How Society Failed to Protect Me from Incest
Updated: Apr 22
I’ve heard so many times in my life about incest and how bad it is, but as if it was happening to someone else.
My grandfather sexually abused me over the course of a few years: from preschool until I was around 11 years old. As my psychotherapist explained to me recently, repeated abuse is a complex trauma, because it lasted over the course of several years during my early primary years.
When I look back, I grew up believing this behavior was a normal part of my relationship with my grandfather. But deep inside I didn’t feel comfortable and unconsciously knew something was not right. To survive, I suppressed my feelings and dissociated from myself.
As a teenager, I screamed for help in different ways because I didn’t know how to process the experiences of incest. I started abusing alcohol everyday. During my drunk episodes, I would talk about what happened through tears to my friends. No one took me seriously. I even remember writing a school assignment about the experience, but the professor didn’t notice anything was wrong.
My mother sent me to a psychotherapist to address the alcohol abuse. I was going there for years, I even think I told the therapist about the incest, but I don’t remember that we processed it or that something was done to keep me completely away from him.
My memories from that time are a blur, I can’t really remember to whom I said exactly what, and who knew what. However, reflecting back from today's perspective, I have a feeling I was being vocal, but no noticeable support was coming back.
During my college years, I had a countless number of relationships with boyfriends and lovers, none of which lasted longer than a few months. I was promiscuous. I had a very unhealthy 10 year long marriage where my ex-husband mentally abused me. With time he became so unsatisfied with me, that he decided to divorce. I found that a perfect opportunity to escape from this relationship. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it myself. After him I returned to being promiscuous.
My difficult relationships with men inspired me to look for professional help a few years ago. I started my EMDR therapy. It helped me immensely. I processed many aspects and emotions connected to the abuse, even the ones I didn’t know were correlated to it. I started being aware of my triggers, of my relationship patterns, of what love is and isn’t, I questioned all relationships in my life including my family and friends, I learned how to listen to my body and mind. I stopped the vicious cycle of promiscuous behavior. Both sexual and emotional.
The first person that acknowledged my childhood experiences and put the label “sexual abuse” on them, was my current EMDR psychotherapist. This means that I didn’t have my first real witness until I was 39 years old. It wasn’t until I was 41 that I put the label “incest” on it. I stumbled across the Incest AWARE webpage and started reading blog posts. And then it hit me — that was not just sexual abuse, it was also incest.
When I was 40, I had a talk with my mother about all of this. She told me she saw inappropriate touching by my grandfather when I was in preschool, but the rest she didn’t know about. As soon as she recognized the signs of abuse during my childhood, she immediately removed me from his vicinity. We stopped spending vacations together. However we still had some family events together, where he had enough opportunities to continue the harm.
I have now almost three years of intense EMDR therapy behind me, but I still get triggered every time I see an old white male or a grandfather figure. I see them everywhere, at the spa, in the gym, on the streets, in school…I feel their look and presence, in a way I can’t explain. I get frozen, disgusted. Anger rises up and I go back to being a helpless child.
I am not sure if I will ever be able to fully recover. I feel emotionally disabled. The consequences of the incest are still vividly present in every relationship I try to build — especially with men. The biggest obstacles are lack of trust, not recognizing my boundaries, being a people pleaser, lacking the feeling of self-worth, and not knowing what I want and how I feel.
My story makes me think of how normal it is in society to support this abusive behavior. My core family didn’t protect me, my social surroundings, and even my child psychologist did nothing. How did they not take me seriously? Was I not vocal enough? Do they not know how to listen? Or is society still not aware enough about how this breaks a child to do anything about it? In the country where I grew up people have a motto: “Don’t disturb the water.” I guess in the situation of incest, it is assumed to be much more effort to point fingers and publicly shame and imprison the abuser —in my case an already established and accomplished person — than to sacrifice a little life that hasn’t even had a chance to start yet. To society, the worth of the child is not the same as the worth of an adult.
I personally feel so much shame talking about this topic, as if it’s my fault. If I tell this to someone now, I feel dirty, like I’m “spoiled goods.” I recently started using writing as a tool to communicate this to the world, to get to know myself better, and to give myself credit for carrying this my whole life. Now I know I was being silenced and learned to protect the abusers for too long, at the cost of doing myself wrong.
I have been weighted by this for too long. The first step to recovery — and this I cannot stress enough —is to be completely away from the abuser and (in my case) the family that sustained an unsafe environment. Then to search for professional help. As I’m “cleaning” myself, I am rewriting all my relationships, especially the one with myself. I deserve so much more, and I’m happily letting go of the patterns, feelings and experiences that I never asked for. Today, I am focusing on the next chapter of my life.