Surviving Emotional Child Abuse: You Are So Much Stronger Than You Think You Are

surviving emotional child abuse

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You have made your way to this website about emotional child abuse. Despite all the naysayers and flying monkeys wanting you to remain in the same swampland you’ve lived by forever, you’re here.

You’ve chopped through the choking entanglements around you. You’ve navigated through the dense darkness of denial. And now, taking a breath in this light clearing, you look forward and think, “I haven’t made any progress. I’m going nowhere. I should be farther in.”

Stop.

Stop badgering yourself right now.

Take a slow deep breath, release it, and reflect …

You are so much braver than you think you are. You’re strong for beginning this journey to discover the truth of your upbringing, to stop living with someone else’s road map in  your hands, and to begin seeking the heart of who God knows you to be.

Yes, you’re tired and scared and unsure of your way through the murkiness. Sometimes, you question yourself and cry. You want emotional healing immediately. All those feelings are totally normal.

But be patient with yourself. You’re getting stronger with each step deeper into your journey about the truth of all the emotional abuse you endured and growing one step closer every day toward emotional healing.

Greater strength and patience with yourself will come in time. Steady on. Be kind to yourself. But remember: Do not compare yourself to other people.

Survivors of emotional child abuse didn’t start at the same place other people did. Unabused people begin life with selfless love, support, and kindness from good parents. They receive so much more in their upbringing, and so their journey is far more different from an adult survivor knows. You can’t understand their path because yours is nothing like that.

Your parents chose to deprive or neglect you of the basics. God didn’t want you to be emotionally abused, but because He allows free will, your parents chose to put a manacle on you and keep you in the swampland of emotional child abuse.

But you haven’t stayed there! You’re here now, reading and thinking and reflecting about what you endured and trying to move toward a healthier present and far better future.

How amazing you are to get out of that deplorable swampland. How brave to fight for your authentic self.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have a tough road. We struggle with so many issues of trust, boundaries, self-esteem, and so much more. We’re all a bit broken and wounded. So why compare yourself to others who haven’t been broken so badly?

Instead, compare yourself today with who you were just a little while ago. Realize that you have courage. You’re standing here, despite your parents’ flat-out war on your personhood.

That is a HUGE accomplishment, my friends.

To survive an emotionally abusive childhood is to survive a war. Scarred, battered, hurt, and a little jittery? Sure. But that can be understood and helped through therapy and prayer.

You can get better. You will get better.

Keep moving forward and head out of the swampland.

You got this.

 


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer 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 online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

How Keeping a Journal Helps Your Mental Health & Emotional Healing

the-importance-of-journaling-for-mental-health

Your mind is full of thoughts, ideas, and memories that long to be shared. But you’re not sure just how much to share with your friends, how fleeting those thoughts are, whether you feel comfortable enough putting them in the mind of someone else.

Consider then regularly keeping a journal.

“In particular, journaling can be especially helpful for those with PTSD or a history of trauma,” according to Positive Psychology Program 83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management.

To adult survivors of emotional child abuse, putting words to their thoughts and feelings can be particularly challenging. You are used to stifling any thoughts or ideas that run contrary to the audiotrack inside your mind that your toxic parents recorded for you so long ago. That’s precisely why you should consider journaling.

Down With Big Brother

In the George Orwell novel, “1984,” the main character Winston keeps a journal, which is an act of defiance, for it enables free thought and expression, both forbidden by the dictatorship in which he lives. When he begins writing in the journal, commenting on what he thinks and sees as discrepancies in the Party rule, he begins to better understand his own thought process and attempt to break free from the mental control the Party has on him.

Likewise, adult survivors of emotionally abusive parents have had a mental war waged against them during their formative years. Some of them may have scrawled in notebooks, expressed themselves in song or art or theater or sports, or just acted out in a misguided attempt to set themselves apart from their parents.

But journaling enables the adult survivor to dig deep into themselves and unearth what has been placed in their heart, go over the memories that have plagued them, and document what events have deeply affected them.

Reasons for Keeping a Journal

“It’s hypothesized that writing works to enhance our mental health through guiding us towards confronting previously inhibited emotions (reducing the stress from inhibition), helping us process difficult events and compose a coherent narrative about our experiences, and possibly even through repeated exposure to the negative emotions associated with traumatic memories (i.e., “extinction” of these negative emotions; Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005),” according to Positive Psychology.

Keeping a journal can also serve as:

  • A method of tracking actual conversations with emotionally abusive parents. Many emotionally abusive parents gaslight their children by changing plans, switching words, pretending not to have said certain things. Writing it all down helps the adult survivor validate the reality of what happened and not rely on the abusive parents’ untrue account of the incident.
  • A tool for reflection. You can look over certain memories, facing them can strip them of their seemingly debilitating power. By putting what seems overwhelming onto paper, you get to look deeply into the face of facts and rob them of their mystery. You then can better deal with what happened and proceed to navigate through those emotions.
  • A springboard for sessions with your therapist. A journal can provide some help in streamlining conversations with your therapists. Your mind might be all over the place with different people, places, and moments. If you take a journal, you can pinpoint exactly a topic for discussion with your therapist. You can also read the words aloud if you find yourself tongue-tied in front of a new therapist or feel too overwhelmed at the time to express yourself.
  • A map of your route to good mental health. Your journal need not only for bad memories or thoughts. You can (and should!) include good moments in your healing process or even just good days that you have. Your road to mental health is to be celebrated. Every milestone, every moment of you being the you that God intended rather than the creation of your abusive parents, is a beautiful moment to record.

Health benefits also arise from keeping a journal.

“University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes,” according to a Psych Central article, The Health Benefits of Journaling. “Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.”

Tips for Keeping a Journal If You Don’t Like to Write

Not everyone loves writing down pages and pages upon words. So how do  you start journaling when you don’t feel comfortable writing?

You can write anyway. Just ignore your ideas about proper grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure. This is your journal, not your high school English teacher’s assignment for you. Ditch those ideas of writing well when you write in your journal.

Draw. Sketch out a drawing of your childhood home, pet, friend, etc. Scrawl down what you see in your mind and don’t worry about who is going to see it. Because that person is YOU. This is all for you, all for your emotional health.

Add copywork. Heard a song that expresses your feelings? Write the lyrics in your journal. Read a poem that means exactly what you mean? Copy it down. Saw a movie that made you think of your own childhood? Jot down the name just to record that you saw it. Whatever helps your mental health can be added to this journal.

You Go You

Remember that this journal is for you. Once you start thinking about other people reading it, you’ll hinder your journaling.

This journal is a gift to yourself, to remind you where you have been, where you want to go, and how you’re getting there.

Onward and upward.

