Questions From the Mailbox: Allegedly Ruining Your Future, Deciding to Blog, and Wondering Whether to Tell Your Abusive Parents How You Feel

photo credit: flickr user

Editor’s Note: The Invisible Scar does not offer professional advice, only opinion.

The Invisible Scar receives many emails every month. Some have questions or comments best shared with our readers in this “From the Editor’s Mailbox” column. Though our main advice is for the reader to seek therapy from a professional, we also invite helpful insight or support. (Names have been changed and questions edited for brevity.)

1.) “I live with my abusive mother. I want to leave home, but she’s turned my whole family against me. I work for the family business, they’re telling me that if I leave I’ll ruin my entire future.”—Hannah, age 18

The desire to get out of an emotionally abusive home is reasonable. Once your eyes are opened to the reality of your abuse, you have every right to get in a safe place away from your abuser.

That shift in the emotional landscape often freaks out abusive parents. They want the abused adult child to remain exactly where they have kept the adult child for years. They do not want any changes in the systematic cycle of abuse they perpetuate. So, when the adult child awakens to the fact that he or she is emotionally abused, abusive parents will absolutely freak out. They sometimes will probe your weaknesses and exploit them. In this case, they know you worry about the future, so they say you will ruin it.

Know that you have dignity and worth as a child of God. “Human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.” 

You do not deserve the abuse. No one deserves abuse.

If you can live with a friend, rent out a room, or stay at a dorm, do so. If you can’t, come up with a plan to live in an emotionally healthy place, and start working toward the fulfillment of that plan. Start becoming more self-sufficient in your finances.

Give yourself some space to think. You are not ruining your entire future by separating yourself from an abusive situation. Instead, you are changing the game plan your mother had for you, the plan that kept you in captivity.

Please, seriously consider a future in an emotionally better workplace and home.


2.) “I am an adult survivor of the silent treatment. For years, I have tried to find a book written on this subject. There is nothing. Even books recommended to me by counselors and social workers do not address, the silent treatment. It’s like it never happened and it doesn’t exist?” —Allen

The silent treatment is very real.

Most of the information gathered for my article about the silent treatment comes from online research rather than books. I’ve not found very much about this horrific type of abuse covered in books. Dr. Gregory Jantz does discuss the silent treament in his book, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse.  You can read an excerpt. Also, Elyn Tromey’s blog post at Life & Therapy is also a thoughtful post.

Readers, if you have any recommendations about books that mention the silent treatment, please mention it in the comments.


3.) “I was emotionally abused as a child and adult and made the decision to cut my parents off and heal myself which is what I did. I feel so much better. I am thinking of starting a blog to help others using WordPress. If you have any thoughts on this, I would love to hear them.”—Emma

Let’s talk writing first … Can you write well? Do you know basic grammar rules—and which ones to break for clearer, more engaging writing? Can you write, not with yourself in mind, but with a sense of respect for your readers’ time?

Your writing must be well-crafted to draw in readers. Most importantly, you need to honor their time by providing the best content you can produce.

Unfortunately, myriad online writers believe they can get away with sloppier writing because, hey, the Internet.

However, writing for an online audience means crafting clear, focused content—whether for personal or public audiences. (If you don’t know much about writing skills, pacing, or narratives, I highly recommend Everybody Writes by Ann Handley.)

Now, let’s discuss the type of blog …

Do you want to start a personal blog that discusses your own journey through emotional child abuse and shares current experiences? If so, I highly suggest you take time to pray about this project, reflect on your reasons for the blog then discuss its purpose with a trusted friend or therapist.

Know that a personal blog that is public (as opposed to being a private blog that requires your permission) often can be very triggering and exhausting for adult survivors on the road to healing. 

Though you may begin your blog with the desire to help, you may find rancorous parents (and their flying-monkey friends) filling up your comment box with their vituperation. Even if you change your comments to be moderated, you’ll have to sift through those abusive tirades from those trolls. (What a waste of your time.) Plus, you need very thick skin to not take the ignorant comments personally or abandon blogging immediately or fan the fire with your own retorts.

Or perhaps you want to have a blog only for specific friends to read with your permission.

Or you may want to write in a journal or on your laptop and share printed copies of your experiences with friends.

