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.

Ads that appear below are created by WordPress and are not endorsed by me.

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.

National Child Abuse Awareness Month: Emotional Child Abuse Is Real and Its Effects Last Long Into Adulthood

Editor’s note: April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month. The Invisible Scar is dedicated to raising awareness of emotional child abuse, so in honor of this month’s focus, we’ll revisit the definition of emotional child abuse, types of emotional child abuse, and its effects for those who are not yet familiar with the fact that emotional child abuse is real.

When child-advocate lawyer Andrew Vachss was asked, “What is the worst case you ever handled?” when protecting abused children, he answered, “Of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest-lasting of all.”

Why is emotional child abuse  the worst kind? Why is it even worse than physical child abuse or sexual child abuse?

It’s because emotional child abuse seeks to destroy the person’s very being.

“Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another,” Vachss writes in You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart. “It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child’s self-concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.”

Another definition by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is…

“Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill-treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. It may involve causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill treatment of a child, though it may occur alone.” (Department of Health et al, 1999, p. 5-6)

Emotional Abuse Is Not a One-Time Event

The words persistent and systematic are crucial to the definition of emotional child abuse. Emotional child abuse isn’t a parent telling his child once, “Why did you spill the juice? Don’t do that again!”

Emotional abuse is systematic. It’s a consistent destructive force in a child’s life.

For example, an emotionally abusive parent will tell a child, “Why did you forget to make your bed? Are you stupid? Stupid and forgetful…” and then, at some point in time (close enough to be linked to the first event), “You forgot again? Can’t you ever do something right? You are always disappointing me.” Again, at another point, the abusive parent will say similar words, so that the child ties it together: “You can’t do anything right. You are always disappointing me.”

And so on…

In time, the emotionally abused child adopts the phrase into his or her memory as something that defines them: “I don’t do anything right. I am always disappointing my parents.” He takes the words as a description of who he is… and the phrases will come back to him often.

All the destructive words, whether encased in subtle phrasing or baldly hurtful, will become part of the child’s “self talk.”

The abusive words will become truths to the child.

Types of Emotional Child Abuse

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

The pattern can take different forms. Here’s a look at types of emotional child abuse:

  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Ranking children unnecessarily
  • Being condescending
  • Bunny boiling (aka destroying something that the child cherishes)
  • Gaslighting children
  • Scapegoating
  • Sabotaging
  • Favoritism
  • Triangulation
  • Pathologic (or compulsive) lying
  • Smearing
  • Ignoring
  • Corrupting
  • Terrorizing
  • Isolating
  • Inappropriately controlling

You can read more about the Types of Emotional Child abuse here.

Affects of Emotionally Abused Children as Adults

“Although the scars may not be visible to the naked eye, emotional abuse wounds the spirit, frequently leaving its marks for a lifetime,” according to the National Council of Child Abuse & Family Violence.

“This form of abuse is destructive to a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. It can affect a child’s emotional development, resulting in a sense of worthlessness and inadequacy.”

Moreover, the “children who suffer emotional abuse grow into adults who see themselves through the eyes of their abuser,” according to the council. “They carry a sense of inadequacy and worthlessness with them into their jobs and relationships. Frequently, those who have experienced emotional abuse in childhood find it difficult to develop healthy, intimate relationships as adults. They may even develop antisocial behaviors, which isolate them further.”

Health
“If you were emotionally abused in childhood, you will be sicker as an adult than if you had not been emotionally abused,” states Dr. Laurie McKinnon, the director of Insite Therapy and Consulting based in New South Wales, in her report Hurting Without Hitting: Non-Physical Contact Forms of Abuse [PDF]. “It is also likely that you will be sicker than if you had been physically abused.”

Health issues also include…

  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Other self-destructive behaviors

Mental Health
“One of the most frequently documented outcomes of childhood emotional abuse, particularly for women, is a vulnerability to clinical depression and anxiety in adulthood,” says McKinnon. “Internalised criticism, along with a fear of criticism and rejection from others, appears to be at the core of the depressed or anxious symptoms they experience in adulthood.”

Why Isn’t Emotional Child Abuse Identified or Reported More Often?

