How to seize the power of change for your wellbeing: “I am a survivor of child sex abuse”
By Hilary McLellan, Organisational Behaviourist and Founder of Indigo Talent Development
We have known “there is change in all things” and “you yourself are subject to continual change” since the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelias wrote these words back in the year 170.
And yet it still takes us by surprise. If it’s good change, we question with scepticism if we deserve it. If it’s bad change, we question what we did to deserve it. But there is power in change, even while its trauma and uncertainty leave their mark.
Seizing the power of change
When I spoke at The Rising Festival earlier this year on the subject of fear, I decided in the 10 minutes before we went live that I would share the fact that I am a survivor of child sex abuse. In that moment I chose to change the feelings of fear and trauma I had suffered as a 6 year old and in the years since.
Speaking about my experience is always accompanied by a gut-churning feeling of profound threat (he had told me he would kill me if I ever told anyone). However, I knew in my 60th year that this was an opportunity where I could choose to improve my own wellbeing by hearing myself speak about this. What I decided to do for the first time on a public platform was to SPEAK OUT. Defy my abuser.
The evolution of trauma
I didn’t know who my abuser was. He stepped out of the darkness as I walked to Brownies. But the abuse was traumatic enough for me not to tell anyone until I was in my 20s. At that age I told my Dad. As is the case for so many survivors, my Dad didn’t seem to want to know about my trauma. He didn’t enquire or hug me or show any concern. He shut it down. Easier for him but shaming for me. I was silent for another 20 years when, in my 40s, my daughter turned six years old, triggering a lot of memories.
I tried to speak to my Dad again at this point. He confirmed that he thought children had overactive imaginations and that he didn’t believe me. This led to a breakdown and I became estranged from my father for the remaining 20 years of his life.
My Dad died three weeks ago. There was never any contact between us. I believe he went to his grave feeling he was justified in his belief that I was an “attention seeker”.
The therapy I have received over the years allows me to accept the power of denial and why my Dad chose that over the truth. My understanding of denial is important for my wellbeing, but this is the narrative of ‘big’ (grown up) Hilary.
Holding my inner child’s hand
‘Big’ Hilary objectively understands how denial is a coping mechanism. But I have come to accept that there is always ‘little’ Hilary in my values, beliefs, fears and feelings. These are largely rooted in deep shame and injustice. It was an uncomfortable part of me to notice for so many years but is at the root of any changes I make in order to improve and maintain my wellbeing.
It is ‘little’ Hilary who I often have to put at the top of my list when I am thinking about my wellbeing choices today. For many years I hadn’t realised that my wellbeing was best served when I noticed ‘little’ Hilary’s emotions first and then allowed ‘big’ Hilary to consider the choices available to her.
Those choices are not a one-off fix either. Speaking out at The Rising Festival has been followed by talking about my abuse on two podcasts this summer – both times were as gut-churning as the first but it will improve with practice.
I hold ‘little’ Hilary’s hand as I make these steps towards my wellbeing and tell her “I’ve got this”.
We feel so privileged that The Rising Festival community was the first public place Hilary trusted with her truth. Her contribution to our session on ‘The F Word’ at The Rising Festival 2021, in which she spoke her trauma out publicly for the first time, was powerful and moving beyond words.
About Hilary McLellan
Hilary is an Organisational Behaviourist, Executive and Team Coach. Her clients work with her because they want to be their best self and feel fulfilled not only at work but also in life. She creates trust and rapport – often in the outdoors and natural settings – so clients can explore, discover and be curious about their self-critic, their values, beliefs and behavioural patterns. Thereby bringing about the best solutions and experiences for themselves, their teams and their customers. Find out more about Hilary here.
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