Incest is more than just a sexual act.
I was "the other woman" in my parent's marriage which was very damaging to me and confusing for me to process. My father by his actions and choices made me “the other woman” which is a terrible thing for a father to do to his daughter.
My entire family was incestuous. It wasn’t just my brother and parents but my paternal grandparents, who were the only grandparents I ever knew. Every single member of my family used me to satisfy their sexual and emotional needs. I had no value outside of that abuse. It meant I never had a chance to be a child. I wanted to do child things and activities but was prematurely forced into grown-up things instead.
I was forced into adult roles and my needs were ignored, minimised and neglected.
I never had a childhood but when the entire family is incestuous that is normal. I did not realise it was not normal until I was outside of that toxic family after I was beaten up and left for dead when I was 19.
While it was happening to me I always felt it was wrong but because no-one else considered it to be wrong. I thought I must be wrong to think it was wrong. Also I was indoctrinated with the “you are bad, everything about you is bad and wrong and you bring everything upon yourself” so I doubted my own gut reactions to what was happening to me.
Truth is deep down I knew it was wrong but my abusers did everything to make me believe it was normal behaviour.
But there is more to incest than the physical side of incest. Incest is also emotional and psychological.
My experience of incest was that it permeated and affected every aspect of family life.
Incest is so insidious. Some of it was obvious and overt. The obvious overt physical and sexual incest was much easier to deal with than the covert and impossible to define emotional component. All aspects of the incest were equally damaging to me.
“Covert incest occurs when the parent makes the child a surrogate partner. The boundary between caring and incestuous love is crossed when the relationship with the child exists to meet the needs of the parent rather than those of the child.” Silently Seduced by Kenneth M. Adams, Ph.D.
The emotional component was about being responsible for everything that happened including everyone's happiness and bad moods. I was constantly monitoring everyone’s moods. I also had to constantly monitor atmospheres in the house. It was exhausting but essential to my survival. I constantly monitored everyone’s body language. A simple narrowing of the eyes; a brief look; a manner of walking into a room; how someone sat down in a chair – these all told me a lot. I knew to look away or to flinch a split second before anything happened just from my constant observances.
Constantly monitoring was exhausting but I guess I was hyper vigilant from a tiny age and knew nothing else.
Hyper vigilance kept me alive.
Being responsible for everyone's wellbeing or otherwise was a terrible weight to carry. I feel that weight as I write about it. I had no needs as a child. I was not allowed to have any needs. Normal childhood needs were minimised, denied and ignored. I wonder if my family ever saw me as a child? Did they ever see me as a human being? NOPE, it sure never felt like it! Did they only see me as this thing which they could use and abuse at will? YES, that was what it felt like. Me as a person with my own feelings, needs, opinions etc was invisible. It was all very confusing, isolating and conflicting!
I existed to fulfil everyone else’s needs. I existed to be blamed for everything that went wrong in the family. I existed for their purposes and their purposes alone.
I was the scapegoat of the family. Everything was my fault. My brother could do no wrong in my parent’s eyes and they always defended him against me. They were completely and deliberately blind to his faults. My brother took advantage of that by manipulating and controlling me and events to his advantage and to my disadvantage. They all picked on me, bullied used and abused me no matter what I did. I felt totally trapped and helpless.
No-one in my family took responsibility for or considered my needs or wellbeing. Incest was all about what they wanted from me.
It was all about how useful I was to them. It was all about them meeting their needs through me.
And that is what incest is about.
While I was writing this article I came across the following quote about incest.
“Family members are immersed in the overt level on a daily basis, and they bond to each other at this level. They feel love, affection, and loyalty not only for each other but also for the image of the family as caring, strong, and devoted. Belief in the overt system is so strong that it is difficult to believe repressed abuse memories when they emerge.” Repressed Memories by Renee Fredrickson
That describes the conundrum incest creates really well. When I think about what went on in our family and what my mother, in particular cared about most, it was about image, all about image. Everything in our family was about the "reputation of the Nicholson family", “what will people say?” It was all about the public perception of the Nicholson family, how people saw the Nicholson family, "no one in the Nicholson family does..."
The image of “the Nicholson family” was always the bottom line. So many comments ended with words to that effect. So many comments began with words to that effect. It was almost a mantra. I remember many times I wanted to scream “will you shut up about the image of the Nicholson family, what about how people IN the family are? Does it matter to you at all how I feel?” I didn’t of course! I valued my life more than to speak my mind. I would have been severely beaten for that. The truth is I knew the answer to that question. To have spoken my mind would have been considered disloyal to the family at the very least, betrayal at the very worst! Loyalty to the family unit was the absolute standard, nothing else was acceptable. Loyalty to my abusers and loyalty to the image! Yet they were not loyal to me. They demanded loyalty from me but gave nothing back.
I think it is the nature of incest to take and take and take, to demand and demand and demand but to give nothing back.
