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

surviving emotional child abuse

Photo by luizclas from Pexels

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

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

Stop.

Stop badgering yourself right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is a HUGE accomplishment, my friends.

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

You can get better. You will get better.

Keep moving forward and head out of the swampland.

You got this.

 


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

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.

Grateful for the Good in Your Life

thanksgiving-post

[photo credit: flickr user Keri Logan]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t want to be like that.

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

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

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

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

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

She makes an excellent point.

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

Onward, friend. Onward.


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

Emotionally Neglected Children May Feel Like They Are Ghosts

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

[photo credit: flickr user Andrea Much]

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

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

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

Or listens to him.

Or understands him.

Or cares for him.

Or loves him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Themselves Only

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

Examples:

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

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

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

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

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

What They Failed to Be

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

Examples:

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

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

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

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

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

Sources of Love and Approval

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

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

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

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

Examples:

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

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

Emotional Neglect

All the above are examples of emotional neglect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re not alone.

We see you. We hear you.


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

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What Finn From ‘The Force Awakens’ and Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse Have in Common

[photo credit: flickr user dale jackson]

[photo credit: flickr user dale jackson]

Editor’s Note: Upon reading this post, some readers may say, “Oh, it’s just a movie!” Indeed, but stories, whether in books or movies or television programs, teach us about ourselves, about what we value, about what we love, about what we hate.

Recently, I rewatched the latest Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens,” and noticed in particular how the FN-2187 character makes an emotional journey from a stormtrooper of the military dictatorship of the First Order toward his true, compassionate, and brave self, Finn.

His emotional path is similar to the one taken by an awakening adult survivor of emotional child abuse. And so, I thought to explore 11 of those commonalities in an article.

(Spoilers abound.)

1. The “awakening” happens due to a horrible event

Like many abuse survivors, Finn’s awakening isn’t necessarily one event but a build-up of myriad small horrors. Finn (we find out later) was very young when he was stolen away from his family. He has spent his life in training and being programmed. He also has witnessed horrors and slaughter that the First Order inflicted.

However, what snaps him out of his compliance is a particular tragic event. When on a mission on the planet Jakku to get part of a map of Luke Skywalker’s location, Finn witnesses the First Order’s attack and massacre on civilians at the village of Tuanul and the death of a fellow stormtrooper.

And he is rattled awake.

the-moment-fn-2187-decides-to-defect-from-the-first-order

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have a lifetime of terrible, heart-breaking experiences… but because of being born to emotionally abusive parents, they endure so much without rebelling against the family.

Often, however, something will happen—e.g., the adult survivor has a child and realizes the truth of their own childhood, someone “on the outside” makes a comment about the abuse, etc.—that startles the adult survivor awake.

2. The “awakening” creates panic, fear, and confusion at first

After Finn makes the decision not to participate, he is in a daze. He looks around in horror and confusion at the slaughter around him.

But he is not the same. And he cannot act the same now that he knows the truth.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors in the beginning of their awakening often feel surges of panic, confusion, and fear… These emotions can stem from post-traumatic stress disorder. Put simply: Adult survivors are freaked out by the realization that they have been emotionally abused their entire lives. They have been so programmed from childhood (like Finn) to comply and yield their will to those in charge that, once awakened, adult survivors stumble in shock.

3. The effects of the awakening are immediate

When ordered to slaughter civilians, the stormtroopers do so unquestioningly. None of them hesitate.

Except for Finn.

He exerts himself as an individual, a person separate from the brainwashed collective of the First Order’s stormtroopers. He does this despite the fact these stormtroopers (rather than clones) have been “programmed from birth”—according to General Hux of the First Order—to be compliant and obedient to the First Order.

“My first battle… I made a decision,” Finn tells Rey in a later scene. “I wouldn’t kill for them.”

And so, he holds his blaster but does not shoot it.

