Category: Mental Health in families

I told him what I see. He explained it away.

I told my dad today about my concerns over how he’s being treated by my step mum. I told him I’m worried for him. I told him about how she’s treating me and other people in the family. He denied it is happening. He denied any possibility that he may be being treated very badly and that he may not realise because he has had so many previous years of emotional abuse. He says there is no problem for him. He put my experience and my concerns for him down to the fact that I had harmful experiences when I was abused when I was younger and that means I perceive interactions now as a repeat of what was done to me back then when actually nothing is wrong / there is no similarity, and that my “world view” may not be a good one because of what was done to me then. Basically I am wrong, I am the problem, and there is nothing wrong at all in how my step mum behaves to him or me or others. He denied events that have happened, denied things that have been said, and bought totally into my step mum’s view of me as a failure, a let down, spoiled, the problem, unwelcome, at fault… he even upheld her emotional attacks on me as being fine and my feelings essentially as being because I have problems.

It was pretty much what I had expected would happen but he had a much deeper rooted explanation than I was ready for, for why things are not really as I have experienced them to be. At least he did not deny my experience. But he explained it away in such a manner that it secures my step mum’s casting of me as the difficulty and her as the perfect spouse and mother figure.

My concern was primarily for him and how he is being treated but she has cast me in such a role that no concern I raise, no event I try to discuss will have weight with him.

It is rather as my mother did, drawing my dad in to such an extent that he would not hear when I told him multiple times about her emotional, physical and sexual abuse. She could invasively abuse me pretty much in his presence, emotionally taunt and threaten me for hours on end partly in his presence. At the time he supported her, joined her in her emotional attacks on me, often continuing himself afterwards; somehow he ignored her physical actions to me… and then later when at long last he listened to me (when I was an adult, hospitalised) he claimed no memory of any of the events. He was that drawn into her world.

His blindness now both traps me again and leaves me alone. Traps me where I cannot reach him to warn him what is happening as he just won’t hear me. Leaves me alone because it feels universally declared that I’m mad, I’m wrong, I’m the problem; what I’m experiencing and seeing isn’t real. It feels like all the power has been handed back to my step mum. I feel as I did when I was a child; alone and my sense of reality torn to shreds.

Xxx

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What do you do when you see someone you love being hurt by another person?

What do you do when you see someone you love being hurt by another person?

Strains in relationships in my family are becoming ever more apparent. It’s not just strains. For my part I’m watching two people I care about in the family and worry about be knocked down, put down, undermined and controlled by another family member. I’m on the receiving end too. Right now I’m more worried about the two other people. I can get a little more distance. I’m struggling myself and upset and every anxiety is worse because I find myself in situations that resemble my traumatic childhood and that’s triggering – and the very fact I find it upsetting is used against me to say I am the problem. Yet I have someone else who loves me and a day to day life full of so many blessings with them.

When you see someone you love being hurt, even emotionally abused, by another person, what do you do? When do you speak up? When do you ask them something about it or tell them what you’ve noticed? This is is a situation where the two people suffering seem in one case accepting of being treated like that (even as they are upset by it) and in the other case totally oblivious to it and actually idolising the person doing it to them (likely because they have come to accept it, think it’s normal, actually believe themselves to be the problem).

I’m sure some people would tell me it isn’t my business and I should not interfere. The two people I’m worried about are both adults with their own decisions to make, although if this were a professional environment, one of them would be classed as “vulnerable” because of her mental health. However, in my personal and even work life, I’ve seen too much terrible behaviour and even abuse continue when, if someone had spoken out earlier, it might have been stopped. When I was a child more than a couple of people who knew our family had concerns I was being sexually abused but did not say anything, or when they did say something the person they told didn’t act. (I found all this out as an adult.) In my previous jobs, on two occasions I saw colleagues be victimised and bullied and accounts of events be twisted by other colleagues and superiors who disliked them; after months this led on one occasion to the person leaving and on the other to the person being dismissed unjustly. I’ve also been treated like that by a boss who intimidated, bullied and lied daily, until I was forced to leave my role. Almost everyone saw how the bosses in these situations were behaving but nobody did anything about it; it was accepted because of the bullies’ enormous power and threats. Recently there was a TV programme about a couple who kept over 10 children prisoner in their house in two different towns, neglected and malnourished, sometimes restrained and tied to their beds. It was years before the alarm was raised and the children rescued. In this time neighbours and locals had realised something was wrong, sometimes when one or other of the children managed to get away and ask for help, sometimes when the couple’s bizarre behaviour was observed. Again, for the most part nobody spoke up about their concerns. Could the children have been rescued sooner if they had?

