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.

 

Soldiering On

[photo credit: flickr user Andre Rodrigues]

I must’ve argued with myself a dozen or so times about whether I should write this post. I loathe writing about myself.

But this post is really for you. See, I understand what a blog reader feels when he or she hasn’t seen a new post at a favorite blog for a long time. You think, “Are they all right? Is everything OK? Has the blog been abandoned? Will there be new posts?”

Many of you have emailed me such questions, and I’ve written back. But then, I thought I’d write here as well for those readers who had the same questions but did not email.

Short answer: Yes, I’m fine. No, The Invisible Scar has not stopped publication. Yes, a new post is slated for Monday, May 1.

Longer answer:  Several months ago, the company where I worked for almost a decade had a major restructure. A few of us were laid off before the holidays. It was a brutal hit, financially, emotionally, everything-ly.

It hurt.

But being the primary breadwinner of a family of six means you cannot fall apart. You get up…even if it’s slowly, if your ears are ringing from the hard hit, if you don’t want to. You put one foot in front of the other, and you get moving. You get done what needs to get done.

You pray, you cry, you hope. You look for a break of the light in the clouds and soldier on.

Soldiering on, however, is exhausting, and it left me little energy for The Invisible Scar. Despite my love for its focus and readers (I pray for you regularly), I had to put the blog on hold and focus on finding work.

Now, months later, the clouds are beginning to dissipate. My resume gleams; I’ve steady freelance work at an amazing content marketing agency; I’ve interviews lined up for full-time work.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to find peace and joy, even while soldiering on.

That’s why I’m sharing this personal story here.

If you’re a regular reader of The Invisible Scar, you know I never share about myself. The focus is you, not me. (My only personal post is about a friend’s suicide.) But I wanted to let you know that everyone goes through bad times.

Everyone gets blindsided at some point. Everyone gets hit hard emotionally and loses their breath. Everyone has suffered. Everyone has really terrible events happen—sometimes, even in succession. You might not think so because people often smile through pain, they joke through tears, they hide their hurts.

But it’s human to get hurt. And it’s also very human to have hope.

So, if you’re going through a really bad time, please know that you’re not alone. Soldier on. Don’t look at the whole path. Focus on this moment, right now, and put one foot in front of the other. Pause but never, ever, ever, ever quit moving forward.

Onward and upward, friends.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse averonicajarski-profilepic-smallnd 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.

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.

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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

Party of One: How to Stand Strong in the Truth When No One Believes You

150915-stand-strong-in-the-truthAfter you’ve awakened to the truth that you were emotionally abused as a child (and perhaps continue to be as an adult child), you will definitely encounter some hard-core resistance from some disbelieving people. These people either have known you as a child and believe the image of a happy family that your parents propagated; are enmeshed in relationships, whether as relatives or friends, with your parents; are in denial of their own abusive pasts or are in similar abusive relationships; or are not sufficiently emotionally mature or loving to be a good friend during your awakening and subsequent healing journey.

Those people will often try to coax you back into a state of slumber. Your emotional awakening is too messy for them to handle. They want you to stay in your box, under your label, not bustling out in passion and growth, but confined to the definitions of others.

In wanting you to stay in your designated area, your disbelievers will try to make you disbelieve yourself. “Were you really abused? Are you sure you weren’t being too sensitive? Oh, but you know your parents love you…. You didn’t take any of that seriously, did you? Oh, emotional abuse, really? That never happened to you.”

And because you really wish you weren’t emotionally abused as a child (because, honestly, that realization hurts like hell), you may try to talk yourself out of your awakening. Like the character Cypher in the movie The Matrix said after taking the red pill that showed him the truth instead of the blue one that kept him believing lies, you may think, “Why, oh, why, didn’t I take the blue pill?”

I already addressed the disbelievers’ and doubters’ arguments in another article, so let’s tackle the most important person in the awakening: you. You have to stay awake and remember your story. You are the one who needs to speak the truth, to be honest with yourself, to live in the truth.

Here are some tips for staying awake in the truth, especially in the face of heavy opposition.

Keep a journal of the facts

As you awaken, you’ll have so many memories running through your mind. Write them down. That time when your mother insulted you in front of all your friends? Write it down. That time when you could have sworn your father promised to help you do something and then he gaslit you and went back on his word? Put it on paper. What about the time that you got your hopes all up about spending some quality time with your parent and then s/he ditched you and made fun of you for having your feelings hurt by it? Record it.