 

Three Must-Read Posts for Mother’s Day If You’re an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse

photo credit: flickr user raw pixel

Advertisements on TV and the radio go over the top in portraying all mothers as idealized heroic women who did absolutely every single thing right.

Motherhood, however, is far more complex and grittier than those bleached versions of it. It’s a vocation that, when approached right, requires maternal sacrifice, encourages a selfless love from the mother, and fosters virtues in the family.

Motherhood is a special calling to live out the definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Some mothers do their best to follow that definition. They can inspire us and present a type of motherhood that adult survivors can learn from to parent their own children.

But then, some children were brought up with a broken version of the above or one that goes in the exact opposite of it.

The maternal love received by some children was impatient, was unkind. It was jealous, it was pompous. It was inflated and rude. It sought its own interest and was quick-tempered. It brooded over injury. It rejoiced over wrongdoing and despaired the truth. It bore nothing, believed nothing, hoped for nothing, and enduring nothing. That twisted version of love failed.

For those adult survivors of emotional child abuse, the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday can be incredibly difficult. So, on this day before the holiday, I offer these three articles from The Invisible Scar archives that cover different approaches to surviving (or ignoring) Mother’s Day.

Onward and upward.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer 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 online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Questions From the Mailbox: Allegedly Ruining Your Future, Deciding to Blog, and Wondering Whether to Tell Your Abusive Parents How You Feel

photo credit: flickr user

Editor’s Note: The Invisible Scar does not offer professional advice, only opinion.

The Invisible Scar receives many emails every month. Some have questions or comments best shared with our readers in this “From the Editor’s Mailbox” column. Though our main advice is for the reader to seek therapy from a professional, we also invite helpful insight or support. (Names have been changed and questions edited for brevity.)

1.) “I live with my abusive mother. I want to leave home, but she’s turned my whole family against me. I work for the family business, they’re telling me that if I leave I’ll ruin my entire future.”—Hannah, age 18

The desire to get out of an emotionally abusive home is reasonable. Once your eyes are opened to the reality of your abuse, you have every right to get in a safe place away from your abuser.

That shift in the emotional landscape often freaks out abusive parents. They want the abused adult child to remain exactly where they have kept the adult child for years. They do not want any changes in the systematic cycle of abuse they perpetuate. So, when the adult child awakens to the fact that he or she is emotionally abused, abusive parents will absolutely freak out. They sometimes will probe your weaknesses and exploit them. In this case, they know you worry about the future, so they say you will ruin it.

Know that you have dignity and worth as a child of God. “Human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.” 

You do not deserve the abuse. No one deserves abuse.

If you can live with a friend, rent out a room, or stay at a dorm, do so. If you can’t, come up with a plan to live in an emotionally healthy place, and start working toward the fulfillment of that plan. Start becoming more self-sufficient in your finances.

Give yourself some space to think. You are not ruining your entire future by separating yourself from an abusive situation. Instead, you are changing the game plan your mother had for you, the plan that kept you in captivity.

Please, seriously consider a future in an emotionally better workplace and home.


2.) “I am an adult survivor of the silent treatment. For years, I have tried to find a book written on this subject. There is nothing. Even books recommended to me by counselors and social workers do not address, the silent treatment. It’s like it never happened and it doesn’t exist?” —Allen

The silent treatment is very real.

Most of the information gathered for my article about the silent treatment comes from online research rather than books. I’ve not found very much about this horrific type of abuse covered in books. Dr. Gregory Jantz does discuss the silent treament in his book, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse.  You can read an excerpt. Also, Elyn Tromey’s blog post at Life & Therapy is also a thoughtful post.

Readers, if you have any recommendations about books that mention the silent treatment, please mention it in the comments.


3.) “I was emotionally abused as a child and adult and made the decision to cut my parents off and heal myself which is what I did. I feel so much better. I am thinking of starting a blog to help others using WordPress. If you have any thoughts on this, I would love to hear them.”—Emma

Let’s talk writing first … Can you write well? Do you know basic grammar rules—and which ones to break for clearer, more engaging writing? Can you write, not with yourself in mind, but with a sense of respect for your readers’ time?

Your writing must be well-crafted to draw in readers. Most importantly, you need to honor their time by providing the best content you can produce.

Unfortunately, myriad online writers believe they can get away with sloppier writing because, hey, the Internet.

However, writing for an online audience means crafting clear, focused content—whether for personal or public audiences. (If you don’t know much about writing skills, pacing, or narratives, I highly recommend Everybody Writes by Ann Handley.)

Now, let’s discuss the type of blog …

Do you want to start a personal blog that discusses your own journey through emotional child abuse and shares current experiences? If so, I highly suggest you take time to pray about this project, reflect on your reasons for the blog then discuss its purpose with a trusted friend or therapist.

Know that a personal blog that is public (as opposed to being a private blog that requires your permission) often can be very triggering and exhausting for adult survivors on the road to healing. 

Though you may begin your blog with the desire to help, you may find rancorous parents (and their flying-monkey friends) filling up your comment box with their vituperation. Even if you change your comments to be moderated, you’ll have to sift through those abusive tirades from those trolls. (What a waste of your time.) Plus, you need very thick skin to not take the ignorant comments personally or abandon blogging immediately or fan the fire with your own retorts.

Or perhaps you want to have a blog only for specific friends to read with your permission.

Or you may want to write in a journal or on your laptop and share printed copies of your experiences with friends.

Do you want to start a regular website that discusses emotional abuse but doesn’t delve into your own personal experiences? As the editor and writer of The Invisible Scarwhich is exactly thatI say go for it. The more awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors, the better.


4.) “You may be educated, but show no wisdom. Instead of correcting a problem (if there truly is one), the narcissism and abuse you speak of I see originating from you. So go ahead and be cold-hearted, cruel and show no empathy or compassion for those who raised, loved and sacrificed for you.”—Frank

I’m publishing that snippet of a wordy, pejorative email to prove my point in the previous answer: Abusive parents sometimes read blogs and websites about emotional child abuse, and feel compelled to send hate mail. (You have been warned.)

Does that mean you should keep quiet? No, just make sure you’re in a very emotionally healthy place before you decide to start your blog. Most importantly, talk to your therapist about your intention and make sure you’re in the right head space to handle the rigors of your project.


5.) “Hi, just a quick one: If you’re an adult unable to escape a psychologically abusive parent’s influence, should you acknowledge their continuing abusive subtly, or just ignore it?”—Maya

You can escape the influence. Doing so is not easy. But it can be done.

A psychologist who knows your situation and all the details surround it is better equipped than I am to give advice. But I’ll give my opinion because you did ask whether to acknowledge their abuse or ignore it.

