When I told or tell people about some of the abuse I’ve endured, I often take short-cuts. There is a LOT to tell. There are a lot of details. There are x-rated portions that I’ve never told anyone. There are r-rated versions that I have only told to a few close friends. There are parts that made my face turn red as I had to say them aloud to the police. Sometimes, I don’t feel like re-living an event, so I share the main parts. Sometimes, when I have a lot of time and want someone to understand, I tell more of the event. Sometimes I’m so busy telling the story that I skip a detail or I focus on a different one. Sometimes I summarize the story based on the person I’m talking to. I might tell a therapist more than I’d tell a friend. Sometimes, when I’m telling what happened, it doesn’t make total sense because the person I’m telling doesn’t know the backstory. There have been times I’ve been talking or writing, and had to go back and add a part I’d forgotten.
My story doesn’t change, but the parts I’m willing to tell various people might.
When I’ve wanted to tell people about some of the sexual abuse, I try to hint about it, or say it in a “nicer” way rather than giving all the details. Or I summarize that something bad happened and leave it at that. It doesn’t mean that the detailed nightmare in my head never happened. It doesn’t mean that I was lying when I only stated there was sexual abuse. It just means that I don’t want to share it all.
Over the years, my abuser’s enablers have claimed that my story changed, so I must be lying. It’s very frustrating to hear this. I know what happened. I’ve written about, I’ve thought about it. I have had plenty of nightmares. I’ve tried to defend myself by pointing out that just because I didn’t tell someone every single detail, (which would take a long time,) doesn’t mean I was lying. But it’s pointless. The people who have decided not to believe about abuse aren’t going to change their minds. They don’t want to admit they might be wrong about someone they like.
When I read about public abuse cases, I often read angry comments from people who don’t know the abuser or the victim who insist the victim was lying because they heard different stories. Their reasoning is wrong.
The same story can be told or seen in different ways depending on the person listening and what the survivor chooses to tell. Plus, there is another reality. While many abuse victims remember everything in vivid detail, others have blank spots. For myself, there are many stories that are alive in my memory, but there are some situations where I cannot remember what happened for a few moments. One that really bothers me is the moment before my abuser battered me. There are several missing seconds there. I have tried to remember, but there is nothing. One second I was trying to get away, and the next, I was flat on my back and wondering if I was going to live. This definitely happened, and I’m not making it up if I am missing three seconds. That’s actually a normal response to trauma.
If someone tells you their abuser hit them in the face, then later tells you that the abuser was threatening to rape them while they were hitting them, that doesn’t mean any of this story is untrue. It just means they chose how much to let out. If later they tell you what the abuser did before or after, that still doesn’t mean the story is untrue. It means they are willing to tell more. This too is normal for someone who has trouble with trust and embarrassment. (That is just a hypothetical example of how someone might reveal bits at a time, and didn’t happen to me.)
The person hearing the story is not all-knowing and the person telling it has been traumatized. Please do not assume someone is lying if they tell their story in different phases. Please do not assume they are lying if they only tell you the mild version at first because the rest is too big to share.