Being the adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you’ll feel strange about recording those moments. You’ve been conditioned to let the abuse pass over you, to not flinch at all the slings and arrows thrown your way. You’ve been taught that it’s really not a freaking big deal, hello, don’t be so sensitive.

And though it’s true that sometimes people hurt each other’s feelings—and yes, people can be mean sometimes—the abused child’s experiences are so much more than just a few rare times. Emotional abuse is systematic.

By writing down what happened to you as the memories arise, you’ll have documentation of what happened, and you’ll have proof for yourself that you did not “imagine” your parents to be abusive; they really are abusive.

For example, reading one random diary entry of someone calling you a fat, horrendous pig may not deeply affect you; reading countless entries of being insulted will show you how devastating and long-term the abuse was. 

If you’re not the “writing it down” type, you can record yourself on video, sketch scenes from our childhood, or even do audio recordings of your memories.

Please note that this journal can be an enormously helpful tool to take to your therapist and make sense of the emotional minefield of your childhood. You’re not writing this all down to perpetually re-live the past or get caught up in obsessive thinking. No, this journal is to help you navigate through the early stages of your awakening.

Bonus: When you have the urge to run back to your abusive parents and accept them in your life without even seeing any significant and lost-lasting change in your life, you’ll have something to read that’ll smack (figuratively) some sense into you.

Find a support group—online or offline—that works for you

Feeling alone in your story? Consider finding online support. Make sure the forum or website is moderated and positive rather than a morass of bitterness, hate, and revenge.

A good place to start for adult children of narcissists (ACoNs) is the Web of Narcissism. The über-helpful Out of the FOG website also has a forum to help its readers. Also, Psych Central has online support groups that can offer understanding and comfort amid the chaos.

Talk to a trusted friend who believes you

You may have a friend who always has your back and who isn’t emotionally bound to your abusive parent(s). Make time to spend time with this friend. You won’t necessarily want to place all our burdens on this friend (that’s what a therapist is for), but you can share some of your thoughts and just rest in the comfort of a friend who has your back

If you want to take a practical approach to finding out who to talk to (or who you’d like to talk to), check out this Support System worksheet (PDF) from psychotherapist and Psychology Today therapist Will Baum.

(A reminder: If you’ve not a friend who you can count on, do not despair. You can share your story on the aforementioned support groups or forums. Perhaps you can also find some comfort here at The Invisible Scar in knowing you are not alone.)

Revisit past documentation

You remember being 10 years old and knowing your parents took your pet and dropped it off in the woods as a punishment for your low grade… but now, as an adult, you mention the incident to your parents, and they deny it. Or you recall being 13 and having your parents forget it was your birthday… and again, they deny it. Maybe you remember your father calling you a piece-of-shit-ingrate because you didn’t clean your room…. and your father denies it.

Are you going crazy? Are you erroneously remembering everything?

Here’s what you can do to get your bearings:

  • Ask an old friend whether s/he remembers the incident. Sometimes, the incident was so strange or your reaction was so sad or emotional that your friend will remember the incident just as you shared it years ago
  • Bring it up to your parent(s) again… but don’t try to convince the abusive parent that it happened. Instead, listen to how the parent replies. Are they diverting your attention from true incident? Projecting blame on you? Belittling you? A truly loving and caring parent will either apologize for hurting his/her child or try to really get the details of what happened rather than sweep it under the rug.
  • Check your old diaries and journals. If you kept journals or diaries, you will find a goldmine of evidence that you did not imagine all the shit that happened to you. The details will be there for you to look at. Because you were abused, you may have written the entries with excuses for your parents’ behavior or berating yourself for being sensitive, but the incident will be recorded.

Attend therapy regularly

Yes, I do go on about the importance of good therapy a lot on The Invisible Scar. That’s because I’ve seen the enormous strides that adult children of emotional abuse have made in their healing process when they attend therapy—especially when compared to those adult survivors who do not.

Therapy is not the solution to everything, but it is a critical and essential component to one’s healing from emotional child abuse.

