As host of The Empowering Process Podcast, I get to spend time and discussion with some pretty amazing people. In this episode, The Shame of Abuse, I spend some sensitive moments with Sarah Hart, founder of Empowerment with Sarah, as she discusses, with still some difficulty, being raised within an abusive household and the impact this had on her life. She bravely discusses scenarios that were normal occurrences in her life while demonstrating her journey to purposefully find a healthier lifestyle and her mission to help women and children do the same.
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Gail: Hey, everybody, Gail Kraft here. Today, The Empowering Process podcast is going to be talking about the Shame of Abuse. And you will hear recovery coming through this, you will also hear, “Still struggling, working towards recovering.” “No, I have to.” That type of conversation. But we will also hear some stories, some examples of what growing up in an abusive environment is like and what it does for choices and boundaries. This is a tough conversation. So, just warning you right away, this is raw, and these are real, two people willing to put themselves forward. And we thank them very much. So again, The Empowering Process Podcast is presenting to you, The Shame of Abuse. Thank you.
So, with me now is someone who is actually willing to be present and have her face shown and talk about her story when it comes to abuse. Now, there are a variety of abuses. It usually starts off with verbal abuse, which creates emotional abuse, mental abuse, and eventually that does lead to physical abuse. And I had mentioned before, it’s usually a little bit more complicated than that, but we’re going to strictly talk about specific abusive situations. And for our guest, Sarah, this was as a child.
And understand that when a child experiences abuse, it’s usually the parent who doesn’t know how to be a parent, it’s a parent who’s love and care, and tenderness is necessary for a child to grow and mature properly. And when that’s not there, it does have devastating effects on your ability to enter the adult world, kind of okay. And so, we’re going to talk, if it’s okay with you, Sarah, about a few specifics with you.
And you had mentioned when we first talked, about really missing your mother’s love and your mother’s tenderness, and your mother’s caring. That she wasn’t there for you, and you were just really not there in her parameter. Can you give us a couple of examples, a couple of stories where that was quite evident for you?
Sarah: Yeah. So, with my mother, I definitely felt like there was just something always missing. There was always a weird connection with her. I truly felt as if, like, she hated me, and I was a big inconvenience to her life. That is how I really felt as a child. And a couple stories that I can give that just sort of outline that would be… I mean, this one is seared into my brain. I was probably seven or eight years old, and we had our family over for Christmas. And I had a couple of cousins.
And me, my next cousin and my other cousin, and my brother, like, we’re all close in age, so of course we’re going to be kids. But my one cousin, she got her hair cut short, and my other cousin was just making fun of her and calling her a boy, saying her haircut looked like that. And she started crying, and she just ran downstairs and was like, “Oh, she called me a boy. She called me a boy.” And without anyone understanding what really happened, my mom rushes up the stairs, “Where’s Sarah?” and just slaps me across the face.
And this is on Christmas, so you would think she’d be on her best behavior. And I remember I just was so like, taken back, I shoved her. And then she slapped me again. And then I shoved her, and I dove under her legs. I was completely in disbelief. I mean, I don’t know what I thought really but I knew that how she was handling that wasn’t appropriate, which I think is why I shoved her. I was so taken aback by what had happened.
Another example of that that I could give is just whenever I had a need. So as a kid I really loved school, that’s where I poured my efforts into, was my academics. And so, we’d need pencil crayons and things like this, or a new backpack or this type of book and these types of things. And whenever I would go to my mom and tell her I need that, I needed it for school, or even if it wasn’t school, something that I needed clothing wise or whatnot, it was always met with, “Well, ask your father.”
