ACONs · Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse · Child Abuse · Emotional Child Abuse

Bunny-Boiling Parents Will Destroy What You Love [Types of Emotional Child Abuse, Part 3]

[photo credit: flickr user paula izzo]
[photo credit: flickr user paula izzo]
When you look up the definition of emotional child abuse, it includes different kinds of emotional child abuse. In our Types of Emotional Child Abuse series, the first post discussed the silent treatment, and the second, gaslighting. In our third part, we will explore “bunny boiling.”

In a healthy parent-child relationship, a parent supports the healthy loves of his/her child. If a child loves to play basketball, the parent will make sure the child gets to practices on time, show up for the games, and cheer on the child. After a loss, the child may receive gentle guidance from the parent and words of encouragement. After a win, the child is supported but the win is kept in perspective. The child feels love no matter what.

Likewise, if a child has a beloved pet, a healthy parent makes sure the child knows the responsibilities of keeping a pet, asks the child about the pet (something even as light as “How’s Snowball today?”), listens to the child speak about his treasured pet, and delights in the child having a good relationship with nature.

The love of the adult is felt by the child, and the child does not feel like he or she needs to hide or protect the loved item or creature from the parent’s grasp. The parent’s love is open and healthy enough to understand that a child will love friends, pets, classmates, and so forth.

And then there are the abusive, unhealthy relationships. In those, parents will actively seek to hinder and destroy what a child loves or holds dear.

These types of parents are the “bunny boilers.”

Bunny boiling has become a popular reference to how people sometimes exhibit their rage by behaving destructively toward something symbolic, important, or treasured possessions or representations of those whom they wish to hurt, control, or intimidate.” (Out of the Fog, Emotional Abuse page)

The term “bunny boiling” usually refers to an event in the relationship between two adults. The term comes from the 1987 movie “Fatal Attraction,” in a cheating husband finds that the lover he broke up with has boiled his family’s pet bunny.

However, as many adult survivors of emotional child abuse know, some abuse parents have bunny boiling down to a dark science.

Destroying What a Child Loves

The following are examples of how an emotionally abusive parent will ruin what a child treasures.

  • A child loves her pet cat and takes care of the cat. An abusive parent might start limiting the child’s interaction with a cat, start separating the cat and the child (for example, make the cat sleep in a different room than the cat).  In some cases, the parent may decide that s/he is suddenly allergic to the cat and get rid of it. This is not a true allergy, for the parent only “developed” it when the child grew attached to the cat.
  • A child has a best friend, and the abusive parent will seek to destroy the bond. The parent will repeatedly badmouth the best friend to the child and wage a smearing campaign against this best friend. The parent will limit time with this friend. (Note that this is not an emotionally healthy parent who has found that his child is hanging around with a bad influence. This is a parent who cannot bear for his child to have an emotional connection with someone else. And this parent will interfere so deeply as to ruin the relationship. (We’ve heard adult survivors share stories of parents who forced the child to stop hanging around with his best friend, even though the best friend was not a bad influence.)
  • A child loves to draw, but the parent is jealous of the time that the child spends doing what he loves instead of what the parent wants this child to do. The parent will take away the child’s art supplies and punish the child for spending too much time drawing. The abusive parent wants to destroy what the child loves.

Stealing What a Child Loves

In some circumstances, an emotionally abusive parent will not destroy what the child loves but will take it over, thus ruining what makes it so special for the child.

Here are some examples:

  • A child deeply enjoys acting in school plays. The parent will decide that she, too, enjoys acting. The parent will begin taking acting classes, auditioning for plays, focusing on building an acting resume… The parent takes over what the child loves (in this case, acting) and owns it; she makes it her thing, draws attention to herself, and eclipses the child. Meanwhile, the child receives no support of his own acting.
  • A child has a favorite CD that she listens to regularly. The parent will borrow the CD… and then lose it and never replace it. Healthy parents may sometimes lose possessions, but an emotionally abusive parent shows little remorse for losing something the child loves and absolutely no desire to replace it.
  • A child has a favorite teacher, and the parent decides to befriend the teacher and become close to that teacher. The parent takes over, as always.

What is important to note in the above examples is that the abusive episodes are not one-time events.  The emotionally abusive parent doesn’t just destroy one relationship that the child has or stealing away what a child loves. The abusive parent does this repeatedly, steadily, systematically.

The abusive parent continually takes over what a kid loves, so that the child feels isolation (because the parent has destroyed so many relationships) or inept (because the parent takes over the child’s past-times and hobbies for the parent’s own).

