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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider asking a therapist about:.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Spend very little time at home.
  • Make your room your sanctuary.
  • Guard your private thoughts from your parents.
  • Find good, safe friends to spend time with.
  • Find means of expressing your feelings through art, music, journaling, etc. so your emotions have somewhere to go.
  • Seek help.
  • Keep hope… If you find yourself feeling lost or alone or deeply depressed, please call this number for help.

My question is, do I have anything to live for? How sad that I have to write a complete stranger asking this. I have spent the vast majority of my life wishing I were dead. I feel like my choices are either leave and get myself into more debt and fail harder at life, or stay in the “safe” situation, at lease have food and shelter available, but compromise myself in the process. Are things ever going to get better? Can I ever live with myself for not rescuing my mother? Can I just keep disappointing everyone I know with my lack of mental and emotional strength until everyone I know hates me? Is there any point to all this? (from Taylor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Foot - AV

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

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

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

Onward and upward,
Veronica
managing editor | The Invisible Scar

 

10 Huge Misconceptions About Emotional Child Abuse

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[via Neal Sanche]
“How could you have been abused?” a grossly misinformed person in an adult survivor’s life may say. “You had a roof over your head, food in your belly, clothes, and no one ever hit you!”

But as every adult survivor of emotional child abuse knows, the essentials—good attention, unconditional love, and emotional support—were missing.

Unfortunately, however, many misconceptions about emotional child abuse abound. Here’s a look at some of the biggest ones.

Misconception #1: Emotional abuse is another word for verbal abuse

Fact: Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse, non-verbal abuse, and non-physical forms of abuse.

“Child abuse is more than bruises or broken bones,” state Melinda Smith, M.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D, in a HelpGuide article. “While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.”

For example, the silent treatment does not involve words nor physical abuse, but it inflicts on the shunned child a sense of insignificance, unworthiness. The silent treatment tells a child, “You have not behaved as I have desired, so your existence will not be acknowledged until you apologize or prove yourself under my complete control.”

Misconception #2: Emotional abuse is made up… People need to stop being so sensitive

Fact:  Emotional child abuse is real.

A form of emotional child abuse is “minimizing”—when the abuser admits an incident has occurred yet says it was not a big deal.

“Statements such as ‘You’re too sensitive,’ ‘You’re exaggerating,’ or ‘You’re blowing this out of proportion’ all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not to be trusted,” states the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Counseling Center in an article about emotional abuse.

“Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.”

The danger of minimizing and trivializing what happened is that the abused begins to feel full of self-doubt regarding his/her reactions, perceptions, and understanding of situations. Moreover, the abused starts squelching their “spider senses” that tell them when they are being abused.

Also, this belief that the abused need to “toughen up” gives free rein to the abused. It puts the blame for such behavior on the abused, who has to “toughen up,” rather than the abuser, who really needs to stop acting abusively.

Misconception #3: Emotional abuse is only name-calling

Fact: Abusive words aren’t just name-calling. Abusive words can be used to dismantle the spirit and self-esteem of another.

Verbal abuse can be used in…

  • Gaslighting someone (For example, the adult survivor is manipulated to make dinner for her mother, does so, and then the mother never shows up. When the adult survivor calls, the mother says, “I never said we’d have dinner tonight… You must’ve heard wrong.” Even when there’s proof to the contrary.)
  • Overly criticizing (“Your glasses make you look ugly. Your cheeks are too round. Your teeth are crooked.” All said within a few minutes, usually. Abused parents have a way of getting into monologues.)
  • Comparing them to others constantly and finding fault with the abused (“So-and-so’s son only worked at the company for a year, and he’s got a raise! How long have you worked at the place and had, what, no raise? He’s so brilliant, that’s why, probably.”)
  • Belittle what the abused loves (“You’re into Russian literature? That’s so nerdy. No one likes that. I’m sure you’ll have lots of friends loving that.”)
  • Backhanded “compliments (“You have such a beautiful face…. Now, if you could only lose weight for the rest of you.”)
  • Spreading insecurity (“I don’t want to be the one to say anything, but do you think your husband’s cheating on you? I mean, who really works at the office late anymore? Maybe if you were nicer…”)
  • Veiling abusive through the guise of love (“You know I love you, so that’s the only reason I’m telling you that everyone’s talking about how ugly you painted the house.” Or “I’m only telling this for your own good, but you really need to stop wearing jeans. They make your legs look too short.”)

Misconception #4: Emotional abuse is just part of life

Fact: Not true. Some families are emotionally healthy.

Moreover, no child needs to learn to accept being treated like nothing. Every person is worthy of dignity. We all matter in the eyes of God. Every life is precious.

To ask a child to suck it up or to tell an adult survivor that he or she needed to get used to the abuse is denying a person’s dignity.

No child should get used to be ignored, despised, maltreated, have his/her worth diminished, or made to feel unlovable.

That is true whether the child is alive in the 1800s, 1900s, or 2000s or in the far future.

Misconception #5: Parents would stop abusing their children if emotionally abused children just told their parents to stop

Fact: Telling a parent to stop is very difficult for abused children. And just telling someone to stop doesn’t mean he will. (People, after all, are not robots to be controlled.)

That said, emotionally abusive children have been conditioned by their parents to squelch their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs to comply with their parents’ demands and needs. To speak up is to commit a grave crime in their parents’ eyes.

Still, some children do speak up, and when they do, they are told they are being too sensitive, they need to stop whining, they need to stop complaining, they’re being annoying, they need to toughen up, they should shut the hell up, they will be ignored for being a pain in the butt, etc.

If the parents cared how their children felt, they wouldn’t abuse them.

Change can happen but the abuse won’t stop due to someone just saying “stop.” The adult survivor needs to say stop, create healthy boundaries in the relationship, and even go No Contact for the amount of time necessary for the abuser to find therapy, learn new healthy skills, and establish a long-term pattern of nonabusive behavior.

Healing and change aren’t instant magic.

Misconception #6: People can spot an emotional abuser

Fact: Not. At. All.

Emotionally abusive parents very often abuse their children in view of no one except the abused child. In some circumstances, even the abused child’s sibling may not know of the abuse due to the parent’s triangulation of the sibling relationship, their favoring one child over the other, or conditioning the other siblings to accept the abuse of the one particular child.

A very common issue about adult survivors of emotionally abusive parents is that no one believes them because the friend or relative never saw the abuse. “But your parents are so sweet!” or “But I never heard them say one thing bad about you!” or “Your parents always spoke so well of you!” are common replies that adult survivors here.

All that is smokescreen behavior. Under the guise of concern, an abusive parent tells friends and relatives how his/her child is depressed or overly sensitive or troubled or prone to exaggeration. Before friends and relatives, the abusive parent may praise his/her child yet never give his/her child any praise—only harsh criticism or ignoring their accomplishments.

Myriad emotionally abusive parents look just like other parents and behave like emotionally healthy parents in public. (Narcissistic parents have it down to an art form.) However, what happens at home is the dark truth that the emotionally abused child knows.

Misconception #7: A psychologist needs to meet the emotionally abusive parent to make a diagnosis of whether an adult survivor was really emotionally abused

Fact: An adult survivor’s responsibility is first and foremost for his or her own safety.

