From the Editor’s Mailbox | Signs of Emotional Abuse, Links, and Parental Alienation

photo credit: Bjorn Giesenbauer

photo credit: Bjorn Giesenbauer

I tackled my mailbox this morning and saw several repeated questions, so I thought I’d share the answers in a post. Here are the most recent questions from various folks.

How do I know if I’m being used? Am I being abused?

I get a lot of mail from folks sharing their personal stories and asking me if they are being abused. In almost all cases, I do see signs of emotional abuse, but I always recommend that people go to counseling, whether through their church, free counseling at their local college, help lines, pro bono counseling from charities, etc., and share all the details there with someone who can guide them to an answer and, most importantly, resources to awaken from the abuse and get on the path to a healthier emotional state.

If you cannot afford counseling or if  you do not wish to start counseling until you do some research, I’d suggest reading about emotional child abuse and seeing whether you see the signs of it in your own upbringing or signs of the affects in you as an adult.

Some people think that it’s best NOT to read about it because “you can incorrectly self-diagnose” and they equate that situation to reading about diseases and thinking you have them.

I don’t agree with that mindset at all.

In my experience, adult survivors of emotional child abuse find it extremely difficult to awaken in their realization of what has happened (and continues into their adulthood). Most adult survivors of emotional child abuse would rather not wake up to the horrible reality of the abuse… So, there’s little danger of someone reading about emotional child abuse and recklessly thinking, “Oh, this is me.”

If anything, an adult survivor of emotional child abuse will research a great deal to find out the truth of what has happened.

If you are wondering whether you were an emotionally abused child (and an adult child of emotionally abusive parents), I suggest reading this page and checking out these resources.

Also, please know that I always think about and pray for those folks who do send their stories to me… I keep you in my heart.

Parental alienation

That was not so much of a question, but I’ve received emails from readers discussing the “phenomenon of parental alienation” and wanting me to share information about it.

No.

The most I will do is to define it and explain why this site will not address it.

Parental alienation is “a social dynamic when a child expresses unjustified hatred or unreasonably strong dislike of one parent, making access by the rejected parent difficult or impossible. These feelings may be influenced by negative comments by the other parent or grandparents, generally occurring due to divorce or separation. Characteristics, such as lack of empathy and warmth, between the rejected parent and child are other indicators. The term does not apply in cases of actual child abuse, when the child rejects the abusing parent to protect themselves.”

The main two reasons I won’t be addressing it on this site are…

  1. “The term does not apply in cases of actual child abuse, when the child rejects the abusing parent to protect themselves.” The Invisible Scar is about actual child abuse…
  2. The term itself is vague and not widely accepted.

Can I link to your website? Can I link to an article?

You sure can. I mentioned in my copyright section that I don’t want entire articles lifted from The Invisible Scar without express written consent, but a link to an article here or the website is just fine. Can’t spread awareness without sharing links, am I right? If you’ve a question about it, please drop me a line at theinvisiblescar[at]gmail.com.

Where are you?

The Invisible Scar has not been updated since April (well, until I publish this post), but I’m back. As I’ve mentioned before, The Invisible Scar is run by just one person, and I was pulled in several directions for the past few months. The dust has settled, though, so I will be getting back to a regular publishing schedule. Thanks for asking!

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Thanks for all your emails, both with questions, comments, and stories.

We’ll be back to posting regularly beginning this month.

Onward and upward,
the editor of The Invisible Scar

How to Read an Online Article About Narcissism

This morning, I read an online article about narcissism yet decided reading-womannot to share it for two very important reasons:

1. The information within the article was incorrect.

2. No research was cited at all.

Despite those two facts, the article was heavily shared on social networks. The current trend is to call anything like self-esteem a “form of narcissism” or simplifying the ubiquitous selfie to “absolute narcissism,” which explains the high volume of social shares and comments the article received.

As a professional editor with a background in communications (emphasis on journalism), I felt compelled to write a few lines about how to sift through information and how to find those shining gleams of well-written, informative research.

Here are a few tips on how to read an online article. (Note: You need not read everything online this way. A hilarious article, an essay on birds, a recipe for macaroons, etc. do not need to be analyzed. Unless you’re me. Then you end up analyzing everything.)

