When Childhood Emotional Abuse Makes You Grow Up Feeling Invisible

I was told by one of my parents that I need to take better care of my service dog, to treat him well. Better care? Treat him well? I like to think I take extremely well care of both my dogs, my service dog and my rescue pup.

This statement made me feel small, incredibly small and invisible — almost. I told my therapist this and she asked how it made me feel. Like less than a dog — an animal — I responded. I felt like an object, a small bouncy ball that is a transparent yellow color.

I like to argue to you that there are several moments in one’s life that can create a sense of pride, of achievement, of success. High school graduation, college graduation, first job, writing an honor’s thesis senior year, receiving a scholarship or award, just to name a few. How about completing your Master’s degree? I think so. Yet in all these moments, and many more in my life, I have felt the opposite. Small, insignificant, depleted. It’s as if these moments are expectations of my life rather than accomplishments and successes.

For me, growing up, my relatives were across the Pacific Ocean. My parents worked long hours and I was an only child for eight years. When my parents picked me up from day care after 12 hours of day care and school, they argued. Dinner, money, who’s in charge of me all led to arguments. If I interjected, I was yelled at. When they thought I was asleep, I listened to them talk about how I was a problem, an issue, that I somehow became the crux of the problem. As I got older, the emotional and verbal abuse continued. Sometimes it became physical abuse. But mostly it took a toll on me emotionally. I began to decline right in front of my parents’ eyes but they didn’t see it. They were oblivious. I began to slip into anorexia. I physically began to become invisible because I already was invisible to them anyways.

I was told that I treat my parent’s house like a hotel. I was told I am not grateful or appreciative of all they have done for me. I was told that I was expected to get a 4.0 GPA in high school for all four years and that this was non-negotiable. None of my accomplishments have felt like accomplishments. They have felt like chores, like something I’m expected to do because I’m their child.

These and many other things said to me have had a lasting impact on me into my young adulthood. I recently completed and defended my Master’s thesis in molecular biosciences. They said good job but then asked, “What are you going to do for a job?” They told me, “Good job. Now hopefully you can find a job on campus and meet somebody smart.” They care more about my next step, my next life milestone than my accomplishment. No matter how many people have congratulated me, no matter how grand the celebration was with my chosen family, no matter what my lab mates do for me, I do not and will not feel proud of my accomplishment. Why? Because childhood emotional and verbal abuse is real. It is prevalent in my life, and is the reason why I have PTSD, why I have major depression, why I have severe anxiety and why I want to slip deep into the throes of my anorexia to become invisible again in my life.

Because I feel like an object.

Because I feel invisible.

Because I feel worthless. 

Yet despite all this, I fight. I go to therapy. I talk about my feelings, my emotions, my thoughts. I express bits of anger during my sessions with my therapist. I have my service dog to provide comfort, safety and support when I’m out in the world. I’ve got my chosen family with me by my side supporting me. Because they and my friends are proud of me, and I will ride that out for now. Because emotional and verbal abuse is real and it needs to be talked about. Because after being subjected to decades of it, the effects are long-lasting. Because you aren’t alone. What will you do to fight this?

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.

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