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Emotional Abuse

I spotted a post by Rainbow Gryphon’s blog the other day, mostly due to the fact that she linked to this blog as an example of how men can suffer emotional abuse. As I read her post, I realized that for all the years I’ve been writing here, I haven’t really gotten into the details of how emotional abuse affected me, or men in general. Obviously, when you’re talking about having been physically, and sexually, abused the fact that there was emotional abuse sort of goes without saying. In fact, in terms of my own writing, it pretty much has gone without saying. But it is interesting to consider that the emotional abuse is part of the overall impacts that we deal with as adults.

It may also be impossible to separate out the effects of the emotional abuse too. I grew up without learning how to make decisions for myself, too busy surviving what was happening to me to pick up normal adult behaviors that other kids learned. Is that an effect of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse? Really, it’s an effect of all of it.

The depression I lived with in my twenties was also an after-effect of all of it, but I think that’s where you can really see how emotional abuse plays it’s part. It’s not the fear of people hurting me, or the issues I had with relationships, especially with males, which were obvious signs of being beaten and molested. It’s looking at yourself at the age of 27 and seeing nothing worthwhile. It’s growing up without any sense of self, with no concept of the value of your own life. It occurs to me now that those were not a result, directly, of what happened to the physical me, those were the result of not having any unconditional acceptance as a child, of never being “good enough”, of having no underlying sense of being of value to anyone.

It also occurs to me that, as an adult, it may be unlikely that I will ever have to deal with being physically harmed, even less likely that I will have to deal with being raped, but even if it did happen to me now, I’d have a core sense of myself, and my position in the world, to help me deal with it. I have enough emotional health in myself, and enough sources of support, that it wouldn’t be as catastrophic as it was when I was a child. If I had been a child with a stronger sense of self, a strong sense of belonging and love, I would have stood a better chance of protecting myself, possibly even being strong enough to tell someone what was happening. The emotional abuse left me without any of those things. I had to learn them myself, as an adult, and I continue to struggle to see myself in a more positive light. I’m not sure that you ever can completely recover that sense of self worth later, but I try my best to get a more realistic sense of myself little bit by little bit.

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  1. Hi Mike,

    Thank you so much for posting this. One of the reasons why I blog about my experiences is to open up the topic of emotional abuse as an important part of the whole abuse experience. I recently read some Amazon.com reviews on a book about emotional abuse where someone talked about “blaming your parents for your problems,” which is a common attitude to take. As long as other people can’t detect any physical consequences from the abuse, they can deny that anything was wrong.

    I personally never suffered from physical or sexual abuse, and I had real trouble even using the word “abuse” to describe what happened to me. I still struggle with feelings of guilt and “am I crazy?” thoughts. I’m 40 now and only beginning to cleanse myself of the consequences of it. Reading about others’ experiences with emotional abuse really helps the healing process for all us, so thanks again for sharing this.


  2. You are so right, Mike! THAT is why I’ve wondered so many times, over the years of my healing journey, why the self-esteem issue just keeps coming up again, and again. It is hard to know whether we will ever completely recover what should have been our God-given right to a feeling of self worth, but all we can do is work toward that bit by bit.

    For me, that is the crux of the problem of emotional abuse at the hands of our own parents. Not having that sense of belonging, being loved and being “good enough” left us so much more vulnerable to the other types of abuse we suffered. And, like you said, made it that much more difficult to tell anyone about it or try to get some help as a child.

    As usual, Mike, you have such a wonderful, succinct way of expressing–through your writing–even these really tough issues. I can’t do the succinct part as well, even in a comment. LOL! 😉

  3. Sometimes when I think about the emotional abuse, it seems to me that it was the part of the abuse where they took me hostage and held me away from myself. I lost that connection to myself. The part of me that would be able to work through things, that would be able how to correctly interpret people’s signals and emotions.

    Sometimes it seems that part of me is still being held hostage and I’m doing everything I can to set her free. The battle is often in believing that she deserves to be set free. That she, that I, am worth it.

