A Story of Child Abuse by a Stepparent.

By guest contributor: Georgina Capetillo

My story of child abuse is one that many have heard of. In fact, there have been movies, fairy tales and classical literature on the matter. Now there is even an evolutionary theory about it too. That is why it is surprising to me that a support network has not been established, which is exactly what I intend to do. I am talking about suffering at the hands of a stepparent. When I was 14 I moved to Boston from Nicaragua to live with my father and my stepmother. It was not very long until she became very abusive. The mental anguish, psychological abuse, embarrassment, emotional distress, hopelessness, neglect, and forceful isolation I have suffered because of her has left permanent scars, and that’s something I will always have to deal with. In many ways being abused by a stepparent is very much like being abused by a biological or intended family member or guardian. There is the notion of authority and care-giving as well as simulated closeness. Yet, there are issues that are somewhat unique- these issues are deeply important and must be addressed. As always, coming together and supporting one another is always the solution. Although this is an infinite list, I will describe the most common problems:

1. In many cases, the abused child wonders why a parent would choose a spouse or partner that is so abusive and blames their guardian for not protecting them. There are also feelings of betrayal- why did our guardian choose their partner over their child?

2. Forgiving our guardian is a frequent issue because of the issues mentioned above. Our parent might still be with the person who abused us. Or in many cases, the parent will not recognize the abuse.

3. Having stepsiblings: in some cases the abused child has in some form, contact with the stepparent who abused them for the sake of their sibling. It is incredibly painful. In other cases the abusive stepparent has created a family imbalance by isolating the child they are abusing from the rest of the family- this can lead to sibling conflict.

4. Being the only person who is haunted by the stepparent. In some cases a guardian’s partner comes in, does irreparable damage that is so dark that they are thrown into non-existence by everyone else. This is problematic because those who are abused can never forget what happened to them. The fact is, no one knew how bad it was, because they were removed from the situation. This is very isolating issue.

5. Self guilt: why let someone who is not even your family upset you much?

I could literally go on forever. I need to hear other people’s stories to gather more information on which situations are more common. I need to hear other people’s stories to heal. I think we can heal together. I have started a website and facebook group. Please join. I need all the help I can get. I am also looking for board members if we progress, which I hope we will.

I must add, this is not an organization that vilifies stepparents, but rather is a support group where people share experiences. There are wonderful stepparents out there, they are welcome to support us as well.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StepNetworking

Website: http://sites.google.com/site/stepfamnet/home

On a More Personal Note

I have been writing my blog for a few years and I have rarely spoken about myself and my own struggles. Having started my own journey of recover nearly 30 years ago, I have a great deal of experience and knowledge about all the skills I have shared with my readers. I have also learned from all the people I have counseled over the last 20 years. I hope that some of you have benefited from my blog.

One thing I have to keep in mind is the phrase: progress not perfection. No one, including me, has ever done this perfectly. I am a work in progress like everyone else who is in the process of change and growth. I suffered from chronic depression and addictive behaviors for most of my life as well as poor self-esteem. Although I have experienced a tremendous improvement in the quality of my life, I also have my struggles. I sometimes find it difficult to apply all the coping skills I know. There times I have to work hard to focus on the things I need to and stay in the present.

I have my own philosophy of life: Life is to be enjoyed. I work every day to make that a reality. One of the ways I stay focused is by writing this blog. It has great value to my life. I hope it has value to yours.

Experiencing Loss and Overcoming It

One thing we have in common is the experience of loss. No one goes through life without experiencing some degree of loss at some point. Sometimes the losses are minor (a small amount of money, changing jobs, moving from one city to another). Other times they are more significant (the death of a parent or spouse or child, loss of a relationship, a betrayal, loss of something we are unable to replace, economic reversal). No one wants to have these experiences, and rarely are we prepared for them.
When we experience loss, what we feel is pain, but often we cannot identify exactly what it is about the loss that is causing the pain. We miss whatever we have lost and it just hurts.
This emotional distress comes mostly from two sources. First, the realization of how little control we have over what we experience in life. This realization is both frightening and depressing. We feel helpless and are powerless to control the situation. We want to regain a sense of control.
Secondly, what was lost occupied a part of our lives. It had meaning for us and took up space in our day to day living that was either physical or emotional or both. This leaves a void, and a longing to fill it. We feel empty inside and it is deeply upsetting. Many of us try filling the void with activities, a new relationship and/or, material things. Many of us turn to substances or addictive behaviors in order to avoid these feelings, but nothing we do can replace what we have lost. We struggle with our feelings and want the pain to stop.
The only way to heal is to allow the grieving process to run its course. It is important to avoid pushing those feelings away no matter how much we want to. Feel them for as long as you need to. Cry until you stop crying. No one can tell you how long this process will take. We will eventually release the pain and other people and things will enter our lives to fill the void. We will also begin to feel we have more control over what happens to us.
Allow yourself to heal. Repressing or denying your feelings will only lengthen the process and could result in prolonged depression and anxiety. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judging them or yourself. Find ways to express them. Keep a journal and write as often as you need. Rely on friends and family for support. That is what a support system is for. The use of drugs and alcohol really won’t help and might make things worse. There is no timetable for grief. But, remember that you will heal. Those feelings will not last forever.