Unfortunately, this disobedience is noticed…

Real-life equivalent: An adult survivor of emotional child abuse who has awakened to the truth will find the situation almost unbearable. (“Almost” because some adult survivors go “limited contact” rather than “no contact” with their abusers.) The truth about the parent-child relationship makes it so that the adult survivor is uneasy and can no longer participate in the relationship in the same manner that he or she once did.

4. The awakening adult survivor’s lack of complete compliance will be punished

A commander of the First Order, Kylo Ren halts when he passes Finn amid the chaos. His attention is on Finn, noting his lack of compliance, and then Kylo Ren continues on.

When Finn and his fellow stormtroopers are back on the Star Destroyer Finalizer, Captain Phasma of the First Order orders Finn to turn in his blaster, so she can see whether he fired his gun at all. She also commands him to report to her for reconditioning, so he can better follow her orders.

The First Order wants complete compliance. Not a flicker of hesitation. Not a moment of thought. Obedience must be swift, must be unthinkingly carried forth.

Real-life equivalent: Emotionally abusive parents want a dictatorship in their home. They do not want any personality from their child. They do not want children who struggle, who doubt, who question, who hurt, who feel. These abusive parents just want to issue orders and have those order unflinchingly followed. And abusive parents want more than just their rules followed—they want their child(ren) to only do the will of the parent.

For example, an emotionally parent may want his/her child to be a super-athlete, and so the abusive parent will not tolerate anything in the child (such as musical inclinations, a lack of aggressiveness, a non-competitive spirit) that does not directly relate to the abused parent’s goal for that child.

The abusive parent does not recognize the child as a separate being but only perceives the child as an extension of himself/herself or a mirror or nuisance.

5. The adult survivor of emotional child abuse must separate himself/herself from the abuser and find some peace

Finn is desperate to leave, desperate to be his own person and not a servant to the First Order.

Faced with an evaluation and possible reprogramming, Finn decides to desert the First Order. He frees the Resistance pilot Poe Dameron from his cell (Finn needs a pilot), and they steal a Special Forces TIE fighter and escape. In the process, Finn takes out some of his former comrades, sealing his fate as a “traitor” to the First Order.

Real-life equivalent: Once awakened to the truth, an adult survivor will want to have some breathing room to think about has been revealed. Every adult survivor needs time to process, and to do that processing in a quiet, safe place.

6. The adult survivor refers to himself/herself in terms of what others say

He calls himself FN-2187, a rank and number assigned to him by others in power. As a young boy, Finn was stolen by the First Order. He’s not given a name (unlike other people in the First Order who must be addressed with honor and respect and titles, such as Captain Phasma).

When Poe asks his name, Finn says, “FN-2187.” This is his stormtrooper designation. (Even his nickname among other stormtroopers is a number: Eight Seven.)

“FN, huh?” Poe repeats. “Finn. I’m gonna call you Finn! That all right?”

And that is all right with the newly named Finn.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotionally abusive parents are not really seen for who they are but who their parents assume they are or imagine them to be. They are forced into designated roles and controlled, manipulated, and abused into remaining in that role.

7. An adult survivor often struggles with a sense of identity

At the beginning of the film, Finn is wearing a storm trooper’s uniform, assigned to him by the First Order. A short while later, once again on Jakku, assuming Poe has died in a crash, Finn takes Poe’s jacket and wears it.

When Rey asks him whether he’s a member of the Resistance, he says yes repeatedly. He wants to be that for himself, for her, for a million different reasons. So, he pretends to be a Resistance fighter and eventually really does help in the fight against the First Order, all while he still plans to run away as far as he can from the military dictatorship.

By donning the jacket of a rebel against the First Order, Finn expresses who he wants to be. In time, Finn grows into this role.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotional child abuse often find themselves at a loss regarding who they really are—without their abusive parents’ input, without the negative voices in their head, without worrying about what their abusive parents will say. Adult survivors often relate having to revisit what they were told they weren’t good at (“You’re not very graceful, you can’t possible like dancing” or “You were never good at numbers. What makes you think you can study accounting?” and so forth). This awakening process is, by its nature, very revelatory.

