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.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month: Understanding the Different Types of Emotional Child Abuse

dismissive-parents-smEditor’s note: To mark the one-year anniversary of The Invisible Scar, we are running a classic (and popular) post.

When emotional abuse is shown in movies or TV programs, the abuser is often a huge, ugly, fierce-looking adult. On TV, the abuser never looks like the kind-faced person next door. The abuser is never an ordinary person, never someone known to his neighbors, never someone who shops at the local store, has friends, or keeps a regular job. The abuser is easily to spot. The abuser might as well carry a sign for all people to see.

In real life, however, abusers aren’t always that obvious. They might look huge and fierce—but they can also look gentle and meek. In real life, emotional child abusers can be far sneakier. In some cases, no one but the abused child will know the adult is an emotional child abuser.

And the weapons used for emotional child abuse don’t rely on strength and bulk; the abuser relies on words and emotional warfare.

Though emotional abuse does include outright screaming (called terrorizing), people who watch such movies or TV programs may think, “Oh, I yell at my kid sometimes. Who doesn’t?” What they fail to realize is that—unlike normal bursts of temper—emotional abuse is long-term… and the shouting is part of a long series of shouts.

Emotional abuse is systematic.

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

How emotionally abusive parents tear at the child’s sense of self varies.

Here are some examples of the different types of emotional child abuse.

Giving the silent treatment

“No discussion of emotional abuse through words would be complete without including the absence of words as a form of abuse. This is commonly known as the “silent treatment.” Abusers punish their victims by refusing to speak to them or even acknowledge their presence. Through silence, the abusers loudly communicate their displeasure, anger, frustration, or disappointment.” (Dr. Gregory Jantz, “Portrait of an Emotional Abuser: The Silent Treatment Abuser” article)

The abusive parent will withhold attention and affection until the child caves in and apologizes for whatever the abuser perceived as a slight or insult. Through a series of silent treatments, the abused child will learn to be silent, to be docile, to never speak against the parent—because if the child does, he will not be loved or spoken to or even acknowledged as a human being.

Ranking children unnecessarily

In emotional child abuse, children are placed in pecking order. A parent continually compares his child to another (a sibling, a neighbor’s child, anyone who is a peer to the emotionally abused child) … and the abuser will always find his child to be lacking. The ranking can be for anything as sitting still during dinner to doing chores; anything is cause for comparison. The abused child will never rank high. Never.

Being condescending

Abusive parents treat their children as if the kids are beneath them.

Bunny boiling

This type of abuse destroys something that the child cherishes.

“Bunny Boiling is a reference to an iconic scene in the movie “Fatal Attraction” in which the main character Alex, who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, kills the family’s pet rabbit and boils it on the stove. Bunny Boiling has become a popular reference to how people sometimes exhibit their rage by behaving destructively towards symbolic, important or treasured possessions or representations of those whom they wish to hurt, control or intimidate.” (Out of the FOG website)

Whatever the child treasures, an abusive parent will take away or destroy.

Gaslighting children

Abusive parents will play mind games with their children. It involves saying or doing something then pretending it never happened or happened differently from how it really happened.

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

Parents will say or do things then deny them or change the details consistently, so the child ends up doubting his or her memory. The parents will often also set up the child as being mentally deficient or “fragile,” so that other people who know the child will think that the child is either lying or incapable of recalling things correctly. Again, the abuse is a lifelong campaign, a consistent theme in the child’s life.

Scapegoating

“Scapegoating is a serious family dysfunctional problem with one member of the family or a social group being blamed for small things, picked on and constantly put down. In scapegoating, one of the authority figures has made a decision that somebody in the family has to be the bad guy. The mother or father makes one child bad and then looks for things (sometimes real, but most often imagined) that are wrong.” (Lynn Namaka, “Scapegoating“)

Often, the emotional child abuser will encourage, through his or her actions and treatment of the scapegoat, the other children to also pick on the scapegoat, so that the scapegoat has no allies in the family.

Sabotaging

An emotional child abuser will sabotage a child’s calm and peace. For example, if a child looks forward to a television program, at the last minute, the emotional child abuser may deliberately set forth a ridiculously long chore list to be done before the child can watch the show. (Think of the evil stepmother in “Cinderella,” who set up Cinderella to fail by giving her too long a list of items to do before the ball.) Or the father will deliberately schedule a family meeting at the same time that a child had planned ahead of time to attend a friend’s birthday party. Like all forms of emotional child abuse, sabotaging ruins a child’s sense of security.