If you aren’t in danger of being physically harmed, I would most definitely tell your abusive parent how you view your relationship with him/her, how you feel, and how you will need some space to think and get therapy.

Here’s why I believe you should tell your abusive parents (if they are not a threat to your physical well-being) how you feel…

  • You have a voice. Though it’s shaking from fear and nerves, you have the right to use it. Speaking up for yourself is a right you have. As an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you have not used this voice very much, but it’s yours. Reclaim it. Use it. Speak up for yourself.
  • Your abusers need to hear it. You cannot change your abusers; only they can change themselves. But they need to know this truth about themselves. They’re not going to want to face the horrible fact that they are emotionally abusive parents. However, they need to be told. Don’t perpetuate the lie, don’t feed into their delusions. Be who you are meant to bean adult with dignity and worth living in the truth.
  • Your abusive parents may change. In some cases, the abusive parents may not be deliberately abusing their child. In their ignorance, the abusers continue the behavior they learned from their parents and do not really understand that it’s abusive. Or the abusive parent may see the light and realize they need to change. That possibility exists. (Unless your abusive parent was a narcissist.) The change will not be immediateit will require lots of work and therapy for them, and a proven change of behavior sustained over a long period of time.

Onward, friends.

Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer 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 online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Grateful for the Good in Your Life

thanksgiving-post

[photo credit: flickr user Keri Logan]

Thanksgiving is not about the turkey or the football game or the parade. It’s not about just how many family members you’ve gathered around your table or how close your celebration can come to looking like the front of a Thanksgiving card. It’s not even about the mouth-watering meal and all its delicious sides.

It’s a holiday that has its purpose built into its name: thanks giving.

But how can you give thanks when you’re bearing such a weighty sorrow about your family situation?

Or be grateful when you feel so out of sorts with how “everyone else” is celebrating Thanksgiving?

How can you even feel grateful when you scroll through your social media feeds and see that “everyone you know” is sharing bright, beautiful photos of happy families and delightful memory-making moments?

The truth is that it’s difficult … but not impossible to foster gratitude amid the difficulties.

I’ve already written about finding something to be grateful for on Thanksgiving (and beyond) and five ideas for a peaceful Thanksgiving. So, today, I want to focus specifically on you.

If you’re reading this on Thanksgiving, you’re most likely not in the best family situation. Because this is a website dedicated to adult survivors of emotional child abuse and you’re reading this, you probably have a toxic situation with your parents. And maybe today, the hurt of that emotional wound is aggravating you more than usual.

The pain’s a little sharper, the hole feels a little deeper, the sorrow bites more coldly into you.

Know that you’re not alone in this hurt. And know that this pain will, in time, hurt you less. As more time rolls along and you grow in your healing through therapy and prayer and boundary-setting, you’ll find yourself more and more able to foster gratitude in your life …

In time, you may become grateful for the fact that your eyes were opened to the abuse you suffered and now you can tackle the issues that have plagued you from the shadows.

What you suffered is terrible and horrific, no one is glad for abuse, but you can be glad that you see the abuse for what it is: a hidden, invisible monster terrorizing you. Be grateful that you now can see it and avoid it.

You may find a sense of gratitude for the person who you are becoming, the person who God wants you to be (not who your parents tried to force you into becoming). You may, in time, be grateful that, despite all the sorrow and pain, you are here, alive and functioning and creating a new, emotionally healthier life.

But that gratitude, my friends, doesn’t come swiftly nor automatically.

Gratitude takes time and a readjustment of your emotional lens. It’s not belittling who you were or mocking people who have good families. Nor hiding your pain or burying all your grief and hurts, which is unhealthy and leads to greater grief and hurt. It’s not ignoring what happened. It’s not automatic forgiveness for those who hurt you because you want to get to the “feeling better” part of the healing journey. Nor always picking at your wounds and seeing only the darkness around you.

No, gratitude is finding yourself still standing, despite it all, and being glad that you are. It’s that sense that you have survived emotional brutality against you … and are alive and seek help and have hope for better days ahead.

Grief, sorrow, hurt, pain, regret, anger … all these have not extinguished your desire to be here, to seek help, to want to be an emotionally healthier you.

Gratitude is looking at your life and finding joy there, even if it is in the tiniest of glimmers.

Not the “I won the lottery, I’m so grateful” attitude. But the small, quiet joys that make up a day. A good conversation with friend, a perfect cup of coffee, a favorite song on the radio, a nature walk, a moment of quiet prayer …

Some adult survivors find it almost impossible to find this joy. They feel they are composed only of their past, that everyone’s out to get them, that nothing—not one tiny thing—in their life is good. Having that viewpoint keeps them in constant loop, so they do not go forward in the journey towards healing. They find it easier (and more comfortable) to remain in a constant state of resentment and hurt and anger than to find ways to cope with those emotions and work through them to an emotionally healthier life.

You don’t want to be like that.

Even if you can only be grateful for just a minute a day, if you find that the only thing to be grateful for is that you aren’t dead, that’s a huge thing to be grateful for. Being alive is a tremendous gift to be grateful for.

Your gratitude doesn’t need to be for the showy, enormous, money-raining moments of life. Being grateful is a mindset of happiness for the small, lovely things in an ordinary day.

Doing that may sound hokey or cheesy. “Really? Grateful for such a small, insignificant thing?”

But the truth is that the smaller things are what make up a day. After all, it was the small yet constant, unyielding barrage of damaging comments and neglect and silent treatment and belittling through your childhood that led to the deep gash on your heart.

“If all small things can cause so much sorrow,” a friend recently told me, “then can’t it mean that many small things can cause so much joy?”

She makes an excellent point.

On this Thanksgiving Day, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Know you’re not alone in your sorrow … and that you’re not alone in your desire to become more emotionally healthy and steady.

Onward, friend. Onward.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer 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 online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Emotionally Neglected Children May Feel Like They Are Ghosts

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

“Emotional Neglect is the white space in the family picture; the background rather than the foreground. It is insidious and overlooked while it does its silent damage to people’s lives.” (Dr. Jonice Webb)

Editor’s note: I use “he” because “he or she” can interrupt the flow of sentences. But abuse can happen to any gender.

An emotionally abused child may sometimes feel like a ghost in his own home. He passes through its corridors, affects its surroundings, interacts (as best as he can) with the other people in the house… but he feels like no one quite sees him.

Or listens to him.

Or understands him.

Or cares for him.

Or loves him.

People outside the house can see this child. And from the outside, these neighbors, family friends, relatives, and teachers may see this gleaming, shiny family, paragons of the community, and believe that all children in this family are loved and nurtured, their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs met.

But when the blinds are closed, when the front door’s shut, when all the windows are sealed up, and the parents have resumed their natural form, the child disappears in front of his parent.

