Three Must-Read Posts for Mother’s Day If You’re an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse

photo credit: flickr user raw pixel

Advertisements on TV and the radio go over the top in portraying all mothers as idealized heroic women who did absolutely every single thing right.

Motherhood, however, is far more complex and grittier than those bleached versions of it. It’s a vocation that, when approached right, requires maternal sacrifice, encourages a selfless love from the mother, and fosters virtues in the family.

Motherhood is a special calling to live out the definition of love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Some mothers do their best to follow that definition. They can inspire us and present a type of motherhood that adult survivors can learn from to parent their own children.

But then, some children were brought up with a broken version of the above or one that goes in the exact opposite of it.

The maternal love received by some children was impatient, was unkind. It was jealous, it was pompous. It was inflated and rude. It sought its own interest and was quick-tempered. It brooded over injury. It rejoiced over wrongdoing and despaired the truth. It bore nothing, believed nothing, hoped for nothing, and enduring nothing. That twisted version of love failed.

For those adult survivors of emotional child abuse, the upcoming Mother’s Day holiday can be incredibly difficult. So, on this day before the holiday, I offer these three articles from The Invisible Scar archives that cover different approaches to surviving (or ignoring) Mother’s Day.

Onward and upward.


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.

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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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.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers [Book Review]

[photo credit: flickr user Stephanie Overton]

[photo credit: flickr user Stephanie Overton]

Some daughters grow up with a nagging sense of something not quite right in their relationship with their mothers, though the daughters can’t place their finger on what’s off exactly. It’s a vague, pervasive feeling of being unloved and ignored. They feel like somehow, in some way, the loving relationship that other people seem to have with their parents is eluding them.

These daughters may not even know they are being emotionally abused. They’ve been conditioned to endure—from their mothers—constant demands for the spotlight, attacks on their personhood, razor-sharp verbal abuse, debilitating mind games, the Greek chorus of belittling comments implanted in their heads by their mothers, and so much more. These daughters just want their mothers will treat them lovingly… but their mothers only care about being adored.

Perhaps you, too, have felt something was terribly wrong in your relationship with your mother. Something inside you whispered, “My mother is never very loving to me. She’s actually very mean and selfish. Why is everything always about her?”

As immediate as that thought maybe have been, your trained (by your mother) inner child immediately sprang to berate you for feeling that way. How dare you think such awful things about your mother! How could you demand anything, you worthless child? How could you ever say that your poor, dear loving mother is anything but loving? Everyone says she’s the best mom! Why would you ever think badly of her?

Yet that little voice was there, for one shining moment, and it has led you to seek answers and find help. And now you have the obligation to yourself to find out exactly what happened to you, what lifelong effects you now bear because of your upbringing.

How Do I Know Whether My Mother Is a Narcissist?

If you suspect that your mother is a narcissist (i.e., that your entire upbringing and beyond revolved around her needs), you are not alone.

The exceptional book “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Dr. Karyl McBride provides the guidance you need to determine whether your mother has narcissistic traits, understand the type of narcissist she may be, and, of utmost important to The Invisible Scar readers, how to break free from the narcissistic cycle and become emotionally healthier.

What’s particularly engaging about the book is how the author, a licensed marriage and family therapist, weaves a sub-narrative of her own relationship with her narcissistic mother into the book. McBride doesn’t reveal so much that the book becomes an exercise in navel-gazing nor reveal so little that the reader is left feeling cold and alone.

The book is written in the voice of a well-informed, caring, and understanding friend, who will support you in a better understanding of your upbringing and its effects on you. McBride’s guide is, at its heart, an optimistic one that focuses on the reader’s awakening and healing. It is not about picking at one’s emotional wounds and allowing hate or anger to fester.

“I do not believe in creating victims,” McBride writes in the introduction. (Don’t skip the intro. It sets the tone for the book.)

“We are accountable for our own lives and feelings. To be healthy, we first have to understand what we experienced as daughters of narcissistic mothers, and then we can move forward in recovery to make things the way they need to be for us.”

The book is divided into three parts:

  1. Recognizing the Problem
  2. How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life
  3. Ending the Legacy

1. Recognizing the Problemgood-enough-book-cover-290x441

The term “narcissist” is frequently misused in the media, but McBride’s book provides a professional, solid definition of what narcissism is. “Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, which means it exists on a continuum ranging from a few narcissistic traits to the full-blown narcissistic personality disorder.”

