“They are such a nice family.” The incest family looks pretty darn functional from the outside, until you start looking at the little quirks that really do scream “duh, problem here!”
I belong to a group on Facebook, a delightful band of people who either love & care for those who were molested as children, who are victims of sexual abuse, or both. The following well written article by Don Enevoldsen, the husband of an abuse survivor, should be read by everyone. He knows first hand what it is like to be married into an incest family, and the lies & denial that continue even when the offender is confronted with the truth. It was originally posted on Overcoming Sexual Abuse.
Profile of an Abusive Family
by Don Enevoldsen
I normally don’t comment on OSA since Christina and I often discuss the subject matter of her posts and the limited contributions I could make, when relevant, are reflected in her words. This time, I want to add some thoughts from a perspective few others could have. The comment posted by Christina’s mother, Mary Schamer, on “My Story by Christina Enevoldsen” the day before Christina’s birthday, prompted excellent comments from many people. One in particular caught my attention. Pinky, speaking to Mary, said, “…because it is as if you have read the manual on how to be an abusive parent.”
That observation, accurate as it is, was based on only a few lines from Mary, typed into the OSA comments. I am in a position to add to Pinky’s statement from firsthand observation and knowledge. I know Mary and Fred, Christina’s dad, very well. I knew them even before I knew Christina.
Mary’s comment inspired Christina to write a blog post in response with a letter to her mother. “It’s Not About You, Mom” and now I’m motivated to write my own letter to Mary.
The more I read about abusive family systems, the more I find that Fred and Mary fit the profile, as Pinky pointed out, as though the profile was intended to describe them. So, for Mary’s enlightenment, I feel that I should share some of the reasons why every time she and Fred open their mouths, I am more convinced than ever that Christina’s account is dead on accurate.
I know you have studiously avoided this information, and since you seem committed to your lies, I don’t expect this to change your position, but here are some facts about abusive families.
From the outside, they look like other healthy families. They fit in well with the community and are often very active in church. The abuse is hidden. When abuse is exposed, people around them always find it difficult to believe. Abusive families are generally admired by everyone else. The fact that you and Fred are in church leadership and greatly respected does not remove you from suspicion.
Often, the abuse is even hidden from the family members themselves. Each one has ways of shielding themselves from the truth. They may redefine things they see, hear or experience as a way to explain away the abuse. “Grandpa has always been quirky like that” or “Aunt Jane just wanted to make sure Johnny was really clean” or “Dad just loves me so much that he can’t stop touching me”. They believe they are normal because they’ve never known anything else.
Abusive family members feel loyalty to the family, showing the rest of the world the image of a caring, strong and devoted family unit. Even victims of abuse fit this description, which is why it is so difficult for them to break free and open up about the truth. They are trained from a very young age to believe that telling is a horrible thing and it’s often too horrible to admit the truth to themselves. Those who talk—even if they feel a great sense of relief—are frequently plagued by overwhelming guilt. Before they are able to talk freely, they usually have to get away from the abusive family and its influences for a while or somehow find healthy support outside the family. Since outside relationships, especially healthy ones, are so foreign to the victim of abuse, that’s not easy or common. Frequently, other relationships aren’t encouraged and in particularly dysfunctional families, they are forbidden.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Christina didn’t start talking about her incest very openly until she married me and we moved 400 miles away. It was extremely unlikely she would say much before that. That is quite consistent with the dynamics of abusive families.
It’s especially telling the way you, Mary, handled the conflict with Christina that eventually led to the demise of the relationship. In a healthy family, conflict is allowed. Boundaries are respected. In abusive families—or any abusive system for that matter—questioning authority is never allowed. When Christina came to you to ask you for a healthier, more honest relationship, you treated it like it was a personal affront. You refused to enter into meaningful dialogue, choosing instead to hide behind pathetic protestations that you are supposed to be honored as a parent.
By your account, all was well before that. Yet this is an indication of a history of abandonment that Christina writes about, the things you claim are lies. Do you recognize yourself in any of this?
Each family member in an abusive family takes on one of three roles—Abuser, Denier (also called an Enabler or Bystander) or Victim. Let’s take them in that order.
