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

surviving emotional child abuse

Photo by luizclas from Pexels

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

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

Stop.

Stop badgering yourself right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is a HUGE accomplishment, my friends.

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

You can get better. You will get better.

Keep moving forward and head out of the swampland.

You got this.

 


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

17 Excuses People Give to Avoid Going to Talk Therapy (and Why They Should Really Rethink Them)

[photo credit: flickr user Jack Lyons]

If you’ve been reading the Invisible Scar articles for some time, you know that we are proponents of therapy. We don’t espouse a specific psychological approach nor do we care whether you choose a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor.

We do care about Invisible Scar readers, though, and so we repeat (often) the phrase please seek professional counseling.

Professional counseling is crucial for an adult survivor of emotional child abuse.

Yes, you can read books about emotional child abuse and healing (we highly recommend doing so), but you’re going to reach a point where you need to vent, to cry your heart out, to shout and rage in a safe environment, and to have someone there who can help you figure out how to navigate through the hurt and towards healing.

But you will find it almost impossible to do that solely on your own because you were raised by people who didn’t teach you those skills and who kept you in emotional captivity.

That is not your fault.

That is not your fault.

Once more: That is not your fault.

You didn’t choose to be abused as a child… but now, as an adult, you get to choose to get professional help and to learn new skills and behaviors needed for an emotionally healthy life.

Reasons, Excuses, and Misconceptions About Talk Therapy

Every day, we receive emails—some short as telegrams; others, sprawling tomes. Some readers seek very specific answers to their very specific questions, and we always urge those senders (and our readers) to seek professional help.

Judging by some of the responses to our recommendation of professional counseling, we thought to write a post tackling the different reasons/excuses/misconceptions people have regarding therapy.

1. I don’t know a good therapist and wouldn’t know where to get one

A few good places to start looking for a therapist are…

You can also ask your friends for recommendations, check out the blogs of your local therapists, etc.

Remember that you are not signing an agreement in blood and promising your firstborn to the mental health professional.

In other words, you can interview a few therapists until you find the one that connects with you. And you can always choose a new one later down the road.

2. A good therapist costs too much money

The fees associated with going to therapy are often high, but you can try the following options.

  • Some therapists use a sliding scale that depends on their clients’ income.
  • You can see whether your workplace offers free counseling or your insurance pays for it.
  • Local charities and churches often also have therapists who use their skills as a ministry. (Do check to see whether the church counselor has proper training, certification, and an understanding of emotional child abuse. Sometimes, a church “counselor” is only a sympathetic ear only. The intention might come from a good place, but you’ll want professional help and not one with a bias towards reunification with the biological parents.)

For more ideas about affordable therapy, check out the very helpful “How to Find Someone to Talk to When You Can’t Afford It” article at Lifehacker.

3. I don’t need a therapist

Are you the adult survivor of emotional child abuse? The effects of childhood abuse on adults are…

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Cognitive distortions (e.g., “highly fearful and overestimate danger and adversity in your current environment”)
  • Emotional distress (e.g., depression, anxiety, and anger)
  • Anxiety, disorders, panic disorders, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive order
  • Chronic irritability, rage, and difficulties expressing anger constructively
  • Impaired sense of self
  • Avoidance (e.g., disassociation, amnesia for abuse-related events)
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Physical health problems

In reading that list, you may relate to some effects and know you need help. Perhaps something within you is whispering (or perhaps even shouting) that you need to find some sort of livable peace, some direction, some guidance in your journey.

You didn’t just stumble onto The Invisible Scar for no reason. Something or someone brought you here.

Moreover, if you’ve found yourself wanting to share your story in the comments or via the contact form, you clearly do want someone to hear your story, to validate what you’ve endured, to make you feel not so crazy and lost and hurt by what has happened and to feel hopeful for the future.

You may long for that personal touch, that face-to-face interaction, and that’s all very normal and healthy and, if anything, a good sign that you want to heal.

4. All I need is [____________]

The healing journey often requires more than just one tool in your toolbox. Adult survivors need a variety of coping skills and healing approaches to help them grow as a person.

