#Stand4Truth

Truth

Today, I will be in the Garden of Remembrance, at a rally organised by Colm O’Gorman (Executive Director of Amnesty International, survivor of clerical abuse and rape, and the boy who sued the pope). We’ll be standing with thousands of other people in solidarity with those who were abused – physically, sexually, and emotionally – by the Roman Catholic Church.

This week’s visit by the pope has been hugely painful for many thousands of people on this island. People are finding themselves hurt, upset, and triggered all over again. Even as someone who was never sexually abused by a member of the Roman Catholic Church – although members of the church concealed that they knew my two elder brothers (Nigel Talbot and Cormac Talbot) were sexually abusing me – I have found details of the continued abuse of people by the Roman Catholic Church upsetting. I have heard from many survivors of clerical abuse how difficult and traumatic these weeks have been for them. I want them to know that I bear witness to their pain, I acknowledge it, I believe them.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s important to honour the truth of those who have suffered. It is important to honour the pain of those who have suffered – and to recognise the origins of that pain; the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish society that stood by in silence and allowed the rape and abuse of young children to take place.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today to honour the memories of those who can’t make it: Those who were murdered by the Roman Catholic Church; those who were sold by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their bones broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their spirits broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those for whom being there would be too emotionally difficult; those who died by suicide,  who are in addiction, who are homeless, who are in psychiatric units on account of the trauma visited on them by the Roman Catholic Church.

 

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s the least I can do.

Birth Trauma Awareness Week

Traumatised Woman Eyes - Edited

Content Warning: Sexual Assault / Sexual Abuse / Incest

This week is Birth Trauma Awareness week.

For many women, the birth itself is traumatic because of how they are treated during labour and birth. For women who have been sexually abused as children, however, labour and birth can compound the trauma they have suffered.

While she was growing up, Orla’s* father ‘played’ with her by playing ‘tickling’ with her. He would chase her, catch her, and then hold her down tickle her, kiss her, and – as she hit puberty –  touch her breasts, buttocks, and genitals.

Like many people who are abused over a period of time, Orla started to recognise the ‘cues’ from her father that an abusive incident was coming. She would try, desperately, to get away from him, but she was never successful. Orla felt helpless, but still, when he tickled her, she laughed. This would result in him calling her ‘a little flirt’ and saying things like ‘you’re just pretending you don’t want me to do it.’

Orla couldn’t get away from her dad because he was too strong. Her laughter would give away to tears, and then to crying, and eventually to screaming. Finally, he would stop.

When Orla grew up, she did not look back on her father’s actions as abusive, because it was labelled as ‘play’, and she remembers laughing at the time.

Years afterwards, however, when she was in labour with her first child, she was hooked up to a foetal monitor, had a canula inserted, and a blood pressure cuff. She had a panic attack on account of the restrictions on her movements. Her reaction seemed disproportionate until later, when Orla connected the events during childbirth with being restrained while her father abused her.

Like Orla, many women are surprised by the degree of their distress over routine aspects of maternity care. For abuse survivors, distressing or traumatic events can bring up the same feelings of helplessness and fear that they felt with the original abuse. It can be difficult to understand, however, why seemingly innocuous or helpful interventions can also bring up feelings of helplessness and fear. If the trauma of the original abuse was never correctly addressed, they are at risk for re-traumatisation, and may end up  suffering from chronic post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

Much of this distress can be alleviated for pregnant women survivors of CSA if, before labour, they have an opportunity to explore some of the features (events, procedures, and care policies) of childbirth that might bear similarities to their abuse, and to plan strategies for avoiding, or coping with, them.

Women often dread the prospect of deeply exploring the origins of abuse-related symptoms. Once they do take that step, with the support of understanding health-care practitioners / birthworkers, they usually feel relieved and unburdened of guilt and responsibility. Our capacity for healing is enormous, through it requires hard work perseverance, and courage. Finding the time, and the energy, for that is hard at any stage – harder again when you’re pregnant. A birthworker who brings compassion, and understanding of the trauma of CSA will make the biggest of differences to her client.

 

*Not her real name

Narcissistic Mothers

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Cartoon courtesy of Ian Sala sonsofnarcissisticmothers.org

A few days ago, I started a secret group, on Facebook, for daughters of narcissistic mothers.  One of the  last remaining social taboos is challenging the myth of the ‘perfect mother’. While it is perfectly acceptable to snark about other mothers online, revealing that your own mother was abusive is still frowned upon. The fact that mothers are still revered makes it difficult to discuss the failings of your own with others. But the only way to heal from anything is to acknowledge it – and acknowledgement starts with naming. Giving a name to our mothers’ behaviour is the beginning of dealing with, and accepting what we went through.

