Category Archives: Emotional Abuse

Talking About Mental Illness – Society Needs to do Better

Content Warning: Suicide and suicide thoughts.

Whenever a celebrity or well-known person commits suicide, suicide hotline information is plastered all over social media. 

Feeling depressed? Reach out! Call this number!

Know someone showing these signs? Reach out!

I am not disparaging the need for these types of hotlines.  Many people can find help through them. In 2015, John Draper (PhD, Director, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Member, SPRC Steering Committee) reported that in the ten years since the Lifeline began, their centers have answered more than five million calls from people in suicidal or emotional crisis.  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 or Chat

En Español – Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio – 1-888-628-9454

For Deaf & Hard of Hearing  1-800-799-4889

The problem is, how many people didn’t or won’t call? How many children and adults don’t call and continued to suffer in silence, because the people they did reach out to dismissed them or they didn’t feel safe enough to reach out at all? How many kept silent, because they didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to burden their families, or because they were raised not to say anything at all?

According to the CDC, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Yes, as young as 10 years old. Suicide is considered the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.  Researchers also found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

According to The State of Mental Health in America, 1 in 5 Adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Youth mental health is worsening. Rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Even with severe depression, 76% of youth are left with no or insufficient treatment.

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA:

“Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.”

“Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.”

In Spokane County, Washington State, the youth suicide rate more than doubled from 2013 to 2016. It went from 4.3 per 100,000 people 24 and younger to 10.7, Washington State Department of Health data show.  It was reported that nearly 20 percent of Spokane County’s eighth, 10th or 12th graders have seriously considered suicide, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. In 2016, the last year data was publicly available, 15 percent reported that they made a plan to do so. Chris Moore, a student services coordinator with Spokane Public Schools, says suicide attempts are spiking as well, even among kids in elementary school. “We’ve seen a drastic increase with the number of attempts,” Moore says. “It’s a public health crisis. It really is.

For more information – As youth suicide rates surge in Spokane, school officials search for answers

My family has a long history with mental illness on both sides. Then there is my ex-husband’s family.  Various forms of anxiety and depression, PTSD, Bipolar, alcoholism (which is considered a mental illness according to the AMA and the APA – it’s all there based on information spanning five generations.  

For more information – Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Facts & Statistics

My sister-in-law, who I will never have the opportunity to meet, violently committed suicide with a gun when she was 21 years old, three weeks after her son was born.  He will never know his mother.  He is now older than she was when she ended her life. His father raised him on his own. 

My brother-in-law has struggled with depression all his life and has been slowly killing himself with alcohol and drugs. He is in his fifties and he doesn’t expect to outlive his parents. He can’t hold on to a regular job and lives most of the time with his parents and some of the time with his girlfriend. 

My ex-husband has also struggled with depression all his life, but has refused treatment.  His untreated mental illness and his untreated personality disorder ripped our family apart, twice.  He ran from life instead of facing his problems.  He couldn’t deal with his demons, so he pushed his family away and went into isolation with his seven guns and his paranoid ideas.

My ex-husband came from a family who doesn’t talk.  My ex was raised to believe that it was a sign of weakness to talk about your emotions and to ask for help.  Instead, he buried his demons, walled himself up, and went emotionally flat lined to the outside world. The reality is that he can’t handle his emotions, he fears them.  He is emotionally stunted, a 45 year old man emotionally stuck somewhere between a 12 year old boy and a 17 year old teenager.  Our children are actually more emotionally mature than he is.  My sister-in-law killed herself when my ex was only 17 years old and that is where he stopped growing emotionally as a person.     

My son, who is now 15 years old, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when he was six years old.  He was diagnosed with Autism a year later.  Autism is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.  My son was on suicide watch twice when he was 11 years old due to his father’s behavior.  My ex had fallen into a major depressive episode, the worst I had seen him be in. He refused to get help.  He neglected and then abandoned his children resulting in my son developing PTSD.  My son was never suicidal, but he had given up hope in life. He saw no point in life any more.  My son still struggles with depression.  He is on medication and goes to weekly counseling sessions. 

My daughter was diagnosed with Bipolar when she was only eight years old.  She has been on medication ever since. She was diagnosed with Autism two years later at the age of 10.  She is now 17 years old.  She was hospitalized when she was 15 years old due to going into psychosis.  She had been essentially stuck in a depressive state for some time and then had a breakthrough manic state.  The combination sent her into psychosis.  The voices told her she had to hurt herself with a knife and then the voices told her to use fire.  She never did and insisted that she could keep fighting the voices, but we managed to convince her to go to the hospital where she stayed for a week in the youth psychiatric ward.  Three months later a space opened up at a long-term treatment facility for youth.  She went into long-term care as an outpatient for three months.  Her medications were straightened out and a new treatment plan was developed for her to be used by her counselor, occupational therapist, and her speech therapist.

Then there is me.  I was diagnosed with Autism after my children were at the age of 36. 