What Bunny Boiling Teaches the Abused Child

Bunny boiling teaches a child that the parent has ultimate control in all aspects of a child’s life.

In a healthy parent-child relationship, the parent will not try to control everything about the child. The healthy parent knows that a child will form opinions about favorite colors, pets, friends, hobbies, etc.

In an abusive parent-child relationships, the parent wants to be the dictator of a child’s life. And by systematically destroying or stealing what a child loves, the abused child learns to hide what she or he loves, learns that everything can be stolen away by the parent, learns to smother emotions (such as the desire for friends, the urge to be creative, etc.).

What This Means for Adult Survivors

In researching bunny boiling, we’ve found very little about the parent-child dynamic… Most of it has been in regards to romantic relationships.

That said, we’ve received so many emails, read myriad comments, and have been told so many stories about this behavior of an emotionally abusive parent (especially those with a narcissistic personality disorder).  Bunny boiling seems to have affected so many emotionally abused children.

So, what can an adult survivor take away from this realization?

The adult survivor, now awakened to the truth of his/her abuse, may want to look back at what was taken from him or her and begin to reclaim it. For example, a child who was repeatedly grounded for drawing too much or had his art supplies taken on a whim by an abusive parent may now decide to start pursuing art once more. Or one who liked to sing as a child may start taking music lessons as an adult.

Take time to consider what was taken from you and now, make the conscious decision of whether to bring it back into your life. If the love is no longer there (for example, you no longer feel drawn toward baseball as you once were), let it go.

But if you still feel your old creative urge stirring within you, if you feel a longing to express yourself through the arts, if you want to enjoy sports again, consider reintroducing them into your life.

You’re an adult now, and you no longer have to fear the bunny boiling.

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49 thoughts on “Bunny-Boiling Parents Will Destroy What You Love [Types of Emotional Child Abuse, Part 3]

  1. “The parent takes over, as always…” Sigh. Yes. My mother has recently asked why I don’t talk about my business anymore. “Because, Dear Mother, every time I try to, you hijack the conversation and turn it into something about you.” Unfortunately, it’s easier just to say nothing than be hijacked repeatedly.

    I’d love to be able to talk about my business with her, but I can’t. I know that and I accept it, most of the time. If I really need to talk about it, I find somebody else.

    I don’t remember my mother being a bunny boiler during my childhood, but her jealous nature reared its head as I became a teenager and then moved into adulthood. The “competition” is disgusting—motherhood, career, health issues, etc.—nothing and/or no situation is ever allowed to be solely mine.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Mine called or showed up at my jobs, discussing my illnesses, etc. I got weird vibes after that, and some coworkers ostracized me, ridiculed me, Even my supervisors attitudes changed towards me. It sucked.
      Will never tell her where I am working again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Those ‘co-workers, supervisors’ were ‘blaming the victim’, which is another cross that we children of narcissists carry around with us for the rest of our lives.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I’m so, so sorry this happened to you. I know these intrusive behaviors all too well. For the longest time I thought they were “normal.” Talk about eye-opening. Thank you so very much for sharing your comment. I hope you are taking good care of yourself. Hugs to you. ❤

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    2. Exactly…That feeling of having conversations, people, interest, etc. hijacked is the result of “bunny boiling.”

      Sorry to hear that you’ve had to endure such “competition” from your mother. Sadly, that attitude does tend to grow stronger as a child matures.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. So sorry “Bog…”
      Can relate as far as my mother is concerned, and my mother-in-law. We should feel sorry for them, and a counselor suggested just that to me. “You should feel bad for your mother.”

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      1. I would exercise caution with Feeling Sorry for your abuser. Take care that it does not harm you, by making you feel you have to cut them some slack all the time, to the point of hurting your life irreparably. Pray for them. But be clear about what they can do to you.

        Liked by 2 people

    4. You have my sincere sympathy. It is only since I went “NC” fairly recently has ANYTHING started becoming “mine.”
      The “competition” you mention is my mother to a “T.”
      My best to you as you find things, places, relationships, and whatnot to be your own.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I wish discussions about ridicule were more forthcoming. Ridicule can destroy you for life, unlike ‘bunny boiling’ or tacit silences. When the whole family ridicules you (repeatedly throughout childhood) you will be lucky to ever keep a job or make friends. Ridicule has plagued me to the point of ‘non-living’.

    Got a family in total denial? Good luck with that.