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse must first get help for him/herself. Unfortunately, sometimes when they awaken, they are urged into family therapy by the abused parents.

Why is that?

Because abusive parents often know how to work the system and elicit the desire responses (after all, the abusive parents have been living double lives for a very long time).

Psychologists are only human. They make mistakes. And sometimes, abusive parents are master manipulators and/or actors, especially in therapy, and they can twist sessions with their children into a sobfest of how the parent cares and tries so hard but the child is troubled.

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse would do well to go to a therapist ALONE and talk in private about what has happened, what he/she feels, the reasons for going into therapy. Because of adult survivors have little capacity to express their feelings (due to being conditioned by the abusive parent to squelch any feeling that isn’t pleasing to the parent), the adult survivors need time to learn to acknowledge, recognize, and share their feelings.

A good, insightful therapist will recognize signs of emotional child abuse, will understand how to best reach the adult survivor, and will guide the adult survivor through the various stages of healing.

Misconception #8: A heart-to-heart conversation between parent and child will cure emotional child abuse

Fact: This misconception is similiar to #5 but this is like the extended version.

“If only I knew why you shutting me out!” an abusive parent will say in an email or phone call to the adult survivor, who has decided to start establishing healthy boundaries. “If only you had said something!”

Chances are that the adult survivor did mention his or her feelings at some point, but the abuser minimized, trivialized, denied, or just ignored the adult survivor’s feelings

Moreover, the “flying monkeys” of the abuser will often descend on the adult survivor and badger him/her, saying, “But did you tell your parent how you felt? Did you have a conversation about this?”

Because one conversation stops abuse, right?

Wrong.

One conversation can lead to the path of healing, but healing is not due to any magic spell or wishful thinking.

Abuse stops when a parent recognizes his/her abusive behavior, learns skill sets for healthy parenting, and seeks professional help. They can find help on various websites, but they also need to go to counseling and find out WHY they are abusive, how to stop it, and how to create a healthier bond with their children.

Misconception #9: All parents are abusive sometimes

Fact: Parents do err at times, but the systematic and persistent abusive behavior by the parent is what makes it abuse. A parent who loses his temper once in a very long while and blurts out, “Just do it! Stop being lazy!” is being an unkind parent in the moment, but may not be an emotional abuser.

An emotionally abusive parent persistently acts that way, shows no desire to change, and continues creating excuses for behaving abhorrently.

Misconception #10: You need to maintain a relationship with your emotionally abusive parent because he/she is your parent

Fact: No. No, you don’t.

No one deserves to be in a toxic relationship. No one should be in a relationship with any person, parent or otherwise, who regularly seeks the diminishment of your being.

Unfortunately, emotionally abused children usually suffer in silence and bear the abuse until they are adults. Even worse, the adult children often continue in the same setup as when they were children because their abusive parents conditioned them to such abuse.

But adult children can stand up for themselves. They can say, “No more.”

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse does not owe anything to the parent. The adult child has already had to surrender his/her childhood to the abusive of the parent… Why give the adult years to the abusive parent, too?

Everyone, children and adults, deserve healthy relationships. The Counseling Center lists the following basic rights in a relationship with others. Though the list is for adults in relationships, it works for the adult survivor-parent relationship as well.

  • The right to good will from the other
  • The right to emotional support
  • The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy
  • The right to have your own view, even if your partner has a different view
  • The right to have your feelings and experience acknowledged as real
  • The right to receive a sincere apology for any jokes you may find offensive
  • The right to clear and informative answers to questions that concern what is legitimately your business
  • The right to live free from accusation and blame
  • The right to live free from criticism and judgment
  • The right to have your work and your interests spoken of with respect
  • The right to encouragement
  • The right to live free from emotional and physical threat
  • The right to live free from angry outbursts and rage
  • The right to be called by no name that devalues you
  • The right to be respectfully asked rather than ordered

Everyone has the right to emotionally healthy relationships. No one should have to bear it because the abuser is related by blood or other familial times.

“A person’s rightful due is to be treated like an object of love, not an object of use.” (Pope John Paul II,Love and Responsibility)

 

2-Year Blog Anniversary: A Heartfelt Thanks to Readers… and Some News

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Dear readers,

Two years ago today, The Invisible Scar was launched.

For some time, I had been wanting to write a blog post on my personal site to raise awareness of emotional child abuse, but I had too much to say, too much information kicking around my head, too much of a desire to just write one post.

After consulting a few esteemed friends (and praying a whole lot), I wrote a series of blog posts about emotional child abuse then published them on the newly launched The Invisible Scar.

Now, The Invisible Scar receives a staggering amount of views per month and myriad comments.

So, it seems that my hope for The Invisible Scar to be a good, safe place for raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors is coming to fruition.

Thank you, readers… Thank you, friends.

Thank you so much for your willingness to talk about a very difficult subject, to share your own hard-won lessons and heart-breaking stories, to comfort one another, to encourage each other in your awakening to the truth and the path to emotional healing.

Thanks for your courage in opening up about emotional child abuse, for your desire to share your journey with one another.

Thank you for being here.

You are a blessing to The Invisible Scar…

Now, on this blog anniversary, I wanted to share some new things for this year on The Invisible Scar:

  • The Invisible Scar is now on Facebook
    I just created The Invisible Scar Facebook Page as a place for adult survivors of emotional abuse to ask questions and find support. I’ll be sharing links to resources there as well as letting you know when a new post is up.
  • The Invisible Scar is Instagramming
    If you like visual content, you may want to follow The Invisible Scar on Instagram.  I just started the account, so it’s not abandoned—it’s just new. The focus of this social media channel’s pics will be on healing, books to read, etc.
  • A regular publishing schedule is planned
    The Invisible Scar is run by just one person, so the publishing schedule these last two years has been erratic. However, I’ve an editorial calendar now, so the time between posts will be less than it has been. Planned articles include exploring the bunny-boiling phenomenon, misconceptions about emotional abuse, and a look at parenting in the movie “Frozen.” That’s just a peek at the articles coming up, but if you have a topic that you’d like explored or if you’re a mental health professional who’d like to be interviewed, please feel free to email me at theinvisiblescar[at]gmail.com.

Onward and upward,
Veronica
managing editor & content creator of The Invisible Scar

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National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Emotional Child Abuse Is Real and Its Effects Last Long Into Adulthood

Editor’s note: April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month. The Invisible Scar is dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse, so in honor of this month’s focus, we’ll revisit the definition of emotional child abuse, types of emotional child abuse, and its effects for those who are not yet familiar with the fact that emotional child abuse is real.

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[photo credit]
When child-advocate lawyer Andrew Vachss was asked, “What is the worst case you ever handled?” when protecting abused children, he answered, “Of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest-lasting of all.”

Why is emotional child abuse  the worst kind? Why is it even worse than physical child abuse or sexual child abuse?

It’s because emotional child abuse seeks to destroy the person’s very being.

“Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another,” Vachss writes in You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart. “It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child’s self-concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.”

Another definition by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is…

“Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill-treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. It may involve causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill treatment of a child, though it may occur alone.” (Department of Health et al, 1999, p. 5-6)

Emotional Abuse Is Not a One-Time Event

The words persistent and systematic are crucial to the definition of emotional child abuse. Emotional child abuse isn’t a parent telling his child once, “Why did you spill the juice? Don’t do that again!”

