Heart to heart

I don’t want to spend Christmas with the uncle who abused me

I’m not looking forward to Christmas. I will be spending it at my mother’s, along with my two children, my siblings, their partners and children. I normally do this and have a great time, but this year my mum’s brother will be present, and it’s already filling me with dread because, between the ages of 10-14, he sexually assaulted me and threatened to kill me if I told anyone. It only stopped because he and his wife moved abroad. That was 20 years ago. I’ve moved on from that time, and have been able – or so I thought – to overcome the awful abuse I experienced. I’m a Christian, single parent, doing well in my career and active in my church, however I am finding myself just shaking inexplicably at times, and crying uncontrollably, to the point that my children have asked me what’s wrong. Of course I can’t tell them. To be honest, I really don’t want to go to my mum’s for Christmas, as I really don’t know how I’ll react to my uncle, but I don’t want to disappoint my children or my family. How should I deal with this situation?

Jennifer, London

Esther Fenty replies

Part of the Christmas message is about peace and goodwill to everyone through our Lord Jesus Christ. That peace is not about playing happy families at Christmas, but having an internal peace that is produced by the Holy Spirit. Presently, the feelings that you have repressed for over 20 years have come to the fore, and your peace is disturbed. The power that your uncle wielded over you is still very much present.

It is obvious that you cannot spend Christmas Day with your mother this year if your uncle is there. The memory of the abuse and the thought of seeing him have already filled you with dread and affected your behaviour. I can’t begin to imagine what would happen if you were in the same room!

You have a number of options, but continuing to keep the abuse a secret is not one of them. If you decide to stay at home and keep quiet, not only will you upset the rest of the family and disappoint your children, but you will be allowing your uncle to continue exercising control over you. In addition, you have no guarantee that your uncle has changed his behaviour. Therefore, you may be putting your nieces and nephews at risk, and you would not want them to have similar experiences at the hands of your uncle.

It might be better to approach your siblings before speaking to your mother. A talk with them might reveal that you were not the only one who has suffered abuse at the hands of your uncle. Abusers usually rely on intimidating victims to keep silent, so that they can continue to perpetrate their acts. You may be able to approach your mother collectively about your uncle.

On the other hand, it is possible that your siblings did not suffer at the hands of your uncle, and neither they nor your mother believe you. Then, it will be a journey you have to face alone. However, you will be justified in that you have protected your children and tried to protect your nieces and nephews. You can hand over the problem of the abuse to the Holy Spirit, who can bring healing to your situation and, in time, allow you to forgive your uncle. You will need to decide whether you need counselling, and whether you want to speak to the authorities about the past abuse. Christmas this year could be lonelier but more peaceful!

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