    Like the late great Joan Rivers…I need to ask: “Can we talk?”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ah, yes. We will be discussing ridicule in a future post. There’s much ground to cover in a Types of Emotional Child Abuse series…. but we’re working on those posts.

      Sorry to hear that you’ve had to endure ridicule. Please don’t let it destroy your life…

      We hope you find healing and a path to a more emotionally healthy life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, in ways I have…I can be quite the ‘comedian’. That is when my ‘better’ side is up and running.

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  3. Finding this site has been life changing for me. Besides being the “scapegoat” child of my narcissistic parents, I have been “gaslighted” countless times and experienced the “bunny boiling.” When I turned 9, (in 1967), the only birthday gift I wanted was a white Persian kitten I had seen in the pet store. My parents told me because the kitten was so expensive, ($25.00), it would be the only gift I would receive. I didn’t care. I wanted that kitten more than anything. I don’t remember exactly how long I had that kitten, but it was about a week. I came home from school one day to find the kitten missing. My mom gave it away without my knowledge because she said didn’t want to have a white cat with orange feet from the Georgia red clay around our home. Needless to say, I was devastated. She told me years later that the couple who took the cat ran over it in their car and killed it. I swear she was smirking when she told me. Later that year, our beloved dog disappeared for about 4 months before she finally returned home very thin and bedraggled. When I was in college, my mom confessed she had taken our dog and dumped her out in the country. Our whole family spent weeks driving around looking for our dog. My mom faked her sadness and helped us look for the dog. Words can’t express the depth of betrayal I have felt over the years. I am grateful, but sad, that I am not alone in my struggles with parents like mine. Twelve years ago, my dad told me he had let my mom abuse me because, “If she was on you, she wouldn’t be on me.” He’s now 88, bitter and alone. He yelled at me on the phone for years until I cut off contact. Now he writes me letters accusing me of all kinds of nonsense. My mother is 76 and a miserable, bitter, lonely, sick old woman who ignores me and my son, (her only grandchild). My sister, the “golden child,” is a mess. She is bipolar and still asks our parents for money even though she is 53. I have very little contact with either parent or my sister for my own sanity. I am a Christian and have sought counseling, prayed, and begged God to help me forgive them, but I don’t think I will have peace in my soul until they are gone. Thank you for sharing your stories. It is enormously helpful to know I’m not crazy and didn’t imagine all the abuse I have suffered for 57 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Martha,

      So very, very sorry to hear that you’ve endured such horrific emotional abuse and was the scapegoat. (Interesting fact: In all our readings, we’ve found that the scapegoat is most likely to be the child who experiences an “awakening” and finds the path to an emotionally healthier life. The golden child tends to repeat the behavior.)

      Thank you for being brave and open enough to share your story here so that others can read it and know they are not alone.

      You’re not crazy. Emotional child abuse is very real (and rather surreal, at times). But you’re not alone.

      Onward and upward.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. OMG. At least my narcissistic parents loved all of their pets. Never a cat, dog, bird, or bunny was dumped anywhere or hurt. In anything, I am completely ashamed of my behavior towards two parakeets (Jack and Jill). And I was the ‘great’ animal lover in my family of origin! Those poor parakeets ended up flying out of their cage (don’t know why I had them outside in the first place) and they were never to be seen again. It breaks my heart. Don’t know why I did these things as a child. I was much kinder to all of our cats..one dog, a collie, I realize now was probably deaf and no one realized it.
      How heartbreaking. I am so sorry about your gorgeous kitten, but at least the dog was found…albeit in bad condition. Did you bring it to the vet?

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    3. You most certainly are not crazy, contrary to what our abusers want us to think. My mom never wanted anything to do with my children, but doted on my sister’s (the golden child) kids. I didn’t realize until recently (my kids are adults now) that it was probably better that way. She, no doubt, would have tried to turn my kids against me like she did with family members. At this point, no contact works best for me.

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      1. Let me just say here that I relate/identify with all of your posts. Everything and all of it applied to me as well. Very sad and very sick upbringings…

        But I agree…from pain to purpose should now be our motto.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. FOR ALL OF THE WELL-MEANING FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS, CLASSMATES, TEACHERS, COACHES: you did not know what was wrong with us. You did not know about narcissism and would not believe it if you were forced to hear about it. You were incapable of deciphering, decoding, understanding or believing any of it. You just thought we were troubled children…born that way.

        No…we were not born that way.

        And beware of ‘well meaning people’ much of the time…they may mean well but only YOU (and you alone) know inside yourself what is best for you !

