The Penn State Trigger: Vulnerabiltiy and Validation.

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.” ~ Madeline L’Engle

Oh how true this is.  Vulnerability doesn’t go away with age, but rather it seems to only grow in some ways.  Acceptance cannot come without awareness that you are vulnerable in the first place.  If for any reason you have shut down the vulnerable part of yourself as a child, then as an adult you have no choice to confront these demons as they manifest themselves as triggers that play out in relationships with those closest to you.

Or at least that has been the case for me.

It wasn’t until, even the past few years, that I have come to know and understand my own self-worth and strength.  How I have so many triggers, from events of the past that I rarely speak of. Not because I haven’t dealt with them, but because they don’t fit with the cover of my book. You can never judge a book by its cover and sometimes your cover starts to reflect what you tell yourself your pages are rather than what they actually are.

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend was staying with us. She was talking about some of her challenges in step-parenting and I mentioned that while I had not been a step-parent myself, I had had several step parents. Some good, some not-so-good.  We proceeded to discuss my step fathers one an abusive alcoholic (now recovered), and the other a sexual and sadistic predator (maybe we will cover these another day, but today is not for them).  My step moms were a bit better, with my first step-mom being more difficult (we get along fine now as adults) and my other 2 who were/are lovely but their effect was less striking as I was a bit older when they entered my life.

Her jaw was fixed in an open position.  I have known her for 10 years and she is one of my best friends, and she had no idea.

And there it was again, the past lurking under the surface. Mostly fine, mostly dealt with, and then Jerry Sandusky entered the picture.

As I often say in business or personal discussions, the impact of something on you or a situation is often stored in your soul as the sum of the parts.

Last Saturday, KSP and I got into a somewhat lively discussion when I made an aggravated statement that I thought the focus and all the talk about the Penn State scandal was focused on the wrong thing…it should be less about the football program and more about the families.

My friend Deb, had written a post on her blog about this topic, as a survivor, which she ended with “Be the Village.” My trigger.

This is the part where those old haunting memories come to play.  One of the things my therapist Dr. J said to me when I matter-of-factly told him of my history on our first meeting, was that I had not been validated as a child. I went home and cried, bawled and barely got out of bed for 4 days.

Please know that as I type this, I love my parents very much, we have talked a lot about the past, and we are peaceful. They were young people, doing the best they could to raise their children in the best way they knew how and doing a good job as my sisters and I are all well-adjusted adults. So this is not about them, it is about me now. Again, the whole is the sum of the parts, some good and some not-so-good.

When I was 12 years old my uncle shot himself. When I was six years old, he molested me.  As he babysat us on a weekly basis while my parents and Aunt were working he would draw a bath and he would make me bathe with him; so, while I won’t go into detail, and there was never a “violent assault,” the effects are  lingering.  Certainly, like everything there is a spectrum of abuse, but here is where the validation comes in.  Wherever I am on the spectrum didn’t and doesn’t make what happened to me or any of those boys that showered with Sandusky any less vulnerable to the lasting effects that come with abuse.

For 6 years, I didn’t say a word. For many of those years, I didn’t say a word because I had been told not to and I was a good girl and it didn’t seem as bad as some of the other things we had been a part of when I was growing up (a child’s relative perspective is very different than an adults).  He made it all seem so normal, bath, fun, trips to Dairy Queen, what could be wrong with that? When I finally realized what “might” have happened, as everything had seemed so normal, until it didn’t, which really wasn’t until he died, I finally blurted out “I think Uncle X molested me.”  We were in the car, having come back from his funeral.  Silence. Noone was sure what to say, including me. So I said nothing and nothing happened, afterall he was dead and I “seemed” fine. I had officially stopped being vulnerable.

Throughout my life, the effects of this would play out in small ways. My dislike and discomfort with affection.  My fear of being alone with older men.  My heightened awareness at all time of what happens around me.  My fear of a reoccurring image of a home intruder.  These were my validation that something much larger had happened to me, we just didn’t know it.