The nine traits of narcissism, as listed in the book, are…

  • Has a grandiose of self-importance, e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique, and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her ends
  • Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of her
  • Shows arrogance, haughty behaviors or attitudes

McBride then provides examples of each of those traits and a questionnaire that helps shed light on the existing relationship between mother and daughter.

Also in the first section, McBride discusses the 10 “stingers” of the narcissistic-mother/daughter dynamic. Those stingers are “ten common relationship issues that occur between mothers and daughters when the mother is narcissistic,” states McBride.

Examples include…

You find yourself constantly attempting to win your mother’s love, attention, and approval, but never feel able to please her.
Your mother does not support your healthy expressions of self, especially when they conflict with her own needs or threaten her.
In your family, it’s always about Mom.
Your mother is critical and judgmental.”

That constant lack of self-worth, that unending barrage of crippling self-criticism inside your head, is the voice of the narcissistic mother. And that criticism can manifest itself in different ways, as explored in the chapter “Faces of Maternal Narcissism.”

2. How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Life

If you’ve arrived to The Invisible Scar to learn more about narcissistic parents, you know that you’ve been deeply affected by having such a parent.

There’s the self-doubt, the “jumpiness” (from being trained, as a child, to hurry to your NPD parent’s every beck and call), the lingering sadness of the mother-sized hole in your heart, the lack of boundaries (or trust) within your other relationships due to your first relationship with your mother, illnesses… and so, so much more.

You probably aren’t even aware of all the ways that your narcissistic mother affected you.

Take time to read about what behaviors you might have learned and/or imitated.

For example, McBride discusses the high-achieving daughter (who will try to “win” Mom’s love), the self-sabotaging daughter (who will make herself feel as crappy as her mother says she is), and the myriad behaviors that the daughters of NPD mothers adopt, subconsciously or not.

Those behaviors can affect how the daughter mothers when she becomes a parent.

At The Invisible Scar, I receive so many emails about adult survivors terrified that they will become their mothers. “I won’t have kids! I refuse to become my mother!” and “I’m becoming my mother! Help me!” are common themes in those emails.

The good news is that daughters of narcissistic mothers aren’t fated to become their mothers. Daughters get to choose what sort of mother they will become.

In the book, McBride discusses the turmoil and issues those daughters have once they become others. Some overcorrect the deficiencies in their mother’s parenting (e.g., they become ultra-lenient in opposition of their mother’s ultra-control); some end up being like their mothers because they lack the blueprint for new parenting skills or simply have not awoken to the truth of their upbringing.

And some daughters do find a middle ground.

We strive to do the right things for our children, and none of us wants to pass along our own undesirable legacy,” writes McBride. “Breaking the cycle is a challenge when you have no positive role model as a mother. Daughters of narcissistic mothers often feel as if we are blazing our own trail of love in raising our babies.

If you see yourself making mistakes in parenting, don’t panic. You don’t have to be afraid even if you have learned or inherited some narcissistic parenting traits. This does not mean you are narcissistic. You can change. The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to allow yourself the awareness of possible mistakes you could make or have made, and work to correct them.”

3. Ending the Legacy

In the last section of the book, McBride also provides a very detailed step-by-step guide to recovery from this mother-daughter relationship.

“Now that you have a solid understanding of the psychological dynamics you were subject to as a daughter of a narcissistic mother and how they have adversely affected your life, it is time for you to come to terms with the past, release your unrealistic expectations of your mother, and take charge of your life to heal,” writes McBride. “Now it’s your time to make your life more peaceful and comfortable.”

For the daughter of a narcissistic mother, the idea of life being peaceful sounds like a having a unicorn for a pet—yes, it’d be lovely, but such a thing isn’t possible.

But, oh, dear daughter of a narcissistic mother, yes, peace is possible.

The road to recovery is clearly outlined in McBride’s clear, unhurried but succinct writing. She details the various stages of grief (including grief for the relationship that you never had with your narcissistic mother and grief for the child you didn’t get to be).

To Invisible Scar readers who write me about how to become individuals rather than attachments or extensions of their abusive parents, “Chapter 11: A Part of and Apart From” is crucial. (Read it with your highlighters and sticky notes on hand.)

McBride stresses repeatedly the necessity of adult daughters to stand on their own.

“To be authentic and whole—this is the ultimate goal in recovering from a narcissistic mother,” writes McBride. “The next step for you to take toward this is to separate psychologically from Mother as an adult, so that you can grow your own internal emotional psyche. For when you grow your own internal emotion being, you become resilient and strong. You can stand on your own. You can sustain yourself in the face of maternal deprivation, bear up under any negative litanies from your mother, and withstand criticism from anyone in the external environment.”

