On Abuse and Terrorism

I have found similarities between abuse and terrorism-one is just a private version of the other.

Since naming my family’s undesirable treatment of me, I’ve searched for meaning and understanding of its presence. Abuse is a difficult word to use with the people you love, but accepting the term allowed me to identify the truth of the role I played in the family system. As the scapegoat, I was expected to carry the blame of the family’s dysfunction, and as long as I accepted this task, we could pretend everything was just fine.

Adapting to the role was never a choice I declared, nor was it a haphazard choice of my parents. At a very young age, indeed before memory serves me, one of my parents, most likely my mother, selected me as the one to carry the burden. My father, then, remained the silent enabler. I exhibited scapegoat qualities: strength and empathy, innate characteristics that any dysfunctional family would seek to excuse them from self-blame, because after all, she can take it and she will love them, even if it hurts.

The scapegoat’s duty is not to question or to argue the situation, for if that happened (and it did), she is quickly shut down with a guilt-inducing, abusive response. The parents need her to oblige to the responsibilities of the role, because by confronting the situation, she confronts the parents’ inadequacies-the inadequacies they are unwilling to accept of themselves. These shortcomings stem from a wounded childhood and any variety of lack that is present in their life: financial, educational, emotional, spiritual, health, societal. Often unresolved grief (from childhood abuse, a divorce, or a death, or any combination thereof) shoulders the dysfunctional family with a cocktail of deficiencies that exacerbate and perpetuate the abusive situation.

The child is a vessel into which the parents pour their pain, and she is denied liberty to express the injustice. So far, the scapegoat has lost two freedoms that are rightfully hers: the right to a healthy childhood and the right to speak her mind. She has also lost much more: trust.

My search for understanding and meaning has caused me to hunt for human connection, found in other unspeakable scenarios. The violence in Paris has uprooted a flurry of woes in me. As a teenager, learning to speak French was a path away from my pain to a land of never-hurt. French gave me hope when I was hopeless. French gave me freedom from my entrapment. French gave me a goal when I was talentless.

To see France hurt pains me. I feel the injustice because I, too, have felt injustice. I feel the slam of silenced voice because I also have been silenced. I feel the fear, because I have felt the fear one experiences when one loses trust.

Despite the pain, I triumphed. I awoke each day with a new hope that it might be less bleak than the day before. The days fell into months which fell into years, and eventually I regained my ability to trust. More than 20 years after the childhood days of pain, I remain a strong and empathetic human. After decades, my voice is allowed freedom.

While I speak out for France, I also speak out for the injustice of abuse. Terrorism is rampant in our world and it’s rampant in our homes. To understand violence is pointless-evil has no explanation that logically excuses its existence. To understand abuse brings the same result.

But I find meaning in the aftermath. Traumatic experiences build trust through our shared vulnerabilities. Communal pain tightens the circle of humanity, uniting us with tears, cuts, and scars. We all have a different story, a different experience, but no matter how badly we hurt, we always hurt less when we are with others. 

The survivors of abuse, as with terrorism, would be wise to forgive the wrong-doers. Forgiveness allows healing. Healing allows voice. Voice allows sharing. Sharing allows living. Let’s not live in pain and silence.

3 thoughts on “On Abuse and Terrorism

  1. This was powerful and eloquent. The parallel you draw between abuse and terrorism isn’t just valid, it’s familiar to anyone who’s ever lived in the kind of environment you described. Thanks for sharing.

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