Basically I’ve seen too much abuse go unchecked and nobody saying a word about what they see. I’m hyper aware of this because it would have taken very little, in a way, for the abuse that I was a victim of through my whole childhood to have been uncovered. How might things have been different if the GP who suspected the physical abuse when I was 6 had contacted authorities, if the school had followed up why I was suddenly withdrawn from the education system and isolated at home when I was 4, if the family friend who saw signs I was being sexually abused by my mother had said something to someone other than my dad or if my dad had believed her… might the abuse have been uncovered? Might I have been taken away from my abusers and kept safe when I desperately needed it?

Possibly not; I don’t know. Someone reporting concerns doesn’t guarantee action will be taken. If action is taken, it doesn’t guarantee that the extent of the abuse will be uncovered or that the right help will be given. Abusers are very clever at covering up the truth and twisting explanations and beliefs. I should also emphasise that in most circumstances I don’t think anyone who does not speak up about their concerns is responsible for the abuse continuing*. The responsibility and guilt for abuse lies with the abuser alone, not with the victim or their friend, doctor, neighbour etc. People who don’t speak out often don’t for the best-intentioned reasons, such as not wanting to accuse someone falsely or not wanting to make the situation worse if the abuser finds out that concerns have been raised.

I recognise that the situation today for the two people I’m worried about is not the same as in my childhood. I’m conscious that the traumatised me may feel similarities a lot stronger than they actually are, when my memories surface. This situation isn’t about a child trapped and controlled by an adult who has total power over them. It isn’t the same intensity of abuse. But it is about power and control being used to manipulate and exploit people’s vulnerabilities – vulnerabilities made greater by previous worse abuse they’ve lived through.

It hurts to see loved ones being treated like this. It hurts that they can’t see what’s being done to them or that they think it’s okay they are treated that way. I wish they could leave the relationship but it’s not up to me what my loved ones do. I can’t make them see the situation how I do. Nor should I try.

Is there some way I can help them realise what is happening and that they don’t have to just accept it? For me, something of a turning point came when it was made clear to me how very much not normal my relationship with my abuser was and that the abuser’s view of me, the view she indoctrinated me with, was not the truth and was not how other people saw me. It took years to start to gain this understanding. It doesn’t happen in one conversation.

My main fear is that if I raise the matter now with my loved ones and tell them what I’ve seen happen to them or what the person does to me, they will become so angry or feel so insulted (bearing in mind they are in close relationships with the abusive person) that they no longer want to listen at all or even end our conversation or worse still, cut off / cut back contact with me. Thus they’d potentially get sucked deeper into the abusive relationship. If they told the abusive person about the concerns I raised, she would use it as further ammunition against me and to turn them against me. Our relationship would deteriorate and they’d be more isolated.

I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know where to get advice.

Ginny xxx

*Sometimes, this can be complicated and I might write about it in another post.

***

Picture sourced with thanks, from istockphoto.com

Undermined

I’ve just had a family member to stay who I find it very stressful to be around. She rapidly and repeatedly undermines and dismisses things I’m experiencing and what I achieve. She makes it clear she thinks I’m faking my physical health conditions, that my mental health conditions are my own choice, that I’m lazy, a let down and a failure. She starts gradually drip by drip until nearly every comment makes clear what a waste of space I am, her hatred of me and any sense I have of myself apart from her statements and blame of me is gone.

