Digging into the Past: Recovering from Emotional Abuse (Part Four)

I remember the first time I saw this quote. It was years before the split between my mother and I. “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”Yall, it broke me. I recalled hearing myself be critical of one of kids FOR NO REASON on a video and being devastated I was doing what had been done to me.

Don’t misunderstand my timeline here. My relationship with my mother ended five years ago but since I was 7 I knew she didn’t love me. Since I was 11 I knew she wanted to control me. Since I was 15 I knew she and I would never be like my friends with their moms. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like oh this sucks and I’mma call it Emotional abuse and make a big fuss. If you knew me as a young person you would have heard it said that we had a “difficult relationship”…by teachers, family members, even peers. Of course since not every one had this same dynamic in our house, it was heavily insinuated (and sometimes flat out stated) that this was BECAUSE OF ME. I wasn’t smart. I was hard to love. I was too emotional. I was dramatic. I was selfish. I knew for years and years and years my inner voice was loud and mean and didn’t like me very much.

And I wanted most of all to not repeat that voice in the minds of my kids. Even as they were newborn babies I would cry in fear that they would believe her version of me instead of who I really am. That they would be triangulated and lied to and controlled and emotionally punished.

And this is why for us no contact is all we can do. Boundaries didn’t work. Speaking against the cruelty didn’t work. Trying to change the voice myself didn’t work. I could not be my best self while being who my mother says I am. And my kids deserve so much more. They deserve to be heard, to be guided as they grow, to be treated as individuals with special personalities and struggles and strengths. They deserve real love that says “you are loved by me” and sacrifices made for their betterment, not for a scorecard or status. They deserve my attention and my best thoughts and words. They deserve healthy parents who seek growth and God and good things. They deserve to be told truths and kept from lies and negativity about people they love. They should be able to be safe emotionally with anyone we allow to influence them. This is my purpose and my intention in life. Some days I wish I could go back and have a different growing up experience. Most days I’m just glad to be free.

Every early into my recovery, I adopted this one: be the mom you want them to remember. And that remains one of my top priorities every day. BE THE MOM YOU WANT THEM TO REMEMBER!

We don’t get to act however we want and expect people to only remember our glittered up version of it.

Who we are to our kids is WHO WE REALLY ARE.

As I leave you with those thoughts, I’m also going to leave you with a book list.

1. Boundaries- Henry Cloud

2. Safe People

3. Children of the Self Absorbed

4. Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists-Eleanor Payson

5. Will I Ever Be Good Enough

6. Mean Mothers- Peg Streep

7. Daughter Detox- Peg Streep

8. The Mom Factor- Henry Cloud

There are certainly more and this is not an exhaustive list. Some of these folks also have blogs or websites with further information. Pinterest also has quite a few links to pertinent information. Good luck learning and growing on your journey! 💜

Digging into the Past, Emotional Abuse: Part Three

If I wasn’t naming this in a series, I would call this one something clever about dirty laundry.

When my mother first cut me off, she uninvited me to Christmas events and did the regular silent treatment as emotional punishment thing. We even invited her to our home despite the avoidance of any kind of amends or talks. She refused. In fact she said things were better the way they were (aka, without us). Then a few months later she wanted to pass gifts off to my kids from her

through a family member (without communicating or speaking to us in any way) and we said no. That’s when the people turned on me. That’s when it all became my fault. I was attacked on multiple sides and cut off by more family members than I can count. Don’t worry, I now know that’s not only a common occurrence in these situations, it almost ALWAYS happens this way. People who have for years heard the slander and half truths and been triangulated and basically trained to disbelieve you and think badly of you will jump head first into the smear campaign as soon as it starts. (Most days I don’t blame them. They’re her victims too, for the most part.)

Interesting just before the switch, I sat down with several members of what would become the supposed army against me and every. single. one. would not/could not deny the behaviors I have described to you in part two or that I share about my mother. These acts she’s done, not just to me but to many, many before me and I imagine after me as well. They’d seen them, they could acknowledge and name them. But their thought process was that this is “just the way it is” to be in relationship with her. It’s part of the deal. One (gosh I could write a whole other series on that person) would explain that it’s just that my mother and me and a few other people don’t mix well- she could see the abuse but justified it because it had not ever been directed at her. Lovely.

The consensus was: don’t air the dirty laundry. Sure this is all happening, no one denies that but don’t you dare call it abuse and don’t you dare tell people about it.