Emotional abuse is systematic. It’s a consistent destructive force in a child’s life.

For example, an emotionally abusive parent will tell a child, “Why did you forget to make your bed? Are you stupid? Stupid and forgetful…” and then, at some point in time (close enough to be linked to the first event), “You forgot again? Can’t you ever do something right? You are always disappointing me.” Again, at another point, the abusive parent will say similar words, so that the child ties it together: “You can’t do anything right. You are always disappointing me.”

And so on…

In time, the emotionally abused child adopts the phrase into his or her memory as something that defines them: “I don’t do anything right. I am always disappointing my parents.” He takes the words as a description of who he is… and the phrases will come back to him often.

All the destructive words, whether encased in subtle phrasing or baldly hurtful, will become part of the child’s “self talk.”

The abusive words will become truths to the child.

Types of Emotional Child Abuse

“Psychological abuse of a child is a pattern of intentional verbal or behavioral actions or lack of actions that convey to a child the message that he or she is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value to meet someone else’s needs.” (Samantha Gluck, Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel article)

The pattern can take different forms. Here’s a look at types of emotional child abuse:

  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Ranking children unnecessarily
  • Being condescending
  • Bunny boiling (aka destroying something that the child cherishes)
  • Gaslighting children
  • Scapegoating
  • Sabotaging
  • Favoritism
  • Triangulation
  • Pathologic (or compulsive) lying
  • Smearing
  • Ignoring
  • Corrupting
  • Terrorizing
  • Isolating
  • Inappropriately controlling

You can read more about the Types of Emotional Child abuse here.

Affects of Emotionally Abused Children as Adults

“Although the scars may not be visible to the naked eye, emotional abuse wounds the spirit, frequently leaving its marks for a lifetime,” according to the National Council of Child Abuse & Family Violence.

“This form of abuse is destructive to a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It can affect a child’s emotional development, resulting in a sense of worthlessness and inadequacy.”

Moreover, the “children who suffer emotional abuse grow into adults who see themselves through the eyes of their abuser,” according to the council. “They carry a sense of inadequacy and worthlessness with them into their jobs and relationships. Frequently, those who have experienced emotional abuse in childhood find it difficult to develop healthy, intimate relationships as adults. They may even develop antisocial behaviors, which isolate them further.”

Health
“If you were emotionally abused in childhood, you will be sicker as an adult than if you had not been emotionally abused,” states Dr. Laurie McKinnon, the director of Insite Therapy and Consulting based in New South Wales, in her report Hurting Without Hitting: Non-Physical Contact Forms of Abuse [PDF]. “It is also likely that you will be sicker than if you had been physically abused.”

Health issues also include…

  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Other self-destructive behaviors

Mental Health
“One of the most frequently documented outcomes of childhood emotional abuse, particularly for women, is a vulnerability to clinical depression and anxiety in adulthood,” says McKinnon. “Internalised criticism, along with a fear of criticism and rejection from others, appears to be at the core of the depressed or anxious symptoms they experience in adulthood.”

Why Isn’t Emotional Child Abuse Identified or Reported More Often?

“Child protective service case workers may have a harder time recognizing and substantiating emotional neglect and abuse because there are no physical wounds,” said Joseph Spinazzola, PhD, of the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Center, and lead author of a new study on psychological trauma. “Also, psychological abuse isn’t considered a serious social taboo like physical and sexual child abuse. We need public awareness initiatives to help people understand just how harmful psychological maltreatment is for children and adolescents.”

Emotional child abuse is difficult to identify because the abuse works on the psyche of a child rather than the body. You cannot see the bruise or cut or wound that an insult or manipulation or the silent treatment has left upon the child. But the wound exists nevertheless.

“Nonphysical contact abuse (NPC) can be difficult to identify because it leaves no visible injury and because victims often do not seek help,” according to McKinnon. “Professionals find overt NPC abuse easiest to identify because it’s openly hostile. Covert NPC abuse on the other hand is more subtle and insidious and often disguised as helpful or inadvertent.

“The abuser may deny hostile intent while ignoring and discounting the target person’s needs, feelings, and opinions,” McKinnon says. “The abuser negatively labels the target person in ways that convey that he or she is worthless, bad, more difficult, less attractive, or less desirable than other people. Onlookers may not identify the behaviour as abusive and instead blame the target person for his or her inadequacies.”

What to Do If… You’re a Parent Who Is Emotionally Abusing His or Her Child

Please get help! Contact Prevent Child Abuse and/or the American Humane Society for help.

What to Do If… You Suspect a Child Is Being Emotionally Abused

Learn how to become a trusted adult in the child’s life.

Also, contact Prevent Child Abuse and/or the American Humane Society for professional advice on what you can do.

What to Do If… You Are an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse

First, know that you are not alone… and that you can heal. You will bear scars, of course, but you can (in time and through prayer and therapy) still forge a good, emotionally healthy life for yourself.

Reading all the effects of emotional child abuse on an adult survivor can be very overwhelming, difficult, and depressing, but please don’t despair. Think of it this way: By facing the truth of what has happened to you and what the effects are, you can find the help you need and learn skills to grow into a healthier, happier person.

You are not alone. You need not despair. There is hope and healing.

Second, find yourself a good therapist; a fresh notebook for jotting down your feelings, thoughts, and ideas; and a good friend who will listen to you and believe your story.

I recommend reading  this article for more advice.

* * *

This April, we’ll be digging into the various types of emotional child abuse in detail. I’ve already covered gaslighting and the silent treatment in their separate posts.

Next week, let’s tackle bunny boiling. Stay tuned.

[photo credit]
[photo credit]

A Hearty Thank You From ACoN Study Researchers

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Editor’s note: I received the following update from researcher Valerie Coles and wanted to share it with Invisible Scar readers!

From Valerie Coles:

THANK YOU AGAIN FOR ALL OF YOUR AID!

First, thank you for your help in featuring, distributing, and/or participating in our study!  We are truly amazed and humbled at how many ACONs took our survey.  We had 978 respondents from at least 32 countries, 16 websites that we personally contacted participate, and then many more websites that you and your readers, our respondents, forwarded the survey to.  Never in our wildest imagination did we think that so many ACONs would step up and help us out.

We are examining our findings over the next six weeks and when we have a summary of the results then.  As I mentioned in previous emails, I will be sending this summary out to all the known websites that participated as well as to any individuals who requested a summary.

(We did close data collection on February 27. However, we will have a smaller study soon available to those who did not participate the first time. Anyone interested may email me at vcoles@uga.edu.)

Meanwhile, we did the drawing today for the ten $100 gift cards.  Anyone who entered their email address at the end of the survey was eligible for the drawing.  There were 711 emails in the drawing! The ten winners were contacted today via email to get their full name/address so we can mail the gift cards to them.

At the start of the study we had agreed not to publicize their names (as ACONs may not want narcissistic family members to know that they are part of an ACON site) but, of course, if one of the winners is part of your site, we hope that person will let the rest of the group know s/he was a recipient.

Again, we truly appreciate your help and we hope through this study that we can create a short useful questionnaire for people to use to help identify narcissistic parents. The success of this study would not have been possible without you.

I look forward to emailing you again in several weeks with the summary. Thank you again!