In public the family was seemingly happy and smiley, a model family, but once you entered the front door of that house and that door shut... it was a very different story. It was all very confusing, contrary and impossible to make sense of. My parents tried to give off an image of the family being healthy and happy even though they weren't? Enormous effort was put into creating this look - looking right, looking happy, looking normal, looking healthy and no effort was put in to actually achieving those things. It was all superficial. I hated that superficiality. The superficiality of image over reality, honesty and truth.
Our house was a building within which 4 people lived. Those people lived in many ways separate lives but those separate lives were invisibly bound by one thing - INCEST. The ties that bind through incest transcend and permeate everything those people do, think and feel.
Within that house I was invisible. Within that house I did not exist unless they wanted to use and abuse me, then I wanted to be invisible but there was no place to hide and none to rescue me. I had no understanding of what was going on and was unable to understand because everything was so confusing. Within that house the messages I got were constantly mixed and conflicting. Within that house I did not know how to feel because I was not allowed to feel.
Incest meant I grew up in a climate which was uncomfortable, full of superficiality, fear, confusion, distrust, innuendos, manipulation, control, physical, sexual and emotional pain and trauma.
I knew it did not matter how anybody in the family, particularly me, felt. It is a terrible thing to have your feelings consistently minimised, ignored, belittled, denied and neglected. I learned not to trust my feelings. I learned not to feel. In consequence my feelings were pushed down deep inside of me and have done terrible damage to my physical, emotional and mental health.
What mattered was towing the family-line and being what was expected of you in public regardless of what happened in private.
That in itself was a terrible weight to carry because I always knew that once we were out of the public eye there would always be something that I hadn’t done or said right and I would be beaten for it regardless of whether I’d done anything wrong or not. Such was the importance of the image of the “Nicholson family” and such was the perception of me that I “could do no good, say no good, be no good” no matter what happened in reality.
The problem with the image issue was that it didn't matter what happened IN the family as long as people outside the family saw the family in a particular defined way.
I suspect that is one of the things that lies at the heart of incest. It is narcissism taken to the extreme but then my mother was narcissistic to the extreme.
The amazing thing I’ve found out is since I going to the police and going public about the abuse is that no matter how hard my family worked to be seen in a particular way that is not how people actually saw the family, many people knew things weren't right or that I was being abused but didn't know quite what was going on or the full extent of it and didn't know what to do about it either.
The incest in my past is something I live with every day. It is something I have to deal with every day. Some days are better than other. The abuse is part of me and will be with me until the day I die. My reactions and decisions are coloured by it. I never quite know if my thoughts, feelings, reactions and decisions are because of my childhood abuse or if I’m reacting like a person who hasn’t been abused would. I often feel it is the former.
People have said to me statements like “why don’t you just forgive and forget?” “Why don’t you just let go, forget about it and let the past be in the past?”
I saw a comment from someone on Facebook recently on exactly this question – his response was “I can’t let go of it because it won’t let go of me.” I thought that was a very good way of putting it.
The problem is it is not in the past. It is an integral part of who and what I am.
Every birthday, Mother’s Day, Easter, Father’s Day, anniversaries are all excruciating reminders of the fact I do not have a family. No-one can ‘just’ wipe 20 years of their life out. To wipe those years out of my life would be like giving myself irreversible amnesia. Those 20 years formed who I am.
The abuse affected how the pathways in my brain developed. My brain is different to the brain of someone who was not abused and that is very fascinating. That is a proven scientific fact.
The abuse affected me to my core.
My entire belief system was formed in an abusive incestuous situation.
I had no childhood. I had no love, affection, neither was there fun or laughter in my life because of the incest.
My memories are an integral part of me just as they are for anyone else.
It isn’t about forgiving, forgetting, letting go, the past being in the past. The past will always be in the present just as it is for anyone else. Everyone has a past and everyone is affected by it for good or ill. I cannot just forget, that is asking me to do the impossible. That is also taking away the very things that make me who and what I am. But there are some things I can do to minimise the effects of the incest upon me, upon my life, upon the way I think, feel, react, and process what happens to me in life.
What I can do is talk about it till I don’t have to anymore. What I can do is write about the abuse to get it out and to help others. What I can do is to grieve healthily. What I can do is to be angry about all that was done to me especially as I had to stuff that anger down inside me when it was happening. What I can do is learn to feel so I can heal. What I can do is be honest and tell the truth thereby breaking the power of my abusers’ lies. What I can do is be the person that I am instead of pretending to be someone or something different. What I can do is do the healing work of therapy to get my life back and start to live instead of existing and surviving just for the sake of it. What I can do is discuss what happened to gain insights into the dynamics of what happened giving me better understanding of the situation I was in and how it affects me.
I am an incest survivor trying to make sense of what I survived, trying to have a life. I will be working on this for the rest of my life.
I will be dealing with memories for the rest of my life. I will be dealing with pain and trauma for the rest of my life. By speaking and writing about it I am enabling healing to happen.
Incest is something which shatters lives and needs to be spoken and written about. Incest is pernicious and insidious. Incest is a crime, a terrible crime.