Right now I wish I’d cut off all contact with her as I almost did 5 years ago then 4 years ago when her behaviour to me, along with the circumstances I was living in, repeatedly put me in situations too closely mirroring those I was in as a child trapped with my mother’s emotional abuse.

But – and I almost didn’t write this – she’s my step mother and my father thinks she’s wonderful, and what do I do if I’m to allow him happiness… and keep some relationship with him… which actually, I think she would rather I did not have. It’s something else she’s gradually tapping away at. Rather as my mother did.

What obligations do I have to him? To her?

I’m seeing far too many circumstances repeating here. It’s very hard to try to go forward building up my recovery with this going on. But this kind of thing always will go on, and I need to make my own choices and change my own behaviour so I don’t act in the same way I did as an abused child.

Xxx

How do you love someone who is hurting his/herself when it feels you can only watch?

WARNING: this post mentions self-harm and suicide and the point of view of carers of people who are struggling.

How do you love someone who is slowly hurting his/herself – and you wonder if actually, they’re taking their life gradually – when it feels like you can only watch?

I don’t mean how do you feel love. That’s not in question. It’s your love that aches and burns and cries inside you.

But how do you give love?

When it seems you can only watch. Watch, wish, long, weep, beg, scream, shake (you – and them?), speak but only shout into the distance, only shout up against a rubber wall that bounces your words of concern and pain and fear and help and whatever it may be right back at your heart – where they metaphorically stab you and mock you with their futility.

And the love you want to give is lost somewhere.

Your loved one get relentlessly weaker with irresistible self-consuming power. And you are powerless. Love does not force or fight and does not demand to control another person’s choices. Love can not force another person to choose the healing of their body or to choose life. The pain-and-longing part of your heart, when you love someone who’s breaking, might for a time wish it could force it, but the very centre of love knows really that it cannot be forced.

And then you cry.

Even if you cannot and do not want to make them choose, you wish you could at least penetrate the rubber wall, so that love could be heard for a little while.

****

I’m in this situation right now, actually with two people dear to me, and I don’t know how to give love.

Ginny xxx

The guilt I feel when I’m met with no response – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3 part post. You can find Part 1 HERE

I wonder how much of my misinterpretation of emotional facial expressions is because the people I grew up with, my current family members and I myself express emotions in a different way from the typical?

It occurs to me that I’m told that often I show no emotion outwardly, or that people can’t work out what I’m feeling. In a family member’s words, “we just have to have some kind of reaction out of you,” and “we have no idea what on earth is going on with you so it feels like – aargh – we can’t be dealing with this!” I’m often told this when internally I’m having really strong emotions of loss, hurt, upset, abandonment and fear, and having flashbacks. Sometimes I’ve wanted to keep my emotions hidden. Almost always I’ve tried to turn my feelings inwardly so as not to bother or hurt anyone else with them.

However at the same time I’ve frequently thought other people understand what I’m feeling inside (but don’t want to discuss it so I just have to keep going) when it may later transpire they had no idea what I was feeling. I will then find it really hard to believe they had no idea. I will also be upset because my attempt to keep inside the sad feelings I have, to keep going as you’re meant to and not draw attention to myself, then backfired and seems to cause anger and upset and accusations of being childish, spoiled, rude or disrespectful, and of making other people responsible for me. People have said things like “It looks like you’re accusing me of not looking after you,” “I’m not responsible for how you feel,” “Its not anyone else’s job to make you feel better,” “You’re a spoiled little brat”; I’m told I have to stop thinking about my own problems, should push them aside, should think what other people have gone for me, etc. Which is often exactly what I’ve been trying to do and nearly broken under the strain. I don’t know how I get it so wrong. I don’t know what other people are seeing at these times that is childish or rude etc. If I did I would have some chance of correcting it.

