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Helpless As The Battle Rages : Emotional Abuse
by Cate Russell-Cole
10/19/2015 / Self Help
As a small child I remember sitting curled up on the floor of my Grandmother's place. I was a small child, and wanted to be even smaller still, as I was trapped, watching my mother and my aunty fight to maintain the first place in their private battles for justification and superiority. I remember them drawing me into the fight, an innocent child pulled in to gain points in the midst of their fury of what had happened thirty years past. My aunty declaring that she loved me as much as my mother did. How could that be? What did I have to do with it? I don't remember. I was another point to score from, the same as I have always been with my family. I could have moved to another room, but for some macabre reason I stayed. I was watching what they were really like, and it has left such a profound imprint on me that I still have no love or respect for that aunty, or my grandmother who continually escalated the conflict for her own entertainment. These days, I don't even visit my elderly mother who lives around the corner from me.
Yes, that is an apt illustration of what I have been to my family. "Another point to score from." To give others a reason for feeling important or worthwhile, to be the one who was expected to rescue and provide for everyone - let others off the hook from their responsibilities.
The strange irony was that they chose the disabled person to do it; the one who wasn't supposed to be physically able to play all the roles; the one who was supposed to have no hope, no future, no independence - and no choice.
When I fought against them and proved how capable I could be, which they had not planned for, they thought they would use that too, to meet their own needs. What originally looked like an altruistic, selfless act on a part of a family willing to love and care for a disabled child, turned into the greatest battle and source of oppression I have ever experienced. I was there to give to them, and should I decide I did not want to do what they wanted, in any small way, such as having a problem at school they didn't want to face, being lonely or wanting to move out of home and have a separate life; I was selfish; I owed them for all they had done for me; and I was hated, abused and told I was bad. So was I adopted as a child or a piece of property?
Thirty one years later that battle is continuing. For you also, it may be recognizable in your own life as the dread when hearing a certain person's voice on the other end of the telephone, making their demands. It's when you feel insecure with people, who treat you both well and badly, expecting that you have always done the wrong thing, offended them and demanded too much of them in some way.
These are some of the outcomes of being emotionally abused. It may have been in your family when you were growing up, a best friend, a relationship with a dominating, manipulating partner, from any number of people or places. But the outcome is a deeply ingrained sense of worthlessness, being wrong, being bad, and being a burden whose needs aren't worth being met. Indifference also wounds. To be hated or have anger directed at you at least takes some energy on the part of the sender, indifference implies you are not worthy of any effort.
In healthy relationships there is room for equality and give and take. Each person is considered a valuable human being who has an important contribution to make, a role to play that you would have a loss without. There is love, affection, listening, time to play together, freedom to air problems and grievances without the screaming, the blaming and the putting down.
The clearest indication of our individual value is received through words. Repeated phrases or names we were labelled with as a child often produce long lasting wounds, or long lasting self-esteem. Were you told you were a "good girl/boy" or that you were "stupid," a "nuisance?" Actions also speak louder than words. Sending children to bed or to their room when company comes may seem appropriate to an adult. But if that child is constantly receiving messages of being unwanted, or worthless, or "the silent treatment," then being packed off to bed in addition screams a very clear message at them. These kind of incidents occurring as a child grows up can create either attention seeking behaviour (often negative) or fearful, rejected loners.
It has been said that for every negative word spoken, it takes five positive ones to undo the damage. James speaks clearly of the power of the tongue. "Even so, the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!... Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so." (James 3:5,10)
So, how do you start to recover from the wounds of emotional abuse? Here are some suggestions for dealing not only with the problem, but also with the abuser.
1. Go to Jesus and form a good relationship with Him. Let His Word and the Holy Spirit renew your mind, as you discover the value we have in Him, and how He sees us.
2. Reparenting support from a loving Christian family (church), however not dependence. Realize Christians can hurt you too. Only God can give you everything you need without hurting you as people do.
3. Establish new boundaries and the courage to maintain them, i.e. not being a doormat or a control freak. Pray for God's point of view on how much time etc. to spend with the abuser/s whilst maintaining boundaries without fights or being guilt ridden through manipulation, etc. You may need to spend less time with them and in less vulnerable surroundings e.g. public places, neutral territory, short phone calls and visits. In extreme or unresolvable cases, you may have to cut yourself off from them altogether, at least for a period.
4. Be forgiving, but realize that you may need some emotional healings from the Holy Spirit before you can entirely let go. You need to be willing and making an effort, but it is a process that is rarely achieved instantly. You also need to forgive yourself and God. Whether you think you need to or not, subconsciously we tend to blame God for not preventing the damage, and ourselves for failing to meet set standards and be what we wanted to be.
5. Don't dwell on what's happened. When big issues loom, deal with short accounts. When you get hurt, talk it out and deal with it rather than letting it build.
6. Be independent of the "abuser" if you can. This may be in the areas of company, financial assistance, living arrangements, asking for advice and other help, etc. Take problems first to God, not always people, and take care of yourself without being dependent. Hebrews 12:1b-2a "...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith..."
I know it is hard, I know it is unfair, and you will go through a lot of grief at the loss of the family you had hoped they would become, but no matter how heart breaking the circumstances and how great the damage, there is nothing that God cannot put back together. Your family will not heal you. He is the only One who can truly set the captives free.
This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Written in Australian English.
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