    Emotional abuse is so insidious because it is not easily seen or understood. It is so tied in with the other abuse that it is hard to determine the entire depth of its effects.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

  4. Rainbow, I think there is, unfortunately, a tendency to “blame your parents” and then never make any attempt to improve yourself, which is where the derision in that statement comes from. Personally, I blame my parents in many ways for what happened during my childhood, but as an adult, it’s now my responsibility to try and heal from that and live my life. Too many people never take that next step, into being an adult, and accepting that what you make of your life from now on, is up to you no matter how your parents may have failed you.

    Marj and Tracie, I think the interesting thing that comes from this topic is actually a lesson for parents. I’m not a parent, and thus I don’t dole out parenting advice often, but it seems to me that many parents spend all their time and energy trying to “protect” kids from anything bad happening, which may not be 100% possible. Would it be better to focus your energy on keeping them reasonably safe, but pouring in the acceptance, and teaching of self-worth, so that they have tools to deal with the bad things you can’t protect them from more appropriately? Would we have a huge bullying problem if all kids knew they were loved and accepted by someone, and saw the value in themselves? I tend to think not.

  5. I tried to explain this to my mom. My dad abused all of us but, as I told her, by the time he abused HER, she was already an adult with a strong sense of herself and the ability to say, “Hey- this is not right”. It’s not the same for the kids. The person hurting is is in societies role to TEACH us right from wrong. How confusing is THAT? I heard a saying by Maya Angelou that speaks to emotional abuse. Particularly, for me – since the details of my physical and sexual abuse from back then are not as clear. “People will forget what you said, and people will forget what you did – but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That’s what it is. It’s not what was done to us – it’s what it made us feel, about ourselves and the world.

  6. Other commenters have already said it better than I, but this sense of confusion in an abused child can’t be underestimated. You say “If I had been a child with a stronger self of self, a strong sense of belonging and love, I would have stood a better chance of protecting myself, possibly even being strong enough to tell someone what was happening. The emotional abuse left me without any of those things.* I would counter that no child really has had the time to develop the stronger sense of self you mention – that’s what childhood is for, to grow that person. As children, there was no chance yet. No child has all the resources to protect themselves, to speak out for themselves, to truly understand what is happening to them, and who is to blame. But I do think, for myself, that if I had had parents who had not abused me, I might have told them when someone else started doing it. To be stranded with no allies, no support, no help, you just take it and try to survive. Fortunately now, as adults, and as you say, we’ve been able to create at least part of what we couldn’t create as children – a sense of who we are, and an ability to say Yes or No, and then enforce it. Best wishes, and thanks for this interesting post.
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  7. I just started reading a book called Healing Your Emotional Self, A Powerful Program to Help You Raise Your Self-Esteem, Quiet Your Inner Critic, and Overcome Your Shame written by Beverly Engel. I want to quote you something that I just read today: “Emotional abuse is the core of all forms of abuse, and the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect generally stem from the emotional aspects of abuse.” I believe that says what you were saying Mike. Of all of the books that I have read about incest over the years, this is one of the few that goes to the “core” of the matter and talks about healing emotional abuse. Thanks for sharing this post, Mike.

  8. Bumped into your blog after searching “emotional abuse.” Only during the past three years have I begun to contemplate I was emotionally -b-s-d by my mom and emotionally n-gl-ct-d by my dad. I’ve written these words before. I may have said them once or twice – in a hushed tone. I don’t like them.

    I have no recollection of being physically or sexually abused. I do remember the yelling, the name calling, the inconsistencies, the expectations to succeed and to fail, my confusion.

    I’m in my mid-30’s and my life is suspended a million miles up in a darkness of depression, anxiety and mental illness. Perhaps physical beatings stop at a certain age. Perhaps sexual molestations stop at a certain age. But even in my mid-30’s, the emotional beatings continue. It doesn’t seem emotional -b-s- ever stops.

    I cried reading this post and the comments that followed. It is true isn’t it – the effects are so profound. As an adult, I was unable to cope with a bullying employer. I was unable to keep myself from an unsafe relationship. (So in the end, I walked into to physical and sexual abuse.)

    I have carved the pain I’ve felt, the shame of who I am, the hatred for myself onto my body, to such an extent and with such ferocity, I have to keep myself covered.