This reminds me that as a child being abused, I was daily really distressed, inevitably expressed it (til I learnt better) and got no help. I was at best ignored. More often the punishments redoubled and threats got worse – more threats of how I was breaking up the family, of how the couple of people I had and loved would die because of me and graphically how I would find them, of how my parents would be taken away. I was told I was a liar, faking what I was feeling, behaving as I was in order to cause worry and hurt to my abuser, to punish them because in some way I didn’t get what I wanted. One of my abuser’s paranoia about us being watched increased too. Her bizarre, possibly psychotic behaviour, and ridiculing of me, came to the fore. I tried my hardest not to express any feelings, even physical feelings. When I got ill I was terrified what would happen when my abuser and others complicit in the abuse found out. Basically I got no response or a terrible response, and none of the help I needed, from my main abuser and the person enabling her.

Both my abuser when I showed my emotions as a child, and family members now when I try not to show my emotions, said/say that I am childish, spoiled and hurting others.

When I do express my emotions now, the reaction from my family is rarely positive. Occasionally it is, but often it isn’t. The fact that it fluctuates is really hard to deal with. But that’s another story for another post.

My abuser’s emotions could change in a couple of seconds so I had to be constantly on the alert and do what I could to stay safe. She was either emotionless in all her expressions, or furious, or distraught, or ridiculing me. Occasionally she was happy but you got the sense it was only on the surface and sometimes it seemed like a trick, especially when it quickly flipped to anger or ridicule. (Her severe psychotic episodes were somewhat different.) Whilst I had to be on the alert to her emotions, I didn’t learn anything from her about normal emotional expression.

My other immediate family members’ emotions are also hard for me to judge, in facial expressions and verbally. I can fail to spot the onset of anger with me. At other times I’m overwhelmed by how they express it. I often interpret anger when they are actually feeling concern or upset. I interpret disinterest or rejection when they say there is none there.

So…. on the whole that does seem quite messed up, doesn’t it!?

To be continued in Part 3 (which will be what I thought I was going to write about originally!)

The peculiar significance of treacle

Every year I forget how evocative certain Christmas smells are. Not just the more obvious things like candles and oranges and mincemeat and brandy, but certain specifics. It was black treacle and spices the other day, as I was making gingerbread dough. Suddenly as I counted out the syrupy spoonfuls I was taken back to being stood in front of another cooker, aged maybe 7, stirring the pan dissolving the sugars, with my mother watching. Chain smoking, of course. A knot of emotions expanded inside me as they did then. Excitement for Christmas. Some kind of enjoyment of doing a grown up thing. Delight at wanting to make pretty biscuits. Wanting to get it right and please my mother…. well, the desperate need to get it right, impeccably following the process she had shown me. That meant tenterhooks and anxiety and churning emotions, too often teetering on the edge of me ruining everything again (I thought). One mistake, one deviation from her instructions, her watching would explode into anger, ridicule, accusations and threats. Hours of shouting and violence would follow. And everything, I had made her do, and each time I’d have that sick terror inside that this time it was over and the threats were being fulfilled. Looking back and seeing how little was needed to tip us into that disaster, it’s bizarre. Laying a biscuit onto the baking tray in the “wrong” way (ie not the precise arrangement she required), not getting the bow on a package right fast enough, touching the wrong switch on the oven – even simply letting any of my anxiety show. It sounds almost as if it should be funny. But it isn’t funny when someone has you isolated, under their power and in fear; not in fear of them but in fear of yourself. Because one sure thing to me at the time was that it was my fault.

So, standing there measuring the treacle it all came back. As I’ve been making the biscuits over the last day or so, I keep being catapulted into so many emotions and suddenly reliving snatches of good and bad … And to tell the truth I’ve been pulled into the bad too much. Exhausted.

I’m fighting it, because there’s no way my abuser’s having this Christmas. This Christmas is for God and the present and my fiancé and it’s about all the good we can do and are thankful for today. I speak briefly, quietly to God as I roll the dough, cut, bake , ice, package these cookies. I’m pushing through the dissociation to do all I can to hope for this Christmas and for every flashback find twice as much I’m thankful for today.

Ginny xxx

They’ve found her

My mother has been found. My abuser has been found.

It has been a little over a year since I first reported to the police the abuse done to me by my mother in my childhood and early adulthood.

