abuse, everyone, lesson, life, mental health

Emotional Wounds Don’t Automatically Heal Just Because the “Hitting” Stops

Is this rather long for a blog title? Maybe, but I couldn’t think of a shorter way to sum up today’s topic.

This is somewhat of an extension of Wednesday’s blog, because it relates to my inability to take a compliment about myself. Compliment me on my guitar playing or my writing or martial art skill, and I’m okay. Say I’m a good person, and I freak out. The last blog concluded with me wondering, “Why is that? Is it because I’m afraid someone will come along to knock me off my throne, or am I worried about letting it go to my head and turn me into an arrogant jerk?”

I shared that blog with my cousin Robin, and she said, “You’er too level-headed to let that happen. I wouldn’t worry about that.” That was reassuring, but it still didn’t give me an answer.

Then we got talking about the past and how, after a long time of someone making you feel worthless, you are bound to reject any attempts people make to tell you otherwise. In my case, the “someone” who did this was my stepfather Don. He was in my life from ages seven to seventeen. He was never physically abusive, but what he lacked there was made up in emotional abuse.

Shortly after my Mom kicked him out for good, I tried talking to her about things he had said to me, how it made me feel, etc. All she said was, “Well, he’s gone now.” I’m sure her dismissiveness stemmed from guilt. After all, her decision to marry him was what exposed me to his behavior. However, it didn’t help me to heal.

Imagine breaking your arm and never going to the doctor to get it in a cast. The bone won’t set right, and you’ll have trouble with that arm for the rest of your life. Well, that was me, except it was my mind and self-esteem that were broken. And what is the equivalent of it not setting right? The fact that, while he was gone, I still had this low self-esteem to live with. Over the years, it kept me from achieving a lot of things that, when I look back now, I KNOW I could have accomplished.

Another analogy (and believe me, I know this is an extreme one): think about any city or country that has had the crap bombed out of it during a war. Now imagine the war is over. The city is decimated. Thousands dead. Instead of working on a clean-up and reconstruction effort, the country’s leaders get on TV and say, “Okay, folks…back to business as usual.”

No. It doesn’t work like that. You need to rebuild. To reconstruct. To come to grips with what happened. To HEAL.

Sadly, Mom is not alone in her attitude of, “The abuser is gone, so get over it.” Far too many people believe this. They think just because they came through it and the abuse has ended that they can now move forward, but I’ve found it isn’t so. I had to talk through it with a therapist, had to get that third party opinion that yes, what I went through was very dysfunctional and toxic, that I wasn’t wrong to say I was left holding the emotional baggage.

Think about the movieĀ Good Will Hunting. Will was abused by his father when he was a little kid. Then he is a young man in Sean Maguire’s office, and Sean keeps saying to him, “Will, it wasn’t your fault.” Eventually, Will breaks down in tears and hugs Sean. (Oddly enough, this is the kind of comfort Will SHOULD have received from his father.) All these years after the abuse, Will needed to hear that from someone to help him let the pain go. You’d be hard pressed to find a scene in any movie with more emotional power, and both Matt Damon and Robin Williams act this scene beautifully. However, I have to be honest here: while Matt Damon has shown he has his share of acting chops, you really have to hand this one to Robin Williams. After years of being that crazy, kooky, all over the place, manic, cocaine-fueled type of standup comic, he plays this part with wonderful restraint. We lost a great treasure in that man.

I won’t go down that route right now, because that could be turned into an entire SERIES of blog posts. For now, I will stick to the topic at hand. Simply put, the wounds don’t go away just because the abuse ends. To think otherwise is ignorant.

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