How do I share my abusive childhood experience with my in-laws?
August 8, 2012 10:39 AM Subscribe
How do I "read in" my in-laws on my childhood physical/verbal abuse?
My wife's immediate family is very close and I spend a fair amount of time with them (I see some of them weekly and all of them at least once a month). One part of my life that I've only shared with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend (in a very generic way) is that I was sadistically abused by both of my parents for a good portion of my childhood. This has created a barrier between us and while I've only heard whispers about it from my wife, I know they sense that I don't give them much in terms of who I am and what I'm feeling. I've known them throughout my relationship with my wife which started over 16 years ago, so there's a lot of history there.
After years of off-and-on therapy and soul searching, I finally confronted my parents about their abuse almost one year ago. It was a topic that was never discussed growing up and we had the classic functional front going on with outsiders. In recent years, my mother began a revisionist campaign on my childhood memories where everything was positive or bad things that happened to me because bad things that happened to her. The only negative that was allowed was my "angry young man" years when I was a teenager that according to her narrative came out of nowhere and were a big mystery.
I don't see all the gory details being relevant here, but stories of what I remember have disturbed my therapists and even made one cry (which was not a positive experience). My mother on at least one occasion lied about me doing something and manipulated my father into beating me for it--and she smiled as he drug me down the hall for my punishment. That's the type of people I'm talking about.
What I do think is relevant is that I was (unsurprisingly) in denial myself about how bad things were. For a long time, I wasn't even sure if these things happened to me or if I had exaggerated them. About 4 years ago, while I was discussion another issue with a close family friend, she brought up that she had witnessed my mother beating me with a 2x4. She further explained that I had called her son asking them to call the police because I thought my parents were going to literally kill me. More recently, I found out from the woman's daughter that she also witnessed my mother routinely beating me. I had no memory of any of those events.
My world changed. I had confirmation that I really was abused and that my suspicion that there were many things that happened to me that I had blocked out was real.
So, my point here is that denial and the associated burying/being ashamed of what happened is a big part of my life.
Fast forward to last year. My parents made yet another passive-aggressive rude remark about my wife's family and I had enough. I decided that while I was explaining why their rude remarks about them would no longer be tolerated, I was also going to cover the abuse because my mother had been extra revisionist during this trip. I asked them to stop lying about what happened to me and admit what they did. Of course, they denied they did anything wrong--going with the extreme position that there was nothing remotely close to abuse that happened. I left it on a positive note, hoping that we could build on this and have an honest dialog in the future.
I wasn't prepared for the cut-off. I haven't spoken or heard from my parents since that confrontation, other than a Christmas Card they sent with no note inside and a check. I went back into therapy and that culminated with a letter to my parents that I sent in February along with the Christmas check explaining that until they took responsibility for what they did, I didn't want to communicate with them again. I got no response. I have no living extended family and the family friends who served in the aunts/uncles role have basically cut me off as well.
Obviously the recent events have been extremely hard on me and I know I've been acting "strange" around my wife's family. Due to the inevitable thoughts that come up about my own parents, being around them at times has been difficult. Especially during the holidays. My wife gave them a fairly benign explanation of why we weren't going to my hometown anymore and why they shouldn't bring up my how my parents are doing, but they obviously know there's much more going on.
Since I'm coming up on the 1-year anniversary of "The Confrontation", I felt it's probably time to let them in on what has been going on and break down some of these walls I've put up. My wife and I were thinking of having them over to the house to talk about it. I'd love to get some advice on how to do this and hear any similar experiences from those of you who may have gone through this already.
* My wife and I don't have children -- what happened to me is a big reason why, but we don't want to get into that with this discussion
* My brother-in-law was also abused by his ex-stepmother. Further complicating things is the fact that my sister-in-law stayed with the stepmother after the divorce and considers the stepmother her mom (her biological mother died when she was 2)
* My sister-in-law is a social worker and spent a couple years on a child psych ward in a hospital
* I plan on writing about my experience for friends and maybe on a wider scale at some point, so I'd like to share this with my wife's family before I start doing that
* My sister-in-law had a daughter last year, who my wife and I adore. Given my sister-in-law's profession and experience, I'd really hate for anything I say to become reasons for her to keep me away from my niece--although I recognize that I can't control that
* I'd like to make it as non-traumatic as possible for my brother-in-law, given his past experience
* I know they will look at me differently after this, but I'd love to avoid the pity/freak response
Thank you in advance!
Throwaway if you'd rather use that: firstname.lastname@example.org