It’s been awhile since I’ve written in depth about some of the direct effects abuse has had on my life. Today I’m going to cover a topic that often hurts worse than the abuse I suffered at the hands of men. I’m talking about female abuse and abusers. If you have suffered this type of abuse, please use caution in reading this blog. I try not to go into voyeuristic details, but even the emotion of it may be triggering.
The series I did on predators focused mainly on men. However, female abusers–while perhaps less prevalent–are certainly no less dangerous. Children instinctively know they can turn to females for softer, more nurturing support. Females are supposed to be protective, like mother hens, gathering their chicks beneath their wings and shielding them from perils of the world. Females are supposed to be emotional reservoirs we can draw from–as children and as adults–when we need to quench the hurting parts of our female spirits.
But not all females are like that.
More than one female in my life violated emotional and physical boundaries when I was a child. Those violations robbed me of the ability to trust and nurture and feel. The soft, female part of me God molded in my mother’s womb was slowly hardened and destroyed. As a result, I didn’t know how to be a friend when I was growing up. I was daunted and intimidated by girls throughout school who were thrilled about slumber parties and painted fingernails and ear piercings and the lifestyles depicted in Seventeen. Even when a female did try to befriend me, it felt awkward and weird. And eventually, many girls thought I was awkward and weird, too.
I was sure any female who had an interest in me had ulterior motives. Except for a few, the females I was closest to were only kind when they wanted something in return . . . something that wasn’t theirs to take . . . or something I didn’t have to give. I have a handful of female friends who’ve known me since childhood, and I’m sure they can attest to my dysfunctional tendencies: I give a little. I hide a little. They give a little. I hide a lot.
In college, I felt a little better because it was okay for a girl to hang around a platonic gaggle of guys. At least, most of my guy friends then didn’t seem to mind. Back then, they saved me from the claustrophobia I often suffered in the sorority house.
I was ok, too, when I was dating and first married to my husband. Of course he was (and is) the center of my world, and as “young marrieds” it was okay to be that way. After having kiddos, though, things started to change. The rows of moms in mini-vans and matching Vera Bradley bags scared the crap out of me. I steered clear of mother’s-days out, preschool and most every large gathering of mothers and babies.
However, just like the predator series mentions, suffering female abuse as a child has made me a bulls-eye as an adult for other abusive, dysfunctional females, most of whom could be poster children for borderline, narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders. What does that look like? For me, it’s been women who cling to me and then berate me for asking politely for a little more space. Some women have horned in on life-long relationships and insisted I include them in every circle and activity I’m involved in . . . until the relationships break off in horribly hurtful ways. Others are angered when I put up boundaries. They just don’t understand the difference between someone putting an arm around them in encouragement and sympathy, versus grabbing hold of my arm like a life-preserver and expecting to drag me into the depths and minutia of their predicaments. Sometimes it even felt like I was being followed by a female stalker.
Other times it’s just the voice of my past abusers that haunt me. Their whispers of threats and reminders of my powerlessness cause me to be paralyzed–sometimes still–if I’m ever in a position where I have to be alone with another woman.
Five-plus years of therapy are helping me re-learn healthy boundaries I never had the chance to develop. I’m learning it’s ok to say “no” without feeling guilty. I’m learning it’s okay to tell someone, “I really can’t go to that painful place with you, and I think you need to find God or a good therapist to go with you instead.”
And by the Grace of God, I’m learning that some women can be trusted. It’s okay to have a couple of good friends. And He’s been gracious enough to send safe women my way . . . women who understand and are kind enough to accept my need to tip-toe across the stepping stones that bridge the river of my shame and distrust.
“A righteous man is cautious in friendship . . . ” Proverbs 12:26
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1