Do you want to start a regular website that discusses emotional abuse but doesn’t delve into your own personal experiences? As the editor and writer of The Invisible Scarwhich is exactly thatI say go for it. The more awareness of emotional child abuse and its effects on adult survivors, the better.


4.) “You may be educated, but show no wisdom. Instead of correcting a problem (if there truly is one), the narcissism and abuse you speak of I see originating from you. So go ahead and be cold-hearted, cruel and show no empathy or compassion for those who raised, loved and sacrificed for you.”—Frank

I’m publishing that snippet of a wordy, pejorative email to prove my point in the previous answer: Abusive parents sometimes read blogs and websites about emotional child abuse, and feel compelled to send hate mail. (You have been warned.)

Does that mean you should keep quiet? No, just make sure you’re in a very emotionally healthy place before you decide to start your blog. Most importantly, talk to your therapist about your intention and make sure you’re in the right head space to handle the rigors of your project.


5.) “Hi, just a quick one: If you’re an adult unable to escape a psychologically abusive parent’s influence, should you acknowledge their continuing abusive subtly, or just ignore it?”—Maya

You can escape the influence. Doing so is not easy. But it can be done.

A psychologist who knows your situation and all the details surround it is better equipped than I am to give advice. But I’ll give my opinion because you did ask whether to acknowledge their abuse or ignore it.

If you aren’t in danger of being physically harmed, I would most definitely tell your abusive parent how you view your relationship with him/her, how you feel, and how you will need some space to think and get therapy.

Here’s why I believe you should tell your abusive parents (if they are not a threat to your physical well-being) how you feel…

  • You have a voice. Though it’s shaking from fear and nerves, you have the right to use it. Speaking up for yourself is a right you have. As an adult survivor of emotional child abuse, you have not used this voice very much, but it’s yours. Reclaim it. Use it. Speak up for yourself.
  • Your abusers need to hear it. You cannot change your abusers; only they can change themselves. But they need to know this truth about themselves. They’re not going to want to face the horrible fact that they are emotionally abusive parents. However, they need to be told. Don’t perpetuate the lie, don’t feed into their delusions. Be who you are meant to bean adult with dignity and worth living in the truth.
  • Your abusive parents may change. In some cases, the abusive parents may not be deliberately abusing their child. In their ignorance, the abusers continue the behavior they learned from their parents and do not really understand that it’s abusive. Or the abusive parent may see the light and realize they need to change. That possibility exists. (Unless your abusive parent was a narcissist.) The change will not be immediateit will require lots of work and therapy for them, and a proven change of behavior sustained over a long period of time.

Onward, friends.

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

On Finding a Therapist; Helping Someone Abused; and Wondering Whether You’ll Ever Get Better [From the Editor’s Mailbox]

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[photo credit: Menno van der Horst]

I receive a lot of email from The Invisible Scar readers and answer them privately as time permits. Some questions, however, have a more universal appeal or would benefit from readers’ input, so I’m sharing those in this month’s edition of From the Editor’s Mailbox. (The questions are all real, the names are not.)

Can you suggest a type of psychologist to go and see or what to do? I feel so lonely and no one understands me. Everything on this site is in line with what’s been happening my whole life.  (from Matt)

I highly recommend using the Find a Therapist form at Psychology Today to find a therapist near you.

Keep in mind that choosing a therapist requires a little more than just picking out a name from a list of professionals near you. You need someone who you feel comfortable with, who you feel “gets” you, and who are hopeful.

Many therapists offer a free first-time consultation, so use that time to interview them to see whether they are a good fit for you.

Consider asking a therapist about:.

  • Their background
  • Their focus (For example, you’ll want someone who understands emotional child abuse.)
  • Their philosophy regarding the purpose of therapy
  • Their approach to therapy

Also, keep in mind the general feeling you get when meeting them. (If they creep you out, don’t keep going to them, for example.)

You can get some great tips about choosing a therapist from Tracey Cleantis, LMFT.

