the author

How I Escaped My Family's Cycle of Violence


Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling  1-800-799-7233.

The last time was not the first time. My father was attempting to break both my mother’s arms off, and in trying to help my Mum he tried to throw me through our glass sliding doors.

The floor was wet, a result of the beverage that Mum was preparing being knocked off the kitchen counter as she was manhandled to the floor by a man who was lost to an alcohol induced rage. Black eyes, screaming, crying siblings. A small boy unable to save his mother properly. These are my memories, but we got away that night.

My father himself must have watched similar scenes as a child. His own father was an abusive alcoholic, as was his grandfather. A long line of male abuse runs in the family, stretching back generations of men whose behavior I cannot understand.

Flash forward a few years and I am at my most impressionable age, in my early teens, going through the usual motions of hormones, girls, school, feeling the self-imposed responsibility of being the “man of the house,” etc., etc. It is one of the rare weekends we spent with him. My father sits me down, my younger siblings now in bed.

What feels like a deep and meaningful conversation begins, and he relays to me a lot of what I must be feeling, tells me he went through the same feelings with his father. I feel like there is an understanding, an understanding of a feeling that has always been hard for me to articulate. Then he says to me that even though now I was appalled by what happened, one day I would do the same thing.

One day I would do the same thing.

Rationalize what you want, when you are an impressionable young teen, and someone relates an understanding of your feelings then predicts your future, it is hard to reconcile. It’s a weight you carry with you everywhere. It hangs over every interaction, every relationship. The “Black Dog,” the “Dark Cloud,” the “Weight.” Call it what you want, it just lurks in the background of your whole life.

During the same time, my best friend and I were in high school. We had been mates since we were 4 years old, and with varying levels of engagement, his father had always been an example of what a loving and supportive father should be. An example of a good man. Without being over the top, he just lives a good life and is a wonderful human.

Greg was there in all the non-hero ways someone can be there: dinner, help with school work, discussions about the world at the dinner table. He is universally respectful, hardworking and always loving to his family. For 10 years Greg had been this fantastic example to me before he changed my life.

Driving home from an after party, in the morning, while nursing my first mild hangover at 14 years old, Greg told me he was proud of me.

It was a throwaway comment, no fanfare. “You boys did really well last night, we’re proud of you, and we’re proud of you too, Josh”.

I nearly cried in the backseat of the car right there.

By living a good life, by being there consistently, by being a fantastic example of being a man, Greg was able to be the counterbalance to the negative impact of my own father. If someone this good, if a family this close is able to bring me in as their third son and be proud of me, then maybe I am different from the long line of men who have made mistakes before me.

Consistency.

Not one hero action, no attempt to save me, no overt move to “help.”

Greg and his whole family gets their credibility from living a good life, and for consistently being a source of support in times of need and in times when it’s not needed. In the years of just being Greg, there have been a couple of times when simply caring enough to be proud of me, or popping a hand on my shoulder and checking in on me, have made all the difference and allowed me to go on to bigger and better things than I could have without their support.

Never underestimate the importance of just being nice, being a good example, being consistent and checking in on those around you. Never underestimate the importance of taking the time to earn the trust and respect of those around you by practicing what you preach, because you never know who is watching. Sometimes we spend too much time looking to “save” people in very visible distress, and forget to look after those who may be silently having a tough time right next to us.

Just be nice, ask people R U OK? and be someone who sets a good example in their own lives, and the world will be a better place.

Josh Reid Jones is the founder of the Just Be Nice Project and an R U OK? Day community ambassador. He can be found at joshreidjones.com and jbnproject.com.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via contributor

RELATED VIDEOS

19 Ways Childhood Emotional Abuse Affects Your Mental Health as an Adult


Experiencing emotional abuse in the formative years of childhood can be incredibly damaging to a child’s mental health. Unfortunately, the effects of early emotional abuse often do not stay confined to the period of time when they occurred. The effects can be debilitating and far-reaching, often creeping into adult life in ways we may not expect — much less want.

What happens exactly when emotional abuse from childhood follows you into adulthood? And what happens if your experiences contributed to a present struggle with mental illness?

We wanted to know the effects of experiencing childhood emotional abuse, so we asked our mental health community to share how emotional abuse in their upbringing affects their present mental health.

If your experience with childhood emotional abuse has contributed to challenges you face now, please know help is available.

 

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “[I have] very low self-confidence, [have been in] toxic relationships [and experience the] feeling of being never enough… Currently I’m battling with depression and eating disorders.”