The child feels so lonely, so very unimportant to anyone. Because home should be a place of nurturing, comforting, loving, growing, and playing. But for the emotionally neglected child, home is where you aren’t seen or heard. Home is the place you haunt.

And your parents only notice you when they want something from you. Not any other time.

Emotionally abusive parents are not always noisy gongs, overly boisterous buffoons, yelling caricatures. Some of them hurt their children by emotionally neglecting them.

When these emotionally abusive parents look at their children, the abusers see…

  • Themselves only
  • What they failed to be
  • Sources of energy, love, and approval for themselves

Here’s a more detailed look at what that all means…

Themselves Only

Abusive parents do not know, care, or understand their child. They rarely know what the child likes or dislikes, how the child reacts to things, etc. The parents only know (and care about) what makes them (not their child) happy, and they see their child through a self-reflective lens.

Examples:

Dad buys a sports jersey for his child on his birthday. But the child doesn’t like sports or the team, and has told this to his father. The father does. So, the father gets royally pissed off at child for not appreciating his token of affection.  The father never thought to dip into his knowledge about his child and purchase something that the child would love, not the parent.

Mom takes her child to acting classes because the child has such a natural talent for it. Oh, wait, no. The child hates being in front of people, hates performing, and would prefer to be behind the scenes rather than in it. Mom prefers that. The mom never considered talking to the child about what would be fun or discussing some options. It’s always about Mom, never the child.

Dad goes to visit his adult son’s house late at night for a beer because he knows how much of a night owl his son is. Wait, no. The son likes to go to bed early and has told his father this. The night owl is Dad, not son.

Mom buys tickets to go see a symphony with her daughter, who loves classical music. No, Mom loves classical music; the daughter cannot stand it. But the Mom already bought tickets for her daughter! Mom may accuse adult child of being an ingrate, being difficult, being selfish, etc. The mom never thought to ask the child, “Would you like to go to a symphony? Would you like to go with me? How does this date work for you? Would you like to do something else instead?”

These parents act like the world revolves around them. And that it should always be like that.

What They Failed to Be

These parents may talk about their children to others, but they don’t really know their own children.

Examples:

“Have you met my daughter?” Dad may tell new friends about his child. “She’s an amazing singer. Really, I think she’ll go far in her career.”

Dad himself is a terrible singer. He can’t carry a tune and knows nothing about melodies. Neither can his child. But Dad wanted to be a great opera singer, and when he sees his child, he sees his dreams fulfilled. Even if they’re not.

“My child is so popular!” Mom may say. “Honestly, the phone’s always ringing off the hook for her. You know, she’s an extrovert.”

Mom is incredibly shy and would rather stay home than go out. Her child is neither an outcast nor popular, but the mom can’t gauge when her child how her child feels because Mom wants the child to be uber-outgoing and amazing. Because mom isn’t.

These parents make assumptions about their child. They talk lies about their child. They live in delusion about who their children are.

Sources of Love and Approval

Parents should not demand love and approval from their children. Repeat: Parents should not demand love and approval from their children.

Good parents love their children and nurture their souls and bodies. These parents know that children are a gift from God and treat their children accordingly, with love, tenderness, affection, gentleness, and guidance. Good parents love their children, and that loving behavior will inspire their children to love them back.

But good parents don’t demand that their children fill up the holes in their heart or confidence or self-worth.

Abusive parents see their children as sources of love and affection. An abusive parent will have a lousy day at work and go home and vent their issues to their child and expect the child to serve as a cheerleader, a source of support, make them feel better. They expect their child to fill a role that is not meant for the child. (Often this role is meant for a spouse or a good friend. But the abusive parent will demand kindness, support, etc. from their child… all things that the parent does not provide to his own child.)

Examples:

Dad has a big fight with Mom and takes the child out for some ice cream. He tells the kid about the entire fight, demands (whether overtly or subtly) for the child to take his side, wants the kid to tell him that he’s a good person, etc. Dad doesn’t realize that the child is a child. And the child wanted to just have ice cream and play, or to hang out at home and draw. The child did not want to become Daddy’s Little Therapist.

Mom is feeling incredibly depressed. Instead of seeking help or taking the right meds (if needed) or calling up a friend, Mom manipulates her child to attend to all her needs, to treat her as if she were a fragile and delicate thing that needs to be pampered. Mom doesn’t care about the child and how that freaks out a kid to take on that role; Mom needs a parent and the neglected child will become that substitute parent.

Emotional Neglect

All the above are examples of emotional neglect.

“Emotional Neglect is, in some ways, the opposite of mistreatment and abuse,” writes Dr. Jonice Webb. “Whereas mistreatment and abuse are parental acts, Emotional Neglect is a parent’s failure to act. It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. Because it’s an act of omission, it’s not visible, noticeable or memorable.”

And though it’s an act of omission, it is quite damaging…

“Psychological neglect, though less obvious [than physical neglect], is just as serious,” writes Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. “Children who are constantly ignored, rejected, threatened, or belittled grow up without the inner resources that everyone needs to cope with difficult times.”

That emotional neglect leaves children vulnerable to such terrible relationships and situations.

“When children get little or no affection and physical comfort, they are vulnerable to anyone who will give them attention,” writes Hartwell-Walker. “Often they become sitting ducks for people who exploit them.”

That’s one reason so many emotionally neglected children end up as adult survivors in hard relationships or in tough situations. They often just want someone, ANYONE, to see them to hear them. And they often cannot discern who is toxic to them or who will be a good person. So, they often fall for people who will treat them with the same level of disinterest that their own parents exhibited.

Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Symptoms of childhood emotional neglect that show up in adults may include (but are not limited to):

  • “Numbing out” or being cut off from one’s feelings
  • Feeling like there’s something missing, but not being sure what it is
  • Feeling hollow inside
  • Being easily overwhelmed or discouraged
  • Low self-esteem
  • Perfectionism
  • Pronounced sensitivity to rejection
  • Lack of clarity regarding others’ expectations and your own expectations for yourself

However, adult survivors can heal and get to the point where they have emotionally healthy lives.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse can find a better way, a brightly lit path, through counseling, reading about healing, talking to others in a support group, praying, etc.

You can heal in time. You can learn to re-parent yourself.

If you were an invisible child at home, know that you are not doomed to be forever invisible. Just because your parents lacked the intelligence, compassion, or just very basic human instinct of nurturing their young, that doesn’t mean you aren’t real, that you don’t matter, that you are unworthy.

Because you are worthy. As a human being, you have dignity. You matter.

Perhaps not to your parents, and that’s a very tragic truth to accept. It’s hard and terrible. Almost no one will understand what you mean when you tell people that your parents are “toxic” for you… but the readers here at The Invisible Scar do. I do.

You’re not alone.

