Emotional/psychological abuse and control

A friend linked to a scholarly article that was talking about how psychological abuse often causes as great or greater problems than physical or sexual abuse. Of course that means I have to stop and spend a lot of time wondering if I abuse people in this way.

I am a bossy motherfucker. I like telling people my opinions. I FUCKING LOVE telling people “what I would do in your situation” and I get funny feelings in my tummy when they ignore me. But I try hard not to explode or follow up with asshole comments like, “I told you that wouldn’t work.”

I think I was probably emotionally abusive towards Anna. I made her feel really bad. I didn’t do it on purpose. I wasn’t trying to hurt her, but I did. I had no right to tell her to get a new dream. That was none of my fucking business and I hurt her very badly. Just because she had been trying for five years running to get into medical school with constantly worsening health problems that made it so she could barely stand up and she had very little cognitive functioning left… I should have shut the hell up. I have no idea if she ever made it into medical school because she got fucking done with hearing my bitchy-ass comments. From the small amount of google-stalking I have done… I don’t think she made it. That doesn’t make me feel good about myself. Predicting that someone will not be able to live out their dream doesn’t make you a good person.

I hope I learned from that. I hope I am… less forceful now. Even if I was right I was severely unkind. I could have supported her better by helping her see related careers that were more attainable without being a raging asshole who yelled that she was never going to make it to medical school and she needs to stop killing herself trying. That was not my place.

To the best of my knowledge, after Anna the next person I have been most abusive towards has been Sarah. I take responsibility for my inappropriate responses. I feel it was reasonable for me to be triggered by many of the things that happened.. but I did not have the right to shout at her nor make her feel scared. And I did. I did not have the right to make her feel less competent or like she was “failing” at meeting my expectations.

Whereas sometimes I am an asshole… I don’t know if I have hurt my kids. I don’t know if I have perpetrated things that feel like abuse to them. It is very hard for children to be able to even evaluate such things. All I know is that my kids seem like the perfect picture of psychological health. I can’t judge by anything else. They have ups and downs like normal people but overall they are very happy with life.

Abuse is about making other people feel small or bad. It is about trying to control them in ways you have no right to control them. You may not mean to perpetrate it but that doesn’t change the fact that you do it sometimes. Usually between grown ups you look for patterns not isolated incidents. With children a couple of isolated incidents can have serious long-term damage.

It is hard for me to look at my relationships and tell if I am making other people feel small or bad. It is almost as hard for me to tell that someone else’s behavior consistently makes me feel bad.

Recently a long-term very close friend said, “In the past year more than 50% of your feeling upset (that I’ve heard about) has been related to a particular person.”

What do I do with that? I don’t know.

I stay in relationships with people who insult me and make me feel bad because mostly I feel comfortable with those people. Mostly I am comfortable with people who feel free to speak disrespectfully towards me because I am very used to people… feeling disrespectful towards me. I’m used to it. I’m not sure that makes it good.

Someone said online today that people who “offer help” are usually doing it to make themselves feel good, not the person they are giving help to. I can say that is 99% true when it comes to me cleaning for people. The list of people I have cleaned for is long and not-that-distinguished. I feel comfortable in such a role. I feel like it gives me an excuse/reason to stay in peoples lives. I’m worth something. There is something I can do. There is something I have to offer.

People I like and respect tell me I am a good person. I think lots of people are good people. They still hurt me. I hurt people.

Lately I’ve been thinking that we do ourselves and our society a disservice by acting like hurtful actions are the result of “monsters”. Very few people qualify as monsters. Very very very very very very few statistically. My father was a monster. Not many other people have raped lots and lots of children.

Good people can hurt others very easily. Sometimes through inattention, sometimes through lack of caring enough to consider what you are saying/doing before you do it, sometimes through being so self-absorbed they just don’t notice.

How do you protect yourself from the good people who will hurt you? How do you decide how good is good enough?

People tell me frequently that I’m a good person and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I am aware of how far I have come and I not interested in backsliding. I want to be better than I am. I don’t think the way I treat people is good enough.

When I talk to people I want them to feel built up and competent. I want them to feel like even if they can’t do something right now they can build up the ability over time and practice.

Right this minute I can’t play a single musical instrument. I have the sneaky suspicion that some decade I will learn. Even though I have it in my head that if you don’t learn as a child it is too late. Some day I will have time and energy and money going spare and I’ll learn. It is never too late.

I need to feel like the people in my life are building me up and not tearing me down. It isn’t ok to make jokes at my expense, no matter how many little “Oh I said it because of x and y” you include. It’s not ok to do that to me.

