What kinds of behaviors are considered "abusive"?
Even this abbreviated list is too long, and very, very sad:
1. Being abandoned, disowned, and/or kicked out of the family home as a child or teen...
2. Being singled out from other children in your family group by parents, guardians and/or other family members, as well as any adult deliberately pitting siblings or other peers against a particular child. This often continues into adulthood, especially when one parent is a malignant narcissist. An abuser will kick out, disown and/or abandon a teen child he or she has abused when that child becomes a liability--meaning, the child is too old to abuse (i. e. can fight back, talk back, etc.), and may tell people outside of the family what has happened. Typically, only one child is chosen by the abuser to be the "scapegoat." This is part of the overall abuse. The abused child will then continue to be isolated into adulthood. In 2016, the National Institute for Mental Health published study results that cited 95% of adults who have suicidal thoughts and/or attempt suicide were abused as children.
3. Being beaten, slapped, punched, kicked, chased, excessively tickled, touched inappropriately, and/or picked on by one or more adult that you depended on, OR, the adults you depended on turning a blind eye or pretending not to know when others were abusing you in ANY of the ways listed above...
4. Being used as a perpetual scapegoat as a child or teen and "punished" for things that had nothing to do with you by the adults in charge of your life...
5. Not being allowed to attend an accredited school as a child or teen and/or not being enrolled in school--and, if in school, not being given the tools needed to succeed...
6. Not being taken to the dentist or doctor for regular check ups and cleanings as a child or teen, and/or neglecting a child who has sustained a serious injury, like a laceration that needs stitches or a broken bone(s) that needs to be set. Calling a child "dramatic" and/or threatening to further hurt the child for crying or complaining about unbearable pain that has not been properly treated is abusive. It's meant to shake a child's confidence, break their resolve and self-esteem.
7. Having the adults you depended on bad-mouth you as a child or teen to other family members, neighbors and teachers, putting you in a position where you grow up under unwarranted scrutiny by everyone in your immediate social circle. This also means that whatever abuses you suffered could never be shared as you were deliberately discredited by your abusers (and their cohorts). The adults you depended on created social expectations that vilified you, using terms such as "manipulative," and "divisive" to describe you--effectively setting you up for a lifetime of derision, instead of a lifetime of praise.
8. Not being given opportunities to learn and grow through hobbies, sports or other areas of interest as a child/teen...
9. And, for girls--who are already at a great social disadvantage--not being taken to a gynecologist when you got your period and/or not receiving any education or options for birth control (which leaves ALL girls vulnerable to early or teen pregnancy, irreparably damaging their lives). Expecting a teenager or child to possess the same knowledge, experience and maturity as someone even five years older is setting that child up for a lifetime of failure, debt and stress-related health problems that are/were completely avoidable if the parents had been even mildly responsible (and responsive) to their child's needs.
If you suffered ANY form of abuse, that abuse stays with you. It leaves an invisible mark. You grow into adulthood with an established pattern of social sabotage--that's what abuse is. Your parents, or the adults in charge of your life, were probably abused and/or afflicted by mental illness. Understanding why the adults in charge of your life hurt you doesn't really help you deal with the after-effects of abuse, but it can help you understand that even though it is personal for you, whoever abused you was not doing anything because of you. Either they were born sick or became sick after years of abuse during their own childhood. Regardless, you are now an adult survivor of abuse--things like self-sabotage, self-loathing, self-punishment are all ingrained into your lived experience. You've grown up, and may not even see or speak to your abusers--but if you are doing things that hurt your life, your abusers are still in control. And, until you break the pattern of behavior that keeps you vulnerable, you will never find the success, satisfaction or fulfillment every human being craves.
What does it feel like to be an adult survivor of childhood abuse?
Every joy is temporary. Every happiness fades. Addiction is born from that kind of emptiness when a survivor attempts to fill the gaps and holes that can (sadly) never be filled, only healed, and only through increased self-awareness. If success is cumulative, so is failure. No one is born bad or evil. No one is born a failure. We only fail as children and/or teens when the adults who brought us into this world have failed us in some way. What kind of a start can any individual have in life without the love, support and encouragement of parents or guardians?