Since I made my statement, the police had been searching for my mother to question her. It had come to the point that with her not being found for so long, part of me felt perhaps she never would be. Had she chosen to disappear? She had gone from her last known address, disappeared and ceased contact with the hospital that was treating her, no information about her whereabouts was known by the very few former friends and similar, and none of the few leads I could think of helped (a relative she might have had contact with, a place she worked a very long time ago and so on). Even the police’s searches of records held by places like the DWP or tax office yielded nothing (very strange since she must surely be claiming a Benefit, or a pension, or working). The police had even searched the death and marriages registers and were talking about the possibility she may have passed away. It was in my mind whether the time would come that I might have to accept that, though bizarrely without ever really knowing what happened to her.

Then at the weekend I got the news that the police have found her.

Shock. I was stunned.

So, now I am to meet with the DC who is working on my case, the same person who took my statement. He has spoken to my mother. I don’t know if he has interviewed her. I expect he must have. He has things he needs to tell me but felt we need to meet face to face to talk about it.

I’m in a sort of suspense til our conversation. There are so many questions and uncertainties and fears. Where was she? Probably the DC won’t be allowed to tell me. How did they find her? Perhaps he will be able to tell me how. What state is her health in? She was not in good physical health when I last saw her and her mental health conditions are severe; she never believed she was ill though. Has that changed? I doubt it – but perhaps that’s too much of an assumption. No, actually, it isn’t; given the years and years history anything else would be astonishing. What has happened to her since our contact ceased? She disappeared from contact with the hospital team – not surprising, sadly – so has she had no treatment since? What’s she doing? What danger is she in? And what danger is she to others, that’s in my mind too, because of what she did to me, and because of her violence when she is ill.

For me, what now? If she’s been questionned, what happened? What did she say? What do we do now? I can imagine what she will have said to the police about me. I’m trying not to imagine too much in general about this, as it can lead to no good. There is no point in imagining scenarios until I meet the DC. A big issue will be her mental state now, I think, and whether she has capacity to understand proceedings. I think another big issue will be how will there be any evidence of what I went through? So much happened when I was alone and isolated with her. The lack of evidence gives the voices in my head power and I’m stifled and paralysed quickly with the flashbacks on the one hand, the voices telling me liar, disgusting, your fault, you wanted it….

The last 2 days dissociative episodes have taken hold scarily often. I’m fighting them, sometimes. But often that makes me break too much or I’m too far in.

If I have to make some decisions over what happens next, how can I choose for good?

Ginny xxx

Furthest away from those closest

[Begun writing yesterday 30th December]

I’m really sad, angry, lonely and hurting. I feel excluded, blamed, not believed, not wanted, a disappointment, right when I am trying the hardest, giving the most I can, in the most pain and most need to find some understanding; not necessarily help but simply acknowledgement and belief of what I’m experience and some love nevertheless from those closest to me whom I might hope to trust.

I’m on the journey home now after staying 3 days with my dad and step mum and I am ashamed but I could not have coped with one day more. Again and again in my flashbacks I was back to being the child with my mother and my father and the constant terror and trepidation and dread. I live the same situations over and over. I’m terrified of the next time she’ll think I’ve done, said or thought something wrong and get angry. I am exhausted from any time with my step mother and her utter insistence on her right and my wrong. Even simply talking with her and Dad, it’s as if we’re back where whatever happened I was the problem, I was the one behaving oddly, I was the one causing damage – when actually my mother was the abusive one, she could get away with anything, when I was crying for help nobody heard, nobody helped me and my father appeared to agree with her entirely. Similarly now, he can’t believe my step mother and everything she does is anything but fantastic and wonderful. I know I’ve said before, in a family situation he is utterly loyal but to the exclusion of the point of view of anyone but her, just as he was with my mother. I think that’s at least in part how I went unheard for so long when I was clearly massively distressed and when I needed his help, and when I told him what she’d done.

