On Finding a Therapist; Helping Someone Abused; and Wondering Whether You’ll Ever Get Better [From the Editor’s Mailbox]

[photo credit: Menno van der Horst]
I receive a lot of email from The Invisible Scar readers and answer them privately as time permits. Some questions, however, have a more universal appeal or would benefit from readers’ input, so I’m sharing those in this month’s edition of From the Editor’s Mailbox. (The questions are all real, the names are not.)

Can you suggest a type of psychologist to go and see or what to do? I feel so lonely and no one understands me. Everything on this site is in line with what’s been happening my whole life.  (from Matt)

I highly recommend using the Find a Therapist form at Psychology Today to find a therapist near you.

Keep in mind that choosing a therapist requires a little more than just picking out a name from a list of professionals near you. You need someone who you feel comfortable with, who you feel “gets” you, and who are hopeful.

Many therapists offer a free first-time consultation, so use that time to interview them to see whether they are a good fit for you.

Consider asking a therapist about:.

  • Their background
  • Their focus (For example, you’ll want someone who understands emotional child abuse.)
  • Their philosophy regarding the purpose of therapy
  • Their approach to therapy

Also, keep in mind the general feeling you get when meeting them. (If they creep you out, don’t keep going to them, for example.)

You can get some great tips about choosing a therapist from Tracey Cleantis, LMFT.

Please know that you are not alone in your story. Though you may feel that no one in your family or friendship circle understands what you’re going through, the world is vast and filled with people experiencing different stories. Myriad people have suffered through emotional child abuse in various degrees, and hope exists for an emotionally healthy present and future. Keep moving forward…

What kind of professional help would you recommend in the case of a 23 year old that has been verbally abused by her mom since she can remember? Are there any other online resources that would be useful given that she’s right now overseas until late summer?  Also, how can she help her mom recognize that she needs help as she’s in denial that she’s doing anything wrong at this point despite the fact that she’s still doing it to her? (from David)

I recommend a mental-health professional. You may want to suggest that your daughter use Find a Therapist and see which of those do telephone meetings. (Some of them do.) Your daughter can go to respected sites such as Psychology Today and check out their verbal abuse articles as well as Psych Central’s articles on verbal abuse.

I also suggest books such as “Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse” by Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D.; he devotes a whole section to verbal abuse.

Be careful not to overwhelm your daughter with resources right now. Offer those books and resources but, most importantly, listen, love, and just be there, without judgment or correction.

Awakening to the reality of one’s abuse requires a special sort of bravery, humility, and patience with one’s self.

An adult survivor who has been abused by a parent doesn’t need to focus on the healing of the parent. No. The adult survivor of emotional child abuse must focus on herself/himself. Everything has already been about the parent. The adult survivor doesn’t need to go into therapy while thinking about how the parent can change or what the parent needs to do.

The adult survivor needs to protect his/her heart and find his/her own way towards an emotionally healthy present and future.

The adult survivor can tell the parent, “I need some space to think and process the nature of our relationship. I feel like I’ve been verbally abused by you, whether on purpose or not, and I need some space to process it all.”  

The abuser will, more likely than not, freak the hell out: How dare you say that! How dare you think that! I never did anything like that! I have ALWAYS been there for you! I have done EVERYTHING for you!

Those self-centered replies just underscore the fact that abuse exists. The adult survivor must stay strong, create space, and not react to that sort of crazy. The best reply, if any, to those tirades: I need my space right now; I’ll let you know when and if I am ready to talk at some point. If the barrage of emails, phone calls, etc. from the abusive parent continues, the best reply is silence.

In some rare (but not unheard-of) circumstances, an abuser may say, “Really? You feel that way? I am so, so sorry… I’ll give you your space and think about what I can do to make you feel more loved.” (People have shared with me that this has happened to them, so it is possible.)

But it’s best to know that reactions to “I need space” will vary.

I am the divorced spouse of an abusive NPD. Our daughter was the scapegoat, and has escaped to college successfully (which is being explained as my “stealing” her affection). My son is the golden child (in part, I suspect, in an effort retaliate for the older child’s escape). What can I do to help him? His focus now is meeting his father’s expectations as he knows the consequences of failing to do so (shunning or banishment). (from Donna)

The best advice would come from a mental-health professional; some of our readers are just that, and perhaps they can chime in with the right answer.

My suggestion is to gently approach your children separately and voice your concern that you have seen examples of an abusive relationship, that you are concerned that they have been emotionally abused… Let them know you love them and care for them, and recommend some websites or books, and then put them in your thoughts and prayers that they will be guided towards the truth and towards healing.

You don’t want to force them into seeing what they might not ready to admit or to handle. You need to be a good soundingboard for them and a safe person for them to talk to. Always let them know you love them, encourage them to begin therapy, and listen.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse who have not yet awakened to the reality of their childhood often do have unfaced feelings that something just was not right about their childhood, so this news may not be a surprise to your children. But do not force the issue.

