The desire to be part of a loving family; to have parents who are loving, supporting, and caring; to have siblings who love you and care for your well-being; to have family members who listen to you, who share themselves, who make your life happier by being in it (and who are happy in your being in their lives)…. All those are very human desires. Everyone wants those. Who doesn’t want to be loved well and loved for who they are?
However, as readers of the Invisible Scar can attest, not everyone gets that family. Yet abused children will do anything to convince themselves that, yes, they do have that family. Myriad children, for the sake of being able to survive to adulthood, have to convince themselves that their family is loving…. even if the children are being routinely cut into shreds emotionally. Abusive parents, knowing this on some level, often tell their abused children that they deserve such verbal takedowns, that the parents are only being honest or caring, that the parents need to correct their children, etc. The abusive parents often cling to an idea that they are fantastic parents and, as emotionally abused children often experience a type of brainwashing, children repeat what they hear. “We are a loving family,” a child will repeat, even if bearing emotional scars from distant, selfish parents. “My parents are the best,” a girl will say even if her mother is always making her feel fat, ugly, stupid, worthless. “My parents are great parents,” a boy will repeat even if he has been treated harshly and been abused routinely. The child’s mind needs to believe that the loving family is true… because the truth of the matter is very difficult for a child to accept.
But it’s also difficult for an adult survivor to accept the fact. However, an adult has the ability to break away from the abuse. And one way to make sure they stop engaging in relationships that are abusive is to remember the truth of the relationship. Remember the facts of what really have happened.
Unfortunately, many adult survivors of emotional child abuse—longing for family, longing for parents, hating how judgmental society is regarding estranged family members—hurry back to the fold almost as quickly as they told their abusers to stop it. The adult survivor’s deeply rooted desire for what could be makes them return to the fold in the very foolish, heart-breaking hope that everything will be different now…
As the brilliant authors of Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Control of Your Life state…
“To continue to open yourself up emotionally to an abusive or addicted person without seeing true change is foolish.
“You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment. If you have been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe and until real patterns of change have been demonstrated before you go back.“
How to Stay Focused on Your Healing… and Not Return to the Abusive Cycle
In that horribly rough, shaky, nerve-rattling stage of stepping out in the truth, many adult survivors will have strong physical reactions to what they are remembering or seeing in a new light. They will, in many cases, demonstrate the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have been locked in a false reality for so long…. they are bound to feel the physical pain, via headaches, stomach pains, panic attacks, etc. in looking at the truth of what is. (And all that is one of the many, many reasons we highly recommend therapy for all adult survivors of emotional child abuse.)
Unable to endure the headaches and that terrible feeling of guilt, of being orphaned, many adult survivors hurry back. A professional therapist, however, may tell them to hold on. Wait. Give it time. You don’t hurry back to the abusers to stop having headaches or feeling bad. In one case, we heard a therapist offer the following advice: “You’ve been living under a dictator for so long… You are bound to be lost right now. To feel that you’ve somehow betrayed your parents and family. But you are free now. And freedom takes some getting used to.”
To help you keep in mind the truth of what has happened in your childhood (and, in many cases, continued until adulthood), here are some ideas…
- Go to a professional therapist. Even if you cannot afford regular visits, go when you can to the same one, who will know your history and will be able to guide you through everything. They will not be sentimental about what could have been and can remind you of what exactly you’d be hurrying back to.
- Keep a journal. Write down all the memories of the most abusive moments you’ve endured. You’re not doing this to continue living in the past nor to keep yourself full of hate… but you are doing this to have a notebook to turn to in your weak moments. So, when you think, “I really miss my dad…” you can pick up your notebook, read through it, and remind yourself that, you know what, that loving dad really never existed… and the one you have is not getting a chance with you until he’s proven, for a long period of time, that he has truly changed. (The importance of a journal will be tackled in another post at the Invisible Scar.)
- Read about emotional child abuse. Learn the definition, read the stories, understand that emotional abuse is real. It is very real. We have some suggested books and the list is growing…
- Mourn your loss… Getting rid of the magical thinking—”I wish my parents had been loving!” or “Maybe my parents will love me this time!”—is a tremendous step towards becoming healthy once more. So, let yourself mourn what you didn’t have and mourn what you did have. You have the right to be sad. It’s all right. Let yourself be sad…. (Just make sure that the mourning doesn’t last for too long or become suicidal or hopelessness… Again, we recommend professional help to do this.)
- Look to the present. Remind yourself of the gift that you’ve given yourself in facing the truth of your emotionally abusive childhood. You can no longer be held emotional hostage. You are free to be who God intended you to be, free to be your most authentic self. Instead of wanting to turn back to the past, focus on what you have today… and try and create a new life for yourself with friends who are emotionally healthy, loving, and kind… and be that to others, too.
Readers, do you have any tips to share?