There is a lot of talk lately about de-stigmatizing mental health problems. People praise prince Harry and other celebrities for speaking openly about depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. It’s almost cool to have depression these days. But I will tell you the truth. The society is absolutely built to punish and even further victimize those who have been through emotional abuse and have emotional problems as a result of that.
Why? Because the society distrusts and dislikes emotional people. But do you know what? Being emotional is the exact result of having been through emotional abuse.
The wounds that emotionally abused people carry are invisible. These victims may not have bloody noses and black eyes but their internal wounds are deep and persistent, frequently dating back to early childhood. If they had bloody noses and black eyes, emotional abuse victims would be able to gain support and sympathy. But because of the invisibility of their wounds, they just attract more abuse. They are seen as crazy, unstable and irrational.
In quite a synchronicity, I started working on this article only to get distracted by a conversation with a fellow Quora user that made me realize that this is not only about sharing my experience. This is a real problem and we need to talk about it.
Stuck in an abusive relationship with someone who is clearly a narcissist (or perhaps a sociopath or psychopath), this girl, questioning her own sanity, finds herself constantly dismissed by authorities including social services, police and lawyers. Why? Because she is emotional as a result of having been emotionally abused for years. Her narc psycho partner on the contrary, as most narcs and psychopaths, is a master manipulator, expert at putting on a façade of a perfectly calm, reasonable awesome person. Not even her family trusts her. And as with every case of narc abuse, it’s only her, the victim, who sees the truth.
This sort of shit happens all too often and causes many good, empathic, compassionate and well-intentioned people to suffer when their only sin really is that they have been emotionally abused.
In most cases, it starts in early childhood and continues throughout the person’s life.
Can you blame emotional abuse victims for becoming resentful when all they ever get is more shit? It appears it never ends until the person manages somehow to heal herself or himself. I would like to start a discussion about how to make the world more supportive of such people and aid them in their sincere efforts to heal rather then dragging them deeper into the mud.
The difficult child
I know it well. This has been the story of my life. I grew up in a heavily dysfunctional family. Emotional abuse and invalidation was pretty much a norm. A family scapegoat, I was always blamed and shamed for everything. I was the reason for the marital problems of my parents. My drunken mother regularly screamed at me when I dared to assert myself against her intruding on my personal boundaries in her unpleasant state. I was told by my father to die and generally experienced all sorts of emotional situations a child shouldn’t be experiencing in a home.
Quite early I became sort of difficult at school. Does it surprise you? But guess what? Everybody blamed me. Always. I got screamed at even more, I got told all sorts of horrible things. I would even hear people saying they were sorry for my parents that they had such a horrible brat like me. Not a single person EVER stopped to think – hey wait a minute, how does it look like in this child’s home? How do they treat her? I wasn’t showing signs of physical abuse. I was well fed. There could have been nothing wrong with my family, right? It’s just me, the difficult child. In fact, I remember people telling me how cool my parents appeared to be – further emotional invalidation. If they are cool, I must be the problem right?
I understand that for people who have not been through this experience, it is really quite difficult to comprehend what an effect this constant blaming and shaming has on the evolving mind of a child. The child simply absorbs all that it hears – if everyone says that he or she is the problem, it clearly must be true.
This underlying belief and the shame connected to it makes the child a prime target for narcissists and psychopaths, which only leads to further trauma.
Emotional abuse victims are starved for love, approval and appreciation and therefore very easily fall for the tricks narcissists and psychopaths use when they are trying to lure someone into their sphere of influence. The narcissist or psychopath infatuated with a new target (which at this stage they see as perfect and extremely valuable) is the most loving person you can imagine, bombarding the target with appreciation and love.
You can’t blame the person who has experienced emotional abuse and neglect in their childhood for falling for this. The narcs/psychs are really good at playing the ‘soul mate, love of my life’ game. They embody the perfect prince charming. The other party invests, starts planning for the bright beautiful future – and then comes the end. No explanation given. The narc/ psychopath is bored and the formerly perfect person has no value to them at all. What follows is called devaluation and discard and it’s a period of emotional abuse (sometimes very covert). The target is criticized, ridiculed, devalued, discarded and when he or she starts asking questions in a sincere attempt to understand what happened to the formerly perfect relationship, the only answer given is stone-walling, silent treatment, or further blaming and shaming.
The narcissist or psychopath is perfectly over you and doesn’t understand how on Earth you haven’t moved on just yet. They will make it known to you that despite their original proclamations of undying love the relationship never really was that hot and that you clearly have a mental problem if you can’t accept it and move on.
All this is emotional abuse. Silent treatment in particular is a powerful weapon deployed by narcissists and there are quite a few resources in psychology literature agreeing that this is an extremely damaging form of abuse. In fact, some say that silent treatment is far more cruel and damaging than being screamed at. It’s a total annihilation of the person and their humanity. But how do you prove this act of covert violence? You can’t prove it. It’s the smuggest thing in the world and the narcs and psychopaths know it very well.
The same way you can’t prove emotional manipulation. How do you prove that you have been lured in, promised the bright and sparkling future and then thrown out as a used piece of toilet paper. Misleading someone into believing they are in a serious relationship and then throwing them out and enjoying them suffer IS abuse. Laughing at them for trying to make sense out of a totally odd experience is abuse. But how do you prove it?
