(TW: Abuse, discussion of mental illness, eating disorders, domestic violence)
I was physically abused as a child by my biological father.
I don’t talk about it often, but it something that has made me a strong advocate for domestic violence.
But what I really don’t speak about is the emotional abuse that I still go through on a regular basis from my biological father.
So what is emotional abuse?
“Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching,” or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones (Engel, 1992, p. 10).”
- Aggressive forms of abuse include name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering. Aggressing behaviors are generally direct and obvious. The one-up position the abuser assumes by attempting to judge or invalidate the recipient undermines the equality and autonomy that are essential to healthy adult relationships. This parent-to-child pattern of communication (which is common to all forms of verbal abuse) is most obvious when the abuser takes an aggressive stance.
- Aggressive abuse can also take a more indirect form and may even be disguised as “helping.” Criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, probing, and questioning another person may be a sincere attempt to help. In some instances, however, these behaviors may be an attempt to belittle, control, or demean rather than help. The underlying judgmental “I know best” tone the abuser takes in these situations is inappropriate and creates unequal footing in peer relationships.
- Invalidating seeks to distort or undermine the recipient’s perceptions of their world. Invalidating occurs when the abuser refuses or fails to acknowledge reality. For example, if the recipient confronts the abuser about an incident of name calling, the abuser may insist, “I never said that,” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, “ etc.
- Withholding is another form of denying. Withholding includes refusing to listen, refusing to communicate, and emotionally withdrawing as punishment. This is sometimes called the “silent treatment.”
- Countering occurs when the abuser views the recipient as an extension of themselves and denies any viewpoints or feelings which differ from their own.
- Minimizing is a less extreme form of denial. When minimizing, the abuser may not deny that a particular event occurred, but they question the recipient’s emotional experience or reaction to an event. Statements such as “You’re too sensitive,” “You’re exaggerating,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” all suggest that the recipient’s emotions and perceptions are faulty and not to be trusted.
- Trivializing, which occurs when the abuser suggests that what you have done or communicated is inconsequential or unimportant, is a more subtle form of minimizing.
Denying and minimizing can be particularly damaging. In addition to lowering self-esteem and creating conflict, the invalidation of reality, feelings, and experiences can eventually lead you to question and mistrust your own perceptions and emotional experience.
Since a very young age. I can remember my biological father, Hank, doing these things. Saying that I am “crazy” (oddly enough I was diagnosed with numerous mental illnesses later in life) standing over me while I ate asking if I thought if I “really needed to finish that”, irrationally screaming at me for things and then when I would cry telling me that I was acting irrationally and being a baby about things. I will never forget on the day I was diagnosed as being bipolar, I had to call him because he provides my insurance and this diagnosis would effect that. His only words to me were “I thought you were the strong one.”
When I was hospitalized when I almost died from my eating disorder, he never called, he never came to visit - nothing. Never even sent me a damn card. Mind you - he pays for my insurance. It’s not like he didn’t know this shit was going on. He got monthly statements. But he couldn’t even call.
Also, this isn’t be playing a victim or a martyr. I have two sister that share this father. He has purchased both of them a new car. I was told that I had to pay for my car myself when I asked him to HELP, not pay for it, HELP. My biological father makes over 100 grand a year and refuses to help me financially at all, with the exception of my insurance. Yet he pays for my sisters schooling, insurance, cars, car insurance and for housing for one of them.
Recently, I was able financially, physically and mentally to go back to school. I had texted Hank, looked for support in this. This was what I received from him:
Now I’m sure you’re thinking “WHY THE HELL DID SHE APOLOGIZE TO THAT ASSHOLE?!”
Because that is all you can do when someone is that involved in their delusion.
Verbal validation is a perfectly normal thing to want from a parent, any parent. And Hank’s inability to give it to me doesn’t mean that I am wrong or bad or strange. It means that he is emotionally undeveloped.
It means that he is being emotionally abusive. He is withholding. He is denying me things that I emotionally need. And that is wrong, that is abusive.
He calls it love, but what it is really is pride. He is too proud to admit that he is wrong, that his daughter might have emotional needs. That he also might be suffering from a mental illness that he cannot control.
I wish I had better advice for people who are in similar situations.
I distance myself the best I can from him. But things still hurt. I would be a liar if I told you they didn’t.
I look forward to a day when I don’t have to depend on him for my insurance, to be honest, it is the only thing that keeps me from screaming at him sometimes.