I’m like, “Oh, okay.” Well, then I asked my father, he’s like, “Well, ask your mother.” Like, “Okay.” So, I asked mom, she goes, “I told you to ask your father,” and so now it’s this ping pong back and forth. And it’s like, “Okay, now I have nothing,” and you just eventually go silent. You stop asking for things. You just think, “Oh, nothing’s ever going to be accomplished. I’m not important enough for these things.” So, you just don’t even bother. And that, of course, later on in my life, got me into quite some situations, just where people were like, “Why didn’t you ask? Why didn’t you just ask for what you needed?” And I’m like, “Oh, because I didn’t know I could do that.”
Gail: Yes, so what happens with emotional and physical abuse, so you had both, I don’t know how to impress this on the listeners, when you’re ignored, it’s a kind of abuse, especially as a child that you just can’t put your finger on. But it creates significant damage, significant damage. As a child, there are certain things that you need, one of them is to be held and to be cuddled, to be held, to be hugged. The other is to be heard. And yes, many of us were raised with, “Children should be seen and not heard.” I was one of those. As you do shut down, and you don’t speak anymore but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.
Children should be heard as well; they can’t express themselves the way that adults can. But when they’re crying when they’re fussy, when they’re acting out, there is a root reason. And as an adult, it’s our job to nurture that child and find out what is the reason? What is going on? And to keep them safe, keep them protected, and keep them with the tools that they need in their day-to-day life. And it’s not just food. I’m just reading some of the notes that I took when we were talking earlier.
So, there are indicators that there is and has been abuse. I’ll give you the little, short story that I mentioned, with a friend of mine, who was raised… and I won’t go into her story; that will be separate. But was raised with significant abuse, she was ignored, she was actually sent away as an infant to a foster home. And then when she was brought back, then she was sent away to a boarding school. And then she was brought back, and then she was sent away. And so, it was constantly being sent away because she was a bother.
When I met her, of course, by the time I met her, she was an adult. And I was invited to her house for a New Year’s Eve party. And I showed up with my date. And her and her husband were behind the bar waiting on guests. And I went up to her and I said, “We’re here,” expecting my host, as I’m her guest, for her to socialize with me. And she’s like, “Oh, no, I have to serve the drinks.” Now, my date knew this was not a healthy situation. He looked at me and I said, “Yeah, we can leave.” And I told her we’re going, went to another party, and we left because the servitude was something.
I was in shock. I didn’t know how to deal with seeing, “How were you raised that you think this is okay for you to wait on everybody? And that you don’t deserve a place at the table.” And that’s another thing that happens, as a child with physical, emotional, and mental abuse, you grow up not believing that you deserve anything but that. And it becomes a pain that you’re able to manage. And so, some people, you Sarah, got out of it. You were so fortunate. And yes, you banged into walls before you finally did.
So many women and men don’t because that’s the pain, the world that they know. And in their mind, it’s like, “I know how to deal with this. I know what this is. So, I’m not going to go into that other place,” which might be better, “because I’m going to leave what I know I can control.” And it is a sense of control. Then parents who are neglectful and abusive, usually also come from that type of background. Do you want to talk a little bit about how the ‘aha’ you had when you realized that your mother really didn’t know any better?
Sarah: Yeah, for me, it was definitely when I started working with children. And I started in a daycare center with various ages from zero to five or six. And just, I was so wowed by how backwards it was for me growing up. And from there, I started, I guess, learning just a lot about just taking in and comparing, which maybe that wasn’t the best, but comparing what I was trained to do with the kids. Compared to again, my upbringing.
And for me, I think at the end of the day, I realized my mom has a lot of her own pain and trauma. And she comes from generational trauma as well. She was the youngest of a family of four, to parents who were alcoholics. And I’m sure that was really hard for her growing up, and I’m sure her voice wasn’t heard growing up, either. And that’s about all because hers is not my story to tell. But I started to see a lot of similarities between the bits and pieces I had heard her speak to me when I was younger, and things that have happened in my own life.
And what I really came to realize in the midst of all my pain and really trying to heal was that, like, me and her are essentially the same person, but she just didn’t have any support, any guidance. And unfortunately, she got into an abusive relationship with an addict that she was powerless over and unable to leave. And so, within that, I just see a woman who’s in a lot of pain, and who’s dis-empowered, and who’s never known the way out, although she’s done her best.