2. “I overanalyze every situation, what I did wrong and what I could’ve done better. My self-esteem is shot, my self-confidence is minimal. I question people’s intentions about everything and have a difficult time trusting others because of it, which causes extreme anxiety quite often.”

3. “When I get yelled at, I start to panic and will sometimes have a panic attack. This is mostly because my mother was unstable when I was young and would yell at me very often… It definitely attributed to my anxiety today.”

4. “I can’t do anything without apologizing for it. I’m constantly fearful of and waiting for people to abandon me. The constant anxiety makes me physically sick. If someone seems even the slightest bit annoyed or disappointed in me, I burst into tears. I feel deeply emotionally attached to anyone that offers me any emotional comfort, as if it can make up for what I’ve lost.”

5. “On top of emotional abuse, I was also sexually abused, so that probably has compounded my problems. I had very low self-esteem, trust issues, eating disorders, feelings of worthlessness, [I] obsessed with perfection, [had] anxiety, depression [and] suicidal ideation and [also] abused alcohol — all of which carried over into my adult years… I have made great strides in the past five years or so. I no longer use alcohol to cope and I have gotten out of a toxic marriage. Some days are worse than others, but for the most part, I have learned how to cope with everything in healthy ways. I still deal with not feeling like I am good enough and I second guess myself a lot. Some days I need more reassurance. When the bad days come and anxiety or depression creep in, I know it won’t be around forever. My faith in God and my church family have been instrumental in my growth and healing. I know my worth now, even if I sometimes need reminding of it. My past still affects me, but I no longer allow it to define me.”

6. “I can’t trust anyone. I internalized it and learned to hate myself. I learned to believe all the things they said about me. I have anger issues. I can’t get close to anyone. I fear being around people. As a result of it all I can’t work. I live with almost constant anxiety.”

7. “I have anxiety and depression now. I have to know why things don’t go as planned. I obsess over closure of situations and it makes being a mom and spouse very difficult.”

8. “[I] still think everything is my fault. The guilt, the shame, the low self-esteem. Nothing I do can be good enough. I struggle with OCD, anxiety, depression and I’m in eating disorder recovery. As an adult, it’s definitely easier to connect some dots (which I consider a positive), leading to at least understanding why I am the way I am.”

9. “I’m still figuring it out. [For me,] child abuse [has made] cognitive development detached from society and finding healthy boundaries a work in progress. Delusions knock at [my] door all the time.”

10. “College is extremely hard for me to get through, mentally. I am constantly feeling like I am not smart or capable enough, and am in constant fear that I will not graduate. I feel like my anxiety and depression have really kept me from enjoying the college experience fully, and kept me from making use of the opportunities around me. I’m in my third year and I still fear I chose the wrong major, and that I am not doing enough. College is hard enough, but with a mind like this… it truly feels nearly impossible.”

 

11. “I never wanted to admit to myself that my parents’ behavior and the environment in which I was raised had any effect on me as an adult. I did not want to give them any sort of power over me anymore… Only now can I relate my panic disorder to my childhood. My childhood was living in fear in the place where a child should feel safe and loved. I was made to feel unwanted and unworthy and basically, in the way. As I type this, I can feel my brain starting to spin out of control and my heart beating into my throat. It’s sad that I still feel unworthy of anything in my life.”

12. “I looked for love and attention in all the wrong places. I didn’t get love and attention at home so I looked for it in relationships and when they didn’t go well, I was devastated. I thought about all the things I did wrong. I developed depression and didn’t do much to get help because I thought I deserved it.”

13. “I can’t work due to the amount of hallucinations and stress vomiting that happens when I’m under stress. Living is stressful, eating is stressful, sleeping is stressful. I feel like there’s a threatening presence only I can feel… I have paranoia often, making it hard to leave the house. [I have an] eating disorder that has been present since childhood. [I go to] lots of doctor visits and [am on] different medications. It’s hard to know who you are when there’s so much pain blocking the joy. But I press on, and encourage others to do the same.”

14. “I stay between fight, flight and frozen. In many situations, I’m often anxious beyond typical ‘nervousness.’ I’ll stay guarded even around [people] I’ve been around for years.”

15. “I have no self-confidence, I have BPD and am a mother myself, now. I find myself second guessing my parenting and try my hardest not to repeat the past.”

16. “I don’t reach out for help, although medical issues make it a necessity. I don’t feel as if I am worth the help, or that people will berate me. [I’m] always on edge, waiting for the next verbal barrage.”