Some readers have written me emails telling me about just how grateful and life-changing attending therapy regularly was. (Hooray!) One or two readers have written telling me that they didn’t get much out of it. To them, I suggest finding a new therapist or a new approach. Sometimes, the fit isn’t the right one, whether conscious (you cannot feel comfortable with the therapist) or subconscious (the therapist’s pointy nose reminds you of your mother). But if therapy isn’t working, find a way to make it work for you. Don’t be afraid to get a new therapist.

Onward and upward.

(photo credit: flickr user aya padrón)


Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, Loyola Press, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.

Fear and Guilt Will Keep You in an Abusive Relationship If You Let Them

[via flickr user ajari]

[via flickr user ajari]

You’ve long suspected something is not quite normal about your relationship with your parents. Perhaps you even sought answers and read about the signs of emotional child abuse.

Now, you have come to the hard, cold realization that you’ve been emotionally abused as a childand that the abuse has extended into your adulthood.

So, what do you do now?

Your First Few Steps Towards Healing

First, you need some emotional breathing room to just grasp the reality of what has been happening. That means to take a break from interacting with your abusive parents. (Whether the break is permanent or temporary isn’t the focus right now.)

The focus is you—your coming to grips with your past abuse and present situation, your attempts to reconcile what you thought was real and what actually is, your desire to get a clear view of your life, your younger self finally feeling relief at being heard.

You need to breathe deeply. Think. Find a therapist. Pray. Think some more. Research.

Your abusers will not want you to think freely. They want your thinking to be only what they want you to think. Like Big Brother in George Orwell’s classic novel Ninety-Eighty-Four, your abusive parents do not want—nor will they tolerate—your thinking critically about them or your thinking well of yourself.

But don’t give up on yourself!  You need this time. If you want, tell your parents that you need some time to think about your relationship. Loving parents will understand and/or pray and hope for you. Abusive parents will go bat-shit crazy with fear of losing you or just freeze you out.

But don’t be afraid in giving yourself thinking time. Here’s why:

“Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy your self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression, and make you feel helpless and alone. No one should have to endure this kind of pain—and your first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, then you can get the help you need.” (Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D, HelpGuide article)

What Creating Space Really Means

Creating breathing and thinking space for yourself means you have moved yourself up from being the lowest person on your own totem pole to the one in a higher position. It means making yourself a priority. It means putting your parents in their appropriate place on your totem pole.

Unfortunately, adult survivors have a hard time in setting such boundaries. Most adult survivors of emotional child abuse have been conditioned by their parents to habitually…

  • Jump up to answer their calls immediately
  • Answer their emails instantly
  • Drop everything to help them with non-emergencies (that the parents erroneously label “emergencies”)
  • Be completely available at every second of your day via text
  • Rearrange your work schedule to suit them
  • Organize your family schedule to accommodate your abusive parents’ demands
  • Plan your meetings with friends/co-workers/spouses/children around your abusive parents’ schedules
  • Report everything you do, think, or feel to them
  • Seek their constant approval by going through hoops
  • Act, dress, feel, think, and be in the ways approved by the abusive parents

In a healthy parent-child relationship, the parent and adult children respect one another’s boundaries and the fact that the parent and adult child have their own separate identity and life. Parent and adult help one another sometimes. But in an abusive parent-child relationship, the parent demands to be the center of the adult child’s world, eclipsing the adult child’s own needs, friendships, relationships, work, well-being, everything.

Should You Tell Your Abusive Parents That You’ve Been Abused by Them and Need Time to Think?

That depends. Dr. Jonice Webb, author of Running on Empty: Overcoming Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, offers advice that applies to adult survivors of emotional child abuse:

“Make the decision about whether to talk to your parents about CEN [childhood emotional neglect] based solely upon your own needs. If you think it may strengthen you or make you feel better to talk with them, then do it. If not, then do not. You are not obligated to take your parent’s needs and preferences into account. On this, it’s all about you.” (Dr. Jonice Webb,How to Deal With Your Emotionally Neglectful Parents“)

For now, you can just tell them that you need some space to think. You don’t need to give them a deadline for your thinking to end or healing to being nor give them updates. It’s all right to breathe and search for healing and answers.

Even if doing so feels scary.

Fear and Guilt Will Hound You at First (But Not Forever)

Breaking out of an abusive relationship—especially a parent-child one—is very, very hard at first. It’s stepping out into the unknown.