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Sorry for what you’ve endured… And though you cannot change whether someone commits bunny boiling, you can limit your exposure to the abusive person.

      You have ability to protect your emotional well-being by limiting contact with your abusers or even making the decision to go no contact.

      Onward…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This Is Real! You say…..
    Stealing What a Child Loves
    In some circumstances, an emotionally abusive parent will not destroy what the child loves but will take it over, thus ruining what makes it so special for the child.
    Here are some examples:
    A child deeply enjoys acting in school plays. The parent will decide that she, too, enjoys acting. The parent will begin taking acting classes, auditioning for plays, focusing on building an acting resume… The parent takes over what the child loves (in this case, acting) and owns it; she makes it her thing, draws attention to herself, and eclipses the child. Meanwhile, the child receives no support of his own acting.
    **********************
    My Parent stole so much out of jealousy. My computer classes I taught…disrupted every class.
    a fashion show I co planned. yelled at me in front of others, persuaded others to quit, the day before the event.
    My public speaking skills, Leadership, and teaching abilities (christian and secular.) ……criticized, and coerced others to see my faults, instead of supporting me.

    I could go on……My God this is sooooo sad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it really is sad… and the stories we often hear fall along those same lines.

      We’re sorry for what you endured, and thank you for taking the time to comment and share your story with other readers.

      Like

    2. “In some circumstances, an emotionally abusive parent will not destroy what the child loves but will take it over, thus ruining what makes it so special for the child.” Thank you for showing another side of bunny boiling.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Although the term bunny boiling is a new one to me, I completely understand what you are talking about here. I used to have a pet Ferret. My stepfather-monster would threaten that he would break it’s neck and flush it down the toilet if I didn’t get rid of it. I used to have a cat, and then one morning I woke up, my sister called me to say she couldn’t find my cat, and I learned from my younger sister that dear dad had taken her to the pound to be euthanized. (I was out of state, having major surgery due to a car accident, by the way, which I was left on my own to recuperate and take care of myself) His answer, he was tired of taking care of my cat. He NEVER did anything with my animals!!
    Before I could read and write, I was drawing. My grandparents fostered my love of art, I wanted to be an art therapist when I was in high school. I was 17 and sad because it seemed as if all of my friends had dates to the high school dances. My stepdad told me that I’d never be beautiful so I had better be smart instead. I ended up graduating the in the top 5% of my school. got scholarships to several universities. My stepdad then told me that art was stupid and I was dumb. Funny how, 30 years later, he’s sporting a $1000+ dollar camera with all the equipment, he takes a photo of a NC lighthouse and it get’s published… all of a sudden he’s an ARTIST. Both he and my mother have sabotaged anything that I have ever accomplished. After my car accident, my therapist got me involved with Voc Rehab, I was going to go to George Washington Univ, in the Physicians asst. programme, my stepfather kicked me out of his house, I was homeless for a while, and lost my opportunity to finish college. I have tried so many things, it has taken me 5 plus years to finally finish my degree, I couldn’t finish my fine arts, because he had thrown away all of my portfolio. Maddening thing is, he DENIES everything and has said that I have made it all up. He says I have cognitive disorder and he has done nothing wrong. Really, that’s why I have been diagnosed with PTSD??? I like speaking out loud could go on and on, I was born in Britain, my birthright is English. My mum, grandparents are all English. He even took that away from me when I was little. (He’s an American in the military) I have my UK citizenship back!!!! and I am slowly getting back the things that he has taken.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the term “bunny boiling” has been in some of the research we’ve read but almost always in terms of romantic relationships rather than parent-child ones. Sadly, however, the similar destructive behaviors are seen in how an abusive parent treats his/her child.

      The stories you shared were so very tragic. We are so, so sorry for what you had to endure. But good for you for reclaiming what was taken from you.

      Congratulations on regaining your UK citizenship! And may you continue on the road to healing.

      Onward and upward.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. It seems that narcissist parents “prophesy” that we’re never going to amount to much and then do everything they can to sabotage us to make the prophesy come true, stopping at nothing to prove that they “were right.”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think we can all agree that emotional abuse is the worst of all. The ‘invisible scar’ can/and does show on my face, however, as attested by those with whom I have worked when they say, “You always look like you are going to start crying.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This “bunny boiler” struck a chord that has been resonating in my life very a long time. The lack of empathy or care from a parent(s) no matter how much they claim to “love” you significantly effects you during your adulthood. “No, you cannot do that and no, you cannot do this” were common answers to anything I wanted to that was healthy and productive to a person’s development.