It was a bad enough time through all this but it has also become very clear how little my step mother believes or understands about my physical health and disabilities, how much she blames me, holds me responsible as though being ill is a choice, how annoyed and disappointed she is I don’t live up to her requirements. I’ve known for a long time how she doesn’t understand but it came home this week. It isn’t only me that it’s directed at. She shows the same attitude to my step sister over her mental health and to one of her friends who has a lot of physical health problems. It is beyond me how anyone can show as little belief or understanding of what someone is going through, as little compassion and as much blame, but then I have been ill or physically disabled most of my life so admittedly that gives me a different starting point.

She is not open to hearing what day to day life is actually like for me or even seeing it when it’s right in front of her . I don’t make a big issue about my health. I try to make sure it affects anyone else as little as possible. But when she is lecturing me about why don’t I do this or that, things are only a problem because I imagine they are, and so on and I have to try to explain eventually why I may not be able to do something, she refuses to hear and insists on her solution and gets angry if I can’t do it. When I’m physically unable to do something when I’m right there with her, for her it’s something I’m doing deliberately, it’s a real problem for other people, I “just have to do it”, I am not making enough effort… it’s like when my mother accused me of pretending not to be able to do things if I didn’t succeed academically as she required, and the resultant rejection and punishment of me is similar too.

I wrote a lot about what my step mother said to me and did which I’ve deleted because listing a load of hurts and speaking badly of someone does no good. When I was leaving, she started up again about “New Year, new you”, how everyone needs it needs to be a healthy year, we don’t want any more of this, I’ve got to be completely different  and I’ve “simply got to” make sure of that, and it’s all about positive thinking, it simply has to be mind over matter, as if it’s a choice not a number of lifelong health conditions. She loves telling me what I’ve simply got to do, always things which I literally physically or mentally cannot, so she exerts a great amount of pressure and certainty that I’m a disappointment when I can’t meet her simply-got-tos that she heaps on me even when they’re medically not possible.

In the face of all this, my father blanks me, ignores what I’m experiencing, denies what has happened or ignores what I say if I express as much as the fact that some of what she says is hurtful, to the point of refusing to answer and acting as though he has not heard or changing the subject. He literally will not hear a single thing against her, or even not 100% agreeing with her. It’s just like how he withdrew and ceased responding and cut off and rejected me and to say the least did nothing whilst my mother continued all kinds of emotional physical and sexual abuse. Then he is able to say he doesn’t know what’s happening.

***

My step mother’s growing obsession with weight and Slimming World is hard for me too. The fridge looks like a diet advert, even though it’s Christmas, brimming with vegetables and low fat yoghurt and very little else. Food is such an issue and has to be done her way. She will not stop telling me how I’ve “simply got to get healthy… simply got to prepare proper meals”. I don’t want anything to do with her diet. She has no concept of eating disorders and how hard a combination of the voices, my physical disabilities making cooking and the resulting cleaning ever so painful, and my eating disorder make it to cook. Yet she can’t see past her own obsession with vegetables, fat free, going to the gym…

***

I’m at the point of ceasing to expect anything but rejection, judgment and accusations from my step mother and from my dad, withdrawal from me and utter support of her views. At best. The glimmers of understanding I thought I had from my dad just seem like a trick now that opened me to trusting, making the inevitable return to rejection and accusations all the more painful. I will not go to stay with them again any time soon.

It would be easier for me to cease all contact with them. My step mother does not often behave as if she likes me. I often think they might well prefer me to have only infrequent contact. After all, I’m seen mainly as a problem. Morally, I don’t feel I can cease contact. I have a duty to them. I want to forgive. I can’t expect total understanding. If I ask forgiveness from God when I’ve judged other people I need to forgive them. I try not to act angrily but the hurt is much harder to control. If I did not have a dependence or need for their understanding, it would not matter to me so much. Though my father’s withdrawal and denial of my experience hurts as much as what my step mother does.

It hurts so much in my head right now.

Ginny xxx

I can’t be loved

It hit me today. I can’t be loved. I am unable to receive love, most of all God’s love. I long for it in different ways. Crave not being alone or being understood. Crave protection. Crave being wanted. Being needed. Being any good (any good to anyone, and just simply any good). Not being rejected. But I’m totally unable to receive it, accept and believe.