Because an adult survivor of emotional child abuse has been conditioned to stay in his/her cage, the survivor will feel a hurricane of emotions. There will be heart-pounding panic, a sense of impending disaster, an almost overwhelming sense of loss, depression, and just the conditioned response that the adult survivor is going to catch absolute hell for acting against his or her parent.

Fear

The adult survivor may experience panic attacks and myriad symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A person thinking about leaving an abusive relationship or actually leaving one may feel gripped by…

  • Fear of “getting in trouble”
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of retribution
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of being a disappointment
  • Fear of people thinking badly of you
  • Fear of not “fitting in”
  • Fear of losing friends
  • Fear of not being believed

Some of those fears may happen, but they will not crush you. Some may never take place. Either way, the fears should not keep you in your abusive relationship.

We’re telling you this not as excuses or reasons to not leave an abusive relationship, but to let you know that all those suffocatingly awful feelings you’re experiencing are normal for an adult survivor of emotional child abuse getting out of the abusive relationship. Those emotions are common and understandable.

And those emotions will not always be as huge and dark and overwhelming as they seem in the beginning. They’ll seem as vicious as monsters at first, but through therapy and prayer and time and reading, you’ll see those feelings become smaller and more manageable. And sometimes, a few of those terrible feelings disappear in the light and brightness of an emotionally healthier life.

False Guilt

You very well may lose friends and relatives and your social circles and your assigned place in family interactions when you decide to break out of the abusive parent-child relationship. People might give you absolute hell for how you are treating your outwardly-appearing-good parents because those people do not know the truth about your parents.

And in facing such opposition, you may begin questioning what really happened, gloss over facts, bury some unhealthy emotions, and jump right back into the abusive relationship—all out of guilt and fear.

That guilt, however, is not true guilt from doing something wrong and having our well-formed conscience tells us we need to ask for forgiveness and remedy the situation. This type of guilt is very different, according to psychologist and author Dr. Gregory L. Jantz. This guilt is how emotionally abused adults make false sense of what happened to them: “The reason given for the abuse varies: you are bad, stupid, ugly, or wanted, or you are the wrong sex, the wrong age, or the wrong whatever. You are guilty of causing the abuse.”

“The guilt you are feeling is not true guilt. True guilt is brought on by a realistic understanding of your behavior and its consequences to yourself and others. False guilt is an oppressive burden that is not based on reality but on the warped views, ideas, and attitudes of others. Emotional abuse transfers those warped views onto you, and those warped views produce mind-numbing, action-paralyzing shame.” (Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse)

But you need to face those fears so that you can become emotionally healthy.

“Emotional abuse leads to intense feelings of anger, rage, resentment and bitterness. Submerged feelings of guilt and fear of your abuser can lead you to choose a safer target for your anger that your abuser. All too often that target is you. Unspent anger continually works inside the body using up energy, causing feelings of fatigue and apathy.” (Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse)

You’ll need to tackle the reality of what happened, which means getting out of your current “comfort zone.”

But you know what? It really, really, really wasn’t working well for you in the first place. That “comfort zone” you were in with your abusive parent(s) wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t safe. It was “known,” which has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with habit and brainwashing and conditioning.

The reality is that if those fears are actualized, you’ll still be a thousand times off better than when you were in your abusive relationship.

Because you’re walking in the truth now. And in doing so, you’re walking away from the shadows and into a healthier present and even healthier future.

Onward.

[via flickr user Henry Liriani]

[via flickr user Henry Liriani]


Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, Loyola Press, MarketingProfs, and Ragan.

How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t

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If you are an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you probably have a hard time differentiating the “safe” people in your life from ones that are crazy-makers or harmful to your well-being.

In fact, you may not even grasp the concept of “safe people.”

That’s not your fault.

Raised by toxic people, you weren’t taught the vital skills of setting boundaries with people nor of discerning “safe people” from harmful ones. And in lacking those skills, you probably ended up in painful relationships, wondering how you’ve chosen yet again someone who has let you down, criticized you continually, or used you.

“Our blindness to who is good to us and who isn’t can cause tragedies like depression, compulsive behaviors, marriage conflicts, and work problems.” (Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend)

I’ve received emails from The Invisible Scar readers lamenting this “curse” or supposed “destiny of failed relationships.”