Imma call “BS” on that one, y’all. Airing dirty laundry is part of my charm (do a little Meyers Briggs search on INFJs if you don’t believe me). And it’s part of the culture of the day….the same people who want you to hide a truth about them will read every tabloid magazine cover to cover. The further you try to stuff your truth down, the faster someone else is trying to dig it up. I would go so far to say that the further you try to stuff your truth down, the faster the Holy Spirit is working to dig it up and expose it. God doesn’t leave things in the dark- He brings them to light to change you, to work on you, to create love where there was decay.

It’s not anything good to lie, hide truths, change terms, or be someone you aren’t in order to make other people comfortable.

The truth is, the dirty laundry goes way back…and the more I learned about narcissistic parents and patterns, the more I could see it. If you have a narcissistic parent, do you also find traits in those who’ve gone before them? Many of the people I know with these experiences can see it in their family line. What we also read from these studiers of people is the belief that the behaviors of a narcissist are mostly taught and not instinctive. That is a relief as a parent, (right?), and as a non-narcissistic person. One therapist said you know you’re not a narcissist if you worry you might be one- a true narcissist will never even consider the fault may be their’s. (If you know one, you’re nodding right now because you know exactly what I mean 😉.) But the relief is truly is deep as it tells us that if we teach our children empathy, kindness, self-awareness, the ability to focus on others, to really listen to hear…we immunize them from becoming narcissistic.

It’s been five years since the split, twenty-eight since my first vivid memory of knowing my mother didn’t love me. And I still find out old lies, half truths and brand new shiny lies about me and my people. I still run into mutual folks that are considered “hers” and see in their eyes they believe horrible, ugly things about me that aren’t real.

It’s taken all the days in these five years to tell you this: the only weapon against a narcissist is to continue to be who you truly are. The first couple years of recovery I shared the lies word for word and all the proof I could muster. Now I know I’m free because I don’t feel any need to try to convince you I am me. I simple am me. I’m not perfect or immune from anger or anxiety when I hear their stories. But I’m also not what she has told me I am my entire life….who she claims I am isn’t true. I am who God says I am. And everyday that I walk that out, I prove her wrong with my life. And that’s my advice to others like me.

Breathe deep. Know yourself. Live in who you are and truth of that person. Keep loving. That’s the win. ❤️

Digging Into the Past, Emotional Abuse: Part Two

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.

Digging into the Past, Emotional Abuse: Part One

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Five years ago in October, I confronted someone in a lie about me and instead of remorse, they attacked back. I was called names, belittled, told I was a bad mother and a “bad Christian,” which was a typical situation with this person. Then, in a final text I was told “I am done with you.”

Picture with me the many, many times this scenario has played out in the past. Years of mind games, gaslighting, triangulation amongst siblings and friends, flat out lies coming out years later, manipulation, confusion, emotional abuse, extreme conclusions without evidence, being used for status, for money, for lies…I could (and will eventually) go on.

Oy vey, it’s a frustrating story. But that’s more than an ending OR a beginning. Because that person is my “mother.”

When Rae approached me about contributing on her blog, she told me I could write about anything: parenting, foster care, adoption, marriage, life. But she asked me to consider writing about my story of being an unloved daughter, a daughter with a narcissistic mother. Years ago I tried, but more to process than to guide anyone else. Now, almost five years down the road of recovery with a group of supporters, therapists, friends, I think (I hope) I am ready to unpack this in public and face the potential storm that may follow.

I spent the first few years of recovery from emotional abuse defending myself. Defending my terminology, my feelings, my history, my experiences, my thoughts. Defending with any and every scenario I can remember.

And there are many.

And perhaps there is a season for that for anyone coming out of narcissist abuse. And I’m always available for anyone who wants to hash those experiences personally.

But, five years out, I know I don’t have to prove what happened to me. Even though there is actual proof for lots of it, I don’t feel I have to carry it like a shield anymore. The truth is THE truth.

There is a slew blogs, books, articles and actual humans who have had the same experiences as me. And I don’t even mean generally; I mean exact abusive conversations and experiences. Because narcissistic abuse does follow a pattern. I now know hundreds of people who are like me, I have close personal friends (and even family) who can say “that happened to me too”…and I can now just say “I have a toxic mother” or “I’m a child of a narcissist” and people know what I mean. No defense, no battle, no explanation required. And I thank God for that daily.

If you are someone who thinks they have a narcissistic parent, I implore you to read Children of the Self-Absorbed. If you’re like me and a child of the magazine quiz generation you’ll love this book for that reason alone 🤣😉….there are checklists and questions to help you figure things out based on your experiences.

If you are someone who thinks you’re a child of a narcissist or know one, by all means also read Safe People and Boundaries (both are wonderful books for every person). There are many more books to share but those three are where we will start. And for the love of sanity, start following Peg Streep on Facebook (she’s got some books too for those readers past this beginning list.)