I understand that a lot of people are deeply comfortable with “little jokes” that are mean and cutting. I am Not. Ok. With. Them.

Once in a while people will comment to me that it is kind of weird that Noah never mocks me. I usually give a death glare to those people and say, “That is because he doesn’t want to become one of the many people I cut out of my life.”

I am prickly, sensitive, and overly conscious of my dignity. It is so easy to poke fun at me. I know. Hundreds of people have done so before you. I didn’t think they were very fucking funny either.

As much as I am growing to believe that the moving I did all the time as a child was overall a positive force in my life it means that I have gotten to go through a lot of different environments. People aren’t that different. If you have the misfortune to be at the bottom of the social ladder… you fucking stay there in place after place. When I say that hundreds of people have made fun of me I’m not kidding. I went to 25 schools before I dropped out at 16. That means I only needed 8 people at each school to get to 200 people being nasty to me. Most schools had 20-30 people who had a serious problem with me. And that’s not even getting into all of the adult situations where I bother people.

It isn’t hyperbole to say that people putting me down is a major trend in my life. People who are mentally ill are treated badly. They are bullied at 2-3 times the normal rate in the US. We are “weird” and that makes us targets. (It is also true that people with mental health issues are also more frequently the bullies. It’s a double whammy of awesome.)

I am not a special-more-hurt-than-anyone-else snowflake. I don’t think I am a professional victim. I think it would be a far stretch to say that anything that has happened to me in the past… almost eight years counts as “victimization”. I still struggle with the long-term results of trauma. Yes, I’m over-fucking-sensitive.

That happens when you are hit in the same spot hundreds of times.

“Oh just ignore it.” Oh man. Psychological studies prove that you are a giant asshole. Just so you know.

I don’t believe that I am exempt from examination of abuser tactics just because I was abused. If anything else I believe that the fact that I have an abusive background means that I must be Much More Vigilant in examining my behavior and being willing to change when someone else has a problem with something I’m doing.

I don’t hit any more. That is huge. I used to be really mean verbally. I was happy to verbally vivisect someone. I don’t do that any more. I no longer join arguments for the sole purpose of making someone who is “wrong” cry. It has been a very long time since such shenanigans have appealed to me.

But I don’t deny that I’ve done it. Honesty is key here.

I am not perfect. I will never be perfect. I don’t know if I’m “good”. Other people say so… but whatever. I can ignore that (as I can’t ignore people saying I’m bad… life is funny). But I’m trying. I am steadily trying to insult people less and be less hurtful. I am trying to devote less of my energy to making other people feel bad… even on accident. I am not sure if I am succeeding or not.

These things are very hard to judge. It’s a process. I will never “arrive” at my ideal good person state. It will always be a work in progress. I will always fuck up. I will always make mistakes and say something that sucks sometimes.

How do you also include forgiveness if not everyone who does bad things is a monster? Where do you put up boundaries if “good people” do things that accidentally hurt you?

My kids keep asking when an uncle is coming over to dinner. An uncle I have uninvited from my house because things he said and did made me feel like he was unsafe to have around my house and my children. Is he a bad person? I don’t think so. He has opinions that make him dangerous in my opinion. Why don’t I “get over it” and invite him back over.. he didn’t directly hurt me… Because I am responsible for my children. Because I am responsible for showing them adults and saying, “This is how you be a grown up” and when I show them that behavior and act like it is ok I am harming them. I am encouraging them to accept broken, toxic attitudes as “normal” and “acceptable”. No. It isn’t ok to think that shooting people who bully you is an acceptable choice. And you don’t get to tell my kids it is a solution.

There are lines in the sand that are really clear. If you tell my kids they can shoot people who hurt their feelings… that’s clearly on one side of the line and it’s a side I don’t want to stand near. Just no. Smaller issues…. they are more complicated.

I really don’t know what the solutions are.

One thought on “Emotional/psychological abuse and control

  1. Inflectionpoint

    Fwiw, I haven’t seen you behave in abusive ways.

    I struggle terribly with the question of what to do when people who have genuinely good intentions do things that are hurtful or things that are just wrong. For now, my answer is to call them on it and leave. Maybe not forever, but for a long time.

    It’s hard. People tell me thus means having fewer folks in my life. True. But it feels less dangerous.

    I think it’s awesome that you examine your behavior for abusive patterns. I wish everyone did. I expect that people who haven’t lived with it don’t often imagine it or feel a need to check for it. That sucks. Because without examining behavior anyone could be doing shirty things not knowing.

    I’m sorry this is so hard.

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