Living In the Real World

Whenever someone famous commits suicide people are affected in different ways. There is usually the surprise and shock associated with the sudden death. There are the questions of why and how could they? Most of them have achieved success and wealth and have adoring fans. Why would a person who seems to have it all want to end their life? They live in the real world just like you and I.

When these people appeared in the public eye they seemed so happy and positive and full of energy. It seemed their lives were so easy and they were able to have whatever they desired. What we saw was just a snapshot of their life. What we saw was only what they wanted us to see. What we saw was actually fantasy and not reality. These celebrities lived in the real world as we all do. They all had a history of life experiences, tragedies, losses, as well as the happy times and successes. Some had medical issues. Others had mental health and substance abuse problems. It is not easy living your life in the public eye. It affects how others see them as well as making it more difficult to have stable relationships. They lived in the real world and what the rest of us see is merely an illusion.

Just like the rest of us, life sometimes gets to be too much to deal with. Feelings of desperation and helplessness and hopelessness take over. It seems there is no way out other than to put an ending to it all. They lived in the real world.

If you look at what you think their lives have been and compare them to your own remember that you live in the real world too.

The Value of Insight and Hindsight

I am certain you have heard of insight focused therapy. I imagine you know the phrase “hindsight is 20/20”. We seek to gain insight in order to understand our past and how it has affected us. And, somehow, by gaining insight we will change. We also tend to analyze our past actions or decisions and how they relate to the outcome or our current situation. We will likely say we made a mistake or say it was dumb or even that we were dumb to have done this or that.

The only value I see with hindsight is to see where we were as compared to where we are at that moment. With hindsight we have more information than we did when making a decision or taking an action. If we had all that information at the time we would have done something else. It wasn’t the mistake we may think it was. We make a choice based on the information we had at the time. When we view those things in hindsight we tend to make ourselves wrong and put ourselves in a negative light. That is never a useful exercise. This can be damaging to self image and self esteem.

Thinking of insight as a valuable tool to help us change our thinking for behavior may not be nearly as helpful as we might think. When I was in therapy I had the belief that if I only knew why I was the way I was and what made me that way, I could change and be happy. I figured that insight would be followed by change. I was so wrong. After a long time of seeking the “truth” I had hardly changed at all. I found quite the opposite. As I began to use healthier coping skills and was changing, I gained insight. I was able to see a comparison between the past and present and was able to understand things like never before. I believe that all the insight in the world won’t change thoughts or beliefs or behaviors. I think that challenging thoughts and beliefs what are not working is the path toward changing behaviors and improving the quality of our lives.

In summary: My verdict is that hindsight and insight are not all that valuable as a way to enable our change and growth as people.

Seeking Happiness

It seems that most people are in search of happiness. Clients come into my office saying, “all I want is to be happy. What do I need to do in order to me happy”? I read on message boards how people just want to be happy. Look at many of the daytime talk shows and you can find them talking about seeking happiness. You can find literally hundreds of book promising to help you find happiness in your life.

I do not think that happiness is a reasonable or attainable goal. Before you stop reading, let me explain and you might even agree with me. I believe that happiness cannot be a constant state of mind and happens from time to time under special circumstances. I think we can work toward being in the state of mind to allow happiness. I want to be in a place emotionally that will allow me to experience happiness when those situations present themselves during the course of my life.

There are feelings that I like to have and feelings that I would rather not experience. If I want to experience the feelings I want I have to allow myself to experience those feelings I don’t want. I don’t get to choose. It is important to learn not to judge our feelings as either bad or good. There are no bad or good feelings. There are only feelings. Having and expressing our feelings is all part of experiencing life and being a human being.

Ultimately, my goal is to feel comfortable enough in my own skin to experience and work through my feelings. I cannot judge myself for the feelings I have. This way I can allow myself to experience happiness and joy in my life.

Choices

Most of us grow up exposed to the habits and beliefs of our families of origin. We learn from them the way to do things and the way to think about and see things. Most of our beliefs come directly from them. It is common to adopt those beliefs or rebel and do the opposite of what we were taught. Neither is the best approach to life. Most of us grow up limited in our exposure to the variety of options available to us. My experience with clients and people entering a recovery process is the common view of seeing things in black and white.

Black and white and all or nothing thinking can cause people problems and inhibit their ability to solve problems and succeed in life. Many of us go through life unaware of how limited we are by our inability to recognize all the choices we have and choices we never consider as options. We have the beliefs we learn as children and carry with us into adulthood. Many of those beliefs do not apply to our adult lives. We have many choices for how we interpret the world around us. Keep this in mind. Many things mean many different things to many different people.

Most people tend to do what they are in the habit of doing and what is most comfortable for them. If we have not be raised in an environment of exploration and being open to new ideas it is difficult to go out of our comfort zone. We have to learn to think outside the box and explore all possible option in order to make better decisions and have a more fulfilling life. It is important to avoid black and white thinking and be able to see all the shades of grey.