A friend said to me a few months ago that I always put a barrier and was too angry to let God love me. I got very angry with this friend at the time and very afraid. I felt like he confirmed everything I always inescapably feared about being outside God’s grace, bad, too bad to save and it was my fault, that however much I thought I wanted good I was bad in the end. I spoke very angrily to my friend, accusing him of frightening and judging me. But really everything I attributed to him, was what I utterly feared because of what I’d learnt as a kid being abused. The only way to stop my abuser’s threats coming true, I believed, was to accept what she (my mother) was telling me about me. That meant admitting to my own pervasive, enduring, dangerous evil.

I’m only just now suddenly starting to see how strong her deception was and how it has made me unable to receive love, rather only to receive confirmation of her view of me (or at least the view she presented as an abuser). She talked a lot about love. I did not receive love in that relationship and as a kid that’s the relationship where love is most important. My father loved me but she so twisted things that my impression of him was that he believed the same about me as she did. The closest thing I experienced to safety and love was “admitting” under her violent coercion to how evil I was, accepting and desiring her total control over me and my total weakness.

Most of all I have been unable to accept the love of God. My abuser’s twisting of the meaning of what should be love has had a very direct impact that I wonder how I didn’t see til now.

More on this in coming posts. Right now I’m feeling like I just fell off a cliff or something.

Ginny xxxx

 

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry: when it’s less safe

A closing drawbridge and a silent cry

Eating disorders and personality disorder

When it’s less safe, but I am no longer my abuser’s child

WARNING: this post contains mention of childhood abuse, discussion of my experience of anorexia and disordered eating and the purpose it served for me in my eating disordered thought processes.

When I started drafting this post, I didn’t actually intend it to form part of this series on eating disorders and personality disorder. I didn’t realise that it would be so much about my eating disorders, but it turns out that it is. I started writing tonight in preparation for my therapy group tomorrow. Last week, we were talking about feeling safe. In the discussion, I said that at some points during therapy (around the past 14 months so far), I’ve actually been less safe than when I was not in therapy. In hindsight, perhaps I should say, felt less safe. It has felt less safe. Despite this, I still feel therapy is a process I need and want to go through. Someone asked me a question about that, to which I struggled to verbalise the answer. I’ve thought on her question during the week. I’m not going to write what she said because I don’t want to break her confidentiality, but I wanted to share the reflection she has led me to about becoming more or less safe during therapy.

As soon as I tried to explain, the familiar eating disorder thought came into my mind – when I was anorexic it was safe. I know how sick and dangerous that thought is and how illogical, the physical destruction of my body having been so clear. Yet, there was a point not very long ago in therapy where I so desperately wanted my anorexia back, because it would have been safe, and not so much too much. With anorexia, I wasn’t too much and nothing was too much. (Except food, of course!) I was encased in a safe, protected place, and I felt nothing but its power, voice and drive. My emotions and my body made no more demands.

With anorexia I could be certain in the knowledge I was starving, punishing, weakening, enough to atone for what my abuser told me I was, enough to avoid the damnation I thought I otherwise deserved, enough to ensure I was not a threat. Enough to satisfy my abuser.  And even years after I had got away from her, I thought perhaps anorexia could take me back to that one time where it had seemed she wanted me, seemed through a child’s eyes that perhaps she loved me, the one time I wasn’t bad, where I was so weakened she took total control. That would be totally safe.

I was never cared for by her. Total control stood in for care instead. The closest thing to care and safety for me was my total self-destruction, total physical weakness, allowing her to take total control of me. My BMI was about 13. I was in unbearable pain in my back and legs. I could just barely walk with crutches and had to spend a lot of time in bed. She took control literally of my movements, my food, my use of the bathroom and toilet, my washing, my dressing and undressing, my weighing (any action that could have and should have been private, she invaded) my contact with other people (even the doctors who wanted to help me, whom she prevented me seeing most of the time). Telling me what I was thinking, telling me what I was doing to the family, telling me what to say, total control – but this total control was the only time that the terrible powers and terrible intentions she told me I had, seemed to cease. My body and my mind ceased to make demands and I succumbed to her totally. This was the only safe place. The rest of the time I lived in fear of what I would do to her or the family and of her terrible threats coming true.

