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Bel Mooney: How can I forget my father's sickening sexual abuse?

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Dear Bel,

I am a woman in my fifties and the youngest of three girls. When I was a teenager my father told me he was sexually attracted to me. At the time I did not have a close relationship with my mum, who seemed detached. 

As I got into my twenties my father made many attempts to try to get me to meet him for sex. I avoided his calls and finally at the age of 30 cut contact with him.

I had told Mum but I think it was too hard for her to absorb. I also told my siblings who seemed sympathetic but also quite detached. After a period of time, due to family pressure and my father’s manipulative behaviour, I resumed contact with both my parents. 

My father seemed more concerned with covering his tracks than the damage he had caused.

Many years later I sought counselling and finally wrote him a letter expressing my anger. It was a private letter – which he shared with my sisters, who then used it as a stick to beat me with. 

Although there was no actual physical relationship with my father all those years ago, I still feel abused. I no longer have a relationship with my sisters because of other family events – but truly never felt I was forgiven for writing to my father about his behaviour. 

However, I do have a relationship with my elderly mother. Now I feel so angry and desperate to try and understand how I could have had any contact with my father after what he tried to do with me. I am desperate to find peace. My father is dead but I can’t get over this and have nightmares and recurring suicidal thoughts. I don’t expect any ‘fixes.’

JOAN

This week Bel advises someone who says they 'still feel abused' after being violated by her father as a teenager

This week Bel advises someone who says they ‘still feel abused’ after being violated by her father as a teenager

Let me start by saying I absolutely understand why you say, ‘I still feel abused’ – because you were . For a father to suggest sexual interest to his youngest daughter and then follow it up (as she became older) with entirely, horribly inappropriate suggestions is beyond appalling.

To clarify – here are some words from an NHS website: ‘Sexual abuse [is a way] of describing any unwanted sexual act or activity. It does not matter who commits it, where or when it happened, it is never okay, and no one ever deserves for it to happen.’ Although you say no physical sexual activity took place, please believe me – a father indulging incestuous fantasies about his own daughter, telling her and then (ital) continuing to horrify and burden her with that knowledge (ital) is most definitely abuse. Please look at the websites for The National Association for People abused in Childhood (www.napac.org.uk, support line 0808 801 0331) and Survivors Trust (www.thesurvivorstrust.org.uk, support line 0808 801 0818).

Thought of the day 

I think it’s a mighty act of human love to remind somebody that they can accomplish things by themselves, and that the world does not automatically owe them any reward, and that they are not as weak and hobbled as they may believe.

From Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (American writer, born 1969)

Your description of how your mother and two older sisters could not take on board the enormity of your father’s wrong-doing does not surprise me, since denial is common within families. In a children’s home I once met a little girl (about 9) who had been sexually abused by her own grandfather, only to have the rest of the whole family turn on her for ‘telling lies.’ There’s no doubt your ‘manipulative’ father will have told your sisters that you were lying which they were only too ready to believe – since acknowledging the truth about their own father would have been too painful. So you were left to bear that truth alone.

You are blaming yourself for picking up contact with your father but since you almost certainly did it for the sake of your mother – I beg you to understand those motives and forgive yourself. Counselling taught you to understand the true nature of the damage he had inflicted, and then his act of betrayal (showing your private letter) made that damage worse. None of this is your fault, and now is the time to free yourself from what seems to be a burden of misplaced guilt.

I suggest you try a little ritual to find some peace. Write your father a long letter, recounting every instance of intended abuse and betrayal, and express your disgust and anger in no uncertain terms. Then put that letter in an envelope and seal it. Look at it, reflect that nothing in it can hurt you any more. Finally, take that letter to a place you love out of doors, preferably on a lovely day, and set a match to it. When it’s reduced to ashes, disperse them with your foot, say ‘Gone!’ loudly – and then go home. I promise you that I’ve suggested this to other people over the years and heard back that it worked. It brought a sense of peace.

People talk a lot about ‘closure’ these days, but I am not really convinced that it is ever wholly possible. What we need to do is come to an accommodation with the past, confront what happened, and then realise that we all carry experience within us. Is that always a bad thing? Not necessarily – as long as we try to approach the meaning. For you that may in time involve forgiving your sisters for their terror of acknowledging what kind of man their father really was. It will mean absolving yourself of any responsibility at all. Please write that letter and watch the flames annihilate it. And him.

 Should I tell my partner I know he has worked as an escort?