  • Skim the article first.
    If you skim the piece, you’ll be able to tell if the piece is well-written, which often, but not always, signifies clarity of thought. Some horrible ideas are expressed clearly, so clarity does not mark the article as possessing good information. You just don’t want to waste time on a convoluted piece.
  • Check for links.
    An online article that makes bold assertions, such as “so-and-so said this” or that “12% of whatsits did this,” should link to that information. Don’t believe so-and-so said it unless you have data proving that the person did say it. A research piece should allow you information to read further and provide links to do so.
  • Check the quality of those links.
    If you’ve ever written a school report on deadline and with minimal resources, you know that you can come up with statistics and quotes from the worst sources. So can online authors. For example, information gleaned from Psychology Today may weigh more heavily than information about personality disorders taken from a magazine about cooking.
  • Read the article again. This time, read it slowly and take time to consider the information there. Picture it like a meal: Instead of wolfing it down, savor and reflect on the overall taste and experience.
  • Read more than one article on a subject.
    If you read a fantastic article about gaslighting from one source and you find new bits of information in it, make sure to read more about the same subject. Unfortunately, many people read one article about a subject and assume knowledge of it. For example: I don’t know a lot about snowboarding, but during the Winter Olympics, I formed opinions about some snowboarders… though I know nothing about the sport. I had to give myself a mental shake and remind myself that what I know about snowboarding is: snow is involved and so is a board. 
  • Read a lot and read often.
    When you regularly read some newspapers, blogs, websites, etc., you start to know which sources are reliable, which authors have solid information, which ones to avoid, etc. Also, you’ll know enough about the subject to have your BS detector go off if something seems suspicious.

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At The Invisible Scar, we strive to provide links to whatever information we find regarding emotional child abuse. And if you ever have a question or comment regarding the content here, do use the contact form to drop us a line.

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc;

Ask the Therapist: Steven Stosny on Fading Negative Voices, Recognizing the Emotional Abuse, and Getting on the Path to Recovery

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At The Invisible Scar, we’ve recently received questions that made us seek out the advice of a mental healthcare professional to answer them. Because this site is run by a layperson, I turned to Steven Stosny, Ph. D, for a brief but informative interview.

Stosny is the founder of CompassionPower in suburban Washington, DC. His most recent books are Living and Loving after Betrayal. How to Improve your Marriage without Talking about It: Finding Love Beyond Words, and Love Without Hurt: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One.

TIS: How can the adult child of an emotionally abusive parent ever get rid of all the negative voices inside their head? All they hear is their parents’ abuse…

They may never ‘get rid’ of them, but they can learn to focus on creating value and meaning in their lives, which will give the old voices ‘white noise’ status, like an air conditioner in the background.

Focus is a skill that must be practiced. Whatever we focus on, amplifies and magnifies neural connections in the brain. Repeated focus forms habits. In time, more beneficial habits can develop by choosing to focus on what is most important to and about you as a person, partner, and parent.

TIS: How can spouses of adult children of emotional abusive parents help their spouse see that they are being abused?

Be compassionate and supportive, but never use the childhood experience as an excuse for accepting bad behavior, which will only further deteriorate the self-value of the adult child. Ultimately, we heal by giving compassion, not by getting it. Be open about your own vulnerabilities, and that will invite compassion from your partner, which is really the only way he/she can heal.

TIS: Can adult children ever have a healthy relationship with their parents? [Editor’s note: The question was not about whether a healthy relationship can exist with NPD parents but those without a personality disorder.] In other words, can the relationship between an emotionally abusive parent and an adult child ever be fixed?

In many cases, but the timeline varies greatly and is highly individual. Focus on healing before repairing. Without healing, adequate repair is impossible. Once you heal, you can decide whether you truly want to repair and what kind of emotional connection you wish to have. Then the decision will be positive, based on your values, rather than an attempt to avoid guilt or shame. 

TIS: How can adult children of emotionally abusive parents begin the path to recovery?