For example, an adult survivor will need to learn to identify different emotions (because s/he was taught that only a couple were permissible), how to vocalize his/her feelings and thoughts without fear of being reprimanded, how to identify “safe” people for relationships, how to avoid repeating behaviors that abusive parents may have taught them, how to conquer the little critic deep within them, how to carry the weight of an abusive childhood—you get the point. An adult survivor needs to figure all this out.

Without a guide, be it a counselor or psychiatrist, an adult survivor might overreach by trying to learn everything at once and expecting immediate results. Or not understand how to navigate through that morass of behaviors.

It’s a lot to take in. Professional counseling can help.

5. I don’t want to complain

Complaining is “expressing dissatisfaction or annoyance about a state of affairs or event” or “expressing a grievance,” according to Merriam-Webster.

So, what’s so wrong about complaining? Why wouldn’t an adult survivor complain about the state of affairs? The adult survivor has been abused throughout his/her childhood and is now trying to make sense of it all. Of course grievances will be stated.

Now, chronic complaining sucks the life out of you (and those who have to listen to it constantly).  Chronic complaining means you’re only seeing the negative in the world and calling dark clouds of gloom over people who are in contact with you.  Being a complainer is not something that is quirky or just a personality trait; it can be changed.

But complaining (in moderation) to your mental health practitioner can be a good thing. You need to find a safe place for your venting, and in time, learn to cope with the subject of your vents and the skills to be less complaining.

6. I don’t have time

Sure you do!

If you have time to watch something on TV, read a book, meet a friend, play an instrument, go out to dinner, etc., you have time to go to therapy.

You just need to make it a priority. You need to make your emotional well-being a priority.

Adult survivors, as children, always focused first on their parents—meeting their parents’ emotional needs, catering to their parents’ whims, obeying every single mandate without question, always thinking about their parents first.

No more. Adult survivors need to place their own well-being now far high on their list of priorities. They are so worth it.

You are worth it.

7. I’d feel guilty talking about other people

You’ll be talking to one person, a licensed mental health professional, about them, and this person won’t be able to dish about what you’ve said. You’re not spreading discontent, gossip, or slander in your social circle or neighborhood. This isn’t about them.

Moreover, you’re really talking about yourself.

About your story.

About what happened to you.

About how you handled (or didn’t handle or internalized) situations and life-changing events.

About how you see relationships.

About your worth or sense of worthlessness.

The sessions will be not just about other people but about you. And that’s the focus for your therapy: your emotional well-being.

You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings during your session nor will you break any rule about gossiping. In a safe environment, with the right mental health professional, you can talk about others without fear or repercussions.

8. Only weak people go to therapy

You have been, in a sense, weakened or at least deprived of essential skills and peace of mind by enduring an abusive childhood. That’s not your fault. It’s like blaming someone for being born without a limb; you just had no say in that.

Now that you know that, you have every right (and even, in a sense, an obligation to yourself) to get fitted with the skills and peace of mind to live a healthy happy life.

Virtually anybody can benefit from these services, and they are not limited to any stereotype. You name it—presidents, celebrities, macho men, kindly grandparents, marriage therapists, happiness experts, Olympic athletes—anyone can benefit from the support and different perspective of a helping professional. It’s not limited to the pop-culture stereotypes of crazy people or damaged people.” (Brad Waters, LCSW, “10 Stereotypes of Mental Health Professionals“)

Not going to therapy is like a person with a physical ailment never getting help. “Oh, I was born near-sighted, I just have to be tough and take it.”

No, you can actually get help. It’s all right… It takes a strong person to admit s/he needs help.

9. I’m over it

Now, this might be true. However, if you are reading posts on The Invisible Scar, you may have some unresolved emotions or issues that you need to discuss.

And that’s all right. Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have endured the worst kind of emotional child abuse. It takes time to heal. Therapy won’t magically patch up all the holes that the abuse has created, but you’ll learn in time to craft an emotionally healthier life.

Adult survivors usually go to therapy for a long while, then, as they grow stronger and more emotionally healthy, visit their therapists as needed. Some survivors go in every two months or so as a “check in” to make sure they’re still on the right path.

10. I don’t want anyone to know that I go to therapy

No one needs to know. You don’t need to share everything with everyone.

That said, you may be surprised to find out that more people go to therapy than you think. Should you choose in time to share this information with your inner circle, you may find a friend saying s/he has also gone to talk therapy.