Depression and mainly anxiety have been a part of my life for as long as I remember, but no one talked about it.  I didn’t have the words I needed to use growing up to describe why I felt the way I did.  I was told to lighten up, to stop taking things so seriously.  I was yelled at if I cried.  I was conditioned to not show emotions or to ask for help.  I was also conditioned that my needs didn’t matter.  I was on my own and told to take care of my younger sister who was only two years younger than me.  Alone, that was how I felt for so damn long.  No one listened when I tried to reach out, so I stopped reaching out.  I withdrew into myself, which only isolated me more, because my family either didn’t know what to do with me or took it personally that I had withdrawn, so I was ignored.  I was an undiagnosed autistic child with undiagnosed mental health issues. 

I grew up in a toxic home, but I didn’t realize it.  All I knew was something was off, but I never could figure it out.  I was told I was loved, but I felt so alone and I was scared.  I felt silenced.  What I wanted never seemed to matter.  I was conditioned to comply.  I had no idea how to say “no” or how to advocate for myself.  I was to comply with the wishes of others and rules were rules.

I didn’t know anything about emotional abuse until I was required to take a class for my professional certification as a teacher.  Even then, my mind just couldn’t accept that I had come from an abusive home life.  No, it couldn’t be.  There were other reasons for the behavior, always an excuse, excuses I had heard as a child growing up, excuses I was taught to just accept without question.     

By the time I took this class, I was already married and a parent.  I also hadn’t realized that I had married into an emotionally abusive marriage.  I married what I knew.

For more information – Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

About 15 years ago, I went through a horrible medical trauma that was made worse by my family’s behavior.  More information can be found here – The Volcano is Awake. There was a time that I wanted to die so the pain would end, but I was never suicidal. I reached out for help so many times, but I was told get over it, bury it, move on.  I would reach out and get a cold shoulder or a back turned to me.  I had to get myself through that dark time of my life on my own and I would never wish that torture on anyone.  What got me through was that I couldn’t leave my children without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and something inside me kept saying that there was no one else to take care of them.  It was my responsibility as a mother that pulled me out and in the process “mama bear” emerged.  I had reached my breaking point, but never fully broke.   I became stronger, but in the process of working my way out of the darkness, I learned I had developed Complex – PTSD.  

Reach outWhen my marriage ended, I once again reached out for help, but was met with the same cold shoulders and told to move on, get over it, stuff it away. As with my medical trauma, I was not allowed to grieve in the way and for the length that I needed to.  I had become an inconvenience, a burden, again.  Once again I found myself alone with two children, teenagers now, and I had to get through the emotional pain of having my family ripped apart, but this time I was going to do things on my terms.  By this time I had learned about self-advocacy and self-determination.  I drew the line and held those boundaries. 

I reached out to others outside my family.  It took time, but I eventually developed a support network that is primarily online.  I am in a better place now, but my children and I are still grieving.  We are getting there, though.  We are much better than where we were a few years ago, but the depression is still there.  It has never fully gone away and I don’t know if it ever will. 

I have tried to create an environment where my children can feel safe talking about how they feel. I want them to feel that there is someone who will listen to them, who feels their voice is important, and who will never give them a cold shoulder and tell them to get over it and move on.  I remind them often that they each have a whole care team rooting for them.  I want them to know they are not alone.   

There is still too much stigma around mental illness. In 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma, Laura Greenstein states, “Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.” 

As a society, we need to do better.  We can’t just post about a suicide or crisis hotlines only during a time when a celebrity commits suicide.  We can’t just think posting these hotline numbers are enough. 

What is mental health stigma?

Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types:

  • social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.
  • perceived stigma or self-stigma is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination and perceived stigma can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.

How can we eliminate stigma?

People tend to hold negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems, and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem.

 “The fact that such negative attitudes appear to be so entrenched suggests that campaigns to change these beliefs will have to be multifaceted, will have to do more than just impart knowledge about mental health problems, and will need to challenge existing negative stereotypes especially as they are portrayed in the general media.” – Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence and prevents them from seeking help. People need to feel safe talking about mental illness, so here I am talking about mental illness in a public forum.  I do not feel shame.  I do not feel embarrassed. I am not a burden. I refuse to be silenced.  I want people to know that they are not alone. End the stigma!!

Educate Yourself and Others – Learn More

“Everyone knows a little about mental health issues but knowing the facts can help you educate others and reject stigmatizing stereotypes. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Understanding mental health isn’t only about being able to identify symptoms and having a name for conditions, but dispelling false ideas about mental health conditions as well.” – NAMI

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Ramblings of an Autistic Single Mom

NOTE: The Aspie Teacher blog is the story of my family’s journey. My first blog was Geeky Science Mom’s Tumblr which I started in September 2012 and my writings gradually progressed from there. Periodically I look back over my old writings to check on the distance I have travelled in this journey that is called my life. This is one of those checks.

