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How to Recognize When Your Family Is Emotionally Abusive About Your Health

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

If you feel like your family downplays the severity of your symptoms, blames your behavior on your health condition but attributes theirs to their mood, criticizes the way you cope with your condition, or overplays your symptoms to fit a “helplessness” narrative, you may be experiencing emotional abuse. Facing emotional abuse can be common if you live with a health condition, but if your family uses your health to emotionally abuse you, their behavior isn’t your fault.

Emotional abuse may not be as widely talked about as physical abuse, but that doesn’t negate how serious and traumatic it can be, especially for people who struggle with their physical or mental health. For people with invisible physical symptoms, emotional abuse may be others’ constant disbelief that those symptoms are real and serious. For people whose conditions present more physically, emotional abuse may present as others making assumptions about their abilities to the point where they’re constantly treated as less competent, mature, or independent than their able-bodied counterparts. And, emotional abuse also weaves its way into mental health — people whose loved ones attribute “unfavorable” behavior to their conditions, twist their words, or blame their past trauma on them are also emotional abuse survivors.

Emotional abuse can be extremely difficult to recover from, but it’s even more challenging when the abusers are family.  If your family is emotionally abusive, particularly about your health, you may feel extra pressure to listen to them because of your blood connection. You also may find it difficult to escape them if your family is close or if you think you might receive judgment from other relatives for distancing yourself. If you live with your family, you may feel trapped or unsure of how to find a safe place where you can separate yourself from your family’s abuse.

The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with distancing yourself from family members who use your health to emotionally abuse you. You aren’t obligated to keep anyone in your life who doesn’t respect you or support you through your health challenges. While you might have a difficult time coping with the ramifications of creating this distance if your family is large and close, pulling away may help you begin to heal and unlearn some of the views that have been ingrained in you about yourself and your health. If you can’t physically leave your family, make sure that you have someone to talk to — an empathetic friend or even a mental health professional — who is willing and able to listen to you and may challenge some of your skewed beliefs about yourself.

If you’re a survivor of emotional abuse and your own family are the abusers, you aren’t alone, and the abuse isn’t your fault. Your family may have tried to convince you that you’re responsible for everything they say and do, but this is gaslighting, not reality. You are handling your life with a health condition as well as you can, your symptoms do affect you enough to be taken seriously, and you are capable of managing your condition without your family completely controlling you. Recognizing emotional abuse can be hard to swallow, especially if your family are the abusers, but you didn’t cause the abuse you face and it will never be your fault.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

Originally published: September 24, 2021
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