Best,
Valerie Berenice Coles, MA
PhD Student, Research Project Manager
Graduate Assistant to Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Student Ambassadors Program
University of Georgia
Department of Communication Studies
Caldwell Hall

Want to Participate in a Study for Adult Children of Narcissists (ACoNs)?

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Please note: The Invisible Scar is not affiliated in any way to the University of Georgia nor does it assume any responsibility regarding the study or survey mentioned below.

Recently, Valerie Coles, a graduate teaching and research assistant at The University of Georgia, sent me an email regarding a study that she and Dr. Jennifer Monahan of the University of Georgia are conducting on the parental communication skills of an adult survivor of a narcissist.

Because of the little information about ACoNs out there, I thought Invisible Scar readers may want to participate in the survey and shed some light on this issue.

Below is the email that she sent me as well as the link to the survey:

* * *

My colleague and I have recently developed a scale to measure parental narcissism. Not surprisingly, we would like to have adult children of narcissists, if they are interested, take the scale so we can examine how parental communication impacts individuals once they are adults.

There is presently no published scale that measures parental narcissism behaviors from the perspective of the adult child, and very little research in general.  Not surprisingly, we would like to have ACONs, if they are interested, participate in our study.

Participants will have the opportunity to partake in questionnaire that asks about their parent’s communication style(s) and some items that measure personality characteristics of their parent or legal guardian that they identify as a narcissist and themselves.

This research study is being conducted by Dr. Jennifer Monahan and me, of the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Georgia.

Approval of the research protocol for this study was approved at The University of Georgia’s Institutional Review Board.

Anyone over the age of 18 who identifies as an ACON is eligible for this study, it does not matter where you live in the world, your gender, or whether English is your first-language.

Also, everyone, regardless of location, is eligible to enter a drawing for one of ten $100 gift cards for participating. The entire process will require less than 30 minutes of their time (closer to 20).  Of course we will keep all information confidential, so that names and other identifying markers (e.g., IP addresses) will not be linked to the questionnaire they complete.  Participants who are interested in the drawing will enter an email address into the drawing; email addresses will not be linked back to the questionnaires.

To take the survey, visit this link.

– Valerie Coles

* * *

Please note: The Invisible Scar is not affiliated in any way to the University of Georgia nor does it assume any responsibility regarding the study or survey mentioned below.

From the Mailbox: Smear Campaigns, Spreading Awareness, Maintaining Relationships With Abusive Parents, and More

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[photo credit: Kat]

As managing editor of The Invisible Scar, I’m always open to receiving your emails and comments. Sometimes, I get a flurry of emails on a theme or that have answers that benefit more than one person. I tackle those questions in a monthly post called From the Mailbox.

Here’s a look at the emails that hit my inbox and questions that led folks to The Invisible Scar this month. I’m jotting my thoughts regarding those questions, but do keep in mind that this site is not a substitute for professional advice. (For that, please find a good therapist you can trust.)

Here’s what’s on readers’ minds this month:

“How can I spread awareness about emotional child abuse?”

Dispel the silence. Let people know that emotional child abuse is real. It exists.

To paraphrase the writer Baudelaire, the greatest trick of the devil is to convince you that he doesn’t exist. That lack of belief in its existence allows evil to flourish. Evil flourishes when no one speaks against it.

You can spread awareness in many ways:

  • Write about emotional child abuse and share those articles online.
  • Write about your personal story in a blog. Many people do this under pseudonyms to protect their private lives. Be aware that writing a personal blog does open you up to receive negative comments because trolls exist on the Web.
  • Use your social media platforms to share information about emotional child abuse. Are you on Facebook? Share articles about emotional child abuse there. On Twitter? Tweet about it. You need not be the Debbie Downer of your social network, though; share articles about emotional child abuse and good parenting, tips for parental time-outs, how to speak to one’s children, etc. At The Invisible Scar, we focus solely on emotional child abuse because that’s why we’re all gathering here. But on your social networks, vary the content for your audience.
  • Be honest about your childhood when discussing it with friends and family. You don’t have to corner people at parties and go painstakingly through every detail, but be honest and brief in discussing it.
  • Reach out to people who are hurting. One of the greatest pains of suffering emotional child abuse is the feeling of being isolated, unwanted, and not understood. When possible, reach out in love and kindness and listening to those hurting. Just listening to someone who hurts makes an enormous difference in a person’s life.
  • Mindfully step in when you hear someone being mistreated.  You can speak up for others without attacking the parent; just be kind and subtle. A true story: Years ago, I was in line at the grocery store and minding my baby girl when a lady and her preteen daughter stood behind me. The lady looked at my baby girl and said, “Oh, she’s so cute! They’re adorable at that age. And then, they become THIS.” And she pointed to the preteen. I replied, “Every age is a good one. And how awesome that you have a girl who you can chat with and do fun things with.” And the lady said, “Hm, I guess” and grew quiet, and the preteen gave me the loveliest big smile.
  • Pray for survivors of emotional child abuse. People always use prayer as a last resort. “It’s the least we can do.” No, it’s the most. Prayer is lifting our hearts to God, and we can lift survivors of emotional child abuse in our prayers. The prayers may not change the abusers—God gave everyone free will—but the prayers can help those who hurt. Know that I keep all readers of The Invisible Scar in my prayers. Please keep me in yours.
“How can I maintain a relationship with an abusive parent?”

You can’t.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse want to be able to have healthy, loving relationships with their parents… but their parents are toxic people.

That longing is a scar that adult survivors of emotional child abuse bear. It exists. The scar shows that the adult survivor was wounded. But it cannot be undone.

However, an adult survivor can make sure not to put himself or herself in a situation to receive yet even more scars from the toxic parent.

Of course, only you can decide whether to remain in a relationship with abusive parents. But at The Invisible Scar, we encourage No Contact with abusers. (The author of Cutting Ties: Knowing When It’s Time to Walk Away at Luke 17:3 Ministries has questions to help you make that decision.)

“Why is my mother emotionally abusive?”

The short answer is that no one knows for sure.

Some psychologists talk about a cycle of emotional abuse. A child was emotionally abused by a parent who was once emotionally abused by a parent who was once emotionally abused by a parent, etc. But if that cycle cannot be broken, then why is it? Why do some adult survivors end up not emotionally abusing their children?

Some scientists mention that it could be genetics. But then that doesn’t quite make sense either. Alcoholism makes sense due to the physical component of alcoholism. But how can there be a gene for being a horrific parent?

You can look at the specifics of your own family tree and perhaps get to a mild understanding of how this abuse has emerged.

But for the sake of healing, it’s best to not focus on the why.

“What can I do about smear campaigns against me?”

A smear campaign is more than someone just saying something rude about you. It’s the systematic shredding of someone’s reputation by spreading lies, accusations, and insinuations.

“False Accusations, Distortion Campaigns and Smear Campaigns can all be used with or without a grain of truth, and have the potential to cause enormous emotional hurt to the victim or even impact their professional or personal reputation and character,” states Out of the FOG.

“[Smear campaigners] hide behind a cloak of upstanding heroism and feigned innocence in an attempt to make as many people as possible think their efforts are based not on their vindictiveness, but on upstanding concern,” writes Light on her blog.

So, what can you do about it?

