Lack of Support in the Catholic Church For Child Abuse Survivors

For the past several years I have been dealing with the aftermath of verbal, physical, spiritual and psychological abuse at the hands of my mother. I was able to escape the situation only after I was married to my husband. Because of the abuse, my husband and I made choices before marriage that appeared sinful to the outside community even though we were manipulated into the decisions and even though we had saved ourselves for marriage. Moreover, because we had started going to confession more, my mother assumed we were sexually active, despite our insistence that we were not. When my husband and I finally made the choice to move far away from my family upon being married, literally, all hell broke loose, and the abuse reached levels I had never experienced. Essentially, the abuse made me have a nervous breakdown and left me with symptoms of PTSD.

However, when I reached out to friends, I got no support. I didn’t divulge all the details to them because I feared I would be gossiping and did not want to sin. Holding it all in caused me to implode and become agoraphobic, and withdrawn from the world. But, since then I have made some serious improvements, and have started to enjoy life again. I have also sought professional help as well. However, I still feel incredibly isolated since any mention of my past is enough to send others into speeches on how I ought to “honor my mother”. Or, I simply get silence. Also, after the abuse, every one of my relatives (save one) has cut me out upon going no contact with my parents. Every day, I deal with the anxiety of wondering if my parents are healthy and safe because it would be too toxic to ask them myself. And, my extended family and the community that I knew before being married has only heard my parent’s gossip about what happened which labels me “crazy”, “sinful”, and “hateful” and has also targeted my husbands as well.

This whole experience has been a true nightmare. Even though I was abused, I still love my parents, pray for them, and wish I could have a healthy relationship with them. But, if I were ever to initiate contact with them again, I know I would be subjected to the same manipulative techniques they used all along to incite unjust fear and shame in me. I just wish the Catholic community had a better support system for survivors who were abused by their parents. And, I wish I had even one friend in my life who cared enough to reach out during my breakdown. If there had been, I may have felt less isolated which would have prevented some of the self-loathing, etc. I experienced back then, and even a bit to this day. If you know of any sources of support for these types of situations, I would love to know about them. And, also please keep me and my husband, as well as my family in your prayers. God bless.

I am so sorry for what you endured. May God grant you peace and blessings.

The Catholic Charities at your Diocese office may have resources for you.

A couple of Dioceses have St Dymphna Society groups, they are support not only for the mentally ill but for the families who have dealt with mental illness.

http://www.qasparish.org/parish-organizations/outreach-ministries/210-st-dymphna-society.html

https://www.dolr.org/st-dymphna-society

Sometimes survivors support groups are held pretty “close to the vest” to protect the people there, but, don’t give up in asking!

You may be able to talk about bringing this to your area.

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Thanks for the resources. I can look into something like this in my area. Is it normal for catholics to react so negatively to survivors though? Am I just in the wrong community?

I think many people simply do not know how to react, Catholics, Jews, Lutherans, Pagans, no one has a monopoly on that.

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Fellow survivor here - I’ve got far too many threads on here about the topic, probably because it took pretty long to actually figure it out.

Unfortunately a lot of places do that, in and outside of the church. People aren’t comfortable with the idea of abuse, and they react by downplaying it. Speeches on “honoring your parents” are one way people downplay the idea that someone they know could have actually been through something where they would need to cut off a parent for their own sanity. Unfortunately I find that survivors of all walks of life report similar reactions; they’re typically adjusted to the speaker’s own background and beliefs but the content is often the same. Secular versions just talk about gratitude instead or something similar.

But that’s not always much comfort for those of us who often end up looking to the Church for the family we never had. The response of our brothers and sisters in faith matters so much more than the response of the world in general. I think I influenced my priest enough to at least acknowledge in the homilies that there are people who don’t have safe families.

I wish I had some better answers for you. It hurts when our own communities don’t seem to want us unless we make our life stories acceptable to them. Unfortunately it’s a church of sinners. If it helps, there are many among our saints who had terrible childhoods as well.

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I’m sorry you went through such a bad time.

With respect to your question, “Is it normal for Catholics to react so negatively to survivors”, I don’t think this has anything to do with whether someone is Catholic or any other religion or no religion. I agree with TheLittleLady that people who have not been through something similar themselves don’t quite know how to react or what to say. They may also be afraid of saying “the wrong thing” and making the trauma worse.

I’ve had many situations in the past where somebody who was upset about a family trauma was looking for support and I said something I thought was supportive or kind, only to get blasted (sometimes by the person, sometimes by a third party) for saying “the wrong thing” despite my having good intentions. As a result, I’m wary of saying anything other than a general expression of sympathy to someone who’s having family problems.

I think one is on shaky ground when looking to random members of a Catholic parish to respond or support in a particular way. Many people at church are dealing with significant personal issues in their own life, whether that’s visibly apparent or not, and they may not have the emotional resources to respond well to someone else whose personal problem is very different from their own personal problem. Often this gets translated into “people aren’t comfortable with the fact that I have a problem” when it’s actually that the person in question has umpteen problems of their own taking up all their brain space.

For all these reasons, I think you are probably best off seeking support from survivors’ groups, Catholic or not, where people are best equipped to provide the help you need.

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You may want to look for “adult children” or “codependency” support groups.

Also, a lot of people come from troubled family backgrounds or are currently in a troubled or high-conflict situation, and may have a hard time empathizing with any one point of view.

For instance, a parent with an argumentative child might have trouble relating to a person whose parents are overbearing.

It’s not that they don’t care, it’s they just can’t relate.

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This group has been a guest on Catholic Answers Live. You may want to reach out and see if they have resources available

https://www.maritalhealing.com/

Part of the problem is that some people manipulate Catholicism in order to “prep” or “condition” people for abuse or to stay in abuse. Your opening post about being afraid to talk about it for fear of it being “gossip” and being forced to hold it in (perhaps you were told it was your cross to bear or simply to offer it up) are prime examples. And I’m sure much of what is said to manipulate people in your situation also was the method that pedophiles used to manipulate their victims and the victims’ families. This situation is where Catholics can speak up and “lay the smackdown” (forget being charitable, the suffering need emergency relief now!) on such horrible people who manipulate to abuse.

Others simply don’t want to be bothered with other people’s problems.

There are others, though, that simply may not understand what it is like. Perhaps their silence is them “listening and learning”?

Also, there are people who post here about their pasts where they were abused by family members and how nobody believes them. You are not alone. (I myself had to deal with an alcoholic family member growing up).

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I’ll have to find it, but there was a piece I read that suggested that people tend to figure out who they related to in a story (and often how) within the first few seconds, and it’s hard to change that sometimes. Often this can cause trouble for abuse victims because many people relate initially to the parent in the story. I’ve seen it myself in how stories I tell get reinterpreted in terms of things the person I’m talking to would do, or things that they’ve experience with their own children - things that are often really not even close to what actually happened. And then that can to exactly the sort of lecturing on “honor your mother” or “you’ll miss her when she’s gone” or whatever that survivors hate.

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Blessed Margaret Castello op https://www.littlemargaret.org

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This is for those abused; it has some resources in the web. Do not know anyone who has made this retreat but it looks good.

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