And so, the anger and the upset and at times, hatred that I feel towards her, just part of me doesn’t feel like it’s… I can just stay with that because I just think to myself, like, “I’m so grateful and so fortunate to have found a way out and to have found a great relationship.” But what if that great relationship wasn’t? Where would I be? And at the end of the day, she’s just a human who’s in a lot of pain and doesn’t know her way out. And so, to fault her for that is, like, faulting myself for my past mistakes.
Gail: Exactly. It’s so, so difficult to learn to forgive abusers. It is really because it’s horrific, it’s constant, it’s deep. And even if the forgiveness is an understanding, this is your life, and you went down this path. Thank goodness, I didn’t. I had more choices than you. And I’m going to move forward in spite of the background that I had. So, it’s kind of leaving that pain behind, and understanding it’s not yours to heal; you’ve got yourself to heal. And that’s a lifelong journey.
It’s not an awakening where you go, “Okay, I’m healed because I understand this, and I understand that. I mean, as a child, these are your developmental years. These are the years where you are taught your boundaries. This is where your brain is wired, and your physiology is wired. Like you said, it’s ancestral. And so, as an adult, that is not overcome like that. And so, these issues, every once in a while, will rise, but you have the tools. And every time it rises, it will be easier than the first time, than the second time, than the third time because you recognize it for what it is. And you have tools to face it and to deal with it.
I want to say thank you for the poem that you sent, Girl without a Mother. I’m going to read the poem at the end because that is basically what has happened. It is this figure, maternal figure is so, so key, checked out on you. And even just not being there, with the door closed, is an emotional abuse. The psychological abuse are the words that are used. “You’re not good enough, you’re too fat, you’re too lazy, you’re sloppy, you’re mean, you’re cruel. I want you gone.” Those words are mental and emotional abuse. And then there’s the physical abuse. And they progress because the anger of the abuser doesn’t get satisfied. And the anger has nothing to do with you, the person being abused.
Sarah: Yes, and you think that it does. And one of, I would say the biggest wounds, and the one that I think emotionally is just so detrimental, is that typically with this type of abuse, or emotional abuse, the person on the receiving end is so severely gaslighted, that they’re unable to trust themselves. And so, to even be able to recognize that they’re not being treated right is so hard. And then to be able to believe yourself, when you really think that something is wrong, and being able to stick with that. Because for so long, you were told you’re the reason why all these things are happening to you.
Gail: And you believed it.
Sarah: You do, yeah. Especially when it’s coming from God, your parents because it’s such a small child, you have these big parents in front of you, you’re looking up at them, and you rely solely on them for your needs and wants, and for everything, communication. You know, mom’s usually your best friend until what, maybe age eight, nine, or ten. And unfortunately, for me, it wasn’t that way. And so, yeah, when God tells you, you’re bad, or you’re wrong, and then starts punishing you, you think, “Oh my gosh, I must be horrible. I must be bad.” And you accept that, especially when it’s conditioning from such a young age over so many years as well.
Gail: You had mentioned a story that’s indicative, and just think about this, guys, of what her household must have been like. That you had someone over and you had pets. And they made a comment about the pets.
Sarah: Yeah, we had two dogs and two cats. And my friend, she’s like, “Your pets are kind of just there. It’s like they’re just part of the house. Nobody really interacts with them. They’ve got food, they’ve got water but aside from that, like, they’re just there.” And I’m like, “Yeah.” I didn’t really know what to think of that. But now when I reflect back, that’s how I kind of felt in my house as well.
Gail: You were just there.
Sarah: Yeah, I was just there. I’ve got food. I’ve got water. That’s good enough.