You may feel inclined to do some or all of the following:

  1. Defend yourself  by confronting the smear campaigner
  2. Defend yourself to every person who has heard the smear campaigner’s accusations
  3. Take the smear campaigner to court for slander
  4. Launch a smear campaign against your abuser in retaliation
  5. Ignore the smear campaigns
  6. Talk to your closest friends about the smear campaigns, the truth regarding them, and ignore the smear campaigner

Every situation is different. Only you can decide whether to do 1 or 2; that may depend on your relationship with other people who know your abuser. In a family situation, you may have some relatives who you still want a relationship with, and you may want to discuss the reality of the situation with them.

Option 3 requires that you talk to a family lawyer about the situation. As I am not a lawyer, I can’t offer an expert advice on this matter. Option 4 sounds like a terrible idea, which will only escalate the situation. I strongly urge you not to retaliate. Options 5 and 6 seem to be the best options.

As painful and terrible as a smear campaign is, it will weed out the false friends and lukewarm relatives from your life. Anyone who knows you and loves you will not listen to the reputation-shredding gossip. You will be presented with a very clear view of the battlefield, of who is on your side and who is on the side of the abusive parent.

Your army of friends and relatives who stand beside you may be very small. You may even find yourself alone on the battlefield, with the corpses of old relationships all around you. But you will not be shredded. You will still be standing, you will be alive in the truth. You will be stronger than you ever thought possible because you didn’t let fear or other people’s opinions of you determine who you are.

* * *

Living in the truth and light can be so hard at first for adult survivors of emotional child abuse. They’re used to live in a hazy, nebulous reality created by their abusers. Adult survivors are accustomed to trying to find value in who they are by seeking the approval of others and adapting who they are to others expectations.

But in awakening to the reality of the emotional child abuse, adult survivors can start moving towards a life in the light and truth. They can start extracting themselves from the entanglements of abusive relationships. They can begin to understand that it’s better to be seemingly alone in the truth than to be surrounded by liars.

Why did I say “seemingly”? Because you are not alone. You’re here among others who share similar experiences. And you matter.

[via Sarah Joy]
[via Sarah Joy]

 

 

Five Ideas for a Peaceful Thanksgiving

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Advertisers during the Thanksgiving season present an exaggerated image of the simple holiday. Sumptuous feasts bring together far-flung relatives. The coolness of the weather chills past arguments and lets bygone be bygones.

Moreover, people perpetuate this unreachable ideal by promoting glittery, heavily edited holiday images on their social networks.

Unfortunately, the expectation can be so high during this season that people who are estranged from their families of origin or those who are far from them due to military or business reasons can get very low-spirited this week.

“There’s this idea that it’s supposed to be perfect, and if it’s not, the person asks, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”  states Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist.

Expectations for the perfect holiday are sky-high, which triggers myriad issues related to mental health. However, statistically, the number of “traditional households” in this country is not in the majority, Rodino adds.

To help you lessen that stress and to embrace the true spirit of the holiday, this post will offer ideas for immersing oneself in a spirit of thankfulness.

After all, the holiday name itself tells you what its focus is: giving thanks.

1. Celebrate Thanksgiving with your family-from-the-heart

During Thanksgiving, you may feel that everyone in the United States is celebrating the feast with all their relatives. However, you’re not alone. Some of your friends may not have relatives nearby for the holiday or you may know other folks estranged from their kin. If you want to share the day with special friends, invite them over for Thanksgiving.

No rules exist for the feast. You don’t need to be related by blood. Invite relatives and friends whose company you enjoy. Give thanks for the good people in your life, whatever role they play in your life.

(This concept of celebrating with friends has been picking up steam lately. Do a Google search for Friendsgiving, and you’ll find oodles of ideas for celebrating.)

2. Celebrate the hidden treasures in your life

As an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you may find yourself focusing on the darkness in your life rather than the light. And whereas there’s nothing wrong with self-reflection, one must balance it out by looking for some goodness, something of hope in one’s present.

A holiday can make finding that hope difficult. You may just focus on loss. Where are the relatives? Why couldn’t my family be normal for the holidays? Why does everyone get a real Thanksgiving except me?

But remember that you are a wonder. It’s a tremendous blessing that you were able to see the emotional child abuse for what it is and now head towards a life of healing and light. That’s a huge blessing.

YOU are a blessing.

Then also think about the beauty in your life and focus on all the neat treasures tucked into your day that you may overlook or even feel silly about being grateful for them. On Thanksgiving, celebrate those treasures, no matter how big or how small.

“Today, I am grateful for… my awesome purple-framed glasses that help me see better, for listening to new music on Spotify for free, for Cary Grant movies, for art supplies and the hope and expectation in blank sheets of paper, for Cupcake Red Velvet wine, for the crunch of autumn leaves when I go on a nature walk, for the graceful silhouettes of geese against the gray sky…”

Give thanks for the world around you and all the beauty within it, even if you have to dig for it sometimes.

3. Indulge in a hobby… with all this uninterrupted time

What hobbies or activities are you often putting off because of important commitments? If you’re spending Thanksgiving by yourself, indulge yourself in the pleasure of that hobby without interruptions. Want to paint? Practice your music? Work on your karate skills? Try a new recipe?

Do it.

Be grateful for this gift and use it to your heart’s delight.

If your hobby is watching movies and analyzing them, go for it. Just steer away from holiday-themed movies, as they can trigger nostalgia and longing on this day.

4. Reach out to other people

“Help others,” recommends Laurie Stoneham in her article 10 Things to Do If You’re Alone on the Holidays. “Volunteering at a mission or shelter for the homeless will help you feel connected.”

You can find those places to volunteer online, check your newspaper or church bulletin, or check your city’s message board.

5. Treat the day like any other day

“Not everyone is down with holiday events,” writes blogger Kat Dawkins at Psych Central. “And that is perfectly OK.

“Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty or weird about not participating in the Thanksgiving holiday. We are not all interested in that type of thing.

“If the day is a trigger for you, make sure you surround yourself with others in a positive environment. Keep yourself busy your mind off negative things as much as you can.”

Have any tips for a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday? I’d love to hear them. Just drop a note in the Comments.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Movie ‘Tangled': Mother Does Not Know Best

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[photo credit: Heritage Vancouver Society]

Editor’s Note: Upon reading this post, some readers may say, “Oh, ‘Tangled‘ is just a movie!” Indeed, “Tangled” is a movie, but not just one. 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. No “real-life Rapunzel” or “real-life Mother Gothel” may have existed, but for the myriad daughters with NPD mothers, the story itself is not too unlike their own stories.

* * *

Quick, name the cruelest Disney villain… Did you name Mother Gothel? As a parental figure with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), Mother Gothel rates high on the list for her twisted, abusive and relentless treatment of her “adopted” daughter, Rapunzel.

I recently re-watched “Tangled” and took note of the destructive NPD characteristics demonstrated by Mother Gothel. (Spoilers abound from this point on.)

19 NPD Traits of Mother Gothel

From the back story narration at the start of the film, the viewer learns that an ancient woman named “Gothel” has been using a magical plant’s restorative powers to maintain her beauty and youth. When the infant princess in the kingdom where Mother Gothel dwells is dying, the castle guards retrieve the legendary plant to heal the princess, and it does.

