I was on an airplane, somewhere over Colorado, when I first heard of Kathryn Harrison.
I had downloaded a few podcasts to listen to while on the flight, one of them being this one from Dear Sugar Radio. It was during this podcast that the Sugars called the author of The Kiss to get her advice on keeping, and sharing, family secrets.
Kathryn Harrison grew up as an only child in a dysfunctional family system, marked by a lineage of maternal narcissism and paternal psychopathy. When she was twenty years old, after being estranged from her father for most of her life, the two began a relationship which quickly became incestuous.
Having grown up in an emotionally abusive environment with her mother and desperate to maintain a connection with her long-absent father, their sexual relationship lasted four long years before the author was able to gather the strength to cut it off once and for all, losing her father for good.
For years, Harrison kept the secret-writing her story and it’s various themes under the guise of fiction-until one day, she could keep the secret no longer.
Through writing her memoir, Harrison told her story and set herself free.
Shame keeps us silent
“You’ve done what you’ve done, and you’ve done it with me. And now you’ll never be able to have anyone else, because you won’t be able to keep our secret. You’ll tell whoever it is, and once he knows, he’ll leave you.”
Abusers use shame to keep their victims silent.
These are the words of Harrison’s father, the words of an abuser, condemning his victim to a life of isolation with her abuser.
If you get close to anyone else…
If you tell what you did…
They will leave you.
Through the abuse, I made you unclean, undesireable, unloveable, untouchable.
All you will ever have is me.
Because I ruined you for anyone else.
We are only as sick as our secrets
A big part of improving mental health is normalizing the human experience.
Human beings like to establish rules for ourselves. Tidy boxes in which to catagorize what is “normal” and “acceptable” and “right.”
But life is seldom that simple.
Life is as complex as the myriad combinations of human beings sharing their experience on planet Earth.
Sharing her story, Kathryn Harrison has normalized the experiences of countless incest surviviors.
Incest is taboo, but it shouldn’t be. It is far too common to be avoided or ignored. For a large group of women, Harrison’s memoir is a beacon of hope; of healing and confirmation that they are not alone.
I’ll let you in on a truth: the tidy boxes don’t exist.
There is no such thing as normal, acceptable, and right just as there is no such thing as unacceptable, bad, or wrong.
Instead, there are people, at various stages of healing and living in different levels of conscious awareness, each of us doing the best we can with the resources we have at the time.
Let’s be kind to ourselves, and kind to each other.
Let’s show ourselves compassion and show that same to compassion to others that we desire ourselves.
By sharing the stories that make us who we are, we drive out shame.
We step into the light of awareness.
We can breathe.
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