Part 1 – Call Me Crazy: the Gaslighting of Homeschool Abuse Survivors

Part 1 – Call Me Crazy: the Gaslighting of Homeschool Abuse Survivors December 24, 2014
christmas
CC image from Becoming Worldly

by Heather Doney cross posted from her blog Becoming Worldly

Editor’s note: This is part one of two. At some point during posting this the last half didn’t come over so the post has been split in two to correct this and because of the lengthiness of the original article. Part two will be posted on December 29th. 

Last week my Dad diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. Maybe this could have explained a few things, and no doubt he would like to think it does, except for one uncomfortable fact. I do not have bipolar disorder. I still see a counselor and I previously saw another one for two years and I’m pretty sure that if I had bipolar disorder, one of them would have told me.

So today I’d like to say a little bit about this sort accusation of mental illness and it’s connection to abusive behavior. First off, mental illness is still pretty stigmatized and mentally ill people are often seen as scary and dirty, loose cannons, but that is largely an inaccurate perception, fueled by witnessing mentally ill persons who have been grossly neglected, and by conflating abusive behavior with mentally ill behavior. In fact, if you want to look at your odds, the CDC reportsthat “about 25% of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50% of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.” So about half of Americans will struggle with mental illness at some point in their lives, most of it your average run-of-the-mill mental illness where it reduces your quality of life for a time but you can still get by and nobody will find you twitching and talking to yourself in a subway station, holding a bag of rotting garbage and a cup asking for spare change. It makes sense when you think about it. Mental disorders result from injury and predisposition to disease, same as cancer, (although the CDC says it is a bigger problem prevalence-wise and a bigger cause of lost earnings than cancer and heart disease combined) and although nobody wants it, and everybody would love to find a cure, mental illness still occurs to varying degrees and at varying acuity levels and sometimes shit happens to people who least expect it.

If you’d have ever asked me if I’d be diagnosed with a mental illness when I was younger, or even just five years ago, I’d have said probably not. I felt strong and mentally strong. But then in the middle of grad school I started getting flashbacks and nightmares and insomnia and well, you know the rest. Delayed-onset PTSD, due to years of child abuse and neglect growing up, was something I had. Even with insurance and access to good counseling (a thing many do not have), it felt a bit like living in the flooded out city of New Orleans post-Katrina and trying to turn it into the city of Venice. It took time and I often didn’t think I could do it and there was a frustrating opportunity cost to all that work I had to do to get better when I’d have obviously much rathered be doing other things. There were considerable losses and lots of small daily inabilities and it was often a miserable slog along the way, too many days where I felt that this problem had pulverized me into little more than a tenderized piece of quivering flesh. But today I most definitely do believe in post-traumatic resilience. Why? Well, because despite what PTSD conveys to you while you’re in it (that you have a foreshortened sense of future, no light at the end of the tunnel, and will never have a good life) there is light at the end of the tunnel if you make an effort to heal and get healthy, confront the issues rather than relying on increasingly ineffectual coping mechanisms. It took time (about three years, really) but I bounced back. Today I can say that I have a life that’s better than the one I had before my PTSD breakthrough crisis. I’m less perfect-seeming, sure, a little more of a mess on the surface sometimes, but more authentic, more me. And that’s better. I found a sense of purpose in it, it helped me focus on my priorities a bit differently (including engaging in advocacy work on the important but largely-ignored issue of substandard homeschooling laws) and it reminded me of some things that are not my job. For example, I am not here to be perfect-seeming for other people, or make their lives easier by not having any visible issues myself. Fact is, I’m entitled to my issues and I’m allowed to share my experiences and what’s more, I live inside me and I’m here every day, and being true to that is important. I can use all that energy I was using to second-guess myself and keep up facades and internal walls and a seeming overachiever perfection to actually live my life fuller, happier, truer, and more honestly. And that’s awesome. What isn’t awesome is how some people, mainly abusers or people who believe the abusers and unwittingly serve as their errand-boys, don’t understand or care about this at all and can and do use the stigma of mental illness (trauma-induced or otherwise) to discredit abuse survivors.

This using mental illness as an excuse to not listen as well as to instill fear and revulsion about what “crazed” survivors might do is a big problem in the homeschool survivors movement. So many “leaders” and parents who wish we’d just shut up and go away have diagnosed us with demonic possession, or schizophrenia, or narcissism, or pathological lying compulsions, or anger management issues, or just plain old fashioned “delusion.” They go “who you gonna believe, me…or this crazy person in front of you?” And then they usually concern-troll, saying “I really hope this obviously disturbed person gets help.”In fact, I had it happen to me last week, from my own Dad.

Since I reported my Dad to Child Protective Services, he’s taken to providing cheery little “updates” on my half-brother’s educational progress, mass texting all of his children with them. And I have responded in the only way I know how – by taking a word-machete to his bullshit. The first time he said nothing in response. This last update he did. He called me mentally ill, to my siblings and probably anyone else he discussed it with.

I have included the conversation here, as I think it doesn’t just show what I’m personally dealing with in this situation (which sucks, especially right before the holidays), but because it is a pretty textbook example of what this “listen to me, not this crazy person” phenomenon can look like:

Wed, Oct 22, 3:52pm
Dad: All of you kids have done well in school, and [youngest son] is following in your footsteps. He scored high (Exceeded Standards) on all five of his CRCT tests last year and Scanton tests this year, so he was moved into the gifted program today. WooHoo!! He needed at least a score of 835 in Language Arts and/or Math, yet his lowest score with regard to all five CRCT tests was 850. The downside of the change is that he has some great teachers this year, and he is going to miss them since he will have all gifted-certified teachers. His new classes start tomorrow. Anyway, I just wanted to share the good news with you all. I’m very proud of him and all of you as well.