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I am autistic and I am also a mother of two amazing young people who are autistic as well. I am also single.  My children see their father maybe two hours every week, sometimes it is less.  He is not really involved in their lives.  For the past four years I have been working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  Somewhere in there I managed to earn my Master’s degree. I have been homeschooling/unschooling both my kids for the past three years and will continue to do so until both my kids graduate high school in another 2-3 years.  It has been a challenging balancing act.

I see articles online about single parenting with autistic children. It strikes me odd how bleak the authors describe their lives. One author claims that single parents of autistic children “can’t have it all”, that they “will never be compensated financially or professionally for the thousands of hours I’ve spent over the last decade taking my son to treatments”. Other authors complain about having to give up their career, complain they can’t go on trips, complain that it was the Autism that caused the divorce, and complain about the “grueling therapy sessions” (if they are grueling for you, how do you think your child feels?)

Parenting is hard no matter what the neurology of the child is. The reality is if you are a single parent, something has to give.  You can’t expect to have everything and the reason why you “can’t have it all” has nothing to do with your child’s neurology. It really does take a village to raise a child, so when part of that village is missing, it gets that much harder.

I willingly chose to put my career on hold when I became a parent. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom for five years. At the time, my husband had a good paying full-time job with benefits.  Being a single income family lead to finances being really tight, and we lived in a small duplex, but it was worth it.  The only time I was a home owner was when both my ex and I were working so we could afford a mortgage. As a single parent, I am a renter once again. This time, my rental is even smaller than the one we lived in back when my children were babies. Housing costs are higher and there is a housing shortage where we live.

My children have weekly counseling visits and my daughter has weekly occupational therapy (OT) sessions (something she personally asked for). We live in a rural area. Services are in another county all together. We are on the road a lot and I am fortunate enough to have the type of employment that allows me to take my children to their appointments.  I have never put my children through “grueling therapy sessions” and I never will.  Applied Behavior Analysis (AB A) sessions, which is considered the go-to treatment for Autism, are anywhere from 25 to 40 hours per week for 12 months a year for at least 2 years with sessions typically provided in 2-3 hours blocks.  I spent three hours observing an ABA session in June 2015 as a requirement for my Master’s degree program. It was horrible – Initial Reaction to ABA Observation.

My divorce finalized on June 23, 2014, but we had separated in October 2012. We tried to get back together after being apart for three years. Our attempt lasted a year and a half. My ex just doesn’t want the responsibility of a family.  It has almost been five years since we first separated and I have not tried dating. I have had to let myself grieve.  Looking through my old writings, I see many blogs that focused on sadness and grief.  I have had to allow myself to process those emotions. I have also had to be present for my children.  They have been grieving, too.  There was no room for romance in that.  I have to allow my heart to heal before I can allow anyone else in.  I am still healing.  Everyone grieves differently and the time it takes to adequately heal is different for everyone. When you have been in an abusive situation, it can take even longer to heal and you need to give yourself that time or you could very well fall into a similar situation.

Some of my previous writings describing my journey through grief:

Grief 2

[Image description: Sea green colored background with black lettering. “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do it lean to swim.” – Vicky Harrison]

Then there is my issue of living in a duality of perception. I wrote that blog in June 2016 and it helped me realize some things about myself.  When I found myself unexpectedly a single parent, I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  My family isn’t in the area.  I was in graduate school at the time and I was working part time.  How the hell was I going to support two kids with special needs on my own!!!???!!! This thought was screaming in my head.  I was so filled with fear and shock I had no time to be angry, at least not yet.  My anger came later.  The grief cycle is an interesting, complicated thing. As I tell my kids, a very wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sort of thing.

I never thought I would get to the point where I would even consider letting my ex back in my life, but I did and I learned a lot from that experience. I learned about letting go, something I had been really struggling with for years.  As a content teacher, I didn’t think I could teach outside of Science (my area), but I found out I could.  I didn’t know I could teach myself how to do basic home and car repair along with all the other family/parenting/home stuff I had been doing for years, but I found out I could. I didn’t know I could parent on my own, but I found out I could.

I learned I was autistic five and a half years ago. Both my children had been diagnosed by that time. I have learned so much since then.  My life has been turned upside down and inside out, but I kept moving forward knowing that another sunrise would signal another chance for me to try again.  I kept learning and adapting.

It wasn’t the Autism that caused my divorce. In fact, divorce rates are similar for parents with and without autistic children, so don’t believe the myth that divorce rate in families with autism is 80%. It is definitely not (80 Percent Autism Divorce Rate Debunked in First-Of-Its Kind Scientific Study).

Looking back to where I was when I first became a single parent, I couldn’t really think of the future. I was in full on survival mode back then.  Looking where I am now, all I can say is “wow”.  I have come so far from that place where I found myself crushed, lost, and desperate just trying to make it day by day.