McBride wraps up the book with guidance, a list of questions, case-study segments, and encouragement to help the daughters of narcissistic mother heal and, most importantly, lead a far more emotionally healthy and authentic life.

A Word About Toxic Mothers

The author avoids the trap of only discussing an active relationship between mother and daughter. McBride acknowledges (in Chapter 13) that some mothers are too toxic for any form of relationship.

“If your mother is indeed unchangeable and you find yourself being constantly abused by her, it is important to know that disconnecting from her can be healthy,” writes McBride. “When you decide to make this choice, however, make sure that you have completed your own recovery work. If you simply detach and remove yourself from your mother without doing your own work, you will not diminish your pain, and your true self cannot emerge to the peacefulness that  you desire.”

***

That recovery work, the healing journey, and the peacefulness of living in the truth are the focus of the work here at The Invisible Scar.

Because of McBride’s clear understanding of the reality of daughters of narcissistic mothers and her dedication to improving the emotional well-being of those daughters, I highly recommend this book to all women who suspect their mothers are narcissists and who want to break the cycle and become emotionally healthier and happier human beings.


 

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

 

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

[via flickr user ajari]

[via flickr user ajari]

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

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

So, what do you do now?

Your First Few Steps Towards Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Creating Space Really Means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if doing so feels scary.

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

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

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

Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

False Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward.

[via flickr user Henry Liriani]

[via flickr user Henry Liriani]


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

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

[via]

[via]

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

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

That’s not your fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book is divided into three parts:

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

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

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

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

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

The Natural Need for Relationships

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

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

We are social beings. We are made for community.

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

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

Edited to add:

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

Onward to healing and an emotionally healthier life.

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

[photo credit]

The Adult Survivor: Remembering the Truth vs Longing for What Could Have Been

[via flickr user Roberta]

[via flickr user Roberta]

Some of the best content on The Invisible Scar can be found in the comments section of the various blog posts. In reading them, I’ve seen myriad themes emerging. One of the most powerful ones is an adult survivor’s longing for a loving family vs the truth of what their family is really like.

The desire to be part of a loving family; to have parents who are loving, supporting, and caring; to have siblings who love you and care for your well-being; to have family members who listen to you, who share themselves, who make your life happier by being in it (and who are happy in your being in their lives)…. All those are very human desires. Everyone wants those. Who doesn’t want to be loved well and loved for who they are?

However, as readers of the Invisible Scar can attest, not everyone gets that family. Yet abused children will do anything to convince themselves that, yes, they do have that family. Myriad children, for the sake of being able to survive to adulthood, have to convince themselves that their family is loving…. even if the children are being routinely cut into shreds emotionally. Abusive parents, knowing this on some level, often tell their abused children that they deserve such verbal takedowns, that the parents are only being honest or caring, that the parents need to correct their children, etc. The abusive parents often cling to an idea that they are fantastic parents and, as emotionally abused children often experience a type of brainwashing, children repeat what they hear. “We are a loving family,” a child will repeat, even if bearing emotional scars from distant, selfish parents. “My parents are the best,” a girl will say even if her mother is always making her feel fat, ugly, stupid, worthless. “My parents are great parents,” a boy will repeat even if he has been treated harshly and been abused routinely. The child’s mind needs to believe that the loving family is true… because the truth of the matter is very difficult for a child to accept.

But it’s also difficult for an adult survivor to accept the fact. However, an adult has the ability to break away from the abuse. And one way to make sure they stop engaging in relationships that are abusive is to remember the truth of the relationship. Remember the facts of what really have happened.

Unfortunately, many adult survivors of emotional child abuse—longing for family, longing for parents, hating how judgmental society is regarding estranged family members—hurry back to the fold almost as quickly as they told their abusers to stop it. The adult survivor’s deeply rooted desire for what could be makes them return to the fold in the very foolish, heart-breaking hope that everything will be different now…

As the brilliant authors of Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Control of Your Life state…

“To continue  to open yourself up emotionally to an abusive or addicted person without seeing true change is foolish.

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

How to Stay Focused on Your Healing… and Not Return to the Abusive Cycle

In that horribly rough, shaky, nerve-rattling stage of stepping out in the truth, many adult survivors will have strong physical reactions to what they are remembering or seeing in a new light. They will, in many cases, demonstrate the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have been locked in a false reality for so long…. they are bound to feel the physical pain, via headaches, stomach pains, panic attacks, etc. in looking at the truth of what is. (And all that is one of the many, many reasons we highly recommend therapy for all adult survivors of emotional child abuse.)

