If you haven't already heard of Unbreakable, a project intended to support people who have experienced sexual abuse, I highly recommend that you look into it, whether or not you yourself have been assaulted. This effort, started by a 19-year-old photography student, seeks to foster healing, remove the stigma associated with having been abused, and illustrate the horrible reality of rape and molestation. But before I link you to it, I want you to know that it has the potential to be very triggering to women and men who are survivors of sexual abuse, so please make sure that you are in a safe and healthy place before viewing it: Unbreakable.

(I should come right out and say that I was not sexually abused by my parents, even though my mother insists that I have insinuated that she did. Let the record show that I do not have any evidence that my parents sexually abused any of their children.)

I came across the site last night and as I read parts of it, I was reminded several times of the way that sexual abuse relates to other forms of relationship abuse. The quotation above about fear resonated with me, not from the standpoint of having experienced years of sexual abuse, but from experiencing years of emotional abuse. So often, abusers seem shocked and incredulous that their child would fear or dislike them, even though they spend many years carefully training us to fear.

I was trained to fear my mother's disapproval or disappointment. "Not living up to your potential" was something that hung over my head well into my thirties, and still sometimes lurks. I became what Karyl McBride calls a "Mary Marvel" type of daughter - always striving to excel, to achieve, to be the best at everything that I tried (and not try anything for which I might not be the best). "Ohhhh, Claire," is, to this day, a lamentation that haunts me. All my mother had to do was utter that phrase and I knew that I had, once again, both failed to meet my mother's expectations and simultaneously completely fulfilled her expectation that I would fail. I was expected to rise above her expectations of me. I feared expectations, because they essentially said "you must pass this extreme level of excellence in order to be considered a good person, but we all know that you're really a flighty, ditzy, bitchy, lazy thing, and will probably manage to fuck it up."

I was trained to fear my mother's anger, and to fear punishment. She purposefully led me to fear these things. She explicitly stated a belief that children must fear their parents in order to learn how to behave. She used pain, degradation, and humiliation to keep us in line. She considered other parenting methods, especially those based in compassion and gentleness, to be bad parenting, and said so often.

I cannot understand how somebody can so purposefully, so carefully train her children to fear her, who says point-blank that she doesn't want to be a kind, generous parent, and then be surprised and dismayed by the fear itself.

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