But you are not cursed, not destined for poor, unhealthy relationships. You just haven’t acquired the skill set to choose “safe people” or identify the unsafe ones nor looked deep into your past to find the common factors linking your relationships together. You haven’t acquired the skills yet.

The good news: You can learn these skills. You can break the cycle of painful relationships.

Put This Book on the Top of Your To-Be Read Pile

I strongly recommend the book Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend for adult survivors of emotional child abuse.safe-people

The book takes the reader on a journey from identifying unsafe people and harmful behavioral patterns to understanding one’s need for safe people and how to find them.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Unsafe people | Who they are, 20 identifying traits
  • Do I Attract Unsafe People? | Get to the origin of your problem and find out how to repair the issue.
  • Safe People | Who they are, why you need them, how to meet and relate to safe people

Each chapter briefly offers a real-life example of character-discernment issues, questions to help the reader dig deep inside him/herself to get to the heart of the issue, and well-grounded advice. (Note: The authors are Protestants, and the book is packed with Scripture verses and the authors’ beliefs. That said, non-Christians need not be put off by this angle, for the real-world advice is solid and comes from a psychologically sound place.)

Moreover, the advice in the book is very clear about people’s very natural and healthy need for one another. This might be shocking to adult survivors who—after enduring myriad painful relationships—decide to isolate themselves or vow from close relationships so that they can avoid being emotionally hurt.

“Many of you have tried again and again to connect with safe people, only to find pain and failure,” Drs. Cloud and Townsend recognize. “And now you’ve simply given up. You’ve stopped the attempt and the search.”

But don’t give up. An emotionally healthy relationship is worth fighting for.

The Natural Need for Relationships

“Our most basic and primary need is to be loved by God and people,” the authors suggest. “We can put that need off, we can meet it in crazy ways, and we can try not to feel it, but it’s a spiritual reality.”

Often, people will say that they are done with relationships or that they will just cut themselves off from people and focus solely on God. They say they are “strong enough” or “self-sufficient enough” to go through this life without close relationships. But that’s not being strong or self-sufficient.

We are social beings. We are made for community.

The Safe People book—for all its advice regarding awareness of unsafe people—is also a guide for the present, a book of hope for better and healthier relationships to come.

Do not despair about past relationships. Read Safe People to understand why you chose those types of toxic people and how you can stop doing so.

Edited to add:

If you find it difficult or triggering to read this book due to its Evangelical slant (for the sad reality is that sometimes abusive parents distort religion—of any kindto wield it against their children), you may enjoy these articles as a springboard for thinking about healthy relationships:

Onward to healing and an emotionally healthier life.

* The author of this article didn’t receive any monetary compensation for this review.

[photo credit]

Speaking the Truth Even If Your Voice Shakes (It Won’t Always)

redbird

I’ve been publishing posts at The Invisible Scar since April 2013, and from that moment, I’ve been the unwilling recipient of numerous unwanted Facebook posts, texts, emails, and voice mails from families and their friends.

The underlying theme to all that communication has been that I am wrong to even discuss emotional child abuse, that emotional child abuse doesn’t exist, that blood relations are more important than anything else in the world, and that an adult child has an unbreakable duty to remain subservient and obedient to parents—even if those parents are toxic to the adult child’s emotional and spiritual well-being.

None of the emails, voice mails, texts, and messages ever addressed specifics about the past or what constitutes emotional child abuse nor even attempted to find out the truth of certain situations. All those forms of communication were steeped in the viewpoint, emotions, and vitriol of people with highly emotional, skewered concepts of what may or may not have happened in my life…

I’ve not returned any messages, for I won’t throw my pearls before swine.

Why I am addressing this issue at The Invisible Scar, however, is to let readers know that speaking the truth does not mean that people will believe the truth… but that never changes the fact that you are in the light, in the truth.

speak-the-truth

Emotional child abuse does exist.

Emotional child abuse MUST be discussed to raise awareness of its existence.

Emotional child abuse is systematic and over a long period of time. It is also very hard for outsiders to detect it. It’s not something that an outsider will be able to see on a yearly visit to your childhood home or during Sunday dinners with your biological family or on the sidelines of a game. 

