Perhaps one of the most agonising questions during the process of recovery from childhood abuse is ‘why?’ Why did they abuse me? Why did this happen to me? To sexually assault a child makes no sense to us, and yet making sense of our experiences feels like the only possible way to recover from them.
But we will never know why. I embarked upon a psychology degree with a hope that my ultimate question of why some adults abuse children would finally be answered. The etiology of sex offenders was my biggest drive, but also my toughest dead end. I realised this is because understanding why someone does something is key to justification and forgiveness. And justification and forgiveness are not available to abusers.
“He abused you because he was abused as a child.” “He abused you because he just couldn’t fight these urges that he wished he didn’t have any longer.” “He abused you because he felt powerless and needed to feel powerful.” “He abused you because he was depressed.” Whatever answer to ‘why’ you might find, they are never going to fulfil the function you hope them to serve. Because the why doesn’t make it ok, the why will never mean you can say “oh, I get why you did what you did, and I forgive you.”
There is no understanding why someone abuses a child. There can be factors which contributed to their actions, but there will never be a reason that we can accept, because accepting a reason means accepting their outlook. The very fact we can’t understand why is what makes us a healthy individual. Despite all that happened to us, we can’t imagine what would cause an adult to put their sexual desires over the welfare of a minor.
My clients are desperate to understand why. Similarly to myself at their point on the journey, the lack of any rational explanation for entirely irrational behaviour often sees them turning in on themselves. If you can’t work out what was wrong with the abuser, the next step can so easily be to assume it is something wrong with you, the victim. Indeed the abuser used this technique to ease their own conscience and to silence you. To a question that is unanswerable, blaming yourself can seem the best way to make sense of your ordeal.
They weren’t bad, I was. I deserved it. I brought it on myself. These are attributions that are so much easier to accept than the alternative. I am not bad, they were. But… they were my parent, friend, priest, carer. How can this be? I didn’t deserve it. But then that means the world isn’t fair and bad things happen to good people. I didn’t bring it on myself, I was a child. But then, again, WHY? The only remedy to the endless questioning of why it happened is the brace acceptance of some of the hardest truths. To stop asking why is to stop putting blame on ourselves and instead to leave the blame at the door of someone who we will never understand – and thank god for that fact.