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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Abuse & Assault » Talking about child sexual abuse

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Author Topic: Talking about child sexual abuse
coralee
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Member # 43628

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So I have a question about how to discuss sexual abuse with someone you trust. Recently I had been talking to my pastor about sexual abuse and harassment that I went through not long ago. Last time we talked I told him I was going out of town for a few weeks and he said several times to email him if I wanted. So while I was gone I thought a lot about what we had discussed and I decided to tell him that I was sexually abused by a family member when I was a kid. This isn't something I've ever told anyone. So I wrote him an email about this. This was like a week ago, and I know he checks his email and responds to it frequently, since I've emailed him before. But he hasn't responded to my email. I know the email might have just gotten lost or something, but that isn't really the point.

What I'm really worried about is that it was a bad choice to email him about this. I've tried to convince myself that it was wrong to bring up this topic on email, as it's not something anyone wants to get an email about, that it was insensitive of me to do this, etc. But then again I kind of feel like it is a big enough issue that I shouldn't feel bad about talking about it, even if I didn't pick the best way to do it.

So I guess I'm looking for advice on how to approach discussing this issue with him (or with anyone else, for that matter). Because while I feel I can talk about the other issues, talking about the child abuse issue makes me really nervous. I feel bad about bringing it up, talking about it in the wrong way, etc. Mostly because as a kid I did sexual things that weren't really appropriate, and I think it was because of the abuse, but it's embarrassing anyway.

The other thing is that my pastor seems kind of nervous when I talk about the graphic details of my experiences. I know in church they don't always talk about this stuff as much as they should, but I figure if I could go through it he can survive hearing about the details. So again I don't know if it is impolite (for lack of a better word) to talk about graphic details with him and I should be more careful in what I say, or if I should find someone else to talk to about certain things if he is not comfortable discussing this with me. On the whole he doesn't make me feel bad about talking with him, other than he seems to kind of avoid discussing what I specifically, physically went through. But I sometimes feel like I have to talk about that.

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atm1
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Sometimes, it is best to see a counselor who has dealt with abuse survivors frequently, which your pastor simply may not have.

If he invited you to send an email, and knew it might be about this topic, then you really shouldn't blame yourself if your email upset him. He has taken on a particular role for you, and (if I understand correctly) he hasn't asked you to stop discussing particular issues. BUT, it might be appropriate to ask him if there are things he is okay listening to and things that he isn't okay with. If he feels he can't handle the really tough stuff, maybe he can help you find a local counselor who specializes in childhood abuse.

Now, the situation would be different if it was not a person who is specifically taking on a counseling role for you. In general, if you're talking and someone gets visibly upset, it's a good rule to check in with them, and ask them if they're okay hearing what you're saying. Sometimes, it's just too hard for people, and we need to respect their wishes to know or not know certain things.

I'm a rape survivor, and my partner does not know details of my rapes because he has explicitly asked to only be told what I feel I need to tell him. It simply hurts him too much to hear the details, so he doesn't know, and I'm alright with that. I'm also cautious with other people, because sometimes those around us have been abused too and we just don't know. For many people, hearing about someone else's abuse triggers memories and very strong emotions relating to their own abuse. And you never know if you're going to have that kind of impact.

Anyways, my general rule for talking to people about it is to simply ask, "Is it okay for me to talk about some graphic stuff relating to my abuse?" Do you think trying something similar would work?

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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I'd also just bear in mind that it's up to people in a counseling position -- which certainly includes pastors -- to be clear with you about their limitations. We all have them, it's just about which we have, uniquely.

So, ideally, if that silence is about feeling out of his depth, it's on him to say if and when he is out of his depth, or doesn't know how to respond, not up to you to try and guess. Know what I mean?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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coralee
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Thank you, that is very helpful. I definitely try not to keep on talking about a topic which seems to upset someone. But I guess it can't hurt to ask if discussing that topic is ok with the person.
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atm1
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I rarely ever hurts, and I definitely agree with Heather (I mentioned it briefly, but it wasn't super clear), that when someone is in a counseling position, the onus is on them to mention what they're able to help with and what they're not. So it's his job to bring that up, not yours. I just suggested it because it might lead to a conversation of him helping you find someone who is potentially more qualified.

I do think that talking about sexual abuse is important, in part because it makes people uncomfortable (which is because there is so much silence surrounding it, even though so, so many people go through it in their lives). BUT there are different levels of discomfort. Making someone a bit uncomfortable and forcing them to acknowledge that abuse happens is often a good thing. Making someone so uncomfortable that they break down in tears is often not a good thing. It just depends.

I will say that one of the best things about bringing up abuse with other people is that frequently you speaking up with inspire someone else to or simply make them feel less alone in their experience.

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Just to also be sure it's clear, you are more than welcome to talk with us about your abuse or any related issues here if you'd like, coralee.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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