I am, of course, using ‘narcissistic’ in a clinical sense, rather than to just mean ‘self-centred’.

Characteristics of Mothers With Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

1.Everything she does is deniable. 

2. She violates your boundaries. 

3. She displays no respect  for you. 

4. She refuses to accept that you are a woman separate from her;  entitled to your own life, and experiences.

5. She plays favourites with her children.

6. She undermines you – your dreams, ideas, and successes.

7. She is jealous of you.

8. She demeans, criticises, and denigrates you.

9. If you don’t behave exactly how she would like / expects you to, she will treat you as though you are crazy.

10. She lies – by omission, and commission.

11. She reinvents the past to make herself look good – or least better.

12. She has to be the centre of attention all the time.

13. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain.

14. She’s selfish and wilful.

15. She’s self-absorbed.

16. She’s unable to accept criticism, and gets extremely defensive in the face of it.

17. She’s infantile and petty.

18. She’s aggressive / passive-aggressive.

19. She ‘parentifies’.

19. She’s manipulative.

20. She’s exploitative.

21. She projects.

22. She can never accept that she is wrong about anything.

23. She cannot accept that others have different ways of doing things.

24. She blames others for her mistakes.

25. She actively works to destroy your relationships.

Not every aspect on this list may apply to your mother; but it’s safe to say that if she presents with at least 15 of the 25, she’s a narcissist, and you’re having to deal with the effects of her personality disorder.

 

For me, one of the worst parts of growing up with a narcissistic mother was her total denial of my right to an emotional life. She never recognised my emotions, needs, or desires. She expected, and demanded that I share details of every experience I had outside the home with her. Depending on what it was, she would
(1) ignore me/it,
(2) counter it with a story of her own,
(3) use that particular need or desire against me, or
(4) using her passive-aggressive skills or outright manipulation to guilt trip me for having needs, desires, etc. that were separate, and different from, her own. 

This continued right throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, until I found the strength to escape from the toxic, abusive family I grew up.

One of the saddest things, for me, about the FB group*, is the fact that so many of the members have disclosed a history of child sexual abuse. It’s terribly sad that so many of us have both those things in common. Having grown up with a narcissistic mother can also impact on our own mothering.  A mother who didn’t love you makes loving your own children something you worry about: How can anyone possibly be expected to emulate a behaviour that has never been modelled for them?  (Dealing with narcissistic mothers, and their effect on pregnant women will be discussed at this workshop in May.)

 

Of course, I accept that my own mother had adversity in her own life. There is sexual abuse in her own background; she married young (as she says herself, to ‘spite’ her own mother); and her husband was abusive. She suffers with a food addiction, and was a secret eater throughout my childhood. She’s deeply unhappy, and feels the need to inflict that unhappiness on her own daughter. While I can have compassion for the fact that her life didn’t exactly go to plan, I can still hold her accountable for her behaviour – something she’s completely incapable of doing herself.

 

(*If you’d like to join the group, DM me on Twitter, or email me hazel@hazelkatherinelarkin.com)

Forgiveness (Part 2)

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Last month, I wrote the first part of this ‘series’ in Forgiveness. If you’re interested, you can read that entry here.

I wrote about what I think forgiveness isn’t. I ended the piece talking about peace – and how those of use who have been hurt (and are generally called upon to forgive) need, and deserve peace.

Here’s what I have learnt about forgiveness in recent months, though – bearing in mind that I have researched this from an academic point of view, as well as engaging with people who work in law enforcement, and others who are dedicated to reform, here and abroad.

My ‘aha’ moment around forgiveness, though, came when I was talking to a financial coach, Karen McAllister.  Funny how the answers you’re looking for don’t necessarily come from the source you might expect them to. Anyway, talking to Karen about forgiveness, I realised that my version of forgiveness was not about exonerating the transgressor, but about reclaiming the power that I was settling on them. 