17. “I have serious trust issues, and I am unable to completely relax or know anything about what I would like to be at 60 [years old]. I have literally no clue who I am, and I am sometimes really mean or quick with words when I should not be. [It is] to the extent that it is causing me serious health issues now, too. I am scared of me.”

18. “[I struggle with] low self-esteem, developed an anxiety disorder [and] BPD, and [feel] the need to constantly seek validation in everything I do. It took me a while to realize the connection to emotional abuse from childhood, and this community has been so affirming.”

19. “I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Trusting in stability is a struggle for me, and I’m constantly second-guessing myself. I’m very self-critical and have worked extremely hard to change my internal narrative to something more positive. I’ve had to learn how to be kind to myself, and understand I am not a bad person — that I deserve to love and be loved. I [have] an anxiety disorder and OCD, as well as mild PTSD.”

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.  You can also visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Thinkstock photo via Archv.

19 Ways Childhood Emotional Abuse Affects Your Mental Health as an Adult
hand reaching out

I Can’t Always Give. I Need Help, Too


I smile, I laugh, I even I crack jokes. I make people feel good about themselves, and let them know I am there to help them whenever they feel like they need someone to turn to.

I was there. I supported, I comforted, I helped and I gave assurance.

I was there. I was always there.

But inside, I needed help, too. I needed someone to tell me everything was going to be OK, that someone was there to support me, to comfort me and give me assurance. I needed that too. I guess they didn’t know though.

Every morning I wake up thinking, “Why do I have to start another day of faking everything, again? Didn’t I do enough yesterday?”

I am alone. At least I feel alone. It has been eating away at me. I want to run, scream at the top of my lungs and cry until I cannot cry anymore.

I feel tired, even if I sleep for 10 hours or more. I feel cold inside. I felt numb, breathless, like I am drowning from the inside out. Sometimes I walk aimlessly, because I feel lost, like everything I know has suddenly disappeared in front of me.

I cry myself to sleep each night, praying that I don’t have to do it all again tomorrow. I choke from the huge lump I feel in my throat whenever I think about how helpless I feel. I rock my own body to somehow thaw the ice that is at my core.

When I dream, I dream about falling down a dark void, but I never land. I always wake up, drenched in my own sweat, the hairs in my body standing. I try to sleep again and end up following the same excruciating pattern.

I start the day again. It’s always the same as yesterday. Thoughts are gnawing at my brain, eating at me bit by painful bit. My hands feel numb all day long, and my knees feel weak. I don’t stare at anything for too long. I come back to reality when I feel a tear crawling down my cheek.

Then I think about how the people around me would live if I weren’t here. Would they be happy? Would there be any changes at all if I wasn’t alive? Would their lives be better off without me?

I tried to escape, to go to places far away, where no one knew me, where I was free to do anything I wanted to; places where I can feel the wind in my face and forget that, for most of my life, I’ve felt nothing. That is why I loved taking breaks.

I did everything I’ve always wanted to do, and I didn’t waste a single minute. I fought to keep the thoughts away, and during these breaks, I win.

I filled my mind with things I wanted to think about; things that made me feel like everything was going fine, that there were no problems. I filled my mind with happy thoughts, like being free, which I realize are just illusions.

Was it so bad to feel happy and carefree for a short while? Was it a sin to get out and not think of anything for a day or two?

I wish I could feel like many other people do. I want to be free. I also want to do the things I want to do. I also want to be the things many other people want to be. I don’t want to feel tired anymore. I don’t like feeling useless and judged. I don’t want to be alone anymore.

Yes, I smile, I laugh, and I even crack jokes; but deep down inside I am lost.

Is it too much to ask?

Is it too much to ask to be free from this?

Is it too much to ask for more breaks from this life that I have been living in for so long?

Is it too much to ask to feel happy?

Is it too much to ask for someone to help me?

I deserve to be happy.

I need help, too.

There are a lot of us who need help; a lot of us who try to be OK, when we know in reality, we are not always OK. A lot of us who try to be genuinely happy, when we know we have thoughts of hopelessness. A lot of us who try to be like some others — carefree and at ease, when we know that living like that feels almost impossible. We need help, too. But it’s hard for us to ask for it because we are scared of getting rejected, we are scared of getting judged and we are scared of being ignored. It’s hard. It’s hard living in the shadows of our own lives.