We see you. We hear you.


veronica-jarski-managing-editor-the-invisible-scarVeronica 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. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Ads that appear below are created by WordPress and are not endorsed by me.

What Finn From ‘The Force Awakens’ and Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse Have in Common

[photo credit: flickr user dale jackson]

[photo credit: flickr user dale jackson]

Editor’s Note: Upon reading this post, some readers may say, “Oh, it’s just a movie!” Indeed, but stories, whether in books or movies or television programs, teach us about ourselves, about what we value, about what we love, about what we hate.

Recently, I rewatched the latest Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens,” and noticed in particular how the FN-2187 character makes an emotional journey from a stormtrooper of the military dictatorship of the First Order toward his true, compassionate, and brave self, Finn.

His emotional path is similar to the one taken by an awakening adult survivor of emotional child abuse. And so, I thought to explore 11 of those commonalities in an article.

(Spoilers abound.)

1. The “awakening” happens due to a horrible event

Like many abuse survivors, Finn’s awakening isn’t necessarily one event but a build-up of myriad small horrors. Finn (we find out later) was very young when he was stolen away from his family. He has spent his life in training and being programmed. He also has witnessed horrors and slaughter that the First Order inflicted.

However, what snaps him out of his compliance is a particular tragic event. When on a mission on the planet Jakku to get part of a map of Luke Skywalker’s location, Finn witnesses the First Order’s attack and massacre on civilians at the village of Tuanul and the death of a fellow stormtrooper.

And he is rattled awake.

the-moment-fn-2187-decides-to-defect-from-the-first-order

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have a lifetime of terrible, heart-breaking experiences… but because of being born to emotionally abusive parents, they endure so much without rebelling against the family.

Often, however, something will happen—e.g., the adult survivor has a child and realizes the truth of their own childhood, someone “on the outside” makes a comment about the abuse, etc.—that startles the adult survivor awake.

2. The “awakening” creates panic, fear, and confusion at first

After Finn makes the decision not to participate, he is in a daze. He looks around in horror and confusion at the slaughter around him.

But he is not the same. And he cannot act the same now that he knows the truth.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors in the beginning of their awakening often feel surges of panic, confusion, and fear… These emotions can stem from post-traumatic stress disorder. Put simply: Adult survivors are freaked out by the realization that they have been emotionally abused their entire lives. They have been so programmed from childhood (like Finn) to comply and yield their will to those in charge that, once awakened, adult survivors stumble in shock.

3. The effects of the awakening are immediate

When ordered to slaughter civilians, the stormtroopers do so unquestioningly. None of them hesitate.

Except for Finn.

He exerts himself as an individual, a person separate from the brainwashed collective of the First Order’s stormtroopers. He does this despite the fact these stormtroopers (rather than clones) have been “programmed from birth”—according to General Hux of the First Order—to be compliant and obedient to the First Order.

“My first battle… I made a decision,” Finn tells Rey in a later scene. “I wouldn’t kill for them.”

And so, he holds his blaster but does not shoot it.

Unfortunately, this disobedience is noticed…

Real-life equivalent: An adult survivor of emotional child abuse who has awakened to the truth will find the situation almost unbearable. (“Almost” because some adult survivors go “limited contact” rather than “no contact” with their abusers.) The truth about the parent-child relationship makes it so that the adult survivor is uneasy and can no longer participate in the relationship in the same manner that he or she once did.

4. The awakening adult survivor’s lack of complete compliance will be punished

A commander of the First Order, Kylo Ren halts when he passes Finn amid the chaos. His attention is on Finn, noting his lack of compliance, and then Kylo Ren continues on.

When Finn and his fellow stormtroopers are back on the Star Destroyer Finalizer, Captain Phasma of the First Order orders Finn to turn in his blaster, so she can see whether he fired his gun at all. She also commands him to report to her for reconditioning, so he can better follow her orders.

The First Order wants complete compliance. Not a flicker of hesitation. Not a moment of thought. Obedience must be swift, must be unthinkingly carried forth.

Real-life equivalent: Emotionally abusive parents want a dictatorship in their home. They do not want any personality from their child. They do not want children who struggle, who doubt, who question, who hurt, who feel. These abusive parents just want to issue orders and have those order unflinchingly followed. And abusive parents want more than just their rules followed—they want their child(ren) to only do the will of the parent.

For example, an emotionally parent may want his/her child to be a super-athlete, and so the abusive parent will not tolerate anything in the child (such as musical inclinations, a lack of aggressiveness, a non-competitive spirit) that does not directly relate to the abused parent’s goal for that child.

The abusive parent does not recognize the child as a separate being but only perceives the child as an extension of himself/herself or a mirror or nuisance.

5. The adult survivor of emotional child abuse must separate himself/herself from the abuser and find some peace

Finn is desperate to leave, desperate to be his own person and not a servant to the First Order.

Faced with an evaluation and possible reprogramming, Finn decides to desert the First Order. He frees the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron from his cell (Finn needs a pilot), and they steal a Special Forces TIE fighter and escape. In the process, Finn takes out some of his former comrades, sealing his fate as a “traitor” to the First Order.

Real-life equivalent: Once awakened to the truth, an adult survivor will want to have some breathing room to think about has been revealed. Every adult survivor needs time to process, and to do that processing in a quiet, safe place.

6. The adult survivor refers to himself/herself in terms of what others say

He calls himself FN-2187, a rank and number assigned to him by others in power. As a young boy, Finn was stolen by the First Order. He’s not given a name (unlike other people in the First Order who must be addressed with honor and respect and titles, such as Captain Phasma).

When Poe asks his name, Finn says, “FN-2187.” This is his stormtrooper designation. (Even his nickname among other stormtroopers is a number: Eight Seven.)

“FN, huh?” Poe repeats. “Finn. I’m gonna call you Finn! That all right?”

And that is all right with the newly named Finn.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotionally abusive parents are not really seen for who they are but who their parents assume they are or imagine them to be. They are forced into designated roles and controlled, manipulated, and abused into remaining in that role.

7. An adult survivor often struggles with a sense of identity

At the beginning of the film, Finn is wearing a storm trooper’s uniform, assigned to him by the First Order. A short while later, once again on Jakku, assuming Poe has died in a crash, Finn takes Poe’s jacket and wears it.

When Rey asks him whether he’s a member of the Resistance, he says yes repeatedly. He wants to be that for himself, for her, for a million different reasons. So, he pretends to be a Resistance fighter and eventually really does help in the fight against the First Order, all while he still plans to run away as far as he can from the military dictatorship.

