When Your Emotional Abuser Is You
I grew up with emotional abuse, not from other people, but from within myself. Far more lasting than a bruise, I think it’s akin to punching myself in the mind, so hard that I have left permanent scars. Internal self-abuse is telling myself multiple times a day, even an hour, you are stupid. You are not worthy. You don’t know how to make friends.
The abusive comments I am silently whispering to myself become my truth. I begin treating myself as a person who really cannot socialize and put herself out there. I put on my headphones and tune out the world. I’m someone who makes herself cry by coming up with an intense story about why she cannot write well and I stop myself from doing so. It’s trying figure out all in one night what to do for the future and the weight of being the biggest failure rests on my shoulders. I could be talking to someone I care about and telling myself I truly, madly, deeply do not, by any means, deserve that person and the friend they are to me. I suddenly stop talking or repeatedly seek validation. This is my emotional abuse.
I am young. In preschool, maybe kindergarten. I struggled with a lot of sensory and learning differences. Loud noises always a cue me to flee as far and fast as I can. When the school runs a fire drill, the teacher or administrator will call my mom ahead of time to come and get me. I do not make friends easily with other kids. I am too focused on not panicking about my parents leaving me in an environment that never seems to become familiar. I seek comfort in adults and older teenagers. I have a constant tangible discomfort making its way throughout my whole consciousness but I do not know how to express it in words. So, I scream. And sob. I run.
As I grow more aware of my reality, of my experiences and my battles, things shift from being attached, confused and afraid to being scared and ashamed. I am feeling embarrassed for the difficulties I am facing so intensely that depression takes over. I became quite solemn as a young preteen. In middle school, doing my work becomes my primary focus. I receive all A’s and am thriving academically, but am so unhappy emotionally. I never put myself out there to really get to know the peers with whom I spend every day. I am too ashamed. To petrified. I believe all of the lies going on in my head, the abuse I am silently inflicting on myself.
In high school, I began comparing so much. Everything that was and is me — my uniqueness, struggles and differences — became amplified, like placing a hot iron to my skin. My passion for running still remains, but my joy is tainted with seeking validation from others. Being on a team did more harm than good. The pieces of me hurt to the touch, like poking a raging wound on my skin. I keep tossing stones made of harmful thoughts in my eyes. I know no other way to treat myself.
Today, I am an adult, still struggling every day with abusive self-talk. Emotional abuse done to myself easily triggers dissociation and seemingly consistent exhaustion. The battle in my head easily burns me out. I slip into an uncomfortable trance. I can see the outside world through a plastic substance encasing me, but boy, does it take a ton of energy to remain floating above that mess. Going numb and silent seems to be the best answer. It’s the solution my beaten mind desperately wants to go with. To slip away from the only person causing the hurt — myself.
I know wallowing in my mental pain is not the answer. I cannot play hide and seek with myself forever. Shutting my mind off from feeling will not make those beliefs go away. I have to work to actively reverse the pathways in my brain. Deciding to continue to fight is half of the battle. Just simply saying “no” provokes an opportunity to change my thoughts, thus my actions and behavior. I am slowly learning to use running not for hiding or validation but as a joyful, tool for embracing recovery and healthy escape. The demons are loud, but I can be louder. So can you.
Getty Images photo via berdsigns