8. The awakening appears abrupt but has been a process

When escaping in an X-wing, Poe tells Finn that they must return to Jakku. Finn hates the idea, but Poe says that BB8 has a map leading to Luke Skywalker that needs to be protected from the First Order.

Finn knows what must be done. He doesn’t ask who Luke Skywalker is nor does he ask what must be done.

Later in the film, when introduced to Han Solo, Finn asks Chewbacca, “Wasn’t he a war hero or something?” Again, Finn knows about the Resistance, and he has kept informed of its heroes.

Real-life equivalent: Just like abuse is gradual (often worsening with age), the awakening to the truth is also a process. An adult survivor will slowly begin to piece together all the pieces from a lifetime of abuse—the time that her mother screamed that she was worthless because she forgot to put the dishes away, the time that his father gaslighted him a school event, the time that her father didn’t talk to her because he said she was useless, the time that his mother called him an idiot for wanting to do something independently from the family, etc.

All the pains and sorrows and abuses fit together, the broken pieces forming a mosaic of the true nature of the abusive parent-child relationship.

9. The adult survivor of emotional child abuse is a survivor

Not limited to expertly wielding blasters and also handling light sabers, Finn shows moxie. Even when he is being dragged physically through the Millennial Falcon by the Rathtars, he shouts, “Get off! Get off!” and punches and fights against the Rathtar.

He doesn’t just scream and succumb to a terrible death; he fights against the monsters.

Real-life equivalent: Though adult survivors of emotional child abuse will often berate themselves upon their awakening (WHY DIDN’T I REALIZE THIS BEFORE? WHY DIDN’T I SPEAK UP FOR MYSELF YEARS AGO?), an adult survivor is a fighter. Something in the abused child knew that something was terribly wrong. And though the abusive parents tried to smother that personality, that strength of character, they could not do so. The strength of the adult survivor, the power of truth, fought through the years and years of abuse. The adult survivor is a fighter.

10. Even living under a dictatorship, an adult survivor can foster good, positive traits

Despite having lived life mostly as a stormtrooper under the dictatorship of the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke, Finn shows remarkable kindness and compassion. The First Order was incapable of tearing out those traits from within him.

When Finn first sees Rey, she is involved in a kerfuffle, and he’s ready to jump into action. (It hilariously backfires on him, but he was completely ready to help!) Also, when he and Rey are blasted to the ground, he asks Rey, “Are you OK?” rather than think of himself.

Much later, when an unconscious Rey is being carried away by Kylo Ren, Finn—who has sworn time to never, ever go back to the First Order, who has told everyone to run away from this evil system—runs toward Kylo Ren.

And he doesn’t only run… He screams, with his heart in his throat, for Rey, uncaring that his mortal enemies are before him.

Even more heroically, Finn manages to go on a mission with Han Solo and Chewbacca to the superweapon Starkiller Base—with the main purpose of rescuing Rey from the First Order.

Much later, Finn shows exceptional bravery and concern for his friend when Rey is injured in a fight with Kylo Ren. Finn uses the light saber that Rey has been carrying and fights Kylo Ren, despite his being far more experienced with a light saber.

Real-life equivalent: Adult survivors of emotional child abuse know loneliness and sorrow—but they can still show love, comfort, and kindness to others.

11. Adult survivors of emotional child abuse, now awakened, must build new, emotionally healthier futures

In many, many scenes, Finn is looking around, taking in the world, studying the different beings within it. He’s also trying to sort out who trustworthy people are… and who not to trust. He asks a lot of questions.

Finn also describes himself in different terms. He tells Rey that he is part of the Resistance. He later tells Han Solo that he’s a “big deal” in the Resistance. When he’s trying to convince Rey to run away with him rather than fight the First Order, he says, “I’m a stormtrooper.” Much later, when he, Han Solo, and Chewbacca are on mission, Han Solo asks Finn what he did, and Finn says he was in sanitation.