Success is nearly impossible for survivors of abuse. We may have small victories throughout our lifetimes, but our tendency to self-sabotage makes enduring success elusive in almost every area of our lives. Particularly if a survivor is still connected to their abusers. The moment any real freedom or success appears, survivors of abuse may unwittingly sabotage it through poor social choices (and those choices are usually connected to love), which, in turn, relates to success, or lack thereof, in other areas of your life, too.
Here's an example:
You meet this guy or girl and you just click. Everything seems right. You're both dairy-intolerant. You both prioritize family. He or she accepts the things about you that you think no one could ever possibly accept. You're both givers. You come from similar backgrounds. Want the same things at the same time. So, you take a chance. But, if your abusers are still in your head, you may be ignoring MAJOR red flags--like blatant insecurities, jealousy, possessiveness, inconsistencies, and that text you saw come through on their lock screen before they put their phone where you couldn't see it. When you ignore red flags, you do so because you are unconsciously looking for an abuser to dish out some punishment. To sabotage you in some way. Create resistance in your life. Make you sad. Depressed. Isolated. Alone. Lonely. All of which only distracts from your real purpose. Whatever your purpose is, I guarantee it was not to suffer or be fodder for the sad, sick people you happened to be born to.
Abuse is insidious. Healing will forever be a one-day-at-a-time process. The ONLY WAY to end the cycle is to become self-aware and objectively understand what is happening so the next time you see a gorgeous train-wreck at a bar, you won't walk into his or her arms with open arms--you'll run in the opposite direction. I'm the first person to encourage going after joy with everything you've got--but those beautiful gray eyes won't be there for you to look into in the future. And, you know it the moment you see them. But you want them anyway, because, on an unconscious level, you're setting yourself up to stall (or completely stop) any forward momentum after the inevitable happens and your heart is smashed into a million pieces, yet again.
What I'm describing is symptomatic of covert or vulnerable narcissism. You may be thinking, "Hey! I was victimized here...I'm not the problem!" You were victimized. And, that wasn't your fault. But you were affected. If you're always wondering why bad things happen to you, why you seem to attract broken people, it's because of your own vulnerability thanks to the abuse. You both need and want acknowledgement. Social validation is probably very important to you--feeling accepted by others, especially your abusers, but it can also be people who mimic your abusers in some way: Friends, spouses, partners, bosses, etc.. You may be prone to martyrdom, too. Throwing yourself under the proverbial bus by sacrificing your own needs to satisfy others. That seems like an inherently unselfish thing to do--and, it can be in certain circumstances--but if it's a perpetual habit, all you're really doing is sabotaging yourself, your time, your energy, and very likely, whatever resources you may have. Believe me--nothing you do will ever satisfy an abuser for the long-term. You can shower gifts on an abuser, go to extraordinary lengths to stay connected, to be there...but the moment you become inconvenient, an abusive person will turn on you. Find reasons to disconnect. You'll be hurting, wondering what happened, and your abuser won't even be thinking of you--until it's convenient for them to do so (usually related to keeping up some kind of social appearances).
Your psychology was shaped by that abuse. If your childhood abuser (likely a malignant narcissist) forced you to live as their perpetual victim until your adulthood, the hypercritical, suspicious and generally negative attitude directed at your person created an aversion to success in your psyche. You received subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages for however long you lived with your abuser(s) that put your very existence into question. You can't be singled out for the first 17 or 18 years of your life and expect to feel good about yourself. Bravado aside, things like confidence and self-esteem derive from the love and support of the people who raise us. But if those people were dealing with their own sense of self-loathing, how could they ever make us feel good about ourselves?