More and more people in the public eye are sharing their stories of depression, emotional child abuse, anxieties, and other issues because everyone struggles with something. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You didn’t cause your emotional child abuse. It’s not your fault.

But if you don’t feel comfortable telling friends that you go to therapy, don’t tell them. You’re not required to share that information with people you don’t feel comfortable with.

11. I’ll feel judged

Say someone does find out that an adult survivor attends therapy. What then? He may fear that they will judge him.

People might judge him. But then again, people tend to judge others based on their hair color, weight, body shape, voice, looks, education, music choices, fashion choices… In other words, critical people will always find reasons to judge others.

Ignore them. Shake it off.

A big step is to not think about what “they” will say. Think about what you need to do to get emotionally healthy. Think about what a tremendous gift you are giving yourself by attending therapy.

“Stigma connected to getting help for psychological or behavioral concerns used to be a strong deterrent for people,” states the American Psychological in its article Psychotherapy: Myth vs Reality. “But getting help is now seen as a sign of resourcefulness.”

12. I want to be sure it works

Therapy isn’t magical. No magic spell exists to immediately “fix” the problem.

However, if you dedicate yourself to going to the right therapist and you are honest and open in your sessions, you will most likely find yourself getting better.

“Talking can actually do a lot of good. Discussing something with someone who cares about you and who is not judgmental helps relieve the emotional pressure caused by keeping our thoughts and feelings to ourselves. But counseling involves much more than just talking. Counseling provides a way for us to understand who we are and how we relate to the world around us. In counseling we focus our attention on aspects of our experience that we may have been previously unaware of. This provides new ways of looking at our problems and this often gives us new ways to handle these problems.” (Gustavus Augustus College,The Top 10 Reasons People Avoid Counseling“)

13. I don’t want to even think about my problems

But here you are at The Invisible Scar. Clearly, you are searching for understanding, for healing. (And that’s a good thing!)

14. I don’t want to feel bad about myself or my life

A good therapist will not set out to make you feel bad.

A good therapist should be open and willing to understand your concerns. If your counselor doesn’t take your concerns seriously or is unwilling to accept feedback, then it’s probably in your best interest to consult with another therapist about it.” (Noah Rubenstein, “50 Warning Signs of Questionable Therapy and Counseling)

15. No one will understand me

A good therapist wants to understand and help her patient. (Helping others is one reason therapists become therapists, after all.) And chances are high that a therapist will be disposed to believe the patient.

However, should an adult survivor find himself with a therapist who doesn’t believe him—even though he is being open and honest in what has happened—the adult survivor should consider talking to a different therapist.

Sometimes, that happens… but don’t let the possibility of that happening deter you from seeking therapy.

16. My last therapist was awful

Some therapists are wonderful; some are wretched. Perhaps you didn’t do your homework and ended up with a therapist who ended up not being the right fit for your needs. Or maybe you did do your homework and still your therapist was a walking disaster.

I get a lot of emails and comments about people telling me that I am wrong, wrong, wrong, in recommending therapy. “No one can help me! I tried X many therapists and they didn’t work for me!” or “I had a bad therapist! I am never trying therapy again!” or “Therapists suck! They’re all awful.”

Let’s be real, friends. Not every therapist provides stellar counseling. But some do. A heckuva lot of them do. So, stay vigilant, stay persistent, and find that therapist that will click with you.

And then be patient with your therapist. They can only offer counseling on what you tell them, so be open and honest with your therapist. Give the relationship some time to work. If after several sessions, you feel disheartened and lost and like you’ve gotten worse … then, by all means, look for a new therapist.

Crappy therapy happens. But don’t give up. Find a new counselor. Give therapy another shot.

17. I can’t see the point of going

The benefits of therapy are manifold. People who attend talk therapy usually gain…

  • Long-lasting change
  • The feeling of being understood
  • Better health due to facing repressed emotions
  • The skills needed to handle future flashbacks or setbacks
  • A greater ability to express his/her thoughts
  • A greater sense of self-worth
  • A better understanding of who s/he is
  • A better understanding of other people
  • Greater empathy
  • Deeper relationships
  • Rewired brain
  • Better skill set for handling pain, sorrow, and frustration
  • Reduced stress
  • Better boundary-setting

And much more.