What should I do if I’m 23 and can’t move out of my parents’ house and have experience emotional abuse from them and my siblings? I have a disability, which makes finding employment difficult and applying for disability. (from Ashton)

I really suggest finding a therapist who is experienced in counseling others in this situation.

A possible suggestion would be to find friends or other family members who may be open to your living with them. Or perhaps, if you are a churchgoer, you can ask your priest or pastor if he has suggestions for low-income housing.

Meanwhile, what you can do is to find a good therapist. You need someone to vent to, to guide you through this process, to have a safe place where you can just be yourself. A therapist can provide all that and much more.

Also, many emotionally abused teenagers find themselves in circumstances like yours and the advice to them may apply to you:

  • Spend very little time at home.
  • Make your room your sanctuary.
  • Guard your private thoughts from your parents.
  • Find good, safe friends to spend time with.
  • Find means of expressing your feelings through art, music, journaling, etc. so your emotions have somewhere to go.
  • Seek help.
  • Keep hope… If you find yourself feeling lost or alone or deeply depressed, please call this number for help.
My question is, do I have anything to live for? How sad that I have to write a complete stranger asking this. I have spent the vast majority of my life wishing I were dead. I feel like my choices are either leave and get myself into more debt and fail harder at life, or stay in the “safe” situation, at lease have food and shelter available, but compromise myself in the process. Are things ever going to get better? Can I ever live with myself for not rescuing my mother? Can I just keep disappointing everyone I know with my lack of mental and emotional strength until everyone I know hates me? Is there any point to all this? (from Taylor)

Yes, you have everything to live for.. You are a human being, a gift from God who loves you, no matter what. He loves you because He made you… No matter how successful, how unsuccessful, how pretty, how ugly, how rich, how poor, how anything—God loves YOU. (The abuse was your parents’ choice, for people have free will.)

Say your decisions may have been poor. Or you may not have achieved what you wanted to achieve. You may be going through a horrible, horrible time. But you still matter. You are still a human being worthy of love and dignity. Your life is still a gift.

That said, you need to take care of you. And that means finding help for your depression, finding healing, finding the ability to get up and move on and put one foot in front of the other.

Take care of  yourself by finding professional help. Get a therapist—immediately. You deserve an emotionally healthy life. You deserve to recognize your life for a gift and see the wonders and treasures inside you that abusers have tried from preventing you from seeing.

Also, keep your life in perspective… You may have disappointed people around you (or not; I cannot know this), but the world is HUGE. Even now, where you live, you cannot possibly know every single person there. It’s a big, big world. And it’s full of future friends and all good sorts of people in it.

Find healing. Get help. Know you matter. Hang in there. And when everything seems too hard, please call.

One Foot - AV

Can I send you a question about something that’s going on with me? I have no one else to talk to. No one else understands. (from many, many people)

Yes, please feel free to use this contact form to reach me. Know that I get a TON of email, so I am slow in responding. (Which is awful to admit. But it’s true.) Please note that I am just your friendly neighborhood child-abuse-prevention activist, just a layperson, so I do not offer professional advice.

Your best bet for replies is to leave a comment on an Invisible Scar post and let the amazingly supportive and knowledgeable readers share their suggestions, comfort, and resources with you.

Onward and upward,
managing editor | The Invisible Scar

13 thoughts on “On Finding a Therapist; Helping Someone Abused; and Wondering Whether You’ll Ever Get Better [From the Editor’s Mailbox]

  1. Thank you so much for this blog. This page, Luke 17:3 Ministries, and a few others (as well as the Boundaries book, my supportive DH, and my therapist) have helped me by giving me the courage to go No Contact with my abusive mother and enabling father. It has been about five months now. However, the fact that DH and I are about to have a child has made the hoovering and Flying Monkey attacks increase in the past month, and I am now worried that I will have to cut contact with pretty much everyone in my birth family. I know it is best for the benefit of MY family, especially now that DH and I are going to have a child that we don’t want exposed to the abuse, but I can’t help feeling like I am withholding something from my child somehow. It is a strange dichotomy. If anyone has any advice on this kind of situation, please feel free to share.


    1. Ahardrest,

      You’re very welcomed. And it sounds like you’ve what you need to stand firm! The book, the site, a supportive DH, and your therapist are mighty allies indeed. Happy to hear you have them.

      The craziness escalates quickly and to kooky levels when an adult survivor establishes boundaries. It’s one reason why so many adult survivors have to go No Contact. Their parents act so immaturely, abusively, rudely, harmfully, that going NC is the only way that the adult survivor has to block it.

      I’m sorry that you will have to cut out your birth family, but I honestly think the blame for that is not on the adult survivor who is going NC but on the abusive parent.