1. Mother Gothel isolates her child

Movie: When Mother Gothel finds out the plant is gone, she sneaks into the castle tower to steal the plant. Not finding it, she kidnaps Rapunzel (whose hair has the same restorative powers when a spell-song is sung) and whisks her away to a tower.

Flash-forward to the present… Now, Rapunzel is a teenager. She has spent her entire life so far in isolation. Mother Gothel comes and goes from the castle as she wishes (though uses Rapunzel’s hair like a fire-escape rope through the tower window to do so), but Rapunzel cannot. She must never leave the tower. No family. No friends. No one else in her world except her so-called mother and a chameleon pet that she has anthropomorphized.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents make it difficult for their children to form bonds outside the family unit (and often even within members of the immediate family). They do not put the time, effort, and energy required to take their children to sports practices, school events, or play dates, all of which make forming friendships exceedingly difficult for their children.

NPD parents want to be the sun to their children, so any outside influence is banned or severely limited. If the child manages to make a friend, a NPD parent will make fun of the friend, mock the friend, twist the child’s image of the friend, all in small phrases here and there in time, so the child will find him/herself either giving up the friendship or maintaining a secret one.

2. She presents a false image of herself

Movie: Mother Gothel assumes the role of a mother (albeit an abusive one), never letting Rapunzel know that she is the lost princess. Mother Gothel pretends to care about Rapunzel’s well-being; she only keeps her hidden because bad people will want to steal her magic hair!

Mother Gothel pretends to be a loving mother, but she insults her daughter, does not listen to her, keeps her isolated, does not properly clothe or feed her, keeps her intellectually starved (the poor kid has three books on her bookshelf), lies to her, berates her, mocks her, and so forth.

Her real self is cruel, self-centered, violent, destructive, vain, and scheming. Rapunzel sees all that in flashes, but having been brought up in isolation, she has no basis for comparison to truly loving behavior.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents are not the same in public as they are in private. They often portray themselves as loving, caring, and concerned parents to people that they know.

In some cases, they talk about their children in glowing terms, so that all who hear assume the parents talk to their children in the same loving way. (They are wrong; NPD parents will shred their children’s self-esteem in private though they praise the children in public.)

In other cases, NPD parents talk about how concerned they are about their children’s depression, moodiness, etc., setting up the parent as a martyr while casting the child as troubled or disturbed. (That will come in handy when the adult child decides to break free the NPD parents; the NPD parent can then say the child has always been troubled and disturbed. Poor parent!)

The NPD parent is a master of manipulation and wearer of many masks. Only the scapegoat child knows the naked truth.

3. She presents a false view of the world

Movie: In the song “Mother Knows Best,” Mother Gothel presents a frightening view of the world:

Real-life equivalent: The child of NPD parents is taught that the outside world is scary, cold, and hate-filled. To go into the world and try to make friends, be educated, get a job, have a romantic relationship, and so forth is to risk doom. Only by following the family’s code of behavior will the child be “safe.”

If the child or adult child does manage any achievements outside the home, the NPD parent will be sure to attribute the success to good parenting or to spoil it by making fun of it or adding so much pressure that the child grows weary and exhausted by his/her efforts and abandons it.

4. She plays the martyr

Movie: In the above song, Mother Gothel rattles off a dozen things then says, “Stop, you’ll just upset me” even though the whole song is her trying to frighten Rapunzel.

Rapunzel initiated a conversation with her mother to discuss what Rapunzel would like to do for her birthday. However, the entire conversation is derailed by Mother Gothel who turns it into a song about how scary the world is and how all Mother Gothel wants to do is protect her daughter from it.

When Rapunzel tries to steer the conversation back to the original point, Mother Gothel gets all self-pitying. “Oh, now, I’m the bad guy… sniffle.”

Yes, Mother Gothel is.

Real-life equivalent: Any action that an NPD parent does is an act of great sacrifice. Made dinner for the child? The poor parent had no energy and no desire to do so yet somehow struggled in an act of great love to make it so just to feed the child! Gone to work? The poor parent had a headache or hates his/her job or would rather be home, and yet somehow managed, out of great and tremendous love, to go to work all for the child!

NPD parents make everything they do “for the child” a huge deal.

Also, any attempt by the child to forge an existence outside the parent is seen as an act of rebellion or an act of condemnation against the parent… after all the poor parent has done! The parent has “sacrificed” so much for the child. Everyone knows so!

5. She threatens her daughter

Movie: Mother Gothel sings a threat that is bone-chilling: “Don’t forget it; you’ll regret it.”

Real-life equivalent: The child of an NPD parent is conditioned to do what the parent wants or ELSE. The “or else” can be the withdrawal of affection, the silent treatment, grounding, physical abuse, or very often, more emotional abuse (so much that an act of perceived rebellion will not be worth even attempting).

6. She views Rapunzel only as an instrument for her personal use, not as a person

Movie: She calls Rapunzel “my flower” because that’s all she sees in Rapunzel: the magic, healing flower, not the person she is.

When she kisses Rapunzel, she kisses her hair.

When she touches Rapunzel, she touches her hair.

The only thing that Mother Gothel sees when she looks at Rapunzel is her hair.

An NPD parent does not see her daughter for who she really is; that’s apparent from the “Mother Knows Best Song.” She considers Rapunzel chubby, vague, naive, clumsy, fragile as a flower, etc. As demonstrated by the rest of the film, none of those labels are true. Rapunzel is pretty, resourceful, smart, strong, and graceful.

But Mother Gothel has never cared enough to listen to her child. When Rapunzel talks, Mother Gothel does this:

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Real-life equivalent: An NPD parent does not know his or her child, whether the child is still young or an adult child. The NPD parent may be able to rattle off facts about the child (such as the kid likes a show, the adult child is a dentist, etc.), but the parent will not know the child. The child may have a keen intelligence, a wonderful sense of humor, a fondness for growing flowers, a generous heart, etc… but the NPD parent will not acknowledge or even register mentally who the child is.

NPD parents cannot see beyond themselves to see their children nor can NPD parents see beyond who they want their children to be.

7. She puts down her daughter’s looks, personality, and abilities

Movie: Mother Gothel sings about how Rapunzel is ill-equipped to deal with the difficulties of life: “fragile as a flower,” “still a little sapling, just a sprout,””sloppy,” “underdressed,” “immature,” “clumsy,” “they’ll eat you up alive,” “gullible, naive, positively grubby, ditzy and a bit vague,” and “you’re getting kind of chubby.”

Other insults are scattered throughout the film.

Real-life equivalent: Same. Without the singing.

8. She pretends that love is making her sound critical when the opposite is true

Movie: Mother Gothel says the reason she rattles off all those perceived traits is “I’m just saying ’cause I wuv you.”

Real-life equivalent: For the most part, the slights and insults from an NPD parent to a child are subtle… and they work together, one cut at a time, to bleed the child’s heart dry. However, sometimes (and later in life, the NPD parents grow more obvious and rougher in their comments as they age), the insults are obvious.

The NPD parent will always say that the comment comes “from love.” The comments are not meant to hurt the child, but to let the child know the truth of the matter. An NPD parent will say such things as: “I’m only saying this so you know the truth,” “I’m telling you this because I love you,” “I just want you to know what everyone is thinking,” and “I don’t think this, but other people do.”