* * *

Need more convincing that therapy isn’t just for crazy, weak oddballs? Check out this helpful article “Myths About Therapy” by the founder of GoodTherapy.org, Noah Rubenstein.

“A huge benefit of talk therapy is that its effects are long-lasting,” writes Alice G. Walton in her Forbes article 11 Intriguing Reasons to Give Talk Therapy a Try. “This is because you’re not only working through stuff, but you’re also developing the tools to help you deal with future stuff.”

Go for it. You’re worth it.

Originally published in June 2015. Updated article in May 2019.


Veronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications. She also put together this ebook “What Really Happened,” a collection of expanded already published articles here in one easy-to-read PDF.

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.

 

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

photo credit: flickr user

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The silent treatment is very real.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s discuss the type of blog …

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward, friends.

Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Grateful for the Good in Your Life

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[photo credit: flickr user Keri Logan]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t want to be like that.

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

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

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

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

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

She makes an excellent point.

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

Onward, friend. Onward.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

You Don’t Owe Your Toxic Mother a Card, Candy, or Quality Time on Mother’s Day

[photo credit: flickr user George Chelebiev]

Whenever you see your mother, she belittles you, emotionally abuses you, treats you like a peasant, and demands to be fawned over like a queen. After you spend time with her, whether in person or on the phone or even reading an email from her, you feel very, very tiny and insignificant.

You hurt inside, where no one can see. You are invisibly cut and scarred again and again.

You can hardly remember more than a handful of times (if that) when you enjoyed your mother’s company. You can’t even really recall feeling nurtured or loved unconditionally.

Yet you have spent your entire life trying to find the mythical and magical key that will open her heart to you and unleash the maternal love you’ve always longed for.

Deep in your heart, you suspect that there is no key. It’s not your fault; it’s just broken.

But somehow, every second Sunday of May, you find yourself wondering whether you should send this toxic mother some sort of card or maybe make a quick phone call or stop by her house for a short visit.

I know you wonder because my inbox gets jam-packed every May and the traffic here at The Invisible Scar absolutely skyrockets.

Every year, readers email me such questions as “Should I send my mother a card on Mother’s Day even thought we haven’t talked in years?” or “Should I send my mother a card even though she always treats me like crap?”

My answer is always: You have to make your own informed decision. I can’t make that decision for anyone.

That said, in making such a decision, do keep the following in mind:

Mother’s Day is to honor good mothers

The holiday was not created to honor toxic mothers, abusive mothers, neglectful mothers, etc. It is meant to honor the good women who fulfill the vocation of motherhood.

By unilaterally honoring all mothers, we neglect the truth that not all mothers are good ones. The ads on TV and radio often exclaim such phrases as “Mother always…” or “Mothers this or that” but the truth is that not all mothers are loving.

Yes, most mothers are good. It is far more common to have a loving, kind, and caring mother than to not have one. And those are the mothers who we celebrate. They deserve a day. They remind us of what good mothers are, what they should be.

We are not to honor the small group of abusive mothers. They besmirch the role of motherhood. They dishonor the true vocation of motherhood.

You are under no moral obligation to send a card or gift or spend time with your emotionally abusive mother

If you are still in contact with your abusive mother or in limited contact, you can be honest about the holiday. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that the holiday brings up a lot of emotions and that you didn’t feel right giving a false impression with a card or gift.

Some readers who have very limited contact with their mothers have said they send their mom a “thanks for giving birth to me” card. It’s direct, shows you’re thankful for the gift of life, and yet does not tell falsehoods about the relationship.

A Mother’s Day card is not going to fix everything

That card that you think you might want to send your mother does not possess magical qualities. I know that sounds harsh; I’m so very sorry for having to be so blunt. But I hear so very many stories about adult survivors of emotional child abuse who think that this Mother’s Day card will somehow:

  • Show their mother that they still acknowledge their existence
  • Warm their mother’s heart to what a healthy relationship could be
  • Open a new communication channel
  • Let their mom see what she’s missing out on by being abusive

This card or phone call from you is not going to do any of that. I’m so, so sorry.

If your mother is truly toxic, the only thing that this card or phone call will do is keep the lines open for continued abuse, knock down the boundaries that you have set for yourself, lie to your mother about doing a great job mothering (because that’s what all Mother’s Day cards say), make her feel like she’s been maligned by you in the past, and demonstrate that you can be manipulated into lowering your boundaries.