    I can no longer work. I am deemed disabled. Depression runs in my family. But was disability inevitable? God, was I hurt so badly that they disabled me? What sort of physical beating or sexual assault would it have taken to achieve a similar result? What WAS done to me emotionally?

    Was it something I did? Couldn’t I have done better? I came from a nice home with loving parents. They were involved in my schoolwork and went to all my ball games and dance recitals. They paid for my college education. I love them and I know they love me. Why am I now nothing? a failure? They gave me everything. I’ve given nothing but disappointment in return.

    I don’t deny there were problems. But why was I so weak? My sister is married, expecting her first child and going back to school. She is surviving well enough. Why have I fallen entirely to pieces?

    The last 10 years I’ve lived on my own. In those 10 years, I have spiraled further and further into a chasm of worthlessness. How can it be their fault? How can it be a result of anything they did or did not do? Is it not my responsibility to make a life for my adult self? I’ve failed. Others were right all along.

  9. i don’t agree. I worked for years on myself after i suffered the knowledge that my mother never loved me, that she met my needs with cool indifference, and lack of interest, my father worked abroad, and when he was home he was a bossy control freak that punnished me for every wrong infraction. ( OCPD) later my stepfather was a tyrant hated me for no reason other than jealousy even though my mother paid me no attention- i lived in the attic.
    i was utterly lonely…i read everything from budhism to joseph cambell, meditated, did a little therapy ( found it useless and waste of money) and wound up on medications, diagnosed bipolar ( though i never had mania- oh but i guess they seem to think that my rage at my parents constituted as mania – whatever i am not bipolar.) as hard as i try, and after 40 self help books +, i am untrusting, i fight depression especially if i am left alone- i cannot be alone – i force myself through it, i just wind up sitting like a lump on a log unable to find a reason to get up and go.
    by the way i have a very high IQ, I was a model and dancer, and now i teach fitness, and all the fame and glory never helped one bit. i went into relationships with abusive men, and now i just stay single cause it is easier.
    what you say is bullshit. there is no way you will ever recover. yeah maybe you have a lovely wife and family so you got to fill the deep black hole, but not everyone is so lucky or even able to form relationships because of unhealed intimacy issues.
    all that is possible? every day might not be horrible. but oh god will you have your days….and it is not your fault, or your responsibility- all my life i felt too responsible, ( my fault mom doesn’t love me, i have to take care of her etc…) and now i am paying the price.

    1. Eden, I’m sorry that you feel like this is impossible. I know it to be true. I write about my experience, and I’ve heard from others that would tell you that it is not, in fact, bullshit. It is possible to heal, though it is not easy. It took me years of work to create my own sense of self. It didn’t come magically one day, it wasn’t brought about by any particular self-help book, or a few therapy sessions, or even medication. It was all of those things combined with time and effort.

      My wife doesn’t fill the deep black hole, I learned to fill it myself, so that when she came along, I could be open to having a meaningful relationship. I hope that one day you will learn what helps you fill that hole. There are no easy answers to that, but I do know it is possible.

  10. its said abused people are highly narcissistic,,,,i agree,,just look at these posts,crammed full of people in deep personal introspection,,,something they will do their WHOLE life’s,,,and since their so preoccupied with the self,,do you really thing they have time to love another?,,not a chance,hers a tip,,,undamaged people dont dwell on the ,self,,they loved look out wards the unloved look inwards perpetually,that’s the difference,,

  11. A good relationship involves respect, trust and acceptance. Healthy relationship starts on friendship. Keeping secrets is not acceptable in a relationship. A healthy relationship is open to all possibilities of changes and not afraid of difficulties along the way.

  12. To fix a problem you first need to know what the problem is,then once it has been identified,you then need to know how to fix the problem and once you have got the tools to fix the problem its all gonna be o.k, sure along the way you will have set backs and you will make lots of mistakes,but when it all comes right its going to be the best feeling in the world.To change is the hardest thing in the world,but nothing easy is ever been or ever will worth doing,I’ve got a long way to go but I’m moving forward slowly so I know how hard things are,I get off times still but I’ve got a few tricks to help,don’t look back anymore if it hurts or its to help in learning an

  13. Wonderful site. Plenty of useful info here. I?m sending it to a few buddies ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks for your effort!

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