My journey is not complete, not in a long shot, but I find myself no longer in that place of desperation. I have found a future where I am valued and wanted.  I have found a future where I have developed skills I didn’t even know I had.  I have found a future where my children are seeing a future for themselves as well. I have found that my mind has a sense of ease now.  I still have a lot of stress in my life, but nothing like it once was.  I feel a sense of peace inside me now.  Do I still cry when I am alone?  Yes, my grief will take time to process. Where there was once soul crushing pain, there is now a sense of understanding and a level of acceptance of the reality of the situation. As I stated before, I had to adapt. I had to find peace on my own, and I did.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

 

**Image is not mine. Source is linked with image.

The Destructive Nature of Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder

**NOTE: this blog did not turn out as I thought it would. I thought it would be more about depression and grieving, but it ended up being about Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder, which is what inevitably caused my depression and grief by being the target of the person with the disorder.  My brain went analytical while writing this blog. A lot of technical jargon ended up being included, but in doing so, I feel a sense of relief now.  I actually feel calmer.  Writing is a coping strategy of mine and I never really know where it will take me or how my blogs will turn out.  

Trigger Warning: References to emotional abuse and emotional neglect.

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Ah, depression. It punches you in the face, drains you of energy, and makes everything harder in your life.  Now, mix depression with grief and it is that much worse.  In my case, the punch in the face is my depression telling me that I wasted the last 19 years of my life. 

Haven’t I been here before? Unfortunately, I have. It was when he first left me.  He came back three years later claiming he had gotten his life together and I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  I let him back into my life and the kids did as well.  It was never real, at least not in the sense that he wanted a committed long term relationship again where we could be a family once more.  I was just a means to an end, a person to have around so he wouldn’t feel lonely. What I needed didn’t matter.  Only his self-absorbed interest did.  

I want to tell him that he is an obstructionist, never allowing anything to work, never putting in the necessary time, and always blocking any attempts to make things better. There was a time I thought I just wasn’t good enough. Then it moved into thinking that we just hadn’t found the correct course of action.  I now understand that the reality was and continues to be his abusive passive aggressive personality. Our relationship never had a chance. 

As Millon (1981, p. 258) describes:

The passive-aggressivé s strategy of negativism, of being discontent and unpredictable, of being both seductive and rejecting, and of being demanding and then dissatisfied, is an effective weapon… with people in general. Switching among the roles of the martyr, the affronted, the aggrieved, the misunderstood, the contrite, the guilt-ridden, the sickly, and the overworked, is a tactic of interpersonal behavior that gains passive-aggressives the attention, reassurance, and dependency they crave while, at the same time, allowing them to subtly vent their angers and resentments.

I wasted all those years holding on and fighting to make our relationship better while I was being blamed for all that was wrong in his life, being told that it was because of how I am that was the problem (he never could really accept my diagnosis), and being emotionally beaten down time and time again by underhanded and conniving ways.

With me it was always “no” from him. No matter what I did or what I said, it was always “no”. He would never be direct about the “no” either.  It was always done in a covert, underhanded way.  The gaslighting, the procrastination, the ambivalence, the obstructing, the stonewalling, the projection, the derailing, the manipulation, the dishonesty, and the unwillingness to resolve anything mixed in with “I love you”, “you are my best friend”, and “I want to share my life with you”.

I want to tell him that what he called love wasn’t actually love. I want to tell him that love is a promise. Love is an action. Love is something you work on and maintain all your life, but love is subjective when it comes to a person.  How one person sees/feels love may not be the same as how another may see/feel love.

I want to tell him that insisting on living in that sea of ambivalence of his is no safe haven, but it will do no good. He feels safe there, riding the fence, never having to make a decision and to never having to take responsibility for a decision made, but a non-decision is still a decision.  

Individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder (PAPD) share a deeply rooted ambivalence about themselves and others. While people with OCPD resolve their ambivalence by compliant behavior and holding tension within, those with PAPD have virtually no resolution. As a result, they are characterized by vacillating behavior. They are indecisive; they fluctuate in their attitudes, oppositional behaviors, and emotions. They are generally erratic and unpredictable (Millon, 1981, p. 244).

The erratic and unpredictable behavior in an individual with passive-aggressive (negativistic) personality disorder is incredibly frustrating. These individuals tend to be ambivalent within their relationships and conflicted between their dependency needs and their desire for self-assertion. They present hostile defiance toward people they see as causing their problems and then attempt to mollify these same people by asking forgiveness or promising to do better in the future, or always asking for more and more time (as was in my case).

Individuals with PAPD view themselves as self-sufficient but feel vulnerable to control and interference from others (Pretzer & Beck, Clarkin & Lenzenweger, eds., 1996, p. 60). They believe that they are misunderstood and unappreciated, a view that is exacerbated by the negative responses they receive from others for their consistent defeatist stance. They expect the worst in everything, even situations that are going well, and are inclined toward anger and irritability (Beck & Freeman, 1990, p. 339) (DSM-IV, 1994, p. 734).

As the one who has been on the receiving end of this anger and irritability, it was the silent kind of anger filled with resentment and sometimes it was even the “sugarcoated hostility” variety. It was never expressed to me directly, however. You can’t have a direct conversation with a person with Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder and nothing ever gets resolved, so the tension just builds and builds until there is an explosion.  Unfortunately, the target of the passive aggressor is typically the one who explodes and it is usually due to the fact that the passive aggressor has tried and may have actually succeeded in sabotaging your wants, needs, and plans using a variety of tactics.