A loving mother who wants a better relationship with you will give you space to heal and also work on healing herself

Not every crappy mother is a toxic one.

Some emotionally abusive mothers are awful at parenting out of ignorance. They honestly do not know any better…and through therapy, honest communication with their children, and boundary-setting, they can learn to change and sustain that change for a long, long time (hopefully, the rest of their lives).

A mother who is making a true effort at becoming better and an emotionally healthier person will understand that her child has emotional wounds and perhaps does not want to celebrate Mother’s Day.

A toxic mother will make this holiday hellish

Unfortunately, most readers of The Invisible Scar have toxic mothers. These mothers will take a simple holiday (cards, flowers, a small gift, and, hey, thanks, good mom, for everything!) and turn it into a spectacle.

But only you can decide whether to continue setting your boundaries (i.e., going no contact or limiting contact) or to suspend them for the sake of a random holiday.

Just remember that you can survive the peer pressure of celebrating Mother’s Day

You are so much stronger than one holiday in May. You really are.

And if you need some extra ideas for powering through Mother’s Day, here are some four sanity-saving tips for ignoring Mother’s Day and ideas for how to handle Mother’s Day when your own mother was abusive.


Veronica Jarski is the founder and writer of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad online publications. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

Emotionally Neglected Children May Feel Like They Are Ghosts

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

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

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

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

Or listens to him.

Or understands him.

Or cares for him.

Or loves him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Themselves Only

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

Examples:

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

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

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

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

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

What They Failed to Be

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

Examples:

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

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

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

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

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

Sources of Love and Approval

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

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

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

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

Examples:

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

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

Emotional Neglect

All the above are examples of emotional neglect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re not alone.

We see you. We hear you.


veronica-jarski-managing-editor-the-invisible-scarVeronica Jarski is founder and managing editor of The Invisible Scar, a passion project dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She has extensive editorial experience and a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her work has been featured on myriad publications, such as Kapost, MarketingProfs, and Ragan. She also is the author of an e-book about waking up to the realization that one had an emotionally abusive childhood.

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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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Suicide: When Your Sorrow Feels Too Dark

[photo credit: flick user darren bertram]

[photo credit: flick user darren bertram]

In memory of SKB

Sometimes, adult survivors of emotional child abuse feel a deepening sadness that grows heavier and heavier with time. The burden of it can feel too much to carry… and they may think about suicide.

So, we need to talk about suicide… and to discuss it with compassion and without judgment.

Let’s drag this howling monster from the shadows and force it to the spotlight, so we can see what it truly is and talk about finding help to battle suicidal thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to discuss this subject. The mention of the word “suicide” will not summon death. It is not an evil spell that a person can cast. Most importantly, we can weaken suicide’s seemingly overwhelming power when we discuss it and seek healthier solutions for such severe depression.

After all, suicide is a tragic death… and yet it can be preventable.

Why We’re Discussing Suicide

An adult survivor of emotional child abuse will grow weary of the battle to be authentic. Aching from emotional bruises, worn from the childhood memories, feeling alone in the truth, some adult survivors want to die.

There. I said it. Sometimes, people wish they were dead, so everything wouldn’t hurt so damn much anymore.

That’s a fact that wails from emails some readers send to me.

But it’s also a fact that this feeling doesn’t last forever. The sorrow and the hurt and exhaustion may feel endless, but it will pass in due course, no suicide needed.

What Suicide Really Is

At its core, suicide is about someone ending his or her life because life feels too painful.

“Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable,” states Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Lawrence Robinson, authors of the Suicide Prevention Guide. “Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation, a suicidal person can’t see any way of finding relief except through death. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to committing suicide, but they just can’t see one.”

You Are Not Alone

The road may be darkened and difficult, but don’t walk it alone. Find someone to talk to. Seek help. Keep moving, pausing when you need to, but do not make that pause a stop.

You may feel alone right now, but you aren’t.

Even if you look around your life right now, your heart breaking inside your chest, your head full of storm clouds, your eyes unable to see the light, you are not alone.

I care about you.