Please know that you are not alone in your story. Though you may feel that no one in your family or friendship circle understands what you’re going through, the world is vast and filled with people experiencing different stories. Myriad people have suffered through emotional child abuse in various degrees, and hope exists for an emotionally healthy present and future. Keep moving forward…

What kind of professional help would you recommend in the case of a 23 year old that has been verbally abused by her mom since she can remember? Are there any other online resources that would be useful given that she’s right now overseas until late summer?  Also, how can she help her mom recognize that she needs help as she’s in denial that she’s doing anything wrong at this point despite the fact that she’s still doing it to her? (from David)

I recommend a mental-health professional. You may want to suggest that your daughter use Find a Therapist and see which of those do telephone meetings. (Some of them do.) Your daughter can go to respected sites such as Psychology Today and check out their verbal abuse articles as well as Psych Central’s articles on verbal abuse.

I also suggest books such as “Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse” by Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D.; he devotes a whole section to verbal abuse.

Be careful not to overwhelm your daughter with resources right now. Offer those books and resources but, most importantly, listen, love, and just be there, without judgment or correction.

Awakening to the reality of one’s abuse requires a special sort of bravery, humility, and patience with one’s self.

An adult survivor who has been abused by a parent doesn’t need to focus on the healing of the parent. No. The adult survivor of emotional child abuse must focus on herself/himself. Everything has already been about the parent. The adult survivor doesn’t need to go into therapy while thinking about how the parent can change or what the parent needs to do.

The adult survivor needs to protect his/her heart and find his/her own way towards an emotionally healthy present and future.

The adult survivor can tell the parent, “I need some space to think and process the nature of our relationship. I feel like I’ve been verbally abused by you, whether on purpose or not, and I need some space to process it all.”  

The abuser will, more likely than not, freak the hell out: How dare you say that! How dare you think that! I never did anything like that! I have ALWAYS been there for you! I have done EVERYTHING for you!

Those self-centered replies just underscore the fact that abuse exists. The adult survivor must stay strong, create space, and not react to that sort of crazy. The best reply, if any, to those tirades: I need my space right now; I’ll let you know when and if I am ready to talk at some point. If the barrage of emails, phone calls, etc. from the abusive parent continues, the best reply is silence.

In some rare (but not unheard-of) circumstances, an abuser may say, “Really? You feel that way? I am so, so sorry… I’ll give you your space and think about what I can do to make you feel more loved.” (People have shared with me that this has happened to them, so it is possible.)

But it’s best to know that reactions to “I need space” will vary.

I am the divorced spouse of an abusive NPD. Our daughter was the scapegoat, and has escaped to college successfully (which is being explained as my “stealing” her affection). My son is the golden child (in part, I suspect, in an effort retaliate for the older child’s escape). What can I do to help him? His focus now is meeting his father’s expectations as he knows the consequences of failing to do so (shunning or banishment). (from Donna)

The best advice would come from a mental-health professional; some of our readers are just that, and perhaps they can chime in with the right answer.

My suggestion is to gently approach your children separately and voice your concern that you have seen examples of an abusive relationship, that you are concerned that they have been emotionally abused… Let them know you love them and care for them, and recommend some websites or books, and then put them in your thoughts and prayers that they will be guided towards the truth and towards healing.

You don’t want to force them into seeing what they might not ready to admit or to handle. You need to be a good soundingboard for them and a safe person for them to talk to. Always let them know you love them, encourage them to begin therapy, and listen.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse who have not yet awakened to the reality of their childhood often do have unfaced feelings that something just was not right about their childhood, so this news may not be a surprise to your children. But do not force the issue.

What should I do if I’m 23 and can’t move out of my parents’ house and have experience emotional abuse from them and my siblings? I have a disability, which makes finding employment difficult and applying for disability. (from Ashton)

I really suggest finding a therapist who is experienced in counseling others in this situation.

A possible suggestion would be to find friends or other family members who may be open to your living with them. Or perhaps, if you are a churchgoer, you can ask your priest or pastor if he has suggestions for low-income housing.

Meanwhile, what you can do is to find a good therapist. You need someone to vent to, to guide you through this process, to have a safe place where you can just be yourself. A therapist can provide all that and much more.