According to Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT,  passive-aggressive people act passive, but are covertly aggressive. “Their unconscious anger gets transferred onto you, and you become frustrated and furious. Your fury is theirs, while they may calmly ask, “Why are you getting so angry?” and blame you for the anger they’re provoking.”

I am getting clinical here. I need to take a step back.  Maybe my analytical mind is taking over as a way to cope with the emotional pain I feel.  I am dealing with the reality that I let it happen again. I let the emotional abuse happen again.  My brain is telling me that I had to try for the family’s sake.  I had to give him another chance for the sake of the  It’s almost like they do it on purpose, isn’t it, Fred?!children and I had to find out for myself. 

I found out alright. I found out that our family cohesion was the priority of my children and me, but it was not his. He has always had trouble balancing his life out, including balancing prorities.  My children and I were often left on the way side as he lived essentially two lives, his apparent family life where he kept to himself mostly and his life outside the family where he didn’t have to worry about family responsibility.  He presents out to the world as this very charming, friendly, and personable man.  He is “The Nice Guy” to everyone else, but me. 

I was the one who received all his negative characteristics. He seemed to only be nice and charming to me when he wanted something. He is very good at doing just enough to hook you, and then the push/pull behavior starts. He is a very avoidant person. He prefers to be alone, but does not like being lonely.  He wants someone around, but only on his terms.  Don’t ask for any emotional reciprocity, because you are not going to get it, but you better always be encouraging and dependable for him and not cause him any drama or turmoil.  In other words, do not disrupt his Zen or he will punish you by giving you the silent treatment, ignoring your needs, isolating you, or sending you mixed messages to keep you off balance.  

Sounds childish, doesn’t it? It sounds this way, because it is childish. Passive-aggressive people are not pleasant to deal with at all.  I am not going to go into the reasons as to why a person would develop Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder other than to say that the exact cause of passive-aggressive behavior isn’t known.  If you are interested in learning more about possible causes you can click here, here, and here.

A personality disorder is not a mental illness, so it cannot be treated with medication. Only through therapy can a person work though and learn how to cope with living with a personality disorder.  Unfortunately, if a personality disordered person doesn’t feel that there is a problem, then there is really nothing you can do.   You can’t help those who do not want to be helped, I learned that the hard way, but there are ways to help yourself when it comes to dealing with a person with Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder.  Here is a list of some of the ways that I have learned over the years:

  1. Be assertive (this might take some practice.)
  2. Don’t nag (which very hard to do when your patience is frayed).
  3. Don’t be an enabler by tolerating the behavior (that only encourages more passive-aggressive behavior).
  4. Create healthy boundaries and consequences if those boundaries are crossed.
  5. Be aware of your own reality. This is covert emotional abuse and you may not even realize it is happening.
  6. Be honest.
  7. Walk away if the situation feels like it is just spinning in circles.
  8. More often than not, you will have to remove yourself from the passive aggressor for your own self-preservation.

I wish I could remove my ex-husband from my life entirely, but we have two children together, so that is not something that I can accomplish. My children are currently both in high school. In just a couple years of each other, my children with be considered adults and the mandatory child support that he has to pay will end as well as any visitation schedule.  My hope is that I will be able to remove him from my life as much as I can when that time comes.

More blogs that I wrote on this matter:

Seeing the Truth in Patterns (Posted on December 27, 2016)

I Can’t Anymore . . . (Posted on February 20, 2017)

Closing Doors . . . (Posted on March 14, 2017)

Letting Toxic People Go

**The articles linked in this blog reference the DSM-IV.  The DSM-V came out in May of 2013. Certain diagnostic criteria changed in the DSM-V, but the information contained in the articles is still relevant. The images are not mine and are sourced.

I Hate Complex-PTSD

(Trigger Warning – Discussion about Trauma)

I hate Complex-PTSD. There is no way around it, I hate it.  I got triggered today.  All it took was for me to be sent spiraling was for me to notice that a relative of mine had changed their profile picture on Facebook.  It was a completely innocent thing for them to do.  There was nothing wrong with the picture that my relative chose, but for me, it was enough to trigger a cascading effect of interacting layers of trauma that I have accumulated over the years.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape.”

C-PSTD can occur in such cases of:

  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull, splitting or alternating raging & hoovering behaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions.

How did I get to this point? I grew up in an emotionally neglectful and abusive household.  I married what I knew and the covert emotional manipulation and emotional abuse only got worse.  I have also been taking care of mentally ill family members for over 16 years now.  Then there is the medical trauma I endured 15 years ago that resulted in my initial diagnosis of PTSD which eventually grew to C-PTSD when more and more layers of trauma were exposed.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and C-PTSD are similar, but they do differ in causes and symptoms. C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little to no chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.

