Abuse is a word that carries a whole lot of baggage. When most people think about “abusers” they think of wife beaters and people that take express anger violently against others, rapists, pedophiles – well you get the picture. But those are only the extreme definitions of what defines an abuser.
When I didn’t know what abuse was, I didn’t know. When I didn’t know that there were abusers in my life I didn’t know who those abusers were. That might sound logical but there are pretty deep roots associated with this denial and with not recognizing abuse AND abusers.
I am writing this “mini snapshot of truth” today because of a profound comment that I got on my blog post “How Children Become the Black Sheep of the family” this morning from Michelle. (comment #55)
Michelle said “I kept trying to be validated for many years. (I should have realized you can’t get validation from an abuser, but I hadn’t yet recognized her as an abuser at that point”)
This comment brought me back to the first time I realized that there were “abusers” in my life. There were people who abused their power and authority over other people and they were in MY life too. I remember the first time that I actually realized that my mother was abusive. I had been at a seminar about the misuse of power and control in relationships and I was exhausted from all the information that I was trying to comprehend. On the second day of the seminar I suddenly realized that my father in law was a huge bully. He used bursts of anger to control and manipulate everyone into doing whatever it was he wanted. He used the fear of what he would DO if people didn’t do what he wanted against everyone. Understanding that he was an abuser was suddenly so clear to me that I felt like I couldn’t breathe while simultaneously having this major revelation and understanding which felt like a relief. It was kind of like a “OH NOW I GET IT” moment. About an hour later I realized that my mother was an abusive woman; an abuser in more than once sense of that word. I realized that her tactics were very different than my father in laws tactics were, but none the less she used her power to disempower me and to get her own way. That was the moment in my life where the seed that would grow into my freedom, took root.
For months after that day I took apart all kinds of false truth that I had about the way relationship works and realized that more truthfully I had way more examples of the ways that relationship doesn’t work. I began to see how I had been groomed to accept abusive behaviour in relationship as “normal” and functional. I had grown up accepting abuse as “just the way life is”.
There were a few key steps in getting to the beginning of that process of recognizing abuse and abusers in my own life. The reason that the Comment from Michelle struck me so hard is because I remembered how HARD it was for me to see these important family members as “abusers” in the first place and that until I did, I did not make any significant progress in my healing. I always talk about how I had to find the roots of where I got broken in order to achieve emotional healing in the first place and I thought that denial was always about ME. I didn’t realize that I was in denial about the very people that had DONE (or were still doing) the damage in the first place.
I was practicing positive thinking, letting go and “acceptance is the answer” without ever facing the truth about what I was trying to let go of, and what I had not actually accepted yet. It was much easier to skip those harder steps of looking at the truth about some of the people in my life.
I remember the foggy misty feeling of realizing that my own mother had done things that I was in denial about the very nature of those things. I “knew” that those things were wrong, but I glossed them over and I never considered that those things were legally classified as abusive. The impact was mind altering. It was frightening and enlightening at the same time. I remember having this realization that the root to the fog was in that denial. I felt this “other worldly” kind of unbalanced and sideways feeling like the world was tilting and I was tilting with it. I felt unstable and kind of dizzy but at the same time I somehow knew that this “shift” in the way I saw things was the answer. It turned out to be the answer that I had been both looking for and avoiding my entire life.
It isn’t so much about blame as it is about the truth. Blame was like a stepping stone on the journey; it was necessary for me to go there. There was blame that had been misapplied to me and I had to put it back where it belonged. Once I saw the truth I was able to heal. I no longer have the anger and resentments that I had for most of my life. I also no longer have the pain of living with such broken self esteem and low self worth that I mistakenly believed was there because there was something “wrong” with me.
The following links contain information about the definitions of abuse, neglect and psychological abuse; these definitions and definitions of abuse like these helped me to come out of the denial about my childhood and more importantly helped me to validate the damage that was done. Just like I had to recognize that there were abusive people in my life in order to face that I had in fact been abused, I had to acknowledge the damage before I could heal from it.
Definitions of Neglect http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan.cfm
Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect may be:
- Physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision)
- Medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment)3
- Educational (e.g., failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)
- Emotional (e.g., inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)