Childhood Self-identity (or lack of) and childhood abuse

OakTree123

New Here
Hi there,

I'm not exactly sure where this post would fit but I thought perhaps under "relationships" since it's about your relationship to yourself.

I am 21 years old and have recently begun coming to terms with the fact that I was abused throughout my childhood. This was a very startling realization to me because I had been in denial for sooooo long and I had repressed so many feelings and memories that I had convinced myself that none of it had happened. Now that I'm accepting it and remembering new things that happened, I feel so confused. I feel like the abuse is part of me because I can see how the abuse makes me behave. I feel like the effects of abuse are ingrained in me.

However, this is very confusing because I feel like I didn't even know I was abused until this past year. Like I knew that my home life could be unhealthy and it could make me feel bad, but I didn't realize that the experiences I went through were abuse, that they were so abnormal that they would had life-long impacts on me. Now, when I look back at my childhood, I feel like I don't even recognize myself or my life. I feel like I have been in like a coma my whole life and I just woke up to have someone tell me that I had a life before this that I know nothing about...but at the same time, that whole life has shaped every part of me. I simultaneously know nothing about my childhood and I feel like it has shaped my entire personality.

I feel like I can't connect to anyone in my life because now I have this huge past weighing on my shoulders but I only just found out about it. Friends I have had for years and years know my abuser and had no idea this was going on. It makes me feel so confused, like how could this have been happening for 18 years and no one know? I know that my mother hid it well and that I hid it too because I was unable to even recognize what was happening, let alone tell someone about it...but still, how does this happen? I feel like I'm in shock at my own past and it's so confusing because I was literally living through it! I feel like I have no identity now. I have absolutely no idea who I am. It feels like there is no context for my life anymore.

Have other people experienced similar feelings? Even if it wasn't as a result from abuse in particular?
 

UrsulaleGuin

New Here
Hello Oak Tree,

Thank you for sharing your story. I think it's exceptional that you found your way to this place for support. I've known about my abuse and PTSD for years, and I've only just started here.

I just want to offer some sympathy. You must be going through so much right now.
Not knowing who you are... And not being able to (re) connect with the people closest to you. That really sucks.
I know how you feel. I hope that helps a little.

You are you. With all the shit that happened, too.
It might be extra hard, because of the nature of memories and how we remember them. Plus you where a child, so the way and what you remembered will be different from the you you are now. I think that attempting to gain a truth of your past, is very brave. And I would strongly suggest you find at least one person to confide in, someone close to the family that you trust, so that you have support.
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
Have other people experienced similar feelings? Even if it wasn't as a result from abuse in particular?
Yep!
I thought I knew who I was and what I experienced. Turned out I just blocked out large parts out. Which, when they came back, shattered my confidence in knowing what was and was not real in terms of experiences but also in terms of who I was. To the absolute core of me.
I had thought I was someone who knew myself really well! Turns out: I knew zip all!

So now: I'm building up who I am.
And also realising: I did know who I was. But some parts were missing. So now I am learning about the missing parts.

Maybe try re-framing it. Maybe instead of seeing it as something negative and not knowing who you are and what your identity is.
Maybe see it as something really exciting to explore. Who are you? Getting to know the core of you, all the multi layers or the brilliance that is you. Exciting?! Rather than upsetting?
 

Elsewhere

Learning
I can relate to much of what you say, @OakTree123. Here’s my take on it based on my own experiences. Maybe this can be of help, somehow.

The reasons I’ve come up with for why it took me so long to acknowledge that I had been abused (and why I didn’t seek help as a child, and took forever to seek healing as an adult):

1) The abuse started as early as I can remember. I never knew different. I had no basis to question whether what was being done to me was “right” or “wrong”. It just “was”.

2) My abuser (father) ruled with an iron fist, and had no tolerance for “attitude” of any kind coming from his offspring. The only way to try to gain some paltry sense of “safety” in the household was to walk on eggshells and pretend everything was ok. I was trained very early to not complain, question, talk back, defend myself (!), exhibit anger, reveal depression, seek outside help, etc... It was ok to show fear, because that got him off, sadist that he was (as long as it didn’t manifest in a mess on the carpet from my terror-induced loss of bladder control, that is). Otherwise, it was best to either be as silent/invisible as possible, or (if hiding wasn’t possible at any given moment) act happy and kiss up to him (known as the “fawn response”, BTW). Everything else was too dangerous. Beatings still happened, despite being on my best behavior, but they probably would’ve been worse if I hadn’t been so vigilant and restrained. He taught me that.

