After I was groomed and sexually assaulted by my therapist/church elder, I shared my experience with another member of our church. The first thing she told me was this: “Amy, I warned them. I told Pastor. That man has psychopath eyes. They are black and empty. I shudder every time I think about those eyes.”
Victims who have been groomed and sexually abused by a psychopath are often asked how they were amiss to the evil unfolding around them. Victims wonder the same thing. When I got away from an abusive therapist years ago, I struggled with questions like: How did I not see this coming? Or did I see it coming and simply didn’t know what to do with the information?
That second question is key. I didn’t know what to do with the information I was receiving. Nothing was wrong with my intuition or my gut feelings. My intuition was spot on, in fact, informing me every time something seemed off.
When the doctor removed his shoes at the beginning of one of my therapy sessions, it unnerved me, and I questioned it at length until I landed upon an acceptable explanation.
When the doctor joked about bringing my tea in a heart mug for Valentine’s Day? It freaked me out. And did it make me extremely uncomfortable that someone I revered as a father figure was acting flirtatious? Of course, but I wasn’t able to process it, to make sense of it. Surely, I was overreacting.
I saw the red flags. I could feel when the energy in the room was off. I sensed it, all of it. So why did I keep going back? Or better yet, why didn’t I see the bigger picture?
I would suggest that this is the case with most sexual abuse victims. I would bet that many of us were blind to the trap being laid for us or if we did sense it, we didn’t act on it. Why? Because we are not sociopaths and therefore we do not see the world through a sociopath’s lens. We are incapable of such cruelty and as a result, we cannot see it for what it truly is—pure evil.
The idea that a human is manipulating us in order to use us for his or her sadistic pleasure is so horrific, so egregious, so not in line with who we are as people that we have nothing in our repertoire of experience to assist us with interpreting it. Our compassionate lens tells us that we must be wrong. A religious leader and counselor cannot also be an evil predator. Can he?
For example, the doctor spent a year grooming me, pretending to be a father figure and making me feel special and cared about, so when he shoved his hand down my pants and forced himself on me, it didn’t make sense. Did I react in horror and utter surprise? Yes. Did I know that he was in the wrong? Yes, I did, and I told him so. Was I crushed with grief and betrayal? Yes, I told him I didn’t think I would survive it.
But did I see that he was an evil mastermind who was taking advantage of me, enjoying my suffering and planning to continue hurting me the very next chance he got? No. Did I surmise that everything leading up to this moment was in preparation for this assault? Of course not. Again, I didn’t know how to process the information I was receiving. I responded appropriately, but I was ill-equipped to make sense of it.
It was so incongruent with the person I thought he was, with who I thought anyone was, much less a psychiatrist and church elder. It was unfathomable to me that he was a sexual predator and had been preying on me for months. Viewing it through my non-sociopathic lens, I decided that he simply made a mistake, a momentary slip.
I wondered if it was common for therapists to accidentally cross boundaries with clients. A huge boundary violation, yes, but a mistake nonetheless. I certainly didn’t think it was premeditated. In my mind, that made much more sense than the reality that he was a cross-wearing monster that preyed on vulnerable girls in therapy.
Because of this, I went on to reason that maybe I had caused the assault. Was I too needy? It always seemed to go back to my feeling defective. Something broken in me must have led my abuser to do what he did.
Sadly, victims tend to take the blame not just as a means of making sense of what happened but also because past abuse has taught them that they are defective. Early abuse instills a “new normal” in the victim. In my upcoming memoir, I describe this “new normal”—a set of unspoken “rules” or lies I had accepted as truth, rules that placed a target on my back, a target easily detected by a predator’s trained eye. For more on why victims blame themselves click here: https://amynordhues.com/sexual-abuse-victims-blame-themselves/
This faulty view of myself led me to believe that I interpreted the situations correctly, but my reaction to them was irrational. What the doctor is doing seems out of line but he is a doctor and a church elder and twenty years my senior so he must not be out of line. Isn’t it more likely that my reaction to his behavior is skewed?
I decided that my past experiences, fears, and insecurities were causing me to react to these events in a way that a normal person would not. Maybe the doctor was just trying to be extra kind, and I took it the wrong way. Was he joking with the heart mug thing? Maybe. He wouldn’t dream of making me feel bad, would he?
Since I couldn’t imagine inflicting pain on another human being, I assumed it was the furthest thing from his mind as well. Since I would not take advantage of another person for mere entertainment, I couldn’t conceive of anyone doing the same to me.
And this is what predators count on. The fact that we cannot relate to their level of perversion. They rely on our compassion and empathy. Our ability to see others in a gentle light, in a forgiving light. It allows them to continue to abuse without question. It worked for my abuser until I was finally able to muster the courage to ask for help to get out.
There is an incredible amount of shame that comes with being victimized. I was an educated, successful adult woman and yet I found myself a victim of a sexual predator. Even though I berated myself for not being able to make sense of the warning signs and get away from my abuser sooner, today I can say that I am glad that I could not relate to what was happening to me in that office. I am glad that I was unable to grasp such depravity.
It is ok that I failed to put all of the pieces together and it is also ok that when I started to see a bigger picture emerging, I couldn’t accept that what I was seeing was real. It was too awful, too heinous, too inconceivable.
What I want you to hear, to really understand, is this—you are not to blame. You are not gullible. You are not defective. You are not naive. You were no match for a sociopath, for a skilled sexual predator. And you don’t want to be. Be grateful that you were not able to relate and therefore didn’t see it coming. And it’s ok if you saw it coming, but couldn’t believe it. I wavered between the two many times throughout my ordeal.
If that was you too, and you couldn’t accept what you were witnessing, you are not wrong for making excuses for the abuser, for minimizing things and sweeping them under the rug. You were only attempting to make sense of something that you are not capable of understanding. And that is a good thing.
Does it make us more vulnerable? Yes. But can we learn from it and be more aware the next time a sexual predator crosses our path? Certainly.
So next time you find yourself asking how you missed the warning signs, beating yourself up over why you stayed so long, wondering why you made excuses for your abuser, just remember that you are not a sociopath and therefore you are forced to see things through your own experience, an experience that will never include torturing other people for sport.
As a result, it’s more likely that you will make excuses or minimize things or blame your shortcomings for the abuser’s questionable behavior.
And that’s ok.
It doesn’t make you defective or weak or naive. It makes you human. And that’s a good thing. A really good thing.
To read about my story of abuse by a Christian psychiatrist, click here: https://amynordhues.com/therapist-abuse-victim-breaks-her-silence/