Having my parents visit always stirs up lots of crud. Like scraping a stick along the bottom of a lake. Some of the crud I recognize and have processed, but there’s always plenty of new crud for me to think about.
This visit I’ve been thinking about emotional abuse. Not long ago, I came across the blog The Invisible Scar, which is all about emotional abuse. Reading through the descriptions of the various kinds of abuse I realized there were several things that resonated with me. I’ve also been reading Running on Empty: Overcoming Childhood Emotional Neglect. I feel pretty confident in saying that there was emotional neglect in my childhood, but the question of emotional abuse is tricky for me.
[At this point I just want to say for the record that when I use the word “abuse” in regard to my childhood, I realize that it is nothing compared to the real atrocities committed against thousands and thousands of children. So while I may struggle with understanding my childhood and how it has affected me, I’m not equating myself in any way with people whose childhoods were completely stripped of any joy and innocence.]
Back to my wandering thoughts.
I know that my parents did their best. And I know that they never set out to destroy my self-esteem or encourage such harsh criticisms of myself. And yet, these things happened. And they happened as a result of how I was parented, and how I was discouraged from having feelings. But they didn’t know any better…so does that mean they have less or no accountability for what happened? I’m not sure how to answer that or even if it’s a fair question to ask.
In a way I know it doesn’t matter whether you call it emotional neglect or emotional abuse or emotional crapola. I take full responsibility for my life as it exists now, regardless of how I came to have the struggles that I do. So the name doesn’t really matter…except that it does somehow. I think if I were to say that it wasn’t abuse, because they didn’t know any better, then I might be more accepting of their same behavior now. I might have more sympathy for them – for my mom in particular. But if I were to decide that it was abuse, then there’s a whole other train of thought that’s set off. One that I think involves more standing up for myself, and less acceptance of their current behavior toward me.
I feel like I’m not thinking this through clearly or expressing it clearly – both of which frustrate me. So I apologize that this post is so ill-formed.
The next thoughts that stir are very hard to put out there in the world. Very, very hard. I know that people tend to parent the way that they’ve been parented. Certainly in my parents’ case, their lack of tolerance for emotions was something that they learned well from their parents. My mom never felt loved as a child, just as her mother didn’t. My mom’s sister died in her early twenties and my mom was told not to talk about it much because it would only upset her further. Talk about emotionally unhealthy. As for my dad, his father was an alcoholic who died when my dad was a teenager. There’s a mountain of emotional stuff to be processed there, of course, but not only wasn’t it processed, my dad was discouraged from even talking about his dad. Again, very emotionally unhealthy. So they have reasons for how they came to parent the way they did.
That brings me to the difficult part. Is it possible that I’m emotionally abusing my kids? When I read through the different forms of emotional abuse, there are some things that I’m scared that I’ve done with my kids. Like making my oldest confused about something as a toddler so that I didn’t have to admit to being wrong. It makes my stomach churn to even write that. And what if there are things that I don’t yet understand enough to recognize them as unhealthy? Maybe I’m passing those things on to my kids just as my parents passed them on to me, and their parents passed them on to them. Sure, I like to think that I’m more enlightened than my parents because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these issues, and countless hours discussing them in therapy. But I live in almost constant fear of the things I haven’t realized yet – the things that I won’t know until too late that they had adverse effects on my kids. The kind of stuff that I imagine breaking into a sweat over at some ripe old age when I realize just what the consequences were. I might try to make myself feel better by saying that I didn’t know any better…but does that take away whatever emotional abuse I may have passed on? Of course not.
All of this was floating around in my head last night and I hoped that maybe it was just one of those things that seems worse at night for some reason. But it was there again when I got up this morning, and I don’t know what to do with it. So I share it with you. At least that’s something.