***Remember, C-PTSD is a stress disorder, not a weakness or defect of character nor is it a personality disorder although it is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder.

From The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders:

CPTSD Symptoms

People who have gone through a long-standing, extremely traumatic situation may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms related to their ordeal.

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Rage displayed through violence, destruction of property, or theft
  • Depression, denial, fear of abandonment, thoughts of suicide, anger issues
  • Low self-esteem, panic attacks, self-loathing
  • Perfectionism, blaming others instead of dealing with a situation, selective memory
  • Loss of faith in humanity, distrust, isolation, inability to form close personal relationships
  • Shame, guilt, focusing on wanting revenge
  • Flashbacks, memory repression, dissociation

Victims of C-PTSD may also have physical symptoms, such as:

  • Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity
  • Chronic pain
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Migraines

From Out of the Storm:

Symptoms Shared by CPTSD and PTSD

According to Cloitre et al (2016), CPTSD shares three main symptoms with PTSD which include:

  • Re-experiencing the past – in the form of nightmares and flashbacks.  While in PTSD flashbacks tend to be visual, in CPTSD they are often emotional.  That is,  a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotions such as anger, shame, humiliation, abandonment, and of being small and powerless much like a child would feel when abused.  These are referred to as Emotional Flashbacks (EFs). and can last for minutes, hours or even days (Walker, 2013) . 
  • Sense of threat – constantly on guard or hypervigilant, strong startle reaction
  • Avoidance – of thoughts, feelings, people, places, activities relating to the trauma (e.g., dissociation, derealization)

Symptoms of CPTSD Only

Cloitre et al (2014) suggest that CPTSD differs from PTSD in that it has three additional symptoms:

  • Emotion regulation – Emotional sensitivity; reduced ability to respond to situations in an emotionally appropriate and flexible manner  
  • Negative self-concept – Feeling of worthlessness and defectiveness. Walker suggests that those with CPTSD suffer from toxic shame and have a virulent Inner and Outer Critic.
  • Interpersonal problems – Difficulty feeling close to another person; feeling disconnected, distant or cut off from other people (depersonalization, social anxiety). 

Everyone is unique and the above list of symptoms is not complete and not everyone with C-PTSD will exhibit all the symptoms listed. I, for one, do not have the physical symptoms of “Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity”. There was a time I wanted revenge, but I couldn’t stand that feeling and fought hard against it. Revenge never solves anything and can ultimately destroy the person seeking revenge. I have wanted to die, but I have never had suicidal thoughts.  I also have never been violent, destroyed property, nor committed theft. I do not have cardiovascular problems, but I do experience chest pain during anxiety and panic attacks. I have had to establish healthy boundaries and am no longer in contact with certain family members beyond an occasional email.  I also never lost my ability to form close personal relationships with others.

What makes experiencing all this worse for me is that things that trigger me are typically seen as happy moments by most people, so there is little to no understanding as to why I cut myself off from exposure to reminders and why an unexpected exposure to a photograph of my happy sister, her happy husband, and her new baby affected me so badly.  I didn’t experience anger seeing that photo.  I was terrified!  Pregnancy and children birth reminders are horrible, panic inducing triggers for me. The reason for this is my medical trauma resulted from me being pregnant and giving birth.  I am not going to go into detail, but more information can be found here and here.

I got triggered this morning by a reminder of that horrific time in my life that was my medical trauma, the lack of emotional support I experienced from my family and continue to experience, and all the loss I experienced and continue to experience.  That one trigger not only triggered me regarding my medical trauma, but every  emotional trauma after it. There is a lot.  As I stated before, I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and came from an emotionally manipulative and neglectful home life that followed me into adulthood.    

It is 11:31PM now. I am still struggling. I have been crying off and on all day, but most of my crying was this morning.  How have I coped?  I used music and running.  I let myself ride the melody and lyrics of specifically chosen songs and played them over and over again.  I let the music flow through me and let the emotion flow with it.  I had to.  No more pretending.  I am safe now.  I don’t have to hide my anguish anymore. I have to let my pain out, but I have to do it in a health way.  I have been a runner for 24 years.  Running helps me regulate my anxiety and helps me control my meltdowns.  Running is not for everyone, but it is a way for me to help ground myself when the whole world feels like it is collapsing all around me like it did today.

My theme song today was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.  I felt this song fit with how I was feeling and how I wanted to express myself, because I had no words, just tears and pain.  (Lyrics) 

After my run tonight I found myself still feeling lost. The song I needed to listen to was “Send me an Angel” by Real Life.  (Lyrics)

I have been waking up lately with this song playing in my head. I wouldn’t mind at all having an angel sent to me right now with some guidance and emotional support. Days like this are so hard, but they do eventually get better.  I just have to keep moving forward.  A better day will come.  

 

 

Closing Doors . . .

