ve been abused, even if your tormentors were children themselves. By understanding that you can hopefully learn to stop blaming yourself. Dare I say you also need to stop blaming everyone else? Your initial oppressor sounds like she had plenty of issues herself. Unless she’s sought help I don’t expect she is very happy today. That doesn’t condone what she put you through, but she was also a young child.
An appointment with a therapist is a must. Talk to your GP about finding a good local therapist or try the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. Nothing of value in our lives comes easily, but the effort you put in will be rewarded. Clear some brain space for a whole host of new ideas and when you manage to do that, mark my words, the world around you and the attitudes of the people in it, will be transformed for the better.
If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to Follow Mariella on Twitter @mariellaf1
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