      The abusive parent’s own destructive behavior is what causing his/her child to block them out and stay safe. The abusive parent has CHOSEN to be such a destructive force in their adult child’s life that the adult child MUST for his/her own sanity and health stay away. The abusive parent has brought NC upon himself/herself. It is his/her fault that they have become such destructive people. And there is absolutely no reason for an adult survivor to remain in a relationship with people who seek to destroy them.

      And in regards to your child, I want to most emphatically say that you are doing the BEST THING possible for your child. You are already showing yourself to be a far more loving and giving parent than your own. You are protecting your child from abusive people. You are willing to make the sacrifice of enduring the crazy-makers and flying monkeys in order to keep your child safe. YOU ROCK.

      So many adult survivors have children and let their abusive parents have relationships with their parents—even though the adult survivor had a horrible childhood. It’s like the adult survivor forgets that their parent was terrible and abusive. The adult survivor somehow believes that their parent will magically have the qualities of a loving, kind, and good grandparent… despite not having any of those qualities as a parent! Despite being abusive parents!

      The abusive parent (now grandparent) is not going to magically change and become the ideal grandparent. Nothing has changed except that the abusive parent now has a grandchild to abuse.

      Your going NC with abusive parents is not cutting off a child from a loving, sweet, and generous grandparent. That person doesn’t exist. (Because how loving, sweet, and generous a grandparent can a person be when she/he abuses his/her own child?) Going NC is about making sure the abuse doesn’t affect another generation. It’s about letting your child know that a person is worthy of respect, dignity, and love, and that one should not have relationships with cruel people. It’s about doing what you need to in order to keep your family safe and emotionally healthy.

      (A good read about the abusive parent/grandchild issue can be found at: http://www.luke173ministries.org/466829)

      Please stay strong in your decision to go NC.

      (p.s. This comment has inspired me to start taking notes for a post about grandchildren. Thank you!)


  2. Excellent post! Until I got a bit better, I had no idea that I could vet a therapist. When I finally got it, I called various therapy groups and asked for exactly what I wanted – in my case, I wanted an older Christian woman who had worked with adult children of narcissists – and I found the most wonderful counselor in the world! I had to call 7 different places (and got some very strange reactions), but it was so worth it! I’ve gone No Contact with a number of my siblings (My parents are both deceased) and feel Marvelous!


    1. Peg,

      Thanks! And so glad to hear that you found such a wonderful counselor and are now in a better, more emotionally healthy place. Cheers!


  3. Every once in awhile my brother calls me to go to a doctor’s appointment or grocery shopping. I know this is ‘contact’ but that is it. Otherwise…no contact with sibs or cousins for that matter. They still see me a certain way and have not grown, so I don’t want to be around them. And no one has stepped forward to talk about any of it…so…screw them.


  4. Just a suggestion; when comforting people, at times you should try to keep god out of it. As an atheist I find it very uncomfortable and hardly comforting. I would take greater solace in being told I have a purpose because I can bring some good into this world in spite of what has been done to me instead of being told I’m still valuable as a human being because “god” made me and he loves me even if my parents don’t. I’d much rather be told that I’ll eventually find peers who will truly appreciate who I am or people who have gone through a similar situation and who will be there for me. It’s just something to keep in mind, since not all of us are christian.


    1. Censoring our articles for atheists (or Christians, Catholic Christians, people of different denominations, people of various religious, etc.) would not make sense for a Catholic ministry, which is what The Invisible Scar is.

      In censoring our articles for this or that group, someone would be made uncomfortable. It’s impossible to make every reader feel comfortable. You cannot make groups of people with such decidedly different worldviews completely comfortable.

      For example, you were made uncomfortable… Yet we’ve received myriad emails from readers who’ve found comfort in knowing that God is there for them despite their parental situation; we do believe in finding shelter, love, and peace in God above all, not in one’s peers.

      So, which group of readers do we write for then?

      We choose to write from a Catholic worldview, for this is a Catholic ministry. (It’s mentioned on our FAQ page as well.)

      You can choose to remain reading our article despite not liking the Catholic or Christian overtones; you’re welcomed here.

      However, if you choose not to, you’ve myriad secular sources, such as Psych Central or Psychology Today, to help you along in the healing journey.

      Onward and upward….


    2. I guess I didn’t read your FAQ well enough. Continue on then, and may I be excused for my comment. Would you keep a reply atheist on request though? Say, for example, if I were to ask for advice and explicitly request you’d keep it religion free, is there a possibility that you would do it? I enjoy your site greatly and it was what opened my eyes to my abuse quite honestly, so I treasure it more than any other source. If you’re not able to do that I understand, and I will continue to follow you anyhow. Thank you for the service you provide that helps more survivors than you’d ever imagine, atheists and theists alike.


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