After you’ve awakened to the truth that you were emotionally abused as a child (and perhaps continue to be as an adult child), you will definitely encounter some hard-core resistance from some disbelieving people. These people either have known you as a child and believe the image of a happy family that your parents propagated; are enmeshed in relationships, whether as relatives or friends, with your parents; are in denial of their own abusive pasts or are in similar abusive relationships; or are not sufficiently emotionally mature or loving to be a good friend during your awakening and subsequent healing journey.
Those people will often try to coax you back into a state of slumber. Your emotional awakening is too messy for them to handle. They want you to stay in your box, under your label, not bustling out in passion and growth, but confined to the definitions of others.
In wanting you to stay in your designated area, your disbelievers will try to make you disbelieve yourself. “Were you really abused? Are you sure you weren’t being too sensitive? Oh, but you know your parents love you…. You didn’t take any of that seriously, did you? Oh, emotional abuse, really? That never happened to you.”
And because you really wish you weren’t emotionally abused as a child (because, honestly, that realization hurts like hell), you may try to talk yourself out of your awakening. Like the character Cypher in the movie The Matrix said after taking the red pill that showed him the truth instead of the blue one that kept him believing lies, you may think, “Why, oh, why, didn’t I take the blue pill?”
I already addressed the disbelievers’ and doubters’ arguments in another article, so let’s tackle the most important person in the awakening: you. You have to stay awake and remember your story. You are the one who needs to speak the truth, to be honest with yourself, to live in the truth.
Here are some tips for staying awake in the truth, especially in the face of heavy opposition.
Keep a journal of the facts
As you awaken, you’ll have so many memories running through your mind. Write them down. That time when your mother insulted you in front of all your friends? Write it down. That time when you could have sworn your father promised to help you do something and then he gaslit you and went back on his word? Put it on paper. What about the time that you got your hopes all up about spending some quality time with your parent and then s/he ditched you and made fun of you for having your feelings hurt by it? Record it.
Being the adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you’ll feel strange about recording those moments. You’ve been conditioned to let the abuse pass over you, to not flinch at all the slings and arrows thrown your way. You’ve been taught that it’s really not a freaking big deal, hello, don’t be so sensitive.
And though it’s true that sometimes people hurt each other’s feelings—and yes, people can be mean sometimes—the abused child’s experiences are so much more than just a few rare times. Emotional abuse is systematic.
By writing down what happened to you as the memories arise, you’ll have documentation of what happened, and you’ll have proof for yourself that you did not “imagine” your parents to be abusive; they really are abusive.
For example, reading one random diary entry of someone calling you a fat, horrendous pig may not deeply affect you; reading countless entries of being insulted will show you how devastating and long-term the abuse was.
If you’re not the “writing it down” type, you can record yourself on video, sketch scenes from our childhood, or even do audio recordings of your memories.
Please note that this journal can be an enormously helpful tool to take to your therapist and make sense of the emotional minefield of your childhood. You’re not writing this all down to perpetually re-live the past or get caught up in obsessive thinking. No, this journal is to help you navigate through the early stages of your awakening.
Bonus: When you have the urge to run back to your abusive parents and accept them in your life without even seeing any significant and lost-lasting change in your life, you’ll have something to read that’ll smack (figuratively) some sense into you.
Find a support group—online or offline—that works for you
Feeling alone in your story? Consider finding online support. Make sure the forum or website is moderated and positive rather than a morass of bitterness, hate, and revenge.
A good place to start for adult children of narcissists (ACoNs) is the Web of Narcissism. The über-helpful Out of the FOG website also has a forum to help its readers. Also, Psych Central has online support groups that can offer understanding and comfort amid the chaos.
Talk to a trusted friend who believes you
You may have a friend who always has your back and who isn’t emotionally bound to your abusive parent(s). Make time to spend time with this friend. You won’t necessarily want to place all our burdens on this friend (that’s what a therapist is for), but you can share some of your thoughts and just rest in the comfort of a friend who has your back
If you want to take a practical approach to finding out who to talk to (or who you’d like to talk to), check out this Support System worksheet (PDF) from psychotherapist and Psychology Today therapist Will Baum.
(A reminder: If you’ve not a friend who you can count on, do not despair. You can share your story on the aforementioned support groups or forums. Perhaps you can also find some comfort here at The Invisible Scar in knowing you are not alone.)
Revisit past documentation
You remember being 10 years old and knowing your parents took your pet and dropped it off in the woods as a punishment for your low grade… but now, as an adult, you mention the incident to your parents, and they deny it. Or you recall being 13 and having your parents forget it was your birthday… and again, they deny it. Maybe you remember your father calling you a piece-of-shit-ingrate because you didn’t clean your room…. and your father denies it.
Are you going crazy? Are you erroneously remembering everything?
Here’s what you can do to get your bearings:
- Ask an old friend whether s/he remembers the incident. Sometimes, the incident was so strange or your reaction was so sad or emotional that your friend will remember the incident just as you shared it years ago
- Bring it up to your parent(s) again… but don’t try to convince the abusive parent that it happened. Instead, listen to how the parent replies. Are they diverting your attention from true incident? Projecting blame on you? Belittling you? A truly loving and caring parent will either apologize for hurting his/her child or try to really get the details of what happened rather than sweep it under the rug.
- Check your old diaries and journals. If you kept journals or diaries, you will find a goldmine of evidence that you did not imagine all the shit that happened to you. The details will be there for you to look at. Because you were abused, you may have written the entries with excuses for your parents’ behavior or berating yourself for being sensitive, but the incident will be recorded.
Attend therapy regularly
Yes, I do go on about the importance of good therapy a lot on The Invisible Scar. That’s because I’ve seen the enormous strides that adult children of emotional abuse have made in their healing process when they attend therapy—especially when compared to those adult survivors who do not.
Therapy is not the solution to everything, but it is a critical and essential component to one’s healing from emotional child abuse.
Some readers have written me emails telling me about just how grateful and life-changing attending therapy regularly was. (Hooray!) One or two readers have written telling me that they didn’t get much out of it. To them, I suggest finding a new therapist or a new approach. Sometimes, the fit isn’t the right one, whether conscious (you cannot feel comfortable with the therapist) or subconscious (the therapist’s pointy nose reminds you of your mother). But if therapy isn’t working, find a way to make it work for you. Don’t be afraid to get a new therapist.
Onward and upward.
(photo credit: flickr user aya padrón)
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, Loyola Press, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.