Victim mentality is the driving force behind abuse. Abusers don’t believe in equal power. In an abuser’s mind, equal power doesn’t exist. The only two options in interactions between people is to power over them or they power over you.
Abusers are driven by fear. They have no security in their own identity and they lack a sense of personal power. That’s why they are so easily threatened, even by very little slights. Someone cutting them off in traffic or failing to return a greeting is enough to set them off.
When their sense of power is threatened, they feel a need to power over someone else. Since they have so little self esteem, they don’t “pick on someone their own size”. They restore their sense of importance through choosing someone smaller or weaker or in some other way less powerful then themselves. In this way, they transfer the pain and the shame to their victim.
There is much debate over whether or not all sexual abusers were sexually abused. Certainly, all abusers were victimized in some way, hence, their victim mentality. I don’t know if Fred was sexually abused as a child, but by his own account, he was certainly physically and emotionally abused and learned the “rules” of the abusive system.
I always found it odd, and a little disconcerting, that in virtually every conversation, Fred reminisced in lengthy detail about the women he had dated in his life, even when you were in the room. His obvious pride in his many romantic conquests expressed in the most inappropriate venues, fits the profile of an abuser. His statements reinforce his “power over” way of thinking, not only with the women from his past, but in his devaluing treatment of you, his wife. His willingness to discuss those things in your presence says, “I revel in my past sexual relationships and it’s more important to me to impress others than to protect your feelings.”
Abusers also develop unnaturally strong bonds with other abusers. A few days after Christina’s ex-husband, David, was arrested, Fred called me. Among the many outrageous things he said was this gem: “I’ve known David for a lot of years. As a matter of fact, as you know, even Christina will tell you, I kind of adopted him, with the family, in a situation like that, he was actually more of a son to me than my son, Tom.”
In fact, he chose David over both of his children. When David verbally assaulted Christina in front of both of you, Fred openly took David’s side and reminded Christina, “Your husband loves you.” After Christina divorced David for his financial and emotional abuse, Fred supported David and even preferred to spend holidays with him.
Abusers protect other abusers. The whole reason Fred called me was to defend David and try to mitigate the serious charges facing him. He kept trying to find out how much money we wanted to call off the arrest. He not only defended the man who molested Bethany, his own granddaughter, he tried to point the blame in Bethany’s direction. Here are a few of the comments he made in that regard:
In response to me pointing out that Bethany had been molested for twelve years: “Let’s do away with that.”
And a few seconds later: “You know, all of this thing, when you really stop and think about it, is just being judgmental and all this other stuff. It doesn’t—it’s not making it.”
And a little later: “Now, how badly is he hurting someone?”
And, “How the hell is he gonna bother her?”
And: “But he hasn’t bothered anybody.”
All of this in denial of David’s defiance and his reaction to the accusation that he had continued molesting Bethany, which was, “Yeah, so?”
Then Fred added: “If you weren’t so screwed up in your head and so convinced that Bethany is the perfect little person…”
And regarding all of us: You guys are to be, being the guys that are trying to screw up somebody’s life.”
Every one of these statements scream that Fred is an abuser. They fit the profile with remarkable accuracy.
In Fred’s mind, Bethany was the abuser and David was the victim. He dismissed the twelve years of incest perpetrated on Bethany and thought the horrible part of this family drama was that David, the child molester, was in jail.
Deniers are the members of the family who turn a blind eye to the abuse and defend the Abuser, making exactly the kinds of accusations you have leveled at Christina.
Deniers believe the best way to survive is to ingratiate themselves to the Abuser and keep a low profile. They, too, are driven by victim mentality. They either “hide” by staying out of the way or by making it very clear to the Abusers that they won’t interfere with the abuse. Deniers are the most vehement and loyal supporters to Abusers. They go to great lengths to cover the abuse as though their life depends on it.
Deniers are masters of offering trite phrases in response to pain. “Don’t dwell on it,” “Let bygones be bygones,” “Forgive and forget,” and “You can’t change the past” are common platitudes deniers deliver when confronted with sexual abuse.
I don’t have to look any further than your remarks on Christina’s recent post, but a better example might be your letter to Christina on February 15, 2009, in which you state that she “dredged up old, dead history.” In your words, Mary: “I call it carrying an offense and not getting healed or forgiving. Isn’t it about time that you take it to the cross and leave it there? Why do you want to carry that stuff in your heart?” That’s but one example from many that fit the profile of a Denier.
