She’d been held against her will for twenty-four years. She’d been raped over 3,000 times…by her own father, no less. She’d bore seven of her father’s children in a tiny hideaway he’d built under his house. Yet Elizabeth Fritzl’s first words after being rescued were, “No one will believe me anyways.”
“No one will believe me anyways.”
The cellar was there. The children were there. She had been reported missing twenty-four years ago. Yet, so strong was the brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome that she truly felt that “No one will believe me anyways.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly how we victims / survivors of narcissists abuse also feel. Because we aren’t believed. Telling your tale of abuse feels like trying to sell a beat-up old car that was only driven by a little ol’ lady in stock car races. It’s an uphill job against the quizzical expression, the uplifted cynical eyebrow. We begin to sound hollow and untrue to our own ears. Like whiny, pathetic complainers merely playing at being a victim. Sometimes even our psychologists don’t believe us. Or they obviously don’t think it was “that bad,” finding reasons our abuser behaved as they did. Excusing them when they should be in our corner.
We end of up feeling like Elizabeth Fritzl. No one believes us anyways. So why try?
Betraying the Brainwashing
The worst part of not being believed is how big a price we pay by daring to call what we’ve suffered “abuse” in the first place. It takes all our courage to betray the brainwashing and mind control, to reveal the shame. Takes all our moxy to flip denial the bird.
We take a dare. We dare ourselves to call it “abuse,” then wait to see what the backlash will be. Will we be believed? Will we be shamed? Will our abusers deny it? Will they try to re-brainwash us? Will they threaten? Will they attack?
The abusers know they’re abusing and that’s why they use so many words to convince us that we deserve it, we need it, we asked for it.
Their brainwashing is the flip-side of our denial. If they didn’t believe their actions were wrong, they wouldn’t gaslight us about them. And if we didn’t believe their actions were wrong, we wouldn’t be in denial.
And all the time, we keep remembering the reasons they gave for abusing us in the first place. The many words abusers use to explain, excuse or threaten…because they know they’re doing wrong. Mr. Dunn, a sort-of UK-version of Josef Fritzl, told the 10-year old girl he raped in the 1970s, “It’s what boyfriends and girlfriends do,” and threatened to take her to court for “slander” if she ever told. She didn’t. He continued to rape for forty more years.
After all, no one would believe her anyways. Not even the police.
Physical Abuse vs Emotional Abuse
It’s strange how a large percentage of people still see physical abuse as “real” abuse and mental/emotional abuse as, “You actually believed that shit? C’mon! Get over it. Buck up.” Both types of abuse are horrible and utterly unacceptable. But words never heal, never go away, never get forgotten.
I’d almost forgotten the day my dad’s fist landed on my jaw. But I do vividly recall him coming to my room, sitting down next to me and saying scornfully, “It wasn’t a punch. And don’t tell your mother about this.” Well…if it wasn’t a punch, why must I keep it a secret? Ah, gaslighting!
I’d almost forgotten my mother slapping me across the face or pinching my arms, painfully digging her fingers into my flesh. Now I see a co-dependent, desperate co-parent, who kept a lifetime of anger from the narcissistic abuse she didn’t know she suffered crammed into a closet of shame.
Like a drug, we need a constant supply of validation because we don’t quite believe ourselves. So we keep repeating our story to convince ourselves by convincing others.
But what I do remember vividly are their words. All of them. Verbatim. I remember the words, when they were spoken and the context. As if on cue, the words come back to me in the appropriate context. The pre-recorded message plays on a loop. Lecturing me. Brainwashing me. Shaming me.
But no one believes me anyways…especially those who did it.
The Quizzical Psychologist
Even with my psychologist, I sometimes gets the feeling that he doesn’t quite believe me either. That I’m pedaling uphill against cynicism. Perhaps it’s because he responds to everything I say with a raised eyebrow. It’s his “go to” facial expression. Come to think on it, my last psychologist responded to everything with a eyebrow-on-auto-pilot response too. My current one meets everything with one raised eyebrow as well. As a quivering mass of hyper-sensitive codependence, that eyebrow-on-a-string tells me that he doesn’t believe me. Oh, he probably does but I can’t get over that raised eyebrow.
But there was one wonderful day when he was going on-and-on about personal boundaries, and how it may be okay for mothers to share a bathroom stall with their daughters until a particular age. “Oh? And what age might that be?” I snapped. “Twenty-nine!?! We’d still be sharing if I hadn’t left! I never had any privacy.” His jaw dropped open. He was speechless. His PhD let him down. “Uh, I got nothin’,” he stammered. It was the best, most validating moment in counseling!
At that moment, I felt believed. It felt damn good!
It feels good when someone believes us, validates us. But that good feeling is fleeting. Like a drug, we need a constant supply of validation because we can’t quite bring ourselves to believe that our nearest and dearest abused us. So we keep repeating our story to convince ourselves by convincing others.
At the heart of this denial is an intrinsic, in-born, core belief system. All mothers should love their children. All fathers should support their children. All spouses should “love, honor and cherish.” It flies in the face of nature that a Mother have no empathy for her children. It’s beyond comprehension that a father believe the worst about his children. It strains credulity that a spouse would degrade the very person they vowed to “love.” We just can’t believe it! No! It couldn’t possibly have happened…yet, it did.
Like the denial and bargaining that’s part of the grieving process over a physical death, the human mind isn’t designed to comprehend family-abusing-family. It flies in the face of Nature.
The abusers know it and that’s why they use so many words to convince us that we deserve it, we need it, we asked for it. Their brainwashing is the flip-side of our denial. If they didn’t believe their actions were wrong, they wouldn’t gaslight us about them. And if we didn’t believe their actions were wrong, we wouldn’t be in denial.
In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter if no one believes us. Because we know the truth. We vividly remember what happened. We remember verbatim what was said.
What matters is that we believe ourselves.