What does all this mean? It means that, from the outside, we probably looked like a normal enough family. I don’t recall my father ever hitting me in front of anyone but my sibling and our mother. Add that to the fact that I was generally just shut down (dissociated), naive, afraid of my own shadow, helpless-feeling, and had no sense that I was worth anything, all of which probably eliminated the likelihood of me having the knowledge, agency, or courage to reach out to outside adults who might have helped me.

So the abuse went on for years, unacknowledged by anyone (myself included).

3) We live in a world where people are shamed (sometimes subtly, sometimes very overtly) for claiming to be a victim. If you do, then you’re considered a “snowflake” and a “whiner”. There’s incentive to remain quiet and there are consequences for speaking out. I think that can have the effect of muzzling us, and possibly even keeping us from seeking treatment and/or healing.

4) Based on my observations, there seems to be a strong tendency for abusers not to be willing to acknowledge wrongdoing. It’s easier for them to just deny, deflect, gaslight, get indignant, blame-shift, etc. My father never acknowledged any wrongdoing, and that’s how things were left even when he died. That can mess with our heads in really bad ways, I think.

I will say that I still feel uncomfortable acknowledging how bad it really was back then, and how severely it damaged me. I feel like the fact that I survived and, for many years anyway, was able to live a life that, at least from the outside, probably looked normal—at least to others who only knew me superficially—probably added to the challenge of accepting reality. Unfortunately, despite being fairly high-functioning in areas crucial for basic survival (I’m a survival machine, apparently!) I’ve had a lot of trouble in relationships throughout life, and I’m positive that various people have formed negative impressions of me, assuming that all my abnormal behaviors are simply signs of a flawed character (rather than my being a deeply damaged, but otherwise basically good, human being). I am trying to get better, and importantly, I’m ever more vigilant about not making innocent people pay (even in small ways) for the problems I’m still dealing with. It’s very hard not to hate myself, though: for my failures, for my weirdness, for my fatigue, for my antisocial/isolationist tendencies, for my suicidality. I haven’t given up, but it’s been really hard. And I still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

You do have one thing going for you. You’re figuring a lot of stuff out while you’re still young. That should work in your favor (I hope it does, anyway).

Hopefully that was coherent and reasonably relevant to your OP (I might have gotten a bit, um, tangential)
 

OakTree123

New Here
Hello Oak Tree,

Thank you for sharing your story. I think it's exceptional that you found your way to this place for support. I've known about my abuse and PTSD for years, and I've only just started here.

I just want to offer some sympathy. You must be going through so much right now.
Not knowing who you are... And not being able to (re) connect with the people closest to you. That really sucks.
I know how you feel. I hope that helps a little.

You are you. With all the shit that happened, too.
It might be extra hard, because of the nature of memories and how we remember them. Plus you where a child, so the way and what you remembered will be different from the you you are now. I think that attempting to gain a truth of your past, is very brave. And I would strongly suggest you find at least one person to confide in, someone close to the family that you trust, so that you have support.
Thank you so much for the understanding. It does help to know that other people understand it. Thank you so much for your kind words and suggestion. I definitely do confide in my sister some, and that has been helpful at times.

Yep!
I thought I knew who I was and what I experienced. Turned out I just blocked out large parts out. Which, when they came back, shattered my confidence in knowing what was and was not real in terms of experiences but also in terms of who I was. To the absolute core of me.
I had thought I was someone who knew myself really well! Turns out: I knew zip all!

So now: I'm building up who I am.
And also realising: I did know who I was. But some parts were missing. So now I am learning about the missing parts.

Maybe try re-framing it. Maybe instead of seeing it as something negative and not knowing who you are and what your identity is.
Maybe see it as something really exciting to explore. Who are you? Getting to know the core of you, all the multi layers or the brilliance that is you. Exciting?! Rather than upsetting?
Thank you for sharing your experience! I really admire the way you were able to see it as building up who you are and re-learning some parts of yourself. I really like that. Hopefully someday I will be able to re-frame my mentality, but I think right now I'm still just processing the shock of realizing I was abused.

I feel like the fact that I survived and, for many years anyway, was able to live a life that, at least from the outside, probably looked normal—at least to others who only knew me superficially—probably added to the challenge of accepting reality.
Thank you so much for sharing so much of your experience and your feelings associated with it. I really appreciate that so much. I can relate to so much of what you've shared, especially in terms of how your father mistreated you. I'm very sorry that that happened to you.

I liked the way you said that the fact you were able to survive so much probably added to the challenge of accepting reality. I could not have said it any better. This really resonated with me. I can also relate to feeling damaged and disliking so many parts of myself...but I think sometimes we can be our own harshest critic. It's ridiculously unfair and life-altering what you had to go through, and it shouldn't be expected for you to be able to function after that...and yet you are. I hope that in time you can find some peace about yourself. You really are a survivor and that's amazing.
 
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