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How I Healed From Years of Childhood Psychological Abuse

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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 741-741.

As a child, can you imagine trying to go to sleep next to a bomb? And then being threatened to not tell or you would be killed? That’s what happened to me. As a young child, I was given a beautiful perfume bottle as a Christmas present — a perfume bottle that looked like a bottle of hair mousse. My brother, who was three years older than me, shook it violently and then placed it very gently and carefully at the bottom of my bed. He told me not to move or it would blow up. I believed him and didn’t sleep well that night.

• What is PTSD?

I was bullied relentlessly by my brother. But there were no cuts, bruises or scratches.

One usually imagines a bully as a person that punches. Someone who would physically hurt you. But my bully was a psychological abuser. The invisible wounds went deep. My brother was sly, constraining me to spit in my face, lick me or perform tickle torture. He took pleasure in dominating me and playing on my fears – relishing his control over me, his younger sister. His lies and manipulations terrified me. Witnessing my brother torture animals, left no doubt in my mind that my tormentor would follow through on his threat that he would kill me if I told.

And, where were my parents? Rather than investigating my deteriorating situation, they believed my brother’s continuous lies as he denied his abuse of me. When they did catch glimpses of my brother’s cruelty, they put it down to sibling rivalry. But it was not sibling rivalry. It was ruthless, relentless, psychological and physical abuse. And, by not dealing with it, my parents were complicit. Unheard, unprotected, I was completely on my own.

These were the awful memories I chose to forget and bury.

When an aunt died a few years ago, I started to administer her estate. It was the first time since my childhood that I was dealing with my brother who I had been told had changed. But, as we started to communicate, I was shocked to find out that my brother had not changed. He was bullying me again with lies, manipulations and deceit. I was also shocked at how my body was reacting. I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. I felt panic. I felt intense anxiety and my whole body was tense. I had heart-palpitations and was shaky. Something was very wrong.

Since then, I have worked out my trauma from my past. It was not an easy thing for me to do. I was taught to keep secrets and not to tell. I was told that psychological abuse was inconsequential. I was told that sticks and stones would break my bones and words would never hurt me. (That is an old wives tale that I want to tell you is an outright lie).

In 2014, the American Psychological Association revisited a study that was published in the Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy publication.

The APA paper was titled: Unseen Wounds: The Contribution of Psychological Maltreatment to Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Risk Outcomes.

What the study confirmed was that children who experienced psychological maltreatment were dealing with the same, or perhaps even worse, mental health problems than those children that had experienced physical and sexual abuse.

The study also found that children who experienced psychological abuse experienced post-traumatic stress disorder just as often as children experiencing other forms of maltreatment and abuse. The paper concluded that there was a need for greater attention on psychological maltreatment.

So, what might a child experience with this type of abuse? Eating disorders, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, withdrawal from society, rebellious conduct and sleep problems — to name a few. Psychological abuse has taken a backseat to physical and sexual abuse. Psychological abuse deserves some much-needed attention. Sexual and physical abuse have been receiving a lot of attention in recent years, which is extremely important. Now, it’s time to talk about psychological abuse.

Why is psychological abuse so harmful?

Psychological abusers have an intentional pattern of behavior for exerting control over another person using very planned and specific means.

There is an assumption in society today that yelling, screaming, name-calling criticisms and put-downs would be psychological abuse. Although this is true in some cases, sometimes this type of abuse is not that obvious and visible.

It is very insidious and very covert. Sneaky. Psychological abuse comes from someone who has a pattern of intimidating others, lack of empathy, lack of remorse and guilt, incessant lying, gaslighting, threats to their safety. There can be isolation and financial abuse as well.

The most concerning behavior is that people who perpetrate this type of behavior have a unique ability to charm others. They have two sides to their character and can speak in half-truths. If they are caught in a lie, they will simply reinvent a new truth. They usually will blame a victim. The other concerning behavior is that they will believe their own lies.

Being a victim of psychological abuse, I had trauma that was deeply buried and I needed help from a professional. I got it. I saw a psychologist that helped me work through my very painful and scary symptoms of PTSD.

I want others struggling with this sort of trauma to know they are not alone. You may be struggling in silence but, it can be worked out. You can work through your trauma with evidence-based therapy. Talk therapy, journaling, mindfulness and prayer were instrumental in my healing.

Reach out and don’t be afraid to get help. Your inner child can heal and will love you for it.

Follow this journey on My Courage to Tell.

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.

Originally published: October 27, 2017
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