The world is filled with support groups, especially Twelve Step programs, for people with just about any problem; sexual abuse, sexual addiction, narcotic and alcoholic addiction, weight issues, depression, co-dependency and a host of others. But what about the family and support people who bear the brunt of hopelessness and frustration in dealing with their loved one. They feel so lost. What can they do? How do they cope with negative behavior that is thrust on them? They don’t know what to do, where to turn. Invariably they feel they must have done something to cause it. The load on their shoulders, the love they feel for the survivor causes incredible despondency. They are truly a secondary survivor.
Much pairing off happens in relationships. Angry people attract timid people who wear a sign saying I’m a victim. Alcoholics have enablers. Bullies find those with low self-esteem. In unhealthy relationships, people draw in those who are their opposites. A bully would never choose a healthy person. They are habitually cruel to those who are weaker. If you put up a STOP sign and walk away they are lost and must move on to another victim. It has been my observation after many years of working in this field that the majority of adult behavior problems stem from child abuse. Take a look at The Ace Study at www.theacestudy.org. It shows so clearly how adverse childhood environment is the root of all this evil and how it impacts our physical health as we get older.
My best advice for the support person of a survivor of child abuse is to start attending Codependency Meetings. Your phone operator will have the number of the nearest chapter. Give it six meetings. Something magical happens by then. You realize you are in the right place. Set up strong boundaries in your relationship. But be there for them. Listen to their story. Encourage them to talk about their problem. This, of course, assumes that they are aware of what their problem is. Don’t give them ultimatums. That won’t resolve anything. You can tell them you will not respond to any thing that is destructive to the relationship. Be kind. Love them. But you must be the strong, mature one. If you need to walk away, do so. The Internet has a host of help available. Google “support groups for family members of someone who has been sexually abused” if that is the problem your survivor is afflicted with. If you are on Facebook check to see if there is a Facebook group that addresses your problem.
When you are with someone who has addiction problems or some of the other problems listed above, your first inclination is to try to change them. Surely if you are just patient, show them you love them and how painful your relationship with them is as a result of their problem, they will seek help to change their ways. This doesn’t work. When I was married to my children’s father and he would come home night after night so drunk he could barely stand, I pleaded for him to get help, for both of us to go to a counselor. I begged him to tell me what I was doing wrong. He patted me on the head and said I was the perfect little wifey and didn’t need to change a thing. Then he got up and found another beer. One time I was on my knees, sobbing fitfully. Surely I could reach him. I loved him so much and all I wanted was for the two of us to be happy. It never worked. But I had my own demons. For his last birthday while we were together I bought him a beer keg. What was I thinking? It was only years later before I realized that even I had never thought of him as an alcoholic. If anyone ever used that word I would correct them by saying, “He’s not an alcoholic; he just has a drinking problem.” This little episode accents the realization that we must be totally honest with ourselves in defining the problem of our loved one.
This wish to control other people’s behavior patterns just never works. They are on a downward spiral and must reach their bottom before they see the truth of what is happening in their life. One of the most effective websites addressing problems loved ones of child sexual abuse victims have is at a website called Pandora’s Project: http://www.pandys.org/articles/tipsforfriends.html. Another website at: https://abuse.supportgroups.com/ welcomes secondary survivors to join. Here you can talk with others who are seeking support as well. This may not be the right choice for everyone. Some of us are very private and putting our agony on a website for everyone to see is a turn off. Others who want to share what they are going through and see how others are handling this might want to take a look at it.
Remember, you are not at fault. Nothing you did or didn’t do caused your loved one to become an addict. Stop beating yourself up. If I can help in any way please email me at Margie@thelamplighters.org.