“I Believe You.” Three Words That Can Change Everything

shut up photo by Daniela Vladimirova

Elisabeth Corey grew up in a world of abuse where no one believed her. The only thing she could do was keep trying to get people to hear her words. 

In the blogging world, there are many fantastic writers who are recovering from abusive childhoods. I enjoy reading what other survivors have to say about the affects of abuse. It is a virtual support group. Surprisingly, I can read articles about sexual violence and be mostly unaffected. I don’t usually get angry because I lived that life, so I have already experienced the anger. And almost nothing shocks me. I have experienced too much to be shocked. With that said, my friend at Behind the Mask of Abuse wrote three little words in her recent post that affected me more than I expected.

She listed some helpful statements when responding to a survivor, and one of those statements was “I believe you”. To most people, this might not seem significant. Most people may think that goes without saying. Most people may assume that someone is going to believe them. Not me. I have always believed the opposite.

I have always been a talker. I am an extrovert by nature. In my family, that made me a problem child. They couldn’t get me to shut up.  I was threatened with my life and physically assaulted many times because I was exposing the family secret.

My experience with unsupportive responses started with the women in my family. The most common response from my mother and grandmother was, “Don’t make things up because that’s not nice.” During one conversation with my grandmother, she explained that, “Men have urges and it is our job as women to meet those urges.” There are so many things wrong with that statement, but there is one point that stands out for me. I was not a woman. I was a child.

I came to realize early in my life that I was not believable.

I also tried to stand up to my grandfather and my father. My grandfather was more passive. He would say that he had no choice but to abuse me. He would also threaten not to love me anymore. My father would beat the living daylights out of me. He broke my finger and hit me in the head countless times. I remember going to the hospital with a concussion on more than one occasion. I am not sure how he talked his way out of trouble at the hospital, but I am sure he made up a good story. He was good at getting out of messes. While child rape may be somewhat invisible, physical assault is not. And he did both.

I also told several outsiders about my abuse. I am not sure if they believed me initially, but they certainly were questioning the possibility. I am not sure why they didn’t go to the police. It is possible that my parents just told them I was the crazy one. I am aware of several instances in which my father threatened them. He loved power, and he was able to end careers and out secrets in some truly manipulative ways.

♦◊♦

I came to realize early in my life that I was not believable. I would not be taken seriously. And when I started to reveal my past a few years ago, the initial responses were not positive. My old energy patterns were were there as the only way I could relate to people, and our discussions were not providing the healing I was hoping for. They would respond with disbelief that my abusers would be capable of such a thing. They would ask if I was sure. They would encourage me to keep it quiet for the sake of my family. I almost shut down again, but I intuitively knew that wasn’t the answer. I knew there were people in the world that were ready to hear my story. I just had to keep trying.

I continued to work with my belief systems about the support (or lack of support) that I was expecting from others. As I started to have more faith in myself, the people in my life started to have more faith in me. I started to interact with individuals who were ready to hear what I had to say. I started to get messages from people who were grateful that I was willing to tell my story. I have to admit, I was a little surprised at first. Now I realize this is how humanity should respond.

I am still getting my voice back.  I work at it every day. I still notice my self-censoring at times. There is still fear about telling some aspects of my story. But I am changing and shifting. And so are the people in my life. Soon, the words, “I believe you” won’t sound shocking. They won’t bring chills. Of course, they will always be special. I will always be grateful to have support. Because I know what it feels like to have none.

So, the next time a sexual violence survivor opens up to you about their experience, tell them you believe them. It may not seem important to you, but to them, it means the world.

photo: Daniela Vladimirova / flickr

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About Elisabeth Corey

Elisabeth is a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and sex abuse. Her education in social work and her personal experiences as a survivor inform her intimate discussion about the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of trauma recovery, which she discusses on her blog at www.BeatingTrauma.com . She writes about breaking the cycle of abuse through conscious parenting, navigating intimate relationships as a survivor, balancing the memory recovery process with daily life, coping with self-doubt, and overcoming the physical symptoms of a traumatic childhood. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

  1. I love that this story is getting out there! Keep going! You’re making a difference!

  2. This is true for any type of abuse. I lived with an emotionally abusive husband for twenty years. Whenever I open up to someone, I inevitably feel dismissed and not believed. I am too sensitive, it is not possible for a person to act like that. Even friends will ask me to stop talking because they just can’t “handle” it and it couldn’t be that bad, and I’m only giving the vaguest of pictures of what I went through. If someone tells you they were abused, believe them. And know you are not nearly hearing the worst of it.

    • Absolutely. Most abuse victims will start with some test information to gauge the reaction of the person they are opening up to. If they react well, the victim will say more. Unfortunately, when they react poorly, the trauma continues.

  3. Thank you so much for speaking out Elisabeth. Your bravery will help to ensure our next generation of children do not have to endure what you went through. To me, sexual abuse prevention education is key. I have a poster on my blog I think you will really relate to (link: http://somesecrets.info/blog/2012/12/10/listen) . It is all about believing a child. Many thanks for your voice. Jayneen x

  4. It disgusts me that there are people who will treat an abuse victim badly. I’ve had many people open up to me about their abuse, it’s heart breaking but I listen n let them know I’m there for them and believe them.

  5. Dear friend,
    Thank you for sharing your experience and glad I know these words of support for the future. On those dayswhen it gets hard, remind yourself how much your strength-to learn to live, to, speak out and even reach out tothe rest of us- has helped so many people. You are an inspiration.

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