All we want is for you to look at us, look at who we really are, and not our mistakes. Look at us with eyes free from bias, so that we may reveal our totality as one with everybody else. We want you to see us in a different light, for we have been living in the dark for too long, we forgot how it feels to live under bright skies. And we want you to care.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image via ipuwadol

Photograph of Carrie Fisher

Billie Lourd Shares Carrie Fisher's Cause of Death


The coroner’s report for Carrie Fisher’s cause of death was released on Friday, six months following the actress’s death at the age of 60. According to the Associated Press, Fisher died as the result of sleep apnea and “a combination of other factors,” including drugs.

Fisher was best known for her role as Princess Leia in “Star Wars” and was an outspoken mental health activist who lived openly with bipolar disorder and addiction. The drugs found in Fisher’s system included cocaine, heroin, MDMA and other opiates. While it’s impossible to know what she took and when, the Associated Press reported that according to experts, she may have used cocaine about a week prior to her death.

Releasing a statement to People about her mother’s death, Billie Lourd, Fisher’s daughter, said Fisher would have wanted her to be open about her cause of death, adding:

My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases.

She talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases. I know my Mom, she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress to solutions and ultimately a cure. Love you Momby.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Fisher’s brother Todd Fisher said he wasn’t surprised Fisher’s health was affected by her drug use. “If you want to know what killed her, it’s all of it,” he said of his sister’s heart condition, smoking and both prescription and illicit drug use.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Image via Riccardo Ghilardi.

man comforting woman in house with arm around her

14 Steps to Help Me When I Am Hearing Voices


I sometimes hear voices when I am manic. I have also heard voices when under extreme stress, or during dissociative episodes.

I usually don’t share what is going on in my head… except with my husband sometimes and at support groups. When I have told people about the voices, they never seem to know how to respond, and don’t say things that are helpful. I thought it might help if I wrote out how people could help me during this time. Psychotic episodes can be very different for different people. For me, the battle is mostly inside my head and I know the voices are part of my illness. These are things that would help me, and hopefully, it could help someone else as well.

1. Establish my trust.

I am always really scared to share that I am hearing voices. If I tell you, please reassure me that you are a safe person I can confide in. You could do this by making eye contact and showing empathy in your voice. Tell me you care about me and want the best for me. Give me some time before I share more details. It takes a while for me to build up the courage to talk more.  Remain calm, and be sensitive to whether I want to sit apart from you or closer to you. Tell me you don’t think I’m “crazy,” and that other people have this problem too.

2. Listen.

After you have given me a little time and established I can trust you, I might start talking a little more about what’s going on. Listen with empathy and without judgment.

3. Respond to the feelings I share.

I know it’s hard to understand what it’s like to hear voices, but you can relate to my feelings. So you could say things like, “That seems so scary. I understand how you would be upset.”

4. Summarize what I am saying.

It helps me to feel heard if you respond to what I am saying by putting it in your own words and asking me if you understood it right.

5. Ask me what the voices are saying.

I may not be ready to share what the voices are saying, especially if they are saying bad things to me. But sometimes it helps to get the words out in the open and not in my chest. If I am too nervous to share, you can skip to the next step.

6. Ask me whether I am going to listen to the voices.

The voices might be telling me all sorts of bad things, but if I ignore them, it’s not so bad. If I start believing what the voices say or act on what they say, it can be a real problem. So ask me if I’m going to listen to them, or how I am going to deal with them. Maybe we can talk it over, or you will notice I need professional help to find ways to manage these voices.

7. Decide whether I am in crisis.

If the voices are telling me dangerous things and I’m listening to the voices — if I seem to be a threat to myself or others — call 911 or refer me to get professional help. If I don’t seem to be in crisis, you can go to the next step.

8. Bring the focus back to me.

When I think or talk about the voices too much, I start focusing on them too much, and they get louder and stronger. So we can talk about the voices some, but then bring it back to me. Explain you are concerned about my health and care about me.

9. Ask me what you can do to help.

Sometimes I can think of something helpful, or I might share something unhelpful.

10. Ask me what has helped in the past.

I personally have dealt with voices many times in the past. I’ve developed coping skills, but in the moment I sometimes forget them. Ask me what I have done in the past, and I might remember things I have done before that have helped.

11. Ask me if I’m feeling better.

Hopefully talking to you has helped me feel better. I might say how you have helped me. It helps me focus on the positive and see things are getting better.

12. Ask me what I’m going to do next.

Ask me what my plan is to deal with these voices. Encourage me to get professional help to talk about hearing voices, if I’m not already.

13. Say you care about me.

Reassure me that you care about me and want to be here for me.

