A few days ago, I invited my readers to help me speak out against abuse. To be a choir of voices for the voiceless (if you would like to be a voice, read my post “Join the chorus” for more information).
Teri J responded to my post and gave me permission to share her story of emotional and mental abuse. I hope you’ll take time to read her story below, and afterward check out her blogs:
I am a victim of emotional abuse.
I must describe my childhood because it is where the wounds began that affected the rest of my life and which caused the fears and struggles that I battled. It also describes my relationship with God, and how it began and progressed. I think the story of my childhood is sort of like an illusion that tricks the eyes because if I look at it from one angle, it appears to be one way, but if I look at it from another angle, it appears a totally different way. Looking at it a third angle, changes it yet again. So in telling the story of my childhood, I have to tell it from several different perspectives: from the way I thought my childhood was, from the way it really was, and from the perspective of my spiritual walk. This is complicated and difficult because one touched and affected the other, and I don’t know how to tell it in any sort of logical order.
One perspective of my childhood would make it appear golden. I was the fifth of six children. My brother was the oldest and then there were five girls. I loved my family deeply. I loved God, I longed to be good, and I had a strong desire to obey. I could be counted on to do tasks without complaint. I was a very good student, and graduated from high school with honors. At church I always did my lessons, always memorized the verses, and was said to be wise and very responsible. I began teaching my own Sunday school full-time when I was in 9th grade. I was asked to be the head of the primary department at church when I was a senior in high school–but declined because I didn’t think I was mature enough. I was captain of our church Bible quiz team, and usually president of the youth group. I was highly praised at home and at church.
Another perspective is not so rosy. I feel now as if I was blinded to the problems and dysfunctions in my family. I didn’t really recognized what was happening until later in my life. I didn’t see that my Mom compared children, favoring some over others. I wasn’t consciously aware that love in the family was based on performance and meeting expectations or that the children who weren’t compliant were unaccepted and unloved. I was unaware of the half-truths and deceptions that my parents used that caused conflict and broken relationships between siblings. I didn’t know that my Mom had never loved two of my sisters.
My perspective of my family completely changed when I got engaged to be married when I was 27 years old. At first, my Mom praised my fiance, but it wasn’t long before she began to criticize him and me, and to place unreasonable demands on me. I believe she began to see my fiance as a rival, and fear she was losing her control over me. I had called her every day on the phone (often more), but she wanted me to visit. Everything I did was wrong. She began to lie about me to others. When I asked her for help planning my wedding, she said she couldn’t help me and to just get a wedding planner book. When I tried to tell her about my wedding plans, it was obvious she didn’t want to hear. However, she told my finance’s family that I refused to tell her my plans or let her help. She accused me of not deserving to wear of white wedding gown (I did). She said that I was the “boldiest and brassiest bride” she had ever known, so determined that this was MY day, and I would enjoy it. In reality, I have always been quiet, polite, and obedient. My Mom gave me so much grief that my fiance and I weren’t sure my family would attend our wedding so we finally decided on a small immediate family only ceremony. My Mom wore black to my wedding. My pastor said that in all his 30 years of being a minister, he’d never encountered a family like mine.
The difficulties continued even after I was married. I cannot describe all the mind-twisting abuse we have suffered. My Mom told me that I was “a daughter from Hell. The worst daughter a mother could have.” She told lies about me to other family members, turning most of them against me. She twisted, interpreted, and “rewrote” things that happened, making lies seem like truth. She told others in the family that I hung up on her when I didn’t, and that we were only “nice” because we wanted other people to think we were nice. She got mad because I mailed her a card from work instead of the local post office, got upset because I was in our apartment building’s basement laundry room and didn’t know she had come to visit, condemned us for putting our TV where we did in our apartment, and criticized my husband and me for going to town festivals the first summer we were married. “Life isn’t all fun and games, you know,” she said. Sometimes, trying to deal with her, has made me feel crazy.