As an adult survivor of childhood abuse, you will always unconsciously believe that you have to fail at life and love because there's no way you'd ever be worthy of having someone like an international best-selling author love you or want to be with you for the long-term. There's no way anyone who has means, is totally beautiful and also professionally accomplished wants to take on your kids, your life, or any of your problems. Or, that a person who owns a home, has a business and can afford to buy damn expensive whiskey could possibly want you for anything more than a two-day stand. Even if you're already married, you might find yourself looking for why your spouse shouldn't/couldn't really love you, leading you to bad, sad places like bankruptcy, separation, divorce, even suicide.
Social connections give us a sense of purpose. Having children can help, but children will one day grow up and live their own lives. That's why it's important to have a stable, loving and loyal partner that you trust, particularly if you're a victim of abuse. While it's validating to know lots of people find you attractive, sleeping with different people on a regular basis makes it impossible for you to ever find a meaningful connection. Building a new foundation is what allows survivors of abuse to not just survive, but to thrive. However, you can only build a solid foundation with a partner when you are completely committed to creating a new, successful life for yourself. A long string of hook-ups sabotages a survivor of abuse on multiple levels--you always feel a little used after all is said and done, because your hook-up partner will never stay in touch for the long-term. Then, there's the risk that you'll fall for someone you hook-up with, but a hook-up rarely leads to anything more. Even when it does, people who hook-up may have pre-existing obligations. You may both have feelings for one another, but the romance has to end eventually anyway--which is painful, disappointing, frustrating, and leaves you wanting something you can probably never have again but will still hope, wish, dream, and pray for, whether you've "moved on" or not.
Investing in one person can be frightening to victims of abuse, but it won't be when it's the right person. When you fall in love with the wrong person, you'll always feel some level of anxiety about the relationship. That's not what love is supposed to be like. As victims of abuse, it's hard to know what love is supposed to be like. You may have real love-feelings for someone, but instead of nurturing that connection, you might sabotage it by making promises you can't keep or pushing away the person you love. Suffice it to say, when you are truly loved by another person, you do not worry for even a second that they will leave or cheat or steal from you. You know that, every day, that individual will be there. No matter what. Cancer, debt, unemployment, injury, car accidents--whatever bad stuff life throws at you, your true partner won't leave. A person who really loves you doesn't need you to prove anything to them. You are loved, regardless of age, shape, bank account, professional successes and failures...it's all about you. Every survivor of abuse deserves a lifetime of genuine love and care. Both from within, as well as outside of yourself.
You may not see yourself as a victim nor believe yourself to be narcissistic (because you translate narcissistic as "entitled"). But, if you are an adult over 30 and have let any part of your physical, mental, and/or financial health go, you're struggling with self-sabotage. Depression and anxiety may be the culprits, but you can't see that through the long list of excuses and justifications you've created for why you don't, can't or won't prioritize your health and well-being. Ultimately, if you have suffered any kind of abuse, there's only one reason why you are struggling today:
Your abuser is still in control....
Once you recognize something of this magnitude, it's "normal" to grieve for the many losses you've had. Crying for the resistance you created (but also didn't create) in your own life is something you should do. Acknowledging your pain is a good thing. Part of the abuse you suffered was a lack of acknowledgment. Your needs weren't considered, let alone met. You really didn't matter outside of being an accessible punching bag and/or convenient scapegoat for whatever bad thing was happening. If you're an adult over 30, there's no reason to allow the abuse to continue. The cycle stops when you forgive yourself and others. What happened to you as a child wasn't your fault. Stop doing the dirty work for your abuser(s) and prevent further sabotage of your own life (and future success) by letting go of your anger toward the people who were supposed to protect you. Part of how you achieve that is by understanding those who failed to protect you as a child couldn't even protect themselves as adults. Is that the legacy you want to pass on to your own children? I hope not. Because, if you don't find a way to rise above the madness, it will infect future generations the same way it infected you.
Being reactive instead of proactive is part of self-sabotage. Victims are reactive--lots of talk, but no action. But survivors are proactive--we back up our words with concrete actions that prove we are more than what our abusers want us to believe about ourselves. How an abuser treats others is merely a reflection of how the abuser feels about him/herself. Moving on from abuse means making room for success in your life by forgiving (not forgetting) the people who hurt you, including you.
