5 'Harmless' Comments People Made About My Experience of Childhood Emotional Abuse
As a childhood emotional abuse survivor, I’ve been told a lot of invalidating, harmful things in regards to my childhood emotional abuse — both while the abuse was ongoing, shortly after the abuse became less frequent and even today.
Even as I write this, I realize how much these statements continue to affect me and my view of myself and my experiences.
A lot of these statements could be categorized under the same phrase, but for me, they all have various impacts on my life, my self-view, my self-esteem, the version of myself I am now, etc.
There are so many more statements I could include in this list, but these are just a few that came into my mind as I sat down to write this article.
1. “Just get over it!” or, even worse, “Just get over it already!”
I’ve been told this like I was choosing to continue being in this much pain… like I was at fault. Like I “shouldn’t” still feel how I feel. Like it’s been “long enough.” Like the person saying this was angry at me for still being affected by my childhood emotional abuse.
2. “Your brother has moved past it and forgiven, so why can’t you?”
Just because someone else who went through similar experiences was able to “move past it and forgive” doesn’t mean I will be able to as well. It doesn’t mean my feelings are wrong. The time frame that works for one person may not work for another person, and that is OK. There is nothing wrong with either person. People go through things, process things and experience things differently. There are so many factors that influence this. For me, I learned that one of the many factors was my age. I was at this “just right age” where the emotional abuse was being interwoven into my trying-to-form identity and sense of self. So all the words spoken (and not spoken) and all the things done (and not done) were becoming part of me and how I viewed myself. The emotional abuse I experienced as a child felt like it was part of my identity. And I felt so damaged and fragmented and alone for so many reasons, but partly because it seemed that nobody else understood that I had the right to feel how I felt and to not be “over it” just because they or someone else was “over it.” Or because they had forgiven their abuser.
It is OK to not heal at the pace others expect or want. It is OK to not “move through” things in the same time frame as others. It is OK to heal and recover at whatever pace works and happens for each of us. We all experience things differently. We all heal differently. There is no standard for healing or timeframe in which everyone who experienced emotional abuse should be healed by. Even though it seems many people think there is.
3. “You are so good at holding grudges.”
I was told this so often that I actually started to believe it was true. I thought I just couldn’t “let things go.” That there was something sincerely wrong with me… that I was different. Abnormal. And that I was wrong or at fault for being or reacting differently. I thought I was sick for being unable to not “hold a grudge.”
And I actually started to believe I was holding grudges. I think I started to identify with this… which partly led to my trust issues. My trust was easily broken and hard to rebuild. I thought it was just how I was “supposed” to be… how everyone seemed to expect me to be. That isn’t to say that the majority of my trust issues come from that statement. They don’t. But it did affect me.
I’m still learning the difference between holding a grudge and not holding a grudge… in having the right to feel how I feel and move through things at my own pace, and being wrong for feeling how I feel or thinking how I think. I’m still learning that it is OK to not forgive if I’m not ready to forgive. And I’m learning that it is OK that I may never be able to fully forgive my abuser. That I can still heal without forgiving them. And that it isn’t me holding a grudge if I don’t forgive them.
I remember when I was going to meet someone that a family member of mine was already friends with and this person told me that they had been “warned” that I held grudges and not to “cross me” because I’d never get over it or forgive them or move on. That I’d never let them forget it. I hated that this person’s first view of me was what my family member had told them. But what I disliked even more was that my family truly thought this of me. They truly felt I was somehow wrong for not getting past all that my abuser did to me.
4. “Let it go” or “Move on already.”
This was said as though I was holding onto the abuse and the memories and the trauma. I was faulted for not actively choosing to “let it go.” But, for me, letting it go wasn’t a choice. I couldn’t just wake up one day and decide that day was the day I was going to just move on or let it go. I wish it were a choice. But the only choice I feel like I have is to continue fighting and breathing and living… to continue enduring and battling my thoughts and memories and flashbacks. To just keep on being even though I have whispers in my head telling me I am useless. That I am a monster. That I am manipulative and self-centered. That I am “stupid.” That I’m a horrible human being. That I hurt everyone who comes into my life. That I am someone nobody should ever want to be like. That they should avoid “becoming” like me. That I am forever alone. That I will never be OK again. That I am defective. That everyone will quit on me. That I am “too fragmented” for them to help me. The list goes on and on.
5. “You weren’t abused!” or “That wasn’t really abuse.”
I grew up not being able to let myself admit or even believe what I had experienced was abuse. It felt uncomfortable saying it was abuse because I worried I was wrong for feeling that way… that it wasn’t really abuse. That I was overreacting or being dramatic. That I was attention-seeking and being manipulative. It took until my therapist told me what I experienced was abuse for me to even begin to utter those words. And even then, I still didn’t say them to anybody but him. It took years before I told even one other person that I experienced abuse. I honestly still struggle with feeling like it is OK to call it abuse. I still feel uncomfortable and scared saying those words. I still worry someone will think I’m just making a bigger deal out of it than it really was, that it wasn’t really “that bad.” I’ve been told those things enough times that I started to truly believe them.
But it wasn’t and isn’t my fault. The childhood emotional abuse I endured wasn’t my fault. And my reactions to it and the long-lasting effects of it weren’t and aren’t my fault. Even though it often feels like it is. I have every right to feel how I feel and to express and acknowledge my feelings. My feelings are valid — no matter how much I struggle with believing this. I am not “wrong” for not being “over” what happened to me. I am not manipulative or attention-seeking or being dramatic. I am not stuck in “victimhood.” I am not identifying with being the “sick one.” I am fighting and surviving and enduring. I am healing, even though the pace is so incredibly slow. I am healing in my own way at my own pace. I am healing even when others can’t see that I am healing or don’t believe me when I say that I am healing. I am healing and progressing even when it looks like I’m falling backward and getting worse. I am still healing. And yes, it is so incredibly slow, but it is still real and still OK. What I experienced was and is real… my thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc. are valid… I am valid. It is OK to be affected differently… it is OK to heal at a different pace… it is OK however I feel… it is OK. I am OK… just as I am.
Getty Images photo via ksenia_bravo