    I’m 33 years old going on 34 and there’s a part of me that still can’t figure it out. The negativity and fear ensues….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m 36 and just coming to this gut-wrenching and shocking realization myself. I’m utterly lost. Man, do I feel you! BIG hugs sent your way. You are SO not alone. ❤

      Liked by 3 people

  8. My mother did quite a bit of bunny-boiling in my life – my friends, relatives who liked me, my favourite teacher. As I grew older, she went for my bridesmaid. Ultimately, she zeroed in on my husband. I was an avid reader from the time I was young, but I learned to hide and read. I was very rarely bought books, so I resorted to borrowing them from pals, and hiding to read them. Once discovered, the books were mostly torn up – which left me having to make excuses to my friends. For this, I was vilified once or twice at school. Enough to make the memory burn till today.

    Be it people or books or religious practices, my mother wanted in on EVERYTHING. She always gave the excuse that I was stupid and forsaken by God, so she had to step in and guide me through friendships, hobbies, spirituality.

    I’m alright now, thanks to good counsel through holy souls and this beautiful blog. My mother almost killed me, but God looked out for me, had me in the palm of His hand.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you made it out. “…but God looked out for me, had me in the palm of His hand.” When I read comments like this from ACONs, I’m convinced that we were living with the enemy manifested in the flesh.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @lynnettedavis, thank you. When we have survived something as sad as Emotional and Mental abuse, the only way left is forward, but not alone. I believe we must use all God has blessed us with to reach out and help others out of that dark and lonely pit, for this new Life is like a light that must be shared.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow. Music, dance, acting, social life, clothing, decorating, cooking, even my color choices, were all controlled, sabotaged or destroyed in one way or another.

    This post further validates my choice to go No Contact two years ago.

    I have been enjoying the freedom to explore & discover who I am again, without all my energy being wasted dodging all the manipulation & abuse. I am finally unfolding & healing.

    Thank you for so clearly articulating what so many of us are overcoming.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, there was ridicule for almost everything in my life – my curtain choices, my cooking, the clothes I wore, the way I walked, the shape of my body. Until today, I’d rather take the long way around than to walk in front of people because I am ashamed of my “bow-legs” and the way my “knees knock together”. I still avoid having my profile of my face photographed because I was told I have an awful nose.
      That’s is the sad legacy of NPD abuse, made even more pathetic that it came from an obese woman who wasn’t much of a head-turner herself who made a mess of the home.

      But I decided that even that residual pain must be put to good use. I remind myself to never tear down another person. I try and be a support to friends to face weight issues. I can cook decently now and I share my food and recipes with others, especially new cooks, and when their cooking doesn’t turn out, I encourage them to laugh over it and to start over.

      It was no accident that I was given this mother. I believe that everything is in the will of God. Maybe I needed to suffer this pain in order to help others get through theirs. And because of this hurt, I am even able to pray simple prayers for her that she finds God someday. I can’t pray a lot for her, and I don’t force myself too, but I pray when I feel God’s prompting. I no longer question Why because I have found purpose in life now.

      But I will never go back to her.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Oh, how powerfully this article “hits home.” Here’s the ‘short list’ that popped into my head.

    I have memories of specific instances of my mother taking items that she’d “give” me, then end up giving it to someone else. Hell, she did that to me as an adult, after my grandparents passed away– when I named something I wanted, she’d put a guilt trip on me by naming how much money she could get for it.

    As a child, one of my goats supposedly died during child-birth; I had been at a friends how when it happened, so I don’t know the truth.

    As a child, I had a parakeet I loved a lot. My mom placed the cage in a very drafty area, resulting in the death of my beloved parakeet.

    As an older child, my mother would “one-up” me on the stage (I was involved in the theater since I was 5-ish), in some way or another.

    As an child, my mother put a guilt trip on me about the BRAND NEW items I’d been bought by a nice lady who’d taken me on a shopping trip– I rarely got *brand new* items, so it was a very big deal to me.

    As a teen, my mom kept “one upping” me at church youth group, church camps, and anywhere else I might receive a mediocum of attention.

    As an adult, any of my creative attempts that “crossed” into “her territory” were minimized or scoffed at.

    As an adult, she ACTIVELY interrupted an established (but rocky) friendship I had– it disturbed the other person enough when she hurried down to “just say hi” [and then continued standing there, even though she knew we had been in a conversation.], the other person stopped talking, and we didn’t get to finish our important conversation.

    As an adult, she even tried “winning over” my mental health manager!!!