Unable to endure the headaches and that terrible feeling of guilt, of being orphaned, many adult survivors hurry back. A professional therapist, however, may tell them to hold on. Wait. Give it time. You don’t hurry back to the abusers to stop having headaches or feeling bad. In one case, we heard a therapist offer the following advice: “You’ve been living under a dictator for so long… You are bound to be lost right now. To feel that you’ve somehow betrayed your parents and family. But you are free now. And freedom takes some getting used to.”

To help you keep in mind the truth of what has happened in your childhood (and, in many cases, continued until adulthood), here are some ideas…

  • Go to a professional therapist. Even if you cannot afford regular visits, go when you can to the same one, who will know your history and will be able to guide you through everything. They will not be sentimental about what could have been and can remind you of what exactly you’d be hurrying back to.
  • Keep a journal. Write down all the memories of the most abusive moments you’ve endured. You’re not doing this to continue living in the past nor to keep yourself full of hate… but you are doing this to have a notebook to turn to in your weak moments. So, when you think, “I really  miss my dad…” you can pick up your notebook, read through it, and remind yourself that, you know what, that loving dad really never existed… and the one you have is not getting a chance with you until he’s proven, for a long period of time, that he has truly changed. (The importance of a journal will be tackled in another post at the Invisible Scar.)
  • Read about emotional child abuse. Learn the definition, read the stories, understand that emotional abuse is real. It is very real. We have some suggested books and the list is growing…  
  • Mourn your loss… Getting rid of the magical thinking—”I wish my parents had been loving!” or “Maybe my parents will love me this time!”—is a tremendous step towards becoming healthy once more. So, let yourself mourn what you didn’t have and mourn what you did have. You have the right to be sad. It’s all right. Let yourself be sad…. (Just make sure that the mourning doesn’t last for too long or become suicidal or hopelessness… Again, we recommend professional help to do this.)
  • Look to the present. Remind yourself of the gift that you’ve given yourself in facing the truth of your emotionally abusive childhood. You can no longer be held emotional hostage. You are free to be who God intended you to be, free to be your most authentic self. Instead of wanting to turn back to the past, focus on what you have today… and try and create a new life for yourself with friends who are emotionally healthy, loving, and kind… and be that to others, too.

Readers, do you have any tips to share?

Prepare Yourself for Backlash When Going No Contact [Advice for Adult Children]

[via flickr user Dawn Ashley]

[via flickr user Dawn Ashley]

When the adult survivor of emotional child abuse decides to take a break (whether temporary or permanent) from the birth family, that decision may come to a shock to people in their social circles. From the outside of the family circle-—and even within it, at times—everything has looked perfect, tidy, and loving. To all who gaze at the birth family, the portrait of a good and loving family is all they see.

In that light, the decision to take a break may seem out of nowhere. However, that life-changing, painful decision has not come lightly. Many adult children have agonized over the decision, discussed it with mental health professionals, and also gone back to analyze all the years of small events and large ones leading to this drastic measure.

And when the adult survivor of emotional child abuse separates themselves from the birth family, they often upset the family’s self-image, reputation, or order of business, which leads to a backlash from relatives, friends, and, at times, even spouses. (At The Invisible Scar, we’ve heard of all varieties of backlash that adult survivors have endured.)

Common Reactions From Mutual Friends and Family When an Adult Survivor Goes No Contact With Birth Family

Disbelief. The adult survivor finds mutual friends or family members not believing the adult survivor’s account of their upbringing. Typical comments include:

  • “No, you were always a smiling, obedient child! You never said anything about being abused.”
    (Emotionally abused children are very often difficult to detect for they are appear to be well-behaved, cheery children. Those children are often desperate for approval and love, which means they will be on their best behavior all the time in the hopes of winning their parents’ love.)
  • “Your parents always gave you everything. You never went hungry, had a roof over your head…”
    (Emotionally abusive parents may provide physical necessities to their children, but they starve their children of kindness, gentleness, understanding, the sense of belonging, the sense of approval, and the knowledge of being loved no matter what.)
  • “Why didn’t you say anything before?”
    (Emotionally abused children often do not make the realization of their abuse until they are adults. Psychologists say this is because the child must adopt a sense of denial in order to survive their childhood… For example, how could a child cope with the realization that they lack love, support, and warmth from the very people who are supposed to give them that? A child may have feelings of soul-crushing depression and loneliness, but he will bury those feelings in order to survive the day to day of their childhood.)
  • “I never heard your parents say anything bad about you. Ever.”
    (Abusive parents often are not abusive in the sight of others. In public, the abusive parent may seem the pillar of society, but in secret, the abusive parent unleashes the abuse on the child. In some families, even the other children may not witness the abusive. This is a form of self-protection from the abusive parent. Who will ever believe the child if no one but the child has witnessed the abuse? Plus, the abusive parent can also, through time, build up their reputations as great parents in the opinions of other people in their social circles. The abusive parent may always speak well about the child to others or cultivate the opinion that their child is a little bit mental, depressed, needy, or sensitive… All that cultivating comes in handy when the child grows up and shares the story of abuse; no one believes the adult child, for they’ve been listening to the propaganda from the parents for years.)