By donning the jacket of a rebel against the First Order, Finn expresses who he wants to be. In time, Finn grows into this role.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotional child abuse often find themselves at a loss regarding who they really are—without their abusive parents’ input, without the negative voices in their head, without worrying about what their abusive parents will say. Adult survivors often relate having to revisit what they were told they weren’t good at (“You’re not very graceful, you can’t possible like dancing” or “You were never good at numbers. What makes you think you can study accounting?” and so forth). This awakening process is, by its nature, very revelatory.

8. The awakening appears abrupt but has been a process

When escaping in an X-wing, Poe tells Finn that they must return to Jakku. Finn hates the idea, but Poe says that BB8 has a map leading to Luke Skywalker that needs to be protected from the First Order.

Finn knows what must be done. He doesn’t ask who Luke Skywalker is nor does he ask what must be done.

Later in the film, when introduced to Han Solo, Finn asks Chewbacca, “Wasn’t he a war hero or something?” Again, Finn knows about the Resistance, and he has kept informed of its heroes.

Real-life equivalent: Just like abuse is gradual (often worsening with age), the awakening to the truth is also a process. An adult survivor will slowly begin to piece together all the pieces from a lifetime of abuse—the time that her mother screamed that she was worthless because she forgot to put the dishes away, the time that his father gaslighted him a school event, the time that her father didn’t talk to her because he said she was useless, the time that his mother called him an idiot for wanting to do something independently from the family, etc.

All the pains and sorrows and abuses fit together, the broken pieces forming a mosaic of the true nature of the abusive parent-child relationship.

9. The adult survivor of emotional child abuse is a survivor

Not limited to expertly wielding blasters and also handling light sabers, Finn shows moxie. Even when he is being dragged physically through the Millennial Falcon by the Rathtars, he shouts, “Get off! Get off!” and punches and fights against the Rathtar.

He doesn’t just scream and succumb to a terrible death; he fights against the monsters.

Real-life equivalent: Though adult survivors of emotional child abuse will often berate themselves upon their awakening (WHY DIDN’T I REALIZE THIS BEFORE? WHY DIDN’T I SPEAK UP FOR MYSELF YEARS AGO?), an adult survivor is a fighter. Something in the abused child knew that something was terribly wrong. And though the abusive parents tried to smother that personality, that strength of character, they could not do so. The strength of the adult survivor, the power of truth, fought through the years and years of abuse. The adult survivor is a fighter.

10. Even living under a dictatorship, an adult survivor can foster good, positive traits

Despite having lived life mostly as a stormtrooper under the dictatorship of the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke, Finn shows remarkable kindness and compassion. The First Order was incapable of tearing out those traits from within him.

When Finn first sees Rey, she is involved in a kerfuffle, and he’s ready to jump into action. (It hilariously backfires on him, but he was completely ready to help!) Also, when he and Rey are blasted to the ground, he asks Rey, “Are you OK?” rather than think of himself.

Much later, when an unconscious Rey is being carried away by Kylo Ren, Finn—who has sworn time to never, ever go back to the First Order, who has told everyone to run away from this evil system—runs toward Kylo Ren.

And he doesn’t only run… He screams, with his heart in his throat, for Rey, uncaring that his mortal enemies are before him.

Even more heroically, Finn manages to go on a mission with Han Solo and Chewbacca to the superweapon Starkiller Base—with the main purpose of rescuing Rey from the First Order.

Much later, Finn shows exceptional bravery and concern for his friend when Rey is injured in a fight with Kylo Ren. Finn uses the light saber that Rey has been carrying and fights Kylo Ren, despite his being far more experienced with a light saber.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotional child abuse know loneliness and sorrow—but they can still show love, comfort, and kindness to others.

11. Adult survivors of emotional child abuse, now awakened, must build new, emotionally healthier futures

In many, many scenes, Finn is looking around, taking in the world, studying the different beings within it. He’s also trying to sort out who trustworthy people are… and who not to trust. He asks a lot of questions.

Finn also describes himself in different terms. He tells Rey that he is part of the Resistance. He later tells Han Solo that he’s a “big deal” in the Resistance. When he’s trying to convince Rey to run away with him rather than fight the First Order, he says, “I’m a stormtrooper.” Much later, when he, Han Solo, and Chewbacca are on mission, Han Solo asks Finn what he did, and Finn says he was in sanitation.

Real-life equivalent: An adult survivor of emotional child abuse will feel like his reality is crumbling all around him. What the adult child believed may be so very different from what actually is. And so, the adult child will begin to process life and experience it in a new way… It’s as if they are given glasses that brings the reality of life into focus, and the survivor will see more of what is good, what needs to be healed, what needs to be felt, what needs to be experienced.

At first, an awakening will be difficult, and dark times will threaten to overshadow the adult survivor… In time, however, there will be healing. And the world will be so much richer and far more beautiful than the adult survivor could have imagined.

* * *

In the Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens,” the former stormtrooper Finn escapes the cruelty of the military dictatorship The First Order, and in doing so, he is able to exert his independence, fight for what he believes in, form healthy relationships (such as his friendship with Rey), see new worlds, and start to become the person he wants to be.

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Force Awakens”—and even if you’re one of the millions of people did see it—consider giving it another viewing. This time, focus primarily on Finn and watch his interesting character arc within the film.

The comparison of Finn to an adult survivor of emotional child abuse isn’t a perfect comparison, no. The film wasn’t written from that viewpoint or with that intention necessarily. But I hope that the comparison does encourage you to look at your own path of awakening and inspire you to keep on the path of healing.

Stay strong in the truth.

And may the Force be with you.


veronica-jarski-managing-editor-the-invisible-scarVeronica 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. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Ads that appear below are created by WordPress and are not endorsed by me.

Even When Abusive Parents Apologize, They Don’t

sorry-not-sorry

photo credit: Isabelle

Every adult survivor of emotional child abuse would love to hear the following apology in some version or other: “Child, I’m so deeply sorry for all the pain and suffering and neglect that you endured through my actions or inactions. If I could go back in time, I’d right those wrongs, treat you with the love and respect that you are owed as a human being… You are loved and cherished, and I am profoundly sorry that I overlooked who you are and tried instead to make you what I thought was better. It wasn’t. You’re someone I would have liked to have loved better and known more. I am so very, very sorry. How can I make amends or try to repair this rift between us?

But when the apologies don’t come, the adult survivor thinks maybe the following would be, though not ideal, something to grasp onto: “Child, I’m sorry I was a big fat jerk. I didn’t know! I’m so, so sorry. How can I fix this? How can I do better?”

And then the adult survivor thinks s/he will settle for: “I’m sorry for being a jerk.”

Then downgrades the expectations to: “I’m sorry.”

Then: “Sorry.”

The Apology That Blames You

What most adult survivors of emotional child abuse will receive in terms of apologies is this: [Cue silence.]

