One of lasting impacts of experiencing abuse within the psychiatric system and oppression within the legal system, medical system, child protection system and police (mainly due to the combination of being a woman and having a psychiatric history), is that I’m very sensitive to not being believed or not feeling believed.
Honestly, sometimes I feel like I spend the majority of my life just trying to justify my lived reality to other people. Trying to convince professionals, friends, neighbours, family members and strangers that I am telling the truth. It’s exhausting.
And even when people DO believe me, I have trouble trusting. I get defensive when I even perceive that I might not be being believed, or that someone is challenging me on the facts of my own life. Not being believed or not feeling believed are major triggers for me. They bring me back to times in my life, during abuse, when the abusers did not believe that what they were doing was abuse. It brings me back to times when health care professionals did not believe me about various things. These triggers cause me to feel unsafe in the present moment.
Survivors of sexual violence spend a lot of time fighting to be believed. Because “systems of oppression” (aka the medical, legal, police, CAS etc) exist within, and to maintain, rape culture, folks who speak out about experiencing violence are often viewed with suspicion. There are a lot of myths out there about sexual violence and not a lot of people who see the facts.
The more marginalized a survivor is, the more likely it will be that she will face oppression within these oppressive systems. Thus, systems which supposedly exist to serve justice are not applied equally to all folks. Stigma based on mental health status is one form of oppression, perhaps it is a part of abelism, perhaps it is it’s own type of oppression. But survivors who are women face the patriarchy, People of Colour and Indigenous folks face racism and colonialism, queer survivors face homophobia, trans survivors face transphobia, folks with disabilities face abelism, economically marginalized folks experience discrimation related to poverty, and some people, due to intersecting oppression, experience all of these things.
For me, the fact that there have been important times in my life where I was not believed, has impacted on my ability to feel safe in speaking my truth. I find myself constantly justifying myself and sadly sometimes even second guessing myself.
Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I really did make things up. Maybe I am really the abusive one. Maybe I’m not a good parent. Maybe I am seriously mentally ill…
The worst part of having survived emotional abuse and systemic abuse through the mental health care system is that I don’t even believe myself half the time.
I’m tired today. I’m doing my best, but I don’t feel capable. I’m working as hard as I can, but I feel like a failure. But I feel vulnerable. I feel very vulnerable. I feel more alone than I technically am. I had to justify myself too much this week and I let it get to me.
My advice to survivors is this:
You are the expert in your own life. Be your own hero. Believe yourself, you have no reason to lie. You can trust your memories. You can trust your instincts and gut feelings, even if you have no memories. You can trust your body.
You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. No is a complete sentence.
I believe you. I believe that this isn’t your fault. I know that if you could do better you would do better. Your best is enough.