Real-life equivalent: An adult survivor of emotional child abuse will feel like his reality is crumbling all around him. What the adult child believed may be so very different from what actually is. And so, the adult child will begin to process life and experience it in a new way… It’s as if they are given glasses that brings the reality of life into focus, and the survivor will see more of what is good, what needs to be healed, what needs to be felt, what needs to be experienced.

At first, an awakening will be difficult, and dark times will threaten to overshadow the adult survivor… In time, however, there will be healing. And the world will be so much richer and far more beautiful than the adult survivor could have imagined.

* * *

In the Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens,” the former stormtrooper Finn escapes the cruelty of the military dictatorship The First Order, and in doing so, he is able to exert his independence, fight for what he believes in, form healthy relationships (such as his friendship with Rey), see new worlds, and start to become the person he wants to be.

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Force Awakens”—and even if you’re one of the millions of people did see it—consider giving it another viewing. This time, focus primarily on Finn and watch his interesting character arc within the film.

The comparison of Finn to an adult survivor of emotional child abuse isn’t a perfect comparison, no. The film wasn’t written from that viewpoint or with that intention necessarily. But I hope that the comparison does encourage you to look at your own path of awakening and inspire you to keep on the path of healing.

Stay strong in the truth.

And may the Force be with you.


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

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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.

What Really Happened: Finding Out You Had an Emotionally Abusive Childhood (and Tips for Healing)

what-really-happened-finding-out-you-head-an-emotionally-abusive-childhood-lgHave you recently come to the realization that you’ve had an emotionally abusive childhood? If so, that awakening to the truth can be brutal. But do know that you’re not alone.

At The Invisible Scar, I receive tons of emails from people who have had this epiphany. And I tell them that, though this discovery is a hard one, you can get through this difficult time and move along the healing journey.

By popular demand, I’ve collected my articles covering that first part of the healing journey—waking up to the truth of your emotionally abusive childhood —and put them in a PDF for you. The 11 articles have been updated and expanded for a longer read.

This 92-page PDF is not intended to give professional advice nor take the place of a therapist. The articles are fueled by my extensive reading about emotional child abuse, stories shared by myriad adult survivors, and my personal experiences.

Download the PDF “What Really Happened: Finding Out You Had an Emotionally Abusive Childhood (and Ideas for Healing)” for just $7.99.

Onward and upward!

Add to Cart

Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Movie ‘Tangled’: Mother Does Not Know Best

Editor’s Note: Upon reading this post, some readers may say, “Oh, ‘Tangled‘ is just a movie!” Indeed, “Tangled” is a movie, but not just one. 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. No “real-life Rapunzel” or “real-life Mother Gothel” may have existed, but for the myriad daughters with NPD mothers, the story itself is not too unlike their own stories.

* * *

Quick, name the cruelest Disney villain… Did you name Mother Gothel? As a parental figure with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), Mother Gothel rates high on the list for her twisted, abusive and relentless treatment of her “adopted” daughter, Rapunzel.

I recently re-watched “Tangled” and took note of the destructive NPD characteristics demonstrated by Mother Gothel. (Spoilers abound from this point on.)

19 NPD Traits of Mother Gothel

From the back story narration at the start of the film, the viewer learns that an ancient woman named “Gothel” has been using a magical plant’s restorative powers to maintain her beauty and youth. When the infant princess in the kingdom where Mother Gothel dwells is dying, the castle guards retrieve the legendary plant to heal the princess, and it does.

1. Mother Gothel isolates her child

Movie: When Mother Gothel finds out the plant is gone, she sneaks into the castle tower to steal the plant. Not finding it, she kidnaps Rapunzel (whose hair has the same restorative powers when a spell-song is sung) and whisks her away to a tower.