After much therapy, I am mostly healed. But as KSP and I debated the argument about the focus on Paterno, the program and the University and their responsibility to take action and what “should” have happened vs. Paterno running a clean program being the focus, I started to cry. Not just cry, tears streamed down my face.  Suddenly, I was a 6 year old, a 12 year old and a 37 year old all rolled into one. Feeling the emotions of those boys and their families as people questioned their stories and my own emotions about the validation that something had happened to me and been stolen from me. That I had missed out on hugs, and kisses, and romantic moments, because I was so fearful of someone going “too fast” or being uncomfortable even when my own parents hugged me.

Now, I give and receive affection freely. I hug and kiss and love without inhibition but this too makes you vulnerable, but as it says above, to accept vulnerability is to grow and to be alive is to be vulnerable.

Love and affection is the greatest gift we can give and receive to be vulnerable and allow it can make each day ‘anewfavoriteday.’  I thank you for reading this, as it is a deeply personal revelation for me and I have many dear friends who do not know this about me, but to be vulnerable is to be alive and I am alive and well and happy and joyful for all of the many blessings in my life. My babies, KSP, my family, my friends, Max, our roof, food to eat, a job, car to drive, therapists to help E, and of course all of you. Thank you for continuing to make me feel safe to be vulnerable which ultimately gives me validation that I know I shouldn’t need, but I have to be honest, gives me a sense of warmth for my 6, 12, and 37 year old self and makes today ‘mynewfavoriteday.’

19 thoughts on “The Penn State Trigger: Vulnerabiltiy and Validation.

  1. I love you so much, my friend. Your strength has been one of the most amazing things about you and now i know from where this comes. My heart aches for your past. Your healing and belief in therapy and working this through with family is what will impact your friends, family and readers greatly. An amazing post from a beautiful woman. i love you!!

    1. Thank you! You have no idea what this means to me. More that any other post, I was literally nauseous when I woke u this morning and thought about how I had posted this last night while listening to the Sandusky interview with Bob Costas.

      This was something that putting out there that was so personal about me that I am way out of my comfort zone. But here you are and M who emailed me to say all of these wonderful things that gives me the hug I needed that it’s all ok. Love you my friend.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story so openly and honestly. It is a tough topic to address and yet, it is a subject that needs discussion and validation. I am glad that you have turned the corner on your past abuse and I pray that others who need to make that journey will find this post helpful… Sending you virtual hugs too.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! This was a much different kind of honesty for me and I hope for the greater good it might help at least one person in a small way even if I never know it…thank you for your virtual hug and support…it takes the very uncomfortable edge off for me:)

  3. I must be frank and say that I have such a hard time knowing what to say. I have a great fear of upsetting people and saying the wrong thing, or making them feel worse. So, please, know that my comment is given with only goodness and love in mind!

    Your picture should be In the dictionary; right next to “Brave” and “Courageous” and “Strong”. You’ve said things that I believe so many people need to hear. To help some people have the courage to speak up. To help parents know the importance of validating their own children who have gone through this. To let others know that while it may not be physically a “violent assault”, that their spirits and souls were violently assaulted. I’m so sorry you did not get the validation you needed earlier. But I am SO GLAD that you DID eventually get it!!

    A family member who used to be very close to me was molested when she was young (5 years old), and also not “violently”. When the parents discovered it, due to some acting out on her part, they figured because she was so young, she would forget. And, they also didn’t want to ruin their friendship with the parents of the perpetrator. I get so angry when I think of that. I know some of her issues, and triggers; because she never forgot. How could she?! After watching some issues follow her into adulthood, my heart has ached for her. I have desperately wished she would have gone to a therapist (she won’t). And I wish so badly the parents would have validated her too.

    I thank you for sharing your story so openly. I know it will resonate with others, and most assuredly help validate them as well. You are a courageous, amazing, woman!

    ❤ Christine

    1. You are so amazing with your words. First, I know that your intent would never be to hurt me. And from there can I just say this is so very beautiful. You know exactly what I am feeling and to have seen it happen in your own family and to see it dismissed is just so heart breaking. When her parents chose the family friend over her, they not only invalidated her, they didn’t do their main job to protect her. That is our main job as parents and that infuriates me not only as a child who had similar feelings but as a mother who would walk on the sun to protect my babies. It’s so hard to play that supporting role, but perhaps one day when and if she is ever ready you can be there by her side and she will be very lucky to have you, as I am lucky to have your support and encouragement here.

