These days I feel quite confident to identify my childhood as abusive, but it took me quite a while to get there. Even after I had already cut contact with my parents, I found it hard to use words like abuse and abuser. Even if I was aware of the toxicity of my family, and the need to protect myself from that, I did not feel comfortable calling it abuse.
Why? Probably because like so many people, I only associated the word abuse with sexual or physical abuse. And although my mother hit me a few times, there was not really any physical abuse present in my childhood home.
At some level it was not important what I called the toxicity in my family of origins. At least I recognized the behavior and dynamic, and had removed myself from it in an effort to protect myself and my partner.
Recently, I am becoming more aware how important is has been that I did learn to call the abuse by its proper name. Far more important than I ever expected.
In the abusive situation, the target is completely and utterly marginalized. Nothing you think, do, say or feel is worth the light of day, By calling what happened to me abuse, I was able to regain some of my power. It helped me stand up and say: what happened to me was NOT okay. It also helped me say: What happened to me damaged me, and I need help and healing.
As I began to feel okay about calling this abuse, I began to understand that what happened was calculated, structural and willful.
I used to think (like many people who still defend my parents) that ‘their heart was in the right place’ and that ‘they were only human, of course they made mistakes.’ The latter is surely true, all human-beings make mistakes. But I have never met anyone who accidentally made me feel like the scum of the earth. That is a lengthy process, and requires intent.
That understanding has helped me stand strong when people questioned my decision to cut contact with my parents and sisters. I am not angry, I did not have a fight with them, there is not one event that “send me packing”. The reason I cut contact is that my family constantly, consistently and cannily made me feel unworthy, unlovable and unimportant. After 32 years I had had enough of it. I was beginning to see that I was nothing like the person they convinced me I was. I deserved far better treatment than I was getting. I deserved love, kindness and validation.
Abuse Is Many Things
Abuse is not just physical or sexual. Abuse is emotional, verbal, financial… it is any situation where a person is marginalized, made to feel insignificant, unworthy, unlovable and unimportant.
If you are in that situation, please realize you are worthy of so much better. Escape is not easy, it is not even always safe so it requires planning and consideration. Trust me you are worth that effort. If you do feel unsafe, please contact your local domestic violence charity or local emergency services for assistance (we have listed some numbers here). Even if you are not yet ready to leave, you can take the first steps to liberation, by beginning to put up some boundaries in your own mind.
Acknowledging, even if only in the privacy of your own mind, that what you are experiencing is abuse and that it is wrong, is a huge step on your road to recovery.
Just say it to yourself in the mirror (I’ll join you)