Flash-forward to the present… Now, Rapunzel is a teenager. She has spent her entire life so far in isolation. Mother Gothel comes and goes from the castle as she wishes (though uses Rapunzel’s hair like a fire-escape rope through the tower window to do so), but Rapunzel cannot. She must never leave the tower. No family. No friends. No one else in her world except her so-called mother and a chameleon pet that she has anthropomorphized.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents make it difficult for their children to form bonds outside the family unit (and often even within members of the immediate family). They do not put the time, effort, and energy required to take their children to sports practices, school events, or play dates, all of which make forming friendships exceedingly difficult for their children.

NPD parents want to be the sun to their children, so any outside influence is banned or severely limited. If the child manages to make a friend, a NPD parent will make fun of the friend, mock the friend, twist the child’s image of the friend, all in small phrases here and there in time, so the child will find him/herself either giving up the friendship or maintaining a secret one.

2. She presents a false image of herself

Movie: Mother Gothel assumes the role of a mother (albeit an abusive one), never letting Rapunzel know that she is the lost princess. Mother Gothel pretends to care about Rapunzel’s well-being; she only keeps her hidden because bad people will want to steal her magic hair!

Mother Gothel pretends to be a loving mother, but she insults her daughter, does not listen to her, keeps her isolated, does not properly clothe or feed her, keeps her intellectually starved (the poor kid has three books on her bookshelf), lies to her, berates her, mocks her, and so forth.

Her real self is cruel, self-centered, violent, destructive, vain, and scheming. Rapunzel sees all that in flashes, but having been brought up in isolation, she has no basis for comparison to truly loving behavior.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents are not the same in public as they are in private. They often portray themselves as loving, caring, and concerned parents to people that they know.

In some cases, they talk about their children in glowing terms, so that all who hear assume the parents talk to their children in the same loving way. (They are wrong; NPD parents will shred their children’s self-esteem in private though they praise the children in public.)

In other cases, NPD parents talk about how concerned they are about their children’s depression, moodiness, etc., setting up the parent as a martyr while casting the child as troubled or disturbed. (That will come in handy when the adult child decides to break free the NPD parents; the NPD parent can then say the child has always been troubled and disturbed. Poor parent!)

The NPD parent is a master of manipulation and wearer of many masks. Only the scapegoat child knows the naked truth.

3. She presents a false view of the world

Movie: In the song “Mother Knows Best,” Mother Gothel presents a frightening view of the world:

Real-life equivalent: The child of NPD parents is taught that the outside world is scary, cold, and hate-filled. To go into the world and try to make friends, be educated, get a job, have a romantic relationship, and so forth is to risk doom. Only by following the family’s code of behavior will the child be “safe.”

If the child or adult child does manage any achievements outside the home, the NPD parent will be sure to attribute the success to good parenting or to spoil it by making fun of it or adding so much pressure that the child grows weary and exhausted by his/her efforts and abandons it.

4. She plays the martyr

Movie: In the above song, Mother Gothel rattles off a dozen things then says, “Stop, you’ll just upset me” even though the whole song is her trying to frighten Rapunzel.

Rapunzel initiated a conversation with her mother to discuss what Rapunzel would like to do for her birthday. However, the entire conversation is derailed by Mother Gothel who turns it into a song about how scary the world is and how all Mother Gothel wants to do is protect her daughter from it.

When Rapunzel tries to steer the conversation back to the original point, Mother Gothel gets all self-pitying. “Oh, now, I’m the bad guy… sniffle.”

Yes, Mother Gothel is.

Real-life equivalent: Any action that an NPD parent does is an act of great sacrifice. Made dinner for the child? The poor parent had no energy and no desire to do so yet somehow struggled in an act of great love to make it so just to feed the child! Gone to work? The poor parent had a headache or hates his/her job or would rather be home, and yet somehow managed, out of great and tremendous love, to go to work all for the child!

NPD parents make everything they do “for the child” a huge deal.