Me: Dad, Grammy would be rolling over in her grave if she knew you pulled [youngest son] out of public school and have him at home, with you, sitting at some computer all day. A holistic education and an environment free from abuse (verbal and physical) and time to be with children his age is what [youngest son] needs. The amount of time and money and energy all four grandparents put into correcting the neglect for us older kids speaks volumes. You and Mom failed. The fact that you’d think you can try again with “homeschooling” shows a massive amount of hubris on your part. You can give all the metrics in the world that you want, be a good salesman about it, but I know without a doubt that any child being home with you all day is not getting their needs met. Because if you were interested in and knowledgeable about meeting a child’s needs, you’d have shown a very different side of yourself for the first 30+ years and over half a dozen kids for whom you were a parent. Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you. Poor little [youngest son], I am glad he tested well, but I feel for him. He deserves a much better steward for his education than a mean and selfish blowhard who can’t even hold a job teaching GED classes to prisoners. And you are too selfish to give him that.

Thursday Dec, 12:31
Dad: Hey guys! Well [youngest son] has done it again. He now has been enrolled in an accelerated math class and will be taking 7th-grade math. His math teacher also invited him to co-moderate her regular math class as a student-peer teacher. All of his mid-year grades in all subject are above 96.5%. At the rate he is going, he may be skipping a grade before it is all over this year. Anyway, I wanted to share the good news. Hope everyone has a great Christmas! "</p

Part 2

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Heather Doney blogs at https://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/

Heather was raised Fundamentalist Evangelical in South Louisiana until she was 13. At that tender age she was introduced to the world at large and starting her journey away from home schooling environment.

Her blog is primarily about Quiverfull lifestyle, homeschooling culture and politics, child welfare, PTSD, education, poverty, big families, gender issues, and maybe a few bits of south Louisiana or New England culture and a recipe or craft project or two thrown in, just for fun.

She is a member of NLQ’s The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

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  • That_Susan

    You obviously know more about your own childhood than I do — but the messages you posted, simply taken at face value, come across as him being a proud dad and possibly also not wanting anyone else to see a reason to report him to CPS, and as you not wanting him to succeed at parenting this time because he failed so miserably with you.

    I think it’s great that you’re working to change homeschooling laws in order to make things safer and better for homeschooled kids everywhere. I don’t know if testing is already required in the state where your dad lives, or if he even bothered with having you tested when you were homeschooling, but at least he is getting this son tested, hopefully regularly. If he has simply started doing this as a response to the CPS visit, then I think you should feel good about the positive change that you have created for your younger brother by calling.

    My own sister called CPS on me six years ago because she disagreed with my homeschooling, and even though it hurt me that she did that, it also gave me the strength to step away from my dysfunctional relationship with her without having to feel guilty. There are some differences between your dad and me, as I have no history of being abusive, and my sister actually trusted me to do a lot of babysitting for her, so it felt rather bizarre when I realized that she felt like I couldn’t be trusted to parent my own kids.

    I think another big difference between having a sibling report you to CPS and having one of your children do it, is that it’s somewhat easier to break ties with a sibling than with your own child. And I think your dad also realizes that he failed bigtime when he was bringing you up, so he wants to keep the door open. Again, I don’t know the details of your life but I really wish the best for you and your family.

  • Saraquill

    There’s something off about what the dad’s saying. I can’t quite place it, but it feels liek there is slime around the sentences.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    There really is slime-ishness around Dad’s words. If I hadn’t known Heather and known her situation we wouldn’t have used her story because on face value it reads like she’s reacting inappropriately. But.. knowing her own story and what the history is with the things her father has done through the years really makes this a prime example of gaslighting.

    Never been a fan of anyone arm chair diagnosising mental illness. No matter what side of the equation they are on. Better to say, “I think you have blah-blah-blah tendencies. Perhaps you should seek help” not people saying “Oh so-n-so is a schizo or narcissist”, it’s never just that simple.

  • That_Susan

    I agree that there’s something “off” in that he is probably aware that at least one of his children is very unhappy with him as a parent, and rather than directly apologizing to her for how he failed and how he hurt her, he is trying to get back at her for calling CPS on him by presenting his youngest son’s progress in extremely glowing terms.

    I know that there’s also something a bit “off” about my wish that my sister could be aware of my own children’s progress and feel really crappy about trying to get CPS involved in our lives, and about my periodic harping about her online to people who don’t even know either one of us.

    The main difference is that I didn’t raise my sister so she doesn’t have any reason to resent me for whatever pain she is dealing with in her own life today — but as a parent, if one of my own children were as upset with me as Heather is with her dad, I’d be trying to bridge the gap rather than sending out glib messages over the Internet.

    I think this dad would be the kind of person whom I’d simply block from communicating with me online. I’m kind of relieved that my mom is 90 and doesn’t do social media. We only communicate over the phone and in face-to-face visits, which I learned to simply end when she started saying hurtful things to me, such as continually reminding me of wrong decisions I made many years ago. It would be really hard if she were the sort to continually say this kind of stuff to me over Facebook or something.

    Now it’s a lot easier, because she’s mentally spending a lot more time in her own childhood, so the stuff she goes on and on about happened way before I was born.

  • Astrin Ymris

    If you follow the link, there’s more of the story on the website. The younger brother in question WAS thriving in a public school; dad withdrew him and started homeschooling him in a direct response to his daughter’s allegations of abuse and the educational inadequacy of the homeschooling she and the other oldest siblings received. It was a kind of “Oh, yeah?!? I’ll show YOU!”