    As an adult, when I told her about being ASKED to *audition* for a local fine arts gallery (for my crochet work), instead of congratulating me, she said, “See if you can get some of my stuff in there, too.”

    Oh, yes, and then there was that great time when I went to boot camp & my Navy job training school and while I served overseas that my mother allowed her “teen girls group” free reign in my room; she gave some of my items, some of my clothes, and an extremely sentimental piece of jewelry went missing.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I didn’t realize that conversation hijacking was a typical behaviour, but now that I do, I see where it’s been happening my whole life.

    Most recently, my husband and I were picking up our very sick dog from an animal hospital. We weren’t sure what the news was going to be and I asked my mother if she’d like to come along because I knew how much she loves our dog. We were talking to the vet for about 20 minutes, going over test results and getting some good news, some bad.

    The vet is from France and at one point my mother asked what part of France he is from and indicates that she and my father are going to be travelling there in a few months.

    I wanted to scream at her. What did that have ANYTHING to do with why we were there? This was not about her or her trips! This was about my dog, who might be dying!

    Of course, she likely would have said that she was trying to diffuse the emotions of the situation.

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  12. In 1966, when I was 12 years old and a football nut, the World Cup finals were held in England. Moreover, every match was televised live on either the BBC or ITV. For millions of people, children and adults, it was like being a kid in a candy store, with the added fillip that the England team was still involved. My brother and I watched every match, and were delirious, as was the whole nation, when England reached the final. At last, the great day, Saturday, 30 July 1966, came. At 3pm, 27 million people sat down in front of a TV…

    But not us. My mother said that my father, having been stuck in the office all week, needed to “get out”, so we all drove off to visit a old castle. Being her ‘enabler’, he of course didn’t stick up for us.

    I am as angry inside now, 50 years later, as I was then. Even more so, because now I know my mother had waited and waited as the competition unfolded, and picked her moment to deliver a pointless, yet deeply crushing blow to her own children.

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  13. This article definitely resonated with me…..in high school I really started to find myself and started participating in theatre and music activities at school, got interested in anime and Japanese language, and made lots of friends who shared these interests. My parents reacted with hostility, took every opportunity to tell me I “had no talent”, that I was immature and stupid and had no social skills, and that the few friends I had were ugly, fat, nerds, etc. They did actually physically destroy some of my anime videos as “punishment” for having a “bad attitude” (i.e. my depression was flaring up, I was feeling ill, etc.) I now know that I never deserved any of this….none of us ever did.

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  14. Wow. Yet another layer peeled back. I’d never heard the term bunny-boiling. I knew I’d been physically and emotionally abused, and I knew I was the scapegoat of the family, but when I read the article about bunny-boiling my husband and I just went, “Tick. Tick. Tick. Yes, all of that. Wow.” (in relation to my upbringing)

    I was the youngest by eight years of two siblings and physically and emotionally abused on a daily basis by all three of my family of origin. I’d often thought it was funny and ironic that they ended up doing so many things that I wanted to do. My brother was going to be a “pimp or a boat-builder”, according to his leaving yearbook. And then he suddenly adopted the profession I’d said I was going to be (veterinarian) from the time I was in primary school, despite showing no personal interest in animals. When I took up violin in my mid-20s (when I was at last able to buy myself an instrument and lessons), this was met with disinterest and/or disdain by my family of origin, yet years later what did my brother buy his daughter? A violin, of course (how many musical instruments are there?). And considering we’ve been no-contact for many years, it’s not that my playing influenced my niece or anything like that.

    When I was in primary school, I wasn’t socialised nearly as much as healthy parents socialised their children – apparently because I was a “difficult child” – and I spent much of my spare time alone reading books, or outdoors (with or without friends). I did get sailing lessons (my father was interested in sailing) but no social connections I made through that were ever encouraged (like, none of them ever got to visit our house). I am a little perplexed still why I got horse-riding lessons, since that was solely my interest – but I think that might have been about keeping up with the Joneses. One of my two best friends (we both loved animals) started riding and then my mother and I actually ended up taking lessons. I didn’t ever get complimented on my growing skills with horses by my family (it was other people who encouraged me with this or anything else – teachers, etc). Criticism, on the other hand, was rife. My mother gave up riding after a few months, officially due to back problems, but I do wonder if it was a competition to her and that she saw she wasn’t going to win this particular one.