Favoritism

The opposite side of scapegoating is favoritism.

“Favoritism is the practice of systematically giving positive, preferential treatment to one child, subordinate or associate among a family or group of peers…. Favoritism becomes dysfunctional when actions and opportunities, resources and liberties are systematically denied or applied inequitably for no logical reason and without just cause.” (Out of the FOG)

An example of favoritism is when an emotional child abuser will let one child get a car ride to school with friends, but the other child must walk or ride a bicycle to school even though that child also was offered a ride by friends. Or one child has a completely different set of rules to adhere to while the other child has less or more relaxed rules.

Triangulation

An emotionally abuse parent will maintain a sense of power of his children by creating conflict between them. The children will be manipulated into conflicts with one another.

For example, a father will talk to Child A about Child B and say how he is upset with Child B because Child B said some terrible things about Child A. Child A will then be angry with Child B for both hurting her feelings and also for making the father sad. Child A and Child B will rarely discuss the incident because the parent has set up the children to distrust one another. Another example: a mother will vent her feelings about Child D to Child E, describing that child as taxing and irritating and whiny… then Child D will start viewing Child E in that light. Child D trusts the parent and will take her side. Meanwhile, the parent will talk to Child E about Child D.

Pathological (or compulsive) lying

“Compulsive Lying is a term used to describe lying frequently out of habit, without much regard for the consequences to others and without having an obvious motive to lie. A compulsive liar is someone who habitually lies.”

An emotional child abuser will often lie to his child. The lying will often go hand in hand with gaslighting, so that the parent will deny the lie. For example, a parent will tell a child, “If you get straight A’s this quarter, I will buy you an iPod Touch.” When the child gets straight A’s, the parent will deny the statement. “I never promised you an iPod Touch!” The combination of the lie and then the outright denial, if it’s habitual and consistent, will cause the child to begin to question his memory and, in some cases, sanity. The child becomes increasingly self-doubting.

Smearing

Smear campaigners carefully and strategically use lies, exaggerations, suspicions and false accusations to try destroying your credibility. They hide behind a cloak of upstanding heroism and feigned innocence in an attempt to make as many people as possible think their efforts are based not on their vindictiveness, but on upstanding concern.

Because emotional child abusers wage lifelong campaigns against a child, a smear campaign often begins in a child’s early years and throughout the child’s adolescence and even into adulthood.

For example, an emotional child abuser will emotionally abuse a child then tell his friends that his child is “overly sensitive” and “prone to exaggerate.” Even if the abuse is terrible and obvious, the parent will downplay it to the child, telling the child that he is “overly sensitive” and “prone to exaggerate.” Whenever possible, the emotional child abuser will refer to that child as “overly sensitive” and “prone to exaggerate.” Friends, relatives, neighbors and, in some cases, siblings, will begin forming that perception of the abused child. Because the abusive parent has set up that child to be seen in that light, the abused child will often have no one to turn to for support or help… and if they do, they are not believed and told that they have always been “overly sensitive” and “prone to exaggeration.” Worst of all, the emotionally abused child will be conditioned to take abuse but not speak up or expect anything better because they view themselves as “overly sensitive” and “prone to exaggeration”—though if they related the facts of the events to an outsider (who has not been conditioned for years), the outsider would see the obvious abuse.

Ignoring

Parents ignore the significant events in the child’s life. They ignore the child in general and refuse to discuss any interests or activities that the child may have. They seem bothered by the existence of the child. The abusive parent will cut short conversations, interrupt the child, mock the child for his/her interests, and treat the child as if she is a nuisance.

Corrupting

Parents teach the abused child to be a racist and bigot. They encourage violence and anger, and they advocate bullying. The parents reward the child for substance abuse or bigotry; promote illegal activities; and/or reward the child for such behaviors as lying, stealing, etc.

Terrorizing

This behavior is what people first think about when they think of emotional child abuse. Parents threaten the child verbally; they yell, scream, or curse. The parents swing from rage to warmth to rage, ridicule the child, and/or force the child to watch inhumane acts. The abusive parent keeps the child on edge, jumpy, nervous about meltdown. Emotionally abused children often end up extremely attuned to the parents’ tone of voice, slightest movements, nonverbal cues, in order to try to avoid a blow-up.