Paradoxically, at other times my anorexia gave me something that was nevertheless mine. It was my anorexia and my body. I think I’ve written before how when she had me strip in front of the mirror, a fierce voice in my head said, this is my body and you will never touch me again, and I resolved to lose as much more weight as I could.

That determination and angry strength was unusual. It was more about cutting off. Later, I stayed as numbed and weakened as I could. Long after I was out of the anorexic weight range, physically safe, I continued to punish myself. Starving. Vomiting. Cutting. Overdose. On the outside, I could do what was required and expected. I achieved. I was together, doing what they required in terms of education and work. Again, that was safe, because I was doing what was required, my dangerous emotions were numbed, my atonement continued. Until I imploded. Everything went to pieces.

As everything fragmented, numb was no longer sure and safe. I desired the end and wanted to end my life. At the same time, my child voice that I had suppressed so successfully for so long, was screaming and desperately needed to be cared for. This was explosively dangerous. My abuser’s threats about what I was would come true; they’d be proved to be true for all to see. The evil in me would explode out of control, if I could no longer punish and weaken myself. I would cause unlimited hurt to others without even seeing it myself, but everyone else knowing the evil I was. I would never be cared for (ie in someone’s total control).

Straight away, the rejections began. (Again. Just as I’d been rejected when I had needs and sought help as a child – terrified what my abuser’s reaction would be; my father not knowing what was going on, so not protecting me.) I was not under my abuser’s control any more, but there was no care for me, no one to protect me, and the few people I trusted were not there for me. The pressures – I don’t know if consciously or not – piled on me made it very clear I am a disappointment, not good enough, not what they need me to be, that they will only accept me as long as I am moving in the direction they think I should be at the pace they have dictated.

I cannot silence the needs any more. Anger boiled out of control, hurt screamed. Going through therapy, the feelings intensified. There was no way back to the protection my eating disorder had given me. Now, when I write about how it worked and why I wanted my eating disorder back, I am horrified. I am horrified at the power my abuser had over me and how I allowed her to have it and how that made me feel safe.

I will never receive now the care I did not receive when I was a child being abused. I will never receive again the closest thing I knew to care, the total submission to another person and control by them. Terrible as that was, I feel as though I will never be sure, as I could for a brief time be then when I was totally dependent on her, that I am not the bad, evil thing I had been taught that I am.

With the loss of all my coping mechanisms, including stopping self-harming and stopping overdosing, as I have somehow by the grace of God managed not to do in the past few weeks, it does feel more dangerous. I don’t know how to find any reassurance, internal or external. My feelings, my emotions, experiences, feel so out of control and dangerous. I am no longer my abuser’s child. I am no longer what my family requires. I will never have the care and security I did not have as a child, nor will I have the safety unconditional acceptance would give, because I do not have that now that I’m no longer what they require. I don’t yet know how to exist without these things.

Part of me grieves for the loss of the eating disorder and mechanisms that kept me safe, because stupid and twisted as it sounds, they did at least protect me; despite the harm they caused, they protected me from ending my life, and though it was fairly illusory, they gave me the closest thing I had experienced to being cared for.

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I should say that I think that another important part of the safety issue in therapy is coping between sessions with the emotions that have come up in sessions. Also, the impact that this disorder and the recovery process has across your life. Until very recently having the help of my support worker, I struggled badly with the social isolation that followed the loss of many important relationships, and the “domino effect” of all the material stability in my life falling away because of the financial problems caused by losing job after job and my erratic spending when I was out of control. Struggling with this at the same time as my emotions were going out of control anyway, my desperation for help increasing but being unheard by everyone I tried to get help from and had been led to believe I could trust, brought me very much too close to the edge. My support worker has greatly contributed to my safety now.

Ginny xxx