    My parents then bought two horses. I gelled really well with one of them and my father rode the other one (he had grown up in a rural area and therefore with the basics of horse handling, but I didn’t know that when I was little and first interested in horses). Again I retrospectively wonder if that was more about social status than about what I wanted, but it was concealed behind “our daughter rides so we bought her a horse”. (For decades I took that at face value and to see it like I see it now would have been unthinkable…) Only thing was, only two years later my beloved mare was requisitioned for breeding because my parents suddenly wanted to race horses. My opinion was not consulted, since legally it was their horse (which is what they said when I asked them about this). The mare had originally been sold to us as a child’s riding horse after she’d had a difficult birth – the previous owners didn’t want to risk breeding the mare again. They were happy when they saw how their mare and I gelled during the test riding session and she was a super horse for me. She and I could have gone on enjoying each other and our adventures for many years (we roamed the entire countryside), but alas, she was bred and that was that.

    I had learnt that people can take “your” things from you when they paid the money, so I sold a few things and raised half the funds for a horse I could legally own and my parents agreed to a “chores mortgage” for the other half of the funds. Then suddenly, both my mother and my brother, neither of whom were riders, also had to buy horses from the same breeder. (Neither ever rode their horses. They were left neglected in sand yards for many years. They were fed and that was that. One of them started shocking himself on the electric fence around his isolated enclosure because his living arrangements were so intolerable. But they HAD to own them.)

    “My” original mare had her foal and bled out as a result of giving birth.

    My parents started acquiring racehorse yearlings and racing horses. I quietly practiced dressage in the back paddock of our farm, teaching myself to progress with books. I wasn’t encouraged to compete or go to riding clubs myself, and when I asked to, I was told my equitation interests were mere hobbies incapable of raising money, and that *their* horses were a *business*. So I rode to a few events within reach and started bringing home prizes. Like with anything else I ever achieved in my life, I got the barest acknowledgement, like a perfunctory “Well done” in a really flat tone and without any enthusiasm, followed by a change of topic. They also never let me forget that their horse pursuits were the “serious business” and mine the frivolities.

    Early childhood friendships: Were constantly criticised to me. One of them was “spoilt” and “fake” and “did you see how she sat on her knees at our table?” (the chairs were very low and I too often sat on my knees to be at a comfortable height in relation to the table…an observant parent might have provided a booster cushion instead of criticising manners) …the other one, “her mother is a socialist, they don’t have much money.” Pretty much anyone I spent time with was gossipped about by my mother in this way…”her mother is a prostitute…” – “her father is a red” – “her father is a spy from the Eastern bloc”. I write this more than three decades on and on paper it’s so utterly ridiculous, not to mention mean, judgemental, and totally inappropriate things to say to a primary schooler. My parents were always trying to drive wedges between me and anyone who might be my friend. Needless to say, when I first went out with a boy in my senior year of school, my father went totally ballistic. My mother always preferred my boyfriends to be abusive types that she could sledge me to and find someone to play her game. Like a lot of emotionally abused children, it was a long road until I could feel comfortable with an actually nice person as a romantic partner. And when I got married to a healthy, loving guy, my parents did not attend the wedding (not antipathy as much as disinterest and “if you want us to come, hold it at a convenient distance within an hour’s drive of us” – we lived a half-day drive away). My mother observed wrily to me, “Your husband carries you on his hands” – and wasn’t the least bit happy for me that he was good to me, it was more like jealousy (needless to say, my parents have an unhappy relationship). In fact, my parents have never been happy for me when good things happened to me, or when I achieved things.

    But it’s so easy to hide middle-class emotional abuse. The child is the problem – not us. Look how we spoil her. She goes to a sailing course. We bought her a horse. And she’s always angry with us. And she doesn’t have many friends.

    It’s so interesting, I picked up correspondence again with one of my primary school besties, the one who’d gone horse riding, and when we talked about the past as adults looking back it’s amazing what came out, and what she had actually picked up about our family dynamics as a young child. She said to me, “You talk about your parents being scarred by the war, well my relatives were too, but it didn’t stop them being genuinely loving and supportive of us, and I don’t think it’s any excuse either.” Neither of us used to hang around my family’s house much, we were outdoors or at her place, where we were comfortable and felt safe.

    What wasn’t stolen or couldn’t be imitated was ridiculed or ignored. After repeated public ridicule of my musical tastes, I soon learnt to listen to music that meant anything to me on headphones (and was then accused of being a drug addict and antisocial, “why else would you be cloistering yourself away for hours with headphones?” – why indeed!), and to confide and explore in a journal that I hid from them, and basically to share nothing that was emotionally meaningful to me with them, and to have a merely mechanical level of conversation with them, while I could be me and share ideas and emotions at school, in class, and with friends there.