But if the apologies do come, they often are in the format of non-apologies. The phrasing after the “sorry” are filled with passive-aggressive additions that let the abused child know that the abusive parent is not sorrowful or regretful or willing to change.

Those pseudo-apologies sound like:

  • I’m sorry that you feel you had a bad childhood.
  • I’m sorry you think that I hurt your feelings.
  • Sorry you don’t think I was a good parent.
  • Sorry that you misunderstood me.
  • Sorry that you thought I meant [this] when I meant [that].
  • Sorry but let’s just agree to disagree about what happened when you were a kid.

Those apologies place the whole issue on the adult survivor. They place the blame for the rift between the adult child and parent on the child. “If the survivor hadn’t taken things incorrectly or been such a candy-ass pansy, everything would be grand! You suck, adult survivor, for having the audacity to have hurt feelings and not see the truth of what was.”

So. No. Those aren’t apologies that you should ever accept.

Apologies That Excuse the Abuser

A little sneakier than the blaming apology is the excusing one. Your abusive parent didn’t mean any harm. He or she had a shitty childhood; who knew what good parenting was? They didn’t want to be neglectful and emotionally damaging to you… so you should “just forgive them and let bygones be bygone.”

Those excuses sound like this:

  • Sorry but I didn’t know any better.
  • Sorry but I didn’t realize that I was an abused child, too, growing up!
  • Sorry but that was a long time ago.
  • Sorry but I was a young parent.
  • Sorry but I was an old parent.
  • Sorry but we did parenting differently in those days.

All those apologies are tiny little pitty parties for the abuser that invite the adult survivor to feel a sense of compassion and sorrow for the abusive parent and assume that the parent would have been amazing! wonderful! loving! if only this or that…

No. Just… no.

Those apologies don’t express true regret for what happened, they don’t show any concern for the abused child, they cushion an excuse, and they lack a desire or willingness to change.

In the Catholic Church, true repentance comprises of acknowledging one’s sin, deeply regret having committed it, resolving not to commit it again, and making penance for it.

Those components are akin to the true apology that should be given by the abuser. So, for example, instead of saying, “Sorry, but I didn’t know any better,” a true apology would be something like “Sorry… I didn’t know any better, but that doesn’t excuse me for how I acted. I’m so sorry for how I behaved. I promise to be more kind and loving from this day forward.”

And then the changed behavior needs to last… The abusive parent needs to have a long, sustained change of behavior before (and if) the adult survivor decides to continue in their relationship.

Why the Abuser’s Past Doesn’t Excuse the Present

Some abusers had horrific childhoods and truly never learned how to be loving, good parents. And so, they carried on and emotionally abused their own children.

That the abuser was abused is terrible. It’s awful that anyone should ever abuse anyone, child or not.

But, that said, the abuser must acknowledge that s/he was an abusive parent. Whether the abusive parent had a horrific childhood or a pampered one, the abusive parent needs to “own” his or her behavior. He or she must acknowledge what was done and be sorry and truly change the behavior for a long, sustained period of time.

To Wait (or Not Wait) for an Apology

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse do not need to wait for an apology from their abusive parents in order to heal.

You have awakened to the truth of a difficult and brutal childhood. Now, take care of yourself! Go to therapy, say your prayers, find a loving and nurturing friend or two to hear you. Read books about what has happened if that helps you make sense of it all. Know you’re not alone in what happened. Know you are strong and can survive it. You can thrive, even.

But do not put your healing on hold for the magic words that you think will fix everything.

Repeat: You must focus on yourself and your own understanding of the past and healing of the present. You focus on YOU now.

The Invisible Scar mailbox is packed with emails from people who write and say such things like “My parents are horrible, abusive monsters and they want their parents to say they’re sorry and change and then they’ll go get help!” or “I’m just waiting for my parents to see what they’ve done! And then, we can work on healing this family!” or “I’m just hoping my parents apologize and then.”

Waiting for that apology is only hurting you.

Waiting for that apology puts all the power on the abusive parents. You are making their words the ones that will free you from the past and heal your pain. You are giving them entirely too. much. control.

Don’t give them that power.

Don’t wait for that apology.

What You Should Be Doing Instead of Waiting

Live your life.

Seriously.

Focus on:

  • Getting a clear understanding of the past by going to therapy
  • Getting a solid bearing of your present by assessing your life (again, through therapy, prayer, and community)
  • Taking care of yourself by eating healthy clean food, exercising regularly, and sleeping enough
  • Spending time with good, kind people who you love and love you back
  • Discovering new aspects of you (such as what you like to do as a hobby or to learn about or sing, paint, act, draw, build dollhouses, whatever’s good and makes you happy)
  • Nurturing good relationships with people you’ve always meant to befriend but had too many demands from your abusive parents
  • Creating a safe home environment (be it a tiny apartment in a big city, a fixer-upper in the ‘burbs, or a trailer) for yourself
  • Giving yourself some emotional distance from your parents

There’s much work, joy, peace, and healing to start on!

What Happens if the Abuser DOES Apologize

If the extremely rare apology is made to you, and it’s a contrite one, we suggest that you do not immediately pounce on it but do all that was mentioned in the previous section. Just… wait.

Here’s why…

You still need to heal, grow, and learn to be you, not the embodiment of your parent’s warped sense of you. You need to focus on being a child of God, on being the you that is, not the you they wanted.

And, as sorry as your parent may truly be, you need time and space to breathe and discover who that it.

If your abuser is really contrite, he or she will understand and quietly work on himself or herself so that, when/if you are ready to resume a relationship, he or she will have grown as people, too.

Because abusers are people. They’re not monsters or devils or pieces of shit. They seem so, they feel that way. They are toxic, so you don’t want to be around them. You don’t want to expose  yourself to all that venom and poison and filth.

But… if one is truly repentant, you can tell your abusive mother or father that you need to continue on your break from the relationship as you work on healing and you suggest strongly that your mother or father go to therapy, too.

If the abuser is sorry, he or she will understand and seek healing, too.

Meanwhile

Continue on your path. Stay awake, stay informed, stay in prayer and therapy.

Onward and upward.


 

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.

photo credit: flickr user Isabelle

Embrace the Quiet Joy of the Christmas Season

christmas-mangerJudging from the surge of pageviews and long emotional emails in my inbox, I know you’re hurting and wanting the hurting to stop. You’re tired of the unrelenting emotional abuse and mind games that you’ve endured. Even if you’ve taken the step to create space between you and your abusers, you may still feel out in the cold and hurt, especially during the Christmas season.

You see the stream of jolly Christmas scenes and bountiful tables with beaming relatives surrounding them, and you feel like every person in the world is celebrating Christmas in a huge, elaborate way. And it hurts so badly that you can hardly breathe.