“Child protective service case workers may have a harder time recognizing and substantiating emotional neglect and abuse because there are no physical wounds,” said Joseph Spinazzola, PhD, of the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Center, and lead author of a new study on psychological trauma. “Also, psychological abuse isn’t considered a serious social taboo like physical and sexual child abuse. We need public awareness initiatives to help people understand just how harmful psychological maltreatment is for children and adolescents.”

Emotional child abuse is difficult to identify because the abuse works on the psyche of a child rather than the body. You cannot see the bruise or cut or wound that an insult or manipulation or the silent treatment has left upon the child. But the wound exists nevertheless.

“Nonphysical contact abuse (NPC) can be difficult to identify because it leaves no visible injury and because victims often do not seek help,” according to McKinnon. “Professionals find overt NPC abuse easiest to identify because it’s openly hostile. Covert NPC abuse on the other hand is more subtle and insidious and often disguised as helpful or inadvertent.

“The abuser may deny hostile intent while ignoring and discounting the target person’s needs, feelings, and opinions,” McKinnon says. “The abuser negatively labels the target person in ways that convey that he or she is worthless, bad, more difficult, less attractive, or less desirable than other people. Onlookers may not identify the behaviour as abusive and instead blame the target person for his or her inadequacies.”

What to Do If… You’re a Parent Who Is Emotionally Abusing His or Her Child

Please get help! Contact Prevent Child Abuse and/or the American Humane Society for help.

What to Do If… You Suspect a Child Is Being Emotionally Abused

Learn how to become a trusted adult in the child’s life.

Also, contact Prevent Child Abuse and/or the American Humane Society for professional advice on what you can do.

What to Do If… You Are an Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse

First, know that you are not alone… and that you can heal. You will bear scars, of course, but you can (in time and through prayer and therapy) still forge a good, emotionally healthy life for yourself.

Reading all the effects of emotional child abuse on an adult survivor can be very overwhelming, difficult, and depressing, but please don’t despair. Think of it this way: By facing the truth of what has happened to you and what the effects are, you can find the help you need and learn skills to grow into a healthier, happier person.

You are not alone. You need not despair. There is hope and healing.

Second, find yourself a good therapist; a fresh notebook for jotting down your feelings, thoughts, and ideas; and a good friend who will listen to you and believe your story.

I recommend reading  this article for more advice.

* * *

This April, we’ll be digging into the various types of emotional child abuse in detail. I’ve already covered gaslighting and the silent treatment in their separate posts.

Next week, let’s tackle bunny boiling. Stay tuned.

Interview With the President of Prevent Child Abuse America [Podcast]

ME-logo

For Child Abuse Prevention Month, the podcast Mom Enough (created by Dr. Marti Erickson and her daughter Erin Erickson to explore motherhood and the roles, challenges, and joys of mothers in today’s society) interviewed Jim Hmurovich, president of Prevent Child Abuse America.

In this rich, informative interview, Hmurovich and Erickson discuss…

  • What to do when you see a parent mistreating a child (and why “breaking the moment” is crucial)
  • Why child-abuse awareness needs to be a focus
  • The belief that prevention is possible
  • How recent tragedies, such as Sandy Hook, are a wake-up call for our society
  • What we can do to prevent child abuse

The 20-minute interview can be heard here.

April Is Child Abuse Awareness & Prevention Month: Let’s Talk About What People Don’t Talk About

childabusepreventionmonthThis post is about emotional child abuse—but, please, keep reading it anyway, especially because April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, especially because reaching out can make a huge difference.

Most people will ignore the subject, turning the page or changing the channel or hopping to another website when the subject comes up. People who abuse their children often may not seek help, so the subject will be ignored. And people who don’t abuse their children will just be glad the topic ECA-logo-smdoesn’t concern them and move onto another one. But I want to talk about emotional child abuse and how you specifically can make a great difference.

During Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month, most media outlets will refer to the physical abuse and sexual abuse of children, both absolutely horrific types of abuse. But the one that underpins them all—the abuse that is invisible and the most damaging—often gets ignored. That type of abuse is emotional child abuse.

“Emotional abuse is at the core of all major forms of abuse and neglect, is more damaging in its impact than acts of physical and sexual abuse alone, and requires special attention to disentangle it from physical and sexual acts of maltreatment.” (The Emotionally Abused and Neglected Child: Identification, Assessment and Intervention: A Practice Handbook)

Whereas physically abused and sexually abused children have the physical proof as witnesses to their abuse, the emotionally abused child does not. The scars are inside.

