Back when I was in therapy, my therapist would correct me every time I minimized some part of my molestation. I agonized when I worked the timeline based on the house we lived in, and the season, and realized I was most likely 9 when I was molested at a public pool and raped at a subsequent sleepover. Not 8 as I had thought. I blamed my 9 year old self for not being old enough to know better. My therapist asked me if I would blame my 9 year old daughter if it happened to her.
When I recounted for her the time my youth leader slid his hand up my minor thigh under the covers on a bus trip, I told her that his second wife once asked me if he’d ever touched me, and that I, at first, denied it, then minimized it. Not just because I didn’t want to ruin her upcoming wedding, but because I loved him like a father and had let him walk me down the aisle at my wedding. My therapist nodded knowingly and without judgment, then patiently helped me separate his misconduct from our relationship. She helped me realize I had a long history of minimization and compartmentalization, and that I came from a long line of minimizers and compartmentalizers.
When a friend from my youth asked me about another priest we both knew who had molested me for about a year as a teen, I was, by then, the mother of a small child. I had locked those memories in a box in the back of my closet, so, naturally, I minimized it to her too. I told her it was no big deal. But after she left, I pulled that box of memories out, read the journal I had kept, and felt my whole body shake and my stomach sicken at what I had squashed down and minimized to the point of forgetting.
It’s amazing what we do to ourselves to survive.
Since therapy, I’ve talked with other survivors. Some who’ve had to be talked out of seeing their teenage or pre-teen selves as mistresses, as scarlet-letter-bearers, instead of as the victims they were. And here’s why they felt that way. When you recall your minister untying your swim suit and fondling your privates, when you recall your mother’s boyfriend raping you on the way home from school, when you recall that wonderful, respected, patriarch of the family molesting you, you are, at once, 14, 17, 12, 10, 9, and 30, 40, 50 years old. You may have dissociated in some ways, but it’s still a mental and emotional hodge-podge of who you are now and who you were then. When a therapist or an understanding friend has you swap out your child or a kid down the street for yourself in that same situation, who is the victim here becomes clearer, and that clearer understanding of the victimization can evoke more anger than it did when it was just ____ and just you.