Guilt. The adult survivor may find friends and relatives badgering the adult survivor in continuing the relationship with the abusive parents. At The Invisible Scar, we do not quite understand why that is but we’ve theories that, in some cases, the mutual friend or relative may have their own parental issues they are working through (or are denying) or the mutual friend or relative stands to lose something by the severed relationship (they may have social connections, a place of importance in their community, etc., that they deem threatened by the family riff).

Comments may include…

  • “Your parents worked so hard for you.”
    Children do not owe their parents anything. Repeat: Children do not owe their parents anything. Parents, by the fact that they are parents, should provide for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of their children. Just because a parent did the bare minimum (and in some cases, not even that), the adult child does not need to continue to take any abuse from their parent. A good parent delights in being a parent and the enormous privilege of raising a child; a bad parent seeks in being consoled, comforted, nurtured, and supported unconditionally from their child.
  • “You’re just abandoning them over a silly old fight!”
    No. The decision to go No Contact may seem sudden, but emotional child abuse is a lifelong campaign by the abusive parent against the child. What a mutual relative or friend sees is not the complete picture. Never.
  • “Your parents are old. They’re not going to be around for much longer.”
    You reap what you sow. In most cases, an emotionally abused child has spent his childhood doing everything possible to win the love of the parent. We’ve heard adult survivors share stories of emotionally abused children taking on parental responsibilities. In other words, the emotionally abused child was given the role of the parent and forced to give the abusive parent unconditional love, support, understanding, etc., and the child received nothing back. Now that the adult child is grown, the adult child does not need to keep doing that. The parents have to deal with the consequences of having been abusive parents. They have to deal with the repercussions of having abused their children.
  • “Your parents did the best they could.”
    So? Just because an abusive parent didn’t mean to be abusive, that doesn’t mean the behavior wasn’t abusive. And it doesn’t mean the adult survivor needs to continue putting himself in the direct path of abusive. An adult survivor who goes No Contact is protecting himself from the abuse, whether the abusive parent was subconsciously or consciously acting.
  • “Your parents love you so much.”
    Whether an abusive parent loves his child is debatable. (Myriad heated arguments have arisen on psychology blogs, survivor blogs, and conversations regarding whether abusers can love, but we won’t take up that point here.) However, just because someone claims to love you that doesn’t mean you have to be in their lives. The claim to love an adult child does not guarantee the parent a right to see that adult child or have that adult child in his life. Newspapers are filled with articles of people who allegedly loved their victims.

Silence. The adult survivor may find mutual friends and relatives choosing a side—and they will choose the parent. That’s fine. Let them go. They deserve each other and can get entangled in their own web of lies, deceit, and secrets. But you, adult survivor, live in the light, live in the truth. Being in the truth alone is better than being in the deceit together.

How You Can Find Help

If you’re an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you may find yourself feeling alone once you decide to stop taking the abuse. However, know you are not alone. Help is available via a mental health professional or even a phone call (check out the sidebar for counseling services).

Stay strong. Stay in the light.


Just waking up to the fact you had an emotionally abusive childhood?  My 92-page PDF offers insights and suggestions for this difficult time… and beyond. For just $7.99, you receive What Really Happened: Finding Out You Had an Emotionally Abusive Childhood (and Tips for Healing).


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.

 

What to Do About Father’s Day? (Ideas for Estranged Adult Children or Those With Late Abusive Fathers)

photo credit: Denise Avalone

photo credit: Denise Avalone

For weeks now, the Father’s Day holiday has been advertised in the United States. Images of handsome, strong, adoring fathers flash on television screens; people share photographs on social media platforms of loving fathers, godfathers, and grandfathers. But myriad adult children are estranged from their fathers or they have only painful memories of their deceased fathers.

