Patricia Redlich

Friday, January 22, 2010

Damaging Rumours About Me

About three years ago I became the victim of a rumour which, as rumours go, can only be described as a man's worst nightmare. It was said that I'm a paedophile.

It began with an incident in a queue for a gig. I was at the back and was spotted by my a neighbour who was at the front of the queue, a girl of about 22 - who looks a lot younger - and she beckoned me up to join her. I'm in my late forties. When I moved in beside her, this young lad, whom I didn't know, pointed the finger at me and called me a paedophile. I was shocked. When he said it again, my instinct was to punch his lights out, but knew a fracas would ensue, the police would be called, and the local newspaper would carry the story.

Instead, I asked my young neighbour what I should do, she told me the lad 'wasn't the full shilling', and I let it go. I also left the scene and decided to give that general area a miss for a few months, by which time, or so I thought, it would all have blown over. I live abroad in a community with a large Irish contingency, and gossip is a favourite pastime. A few years before this, a new arrival had had one drink too many and told the assembled drinkers that he'd been a teacher back in Ireland but had given it up. Within hours of him saying that, the word was out that he'd interfered with younger students and been forced to leave. This was very much at the back of my mind.

At first all seemed grand, but then I began to notice a change in people. Standing in the pub with the usual gang, a conversation hardly passed without paedophiles being mentioned, usually entirely out of context. I tried to shrug it off. But the references were getting more frequent and it started springing up at work too. I began to feel uncomfortable. The first actual physical incident involved me getting a lift home from some of my bar mates, but instead of driving me to my door, they dropped me off in an unlit street around the corner. When this happened a second time I challenged them and was told my street was too dangerous. I don't live in a great neighbourhood, but that was just silly so I stormed off. I considered one of them my best friend, but the incident was never discussed.

This was the beginning of the nightmare. If I thought someone was being smart, I'd sometimes challenge them, asking for an explanation, and there would be an instant climb-down. I tried to talk to people about the rumour, but was invariably interrupted with a denial of any knowledge of such a rumour, even though I knew they knew, thereby making the conversation pointless. Five months ago, I got so depressed I went to my doctor and basically broke down in the surgery and told him everything. Seeing how distressed I was he sent me for counselling. It was great to be able to talk about it, and the counsellor was very professional and very understanding, but basically he was there to listen, not to give advice.

So I'm in Limbo. The rumour is there. I can't do anything about it. And I'm falling out with people as a result of it. I'm at my wits' end. I thought about moving away, but that would look like I'm running away. I also had the chance of a job back in Ireland recently, but had to pass it up for the same reason. I've never felt suicidal, but I am suffering from some form of depression. The doctor offered me anti-depressants but I declined. I don't like tablets. I also felt the cure was to bring the whole mess out into the open.

It hasn't worked and I'm now at the end of my tether. The last thing I want is to have to go back to the doctor and take prescribed drugs just to get me by from day to day. How can I stop this rumour in its tracks and get my life back?

Rumours are a particularly nasty form of bullying. Nasty because it's so hard to fight back. How can anyone prove that they are not mad, bad, or just plain peculiar? How can anyone prove that they haven't had an affair, conceived a secret child, stole from the church collection? Or as in your case, how can anyone prove that he has no paedophile tendencies?

When you think about it, fear of such rumours is a powerful force in forming our behaviour. We call it concern about what other people think. You see it operating everywhere. A male neighbour limits the help he gives to the widow living next door, in case people should begin to talk. The widow herself may think twice about offering him a cup of tea in thanks. Men see small children falling in the street and hesitate to give them a hand. I won't go on. You get the message.

The problem with bullying is not just the bully. It's the behaviour of the victim. And this is where it gets tricky, because nobody wants to blame the victim. The problem is, a victim's behaviour does contribute to the bullying. We can't escape that fact. This is particularly true, perhaps, when it comes to rumours.

I have to be blunt in order to be helpful, so here goes. Some idiot got annoyed because you jumped a queue and he said the first thing that came into his scruffy little mind. He called you a paedophile. What happened next is a classic example of how victims contribute to the bullying they suffer. Despite reassurance from your young neighbour, you took flight. You left the queue, and avoided the general area for months. You behaved in a guilty fashion. No, don't get all scared. Lots of people automatically feel guilty, when someone says something bad, or criticises them. Indeed, lots of people automatically feel it's their fault when someone else is in bad humour, or is feeling offended, or even just irritable. Some of us are programmed by our upbringing to presume we're in the wrong, even when we are not. That's what makes us easy victims.

You knew you'd done nothing wrong. But you got scared that others might not believe that. Somewhere in your childhood you learned to expect punishment even though innocent. You felt vulnerable and exposed and acutely sensitive. You felt frightened, and fled.

Now I don't know if the rumour travelled. My educated guess is that it didn't. I think you were feeling so sensitive that you read meaning into casual comments. Paedophilia is in the ether right now, constantly discussed, never far from anybody's mind. And by being so sensitive, you drew the subject into your circle of friends.

Please don't feel upset by this challenge to your version of events. I truly am trying to disentangle your situation for you. The point is, that even if I'm wrong, even if the rumour did spread to your local pub, what needs to be done is still the same: You have to get a grip on your sensitivity. You have to become more emotionally robust. At the end of the day, the only way to persuade people - if they need persuading - is to firmly believe in ourselves. Put another way, if we want to stop the bullying, we have to stop acting like a victim.

In practical terms, you must stop mentioning the subject. You are doing yourself no favours by bringing it up with your friends and work colleagues. Think about it. You're keeping the issue alive and forcing them to take up positions. I understand that what you're looking for is reassurance from them. But nobody can reassure us. We have to reassure ourselves. By hammering on about it, you're making the whole situation worse. Let me give you an example from another sphere of life entirely.

Think about a jealous man. What happens to his relationship? He constantly seeks reassurance from his wife, which does three things: Firstly, he's feeding his own distress, because he's always asking about some man, some attention his wife received, whatever. Secondly, he wears his wife out because she's having to account for every five minutes of her life, so she becomes less loving. And thirdly, the jealous man remains one-down, stays anxious and vulnerable, retains his feeling of powerlessness.

Do you see? Your anxiety is becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. You are creating your own unhappiness. The good news is that this means the solution is in your hands. Nobody believes you're a paedophile. A lot of people believe you're a nice but anxious and troubled man. And they are right. Go back to your doctor. Or go to a good therapist who will help you seek the solution where it truly lies, namely not in the rumour about paedophilia, but in your early upbringing, when you learned to be afraid. And don't dismiss medication out of hand. Sure, it's only a crutch. But all of us need crutches sometimes. Anyway, at least talk to your doctor again. The bottom line is that the solution to your distress is in your hands. Go get the help you need to fix it. And thank you for turning to me. I hope I've let you see that your trust was well placed.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design