What do you think of when you hear the word “commitment”? What about the phrase ‘being committed to something or someone”?  What comes to mind then? I have found that the images are different depending on the individual.  Please realize that deeply caring about someone is not the same as being committed to them.  I was reminded of this when a certain person in my life decided to tell me he was committed to me; it was just a different kind of commitment according to him. Then later on he proceeded to tell me that he deeply cares about me and wants to be in a relationship, but he is not committed to me.  Confused yet?

I have been dealing with this same person for nearly 20 years. This is the type of confusion that he continuously created when ever commitment came into question.  At first he says the right words and acts like he really means what he says, but after he gets what he wants, his effort is finished and the sabotaging begins.  This is what someone who has commitment phobia does.  They want a relationship, but they also want space and freedom.  They can be loving, attentive, and very charming, but at the same time passive aggressive and emotionally neglectful.  Their sabotaging begins subtly, but then gets worse and worse over time.  They are not proud of their behavior and actually feel guilty, but it doesn’t stop them.  They are governed by fear, lots of fear. 

A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. Commitment phobia is a very difficult thing to deal with, especially when you are the one on the receiving end of the behavior.  In my case, for 15 years this person tried to hide their phobia and denied their depression and problematic personality features.  The problem with this is that it all will eventually bite you in the ass in a very big way.

Our family was torn apart by the action of this person. It has been four and a half years since the big bite happened and he subsequently left us.  He came back after three years after a psychological evaluation and had started counseling.  He stopped his counseling shortly after returning home and for the past year and a half we have been slowing rebuilding our family unit, but unresolved issues arose.

I haven’t really written in the past month, because certain revelations have been happening and I needed time to process it all. Slowly I have been trying to chip away at all the layers in an attempt to deal with these unresolved issues.  Talking ensued, lots of talking. What was finally revealed lead me to one conclusion – he has commitment phobia. 

How does one even develop something like that? To answer that question, you would have to divulge into why any phobia developments and the reasons really depend on the person.  In this particular case, I can honestly say that this person had a lot of baggage prior to meeting me.  Our various problems that we faced as a married couple just added to the mix of things he really didn’t want to deal with.

This whole idea of commitment phobia is something that I am having trouble wrapping my head around. I am a very committed person, always have been.  I am also a very loyal person, almost to a fault, which has led to me being taken advantage of.  I don’t know if these aspects of me are derived from being autistic or if they are simply aspects of who I am regardless of anything else.

In The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria by Attwood and Gray, under “A qualitative advantage in social interaction, as manifested by a majority of the following”, number one states “peer relationships characterized by absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability”. Yup, that is me.

I am a loyal, dependable, and committed person. I am known as someone who doesn’t give up and am always looking for solutions and new paths to follow when I encounter a road block of some sort.  I am also someone who establishes strong bonds with people and have been known to be overly trusting way too many times.  Keep in mind that not every autistic person is overly trusting, but I am one of them that is.  I am also naïve even after being on this planet for 41 years.  Perhaps this is due to me being developmentally delayed, but I can’t say for certain.

Rules are rules to me and that includes rules in a relationship. You don’t cheat, you don’t play mind games, you are honest and open, and you are there for each other. This allows for trust to build.  Trust must be earned.  It took me so long to learn that.  I give way to many chances when it comes to people.  I don’t know why I do this, but after being hurt so many times I finally took it upon myself to learn about the importance of personal boundaries.

I was never taught about boundaries growing up. I also was never taught how to say “no”.  I was taught to comply.  Perhaps that plays into why I give too many chances, but I can’t say for sure.

I have been told in the past that I am too kind, that my heart is too big, and that I must have a lot of patience. I have been told that these aspects of me allows people to take advantage of me, to take advantage of my heart, which only leads to the heartache that I have experienced many times.

I married a guy who is basically a douche, but tried to hide that fact, because he really did and still does love me. The thing is, apparently love is not enough to keep someone from being unfaithful, being neglectful, and emotionally abusive. This is why all these years I have been so confused and so hurt.  Why would you tell someone you love them over and over again, tell them you want to marry them, make future plans with them, have children with them, spend nearly 20 years with them, and then systematically destroy it all?  It boggles my mind.

For four and a half years I have been hanging on unable to move beyond the shattered remains of my life I once had. For a moment I thought I was getting it back.  Everything felt so right.  We were a family again, but it was short lived.  The man I bonded to can’t commit.  All those hurtful things he did happened because he couldn’t commit and the lie he had been living finally caught up with him.  Instead of being honest with me, he used emotionally abuvise tactics to destroy our marriage so he didn’t have to be the one who initiated the divorce proceedings.  Something I had to do. 

Here we are again. He didn’t want to look like the bad guy, so he has been sabotaging repair efforts and I don’t know how much of his behavior he is even aware of.  Ingrained behavior is difficult for a person who is demonstrating the behavior to actually see that they are doing it. Denial is something he is very good at.

About three weeks ago I felt something emotionally close in my heart. At that time I learned that my ex-husband wants the benefits of the family he loves, but not the responsibility and commitment that comes with it. As these revelations were coming out, my ex-husband also started talking about not wanting to look like the bad guy by ending our relationship a second time.  Go ahead, if you haven’t already, start shaking your head at me and make disapproving expressions.  I know, I know. Déjà vu all over again except without the infidelity and abandonment parts. 