How do you forgive a person who hurt your life in such a way, you continue to feel the effects decades later???
Start with yourself. Accept who you really are. You may have disconnects, like every other human being on the planet. But disconnects tend to improve with self-awareness. If we put ourselves into an abusive situation again, however, we will lose ourselves--regardless of any progress we have made. Come undone, if you will.
When the guy or girl you're about to sleep with calls you "a hard seven, maybe an eight," and you sleep with them anyway, you are indulging in a pattern of victimhood that may temporarily feel like a good thing, but you know somewhere inside that this person is as temporary as any joy you might get from him or her. Sharing yourself with an unworthy person isn't something you'll get over easily either. You'll feel rage--at yourself. For being so vulnerable. For letting the abuse you suffered create more negative ripples in your life. With hard work (like eating well, moving your body, spending time in nature, meditation, and talk therapy), you can move on from the self-doubt, anger, and loneliness meaningless hook-ups and other similar set-backs tend to cause. Even when a romantic encounter or other social situation wasn't meaningless for you, every time you choose to be with a person you know doesn't really care for you, you're giving your abusers control. The people who hurt you may not even be on this Earth anymore, but they are still pulling your strings. You are still their puppet to some degree. And, that has to stop in order for you to succeed.
Here's a way to begin improving your chances for long-term success:
Make a list of the things you need to do to succeed but aren't really doing consistently, or maybe at all. Whether that list has one or one-hundred items, beat back the urge to continue failing in these areas of your life by tackling one each and every day until you're no longer excusing your apathy or disconnects or lack of interest and motivation. As you slowly take back control of the things you have let go, you will find yourself happier, lighter, and less inclined to anxiety and depression, You'll sleep better. You'll move more. You'll eat better. And you'll allow yourself to succeed again. That's what I want for every single one of my readers. All of you. Because, that's the moment you have achieved unconditional love of the self, which means, you can now give it to others.
Creating social boundaries is an important first step in protecting your new-found inner peace as well as your peace of mind. Over-committing or feeling overly responsible is a symptom of covert or vulnerable narcissism. You are responsible for yourself first--then, you can help others on their journey but only if and when you can spare not just the time, but the energy. Energy is a far more valuable resource than money or time. If you wipe out your store of energy while prioritizing others over your own needs, you can't move your own life forward. That doesn't serve anyone but your abusers--and, they've already taken enough from you, don't you think???
You must remain self-aware in order to not fall back into patterns of self-abuse, perpetuating your vulnerability to others. Social and financial vulnerability make you an easy target for other wounded souls to wound yours in the future. Meditation helps you stay on track. Eating clean helps, too. Regular walks in nature and workouts are also helpful. Avoid alcohol, drugs and other depressants. Consider talk therapy with a licensed psychologist. Just go one day at a time. If you have a bad day, like I did the other day, know that a new day is right around the corner. But you don't have to wait 24 hours to start fresh. Every 60 seconds, you get another chance.
I believe in you! But you must believe, too. That's how you'll take back control AND keep it. When you find yourself becoming apathetic, feeling unmotivated or uninterested in doing things that will move your life forward--including accepting positive people into your life who can (and will) help you succeed--you are falling back into patterns of behavior established by your abusers.
Remember, YOU ARE IN CHARGE. You're the only one responsible for making your life better--no one else can (or will) do it for you. Moving on from abuse isn't easy, but you're worth every effort. When you begin to doubt your value, think of me and I will be there with you--like I am right now. If you are reading this essay, we are connected. And, you will win your battle over abuse. We all will. Together. An Army of Light more than two-million strong from 140 countries around the globe. We shine better, brighter and stronger together, even if oceans apart.
You're no longer a puppet for the use and abuse of others. You are a General in the Army of Light. You are brave. You are resilient. You are fierce, awake, alive...and now, you are free.