When you begin to awaken to realize what has happened—what the child you were had to deny for the sake of surviving the brutality and coldness of an emotionally abusive childhood—you will encounter resistance from people who want to keep you in your numbed state, people who, for whatever reason, benefit from your silence, from your acceptance of the behavior.

Reasons why people may not believe the truth have been covered in the post Prepare Yourself for Backlash When Going No Contact.  What’s important to remember, however, is that YOU, the adult survivor of emotional child abuse, know what happened better than anyone else.

Your parents will not help you uncover the truth… they’ve wanted you silent and complacent your entire life.

Your parents’ friends will not help you… they want you to continue being what they thought you were so that your parents can remain the people they think they are.

Even your friends from childhood may not believe you… they want the past to remain the same as it has always been, without the light and the wisdom of an adult you shedding awareness on the situation.

So, don’t force it. Don’t try and make those people—people who will not listen or who are heavily biased—understand you. They won’t.

Instead, I urge readers to let themselves awaken to what has happened because they can then start building a new and authentic life. By knowing what has happened, you can live a live that does not allow for more abuse in it… and you are less apt to repeat that abuse in your other relationships.

You will have a hard road, but one that is worth the peace of living a life that is true.

And you will have a new family in friendships that are built on the truth.

Do Something You Love in the New Year

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[via]

Survivors of emotional child abuse who awaken to the reality of their past often talk about “finding out who I really am” and “becoming who I was meant to become.” It’s in that spirit, that I urge survivors of emotional child abuse to come up with a resolution this year to do something (healthy and legal, of course) that will make you happy—even if there’s no practical application to it.

Loved to draw as a child but were told you were awful? Ignore the voices of the past. Be the voice of the present... and draw!

Longed to go back to college and get your degree in anthropology or Russian literature? Find a way to do it.

Want to help train dogs for the blind? Make it so.

Have always wanted to collect seashells and create art with them? Do it.

Amid all the resolutions people make of what not to do or what they need to do, we should take some time to do something fun and sweet, something that makes our hearts happy.

Give yourself permission, in this new year (and beyond), to find something from your children that still delights you—or take an idea from your “someday” list—and do it this year.

Feel free to share some ideas of what you will be doing this year in the combox. Your idea may inspire another person!

Ending the Toxic Relationship and Giving Yourself Time and Space to Find Yourself

photo credit: AmyJanelle

Some relationships are deeply damaging and unhealthy for the people within the relationship. Unlike healthy relationships, which have peaks and lows, which have struggles now and then, a toxic relationship is poison to the people involved.

But what happens if the toxic relationship is within the family sphere?

Imagine your daughter telling you that every time she was with her boyfriend, he insulted her, gaslit her, made her feel small and insignificant, mocked her interests, tried to change her personality, deprived her of what she loved, cut her off when she was speaking, demanded her to always agree with him, ignored her when she differed in opinion, expected only adoration, and left her feeling stressed-out, sick to her stomach, and emotionally wounded.

Would you tell that daughter to continue seeing that boyfriend?

No. Absolutely not. No one would. However, what if the people involved was a friend telling you about an abusive parent? Myriad people would say, “But it’s family. It’s blood.” And if the family is involved in a religion, the religion will also be used as an excuse. “But it’s family. But they’re [insert religion].”

The excuse of “being blood” or “being family” is no excuse. People should expect more from their family members—not less. Families should be safe havens for the people within them, a shelter of love, hope, support, and affection in a vast world.

However, many emotionally abused children (and adult children caught in the cycle of emotional child abuse far into adulthood) do not have such birth families.

When Is a Relationship Toxic?

A toxic relationship is not limited to abusive boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses. A toxic relationship sometimes exists in the biological family as well. But when do people step over the line of “family being family” and  into “a toxic relationship”?

In Sherrie Bourg Carter’s article, Toxic Relationships: A Health Hazard, Carter offers six questions to help gauge whether a relationship is toxic:

  1. When you’re with [the person], do you usually feel content, even energized? Or do you often feel unfulfilled and drained?
  2. After you spend time with him/her, do you usually feel better or worse about yourself?
  3. Do you feel physically and/or emotionally safe with this person, or do you feel threatened or in danger?
  4. Is there a fairly equal “give and take” in the relationship? Or do you feel like you’re always giving and he/she is always taking?
  5. Is the relationship characterized by feelings of security and contentment, or drama and angst?
  6. Do you feel like he/she is happy with who you are? Or do you feel like you have to change to make him/her happy?

