TRIGGER WARNING: ABUSE
I read this post on Tumblr and it talked about my experience with a strong and familiar voice. I posted it in the comments on my Facebook yesterday, but I think it’s worth promoting on Main for other survivors who might take some comfort from it like I did.
“Living in a long-term abusive situation, attackers will often ask you to ‘act normally’, as if all is well and good, even if you don’t feel well. They present it to you as necessary, polite, “don’t be rude to xyz” or they will demean and humiliate you directly until acting “normal” is the only safe option for you. It creates the illusion that everyone is secretly falling apart inside and suffering in silence just to be polite.
“Acting normally in any situation can become a compulsion, something you do automatically to protect yourself from possible or imaginary setbacks; live as if you are free from anything, because showing pain is like showing weakness, and being hurt while weak is worse. Also you may feel that your feelings are excessive, no one would want to face them, you are hypersensitive, too dramatic, too emotional a mess of a human and you keep everything inside to save yourself rejection and embarrassment. “
“My dad did all the abuse and my mom did all the gaslighting, so I would have done well not just with him, but with everyone.
“Until the day I cut off contact with them, after trying so fucking hard to heal with them, she denied ever doing anything to hurt me, and she proved me wrong.
“I was so good at behaving well, most of my biological family don’t believe me about his cruelty and abuse.”
Yesterday afternoon I was telling Anne that my childhood was defined by a father who clearly didn’t love me, didn’t even love me, and a mother who somehow convinced herself she wasn’t hurting me. For example, after raising two children together, I realized one day that nothing had happened in our house that we both didn’t know about. If one of the kids was upset about something, we both knew it and talked about it together, so we could be the best parents we could be.
It is impossible that my mother did not know that the man who was my father was cruel to me. It’s impossible he didn’t know he was so mean to me. He humiliated me, he made fun of me, he made fun of me. He humiliated me, he made fun of me, he played down everything that interested me. He did it in front of the whole family, endlessly. There’s no way she didn’t know that he clearly, obviously and demonstrably loved my brother and sister in a way he didn’t love me. I mean, look at my photos. Photos where I put my best face for the whole world! The sadness and pain in my eyes are painfully evident. Some of you are mothers. I know that each of you would recognize that pain and sadness if you saw it in your children. I know that each of you would do everything in your power to help your child.
There’s no way he didn’t know, unless he deliberately chose to ignore everything I was going through, for whatever reason. Honestly, it’s worse, I think.
I talked to my sister about it, and it’s like she grew up in a different family than mine. She says she never felt unloved, or like she must be good enough for their affection and approval. He felt enough, just because he existed. She never got the feeling that our parents didn’t love her or accept her exactly as she was. Watching my parents adore our brother, it was obvious that it was more than enough for them.
But I was one thing. When I was seven, Mom did something to me that she could use to chase fame and fortune in Hollywood, and that man who should have been a father to me … I guess he resented that.
It wasn’t physically offensive to me until I was a teenager. I mean, they both spanked my brothers and me all the time in the 70s and early 80s. I understand now that we consider that physical abuse, but did I realize in the 1970s that corporal punishment was more common than it is now? I do not know. I think using the threat of physical violence and pain to get your kids to behave a certain way is monstrous, but I also know it was different times and … well, my parents were a little monstrous. I had nothing to compare my experience with at the time.
I wonder if she convinced herself that, because she wasn’t hitting me or leaving marks on me, that it wasn’t offensive. And I wonder if, after making that choice, emotional abuse and endless cruelty were much easier to ignore.
I’ll never know, because every time I tried to talk to her about it, she just tested me. As far as I know, with the exception of my sister, my family of origin genuinely believes that I am the villain in their story. And that really hurts.
As I said in my Tumblr post, I’ve gotten so good at pretending that everything was fine, just in order to survive, I fooled everyone in our family, in our neighborhood and at work. Until now, the people I trusted didn’t believe me, because I was such a good actor.
It hurts so much to know that the people I love don’t believe me, or believe I’m anything other than a survivor. It hurts and lingering vestiges of those childhood survival skills occasionally assert themselves, arguing that I should simply reject everything I know to be true and accept their version of reality just so I can have the family my brother and sister has.
To be honest, the thing that hurts the most is knowing that my parents had unconditional love to give, because I’ve seen them give it freely to my siblings. The man who was my father chose to treat me like shit, and my mother chose to ignore or justify it.
My sister told me she has these memories of going on a family vacation without me, and that she always missed me being there. I remembered them taking some trips when I was in my late teens, and how I didn’t want to go with them, because the way our parents and our brother made me feel was so horrible.
I’m having a little flashback right now about one of the many times my brother and dad cheerfully teamed up against me, teasing me, humiliating me, mocking me. Just relentlessly bullying me. And when I replied, it was always “WOAH why are you so sensitive? Learn to joke!” and so on.
This has become much longer than expected and a big part of me feels that I should just erase everything. That part of me is always scared, vulnerable and anxious about everything. But when I posted this yesterday, the subsequent comments helped me feel NOT ONLY in knowing that all of these things that I endured, all of the gaslighting and all of the pain and trauma were REAL because those things didn’t just happen to me. It hurts to know that other people have experienced these things, but it also helps me to know that I’m not alone, I didn’t make it up and it wasn’t my fault. Hope it helps them too.
If you find yourself in any of my experiences, I want you to know that I see you, right away. I believe you. We didn’t deserve it and I’m so sorry.