Focus less on how you feel about the past and more on how you want to feel in the present and future. When we focus on how we feel, we bring into implicit memory past instances that evoked similar feelings, creating an illusion that it’s always been that way and, by implication, always will be that way. If the feelings are painful, the brain must interpret, explain, and justify them. This whole process serves to habituate them, i.e., make them habits that will recur under stress. When we focus on how we want to feel, the brain comes up with ways to get there. Doing so systematically creates beneficial habits.

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A hearty thanks to Dr. Stosny for taking the time to answer questions from the inbox and combox.

If you are a mental healthcare professional, please consider an interview with The Invisible Scar. We often receive questions that merit professional advice, and we’d love to talk to you about them.

Answers to Some Recent FAQs About the Invisible Scar

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[via Wassey]

Judging by our email at the Invisible Scar, folks have lots of questions about this site. So, we thought we’d take a moment to answer a few questions that keep coming up.

Is The Invisible Scar a professional organization?
No. The Invisible Scar is a blog with posts meant to help spread information about the prevention and awareness of emotional child abuse. This blog is meant to be a springboard for readers who’ve endured (or are enduring) emotional child abuse to realize that emotional abuse is not normal or acceptable and to seek professional help.

Why do you focus on adults?
This site focuses on both adults and children. We often address adults because most emotionally abused children will not actively seek help, so we reach out to parents to understand how to treat their children better or to adults who have suffered emotional abuse in their childhood.

Why do you focus on narcissistic personality disorder?
Though the Invisible Scar does have a subsection dedicated to this personality disorder, we do not think all emotional abusers have NPD. Though all people with NPD are emotional abusers, not all emotional abusers have NPD. In fact, some parents can change and learn how to better parent their children. However, folks with NPD never change. Also, very little is written about the adult children of parents with NPD, so we’re taking the opportunity to share what we’re learning about this personality disorder.

Do you have parents with NPD? Were you emotionally abused as a child?
The folks at the Invisible Scar have not shared their personal stories on the site for two main reasons: 1.) the website is geared to help people on their own journeys and seek professional help to guide them towards healing and 2.) the site is not a personal blog.

Your replies to comments and blog posts make me feel like I know your story. Will you share it?
See the above.

Can I share my story?
Feel free to use the comments section to engage in a conversation about emotional child abuse. Comments are moderated, though, so any hateful language, abusive talk, spamming, or bashing, etc., will not be published.

Why do you advocate therapy? I believe that prayer alone, meds alone, etc. can help me heal.
A neutral third-party who understands emotional child abuse can do wonders that even the most caring friend cannot. We advocate prayer, too, and, if necessary, meds can help deal with depression. However, we strongly suggest that those who have been emotionally abused understand that a toolbox is needed for healing. One tool isn’t sufficient. (We are not limiting God’s power, but we believe that God provides us with other tools for healing as well, such as therapy.)

Why did you just mention God? I don’t think you should mention God or religion in this site. Religion causes emotional abuse.
People cause emotional abuse, not religion. The Invisible Scar is run by Catholics, so we will mention the faith from time to time.

I have just realized that I was an emotionally abused child and am trying to cope. What should I do?
Please check out this section.

I feel so alone. No one understands what I am going through. None of my friends or family members believes me. How can I deal with this?
You are not alone. Myriad adult children of emotional child abuse have survived. They’ve unearthed the truth of their childhood, mourned what was, focused on the present, and moved forward to an emotionally healthier life. The path isn’t easy. The path can seem lonely. But you are not alone.

Why do you advocate that adult children go no-contact with their parents?
We advocate that adult children do (legally, of course) what is best for their own healing. That always means a break from their parents, though whether the break should be permanent only the adult child can decide.

We do believe that, in some situations, the adult children must go no contact with their parents if their parents have not shown remorse and a true change of behavior for an extended period of time. No one should be allowed to emotionally abuse another being, and no one should be forced to endure it.

Why don’t you respond to every comment here?
Though we read every comment on the Invisible Scar, we are often unable to answer every single comment. (We try!) Due to the deep emotional nature of the comments, we often just wish we could extend a hug to everyone and let folks know that we care deeply and pray for their healing.