Every single night, I pray and hold in my heart all the readers of The Invisible Scar. I pray for you, want the best for you, desire your healing. I carry your heart in my heart, as the poet e.e. cummings wrote.

Your fellow adult survivors of emotional child abuse here at The Invisible Scar care about you, too. Our narratives share much in common, despite the uniqueness of each person. And we all understand sorrows.

You can also find comfort on The Invisible Scar Facebook Page. If you’re in despair and feel alone, you can post there.

We’ve gathered on this online prairie, listening to the howls of wolves in the distance, looking at the sky for signs of hope in better things ahead, plotting our next trails… and we also warm ourselves by the bonfire and tell our stories and share our griefs and celebrate our victories.

You’re not crying into the wind. We are listening.

And He who created the world also hears you. God is here, though you may not feel Him right now. And if you are despairing about your upbringing or current situation, God will not be mad at you. He’s not pissed off that you’re contemplating suicide. He’s not rolling His eyes at your despair or just waiting to condemn you.

A good, good father would never reject a child who is hurting. And though your earthly parents have proven cruel or empty, your true Father is always there to hear your prayers, the whispers that you cry into your pillow. He loves you so very much.

If you think He doesn’t care, do know that He helped you find this article—and that its author prays for you and wishes to help…

Getting Help for Suicidal Thoughts

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your despair or feelings of hopeless, please keep this in mind:

  • Give yourself time. If you feel like killing yourself right now, wait rather than act on that impulse. Stop. Give yourself another day, a week, a month. Focus on something else for the next hour… Then, the next. Hang in there.
  • People do overcome suicidal thoughts and get better. You can get help and learn to banish that darkness.
  • Feelings pass. They might not feel like they do, but feelings do change. None lasts forever.
  • You are irreplaceable. There is only one you in the world, and we need you here. Stay with us. “Man exists as a unique and unrepeatable being,” writes the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. We need your uniqueness. Don’t go so early.

Now, please go talk to someone who can help you. If you’d rather not call but would prefer to email, then email the Samaritans immediately.

If you’d rather text, then text for help. (For help outside the United States, visit here.)

Helping Someone Who Is Contemplating Suicide

If you know someone who is contemplating suicide (or you suspect that he or she is), prepare to talk about suicide and then start the conversation.

A person thinking about suicide (whether the thoughts are periodic or constant) often talks about feeling hopeless, about despairing, about the seemingly endless suffering. We must listen to this person. We need to listen to one another when we talk about the darker feelings inside us.

As painful as it can be to discuss depression, it is a far more painful to discuss the tragedy of a preventable death…

When I was a teenager, a girl in my freshman gym class committed suicide.

Sheila* had a lovely cheerful face, freckles sprinkled liberally over it, and shining sky-blue eyes. Petite, round, and golden-haired, she reminded me of an extra from an old “Gidget” movie, everything sunshine and bright.

But Sheila was being ravaged by depression, and I never knew it.

One morning in March, after gym class, she gave me her lime-green bead necklace. I had said it was pretty, and she had hesitated then taken it off and insisted that I keep it. I put it on immediately, struck by her generosity and sweetness.

The next day, our teachers told us all that Sheila had killed herself. She hadn’t made it to her fifteenth birthday, just three months away.

For years, I felt like I had failed Sheila. If I’d only been friendlier, if only I had talked to her, if only I’d invited her to my house to hang out that day, if only we’d been close friends, if only I hadn’t accepted the necklace, if only I’d given her something, too, if only, if only, if only…

At 14, I carried my own sorrows, and I would not have had answers or the right words. But had she reached out, I could have sat with her amid the sorrow and held her hand. And she’d have known that she was not alone. That I had ears to listen, a shoulder to cry on, arms to hug her, a heart that cared…

Perhaps whatever sorrow Sheila held, whatever despair she felt, would have passed by now, still having left its scar on her but not permanently slaying her.

News of her suicide tore through our high school like a monster from a nightmare. Teachers showed us after-school specials about suicide and urged us to seek help; they were so afraid that Sheila’s suicide was somehow catching.

Her death was the topic of conversation for days. A few students lacked compassion and were cruel about how “only losers killed themselves.” But a lot more of us were quiet and scared, wondering whether our sorrows would turn into monsters, too.

