There are many forms of abuse. Most forms widely accepted in our culture are those we can see. For longer than we care to think about, abuse of any kind was denied and we as a people turned a blind eye to it. It was a mans choice how he treated his family or how he allowed his family to operate. This is no longer true, thank goodness. We have entire departments of our state governments designed to protect members of every family, resources to rebuild unhealthy families into healthy ones, etc. And I can tell you a lot about that as a foster parent off and on for the last 10 years or so.
But it remains true that abuses we accept readily as abuse are largely physical ones. We cannot deny abuse when people have broken bodies. We cannot look away when someone is neglected or starved or withheld medical care.
But verbal and emotional abuse are much harder to advocate against and to prove. Emotional abuse is commonly dismissed by general society and even its own victims.
What we know scientifically now is that emotional abuse (in this I’m including verbal abuse because you can’t have verbal abuse and it not lead to emotional abuse) is as detrimental to our souls as physical abuse. In studies the same mental and physical reactions happen internally even at EXPOSURE to all abuses. This means a child watching someone else being emotionally or physically abused has the same responses internally as the person being abused. How much more then can we place Emotional Abuse in its position of honor on the list of childhood abuses. And I’m including late child into teenage years as childhood, for those looking to pick me apart.
Now let me clear, I grew up in a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood. As a little girl, we went on vacations and had fancy pictures and I owned books and coats and always got fed. We had close relationships with lots of family members. We had sitters and friends and church connections when I was young. As I grew up, I watched many of those relationships erode away. Some flat out exploded. These behaviors I’m sharing with you are not exclusive to me; there were many on the path before me, some who I have even been blessed to talk with in the past few years to share their versions and give me peace (this is where our mantra comes in, y’all; it’s not me, it’s her). What I’m telling you is to ignore our societal expectations of what abuse looks like and who participates in it. We know this to be true but we somehow forget: it’s not just poor “rednecks” who are abusive to people in their life. Abuse happens in all classes and in all places.
There are more examples than I could possibly give in my own arsenal of experiences but there are many patterns and signs of emotional abuse. I’m going to cover a few of my favorites but please continue exploring books, blogs and other resources if you have wondered if you have a narcissistic or toxic person in your life. These are very short explanations of these things so if this is helpful or interests you, keep digging!
Gaslighting- Gaslighting is a favorite I have a lot of experience dealing with…. it’s that special ability narcissists have where they do or say a thing and then as soon as you confront it or react to it, they claim they didn’t do it or you’re overreacting: basically You Are Crazy. ‘How dare you have feelings or be upset about this thing they did.’ They make the crazy and try to convince you that you did. It’s one of my least favorite things ever. Gaslighting is powerful and dangerous. Don’t mess around with a gas-lighter. (The best part of being 5 years post recovery from narcissist abuse is that I can spot gaslighting a mile away. Like a super power!)
Manipulation/Control/Isolation/Triangulation- Narcissist use these tactics so much more covertly than overt abusers. They spend so much time and energy talking about people to other people (who they then talk about), no one is sure what is true about each other. There can be no trust in the other members of the family or group because so much ugly and twisted information has been spread. Sometimes narcissists are obvious with their isolation/attempts at control, like the time on a Christmas trip my mother sat my husband down and told him that he loved me too much and needed to do what she said in how to deal with me. Anyone who could not be controlled was out of the inner circle and not devoted to, liked, included, or loved. Control is paramount to a narcissist. Which is why “no contact” is often necessary for unloved daughters.
Triangulation- I included that with a few others that go hand in hand but broken down when someone gossips/lies/puts down someone to person A about person B and then does the same in reverse, this is known as triangulation. My mother would bash someone to me and then I’d walk in on (or get the “accidental” text about me sent to me- yes that’s happened multiple times from multiple narcissists) her doing the same to me. Sometimes to or in front of my children. Triangulation is a nasty beast and at its core is regular old gossip and slander. Run away from a gossip. Period.
Silent Treament/Emotional Punishment- I never realized how much I hated this one until my kids got older but essentially, you’re ignored and excluded for some amount of time for anything that isn’t approved of. This could be standing up for yourself or it could be something unrelated to the punisher like getting pregnant or going on a trip they don’t approve of. (Yes these things have happened and yes Im open to talking privately 😉🤣.)
Preferential treatment/golden child vs scapegoat- This is a huge one and honestly I’m not ready to hash this one publicly yet. Suffice it to say there are favorites or a favorite who is treated vastly differently than others inside the family.
Entitlement- All narcissist have entitlement, often in that they feel they have a right to say and do anything they want without consequence but do not extend that to anyone else.
Projection- Really simply, projection is when someone blames you for behaviors or fears they themselves are doing or feeling. A great example is when someone who has hurt you claims to then be your victim instead. Or perhaps they accuse you of something you’ve never done or expressed but have seen them do or say.
For me, a lot changed as far as tolerance level as my kids got older. I’ve seen a narcissist turn to my child and call me names to her face. One’s lies were repeated by my then four year old in tears and confusion. When it comes to our kids we are so much quicker to protect them than ourselves. I am thankful daily that my kids won’t grow up with the exposure to narcissism that I did. They are my purpose in life and I will do everything I can to protect them.
In the last conversation I had with my abuser, it was never argued that these things don’t happen, only that I don’t accept these things because I’m not “one of her people.” (Again let me remind you with regular moms not to try to understand- you won’t be able to. Bless you for caring and trying.) This human who gave birth to me, who watched me give birth myself, who claimed once upon a time to love me absolutely cannot admit or profess sorrow for any of her wrongs toward me. There is reason and justification for everything.
And that, my friends, is what it’s like to break down the experiences of an unloved daughter. But don’t be sad. I am free.