Gail: And that is a very astute friend, to notice that nobody was playing with the pets, petting the pets. I mean, in our household, we have a cat and a dog, and they’re all over us. They’re sitting on our lap, they’re sitting next to us, they’re climbing all over us. The cat is kneading on us I mean. Where do we begin? An animal in hand, and they take turns. And if they’re not playing with us, we’re chasing them in order to play with them.
And that’s what you do with your children. And that’s what you do, even as adults, with relationships. The best part about an adult relationship is when you can play, when you can laugh and giggle and just play with no expectations, just like a child. Just because and have fun. And those the types of things that you’re learning now as an adult, and that’s part of your healing.
Sarah: Yes, definitely, like realizing, you can have fun. I’m like, “Oh, yeah,” and I get to create that for myself now, but I forget, because it wasn’t something that was just natural in my life. And so, when I’m able to do these things, or go on a vacation or do something that just like, makes my inner child so happy, sometimes I even still will go into a feeling of, “Oh my gosh, do I deserve this?” and then I’ll feel guilty. And that’s something I have to tell myself, “No, you’re not doing anything wrong by enjoying yourself.”
And I think too many times when I was a child, perhaps, just by having fun, and enjoying myself and doing what kids do and giggling with my brother, that was wrong and that was punished. And so, you just get that out of your system, I guess. And as you grow older, you just forget that. We’re here to have a good time and have fun. It doesn’t have to be serious all the time.
Gail: The more fun, the more creative, the better you are. I have a friend; she was a client and is now a friend. And what she does when she really needs to break loose, is she goes to the park and gets on a swing and swings as high as she dares. And that gives her the tickle in her belly. And she starts to laugh and giggle. And she’s able to enjoy the day again. So, we’ve had coaching sessions at the beach on the swings.
Sarah: That’s awesome. I love swings too. That’s great.
Gail: And then maybe sit on a blanket and have a picnic, and then hold the session. So yeah, whatever it takes. So that’s something that I would say, for any of you, any of us, when life gets too serious, is to find that. What was that game? I forget what it was but bounce the ball against the wall in the park or hit a ball or go play miniature golf by yourself because that’s something that you can do by yourself. But it’s not a big deal. It only takes a few minutes and it’s fun. And no one’s judging you when you’re by yourself.
So, find these little joyful things that you can do to kind of get out of the funk. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money; it doesn’t have to be a vacation. If there’s three or more of you, you can play dodge-ball. So much fun, throwing the ball at each other. It also gets out frustration. So, it’s getting the body going and laughing. Laughter, you know, a child who doesn’t laugh, is the saddest picture in the world. And so, a child that is abused is one that doesn’t have much laughter in their life.
Sarah: Or asks if it’s okay to laugh.
Gail: Asks if it’s okay to laugh. And then the answer is no. So, Sarah, thank you so much for spending time with us. I know it’s a hard one to talk about because it’s so personal and it’s so deep. And there are so many stories, it’s hard to pick which one to talk about because it’s just how your day in and day out was, which was so not like everybody else’s day in and day out. But we’ll be reading her poem at the end of the session. So, when you’re done hearing the different stories that I’ve collected, you’ll hear Sarah’s poem, and it’s A Girl without a Mother. Thank you, Sarah, so much for your time.
So, Sarah, there’s another story or two that really highlights the instability, shall we say, of your mom. And both parents were at fault here, guys, but the mom figure is the one that stands out right now. And I think it gives us an insight as to what a normal day was like for you and your brother. So, do you want to share with us? What’s it like to drive in the car with your mom?
Sarah: On Saturdays, typically we’d go and spend the day grocery shopping and it was a whole day event. And my brother had a hyper activeness disorder. He was a very hyper young kid, and it would drive my mom nuts. And so, he was always making noises with his mouth or doing something, and she just would get really irritated. And I guess it would cause her to completely explode. And the way that she would do this is she’d just yell that she’s, “Gonna fu!ing drive us off a cliff,” and she’s, “Gonna fucking kill us all.”
