When I read The Door to December (1985) by Dean Koontz, the following piece struck a chord in me. So many children are abused and the monsters doing it to them rely on the child keeping silent and making them feel like it was their fault.
When Laura’s tears began to dry, Dan said, ‘Melanie says she hates herself because of what she’s done. What do you think she means by that? What has she done?’
‘Nothing,’ Laura said.
‘She evidently thinks she has.’
‘It’s a common syndrome in cases like this, in almost all child-abuse cases,’ Laura said.
Although Laura’s voice was for the most part low and even, Dan could hear tension and fear just below the surface. Clearly, she was making a major effort to control the emotional turmoil that Melanie’s deteriorating condition stirred in her.
She said, ‘There’s so much shame involved. You can’t imagine. Their sense of shame is overwhelming, not just in cases of sexual abuse, but in other kinds of abuse as well. Frequently, an abused child isn’t only ashamed of having been abused, but she actually feels guilty about it, as if she were somehow responsible. See, these kids are confused, shattered by their experiences. They don’t know what to feel, except that they know what happened to them was wrong, and by some tortuous logic they come to blame themselves rather than the adults who abused them.
Well, after all, they’re accustomed to the idea that adults are wiser and more knowledgeable than kids, that adults are always right. God, you’d be surprised how often they fail to realize they’re victims, that they’ve nothing to be ashamed about. They lose all sense of self-worth. They hate themselves because they hold themselves responsible for things they didn’t do and couldn’t prevent. And if they hate themselves enough, they withdraw … further and further … and the therapist finds it increasingly difficult to bring them back.’
Melanie seemed totally insensate now. She lolled limply, silently, almost lifelessly in her mother’s arms.
Dan said, ‘So you think when she says she hates herself because she’s done terrible things, she’s really just blaming herself for what was done to her.’
‘No doubt about it,’ Laura said emphatically. ‘I can see now that her guilt and self-hatred are going to be even worse than in most cases. After all, she was mistreated — tortured — for nearly six years. And it was extremely intense and bizarre psychological abuse, even considerably more destructive than what the average child-victim endures.’
Dan understood everything Laura had said, and he was sure there was
much truth in it.