The realization I had then—and that remains with me—is that all types of people commit suicide. Young people. Old people. Rich people. Poor people. But they don’t have to commit suicide, they don’t have to give into despair. Suicidal thoughts can be overcome.

Please, don’t take your life. Things may seem dark, tragedies may feel insurmountable, but suicidal thoughts are treatable.

“Others have experienced suicidal thoughts and go on to lead fulfilling lives after seeking treatment,” writes Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., at Psych Central.

Please seek help. Show a trusted person where the shadows are so he or she can help you find the light and emerge from the darkness.


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.

* Name changed out of respect for her family

From the Editor’s Mailbox: Being a Trusted Adult to Your Siblings, Going No Contact, and Why Therapy May Not Work for You

photo credit: flickr user charles clegg

photo credit: flickr user charles clegg

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

Here’s a look at the most common questions popping up in my inbox lately and some thoughts regarding them.

My younger siblings live at home, and they’re being emotionally abused by our parents. What can I do?

Call the Childhelp National Child Abuse hotline, and talk to a qualified crisis counselor about the details of your situation. By calling, you are not immediately reporting abuse—so don’t be afraid of calling. You will be able to ask the professionals there about the best way to handle such an issue.

In addition to what the professionals might tell you there, I’d suggest doing what you can to love, support, and nurture your siblings as much as possible.

For example, if your parents are neglectful, you can reach out to your siblings and just listen to them, hug them, show them that someone in this crazy big world loves them unconditionally, encourage their (healthy) interests, etc. Or if your parents tend to be overly critical of your siblings, you can make time to talk to them in an encouraging, soul-building way,

Say your siblings love to draw or paint, then encourage their art, take your siblings to art shows, give them books about art, look at the art they produce, listen to their talk about art, etc.

The heart of an abused child starves for attention, for acknowledgement, for love…. and if the abusive parent does not offer that, the child will often turn to other people and things… Be that trusted adult that your siblings can turn to.

Know that one person can make a tremendous positive difference in a child’s life.  This article by Josh Shipp discusses the power of a trusted adult in a teen’s life. I’m not familiar with all of Josh’s work, so I’m not fully endorsing—or not endorsing—his work, but that article’s worth a read for people wondering how to help emotionally abused children in their lives.

Moreover, myriad adult survivors of emotional child abuse are alive today and on the path to emotional health because one adult in their life cared about them. Those trusted adults were coaches, teachers, librarians, neighbors, etc., that took the time to see the child, to listen to him/her, to let that child know that he/she matters. They weren’t creepy or overly fawning adults; they were adults who could be trusted, who could be like a beacon of light in the child’s dark childhood.

Those people made a huge difference. You can, too.

How can I make my parents’ stop abusing me? They are always gaslighting me, making fun of me, and making me feel awful. But then sometimes, they’re nice. How can I just make the abuse stop?

You extract yourself from the relationship. You get the hell out of Dodge.

Your parents choose to abuse you… Now, you choose to get out of the relationship and create some space for yourself.

Whether that decision is permanent, only you can decide. But until the abusive parent shows remorse, apologizes, and exhibits a sustained (read: for a long time) change of improved behavior, the adult child should stay away and get emotionally healthy.

“Improved behavior” doesn’t mean that your abusive parents are nice to you now and then. They should always treat you with respect and love. “Normal” parents drop the ball here now and then, but they are good people who have a bad day—in contrast to abusive parents who are mostly bad people who have good days.

Many truly awful human beings have their moments of being charming and sweet and engaging. Many abusive people have sparkling, loving sides that fool people. But emotionally abused children know that any good moment with the abusive parent will be outweighed by the many, many, many terrible moments. And yet somehow, the abused child will focus on the brief glimmering moment of good and try not to think too much about the bad.

Don’t let yourself get caught up in looking at those rare pretty photos in your memory and avoiding the giant gaps in between them. Keep your eyes wide open. Walk in the truth. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and to pull away from abusive people.

I want to go No Contact with my parents, but I don’t know whether blocking their number or not answering their phone calls is too extreme. Do you need the permission of the other person to let go? What happens if they don’t let go of you?

If you want to go No Contact with parents who are toxic to you, then do it. And, yes, going No Contact means to not allow them into your life… which means blocked phone numbers and emails, etc.

