By any other name Munchausen by Proxy would still be child abuse…
When it comes down to sharing bits of your life in the form of a blog entry or memoir, how much is too much?
We all have different lines we draw in the sand, we have different tolerances, and we have different goals toward which we work and which motivate us. When I first decided to write about how my mother sought attention by being the “good and long suffering mother of a sickly child” I had real fears. Karma fears, filial fears, family reaction fears, and fear that I had improper motivation for sharing part of my story. I did not want to be vengeful.
If you are going to write about an ugly subject, does the writing have to be ugly or tell ugly stories? I wrestled with this one for years. Prurient interest by others is sort of creepy. But then there really are people with similar problems in their past who are learning to live whole lives who might benefit from my experience and perspective.
I have written multiple versions of events. Put things in, leave them out, see how the different versions read. I have found that gory details rarely need to be included.
Achieve Closure Then Share
I can’t prove any of the medical abuse. The records are long gone. Why should anyone believe me? Generational suspicions and speculations I have are even more perplexing. But I have nothing to prove or disprove. I gain or loose nothing from my actions. I have long ago made peace with Mom’s illness and worked through my issues in therapy. The big breakthrough for me came when I realized that there was nothing keeping me from being a good daughter, if I wanted to, even though my mom was not always a good mom. It was my choice.
I think I have weathered the last few decades fairly well. I am lucky to have healed as much as I have. I feel that I may have some insight that has eluded many survivors. My degrees in social science also inform my decision to share my story. That certainly allows insights not common outside of academia.
But I would never advise anyone to share stories of abuse and healing publicly without serious consideration of how family and friends will react. Partners and children will be impacted. Everyone in your life will be impacted. You cannot know all the reactions you will receive. It cannot be undone.
My personal recommendation is to do nothing until extensive therapy has helped you come to a place where you can make a comfortable decision. I strongly suggest never responding with vengeance.
What About Motive and Consequence?
It probably is true that nearly every family has skeletons in their closets. But what does this mean? What one family hides, another might celebrate. Share what is comfortable for you. Some of the questions you might consider when sharing a past event that has shock value or will stir strong emotion include:
- Does this story provide information/educational value to the reader or listener?
- Is it entertaining?
- Does it provide pertinent information for understanding your life?
- Is it necessary to your overall story?
- Who will this hurt?
- Are there legal consequences to sharing it?
- Will you feel better for sharing it?
Does Your Story Demand Telling?
This is the big question that only you can answer. If you are writing a memoir does the overall story you are telling need the inclusion of your painful story? Maybe you can leave it out. You are in control.
Some stories inside us scream for telling. They want to be let out. If your story insists that you share it, you may have to give it release. The release may come from capturing it and giving it form. It may not need sharing. Or it may.
Your telling of a secret may be essential to understanding something about your family history and your personal history. Will it help others in your family to know what you know? It is only your responsibility to tell the others if you decide to take it on. Make the decision, do not allow yourself to take on anything you are not committed to. Acting from default can become problematic. Not making a decision is making a decision.
Your personal history is just that, personal. You are in charge.
A very wise and insightful post. Many families have dramas of greater or smaller significance and consequence but they are personal to each, one of the ethical issues family historians also have to consider in their writing.
Thank you, Pauleen. Ethics and decision processes are discussions we need to have.
Nancy recently posted…Munchausen by any other name
Nancy, this is an awesome post! Very, very well handled. To someone considering disclosure, it’s an invaluable collection of thoughts and advice.
Thank you Diane. I rarely see this discussed so I decided to say a bit about the subject.
Thank your insightfulness and clarity on this very tricky topic. Well done.
womenslegacy recently posted…NAMES, NAMING, NUMBERs, AND FACTS