Also, any attempt by the child to forge an existence outside the parent is seen as an act of rebellion or an act of condemnation against the parent… after all the poor parent has done! The parent has “sacrificed” so much for the child. Everyone knows so!

5. She threatens her daughter

Movie: Mother Gothel sings a threat that is bone-chilling: “Don’t forget it; you’ll regret it.”

Real-life equivalent: The child of an NPD parent is conditioned to do what the parent wants or ELSE. The “or else” can be the withdrawal of affection, the silent treatment, grounding, physical abuse, or very often, more emotional abuse (so much that an act of perceived rebellion will not be worth even attempting).

6. She views Rapunzel only as an instrument for her personal use, not as a person

Movie: She calls Rapunzel “my flower” because that’s all she sees in Rapunzel: the magic, healing flower, not the person she is.

When she kisses Rapunzel, she kisses her hair.

When she touches Rapunzel, she touches her hair.

The only thing that Mother Gothel sees when she looks at Rapunzel is her hair.

An NPD parent does not see her daughter for who she really is; that’s apparent from the “Mother Knows Best Song.” She considers Rapunzel chubby, vague, naive, clumsy, fragile as a flower, etc. As demonstrated by the rest of the film, none of those labels are true. Rapunzel is pretty, resourceful, smart, strong, and graceful.

But Mother Gothel has never cared enough to listen to her child. When Rapunzel talks, Mother Gothel does this:

Real-life equivalent: An NPD parent does not know his or her child, whether the child is still young or an adult child. The NPD parent may be able to rattle off facts about the child (such as the kid likes a show, the adult child is a dentist, etc.), but the parent will not know the child. The child may have a keen intelligence, a wonderful sense of humor, a fondness for growing flowers, a generous heart, etc… but the NPD parent will not acknowledge or even register mentally who the child is.

NPD parents cannot see beyond themselves to see their children nor can NPD parents see beyond who they want their children to be.

7. She puts down her daughter’s looks, personality, and abilities

Movie: Mother Gothel sings about how Rapunzel is ill-equipped to deal with the difficulties of life: “fragile as a flower,” “still a little sapling, just a sprout,””sloppy,” “underdressed,” “immature,” “clumsy,” “they’ll eat you up alive,” “gullible, naive, positively grubby, ditzy and a bit vague,” and “you’re getting kind of chubby.”

Other insults are scattered throughout the film.

Real-life equivalent: Same. Without the singing.

8. She pretends that love is making her sound critical when the opposite is true

Movie: Mother Gothel says the reason she rattles off all those perceived traits is “I’m just saying ’cause I wuv you.”

Real-life equivalent: For the most part, the slights and insults from an NPD parent to a child are subtle… and they work together, one cut at a time, to bleed the child’s heart dry. However, sometimes (and later in life, the NPD parents grow more obvious and rougher in their comments as they age), the insults are obvious.

The NPD parent will always say that the comment comes “from love.” The comments are not meant to hurt the child, but to let the child know the truth of the matter. An NPD parent will say such things as: “I’m only saying this so you know the truth,” “I’m telling you this because I love you,” “I just want you to know what everyone is thinking,” and “I don’t think this, but other people do.”

“Love” is the NPD parents excuse for being hateful towards their children. But love is not like that. Love is gentle, love is kind. Remember that.

9. She prevents her daughter from sharing her gift with others

Movie: Because of Rapunzel’s gift (when Rapunzel sings a certain song, her hair glows and magically restores youth and vitality to people who are old and injured and in contact with her hair), she could work wonders for the people in the kingdom.

Judging from the horses and clothing of the movie, this takes place during the medieval period, the medicine and understanding of the human body was limited, so any illness must have been devastating. Rapunzel’s gift of healing could have saved myriad people in the kingdom, but, because of Mother Gothel’s self-centeredness, Rapunzel was unable to use her gift for others.

Worst of all, Mother Gothel makes Rapunzel think that her gift is something that people will hurt her for. Mother Gothel takes something beautiful inherent to Rapunzel and turns it into something shameful.