“Going No Contact is not an attempt to change a person or to teach them a lesson,” states the Out of the Fog website. “If it were it wouldn’t be No Contact but a bluff and an ill-advised one at that. Going No Contact is more about protecting yourself and letting go of the need or desire to change another person.”

You don’t need anyone’s permission to go No Contact. The best part of being an adult is that you get to choose who to have a relationship with. Familial ties, circumstance, office environments, etc. can put people in your path, but you get to decide whether to socialize with any of them. You get to decide what is best for your emotional health.

You have the power to say…

  • “No, I no longer want this toxic person in my life.”
  • “No, I do not want to be an emotional punching bag for this person anymore.”
  • “No, I will no longer put myself in the path of an emotional vampire.”
  • “No, I will not give my time and energy to someone who will turn on me and treat me like shit.”

You have the power to say…

  • “Yes, I matter, and I have a voice.”
  • “Yes, every person is precious to God, and that includes me.”
  • “Yes, I have the right to live a life free from someone else’s toxicity.”
  • “Yes, I can and will choose how to spend my time and energy.”
  • “Yes, I will choose friends who are loving and kind and supportive and not toxic.”

The finer points of going no contact are explained well by this article from Out of the Fog organization.

And remember: If someone armed to the teeth with daggers to wound you, bared teeth to rip you to shreds, and a mind determined to hurt you came to your front door, would you open the front door? No, you wouldn’t. Now, if someone is hell-bent on hurting your soul in that way, why would you let them in?

How can I get people to see me as okay and that going to NC was the best thing I ever did with my life?

The above question comes up a lot in my inbox. A whole lot.

Here’s the truth of the matter: You can’t make anyone understand you and sympathize with you… You can’t make anyone really get it, and few people do.  Most people have loving, kind, and well-meaning parents, and they cannot see how any parent would be as hurtful and destructive as yours.

They are fortunate.

But you, dear reader, have had a different sort of childhood. And some people just don’t get it. That’s all right—you don’t have to explain yourself to them.

Your gift to yourself—and you deserve this—is a more peaceful life, without your abusive parents’ drama and their abuse.  And that is a huge and wonderful thing.

Live your life in the truth. Good people will see how much happier, calmer, and healthier you are in comparison to who you were. And if some people don’t, they weren’t friends to begin with. And as you meet new people who don’t know about your past and who ask about your parents, tell them that you’re estranged and leave it at that.“I’ve chosen not to have my toxic parents in my life.”

Let your life, your newer and emotionally healthier life, this honest life rid of parental toxicity, be your testimony. Praise God, you’re living an emotionally healthier life. Enjoy it.

And don’t forget that readers of The Invisible Scar understand the value of going no contact. You can always find support here in the comments or post something on The Invisible Scar’s Facebook page.

Therapy isn’t working for me. Why are you pushing therapy?! It doesn’t work.

Therapy may not be working for you for a few reasons:

  • Your therapist sucks.
    Not all therapists are good. Some are laughable, some are terrible, some should’ve definitely chosen a different career. That’s why it’s important for you to do your research and take time to find the right therapist for you. Know that doing so can take time.
  • You hate the idea of therapy… and you’re only semi-interested in your therapy sessions.
    “Everyone who wants to engage in therapy can benefit,” writes Margarita Tartarkovsky in Therapists Spill: 11 Myths About Therapy. “Not surprisingly, people who don’t have a modicum of motivation to change probably won’t.” Therapy can be hard, and if you drag your feet to it and don’t open up very well, you may be doing yourself a disservice.
  • You haven’t gone to therapy for very long.
    Healing takes time… lots of time. Be patient with the process.

Don’t give up on therapy. Don’t give up on yourself.

Sometimes, watching movies help me work through my emotional child abuse. Is that too weird?

Only one person asked me this question, but I had to share it. The question plugs into the fact that people love narratives, we love stories, we grow and learn through stories, written, told, and presented.

No, you’re not being weird.

Good movies reveal ourselves to ourselves and shed light on the human condition. That’s why watching the “Tangled” movie led to a very long blog post analyzing the narcissistic personality disorder of Mother Gothel. And why I’m taking notes about Finn from “The Force Awakens” for another article…

Onward and upward.


veronica-jarski_authorVeronica 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.