The Cost of Compulsive Compliance

Disclaimer: The following is a candid conversation based on a twitter thread regarding the cost of compulsive compliance which resulted from early and prolonged abuse. When choice and voice are obliterated in childhood, adulthood brings no remedy to the conundrum of compulsive compliance learned early and well.  Some children learned piano. I learned how not to die. 

It has been my very personal and not so private experience that sexual exploitation, both as a child and as an adult, has confounding and complicated ripples to the survivor and all of his/her relationships.

Sexual trauma is a busload of brutality with multiple stops and frequent deliveries across the lifespan. If it feels like you have been hit by a bus, it is because you have.

Childhood sexual abuse obliterates choice and voice while simultaneously annihilating the expression of sexuality with nothing short of soul-searing, body brutalizing shame.

Sexual abuse has the ability to trauma train compliance. I became compulsively compliant, always trying to ease my way out of the relentless advances of older men. It was a pattern well formed in my youth, like a rut in the one road to Alaska.

It never once occurred to me to scream, to run, to stand up, to slap a face, to report him to the authorities – he, him, they – always were the authority.

I married at 18. He had his own ideas of what should be. I had mine too – but no will to cross his. I never once said no. If he said no to something, like me finishing school, I wept but never fought back. My fight was broken long ago.

I birthed my first baby at 21. The next predator was the pediatrician in the birth room. He groomed me and told me to leave my first husband. He would take care of me, protect me from my long history of abuse. I can’t believe it I did, but I complied. I told me to marry him. Six weeks later he told me to leave. I did. He was crazy but I felt crazy.

I went to a church. The pastor asked for money. I/we gave it. Nearly half a million dollars and the rest of my sanity.

I isolated myself. I was found. More was asked. More was given.

He asked – I gave. Period. It was that easy. This compulsive compliance made me a model Christian, a self-sacrificing partner, and an ever vulnerable victim. It started my first marriage, was the cause my brief second one, and nearly slaughtered the third marriage that has yet managed to survive – just barely.

My long-term inability to protect myself from invaders has deeply impacted my husband in untold and nearly speakable ways. Ways that have whipped his own shame-based sorrow into a tsunami of trauma.

The residue of ruin remains to this very day.

Perhaps the reader is by now asking how could I have been so blind? The answer is very simple – my eyes had been beaten shut.

I learned to comply by being beaten to unconsciousness for being cheeky. The last thing I remember was my stepmother shrieking for him not to kill me, or he would go to jail. I remember waking in an ice bath.

Never again did I say no. Never again, until now.

Recovery has included finding my voice, choice, and exercising agency. This has caused new ripples. My world was used to my extreme accommodation. I am mending and growing in my ability to protect myself. This also comes at a high cost. I gladly pay it.