"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: You Carry the Cure In Your Own Heart: Healing from Emotional Abuse

Thursday, June 07, 2018

You Carry the Cure In Your Own Heart: Healing from Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse of children can lead, in adulthood, to addiction, rage, a severely damaged sense of self and an inability to truly bond with others. But—if it happened to you—there is a way out.
Following is an excerpted essay by attorney and author Andrew Vachss, an expert on the subject of child abuse and author of "Down in the Zero."

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child's self–concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

Emotional abuse can be as deliberate as a gunshot: "You're fat. You're stupid. You're ugly."

Emotional abuse can be active. Vicious belittling: "You'll never be the success your brother was."

Deliberate humiliation: "You're so stupid. I'm ashamed you're my son."

It also can be passive, the emotional equivalent of child neglect—a sin of omission, true, but one no less destructive.

And it may be a combination of the two, which increases the negative effects geometrically.

Emotional abuse can be verbal or behavioral, active or passive, frequent or occasional. Regardless, it is often as painful as physical assault. And, with rare exceptions, the pain lasts much longer. A parent's love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a "failure to thrive" condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition.

Even the natural solace of siblings is denied to those victims of emotional abuse who have been designated as the family's "target child." The other children are quick to imitate their parents. Instead of learning the qualities every child will need as an adult—empathy, nurturing and protectiveness—they learn the viciousness of a pecking order. And so the cycle continues.

But whether as a deliberate target or an innocent bystander, the emotionally abused child inevitably struggles to "explain" the conduct of his abusers—and ends up struggling for survival in a quicksand of self–blame.

Emotional abuse is both the most pervasive and the least understood form of child maltreatment. Its victims are often dismissed simply because their wounds are not visible. In an era in which fresh disclosures of unspeakable child abuse are everyday fare, the pain and torment of those who experience "only" emotional abuse is often trivialized. We understand and accept that victims of physical or sexual abuse need both time and specialized treatment to heal. But when it comes to emotional abuse, we are more likely to believe the victims will "just get over it" when they become adults.

That assumption is dangerously wrong. Emotional abuse scars the heart and damages the soul. Like cancer, it does its most deadly work internally. And, like cancer, it can metastasize if untreated.

When it comes to damage, there is no real difference between physical, sexual and emotional abuse. All that distinguishes one from the other is the abuser's choice of weapons. I remember a woman, a grandmother whose abusers had long since died, telling me that time had not conquered her pain. "It wasn't just the incest," she said quietly. "It was that he didn't love me. If he loved me, he couldn't have done that to me."

their lives often are marked by a deep, pervasive sadness, a severely damaged self-concept and an inability to truly engage and bond with others

But emotional abuse is unique because it is designed to make the victim feel guilty. Emotional abuse is repetitive and eventually cumulative behavior—very easy to imitate—and some victims later perpetuate the cycle with their own children. Although most victims courageously reject that response, their lives often are marked by a deep, pervasive sadness, a severely damaged self-concept and an inability to truly engage and bond with others.

We must renounce the lie that emotional abuse is good for children because it prepares them for a hard life in a tough world. I've met some individuals who were prepared for a hard life that way—I met them while they were doing life.

Emotionally abused children grow up with significantly altered perceptions so that they "see" behaviors—their own and others'—through a filter of distortion. Many emotionally abused children engage in a lifelong drive for the approval (which they translate as "love") of others. So eager are they for love—and so convinced that they don't deserve it—that they are prime candidates for abuse within intimate relationships.

The emotionally abused child can be heard inside every battered woman who insists: "It was my fault, really. I just seem to provoke him somehow."

And the almost–inevitable failure of adult relationships reinforces that sense of unworthiness, compounding the felony, reverberating throughout the victim's life.

Emotional abuse conditions the child to expect abuse in later life. Emotional abuse is a time bomb, but its effects are rarely visible, because the emotionally abused tend to implode, turning the anger against themselves. And when someone is outwardly successful in most areas of life, who looks within to see the hidden wounds?

The primary weapons of emotional abusers is the deliberate infliction of guilt. They use guilt the same way a loan shark uses money: They don't want the "debt" paid off, because they live quite happily on the "interest."

when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers

When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers. It's time to stop playing that role.

Because emotional abuse comes in so many forms (and so many disguises), recognition is the key to effective response. For example, when allegations of child sexual abuse surface, it is a particularly hideous form of emotional abuse to pressure the victim to recant, saying he or she is "hurting the family" by telling the truth. And precisely the same holds true when a child is pressured to sustain a lie by a "loving" parent.

Another rarely understood form of emotional abuse makes victims responsible for their own abuse by demanding that they "understand" the perpetrator. Telling a 12–year–old girl that she was an —enabler— of her own incest is emotional abuse at its most repulsive.

A particularly pernicious myth is that "healing requires forgiveness" of the abuser. For the victim of emotional abuse, the most viable form of help is self–help—and a victim handicapped by the need to "forgive" the abuser is a handicapped helper indeed. The most damaging mistake an emotional–abuse victim can make is to invest in the "rehabilitation" of the abuser. Too often this becomes still another wish that didn't come true—and emotionally abused children will conclude that they deserve no better result.
although the damage was done with words, true forgiveness can only be earned with deeds
The costs of emotional abuse cannot be measured by visible scars, but each victim loses some percentage of capacity. And that capacity remains lost so long as the victim is stuck in the cycle of "understanding" and "forgiveness." The abuser has no "right" to forgiveness—such blessings can only be earned. And although the damage was done with words, true forgiveness can only be earned with deeds.

For those with an idealized notion of "family," the task of refusing to accept the blame for their own victimization is even more difficult. For such searchers, the key to freedom is always truth—the real truth, not the distorted, self–serving version served by the abuser.

But for some emotional abusers, rehabilitation is not possible. For such people, manipulation is a way of life. They coldly and deliberately set up a "family" system in which the child can never manage to "earn" the parent's love. In such situations, any emphasis on "healing the whole family" is doomed to failure.

If you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self–help until you learn to self–reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what "goodness" really is. Adopting the abuser's calculated labels—"You're crazy. You're ungrateful. It didn't happen the way you say"—only continues the cycle.
survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life–choices: learn to self–reference or remain a victim 
Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life–choices: learn to self–reference or remain a victim. When your self–concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.

It's time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self–respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to "forgiveness"—forgiveness of yourself.

How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.

And it is never too soon—or too late—to start.

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1 comment:

  1. It sounds like this article was lifted right from the pages of a Laestadian upbringing...at least many whom I knew of. Sometimes seeing things after a period of many years helps one look at past events more objectively. Recently I was driving around my hometown where there are still many Laestadians. I began noticing these vans or large cars driving by with large families and I quickly realized that they were Apostolic Lutheran families. But what initially struck me were the flat, expressionless and non-emotional affects of the male drivers and presumably their wives. They both had this dead pan look to their faces in contrast to other drivers. It made me realize that all the children in the vehicles were growing up in homes with rather distorted views of the world and of life itself. Free said, "when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers." In other words those fresh young faces in the van were almost destined to become dead panned, fatalistic and without emotion in just a few more years. Old AP

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