The responses of Deniers are designed to protect the Abuser and are often completely self-involved and ignorant. They show a lack of compassion for their children and a selfish focus on their own lives.
The first time Christina mentioned to you that she had been molested, you ignored it. Fred shouted from the adjacent room, “No, you weren’t,” and you simply continued with what you were doing as though nothing had happened. Wouldn’t a statement like that normally get a mother’s attention? Even when you expressed, over the next few years, that you accepted the truth that Christina had been molested, you never once asked who had done it. One would think an issue of that kind of serious nature would at least warrant some curiosity.
Your self-focus was also evident when David was arrested. When you did talk to Christina, you had no concern for your granddaughter, except to accuse her of destroying the family. Instead, all you could talk about was how inconvenienced you and Fred were because you had to end your vacation early.
During that conversation, when Christina asked you if you believed that David had sexually abused Bethany, your reply was, “I don’t know.” For years, you accepted that Bethany’s father had molested her, yet when there was a cost to you and you had to either take the side of the Victim or the Abuser, you chose the Abuser. Your self-centeredness is typical of the profile of a Denier.
Deniers often viciously attack the Victim to protect the Abuser. Your words were: “Christina is using these accusations as a way of hurting her parents and getting the attention she craves. So sad that she is willing to create a fantasy world where she is the hero / victim. Will she ever come to her senses and ask for forgiveness?”
Several of your letters and emails have repeated these and similar claims. In addition, when you came to the hearings regarding David’s case, you chose to sit on the side of the courtroom with David’s supporters, in opposition to Bethany, demonstrating agreement with Fred in the same contempt for your granddaughter’s pain as you have for your daughter. In these comments and actions, you fit the profile of a Denier.
Victims tend to become people pleasers and unhealthy caretakers. Child victims of incest families take on the responsibility of keeping the system together. It’s the child’s job to take care of the sexual and emotional needs of the sexual abuser(s) and also to care for the emotional needs of the Deniers. When they are children, this is a matter of survival, but the trait becomes ingrained and carries over into adulthood.
In Christina’s life, she protected your emotional well-being by trying to be the perfect daughter and by pretending to be happy so your peace would not be disturbed. That continued even into adulthood when she sought to spare your feelings. When you never asked her who abused her, that was in indication that she was supposed to continue protecting you.
Victims often suffer from insomnia. For as long as we have been married, Christina has only rarely slept through the night uninterrupted. For many years, she woke almost every morning at about the time that Fred used to come into her bedroom when she was a child.
Victims have an excessive need to control their surroundings. Christina feels great stress when things are not in order. Clutter of any kind makes her feel very unsettled and she cannot relax until they are cleaned up. This desire for control is likely one of the factors that prompted her long standing interest and career in interior design. It enables her to control her environment in a way she never could as a child.
Victims make unhealthy choices in members of the opposite sex, frequently marrying Abusers. Nothing more needs to be said than pointing out that Christina married David. A choice, by the way, which was driven by an intense desire to get out of your house as quickly as possible.
Victims often act out, especially as children. Sitting around with the family, I heard many stories about things Christina did as a child, like the time she shaved off her eyebrows. That kind of behavior does not happen in a vacuum. It indicates something is seriously wrong. Children just don’t normally behave that way.
Since marrying Christina, I’ve observed characteristics in her life that are consistent with the profile of a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Her blog posts recount the numerous effects of her abuse and I’m witness to the effects.
That’s the book on a typical abusive family, and remarkably it’s the same as the book on the Schamer family. When I put all of these observations together, it is clear that your family fits the profile of an abusive family remarkably well. Fred is a stereotypical example of an Abuser. You are a stereotypical example of a Denier. Christina was a stereotypical example of a Victim.
The only thing that doesn’t fit the normal pattern is that Christina has escaped the family’s influence and has worked to become whole. Knowing what I have learned about sexual abuse in the past few years, I can see the traits very clearly. If I had no connection whatsoever with Christina, other than as an outsider looking in, I would be absolutely convinced that Christina has told the truth and that you have not. The evidence all supports her. It’s as though they wrote the book specifically about you.