Real-life equivalent:  The NPD parent’s focus is and will always be him/herself.

Always.

And for the child of an NPD to have any special gift or talent, a lovely personality, a gentle heart, etc. will not be tolerated by the NPD parent. The NPD parent will mock or shame the child for “trying to be special” or for “wanting to stand out.” Or an NPD parent will ground the child for showing such a gift or even take away the child’s art supplies, music, etc. as punishment. Unless the NPD parent can glean some attention from the child’s gift (“Oh, I have such a talented child!”), the parent will not support the talent.

Moreover, an NPD parent will make fun of the gift or belittle it to the child, making the talent, gift, or personality trait something despicable, ridiculous, and insignificant. (“But really, does anyone care about the flute? It doesn’t save lives, does it?” “Oh, so you can do math in your head? Well, can you make money from that?”)

10. She wants to one-up her daughter whenever possible

Mother Gothel presents herself as prettier and smarter than Rapunzel. She looks in the mirror and says, “When I look in the mirror, I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady…. Oh, look, you’re here, too.” She also cannot let Rapunzel’s declaration of love go without trying to do her one better.

Rapunzel: I love you.
MG: I love you MOST.

Real-life equivalent:  The unspoken rule in the household of an NPD parent is that the NPD parent is the bright shining light. Everyone else must revolve around the parent. No child would dare outshine that parent.

11. She conditions her daughter to serve her

Movie: When Mother Gothel asks Rapunzel to sing for her and then they’ll talk, she is setting conditions for Rapunzel and the exchange that needs to happen for Mother Gothel to pay attention to her. It is suggested that Mother Gothel would not listen to Rapunzel if she did not sing for her.

Mother Gothel wants what she wants FIRST.

Real-life equivalent: The children of NPD parents are conditioned, as infants, to bend their will to the will of their parents. What matters is not the child’s own needs, dreams, hopes, friendships, studies, job, lives… but the parents’. When an NPD parent asks for help, the child will jump to serve. When an NPD parent complains, the child is quick to ease the parent’s suffering. When an NPD parent expresses a desire, the child leaps at the opportunity to fulfill that desire. The child, even long into adulthood, often will not know better, will not know that they have their own person to care for, their own lives to life.

The child has been conditioned to serve and to serve quickly and to serve the NPD parent at whatever cost.

12. She gaslights her daughter

Movie: Every year on Rapunzel’s birthday, candle-lit lanterns are released by everyone in the kingdom as a symbol of hope that the missing princess would return. Rapunzel sees them from her tower, and she mentions wanting to see them to Mother Gothel. Her captor scoffs at her saying they are not lanterns at all.

Real-life equivalent:  An NPD parent plays mind games. (Here’s a deeper look at gaslighting.)

13. She puts her own needs above those of her daughter

Movie: Mother Gothel has fashionable clothes, fantastic make-up, and a life outside the tower, judging from her comings and goings. However, Rapunzel wears clothes that do not fit her and doesn’t even have shoes. She is also ridiculously skinny.

Rapunzel only has three books in her tower. She needs more art supplies (she’s run out of room on the walls). She sews a dress for her chameleon but the material is from dress. She doesn’t have any furniture. Her wardrobe is empty. Her sewing dummy doesn’t have materials.

Real-life equivalent: An NPD parent doesn’t think about the needs of his or her child. NPD parents may maintain the basics (food, shelter, and clothing) but even those may be done poorly. And the child is conditioned to not ask for anything.

14. She neglects the emotional needs of her daughter

Movie: In addition to everything else on this list, Mother Gothel is a soul-killer, for she fails to feed the natural talents and very basic emotional needs Rapunzel has. Mother Gothel is irritated by Rapunzel’s mentioning of her birthday (“I distinctly remember you had a birthday last year.”), ignores Rapunzel’s obvious exciting news when Mother Gothel comes back from getting hazelnuts for that soup, breaks into song about herself rather than focusing on Rapunzel, and abandons the conversation when it no longer suits her. (Considering they are the only two people in the tower, Mother Gothel does precious little to engage in conversation with her daughter, especially after being gone for a long time.)