“The bruises don’t show on the outside, so there are no statistics on how many children are victims… but anyone who works with children knows the problem is widespread.” (Dr. Elizabeth Watkins, chief of pediatric primary care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital)

What Is Emotional Child Abuse?

“Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child’s self-concept to where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of children: love and protection.” (child advocate, lawyer, and author Andrew Vachss, You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart essay)

Another definition by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is:

“Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional ill-treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. It may involve causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill treatment of a child, though it may occur alone.” (Department of Health et al, 1999, p.5-6)

The words persistent and systematic are crucial to the definition of child abuse. Emotional child abuse isn’t a parent telling his child once, “Why did you spill the juice? Don’t do that again!”

Emotional abuse is systematic. It’s a consistent destructive force in a child’s life. For example, an emotionally abusive parent will tell a child, “Why did you spill the juice? You are so clumsy…” and then, at some point in time (close enough to be linked to the first event), “You spilled something again? Can’t you ever do something right?” and then later, again at another point close enough in memory that the child ties it together, “You are always spilling things because you’re not careful. You don’t pay attention. You’re always messing things up.” And so on…

In time, the emotionally abused child adopts the phrase into his or her memory as something that defines them: “I am always messing up. I don’t pay attention. I am not careful.” He takes the words as a description of who he is… and the phrases will come back to him often.

All the destructive words, whether encased in subtle phrasing or baldly hurtful, will become part of the child’s “self talk.” The words will become truths to the child.

Types of Emotional Child Abuse

An emotionally abusive parent demonstrates one or a combination of the following abusive behaviors.

Rejecting. Parents constantly criticize the child; call the child names; insult; belittle; verbally humiliate the child; tease; refuse hugs; do not allow the child to make his or dismissive-parents-smher own choices; and/or physically abandon the child. The child feels that the parents reject who the child is.

Exploiting. Parents demand behavior from a child that are beyond the child’s developmental stage, have unreasonable expectations, and/or force the child into porn. A type of exploitation is parentification in which the child is forced to take on the role of the parent. In emotional child abuse, a parent demands the unconditional love and understanding from a child that is really the parent’s role. In emotional parentification, the parent is mostly concerned about being loved rather than extending love to the child. According to Psych Central, the most damaging form of parentification is emotional.

 “[Emotional parentification] robs the child of his/her childhood and sets him/her up to have a series of dysfunctions that will incapacitate him/her in life. In this role, the child is put into the practically impossible role of meeting the emotional and psychological needs of the parent.” (Psych Central, Harming Your Child by Making Him Your Parent)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Receiving Help (If You Are the Abused Child)

healing-from-emotional-child-abuse-smPlease visit the above sites and either seek help from those resources or a trusted adult. I highly recommend that you print out the information about emotional child abuse and share it with a trusted adult—so they can read more about what emotional abuse is.

Please know you are not alone. Please do not do anything drastic.

  • Seek help from a trusted adult or counselor.
  • Turn to a trusted friend and share your feelings.
  • Remember that you are worthy of love, of respect, of dignity.
  • Find a healthy outlet for your feelings.
  • Always remember that your life does matter.

Receiving Help (If You Are the Adult Survivor of Emotional Child Abuse)

maskUnfortunately, most emotionally abused children seek help only as adults. As children, they assumed how they were treated at home was natural. With everyone else in the family accepting the abusive behavior, a child developed a skewed sense of what a relationship is—unless they have trusted adults in their lives.

Sometimes, however, an adult who has been emotionally abused as a child will slowly awaken to the truth of their abusive childhood. Though some abused children grow up to become abusive parents, the majority of abused children grow up and do the opposite of what they have been taught. If the adult seeks therapy and healing from an abusive childhood, the adult can break the cycle and not perpetuate the abuse with their own children.

Healing from an emotionally abusive childhood can be very difficult, but as child advocate lawyer and author Vachss says:

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.

It’s time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self-respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to “forgiveness”—forgiveness of yourself.

How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.

And it is never too soon—or too late—to start.

Please seek professional help, read good books, turn to supportive friends, and don’t give up. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up on  your life.