Let me unpack that, and explain what I mean. At this juncture, I’m going to go backwards for a little bit, and look at the etymology of the word ‘forgive’. To forgive means to grant a pardon, and a pardon is to ‘pass over an offence without punishment’. ‘Pardon’ has its roots in two Latin words: ‘Per’ (which means ‘forward’ or ‘hence’) and ‘Donare’ (which means ‘give as a gift’).  To forgive, then, is ‘the granting of the gift of, henceforth, not punishing an offence’. Forgiving, then, in the traditional sense, the way I wrote about it last month, essentially gives the forgiven a free pass, while not doing an awful lot for the forgivee.  To me, that reinforces something else I mentioned last month; that the only person we need to forgive, in that sense, is ourselves.

To come back, now,  to the idea of forgiveness as a reclamation of power, I think that is the manifestation of forgiveness of the self.  The person who has damaged you, who has trespassed against you, is not given a free pass, but you reclaim the  power that they have stolen from you.

Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to use a real-life example. My eldest brother, Nigel Talbot, sexually abused me for most of my childhood. He is not remorseful, and though he has said ‘sorry’ in person, he has continued to abuse me in other ways, and he has also continued to abuse other women – sexually, emotionally, and financially.  My forgiveness took the form of a letter to him. Initially, I was going to send it to him, but – thinking about it – I realised that, to do so, would still be giving him power. I would still be expressing a desire for him to do something / to be something that he could choose not to be. What I need to do, for myself, is to call back that energy that he holds while I don’t forgive. The forgiveness is about me, not about him.

In any event, I know that if I did send a letter to him, his wife would keep it from him.

If you would like to read that letter, you can do so here.

This was the first of many such letters I’m writing, and with the penning of every one, I am feeling stronger, and more self-reclaimed. It’s definitely something I’d recommend, and if you do it, too, I’d love to know if it works for you.

 

 

                                                                                                           

 

 

 


 

 

Just

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The #MeToo on Twitter, and the discussion in the wider world of sexual abuse, sexual assault sexual harassment, rape, grooming and other offences of a sexual nature is providing a climate where those who have not previously spoken about their experiences, to do so.

 

One of the things that has bothered me, though, is the number of people (predominantly men), who simply say things like ‘then go to the police / Gardaí’, and ‘he hasn’t been convicted, so….presumption of innocence’. As if it is that simple. As if reporting a sexual assault to the police or the Gardaí is as simple, or as easy as telling a woman (or a man) to do so. God bless the privilege of the people who say this. God bless their innocence.  Reporting a crime – particularly one of such a highly personal nature – to the Gardaí is no easy thing to do. (At this point, I must say that I have never been treated with anything but kindness and professional understanding by members of An Garda Siochana).

 

Yet, the smug ‘just report it’ crowd seem to believe that going to the Gardaí and making a full and detailed report of a sexual assault is as easy and straightforward – and that the results are as swift – as telling Mammy, or going to the teacher in a primary school classroom. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Apart, altogether, from the harrowing experience of going to the Gardaí in the first place, and making a full and frank statement; providing details of a very distressing event – an event that was visited upon your person, an event that was visited upon the most private parts of your person, an event that was visited upon your psyche, an event that will forever change you isn’t easy.

Even if a person does manage to find the strength to do all that, they then have to face the rest of what the smug ‘just report it’ crowd refer to as ‘due process’. Due process is the idea that a person will get a fair trial in front of an impartial judge. The ‘just report it’ crowd also seem to think that anyone who commits a crime, and whose crime is reported and investigated, and against whom evidence is gathered, will automatically appear before a judge and be found guilty.  Until and unless that happens, they feel that no truths should be told, no allegations uttered, no solidarity of and with, victims shown publicly.

 

In an ideal world, a person who commits a crime, and whose crime is reported and investigated, and against whom evidence is gathered, would automatically appear before a judge, and be found guilty. We don’t, unfortunately, live in an ideal world.

 

Then, there is ‘due process’ that the smug ‘just report it’ crowd clamour for. Broadly, this means that a file is prepared by the gardaí who have conducted the investigation. The superintendent in the station then sends the file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The DPP then decides whether or not to proceed with the case, and bring it to trial.

Now, here’s the thing that you may, or may not, know. Here’s the thing that the ‘just report it’ gang clearly don’t know (or want to admit). The DPP doesn’t decide to proceed to trial based on the evidence. The DPP doesn’t decide to proceed to trial based on whether or not they personally believe the crime, as described, occurred. The DPP bases her decision on whether or not they are reasonably confident that they will secure a conviction. In other words, the DPP will only allow a case to proceed to trial if she thinks it makes financial sense. The decision, therefore, to prosecute is based, not on legal, as much as on economic considerations.