Isolating

Parents leave the child unattended for very long periods of time. They keep the child away from family, friends, and peers, etc. They punish the child for engaging in normal activities choresand make the child become a misfit. They force the child to do excessive chores or excessive studying to keep them isolated. The child will not have the same opportunities as his or her peers to engage in social interactions but be forced to constantly sacrifice his childhood for the sake of the parents’ demands.

Inappropriate control

Parents exercise overcontrol—which robs children of the opportunities for self-assertion and self-development. Or parents show a lack of control—which puts children in dangerous situations or at risk to be in them. Or parents show inconsistent control—which leaves the children feeling anxious and confused.

* * *

Though difficult to detect and substantiate from the outside, the child is abused… and the emotional abuse leaves deep-rooted, invisible scars in the child’s psyche that can “impede their intellectual, social, and emotional development.”

If you are an emotionally abused child or are an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, please know hope for healing exists and seek out a mental healthcare professional for guidance.

The Silent Treatment [Types of Emotional Child Abuse Series, Part 1]

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When you look up the definition of emotional child abuse, several examples are listed: giving the silent treatment, ranking children unnecessarily, being condescending, bunny boiling, gaslighting children, scapegoating, sabotaging, favoritism, triangulation, pathological (or compulsive) lying, smearing, corrupting, ignoring, corrupting, terrorizing, isolation, and inappropriate control. 

To better understand the different facets of emotional child abuse, we’ll be exploring one trait per post.

In this post, we’ll look more closely at the emotionally abusive form of child abuse called “the silent treatment” (also “withholding”). It is also used in adult relationships, but for the purpose and focus of The Invisible Scar, we’ll study the silent treatment as it relates to children.

No discussion of emotional abuse through words would be complete without including the absence of words as a form of abuse. This is commonly known as the ‘silent treatment.’ Abusers punish their victims by refusing to speak to them or even acknowledge their presence. Through silence, the abusers loudly communicate their displeasure, anger, frustration, or disappointment.” (Dr. Gregory Jantz, “Portrait of an Emotional Abuser: The Silent Treatment Abuser article)

Examples of the Silent Treatment (or Withholding)

  • A parent stops talking to a child because the child did not anticipate the parent’s needs. Perhaps the parent expected the child to do a chore or a task without being told to do so and, when the child fails to meet that expectation, the parent will not talk to the child for a long time.
  • A parent who did not like what a child said will withhold as punishment. For example, a child may have not liked dinner and called it “gross” or “disgusting.” The parent will then no longer talk to the child for a long time.
  • A parent will ignore a child who did not show the proper amount of support, attention, or enthusiasm for what the parent deemed importance. For example, the parent may have mentioned something that happened at work, and the child did not react with the attention or enthusiasm that the parent demand. The child will then be ignored.

Note that all the above examples cite regular behaviors in the children…. A child does forget to do chores, a child will call something gross and refuse meals at times, a child will not care very much about what happens in the workday of the parent. The child is behaving very much like a child; unfortunately, the parent is not behaving to his/her appropriate maturity level.

The parent, in all those examples, is demanding for the child to meet the emotional needs of the parent. However, a good parent offers unconditional love and support; an emotionally abusive parent demands unconditional love and support from his/her child.

The silent treatment then is the parent’s punishment of the child for not giving that unconditional support and love.

How the Silent Treatment Hurts Children

The result is intense pain for the child.

In their minds, you have disappeared and all attempts to get you to reappear are not working.  They have no idea why this has happened.  It is terrifying because a child cannot survive without a parent or caregiver.  The silent treatment sends a message to your child that they are not safe in the world, that their provider may or may not be available to them at any given time, for no apparent reason. (Is It OK for Parents to Give Children the Silent Treatment? by Elyn Tromey, Boulder Counseling)

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Is There a Difference Between a Time-Out and the Silent Treatment?

Sometimes, children are sent to their rooms (in a “time-out”) to think about what has happened (if the child behaved in a way that hurts, either emotionally or physically, another member of the family). That is not a form of child abuse if it’s a cooling-off phase.

“Do not confuse the silent treatment with something known as the ‘cooling off period.’ The cooling off period is where one person is so angry or disgusted by the other person that they just cannot deal with the situation in that state, and need time to calm down before they begin speaking to this person. That’s normal and should be allowed in a relationship. But purposely ignoring and refusing to hear or talk to a person is wrong, intentional, manipulative, and demonstrates extreme calculation and cruelty on how to hurt another person or even drive them crazy.” (Dove Christian Counseling website)

The difference between a time-out and a silent treatment is explained well on a chart on this Out of the Fog page.