Unlike healthy relationships—which inspire happy, contented feelings with only flashes of “normal” disagreements—a toxic relationship is the inversion of that definition. A toxic relationship mostly summons exhaustion, hurt and blue feelings with only flashes (if any) of happiness.

(To better understand whether your relationship is unhealthy, please talk to a mental health practitioner.)

You Don’t Want to Be Abused Anymore… So Now What?

If you awaken to the truth that you’re in a toxic relationship, what can you do? Because this site focuses on emotional child abuse and adult survivors of emotional child abuse, let’s focus on the answers in that light.

photo credit: Todd Klassy

Build boundaries

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse  needs to understand that a boundary has been crossed. Somewhere in the timeline of the parent/child relationship, the child’s boundaries were crossed and violated. In some extreme cases of emotional child abuse, boundaries were not allowed to be established.

The adult survivor has to establish a boundary, which “defines what is me and what is not me”( from the Boundaries book).

“A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.” (Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life, pg. 38)

The adult survivor of emotional child abuse will need to learn to reclaim what belongs to him—time, space, emotions, a voice. The only way for the adult survivor to establish that is to take a break from the relationship with his parent. (Note: Only the adult survivor can determine whether the break should be permanent or temporary.)

“Adult children who have never spiritually and emotionally separated from their parents often need time away. They have spent their whole lives ’embracing and keeping’ [Eccl. 3:5-6] and have been afraid to refrain from embracing and to throw away some of their outgrown ways of relating. They need to spend some time building boundaries against the old ways and creating new ways of relating that for a while may feel alienating to their parents.” (Boundaries, page 38)

For example, a grown son who has been trained to call his father every day may decide to limit the call to once a week or once every two weeks. Or a daughter who has been trained to tell her mother all the details of all her relationships, including her husband, will no longer share all the details of everything for the sake of her privacy, her friends’ privacy, and establishing separate relationships from her mother.

Learn to say no, learn to take back your life

An emotionally abused adult child will not realize the power in the word No. They have spent most of their life saying Yes to the abusive parents… or if the adult child ever said No, the adult child was punished with the silent treatment or verbal abuse for speaking out and therefore has learned that saying No hurts.

But saying No is liberating.

“The most basic boundary-setting word is no. It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of you. Being clear about your no—and your yes—is a theme that runs throughout the Bible (Matt. 5:37; James 5:12).

“People with poor boundaries struggle with saying no to the control, pressure, demands, and sometimes the real needs of others. They feel that if they no to someone, they will endanger their relationship with that person, so they passively comply but inwardly resent. Sometimes, a person is pressuring you to do something; other times, the pressure comes from your own sense of what you ‘should’ do. If you cannot say no to this external or internal pressure, you have lost control of your property and are not enjoying the ‘fruit of self control.'” (Boundaries)

Get help

At The Invisible Scar, we cannot stress enough the need for an adult survivor of emotional child abuse to find professional help, whether from a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or minister. Just make sure to interview the professional first, so you know the therapist’s bias, whether you two are a good fit, etc.

Help can also come in the form of knowledge. Read books about emotional child abuse, read about healthy relationships, etc.

Find support in other people

Turn to good, healthy supportive friends during this boundary-setting time.

During the painful first stage of realizing the truth of the abusive relationship, you will need strong, good, caring friends who believe you, who understand your need for healing, and who will love you. People are social beings, and we need to surround ourselves with good, loving folks.

Don’t immediately run back

Once you’ve begun establishing your boundaries, the abusive parent may react by:  increasing the abuse, ignoring you completely, or changing immediately.

For now, let’s look at the last one: changing immediately.

Long-lasting change does not happen immediately. How many cases have been shown on the news of people in toxic relationship who returned to their abusers when they thought it was safe? They often ran back as soon as the abuser expressed an “I’m sorry.”

Inward change does not happen so quickly.

“Many people are too quick to trust someone in the name of forgiveness and not make sure that the other is producing ‘fruit in keeping with repentance.’ To continue  to open yourself up emotionally to an abusive or addicted person without seeing true change is foolish.

