I’M SO CONFUSED!
Are they good, bad or evil?
Previous: Being in Denial
Review series of posts: “Noticing painful Events” ….
DELIBERATE Abuse or NOT?
Most ACoAs assume that if our parents / lovers… don’t mean to hurt us, &/or can’t help themselves because of their damage, then their behavior can be overlooked. We don’t have to call them on it, don’t have to ‘protect’ ourselves & we should never get upset with them. After all “it’s not their fault”. This is a self-destructive attitude – & takes a toll on our psyche that is too high a price to pay for staying connected, just to stave off our loneliness. ACoAs are famous for white-washing abusers, especially parents. We believe that acknowledging what the Ps have done would be disloyal to the family system (or marriage, friendship, boss….), & would cause a rift we think we couldn’t bear.
CATEGORIES of Perpetrators (Ps)
a. Overt (‘easiest’ to see) • Sometimes a parent will blatantly admit they’re ‘not nice’, don’t care, didn’t love us & never will – “I didn’t want kids in the first place”. (Watch ‘The Family Way’ episode of BBC’s “Doc Martin”, when his estranged parents visit him & the truth comes out!). Some part of us already knew it & it’s excruciating to be told, but hearing it out loud makes it real, eliminating illusion & hope for the impossible. Of course we have to be willing to work with this info to recover & not everyone is.
– Any type of physical abuse is simpler to face, since the injuries are easy to identify, even getting us outside validation (as opposed to the other types). Our suffering & our rage is no less intense, which has to cleaned out, but at least it’s tangible.
• As adults we’ve gotten involved with outright skunks, people who from the beginning were obviously unsafe. They may say: “You knew what I was like” , “I told you what to expect – or not” , “I said I wasn’t into relationships” …. The main problem in facing this kind of abuse if not the Denial of the P. but our own. It was our unwillingness to hear what they were saying that let us get involved in the first place. We didn’t cause the abuse but we sure stayed for it!
– These kinds of Ps are just as painful (emotionally) as any other, but the least complex for us (cognitively) because, if cornered, they’re capable of – but not always willing – to admit what they’ve done. We can heal faster because it’s not mentally crazy-making. Once we’ve raged & mourned, we can move on.
b. Sneaky (much harder) • It’s really tough to identify the source of our damage when our family (& mates, friends…) profess to love us but mistreat us much of the time anyway. This can apply to being put-down, manipulated, over-controlled…. It can also be in the form of sexual coercion as adults, or any shade of child sexual abuse, especially when he/she is singled out as a ‘favorite’ (“You’re my special girl”….), & told to keep it a secret. All forms of mind f—ing leaves us feeling confused at best, & crazy at worst – which most of us end up convinced we are!
• They say they love us (& we believe them) BUT we feel like crap when we’re with them – exhausted, scared, miserable, angry, bored – but can’t put our finger on why, since nothing’s obviously wrong. And then afterwards – sometimes for days or weeks we’re depressed & can’t get back to our life. Naturally ACoAs figure it must be us, right? NO!!
Our feelings are clearly telling us that something is ‘rotten in Denmark’ – & our name isn’t Denmark!
c. Oblivious (most frustrating) • These are the Ps who are completely inured to the fact that they hurt us & are surprised when we’re upset with them. Their Denial is so thorough they simply cannot imagine their way is wrong – so much so that they can say, wholeheartedly & with raised hand: “I swear before God, I’ve done nothing wrong!” It can be very aggravating to deal with them since there’s no way to get thru their armor. They just look at us blankly – or worse, hurt. Then we feel guilty. DON’T. Yet our WIC desperately wants abusers to admit what they’ve done, then repent & change – especially the ones least capable of being emotionally honesty & validating. Regardless of why they’re oblivious, these Ps’ lack of insight is absolutely no reason for us to ignore the reality of who they are.
EXP: This is how Doc Martin treats everyone, but especially his baby-mamma in episode “Remember Me” (on Netflix). He’s not trying to be mean but his insensitivity has the same negative effect as other Ps. The Doc is very literal, completely ignorant of psychological values (being polite, showing respect, not being controlling, having boundaries…), & is not able to empathize – all of which hurt people’s feelings.
d. “Normals” (most illusive) • This type is the hardest for us to see as being abusive. While they’re similar to ‘b’ in some ways, the main difference is intention. The sneaky ones want to ‘get over’, want to be in control, want to always get their way. But the ‘normals’, who are not really healthy, try to be respectful, thoughtful, spiritual… toward others – yet can do a great deal of harm. They’re good people who are shut down on their own inner wounds, so their main way of being abusive is emotional. (Read “For your own Good”, by Alice Miller). They may be religious, responsible, friendly & hard-working – but they step on others’ feelings in the same ways they were negated by their family. They genuinely believe they’re doing the right thing, while regularly abandoning others – emotionally AND cognitively.
Abandoning : “Well, they’re having a hard time too, you know” , “I’m sure they didn’t mean it”, to child being bullied
Invalidating – “You shouldn’t feel that way”, “Look ashamed”
Insensitive: “If it bothers you so much, don’t go back”, parent to teen re. being rejected by a popular school group
Negating: “You just have to accept her the way she is”, from aunt to pre-teen complaining about being attacked by mother
ULTIMATELY it doesn’t matter if our caretakers meant it, if they couldn’t help it, if they knew what they were doing …. or not. The important thing is the effect their damage had on us. We need to make an honest inventory of our Toxic Rules (T) and keep feeling the old pain (E) in small doses, so we can see how we obey the ‘disease’ and how we’re driven by our abandonment anxiety. Only then can we change the things we do to harm ourselves in the present.
NEXT: Victims or Not?