And of course, it’s two young kids, we’re like, “Yeah, you don’t know how to operate a motor vehicle.” We don’t know what’s going on, we have no idea why she’s acting so angry and telling us she’s going to kill all of us, over groceries or over my brother making a noise with his mouth. And so yeah, that was really terrifying because I mean, I don’t really recall how I responded as a kid, I just sort of blocked it out, because it was a regular occurrence. But it probably really did something psychologically to my head.
And then another thing that she would do, when especially she couldn’t handle my brother, because again, he was diagnosed ADHD, so a really hyper kid. And she’d lock him in his room. And when he’d open the door and protest and scream, just frantically upset, she would say that she’s going to drop him off at the police station, or that she’s going to call CIS. And he’s going to go into a foster home. And this was regular, she did this regularly.
And she would even go as far as like, pretending to pack a bag for him. So, she’d put like socks and T shirts, and pants. And so, my brother literally believed that he was going to be abandoned at either a police station or a foster home, which was horrible. And this would happen a couple times a month, for the most part. And yeah, whenever she’d get really upset, and she couldn’t handle herself, she would throw things. Like she would throw milk across the room or pick up those wall phones and chuck that a couple times.
Whatever she happened to have in her hand when she was upset, she would use it and bash it with her face, whether it be a fork, or a knife. And there’s a couple times when, I guess she’d be chopping vegetables, and we’d be in the kitchen having a discussion, she would get upset at me. And she would point the knife at me and make her angry face. But it was very like threatening. And again, as a small child, like I don’t know what she’s going to do, because I didn’t know that she was going to be throwing things in times previous or threatening our lives. So, you never know how far it’s going to go.
Gail: So, this is the type of emotional and mental abuse in it, it’s a normal occurrence. And for those who are in this kind of household, you don’t know that it’s not normal, you don’t know that it’s unusual to be that extreme. Now, we all lose our temper, from time to time. But for it to be a regular basis, you’re being raised in an unstable, unhealthy, unhappy environment. And then, for you, Sarah, to enter adulthood as balanced as you are, it is really a miracle. It really is a miracle that you were able to get a hold of yourself and go down a completely different path. You have changed the ancestral damage of your family. It’s huge.
Sarah: Thank you for acknowledging that. It definitely hasn’t been easy, and I definitely pay the price. But yeah, to me, I don’t know, it was obvious, I just said I didn’t want to live my life like that. I didn’t want to grow up and be my mom.
Gail: And it takes conscious choice, and it takes such bravery to face the things that none of us want to face. The things that we don’t like about ourselves have to come up. And yes, it’s one thing to say, “This is the environment and it’s my mom and my dad that created this environment, but then this is the behavior that I have to acknowledge that I had because of that. But now that I understand the root, I can change that moving forward.
Sarah: Exactly. And it alleviates, a little bit of the shame that comes with it. Because of course, growing up in that sort of environment, there were tendencies that I picked up on. And so, I became probably in ways I didn’t even realize, a bit toxic in my relationships. And so, I felt a lot of shame when I realized that. So, then I went a step further and I really wanted to understand where that behavior would have come from because I thought, “I don’t think I’m this awful person. I mean, I had good intentions. So where did the confusion come from?” It came from my parents, came from the environment where my reality was molded and shaped.
Gail: Right. And now you’re remolding it and shaping it. And that’s the thing, that’s the awesome thing about the human brain. We can do that. We’re not a program that is set and that’s it. We’re a program that can be modified and upgraded. So, congratulations.
Sarah: But we have to be willing.
Gail: Oh, you have to be willing, you have to be willing, you have to be honest with yourself. If with no one else, be honest with yourself, and we’re so good at not being honest with ourselves.
Sarah: We’re very good at denying and reflecting reality.