Also, many emotionally abused teenagers find themselves in circumstances like yours and the advice to them may apply to you:

  • Spend very little time at home.
  • Make your room your sanctuary.
  • Guard your private thoughts from your parents.
  • Find good, safe friends to spend time with.
  • Find means of expressing your feelings through art, music, journaling, etc. so your emotions have somewhere to go.
  • Seek help.
  • Keep hope… If you find yourself feeling lost or alone or deeply depressed, please call this number for help.
My question is, do I have anything to live for? How sad that I have to write a complete stranger asking this. I have spent the vast majority of my life wishing I were dead. I feel like my choices are either leave and get myself into more debt and fail harder at life, or stay in the “safe” situation, at lease have food and shelter available, but compromise myself in the process. Are things ever going to get better? Can I ever live with myself for not rescuing my mother? Can I just keep disappointing everyone I know with my lack of mental and emotional strength until everyone I know hates me? Is there any point to all this? (from Taylor)

Yes, you have everything to live for.. You are a human being, a gift from God who loves you, no matter what. He loves you because He made you… No matter how successful, how unsuccessful, how pretty, how ugly, how rich, how poor, how anything—God loves YOU. (The abuse was your parents’ choice, for people have free will.)

Say your decisions may have been poor. Or you may not have achieved what you wanted to achieve. You may be going through a horrible, horrible time. But you still matter. You are still a human being worthy of love and dignity. Your life is still a gift.

That said, you need to take care of you. And that means finding help for your depression, finding healing, finding the ability to get up and move on and put one foot in front of the other.

Take care of  yourself by finding professional help. Get a therapist—immediately. You deserve an emotionally healthy life. You deserve to recognize your life for a gift and see the wonders and treasures inside you that abusers have tried from preventing you from seeing.

Also, keep your life in perspective… You may have disappointed people around you (or not; I cannot know this), but the world is HUGE. Even now, where you live, you cannot possibly know every single person there. It’s a big, big world. And it’s full of future friends and all good sorts of people in it.

Find healing. Get help. Know you matter. Hang in there. And when everything seems too hard, please call.

One Foot - AV

Can I send you a question about something that’s going on with me? I have no one else to talk to. No one else understands. (from many, many people)

Yes, please feel free to use this contact form to reach me. Know that I get a TON of email, so I am slow in responding. (Which is awful to admit. But it’s true.) Please note that I am just your friendly neighborhood child-abuse-prevention activist, just a layperson, so I do not offer professional advice.

Your best bet for replies is to leave a comment on an Invisible Scar post and let the amazingly supportive and knowledgeable readers share their suggestions, comfort, and resources with you.

Onward and upward,
Veronica
managing editor | The Invisible Scar

How to Handle Your Critical Inner Voice: An Interview with Psychologist Lisa Firestone

lisa-firestone2At The Invisible Scar, we’ve received myriad emails and comments regarding how to deal with one’s harsh inner voice, which hounds adult survivors of emotional child abuse.

To answer questions from readers, we turned to Dr. Lisa Firestone for her professional insight.

Lisa works as the director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association and a senior editor at PsychAlive.org. She has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), and Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003).

1. What’s the correlation between emotional child abuse and the critical inner voice?

The critical inner voice is not only correlated with emotional abuse, it is also correlated with, and is the result of all forms of child abuse, neglect, and other traumatic events we experienced in our childhood. We treat ourselves in much the same way we were treated [or mistreated] as children. The critical inner voice controls the ways in which we mistreat ourselves as well as the negative stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about other people, and about the world.

In Compassionate Child-Rearing (1990), Robert Firestone (my father) described how “all children, to some extent, suffer trauma and rejection during their formative years. They incorporate an internal parent in the form of a destructive thought process or ‘voice’ and carry it with them throughout life, restricting, limiting, and punishing themselves.”

Another source of the critical inner voice can be found in some of the lessons we learned from our parents about their defensive ways of coping with life—their negative prescriptions for living. The critical inner voice also reflects many of the negative attitudes our parents held toward themselves, which we internalized and took on as part of our negative self-image.

2. What are the long-term effects of emotional child abuse on one’s inner voice?

One particularly damaging long-term effect of child abuse on a person’s critical inner voice is that it contributes to the formation of the negative self-image and feelings of low self-esteem that many survivors of child abuse still struggle with. All forms of child abuse, have the effect of creating a sense of being bad in children. Yet children typically blame themselves for the emotional pain they are in rather than seeing weaknesses or shortcomings in their parents. Unfortunately, as adults, many of us continue to view ourselves, often on an unconscious level, as bad or undeserving of love.

Emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse, and neglect have many other long-term debilitating effects. According to Robert Firestone (Compassionate Child Rearing), these experiences impact one’s “personal relationships, lead to a condition of general unhappiness, cause pain and anxiety in one’s sexual life and interfere with and stifle development of career and vocational pursuits.”

The severity of these effects are proportional to the cumulative number of “Aversive Childhood Experiences”[ACEs] that people encounter during their formative years, the age at which the abuses occurred and the duration of the abuse. In general, the more abuse children suffer early in life, the more they will be subject to voice attacks as adults, and the more their behavior will be under the control of the critical inner voice.

3. How can an adult survivor of emotional child abuse overcome that critical inner voice?

First, recognize that the emotional pain you feel is valid. The experiences you had in growing up made it necessary for you to develop defenses, including the critical inner voice, and these defenses and voices now limit you in pursuing your goals in life. Understanding this important point can help you develop compassion for yourself, which is a strong antidote to the critical inner voice. The more you strengthen your real self and develop feeling for yourself, the weaker the inner voice will become and the less influence it will have over your life.

Second, read Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice and work through the journaling exercises in the chapters related to the areas that you are struggling with. These exercises are designed to increase your awareness of the inner voice, to understand its origins, and to challenge its control over your life. In addition, there are many articles and blogs available on www.psychalive.com that can empower you in overcoming this destructive thought process.

Third, if you believe that you could benefit from additional help, you may want to consider psychotherapy or you might want to use therapy as a tool for further personal development. You could look for a psychotherapist who is familiar with the critical inner voice and who applies the techniques of Voice Therapy, a cognitive/affective/behavioral method for accessing, identifying, and challenging the voice, in his or her practice.

Fourth, become more aware of the times you start attacking yourself in your mind. One way is to be aware of changes in your mood. Did your mood slip from optimistic to pessimistic in the last few days? Did you wake up this morning in a bad mood? Think about what you might be telling yourself, in terms of the critical inner voice, that is negative and affecting your mood.

Become more aware of when you start to attack yourself. It is also important to recognize the events, people, and experiences that trigger your self-attacks. Whenever you notice that you’re attacking yourself, simply take note of the fact, “Oh, I’m attacking myself again.” Recognize the attack for what it is, part of a destructive thinking process that is opposed to your best interests and your well-being. You may not even need to identify the specific voices at that point to return to your own point of view and a better mood

Most important, strive to maintain an accepting, compassionate, and loving attitude toward yourself in all the situations you encounter in your everyday life. Loving kindness mediation has been shown to be effective in helping people develop more self-compassion.

4. Most adult survivors of emotional child abuse have a tendency to bash themselves all the time… What are some steps they can follow to create a kinder inner voice (if that’s possible)?

Positive self-affirmations are a form of self-parenting, they are still a part of how we evaluate or judge ourselves. It’s impossible to effectively replace the critical inner voice with a “kinder inner voice” if you try to tell yourself positive things about yourself in this way.

Positive self-affirmations are very different from developing feelings of compassion for yourself. In Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, we emphasized this crucial point. Self-parenting, whether it consists of soothing ourselves with positive self-affirmations or punishing ourselves with negative self-statements, is part of a defense that we developed early in life to compensate for what was missing in our environment. “People tend to parent themselves as they were parented, both soothing and punishing themselves in a manner similar to the way their parents soothed and punished them.”

It is very important for you to develop compassionate feelings or attitudes toward yourself. Strive to adopt Dan Siegel’s attitude of COAL, that is, be Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving toward yourself. Think of it this way, you would probably never treat a close friend the way you often treat yourself when you are under the influence of the voice. Learn to befriend yourself, be as kind to yourself as you would be toward your friend.

Dispense with all judgments or evaluations of yourself and practice being kinder to yourself on an emotional level. Even in situations where your critical inner voice accuses you of something that has some basis in reality, don’t castigate yourself for a mistake you made or for something you disapprove of in yourself.

* * *

Thanks, Lisa, for taking the time to answer questions for The Invisible Scar.