      Thank you for reading and for supporting me and I can only hope that even one person will know that they too are safe now and that everything they feel is valid. xoxo

  4. Oh! Oh! I wrote a comment to this post, but it appears to have been eaten. 😦

    I suppose you know based on my email what I think about it, though.

    For now, I’ll just say, “What Christine said.”

  5. The more you reveal the more I’m impressed by you. Thank you dear heart. Courage is speaking up and moving on and growing. All characteristics you own so beautifully. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much. I was scared And sick when I posted this. But somehow, I suppose in its own way is my final acceptance.

      The support means a lot, I have never been very good at sharing or asking for help but the situation with the minis forced me there because unlike this, it is impossible to hide or hide from.

      Thanks again for the encouragement:)

  6. First… I love Madeline L’Engle and that quote is awesome.

    2. Are you familiar with the work of Brene Brown: If you aren’t familiar with her, you will love her.

    And what comes to mind after reading your powerhouse of a post is something I heard in the movie The Help.

    You is kind
    You is smart
    You is important

    and I’ll add my own to that list. You is safe and amazing.

    Imagining you and your girls (ages 6 and 12) in a group hug is making my heart sing. It really is a beautiful mess inside isn’t it?


    1. Gayle, you just fill my heart with joy. Thank you. This last part just put tears in my eyes. Safe is is word, the word that is missing but I always searched for, how did you know? I will check out ordinarycourage, if the image you posted on my wall tonight is any indication, I may stay there for days:) All of this is just so lovely, thank you and all three of us would like to give you a group hug. xoxo Shannon

      1. I would love the hug. How did I know “the” word… I’m kinda odd like that. If you hang out with me enough you’ll get used to it. I guess it’s just part of the what makes my mess beautiful. 😉

  7. Oh, Shan…you are SO BRAVE. I have tears in my eyes, looking back to our friendship that has spanned over 20 years, and wishing that there was a way to have known sooner than we did or to have said or done “the right thing” to start your healing earlier, to gather you into our family (wacky as it was, but safe). However, I think that your analogy of the “sum of the parts” is so right…because the 6, 12, and 37 year old yous processed differently, were able to express yourself differently, and move ahead through this world differently. I sang two lullabies to MK as a baby, and she still (even the other night) asks for them periodically. One has the lines:

    As you travel through this troubled world
    In search of all things beautiful
    You can close your eyes and you’re miles away
    And hear my voice in a serenade

    The beauty is that all of this has made you the perfect you. Your babies will hear and see and witness all of your protection and validation because you have navigated a troubled world and still see the beauty…and you pass it on. Your voice, your writing, is a serenade to yourself, to them, and to the world. Thank you.


    p.s. I’m *really* angry at the Penn State situation. Like, so angry I had to stop reading and talking about it. Bob Costas deserves a medal for his unflinching questions. Rick Reilly wrote a beautiful article at about why we need to think about the CHILDREN and the FAMILIES, and not Sandusky or any adults who allowed his sick actions to continue. (Blood pressure up, stopping now!!!)

    1. Oh my dear dear Nissa….I love you and thank you. These words…

      As you travel through this troubled world
      In search of all things beautiful
      You can close your eyes and you’re miles away
      And hear my voice in a serenade

      You all did gather me into your families. You were my families in addition to my own. All of our families were the sum of my parts. Giving me some safety when I needed it, a shelter from my own storms.

      Our 11, 16, and 22 year old selves were not in a place to deal with his head on but you all did under the surface. I love you my dear friend. Your voice is my serenade with allows to me find and use my voice. Thank you:) xoxo

      As for the P.S. I know exactly what you mean.

  8. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing such a deep part of yourself with us. Sometimes it’s really empowering to open up isn’t it? And I say this as a person who has a hard time opening up. My hats off to you and I applaud your courage. Also, you are a talented writer. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! So nice to see you here and thanks for your lovely compliment and encouragement. It is empowering…but scary as well so I suppose you have to choose wisely and when you are ready:) Thanks for coming by and congrats on your move to self-hosting thats a big and exciting step!

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