When the adult survivor of emotional child abuse decides to take a break (whether temporary or permanent) from the birth family, that decision may come to a shock to people in their social circles. From the outside of the family circle-—and even within it, at times—everything has looked perfect, tidy, and loving. To all who gaze at the birth family, the portrait of a good and loving family is all they see.
In that light, the decision to take a break may seem out of nowhere. However, that life-changing, painful decision has not come lightly. Many adult children have agonized over the decision, discussed it with mental health professionals, and also gone back to analyze all the years of small events and large ones leading to this drastic measure.
And when the adult survivor of emotional child abuse separates themselves from the birth family, they often upset the family’s self-image, reputation, or order of business, which leads to a backlash from relatives, friends, and, at times, even spouses. (At The Invisible Scar, we’ve heard of all varieties of backlash that adult survivors have endured.)
Common Reactions From Mutual Friends and Family When an Adult Survivor Goes No Contact With Birth Family
Disbelief. The adult survivor finds mutual friends or family members not believing the adult survivor’s account of their upbringing. Typical comments include:
- “No, you were always a smiling, obedient child! You never said anything about being abused.”
(Emotionally abused children are very often difficult to detect for they are appear to be well-behaved, cheery children. Those children are often desperate for approval and love, which means they will be on their best behavior all the time in the hopes of winning their parents’ love.)
- “Your parents always gave you everything. You never went hungry, had a roof over your head…”
(Emotionally abusive parents may provide physical necessities to their children, but they starve their children of kindness, gentleness, understanding, the sense of belonging, the sense of approval, and the knowledge of being loved no matter what.)
- “Why didn’t you say anything before?”
(Emotionally abused children often do not make the realization of their abuse until they are adults. Psychologists say this is because the child must adopt a sense of denial in order to survive their childhood… For example, how could a child cope with the realization that they lack love, support, and warmth from the very people who are supposed to give them that? A child may have feelings of soul-crushing depression and loneliness, but he will bury those feelings in order to survive the day to day of their childhood.)
- “I never heard your parents say anything bad about you. Ever.”
(Abusive parents often are not abusive in the sight of others. In public, the abusive parent may seem the pillar of society, but in secret, the abusive parent unleashes the abuse on the child. In some families, even the other children may not witness the abusive. This is a form of self-protection from the abusive parent. Who will ever believe the child if no one but the child has witnessed the abuse? Plus, the abusive parent can also, through time, build up their reputations as great parents in the opinions of other people in their social circles. The abusive parent may always speak well about the child to others or cultivate the opinion that their child is a little bit mental, depressed, needy, or sensitive… All that cultivating comes in handy when the child grows up and shares the story of abuse; no one believes the adult child, for they’ve been listening to the propaganda from the parents for years.)
Guilt. The adult survivor may find friends and relatives badgering the adult survivor in continuing the relationship with the abusive parents. At The Invisible Scar, we do not quite understand why that is but we’ve theories that, in some cases, the mutual friend or relative may have their own parental issues they are working through (or are denying) or the mutual friend or relative stands to lose something by the severed relationship (they may have social connections, a place of importance in their community, etc., that they deem threatened by the family riff).
Comments may include…
- “Your parents worked so hard for you.”
Children do not owe their parents anything. Repeat: Children do not owe their parents anything. Parents, by the fact that they are parents, should provide for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of their children. Just because a parent did the bare minimum (and in some cases, not even that), the adult child does not need to continue to take any abuse from their parent. A good parent delights in being a parent and the enormous privilege of raising a child; a bad parent seeks in being consoled, comforted, nurtured, and supported unconditionally from their child.
- “You’re just abandoning them over a silly old fight!”
No. The decision to go No Contact may seem sudden, but emotional child abuse is a lifelong campaign by the abusive parent against the child. What a mutual relative or friend sees is not the complete picture. Never.
- “Your parents are old. They’re not going to be around for much longer.”
You reap what you sow. In most cases, an emotionally abused child has spent his childhood doing everything possible to win the love of the parent. We’ve heard adult survivors share stories of emotionally abused children taking on parental responsibilities. In other words, the emotionally abused child was given the role of the parent and forced to give the abusive parent unconditional love, support, understanding, etc., and the child received nothing back. Now that the adult child is grown, the adult child does not need to keep doing that. The parents have to deal with the consequences of having been abusive parents. They have to deal with the repercussions of having abused their children.
- “Your parents did the best they could.”
So? Just because an abusive parent didn’t mean to be abusive, that doesn’t mean the behavior wasn’t abusive. And it doesn’t mean the adult survivor needs to continue putting himself in the direct path of abusive. An adult survivor who goes No Contact is protecting himself from the abuse, whether the abusive parent was subconsciously or consciously acting.
- “Your parents love you so much.”
Whether an abusive parent loves his child is debatable. (Myriad heated arguments have arisen on psychology blogs, survivor blogs, and conversations regarding whether abusers can love, but we won’t take up that point here.) However, just because someone claims to love you that doesn’t mean you have to be in their lives. The claim to love an adult child does not guarantee the parent a right to see that adult child or have that adult child in his life. Newspapers are filled with articles of people who allegedly loved their victims.
Silence. The adult survivor may find mutual friends and relatives choosing a side—and they will choose the parent. That’s fine. Let them go. They deserve each other and can get entangled in their own web of lies, deceit, and secrets. But you, adult survivor, live in the light, live in the truth. Being in the truth alone is better than being in the deceit together.
How You Can Find Help
If you’re an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you may find yourself feeling alone once you decide to stop taking the abuse. However, know you are not alone. Help is available via a mental health professional or even a phone call (check out the sidebar for counseling services).
Stay strong. Stay in the light.
Just waking up to the fact you had an emotionally abusive childhood? My 92-page PDF offers insights and suggestions for this difficult time… and beyond. For just $7.99, you receive What Really Happened: Finding Out You Had an Emotionally Abusive Childhood (and Tips for Healing).
Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.