I Am Not Fragile: An Essay

Warning: The writing that follows this warning deals with abuse, and it is directed to a general audience (so don’t take it personally). I don’t normally believe in warnings, but this is a heavy topic, so a warning is warranted.

I was abused, and I acknowledge that, but when you look at me with pity, you take away my voice. You silence my suffering with your sympathy. You turn me into a victim before I get a chance to speak. You label me, but you don’t listen to me. I can tell you of the nightmares I faced, of the horrors that haunted me when I was a child, but still, you will look at me, and say, “That must have been rough.” Like that’s enough to assuage every hurt I ever endured, like that’s enough to diminish the pain that still haunts me from the days when I was too young to take matters into my own hands.

But you do more damage with your words than you realize. You never ask the questions I wish I could hear. “Why didn’t anyone do something?” That would be a good question to ask, but you never ask it. Perhaps you can’t face the reality where people see abuse and do nothing. Perhaps inaction is something you can’t stomach, so you phase it out of existence by just barely acknowledging the horror that I had to go through. Yes, what I went through was rough, but it was more than rough – it was a waking nightmare.

Do you know what that’s like? To wake up into a life so horrible that you dream about being kidnapped just for a chance to escape? To dream of someone, anyone, coming to take you away from the horrors of your life? What would you say if I told you that I used to dream of being kidnapped by murderers who I would then agree to kill for in exchange for just an iota of kindness? Would that diminish your sympathy towards me? Would it make you squeamish to realize that the longing for an escape can induce violence in a child at a young age?

Or would you ignore it, the way you manage to ignore the entire reality of the abuse when you say, “That must have been rough.” It is a false sympathy you offer me, and it is pity that I do not need nor want. Yes, it was rough, but those words do not endear me to you. Rather, they embitter me and enrage me, reminding me of a past that I would rather not relive. Rough does not begin to cover the horrors of my childhood, and I do not know if you would appreciate it if I told you the truth of what I had to face.

But I endure your false sympathy because it is the same false sympathy that everyone offers to those who have been abused. Perhaps this is because those who have never been abused cannot possibly understand the terror that abuse inflicts, the sheer abject horror of a childhood lived in warfare. Because that is what abuse really is – psychological warfare against a child who cannot defend themselves. Perhaps the very idea of such cruelty melts your mind away from the imaginings of it, and so you shed your fear of facing the truth of such hard reality by offering false sympathy.

Here is the truth from the abused: we do not need your pity, nor do we want it. Like others who have faced similar situations that have thrust them into the terrors of abuse, be it physical or emotional, I speak thus: I have survived horrors that you can never imagine, and I do not need your pity for my ability to survive. I do not need to know that I had a rough life from the lips of others who have not walked in my shoes – I already know how rough a life I lived. Do not offer me false sympathy, and pity is the form false sympathy takes.

Instead, treat me like an equal. An adult, like yourself, who has gone through life in a different way than you, but whose opinions and beliefs are just as valid. Do not color me in through glasses that soften my actions because I came into adulthood as a fully battle-hardened warrior. Do not treat me like I am fragile, likely to snap at the least provocation, simply because you have been trusted with the knowledge that I have gone through the trauma of abuse. Do not treat me like I am unstable simply because I grew up under the shadow of terror. I am not a child any longer, and I do not need to be coddled.

Be kind to me, but no kinder than you are to any other. I am not looking for special treatment. I am not a victim any longer, and if you extend kindnesses to me that you do not extend to others, you are cementing my role as a victim forever into your mind and mine. Do not treat me like a victim, or as a survivor, but as a person. That is all I have ever wanted, and all I have ever needed – to be seen as a real, flesh and blood person. To be seen as human.

When you victimize me, you make me less than human. You take my adult self and try to turn me back into the child that I used to be, the one that cowered under the covers at night in fear. I survived that already; I do not need to go through it again. I have no desire to relive those years, and yet, when I speak of what I went through, I always get the same response: “That must have been rough.” Yes, thank you, for pointing out the obvious. I do not need to hear that, over and over, because you will never understand exactly how rough it was, the childhood I survived, and that makes a farce out of the words you think you say in sympathy for my plight.

But the words you speak aren’t sympathetic; they are insulting. Why do you never think to ask why I wasn’t removed from such a terrible situation? Why don’t you ever ask why no one did anything to stop it? Why don’t you ask how I managed to survive? Do you think I am so fragile that these questions will break me? Do you think that, having survived horrors that you will never understand, that I will snap so easily under the weight of a question?

There is a difference between a sudden traumatic experience, like rape, and a sustained traumatic life full of psychological and physical abuse. For someone exposed to trauma once, your fear of asking probing questions is appropriate. Someone who has gone through a singular trauma is much more likely to break than someone like me, someone who has a history of traumatic experiences. My childhood was nothing but a chain of traumas, and if I was going to break, I would have broken already. Do not presume to treat me like I am fragile. I will not break, and I do not deserve to be treated like a victim.


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