Looking at the crime of sexual assault, the DPP deciding not to prosecute doesn’t mean the man is innocent. Nor does it mean that the woman is a liar. It doesn’t mean that there is a lack of evidence. Nor does it mean that the evidence is unconvincing. What is means is that the DPP doesn’t think that a jury will convict the man in spite of the evidence, in spite of the recommendation of the Superintendent at the investigating Garda station. Sometimes, the DPP will decide not to prosecute even though a confession has been provided to the Gardaí.  (This isn’t far-fetched; it happened to me in the case of my father, Christy Talbot.)

 

In some cases, like the case of my brother, Cormac Talbot, the DPP will decide not to prosecute because, frankly, the cost of flying him back from France to be prosecuted for historical sexual abuse, including digital, oral, anal, and vaginal rape is not worth it. In spite of the evidence. Cormac, living in the South of France, is no longer a danger to the Irish public, so the decision was made to leave him where he is.

 

Sometimes, people aren’t prosecuted because they are unwell. As in the case of my brother, Nigel Talbot, who claims partial memory-loss on account of his brain tumour.

 

The fact that someone hasn’t been prosecuted, and found guilty in a court of law doesn’t mean they’re innocent. Worse, it doesn’t mean that they are no longer abusing women and / or children.

 

Others have contacted me privately to let me know that they were abused by my brothers. If you were, too, please feel free to contact me in confidence. 

If this post was difficult for you to read because of your own experiences, please remember that the following agencies have phonelines, which are staffed 24/7:

Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 778888

Samaritans: 116 123

Pieta House: 1800 247 247

 

 

Victim-Blaming

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Sadly, victim-blaming is a huge part of every survivors narrative. Questions are asked of her and her behaviour and demeanour that are never asked of a victim of any other type of crime. Questions like:

‘What were you wearing?’

‘How much had you had to drink?’

‘Why were you there on your own?’

‘Did you lead him on?’

‘What did you expect?’

‘Boys will be boys.’

‘Why didn’t you just tell him to stop?’

‘Why didn’t you just fight him off?’

A woman’s previous sexual experience and the fact that men can’t really help themselves will be discussed in certain quarters. This puts the onus on women to accept responsibility for, not just their own behaviour, but that of men as well.

The bottom line is that victims of rape and sexual assault are blamed for what happened to them. As a result, a lot of victims blame themselves. This sort of victim-blaming is used particularly around young children to ensure that they stay quiet and don’t report the abuse because they are told that society, power, people in charge will not believe them – or will blame them for what happened to them.

Should a victim have the temerity, the audacity, and the courage to even attempt to seek some form of justice (there’s that word again!), they will find that those who take the side of their abusers will blame and bully the victim. For many (such as the members of my own immediate family), this helps them to avoid dealing with their own culpability, shame, and guilt around their own abuse of the victim. Or the fact that they allowed the abuse to continue by refusing to do anything to help the victim. Far, far, easier to blame the victim than to look in the mirror and take responsibility for how they made matters worse (or, at the very least, refused to make them better) for the victim.

 

 

 

 

 

Unsexy

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Here’s the thing about sexual abuse – it’s not sexy. In fact, it’s decidedly unsexy. For those of us who have lived through sexual abuse, sexual assault, or sexual harassment, one of the things that can be really difficult is disclosing to a (potential) sexual partner.

When survivors enter into new romantic/intimate relationships, the twin questions of when, and how, to disclose to this person can be difficult. Until you actually disclose, you can’t be sure how the other person will react – and, of course, you don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. Minimizing what you’ve been through might help the other person to feel less uncomfortable, but you’ll be doing yourself a dis-service. I would suggest discussing the approach you plan on taking with someone else; a trusted friend, relative, therapist or counsellor.

It’s never going to be easy to have the discussion, it’s never going to be easy to disclose (and, if you’re like me, you’ll resent having to every single time). After disclosure (which I always think feels like a ‘warning’), the unsexiness doesn’t end. There is the difficulty that every survivor encounters when they attempt to blossom as a sexual being. For many of us, the easiest thing is to exit the scene. By that I mean be sexually available to your partner, but unable to actually take part in the event. [Edit: I talk more about this here]. For many survivors of sexual assault, reclaiming their own sexuality is one of the hardest things they will ever have to do – not least because so few people understand, or appreciate,  the difficulties and complexities surrounding this reclamation. It’s decidedly unsexy.

Being a participant, rather than an observer, in your own sex-life, is the least we can expect. Getting there can, however, be decidedly unsexy.