Gail: Yeah, the stories that we tell. But when you stop that… and guys, I just had a chit chat with Sarah about a story that affected me my entire life that only two years ago came to light for me. And so, there’s always more, there’s always more, there’s always more. Just be open to it and let the shame, the guilt, the anger, go, and just examine it. And know that once you see it, once you acknowledge it, once you accept that this is what happened, you have the power to change it any way that you want. It’s doesn’t define you. Your past does not define your future. It defines who you are right now. It defines what has happened. But it does not define your future because you can change your behavior.
So, Sarah shared a poem she wrote with me when she was in the midst of uncovering her feelings about domestic abuse or abuse in general. And it’s called A Girl without a Mother.
A girl without a mother repeats it to another.
She sees nothing wrong, her spirit weak and ego strong.
Never taught above love, her needs never put above.
Worked her fingers to the bone just to pay for her home.
Met a dis-empowered man who worked a business with a van.
He wasn’t very caring, but man was he daring.
A narcissist addict, caused a lot of conflict.
He used covert abuse as he swept in to seduce.
Angry, sad, irate, but you still took that bait.
Where were your motherly instincts?
He had all of the characteristics.
So many bad things were happening.
But it was just the beginning.
Where are the adults?
And why is everything my fault?
No patience, no compassion.
You couldn’t even imagine growing up in this place.
It killed all your passion.
When depression set in the end was about to begin.
“You are a problem child and you’re always acting wild.
What’s the matter with you?
Where is the girl I knew?
If you don’t do what I say, get the fu! out of my way.
Everything you do is your true colors coming through.
I only see your flaws and hold a domestic view of you.
You’re just like your father, always making my life hard.
Me being abusive, that’s the most absurd thing that I’ve heard.
It was you who is the problem.
I blame my choices on Robin.
That’s it, I’m leaving your father and we’ll replace him with another.
Why can’t you be perfect in this environment of horror?
My boyfriend choked you.
Did you say, “No, it can’t be this way,”?
You don’t do as I say so I’m just tossing you away.
I need this little bit of love from a man who I put above for you to see, little dove.
I don’t know what is love.
So, you need to leave me by sight.
And if you try and fight, I will shame you.
And then blame you for all the things you go through.”
Unprotected and alone without a proper home.
I was vulnerable and naïve, and I wore it on my sleeve.
On the streets, it’s a mistake because everyone’s a snake.
I was surrounded by them all but missed the writing on the wall.
These disempowered men who lured me to their dens.
And I, just a little dove, wanting to be loved.
Years of being tortured led me to an epiphany.
It was never me who was to blame, so I shouldn’t feel the shame.
Now I have taken back my power.
In divine love I bathe and shower.
I feel poisoned in my heart.
But I refuse for this to be the start.
Of all the lessons that I learned.
It is this one that still burns.
A girl without a mother repeats it to another.
And so, I now break the cycle.
And all I ask in return is acknowledgement from you both, all the lessons that I learned.
I’m now an empowered woman.
I know I’m quite wise.
But to get to this place, I had to pay the price.
Instead of pointing all the blame to make you feel the shame.
I wish to teach you to be a strong woman, like the one that I became.
Abuse is pretty powerful. Thank you for sharing.
Hey, everybody, Gail Kraft here. And I want to thank you very much for listening to these compelling stories, these heartfelt stories about the shame of abuse. And there are organizations that you can turn to if you’re ready to get out of this situation. There is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. There’s Hope Recovery, Fort Refuge, domesticshelters.org, Love is Respect. I will share this information in the comments.
But really, the shame of abuse, children who grow up this way don’t realize that it’s not normal. And when they start to realize that not everybody lives in a house that has violence, that has anger, the shame can be overwhelming. And the need to hide and not let people know is very real and very deep. Get out of your hiding. If something was brought up for you because of this, please share it. If you know someone who could use to hear this, share it out. Comment below. Reach out to me if you want to talk a little bit more. I love you guys. Gail Kraft, The Empowering Process podcast.
You can contact Sarah at: firstname.lastname@example.org