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There's an Elephant in the Room

by annie

There's an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with "How are you?" and "I'm fine" and
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather. We talk about work.
We talk about everything else--except the elephant in the room.

There's an elephant in the room
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk.
It is constantly on our minds.
For you see, it is a very big elephant.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.

Oh, please say her name.
Oh, please, say "Barbara" again.
Oh, please, let's talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
perhaps we can talk about her life.

Can I say "Barbara" and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, you are leaving me Alone...
In a room...
With an elephant.


(Reprinted with permission of Bereavement Publishing, Inc. 888-604-4673 (HOPE).

We grew up with an elephant in the room, especially if our abuse was a parent or sibling. I don't know how many times I've heard survivors say their parent(s) knew but did nothing, or acknowledged the abuse but gave the order to not talk about it any more...or blamed and punished the survivor either for lying, or causing the abuse. Sometimes we, the survivors, may even come to ignore it or not see it anymore because it is simply too painful. But the years pass by, and there is that elephant still in the room.

I've heard of mothers calling their precious daughters sluts and whores, blaming them for the abuse. I've heard of mothers cleaning up the blood after their daughters were abused by the father, and yet they can still deny it happened. I've heard horror stories of mothers who have even given their daughters orders to go to the fathers, knowing what awaited their little girls...and even then denying the abuse ever happened...the elephant in the room.

I don't think there is anything more difficult for me than meeting with a mother who refuses to admit the elephant is there; or a court system that not only refuses to acknowledge the elephant when a child tells them their daddy is 'touching them' or 'hurting them', but actually turns it on the mother who believes the child and punishes her for believing and trying to do something about it. And all the while, the child is getting the message loud and clear..."there is no elephant in the room!"

When we become adults and finally come out of denial and begin the healing journey, our families quickly try to get us back to our 'old' self. They sometimes make desperate attempts to get us to quit talking about it (the elephant) and go back to our nice, peaceful, make-believe world where there is no elephant in the room, because they don't want to see it or acknowledge it is there. It's much easier to ignore or deny its existance.

The question that has plagued many of us is, "Why do our loved ones have such a difficult time acknowledging there is an elephant in the room and giving us the help and support we need to heal? Why do they turn on us instead of the abuser?" I have some thoughts I'd like to share.

In the case of a mother who can't believe her daughter was abused by her father, even when there was evidence of her knowing: It isn't easy to admit to yourself and others that the man you married did such a horrible thing to his and her own child. Not only is this a betrayal of the worst kind, but it is sick and twisted to turn to a child for sexual gratification, especially your own child.

It isn't easy to look at the fact that she failed to protect her child from her worst enemy...her own father. The guilt and shame can be overwhelming, and we know how much we try to run from facing pain. I just spoke with a survivor whose dad had abused her. Her mom found out about it later and supported her. He had died at an early age so he was no longer in the picture when the mom found out. This has been in the open for many years now, and just recently my friend talked to her mom about it again and discovered her mom couldn't forgive herself for not protecting her. She had carried this pain for so long. My friend told her mom that she forgave her but she needed to forgive herself. The mom sobbed. My friend said she could actually see the weight of all that guilt fall off her mom. Now, thankfully, the mom didn't allow her guilt and shame to keep her from supporting her daughter in every way she could. But I think you can see why some would try to avoid facing it for as long as they can.

Also, when a child is abused, there is the liklihood the mother was also a victim of childhood abuse that has not been resolved. If repressed or blocked, somehow, a child being abused is likely to trigger memories, strong feelings, fears, etc. Those of us who have run from memories and done our best to keep them blocked know how easy it is to avoid, run, escape when there is danger of abuse memories surfacing.

I hope you can begin to understand a little of the delimmna mothers can be put in. How can she not be overwhelmed, and the temptation to avoid, run, deny is too often given in to at the expense of the child.

For the abuser, if he has any conscience at all, acknowledging the abuse would be acknowledging how very much he hurt someone he was supposed to protect and love. It would mean facing his own perversion...and I believe would also mean facing whatever caused that bent, which I think involves a past history of abuse (being a victim). (I use 'he' but it could also be 'she'.)

As to the siblings...as children they need their parents. They want and need their approval and love. They want to please them. As an adult, that doesn't change. That need combined with the need to see parents as good can cause them to continue to not acknowledge the elephant in the room. They don't want to believe their own parent could do such horrible things. They may fear it has been passed down to them as well and what if they abuse their children, too. Also, they may be victims as well and may not be at a place in their own life where they can deal with it. Many siblings have later come back to the survivor and shared that they now remember and are sorry for not being supportive. To believe the offended sibling often means the parents will abandon them, too.

In us is a belief that to support one person somehow means turning against the other. The same can and does happen with parents when the abuser is a sibling of the victim. I don't think everyone understands that you can acknowledge a person has done wrong, and harmed someone else you love, and you can support the victim without having to turn your back on the abuser. Isn't that what being a parent is all about? You love your child no matter. You accept them no matter. You don't accept all they do or like all they do, but you love them. And the victim needs to realize that it isn't a betrayal or rejection of them for the parent to still love and have a relationship with the offender. It becomes rejection and betrayal when the parent chooses the sibling that offended over the injured one, and takes his/her side against the abused, and tries to shut the abused one up.

The best of all scenerios would be having our family finally acknowledge the elephant. They would lovingly support the victim and get help for the offender...even if it means jail time. And of course if the victim is still a child, a parent must do what is necessary to protect their child from any further abuse.

Some would say it is mean and unloving and unnecessary to take steps to bring justice to the situation, but it isn't. It is the most loving thing a parent can do. If you love someone, you want to see them whole. If it is one of your children doing the abusing, then they need help...lots of help. Otherwise you are enabling him/her to grow up and abuse others, including their own children. If it is a spouse, you are putting other children, including future grandchildren at risk. The offender is usually trapped in the cycle of abuse and can't stop. They are addicted. Intervention is usually the only way they will get any help.

Do you have an elephant in the room? If so, talk about it, get support and do what you can to get the others in the room to stop ignoring it.


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