How I know I was abused

The mentality of both my parents was extremely black or white. It was a symptom of their personality-disordered thinking. If you didn’t fit into their tiny idea of what was right, then you were WRONG. There was no reasoning with them and they knew better than everyone. It was impossible to express anger or anything negative toward them, so I was forced to turn my rage inward. It became a burning self-hatred that ate me alive.

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I made my first suicide attempt at the age of 19 by slashing my wrists in a warm bath while I was away at college. I did not want my parents to know of the incident. But my roommates, having been raised in normal households, assumed incorrectly that I would want my parents there. To my dismay and without my consent, they called my parents at home to inform them of what happened. I presume my roommates expected that my parents’ presence would provide me with a sense of love and support when I needed it most, as they were used to receiving from their own families. They had no idea that my parents were, in fact, the last people I wanted around me when I was at my worst.

My parents did immediately make the drive to visit me in the mental hospital. The first thing my mother said to me was that I had done a very bad thing. Why couldn’t I have taken pills? She disparaged my choice to self-harm in such a violent, bloody manner. My mother could only imagine that a woman committing suicide ought to be pretty and romantic – gently slipping away with a bouquet of flowers in her perfectly clasped hands. I didn’t want to go quietly and ‘ladylike’. I was furious at the world and the only way I could think to cope was to turn all that anger on myself.

What sparked my attempt that particular time was that my first serious boyfriend broke up with me in order to rekindle a relationship with his high school sweetheart. Being with him and seeing that his family genuinely liked me was heaven. It was foreign and astonishing that I could be myself and actually appreciated! That it could be taken away in a fickle moment with no warning made me feel the bottom had dropped out and there was no safety net. The only comfort I had ever known was never mine to have. It reinforced to me that the world was hazardous and unsafe. At that time, as well as many others, I decided I no longer wished to live if the only guarantee was pain.

When my mother asked my sister what could have possibly made me so despondent, my sister tried to explain that it was because I had never felt loved. My mother scoffed and said that was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard. That, and many similar responses over the years, taught my sister that it was not safe to express one’s emotions. She watched me try repeatedly to be authentic and honest, and saw me get shot down time and time again.

In some ways, I think my sister was more sensitive than I was. I kept putting myself out there and taking the risk of being me, even though I knew the cost. Despite the hurt it often drew, not just from our parents but from others outside the family too, it never changed who I was deep down. I always maintained hope that my strength and truth would be rewarded. My sister, however, succumbed to the pressure to conform in order to escape harm. It was less painful to be what my parents wanted than to be true to herself and face criticism. She preferred living in a bland middle-zone in which she was sheltered from disapproval, but at the cost of giving up good feelings as well. I have always known that was a price I was not willing to pay.

My mother often labeled me ‘phony’, ‘weird’ and ‘not normal’ anytime I tried to break out of her constraints. She tried to put me back in my box. I was treated as a second-class citizen, a servant in my own family. I had to do all the work for no reward. My sister, on the other hand, had all the privileges and was actually favored for adopting a flippant and callous demeanor. In fact, that she could take my mother’s insults and turn them right back on her actually made them good friends! I, on the other hand, for trying to be a good daughter and taking my mother’s words to heart was branded the problem child. The Scapegoat vs Golden Child roles in narcissistic families is well-known. I got all the blame, while she could do no wrong.

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I have spent a good deal of my life questioning if what I experienced did actually constitute abuse. After all, there were no bruises, broken bones, or unwanted touching. I was given adequate food and clothing appropriate for the weather. The conclusion I have come to is this: any kind of abuse has at its roots the malice of setting your boundaries for you. Whether sexual, physical, financial, verbal, psychological, or emotional they all have that in common. They force other people’s standards and limits upon you with no regard for what you are comfortable with. Those of us who were abused as children have not had the opportunity to learn what our own boundaries are, or even that such a concept exists.

Abusers have in common a lack of empathy and self-awareness, as well as an impenetrable self-serving mentality and self-righteousness. They think they have the right to make decisions for others that are harmful for them and they don’t feel bad. Otherwise, they would never become abusive in the first place because remorse would have notified them that what they were doing was wrong and they would change their ways. Healthy, normal people feel bad when they realize they’ve hurt someone. They listen to the other’s point of view and have the wherewithal to prevent themselves from making the same mistake. In short, they care.

My parents tried very, very hard to break my empathy. I kept trying to forge connection with them, and they cut me down every time with cruel and biting remarks. They eroded my trust by going behind my back to talk bad about me, refusing to acknowledge things they had said and done (and told me I was making it up), and rewarding my sister’s callousness. For whatever reason, I was just hardwired to be a sensitive, caring, and compassionate individual. They could not break me, no matter how much they tried. I continued to seek ways to grow emotionally and teach myself the things they should have but didn’t. I’ve heard those raised by single mothers say they had to be their own father. Well, I had to be my own father AND my own mother.

While sometimes, yes, I am angry at them, I can’t hold onto resentment. It does piss me off that they can’t admit to any mistakes, but if they aren’t able to introspect and examine themselves I can’t force them to or expect a change. So it’s up to me to do better and to fix the consequences of the way they raised me. It wasn’t my fault. I never asked for it and it may not be fair but it doesn’t help to blame them. I just have to commit to doing better and healing the gaping void they left inside me.

If you can relate, I want to remind you that you are beautiful. Everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and valued simply because they are alive. Your struggles are not shameful and talking about them will help not only free yourself but others as well. You are lovable, and you are not alone.

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