So, how do you handle the holiday if you’re either estranged from your father or your late father’s memory is a painful one

Here are some ideas to help you through Father’s Day.

1. Remember that not everyone’s father/child relationship is like the ones you see on TV, the movies, or on social networks. Yes, some adult children have wonderful relationships with their fathers; yes, some people have loving, kind families. But perhaps you didn’t… and you should know that not everyone has. Your experience may be unique, but you are not alone in your hurt.

“Celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents many painful dilemmas to those of us who still have our abusers in our lives. For those of us who are no longer in contact with our abusers, there is the inevitable pang of sorrow for what we’re missing out on, and what we’ve always missed out on. No, it’s not fair. It’s sad, and it’s depressing. And there are millions of us out there, who are going through exactly the same heartache.” (Luke 17:3 Ministries)

2. Ignore the holiday.

You can choose to not celebrate the holiday. After all, in the US, the holiday wasn’t even officially proclaimed until 1966. Most of the resistance in it becoming a national holiday was due to folks believing the holiday was being created just to cash in. (That was a reasonable concern, especially in light of the promotion of Father’s Day being pushed by the Father’s Council, a group of men’s wear retailers.)

Unplug from the internet and social media platforms for the day, and just remind yourself that you don’t celebrate every holiday. Consider all the ones on this list that you don’t celebrate—really, Log Cabin Day?

3. Create your own tradition.

Maybe ignoring the holiday is too difficult. In that case, consider creating your own tradition. Maybe you can make Father’s Day be the day that you do a movie marathon; work on your Christmas cards list; do spring cleaning (not as fun as a movie marathon but needed); enjoy a fun day trip; etc. Most of all, do something that makes you feel good about the day (and doesn’t hurt your heart).

4. Celebrate your husband’s role as a father.

If you’re married, you can instead focus on your husband’s role as a father. Think about what an enormous blessing it is to have a good man as the father of your children. Shower him with extra attention and affection, not because a holiday mandates it—but because your heart wants to celebrate this man in your life and will enjoy any occasion to do so.

5. Reach out to someone who played a good fatherly role in your life and thank them for their positive influence in your life.

If you were fortunate enough to have good uncles, loving grandfathers, or other kind men in your life, you may want to let them know that you appreciate all the good things they brought (or bring) to your life. Let them know that they matter or that their positive influence mattered.

6. Quickly write what you’d really say in a letter… but don’t send it.

Maybe you’d love to send a real Father’s Day card to your father—to make up for the years of holidays in which you made yourself buy sappy cards or wrote overly fawning letters in a sort of wishlist (as if writing about a fantastic father would somehow make the reader become one). So, go ahead and do it. Get a piece of paper, fold it up, and write the sort of card that you’d want to send… but don’t send it. Let’s repeat that: Do not send it. 

The reason you should allow yourself to write such a letter is not to reach out to the estranged parent, not to change their personalities, not to somehow make your point for the hundredth time, nor wrangle an apology. The reason you should allow yourself to write such a letter is because doing so can be cathartic and you are entitled to your emotions. So, write down your thoughts. Get it out quickly. (Do you really want to spend an entire day focused on their wrongdoings? No. That’s not good for your soul.) And then move on with the day!

7. Build in extra support for the day.

If your estrangement with your father is new or your father recently died, you may still feel vulnerable during the holiday. If you’ve already been feeling deeply bluesy in anticipation of the holiday, don’t be alone on the actual day. Find some friends (without their fathers in tow) to spend time with. Go to the movies with some friends; hit the beach with pals; shoot pool.

Just don’t let yourself wallow in the sadness. At The Invisible Scar, we know that feeling sad and hurt is absolutely understood and even expected… but we always recommend professional help, especially if the sadness becomes crippling or far too lingering.

And remember, no matter how bad, a day is only 24 hours long. The holiday will be over before you know it.

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

photo credit: AmyJanelle

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

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

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

Would you tell that daughter to continue seeing that boyfriend?

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

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

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

When Is a Relationship Toxic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: Todd Klassy

Build boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn to say no, learn to take back your life

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

But saying No is liberating.

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

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

Get help

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

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

Find support in other people

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

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

Don’t immediately run back

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

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

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

Inward change does not happen so quickly.

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

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

When Your New Boundaries Are Constantly Violated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Going NC or LC (Low Contact)

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

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

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

Keep Your Ground

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

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

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

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

photo credit: unknown

photo credit: unknown


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