The mind-fuck continues if the emotionally abused person looks for validation in the wrong places. The narc has told everybody that the ex is a crazy bitch and emotionally unstable – and because society distrust emotional people, it’s the emotionless narc/psychopath who is seen as the more trustworthy side of the story. That only exacerbates the trauma for the emotionally abused person.
The society and the legal system side with narcissists and psychopaths but why is that?
So you have the emotionally abused person with her or his double trauma – the original one from the childhood (which no one around was willing to acknowledge) and the second one from the narcissist that people around are unable to understand because they have never seen the other (real) face of the narcissist.
The victim is emotional and thus considered unstable and dangerous. Since I have joined various narcissism recovery support groups and forums, I have realized that the society and the legal system in particular are geared towards supporting narcissists and emotional abusers.
I remember reading a story of a guy who was suddenly discarded by a narcissistic girlfriend. He went through the typical ‘soul-mate, love of my life’ experience with her. All seemed perfect. But being a narcissist, she obviously got bored and no explanation given, cut off the guy out of her life. So how do you react? You believe with all your heart that you were in a real genuine relationship – surely, this must be some sort of a misunderstanding that could be sorted out. The guy tries to reach out to the girl but never receives any response. He still believes the whole thing must be a misunderstanding and that even if the relationship cannot continue, they should at least have a talk to understand what went wrong. He comes to her workplace hoping to have a conversation – clearly quite heart-broken and emotional. She calls the police that he is stalking her. He gets emotional, she is a great manipulator like all narcs, and the police obviously believe her.
I am convinced that police records are full of warnings and cautions of people who have attempted to get answers from their narcissistic/psycho exes. (Here is one rather upsetting story of an emotional abuse victim having her life ruined by a police caution)
It seems quite well established in psychology that recovering from a relationship with a narcissist or psychopath is much more difficult than recovering from a normal relationship with a non-disordered person.
The target of narc abuse is discarded, no explanation given, and is on a journey towards the realization that the relationship was all a fraud to start with, based on the false self that the narcissist created. It’s an emotionally challenging process coming out of this fog towards the acceptance of the fact that you have been duped, used and exploited.
This process naturally involves processing a lot of emotions and one of them is clearly anger. Like the guy in the story above, I didn’t want to believe that the person I had spent four years of my life with was really a fraud and a manipulator. I desperately wanted to keep positive memories, have a friendly closure. It took me a while for all the evidence to really sink in. And I have to admit that when I established the facts beyond any doubt, I did experience strong emotions and sent that individual quite a bunch of emails telling him all I though about his character and his behavior. I had quite a lot to say.
He reported me for harassment. No one cares that I have been used and duped and exploited and manipulated and emotionally abused by this individual.
The only way to change
There is much more to this than me sharing my sob story.
I believe that emotionally abused people are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the society because of the blame and shame that has been piled upon them throughout their lives.
My therapist says that I am an emotional dustbin. Anyone can dump their shit onto me and I will digest it for them. I will accept it for mine. Sure I am the problem, not you. It’s my shame, it’s my guilt – you persuaded me it is.
I could never openly challenge my parents about their behavior because, oh, what if I hurt them. Maybe the narcissist is really not a narcissist. Maybe it really is my fault.
Because of the blame and shame, victims of emotional abuse do struggle to find support. They tend to question their perception of reality, such as my Quora friend who is still in doubts whether her psycho partner treating her like garbage might actually be an ok person.
I have been thinking what needs to happen to change this situation. How is it possible that she is distrusted by the authorities and even by her own family when trying to find help and a way out of her situation? How is it possible that a guy who is seeking answers from someone who deliberately led him to believe that he was the love of her life is charged for stalking?
The unfortunate reality is that the average emotional intelligence of the world’s population is likely very low. That makes people on one hand prone to fall for the manipulation of narcissists and psychopaths and on the other hand quick to dismiss victims of emotional abuse.
Remember, emotional wounds are invisible. No one can see them. The only evidence of the fact that the abuse happened is the person’s emotionality and that by itself is viewed negatively by the society.
I guess victims of emotional abuse need to come together, share their experiences, speak up and help each other heal. And once they do that they need to spread their message to as many other victims as possible. The help will not come from outside. It’s a grassroots affair. It needs to come from us. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, no one else will.
I think the world can actually benefit from victims of emotional abuse gaining a greater influence in the society. Victims of emotional abuse tend to be extremely empathic. We have been there; we feel other’s plight. It makes us cry. And we are passionate about the right causes – we want to make the world a better place for everyone. Sure we would be a better influence on the society than the empathy-devoid compassion-less narcissists and psychopaths.
And you know what? These types have been running the show for long enough and I am not sure about the outcomes.
Victims of emotional abuse need to shake off the shame and blame and bravely speak about their experiences. There is so much sick stuff that is happening to people whose only sin is to have been exposed to damaging behaviors of other people.
Importantly, those who have been through narcissistic abuse also hold the key to helping other people learn to recognize manipulative and narcissistic behaviors. But I guess I leave that for another article.