Many times, victims are accused of changing their story when they discuss the traumatic abusive episodes of their past. It can be understandable to a degree that people are concerned with that, because many people lie. How many false rape accusations have you heard of, for example? I would bet quite a few. Or, how many times have you heard of someone being arrested & changing their story either before the trial or while they were in court?
The problem is that with many victims of abuse, the story can change some but that doesn’t mean the accusations are false or that the victim is lying. There are several reasons for this.
Many victims have repressed serious trauma. One way the mind copes to serious trauma is to hide the memory until such a time as one can cope with it. When you are in an abusive relationship, you endure trauma after trauma, with no time to cope with the first trauma when the second comes along. Then the third. Then then fourth & so on. The mind can handle only so much. Rather than try to juggle coping with the barrage of constant trauma, it hides some. Basically, it’s as if the mind puts some events in a box on a shelf. Later, when in a safer environment, the mind can relax & not function in survival mode. Those times are often when it decides to take those boxes off the shelf as it is able to cope with them. This is why immediately after a trauma, sometimes a person can forget key aspects of the situation then days, weeks or even years later, suddenly remember them. To someone unfamiliar with the mechanics of repressed memories, they can look as if the victim is changing their story even though it is nothing of the sort.
Some details are too embarrassing to share, so they prefer to censor some of the story. Being involved with an abusive person in any capacity is embarrassing, but it seems to me that being involved with them romantically is especially embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to admit you fell in love with someone so awful, because it makes you feel stupid & incredibly flawed. I never was in love with my ex husband, although I thought I was & said I was. I tried to be. Even so, for a long time I felt ashamed of myself for wasting my time with someone like him. As if that isn’t enough though, a lot of narcissistic spouses are very demeaning sexually. They have no problem raping their spouse through violence or guilt/shaming tactics. They also seem to get a thrill from degrading them by expecting them to perform acts that cause them either physical or emotional pain or both. Most people aren’t overly comfortable discussing details of their sex life even when they have a normal one, but discussing the details of the degrading things your narcissistic spouse has done to you or made you do is even worse. No one wants to admit to having done or been subjected to such awful things!
Most victims also realize that not everyone is capable of emotionally handling the gory details of abuse, so they edit their story for some people while sharing more with others. This doesn’t mean a victim is trying to get attention from certain people. It means we’re all pretty aware that there are some folks who can handle our story better than others, & we feel more comfortable sharing details with them.
As you heal, you become more comfortable discussing your story. The more you heal, the more comfortable you are with your story. You realize you aren’t the awful person the narcissist convinced you that you were. You realize the abuse wasn’t your fault. You also realize the shame of the abuse isn’t yours to carry, but your abuser’s. The things you are willing to discuss today may not be things you were willing to share last year. It’s simply part of the healing process to be more comfortable with being open about your story than you once were.
If someone jumps you for never saying that before or some similar comment, remember these points. There is nothing wrong with divulging more or less during certain times or to certain people as long as you’re telling the truth.
4 responses to ““You Never Said That Before!””
Cynthia, this is such a very important post. Thanks for sharing it. Two things. If you ask anyone to repeat the same story more than once, it will be different each time. But, to your point, when traumatized, the ability to tell the story accurately is compromised.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Talking with Strangers,” he has a chapter devoted to the inaccuracy of reconnaissance gleaned from torturing prisoners. The trauma of torture is so great, the prisoner cannot remember details and will say just about anything to get the torture to stop.
As an example, one of the masterminds behind 9/11 confessed to 30 or more terrorist events. What proved interesting is more than half of the events occurred AFTER he was captured, so there was no way he was involved. He was just saying them to stop the torture.
So, DV abuse or rape victims will likely not remember the details, at least at first, of an assault. Unfortunately, defense attorneys have a field day with this fact, even though it is explainable. Keith
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You are so very right!
People are so foolish they fail to realize that victims can feel triggered to share the complete details and they are afraid of facing further gaslighting. No wonder there is so much misinformation and misjudgement.
So very true
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