What I want to tell you is that ANY type of abuse is still abuse and you are not to be faulted for what has happened to you. If you are someone blessed with a wonderful, loving, giving, honest set of parents, and you know of a child of a narcissist, don’t judge them or place them in your shoes. You cannot understand them in the realm of your own parental experiences. Open your heart as you hear and learn from the emotionally abused.

I find myself holding my breathe as I finish this and set myself to send it to Rae. I hope to write a Part Two soon so bear with me through the storm.

Who do you say you are?

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By: Rachel Ritter 

My name is Rachel Ritter. I am a homeschooling mama to my crew going on six years, the Director of SMILE foster care closet, a wife of double digit years (that makes me feel legit, ya’ll) and a reader/quilter/friend. I have six children; three adopted from foster care, one adopted privately and two unlikely biological children. My first four kids came all on top of each other and I had 3 under 2/4 under 4. They’re very close, not just in age, and watching them become people has been the greatest honor of my life thus far. Last year, we decided to join the ranks of foster parents again and ended up adopting twins. My kids ages now (I know you’re wondering) are 12, 9, 9, 8, and two 1 year olds. I tell you all that really just so you know, without a doubt, that I drink a lot of coffee and spend a lot of time folding laundry, about which I might just be an expert. I read and journal like it’s required for breath, I like organization and order in my home, but crave adventure as frequently as possible. I tend to be a whistleblower, a truth-teller (and some people don’t like that). In my thirties I am learning to think longer before I speak. I use the hashtag ‘I have the best life’ because I believe it to be true, in the midst of diapers and lost pencils and spilled drinks and preteen drama and trauma healing and all the things that go along with raising my family, who are my purpose. 

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In the last few months, amidst the confusion and frustrations of what’s happening in our country, and our world, I’ve contemplated quite a bit about identity….about who we see ourselves as. I believe for many people I know, having identified themselves as “American” has become tainted and/or exasperated by the recent actions we’ve seen take place. For some, we are ashamed and some are emboldened, whatever side you land on, I doubt you’ll disagree we have, as a people, perhaps idolized our country over God and we are now seeing what happens when an idol falls- or changes. It’s agonizing to have our identity changed or questioned. Jesus once asked his closest friends, “And who do you say I am?”

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Questioning our own identity can be difficult and enlightening. Who do you say you are? Do you tend to see yourself in a better light than others do? Do you worry more for what others say about you than what you feel to be true about yourself? Do you possess self-awareness, the concept of recognizing and realizing that what you say and do reflects who you are in your heart and mind? This is a lesson I am constantly trying to teach my children: what you say and what you do tells people who you are. The most freeing thing about identity is that we are free to choose so many aspects of it. We are free to choose to follow what we love, what we hate, what we like. We are free to choose what we share about ourselves that tells others about us. We are free to choose to stop a behavior or pattern that reflects on us negatively. Some areas of identity we cannot choose: our race, our childhood experiences, our birth order or story, situations we’ve been victim to, etc.

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As a parent of children with different genetic makeups and various starts-to-life, I am quick to tell people how exciting and challenging it is to parent children who are not cookie-cutters of one another, or of me. There are times emotions or patterns surface and we sit looking at one another thinking “where in the world did that come from?” Children who are abandoned, removed, fostered, adopted, they all carry with them a trauma of sorts, an issue I’ll likely come back to another day, and there are times they act out of those experiences without realizing it. Beyond that, we can attest that children with the same biological parents, without any infancy trauma or experience with removal, can absolutely be different. I am sure many of you see this in your children: they are not the same just because they came from you. Their identity is their own. Sometimes for better or worse. It is part of our job as parents to teach them to be aware of themselves and what they’re putting out into the world. It’s part of the privilege of parenting to help them become who they want to be, to help them foster the parts of their identity that matter to them and improve the parts that they’d like to change. What an honor!

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I put to you this challenge this week: identify your identity. Make a list in your journal, on your phone notes, on the back of an envelope, whatever works for you as you chase all those kids around, that which you believe represents who you are. Star the things you love about your identity and ‘x’ the ones you wish to improve. Then challenge yourself to work on one area of change. Perhaps consider doing the same with your child: have them identify themselves. Celebrate the parts of them that cannot be changed and the parts that can. Ask them: “who do you think you are?” (As a lover of words and relationships, I would love to be at your table for these conversations!! Feel free to share in the comments your experiences discussing this with your kids if you’re comfortable doing so!)

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