“Love” is the NPD parents excuse for being hateful towards their children. But love is not like that. Love is gentle, love is kind. Remember that.

9. She prevents her daughter from sharing her gift with others

Movie: Because of Rapunzel’s gift (when Rapunzel sings a certain song, her hair glows and magically restores youth and vitality to people who are old and injured and in contact with her hair), she could work wonders for the people in the kingdom.

Judging from the horses and clothing of the movie, this takes place during the medieval period, the medicine and understanding of the human body was limited, so any illness must have been devastating. Rapunzel’s gift of healing could have saved myriad people in the kingdom, but, because of Mother Gothel’s self-centeredness, Rapunzel was unable to use her gift for others.

Worst of all, Mother Gothel makes Rapunzel think that her gift is something that people will hurt her for. Mother Gothel takes something beautiful inherent to Rapunzel and turns it into something shameful.

Real-life equivalent:  The NPD parent’s focus is and will always be him/herself.

Always.

And for the child of an NPD to have any special gift or talent, a lovely personality, a gentle heart, etc. will not be tolerated by the NPD parent. The NPD parent will mock or shame the child for “trying to be special” or for “wanting to stand out.” Or an NPD parent will ground the child for showing such a gift or even take away the child’s art supplies, music, etc. as punishment. Unless the NPD parent can glean some attention from the child’s gift (“Oh, I have such a talented child!”), the parent will not support the talent.

Moreover, an NPD parent will make fun of the gift or belittle it to the child, making the talent, gift, or personality trait something despicable, ridiculous, and insignificant. (“But really, does anyone care about the flute? It doesn’t save lives, does it?” “Oh, so you can do math in your head? Well, can you make money from that?”)

10. She wants to one-up her daughter whenever possible

Mother Gothel presents herself as prettier and smarter than Rapunzel. She looks in the mirror and says, “When I look in the mirror, I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady…. Oh, look, you’re here, too.” She also cannot let Rapunzel’s declaration of love go without trying to do her one better.

Rapunzel: I love you.
MG: I love you MOST.

Real-life equivalent:  The unspoken rule in the household of an NPD parent is that the NPD parent is the bright shining light. Everyone else must revolve around the parent. No child would dare outshine that parent.

11. She conditions her daughter to serve her

Movie: When Mother Gothel asks Rapunzel to sing for her and then they’ll talk, she is setting conditions for Rapunzel and the exchange that needs to happen for Mother Gothel to pay attention to her. It is suggested that Mother Gothel would not listen to Rapunzel if she did not sing for her.

Mother Gothel wants what she wants FIRST.

Real-life equivalent: The children of NPD parents are conditioned, as infants, to bend their will to the will of their parents. What matters is not the child’s own needs, dreams, hopes, friendships, studies, job, lives… but the parents’. When an NPD parent asks for help, the child will jump to serve. When an NPD parent complains, the child is quick to ease the parent’s suffering. When an NPD parent expresses a desire, the child leaps at the opportunity to fulfill that desire. The child, even long into adulthood, often will not know better, will not know that they have their own person to care for, their own lives to life.

The child has been conditioned to serve and to serve quickly and to serve the NPD parent at whatever cost.

12. She gaslights her daughter

Movie: Every year on Rapunzel’s birthday, candle-lit lanterns are released by everyone in the kingdom as a symbol of hope that the missing princess would return. Rapunzel sees them from her tower, and she mentions wanting to see them to Mother Gothel. Her captor scoffs at her saying they are not lanterns at all.

Real-life equivalent:  An NPD parent plays mind games. (Here’s a deeper look at gaslighting.)

13. She puts her own needs above those of her daughter

Movie: Mother Gothel has fashionable clothes, fantastic make-up, and a life outside the tower, judging from her comings and goings. However, Rapunzel wears clothes that do not fit her and doesn’t even have shoes. She is also ridiculously skinny.

Rapunzel only has three books in her tower. She needs more art supplies (she’s run out of room on the walls). She sews a dress for her chameleon but the material is from dress. She doesn’t have any furniture. Her wardrobe is empty. Her sewing dummy doesn’t have materials.

Real-life equivalent: An NPD parent doesn’t think about the needs of his or her child. NPD parents may maintain the basics (food, shelter, and clothing) but even those may be done poorly. And the child is conditioned to not ask for anything.

14. She neglects the emotional needs of her daughter

Movie: In addition to everything else on this list, Mother Gothel is a soul-killer, for she fails to feed the natural talents and very basic emotional needs Rapunzel has. Mother Gothel is irritated by Rapunzel’s mentioning of her birthday (“I distinctly remember you had a birthday last year.”), ignores Rapunzel’s obvious exciting news when Mother Gothel comes back from getting hazelnuts for that soup, breaks into song about herself rather than focusing on Rapunzel, and abandons the conversation when it no longer suits her. (Considering they are the only two people in the tower, Mother Gothel does precious little to engage in conversation with her daughter, especially after being gone for a long time.)

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents do not build up their children. They neglect to provide the unwavering love that growing children need (or that even adult children need from their parents).  They do not support their children in their endeavors nor understand the difference between encouragement and nagging.

NPD parents do not listen to their children or allow them to express the myriad emotions that make up the human heart.

15. She attributes great meaning to small matters in her life and little meaning to great matters in her child’s

Movie: Mother Gothel makes a big deal about that hazelnut soup…. but she doesn’t care about Rapunzel’s upcoming birthday. Typical of an NPD parent, she has a distorted view of the importance of events.

Real-life equivalent: A child will seldom know what is a big deal and what isn’t a big deal in the eyes of the NPD parent.  A flicker in the child’s eyes can unhinge an NPD parent. However, anything important in a child’s life will be seen as no big deal. 

16. She abuses her daughter in secret

Movie: Mother Gothel spies on Rapunzel and Flynn in the camp, and in typical NPD fashion, she confronts her daughter in secret rather than in front of others.

Real-life equivalent: NPDs are notorious for showing their true sides to the abused child and hiding all the abuse behind a false pleasant self in front of strangers.

17. She belittles her daughter for wanting to have her own life

Movie: When Mother Gothel speaks to Rapunzel, she belittles her for asserting her independence and mocks her for assuming Rapunzel can decide what is best for herself.

Real-life equivalent: Same thing. An NPD parent cannot handle the idea, let alone the reality, of his or her child having a life that does not revolve around the parent.

18. She makes her daughter feel like no one could possibly love her

Real-life equivalent: The NPD parent will belittle those who love her child. In some cases, the parent may express bewilderment that anyone would love the child. In most cases, the NPD parent is adamant that no one will love their child. “How could anyone love a child who [fill in the blank]?” “Why would anyone love someone who is so [fill in the blank]?” “No one could ever love someone who [fill in the blank]!”

19. She kills what her daughter loves

Movie: She also takes what Rapunzel loves and attempts to ruin it. She mocks Rapunzel’s growing feelings for Flynn (“A wanted criminal? I’m so proud.”) and then sows seeds of disinterest in Rapunzel’s heart. This distrust will lead to the capture of Flynn and an impending execution.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents will destroy what a child loves or use that loved item or person as a weapon to be wielded against the child. A relationship will be poisoned by the hand of the NPD parent. A task will be tainted by the NPD parent. An item that the child loves will be “accidentally lost” by the NPD parent or withheld as punishment.