But breathe, you should.

Deep breaths.

In. Out. In. Out.

The Miracle of You

As an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you’re a miracle in that you’re here right now, acknowledging what has happened to you and hoping and working toward a healthier emotional life. You’re a miracle in that, despite your parents’ campaign to create you in their own image or to eradicate who God intended you to be, you’re here. You’re you.

What a huge, lovely gift your uniqueness is to the world. What a miracle it is that you’ve survived such difficulties and emotional hardship to get to this point where you’ve said, “My life matters! My emotional health matters!”

Because it really does.

Don’t despair, dear readers. My inbox teems right now with emails from people who say they are crying as they write to me, who struggle to make sense of their stories. I want to hug every single person and let you know that I understand how deeply it hurts, I understand that longing for a loving, healthy relationship with parents, I understand that sense of gloom and sadness that threatens to overwhelm you.

The almost indescribable sorrow and pain of an emotionally abusive childhood is shared by far more many people than you can imagine—but know that many of them have emerged from the darkness to create kind, good, loving lives for themselves.

In this season of hope, peace, joy, and love, let me tell you that through therapy, reflection, prayer, and quiet moments, you will find healing. The sorrow will be reduced to a rock in your knapsack in your journey through life rather than a boulder that presses down upon you. The sadness will come less frequently into your life. The gaping hole inside your heart will feel less like a mortal wound and become a smaller, more manageable pain. Your abusive years will be part of your backstory, not part of your present story. You’re so much more than what they told you.

To all those despairing readers, please know that your life matters. Find help in reaching out to good friends. Confide in them. Don’t let pride prevent you from grasping for help. Your life is a gift from God to the world. Remember this.

During this Christmas season, focus on the small, beauty of your life. So much of an emotionally abusive childhood is marked by misplaced urgency, a lack of reflection or quiet. This Christmas, pull yourself out of despair by celebrating the small hidden beauty. That advice may sound cheesy, but there’s a quiet beauty and joy amid the glitzy, chaotic mayhem. Spend time looking for it.

To all who write me and say they want to return to their abusive parents because it’s better to be with them than alone, I’d recommend thinking it through. Imagine the scenario. What have other Christmases been like? What would be said to you? What will the experience feel like? How will you feel during this time? How will you feel afterwards?

If returning to your family’s house for Christmas means returning to an abusive situation, don’t do it. Better to be alone in peace. Better to find friends to celebrate the holiday with you. Or if friends are far from you or hard to make, spend the season taking care of others at a shelter or nursery home. Your world is far bigger than you know. Needs are far greater than you think. Go beyond the relentless, exhausting yet familiar cycle of emotional abuse… You’ll experience a greater joy and peace.

Christmas is not about how many people are gathered around the table, how plentiful the Christmas cards received, the decor of one’s home, the abundance of gifts beneath a tree, how perfect everyone looks in a Christmas family photo. Christmas is deeper, more joyful, more intimate than that.

The first Christmas was a miracle, an intimate scene shining in the glory of God.

To find some peace and joy during the Christmas season, take time to contemplate that miracle.

  • Go to church for Christmas, and focus on the miracle of the season.
  • Reach out to good friends.
  • Comfort the afflicted, whether the forgotten in nursing homes or homeless shelters or hospitals.
  • Find joy in the small beauty of the season—Christmas lights, music, favorite dishes, movies, evergreen trees, peppermint.

And if you’re truly struggling to breathe during this Christmas season, please seek help. Take care of yourself, friend.


 

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.

photo credit: murkmad

Finding Something to Be Grateful for on Thanksgiving

[via Adrian Valenzuela]

Whether you’re estranged from your family, limiting contact with them, or processing the truth about your childhood, Thanksgiving can be one very difficult holiday.

Images of delighted, happy-to-be-together families gathered around the dining room table or playing football in someone’s gorgeous leaf-filled lawn are everywhere, not just on commercials but on social media accounts, too. And while a majority of those images come from ad agencies, some families do genuinely love to get together and bow their heads in Thanksgiving for what they have been blessed to receive.

But what if your family isn’t one of those?

I’ve written before about having a peaceful Thanksgiving when you’re an adult survivor of emotional child abuse. But I also want to reiterate a theme here at The Invisible Scar:  Despite what an emotionally abusive childhood may have tried to pound in your head, you DO matter.

And amid all the extraneous displays of gratitude—the Thanksgiving feast, football games, and autumnal decorations—the heart of the holiday is giving thanks.

The first Thanksgiving wasn’t about an inner circle of family and relatives—the holiday was about much more than that. The first folks to celebrate this holiday were grateful for their lives, for making it through some seriously rough patches, for growing in their understanding of what to do to survive, their relationships.

If you’ve found your way to The Invisible Scar this Thanksgiving holiday, know that secret blessings exist. Those blessings perhaps don’t shine so brightly amid the darkness of the past, but they’re there.

Here are a few things to be grateful for during this holiday season…

Be grateful that you are alive

I’m not being sarcastic or flippant. The percentage of abusive survivors who suffer depression is staggering. The abused have endured the attempted murder of their souls, of who they are, of what they are, of their personalities… and it’s exhausting to fight for one’s being. But you’re here! You are fighting the good fight.

You’re alive and here, and we’re so glad you are.

Be grateful that you know the truth about your childhood

So many emotional child abuse survivors do not awaken until much, much, much later in life…. and many end up repeating the behaviors of abuse because they do not see the abuse for what it was.

Survivors who acknowledge their childhood abuse often can end the abuse in their generation and have healthy relationships with their children.

Be grateful that you don’t have to endure the nonsense of “making an appearance”

Thanksgiving can be difficult for people who have contentious relationships with their kin, and a lot of people endure painful holiday feasts, even when they don’t like the people, for fear of being alone, for being perceived as odd if they don’t see relatives, etc.

Embrace the fact that you don’t have to endure this kind of bull. You don’t have to plaster on a fake smile, pretend that everything is hunky-dory, stress about who might say what to whom… You are fortunate indeed.

Get together with a friend or two that you actually like, have a Thanksgiving meal (if you want, you can get one at a restaurant or take-out place) and celebrate your own low-key Thanksgiving.

Be grateful that you are moving to a healthier emotional life

At The Invisible Scar, we recommend therapy (everyone needs a little help!), books, prayer, and the company of a good friend or two to keep you tethered to reality. If you’re doing all that or even just one or two things, you’re in the process of getting better. You’re unearthing truths and not shaking in fear of them. You’re seeking to live a life in the truth. And that’s one big amazing miracle. Be grateful for it.

* * *

Remember, friends: You are braver and stronger than you think.

Onward and upward.


 

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.

photo credit: Adrian Valenzuela