    Funny thing is, while in many ways I overcame this background remarkably well, it was also always my emotional Achilles heel. I have PTSD (from chronic long-term multi-perpetrator physical abuse and being left alone as a young child), and my emotions from early childhood were so buried even to me for a long long time that the PTSD diagnosis didn’t come till my early 40s. While I knew how to think correctly despite the distortions from an early age, feelings were another matter. I’d know one thing, yet feel another. I’d have nightmares that were feelings only and no context, and not know why. Until the images came back to me, in my early 40s.

    Hmm, I think that’s enough writing! 🙂

    Love and best wishes to all of you on this sort of road.

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  15. I don’t recall what spurred my mom to decide that my beloved Quickdraw McGraw stuffed animal was dirty and had to be thrown away. I was two, standing in front of her sobbing and crying, “Please, mommy, please, please don’t take my Quickdraw…can’t we try to wash him?” She refused even to try, and I turned and pointed at my little brother and asked. “Why aren’t you throwing any of HIS toys away?” She tossed my Quickdraw in the trash, and only mine.

    I’ve had so many people say, “Why does this still bother you?” Implying I AM THE PROBLEM, STILL. I will never know why she did it (she died 15 years ago) but I feel better knowing that I AM NOT CRAZY for trying to figure this out.

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  16. I spoke in full sentences quite early, which gives me access to most of my childhood. People sometimes tell me it’s an amazing gift, which led to my being multilingual. But you all must know that remembering so many painful things can be a curse.

    My mate & family accuse me of “delving” into the past to bring up incidents, but that’s not how it works, for me. This article made present an incident which I’ve never forgotten. I wasn’t LOOKING FOR STUFF so I could have a pity party; I just cannot stop my brain from operating the way it does.

    My mom had what we now know was horrible PMS; she also had mood swings from an inherited disorder (as do I but in 1960 neither condition was recognized/treated). AND she was the middle of three girls; my aunts told me much later that my Nana had not handled it well. Sometimes that strengthens a parent’s resolve to avoid repeating the pattern, but since her only son was also the baby, mom did NOT. Also, I was the only grandchild who appeared to resemble her mother. I was Nana’s favorite which I’m sure poured a bit of gasoline on the fire. None of this excuses mom’s behavior towards me, but it does help to understand some of what helped make it whatnot was. My mom did love me, but her blatant favoritism ignited quite early the belief that since Mom wasn’t “playing by the rules,” I was absolved of any duty to be respectful and obedient when she was being unfair. (As decided by a two year old me!)

    Anyway – I don’t recall what set her off, but she decided that my stuffed cartoon character, which was my favorite possession, was too dirty, and was probably triggering asthma attacks in my brother. (Which sounded like BS to me because we slept in different rooms and he didn’t care for that toy.) Mom declared that my beloved QuickDraw McGraw was far too dirty to keep, and she was throwing it away. It was on a workday, so I couldn’t appeal to Dad.

    I remember standing in front of her crying and sobbing, begging her not to throw it away. “Please, mommy, please, please don’t thow away my QuickDwaw! Please, mommy! Can’t we twy to wash him first? Please? Please mommy, please!”

    But she was adamant; all my sobs and tears and begging availed nothing. And then in anger I pointed at my brother and said, “Why awen’t you thowing away anynof HIS toys? Why awe you only thowing away MY toy?” That pissed her off. At the time I thought it was my mouth, but I later realized she was pissed off because a two year old was calling her out for HER bad behavior, which also made her feel angry and shamed.

    QuickDraw went out in the trash and guess what day it was? TRASH TRUCK DAY! My dad would have saved my toy, but it was gone before he got home.

    That wasn’t the only time but it’s the first I recall. As a mom, I couldn’t understand how she could have turned a deaf ear to my pleas and ignored my heartache. I could not have done that to my daughter. My husband (until I found this site this week) couldn’t understand how or why I couldn’t “just let go of this ‘small’ incident” from 56 years ago, and I couldn’t explain it. (In fact he had a similar incident which still bothers him, perpetrated by his NPD mother.)

    Thank you. Thank you. I am NOT crazy! I’m NOT trying to bash my dead mom or have a pity party! My perceptions were totally, completely accurate and my two year old knowledge that the incident was actually symbolic of something much deeper. I was already planning to begin therapy next week, and this will help me tremendously to organize my issues.

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