This behavior, like all those mentioned on the list, extends from the child’s early years and into the child’s adulthood.

* * *

Watching the movie “Tangled” can be exhausting or triggering for the adult child of emotional child abuse (especially abuse by an NPD parent). Even though the movie is geared towards children, however, much can be learned by those adult survivors:

  • You can escape the tower. Really. You need not be locked up forever by the parent. You’ve always had the ability to escape your enslavement. Take that opportunity now.
  • You will be conflicted once you’ve left… but it’ll be all right. Rapunzel was torn between returning to the tower and her alleged “safe” life and the freedom of life outside the castle. That conflict is normal for adult survivors of emotional child abuse.
  • You are stronger and smarter than you think. Even in captivity, Rapunzel was able to forge some talents and develop her inner strength. You may have been held emotionally captive by your NPD parent, but you can move forward. You are braver, better, stronger, smarter, kinder, and more lovable than you can possibly imagine.
  • You are worthy of love. You really are. You can be loved for who you really are… (Don’t expect that love from NPD parents, though; they can only “love” themselves). But you can be loved by good friends and the new family that you forge from friendships.

Onward.

The Mind Games of Gaslighting [Types of Emotional Child Abuse Series, Part 2]

gaslight-ingrid-bergman
Photo: John Irving, "Ingrid Bergman"
Photo: John Irving, “Ingrid Bergman”

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. In this post, we’ll explore gaslighting.

The Dark Art of Driving Someone Who Trusts You Crazy

In the 1944 film “Gaslight,” pianist Gregory Anton launches a secret campaign to drive his wife, Paula, insane—and to have people in her life also believe she is crazy. He dismantles her sanity through subtle manipulations of their home environment and little changes in the details of their conversations.

Because Gregory portrays himself as calm and reasonable when Paula grows upset at those discrepancies in her life, she assumes he is the clear-headed one of the pair. Paula then begins doubting her perception of reality and her own sanity.

Gregory’s gaslighting of Paula is slow, steady—and very subtle. No one in their household, especially the maid with whom Gregory flirts, would suspect he is slowly driving his wife insane. No one in their social sphere would ever accuse the golden-voiced, sophisticated Gregory of being insane. And because he spins stories in public about poor nutty, fragile Paula (while he keeps her isolated at home), their social circle favors him.

At home, Gregory continually hammers away at her sanity. He makes her believe she is mentally unstable and a kleptomaniac. He makes her doubt her memories, her behavior, herself. He is the worst sort of villain. He is a soul killer.

Definitions of Gaslighting

The psychological term gaslight comes from this movie. When Paula is left alone in the evenings, she sees the gaslights in her room dim for no reason, but Gregory, when told of them, tells her she is imagining such things. Throughout the movie, Gregory continually presents himself as a loving, nurturing, attractive and talented husband; Paula starts out seeming beautiful, talented, and sane, but her husband’s mind games wear away at her, so she begins to break down, even in public.

The mind games that Gregory plays are familiar to psychologists, who use the term gaslighting to explain them.

“Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity.” (Theodore L. Dorpat, “Gaslighting, the Double Whammy, Interrogation, and Other Methods of Covert Control in Psychotherapy and Analysis“)

Emotional abusive parents use gaslighting to break down their children’s perception of reality.

“Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse. It makes victims question the very instincts that they have counted on their whole lives, making them unsure of anything. Gaslighting makes it very likely that the victims will believe whatever their abusers tell them regardless as to their own experience of the situation.” (Natasha Tracy, “Gaslighting Definition, Techniques, and Being Gaslighted“)

The cruelest part of gaslighting is how it slowly erodes at the mind of the abused child.

The abusive parent makes a child question himself:

  • Did this really happen?
  • What did my parents really do?
  • What did my parents really say?
  • Did I hear them incorrectly?
  • Did I not remember that right?
  • Did I misunderstand something?
  • Was I not paying attention?
  • Why am I always getting everything all mixed-up?

To make a child rely on the memories and the telling of events from the abusive parent instead of himself is the ultimate triumph for the abusive parent.

“Gaslighting occurs when a person you trust to tell you the truth about reality, is, in fact, bending reality with lies. When this happens consistently over a period of time it causes you to question your sanity.” (Anna Valerious, Narcissists Suck)

Moreover, because the gaslighting is a slow erosion, an abusive parent often gets away with it. If an adult survivor of emotional child abuse calls the parent on such an occurrence, the abusive parent can say such things as:

  • “I don’t remember saying that.”
  • “You remembered that wrong.”
  • “You aren’t getting your facts straight.”
  • “No, I never said that.”
  • “No, I never did that.”

Because people don’t go around habitually recording their conversations, the adult survivor cannot prove that the gaslighting happens. And because the adult survivor has been conditioned by years of abuse from their parents, he or she is apt to believe the gaslighting parent rather than his or her own recollection of the event.

Examples of Gaslighting

In my conversations with adult survivors of emotional child abuse, I’ve heard myriad accounts of gaslighting. The following are a few examples.

  • A gaslighting parent makes a dinner appointment with an adult survivor at 6 p.m. at the child’s house, but then the parent does not go over until 8 p.m. When the adult survivor mentions it, the abuser says that the child said, “8 p.m.” The adult survivor says, “No, it was 6 p.m.” The abusive parent denies it and even adds the comment that the adult survivor’s memory must be going.
  • A gaslighting parent makes a cruel comment to her child. The child later mentions the comment in the hopes that the abusive parent will apologize for the comment. The gaslighting parent denies the comment was ever said, and he gets furious when the child says that it really did happen. The gaslighting parent denies it over and over again.
  • A gaslighting parent asks a child if he wants to go to the movies during the weekend. The child says she would love that. That weekend, the child mentions going to the movies. The gaslighting parent tells the child that he had said he didn’t want to go to the movies. The child says, “No, no, I said I’d like it.” The gaslighting parent says, “No, I remember you saying you didn’t.” The child cannot prove what he said.

What comes through in the recollections of the adult survivor is how the abusive parents changed details just slightly, enough to almost be right. (For example, in the third story, the parent did keep the element of asking the child about the movie and the plans for the weekend, but changed the child’s “yes” into “no.”) Also, the abusive parents will always deny the occurrence, even if told the conversation verbatim.

The adult survivor starts to feel that he is losing his mind, his ability to trust his own memory.

Are You a Victim of Gaslighting?

If you suspect you are a victim, check out the signs of gaslighting. Among the signs that psychoanalyst Robin Stern mentions are…

  • You are constantly second-guessing yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” repeatedly throughout the day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy at work.
  • You’re always apologizing to people in your life.
  • You know something is horribly wrong, but you can never express exactly what’s wrong, not even to yourself. 

If you come to the realization that you are a victim of gaslighting, first be grateful for the awakening. Though the realization is difficult, at least you now know. Then, as always, we recommend seeking a therapist or mental health professional to help you identify other signs of it and get the resources you need to start rebuilding your mental health.

In finding the right therapist, take the time to research the therapist, get to know what his or her areas of expertise are, and take time to do an initial interview to see if you two are a right fit. If not, keep searching for one; don’t give up.

Onward and upward.