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents do not build up their children. They neglect to provide the unwavering love that growing children need (or that even adult children need from their parents).  They do not support their children in their endeavors nor understand the difference between encouragement and nagging.

NPD parents do not listen to their children or allow them to express the myriad emotions that make up the human heart.

15. She attributes great meaning to small matters in her life and little meaning to great matters in her child’s

Movie: Mother Gothel makes a big deal about that hazelnut soup…. but she doesn’t care about Rapunzel’s upcoming birthday. Typical of an NPD parent, she has a distorted view of the importance of events.

Real-life equivalent: A child will seldom know what is a big deal and what isn’t a big deal in the eyes of the NPD parent.  A flicker in the child’s eyes can unhinge an NPD parent. However, anything important in a child’s life will be seen as no big deal. 

16. She abuses her daughter in secret

Movie: Mother Gothel spies on Rapunzel and Flynn in the camp, and in typical NPD fashion, she confronts her daughter in secret rather than in front of others.

Real-life equivalent: NPDs are notorious for showing their true sides to the abused child and hiding all the abuse behind a false pleasant self in front of strangers.

17. She belittles her daughter for wanting to have her own life

Movie: When Mother Gothel speaks to Rapunzel, she belittles her for asserting her independence and mocks her for assuming Rapunzel can decide what is best for herself.

Real-life equivalent: Same thing. An NPD parent cannot handle the idea, let alone the reality, of his or her child having a life that does not revolve around the parent.

18. She makes her daughter feel like no one could possibly love her

Real-life equivalent: The NPD parent will belittle those who love her child. In some cases, the parent may express bewilderment that anyone would love the child. In most cases, the NPD parent is adamant that no one will love their child. “How could anyone love a child who [fill in the blank]?” “Why would anyone love someone who is so [fill in the blank]?” “No one could ever love someone who [fill in the blank]!”

19. She kills what her daughter loves

Movie: She also takes what Rapunzel loves and attempts to ruin it. She mocks Rapunzel’s growing feelings for Flynn (“A wanted criminal? I’m so proud.”) and then sows seeds of disinterest in Rapunzel’s heart. This distrust will lead to the capture of Flynn and an impending execution.

Real-life equivalent: NPD parents will destroy what a child loves or use that loved item or person as a weapon to be wielded against the child. A relationship will be poisoned by the hand of the NPD parent. A task will be tainted by the NPD parent. An item that the child loves will be “accidentally lost” by the NPD parent or withheld as punishment.

This behavior, like all those mentioned on the list, extends from the child’s early years and into the child’s adulthood.

* * *

Watching the movie “Tangled” can be exhausting or triggering for the adult child of emotional child abuse (especially abuse by an NPD parent). Even though the movie is geared towards children, however, much can be learned by those adult survivors:

  • You can escape the tower. Really. You need not be locked up forever by the parent. You’ve always had the ability to escape your enslavement. Take that opportunity now.
  • You will be conflicted once you’ve left… but it’ll be all right. Rapunzel was torn between returning to the tower and her alleged “safe” life and the freedom of life outside the castle. That conflict is normal for adult survivors of emotional child abuse.
  • You are stronger and smarter than you think. Even in captivity, Rapunzel was able to forge some talents and develop her inner strength. You may have been held emotionally captive by your NPD parent, but you can move forward. You are braver, better, stronger, smarter, kinder, and more lovable than you can possibly imagine.
  • You are worthy of love. You really are. You can be loved for who you really are… (Don’t expect that love from NPD parents, though; they can only “love” themselves). But you can be loved by good friends and the new family that you forge from friendships.

Onward.


 

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.

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?

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.