14. Follow up.

Check in on me later on, whether it’s hours or days later, to see how I’m doing. Convey to me that you care about me and want to help me if possible.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem

watercolor drawing of crying female eye

How I Learned to Accept and Acknowledge 'Negative' Emotions


Who Will Speak Up for “Negative” Emotions?

When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to be sad. It was “cheer up, don’t cry, look up on the bright side.” Anger? Forget about it – there was no room at all for anger. “We don’t get angry in this family.”

The only feelings that were approved were the bright happy cheerful ones.

Of course I did have “negative” feelings — I got scared and sad and upset — but my mom was determined to redirect everything I felt into something she could handle. “What if you look at it this way?” she would say. “Maybe it was all for the best.”

I was bullied at school for years. Once – just once – I tried to tell my parents about it. It was obvious they didn’t want to hear and had no idea what to do about it. “Maybe they are just trying to be friends,” said my mom, helplessly.

Trust me, the kids who mocked me and shamed me and called me stupid and ugly… no, Mom, they were not just trying to be friends.

But I didn’t have the words to say that to my parents.

So I kept quiet about it from then on, and I started to feel more and more anxious around people, and withdraw into isolation whenever I could. Obviously, I did get sad. And angry. But because there was no welcome, no room for such feelings, they went underground in me. Sadness was shameful. Anger was unthinkable. I had no vocabulary for such feelings, because they had never been talked about around me.

Alone in my room, I turned to poetry. Poetry was the first thing that saved me. The feelings I could never talk about came out on the page. Sadness, rage and despair came pouring out. And longing.

The person reflected back to me from my poetry was so different from the quiet, polite girl who did everything she was supposed to do. I ended up feeling even more isolated, unable to show that “dark” side of me to anyone… but at least I felt alive.

The second thing that saved me was a teacher I met in grad school. He had developed a method and a philosophy for listening with absolute acceptance to all the feelings inside us. A community grew up around his teaching — young people like me who were trying out his method as a way of life.

For the first time, it was not only OK to have feelings, but there was a way to explore them, to allow and trust that every feeling has a story to tell and can change and evolve if you pay attention.

No feelings were considered “negative.” All were welcome. Just as all people were welcome in the community we created. No negative people, no negative feelings.

The inner exploration of feelings became my life’s work. Given how I started out, I can see why.

And here’s the thing: I’ve learned it wasn’t only my family and my small town that suppressed negative feelings. It’s our whole culture, our whole country. And though my childhood was a long time ago, the shunning of “negative” feelings is still going on.

If you show sadness, you’re considered a “basket case.” If you show anger, you’re labeled an “angry person” — the kiss of death. If you show anxiety, people try to fix you or talk you out of it or explain you just have to change your thoughts… good luck with that.

The latest version of ostracizing negative feelings is a kind of pseudo-neuroscience where we are told that dwelling on negatives rewires/strengthens the negative neural connections in the brain. (I haven’t found any actual science to support this.) Methods have emerged for “thought-stopping,” which teach people to suppress any “negative” thoughts.

Really? After all these years of progress and learning about being human, is that the best we can do?

When I was mocked and teased at school, I couldn’t allow myself to feel how scared I was — because that would have made the mocking worse. Besides, I knew that if I dissolved into tears, swallowed up by my misery, nothing would have changed. But the feelings, unfelt and unprocessed, stayed in me as tension in every social situation from then on… until I met that teacher in grad school.

When feelings and thoughts are suppressed and not allowed, they remain the same — unchanged. Letting our feelings take us over and run riot is also not good… because they don’t change that way either.

What I learned from my teacher was a third way: How to welcome and turn toward any feeling and give it a space to be explored. I don’t have to be anxious; I can be with an anxious part of me, and listen to what is getting it so anxious.

When I look around the world today, I see so much division and fear. Whole races and religions are called “bad” and pushed away. We’re afraid of people who aren’t just like us. The same thing is true inside us. Whole sets of thoughts and feelings are labeled “negative” and sent into internal exile. This can’t be good.

Every feeling you have is trying to understand your situation and carry you forward. Depression is a real sign that something isn’t right. Anger says, “I need this to stop.” When you learn to listen to your feelings without being taken over by them, you live more fully. You become more “you.” You contribute more to the world, your family, yourself.

Who will speak up for “negative” emotions? I do.

Ann Weiser Cornell is the co-developer and teacher/author of an empowering skill for emotional healing called Inner Relationship Focusing. She herself has struggled with anxiety, obsessions and addiction. Her latest offering is a free online course called Transforming Your Relationship to Your Inner Critic. You can also find her at focusingresources.com.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock illustration via berdsigns

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.