The Need to Blend In and the Drive to Stand Out

Standing Out
In my house, chaos ruled. The only consistency was inconsistency. I learned quickly that the rules could not be understood, but I still tried to understand. Like most children who grow up in an abusive household, I worked hard to make sense of my environment. I made “logical” conclusions about cause and effect. I knew that there were very few actions without consequences, so I did my best to be invisible. This seemed to be my best strategy to avoid abuse. In reality, there was no way for me to avoid abuse as long as I lived in that house. But I was sure there was a secret formula. There had to be a way to stop the abuse because I was sure that somehow, it was my fault.

Since I started recovering memories, I have rarely been able to grasp the order of events. Memory recovery does provide a clear understanding of the event, but does not clearly delineate the time frame or my age. And it is more confusing if the events happened within days of each other. Sometimes I remember being abused but do not remember what event I may have associated with that abuse. But I have learned that I always associated the abuse with something. This makes my recovery work a bit more complicated.

Lately, I have experienced some success with my advocacy work. While my first reaction is always excitement, my second reaction is anxiety. In my family, success was almost as bad as failure. If I succeeded at something, the family rallied to ensure it didn’t affect my self-esteem positively. In some extreme cases, they would go behind my back to derail my success.

If I suddenly appeared confident, it set off alarms in my home. Confidence was absolutely detrimental to their ultimate goal. I might realize I was not the problem and I might start talking again. So my success was met with the same punishment as my failure. In reality, it was not a punishment. It was just another excuse to sexually abuse me. But I didn’t know that.

So early on, I learned to be scared of success and failure. I realized that either would bring negative attention. Invisibility became the ultimate goal. So, I did well in school, but not too well. I did well at sports, but not too well. I focused on being as average as possible because average was safe. There was no attention for average. Blending in to my environment was the most successful deterrent to the trauma around me. At least, that’s what I thought.

And there is nothing wrong with blending in. Some people can live a fulfilling life without wrecking havoc. Not everyone is here to turn things upside down. If so, we would live in a state of anarchy. But advocacy is about making change. And while I can come up with a million excuses for keeping quiet, there is something inside of me that is steering this ship in another direction. There is a longing deep down to shout from the rooftops that something is wrong. And I cannot ignore it. I cannot lay low when I could have helped stop the abuse and trafficking of children by their families. I cannot stay quiet knowing that I can help adult survivors of child abuse move past the inner turmoil that threatens to keep them from thriving.

I must move past my own fear of the attention that seems so threatening. I must convince my inner child that my success had nothing to do with my abuse. I must help her to understand that the abuse had no correlation with any of my actions. I must come to understand that it had nothing to do with me whatsoever.

And it will be this understanding that will move my work forward. Without that, I cannot succeed and I cannot fail. I can just be here, invisible, unseen, as I have been. And that is not life. It is simply another cycle of abuse without an abuser. Just me … oppressing myself … continuing the life I have always lived. And that is not why I am here.

I am not here to be abused.

I am not here to be oppressed.

And I am definitely not here to be quiet.

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8 thoughts on “The Need to Blend In and the Drive to Stand Out

  1. Survivors have nothing to be ashamed of. Abuse was used against you, but it IS NOT what you are or who you are.

    Celebrate the milestones along the way to your success goals, but totally celebrate them without other diminishing thoughts. Gratitude for all things is attainable.

    It’s about how you see yourself and your value, not what some misinformed humans did to you. You are beautiful and you are radiant. You are strong and important and you are making a difference. All because you will not let the fire within you go unnoticed. Bravo!

  2. Shout it from the roof tops, Elisabeth, and if you need a mega phone, let me know, I’ll be happy to provide one. Your voice is a gift to so many who live in silence.

  3. I totally get your deep desire for change and the impossibility of resting on your laurels for the sake of blending in. I am focusing on my particular strengths to help me discover the form and nature my path will take. How you help me is that you convey your depth of knowledge, ideas and insights in such an accessible way…it’s a God-given ability I’m sure you were born to use! You’re an educator and communicator without a doubt. It really would be testament to your strength if you were able to move through the fear of attention… I really get that, (I have sabotaged my success so many times without even knowing why). Thanks for a great post and congrats on your success with advocacy.

    • Thank you Jane. I believe our strengths our directly connected to our greatest fears (wounds). That is why we spend so much time in struggle. I am looking forward to hearing more about your path as it develops too.

  4. Thank you for your insightful article. The story reads very much like mine, sans sexual abuse. My family was non-sexual as they go, father went literally ballistic when he realised his son was actually having *gasp* sex.

    And ruining success. Familiar story, bragged to relatives if successful in sports, but at home put the success down, hard. And now they wonder why I don´t talk to them anymore.

    • These types of emotional abuse definitely do not have to be coupled with sexual abuse. They can certainly stand on their own. I am sorry you went through that.

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