At first, I had no idea what was happening. I begged my Mom not to make me choose between my husband and her because I loved them both. I tried to compromise without giving her total control over my husband and me. For 20 years I’ve struggled with how to love her, how to reconcile with her. When I am direct and tell her I love her and want to reconcile with her, she pours out rage on me at the terrible failure I am as a daughter. When I step back from the abuse, she sends me sweet birthday cards, which for many years has confused me, making me renew my efforts to reconcile because “maybe she is just wounded and doesn’t know how to love.” I was told by one sister that my Mom has said that all my efforts are “a mere drop in a tea cup” and that she will never, ever forgive me. When I called my Mom in May 2010 to tell her I love her, she raged at me, criticized my husband for saying something stupid 20 years ago, and insulted him terribly, raging that he had brainwashed me. When I told her, “Don’t you dare talk about my husband that way,” she repeated over and over again with great rage, “Oh I dare, I dare, I dare, oh, I dare…” until I finally said, “Then it’s over”–and at that time I really did hang up as she continued, “I dare, oh I dare, I dare, I dare…..” At that time, I decided that for my sanity, I needed to separate from the abuse and have nothing to do with my family.
I think the most difficult, painful, and lonely thing about emotional abuse is that when you try to tell others, they don’t believe you. Decades ago, rape victims were silent about what happened to them because if they reported the rape and their case went to court, they were put on trial more than the rapists, as if somehow they deserved the rape. At one time, women who were physically abused by their husbands were told that they needed to be better wives–that they must have done something to cause their husbands to abuse them. I don’t think that many, these days, would advise an abuse victim to stay with their abuser. People are now aware that physical abuse is not the victim’s fault, and that the abuse tends to become more violent if a victim stays. However, there is a form of abuse that few recognize: emotional (or psychological) abuse.
With emotional abuse, there are no bruises to point to, no broken bones to prove it happened. The abusers can be so manipulative and deceptive, and appear so loving and charismatic, that people–even the victim herself (or himself)==find it hard to believe that abuse is happening. People often make excuses for the abuser: she is probably just wounded. He doesn’t know how to love. I’m sure she really loves you. They advise the victim to love her abuser more or forgive more, and in doing so add to the guilt and shame that the abusers are already inflicting on his or her victim. When victims try to share their story, they appear petty, unforgiving, bitter. They aren’t believed so they end up being silent, struggling and suffering alone.
You want a picture of emotional abuse? Read the book T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton or watch the movie Tangled. In T is for Tresspass, the nurse is an emotional abuser, appearing good while she is abusing her patient. Kelsey, the main chararacter, shows what it’s like for those trying to deal with emotional abusers. In the movie Tangled, Repunzel’s fake mother sounds very loving, but she is actually controlling Repunzel with guilt and shame so she can use her for her own purposes. How could Repunzel be so terrible as to disobey her dear mother who just wants to do what is best for her??? Repunzel’s struggle between joy at her newfound freedom when she escaped from the tower, and guilt over being such an awful daughter describes my struggle to be free quite well.
A victim of emotional abuse has to fight very hard battles to be free of emotional abuse. She has to seek truth in her life–about others’ dysfunctions and her own–and keep hold of it. As I began to recognize dysfunction, I realized that I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what I liked/disliked, I struggled to make decisions of my own, and I had no personal boundaries in place. I also felt guilt over the problems with my family, and have thought, “If only I had done this or that…we wouldn’t have had these problems.” I have wondered (and sometimes still wonder) if it’s my fault, if I’m the monster they describe me as. Over the years, I have been growing step by step into healing and freedom. I have come a long way, so I know who I am, I like who I am, I know what I like and dislike, and I don’t have a such a need to gain others’ approval. I continue to fight to overcome the effects of dysfunction in my life. Part of my fighting has been to finally make the decision to separate from my family–or most of them–as long as they remain abusive. This has been an anguishing decision for me. When I have contact with my family, even indirectly, I have to fight again to overcome fear, guilt, feelings of suffocation. I then reread information about emotional abuse to remind myself that I am not crazy, I’m not making this up, it’s REAL.
The book, In Sheep’s Clothing – Dealing With Manipulative People, has been very helpful to me in understanding my family. The author seems to be very accurately describing my Mom/family. Here is a link to an excerpt from the book, as well as links to sites about emotional abuse.