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.
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.