…but I was just pretending
… but I was just pretending
By Peggy Hoffman
She told her mom that she said, “I love you Daddy, but I was just pretending,” when he took her to a county fair, after a family court judge blindly put her in the full custody of her abuser. And, I told her mom, my daughter, that was how she was surviving. I didn’t have to tell her that. She knew. I guess it was an acknowledgement we both needed. Right at that singular moment I wasn’t fully aware of the scope of that statement, but it has brought me to a realization that I’ve been pursuing for decades.
My grandfather sexually abused his seven daughters which, of course, included my mother. Some to greater degrees than others, we know, and that might include “the knowledge” that it was going on with the other girls. We will never know for sure. Even though it has been talked about in the years after his passing, it’s kept in hushed tones. A trip back home put me in a corner of a seaside restaurant with a cousin and we “talked around it.” Those girls who are still living keep it hedged in a fragile place where my generation does not want to tread too intrusively. We guard their secrets almost as fiercely as they do. My understanding that this relates to the choices our family’s women make concerning who they have relationships with (abusive men) has been with me since my teen years, but that’s where the view in the scope went black.
I wanted to know more about pretending to love an abuser because if we win our battle for our angel there will be years of healing for her, and understanding will facilitate that. If we don’t win this round there will be rounds to come. I say “pretending,” but it’s not completely pretend. The tidy professional package calls it a Trauma Bond. It’s misunderstood by authorities, and leads them to wrong turns in their conclusions. But I’m glad there’s a name for it because my understanding has not been packaged, and it’s been a helter- skelter of personal theory.
My grandfather was a key male player in my young years because my father died when I was very young. He had his own problems. My earliest recollection is of having the knowledge that he abused and sexually abused my mother and aunts, and how we all frantically fixed whatever he needed fixed to keep the peace. Although I did not fall victim to a direct sexual assault by him (to my knowledge) it has caused me to personally question how I have an attachment to him at all. I have, in honest moments, questioned my sanity, and at times it has filled me with disgust. I fondly tell my children about fishing trips and the funny things he did like drop his false teeth in his chowder to make the kids laugh. The smile then fades and I question how I hold him dear in any way.
Our angel, Grace, has a love for Daddy because he is Daddy. Children are smart and know that a Daddy means something important in their life. A daddy is supposed to fill a specific spot that no one else fills. So children will work around the crater in their life called sexual abuse because in times of stress their need for care is greater…and Daddy sometimes mirrors “real” parental love in other ways. He gives her things she needs, takes her to fairs, praises her when she accomplishes something, comforts her, and he might even stand up for her the way a daddy should. Grace’s daddy prays with her each night before bed.
In 1994 De Young and Lowery defined this as a dependency between two people of unequal power (adult and child) within a relationship characterized by periodic sexual abuse.
In recent years there has been a correlation between PTSD and the Trauma Bond.
Dutton and Painter (1993) make reference to abusive relationship- power imbalance- and good-bad treatment.
Another reason for this Trauma Bond is that a child might feel there will be no escape from their situation and they are dependent on the abuser. This was referred to as the Stockholm Syndrome in 1988 as it relates to battered women. And, when faced with no hope, a child’s mind can disassociate from the abuse to make life livable.
We are seeing all of these things going on with Grace. She is surviving in the same way the generation of women before me did…and the generations after that. When I see my remaining aunts paying tribute to their father on father’s day, and what would be his birthday, I know they’re surviving with that trauma bond. It tugs at my heart. I get it. They’re being respectful of the dead, remembering the candy canes that spanned the entire length of the Christmas tree, the fishing trips down by the shore, and how he taught them to change the oil in the car. It’s the edit button in our minds. It smooths the edges on the horrible moments and enhances the color on the better ones…
But then she told her mom she loved her daddy, but doesn’t have room in her heart for him because of what he does to her.
Stop Sentencing Kids to Child Abuse
Peggy Hoffman: Domestic violence claimed my hearing about 30 years ago. My former husband walked away shortly after that and has had no contact with my four children and I since. My current husband and I are in our 21st year of marriage, and we have leaned into the wind and not accepted a generational lie that abuse must be endured.
Collectively, we have five children, 10 grandchildren, and this year we welcomed our first great grandchild into the world. We want the world to be a better place for them.
I am working on a book originally intended for my children called “Mother, Teach Me No Lies.”
Grace’s story is still on-going. To read more of it, or for updates, you can check out http://savinggrace1dayata.wix.com/home