Dear Bel

We are a gay couple – together for 21 years – and my partner unexpectedly went to prison in August. It was a great shock, but he has just been released. We don’t actually live together but I have been staying in his home since August as we share a beautiful cat. While in prison he asked me to do various tasks (eBay, bank, etc) for him using his computer. But a couple of weeks ago, before he came out, I discovered he has a ‘friend’ who he has been speaking to about things in our private life. It turns out this has been going on for four years, as I discovered when I spoke to my partner about it.

He has shared our most private details which are our own business and not anyone else’s. This so-called ‘friend’ has tried to turn him against me (but didn’t succeed) saying nasty, dreadful things about me and my home which are totally untrue.

I have never met him nor do I wish to.

As well as that, I discovered my partner started working as an escort in Sept of last year – charging for sex. I am absolutely devastated to say the least. He has been bragging to his ‘friend’ about how many clients he has had. In a million years I would not have dreamt that he would do such a thing. It makes me feel sick to think he has slept with many other men in the bed that is ours.

He is totally in the dark that I know about all this.

I don’t want to lose him. Should I tell him that I know or not?

BRIAN

You give no indication of your ages but my instinct is telling me you are the elder and as hopeless addicted to your partner now as you were when you first met. I could have written ‘in love’ but often these days the emotion that’s been called ‘love’ for centuries seems to me more like a terrible addiction for which there is no help.

 I think that when women write to me about their appalling husbands then end their emails with the information that they ‘still love’ the man who is their destruction. And I think it now, reading your email.

 It makes no difference whether you are gay or straight, you are locked into a helpless dependency on a partner who will (on the basis of this evidence) surely continue to lie and cheat, yet whom you do not want to ‘lose.’ Oh, if only you could ‘lose’ your complicit victimhood.

Yes, an unwillingness to leave a long relationship can be due to fear of the unknown and of loneliness – since starting again when you are older can seem truly terrifying. That I really do understand, Yet is it really more scary than staying with somebody you do not actually know and who treats you with neither love nor respect? Than seeing out the remainder of your days feeling humiliated and unloved? When I write things like that some readers sound off at me for being ‘harsh’ (see today’s ‘And Finally’) in stating what is an obvious truth. But I’m sorry – I agree with Shakespeare’s Hamlet when he tells his weak mother, ‘I must be cruel only to be kind.’

I think you should tell this man that you know all about his sideline as an escort, and that you find it both hurtful and disgusting that he had sex with strangers in the bed where you have lain in blissful ignorance, that your long-term partner has turned out to be such a lying sleazebag. 

Tell him that his betrayal of intimate confidences to that ‘friend’ was bad enough, but now he has betrayed you in every possible way – and enough is enough. Then ask him what he wishes to do, given that you can never see him in the same way again. You could suggest you both seek couple counselling at Relate, but I doubt very much that he would agree. If he says he wants your relationship to continue then say you must lay down rules – and be clear and firm about what you expect of him. Honesty and fidelity would be a good start. 

If he says he doesn’t care what you think, then I suggest you will need to ask yourself whether sharing custody of a lovely cat is worth making the rest of your life bitterly unhappy.

And Finally…..sometimes my readers reject some of my replies

Sometimes readers object to one of my replies, usually because they judge me ‘harsh’. That was the verdict of a lady who didn’t like my main reply on October 28th – when ‘Helen’ asked if she had the courage to leave her loveless marriage after 47 years. She described her husband’s behaviour, yet said she had ‘a good life with lots of friends.’ Because it seemed clear that she wouldn’t leave I suggested various practical strategies for staying. Yes, I was honest and realistic – but I wouldn’t say ‘harsh.’

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

Names are changed to protect identities. 

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Now let’s go back to September 3rd and ‘Should I forgive my pervy husband?’ ‘Jenny told me her husband had been sending pictures of his penis to random women, as well as behaving in other hurtful ways. Yet she said she still loved him, called him ‘a good man’ and felt she should give him another chance. 

Naturally I was critical of her ‘down-at-heel acceptance’ of victimhood. Although I acknowledged that it’s very hard to leave a long marriage, I reminded her that we all have just one life.

Six weeks later I heard from ‘Jenny’ again. This is what she wrote in full:

‘With shock I saw you printed my problem on your page and seeing it in black an white was the wake up call I needed. I have now separated from my perverted husband and I couldn’t be happier. It hasn’t been an easy decision but with the support of my family and friends, who all heaved a huge sigh of relief that I have finally come to my senses, I am now making a new life for myself. Thank you Bel, I can’t say I liked your reply at first, but you pointed out what no one could and that was what I desperately needed. I am eternally grateful that you have given me the chance to live another life.’

I applaud a very brave woman who took control. She ‘didn’t like’ my words because they told the truth. It might be a jolt, but being blunt can work.

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