“You should not continue to set yourself up for hurt and disappointment. If you have been in an abusive relationship, you should wait until it is safe and until real patterns of change have been demonstrated before you go back.

When Your New Boundaries Are Constantly Violated

When faced with adult children who are establishing long-needed boundaries, some emotionally abusive parents will refuse to acknowledge any hurt or damage that they caused, negate responsibility within the relationship, and in some cases either escalate the abuse or cut the adult child out of their lives until the adult child returns to the long-established patterns of behavior.

“There are truly some parents who are too toxic and are what I call the “untreatables.” If someone is abusive and cruel and continues to be without remorse or empathy, it cannot be healthy for anyone to be around that person. That’s OK and important to know.” (Karyl McBride, Psychology Today)

In such extreme cases, the adult child may choose to go “no contact.”

“Going No Contact  (NC) is not necessarily a decision to stop loving the person. It is a decision to stop struggling with them and let them be who they are going to be while not letting their behavior hurt you any more.” (Out of the FOG website)

That point merits repeating. In myriad cases, an adult child who goes NC with a parent is choosing to do so to protect himself, protect his self-esteem and guard his self-worth. (In rare cases, adult children may willingly go NC to hurt their parents over trivial matters, but this website concerns itself with adults who have been emotionally abused by their parents and thus have good reasons for considering NC.)

In most cases of NC, the abusive parent has repeatedly shown himself to be neither remorseful nor willing to change or acknowledge their destructive behavior. The adult child, for sake of emotional survival, cannot have contact with the abusive, toxic parent.

Advice regarding how to go NC can be found at the following pages: Going NC, How to Go No Contact, and No Contact 101.

Benefits of Going NC or LC (Low Contact)

Why go NC? Aside from no longer putting himself in the path of constant maltreatment, the adult child of an emotionally abusive parent will enjoy:

  • A sense of peace (All the jitters of constantly expecting an emotional ambush will be gone.)
  • A sense of empowerment (For the first time, the adult child is speaking up in self-defense and protecting himself.)
  • A sense of being a real grown-up (and no longer having your life dictated by your parents)
  • Freedom (to make adult choices)
  • Holidays that you can enjoy (without the drama, the demands, the painful interactions)
  • A sense of being more you
  • A better use of time (in doing what the adult child wants, needs, or plans to do—rather than the abusive parent’s plans
  • Growing more comfortable in your skin
  • Discovering new facets of their personality that were buried beneath the abuse
  • New fulfilling relationships with emotionally healthy people
  • A sense of wonder in discovering new things that the abusive parent had disallowed
  • Joy in being untethered and a true grown up
  • A voice that speaks the truth
  • A voice that says what he doesn’t like, what he does like, what hurts him, what gives him joy—all without fear of repercussions
  • A better view of the world (and less feeling like the world is going to ambush you with its demands, pains, and abuse)

Some of those benefits will come immediately from putting a halt to the abuse. Other benefits, such as finding one’s voice, may take time and therapy…. People who come out of deeply emotionally abusive relationships often have a form of PSTD (post-traumatic stress disorder), so the movement from feeling abused to feeling happy will take time, patience, and support.

Keep Your Ground

An adult child of emotionally abusive parents who has finally set up boundaries is disrupting the landscape of the adult parents’ lives. Depending on the abusive parents’ personalities, they will react in some or all these ways: The abusive parents will try to manipulate the adult child back to the fold, play the “we’re old” card, use friends and other family members to get the adult child back into the appointed role, threaten the adult child with outrageous statements, smear the adult child’s reputation, spread gossip about the adult child to explain the adult child’s “sudden disappearance” in the parents’ lives, ignore the child as “punishment” for setting boundaries, send siblings as flying monkeys to badger the adult child back, use the “grandchildren miss me so much” card, send abusive cards, leave cruel messages, etc.

That all will distress the adult child… but, in the end, all that matters is that the adult child protects his heart and guard the treasure that God made him to be (rather than serve in the image that the adult parent attempted to make him).

True friends will listen to your story and believe you. True therapists will help you in your new life as a “real grown-up” freed from the clutches of the abusive parent.

Keep your ground. And remember the following C.S. Lewis quote:

photo credit: unknown

photo credit: unknown


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.