I have taken these last few weeks to process this feeling of something closing in my heart and trying to figure out what this sensation was about.  I have come to the conclusion that it was a door closing, so to speak.  This feeling was something new to me and I have had difficulties determining what it meant. 

For four and a half years I have been unable to move on. Too much hurt, too much anger, and too many unanswered questions.  I think that feeling of a door closing in my heart means I am ready to take those first steps onto a new path.  It still hurts, but the pain is different this time.  I have found that I have too much self-respect to continue on this roller coaster of a life that my ex-husband lives in. My children and I have had to lower our expectations to such a low point so we can be pleasantly surprised when he does a nice thing or he does what he said he was going to do.  It is ridiculous that we have to do this, but we have to take care of ourselves.  There was just too much disappointment and hurt that was happening.

My ex-husband was given a second chance to make things right. Instead of working with me to find middle ground and nurture our relationship and our family, he has chosen to dig himself in and not budge.  Working towards middle ground means commitment and that is something he is just unable to do.

I don’t regret giving my ex-husband a second chance. I had to find out.  I had to take the chance.  I needed questions answered and I needed to know if we could really be a family again.  I got my answers. The result was not what I expected or wanted, but I got what I needed.  I got what I needed in order to finally move on with my life.  As the Rolling Stones song goes:

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes well you might find

You get what you need

The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Lyrics

In closing, I raise a glass of your preferred beverage to what the future may bring. May it be a bright future indeed.   Blessed Be.

Finding Hope

NOTE:  This blog was originally written as a journal entry for my Peer Support Specialist as part of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan.  It reads somewhat choppy, but I wanted to share it nonetheless.  My children have given me permission to share their medical information as long as I don’t use their names.

(Trigger Warning:  Reference to suicide, emotional abuse, and trauma.)

“Hope is the life force that keeps us going and gives us something to live for. Hope is a crucial part of dealing with life’s problems and maintaining resilience in the face of obstacles. Even a glimmer of hope that our situation will turn around can keep us going.” – Joe Wilner (How We Lose Hope and How to Get it Back)

The word “hope” is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. I sit here staring at my computer monitor trying to think of things that bring me hope. Where is that feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen?  I seem to be lacking it.  I am in full-on survival mode and have been for some time. The feeling of hope seems to not be in the equation for me.  

I sit here reminding myself it has been bleak before, I mean really bleak. Bleak to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore.  I was never suicidal, I just wanted the physical and emotional pain to end and I only saw death as a way to finally escape it all.

What kept me going?

My responsibility to my two young children is what kept me going. I refused to leave them without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and they had a father who wasn’t always around and grandparents who only wanted to involve themselves on their terms, which was limited. 

This all happened years before I was diagnosed with Autism, years before we knew both my children were also autistic, and years before realizing my daughter also had Bipolar. Medical trauma, grief, chronic pain, post-partum depression, family neglect, emotional abuse, isolation, lack of a proper diagnosis, lack of support from anywhere lead me into the worst autistic burnout I have ever experienced and without a proper diagnosis I had no idea what was happening to me.  I thought I was losing my mind.  I was diagnosed with PTSD during this time.  This diagnosis would eventually grow into Complex-PTSD.  

I have experienced burnout many times since, but never to the extent of how it was during those very dark, dark days of my late twenties/early thirties. Unfortunately, I am finding myself horribly burnout out again, more so than I have been in a very long time.  I am 41 years old.  My daughter will be 16 next month and my son will be 14 two months after that.  One October night in 2012, my world once again began to fall apart.  My husband, whom I had been with since 1998, sat me down and told me he didn’t want to be married any more, he didn’t want the responsibility of a family any more. 

Things continued to get worse and worse. My husband was self-destructing from a life-long struggle with untreated severe clinical depression and he was taking the family down with him.  I will not go into detail of the three years of hell that my family went through over this, but I will say that my son developed PTSD from emotional abuse by his father.  My daughter grieved like her father had died, yet there was a stranger walking around with his face. 

Fast forward three years, my husband finally agreed to get professional help and has since come home. We have spent the last year trying to rebuild our family.  Five months ago we moved to a very isolated area with dream.  We would build a house together and start our new life as a family, all four of us together.  Unfortunately, life happens when you are making other plans. 

We have been living in what can be described as a glorified shed with tarps for walls. It is the end of November. We have no plumbing or insulation. What electricity we have comes from heavy duty extension cords that are plugged into the meter outside and drugged into the house. We can’t run much on them or we end up popping circuits.  We do have a wood stove, but with no insulation, it can only keep the house just below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the bedrooms are even colder.  We are miserable.

Due to unforeseen financial problems over the last few months, who knows yet when we will have plumbing. My in-laws’ house is about a football field’s length away. We utilize their kitchen and plumbing. They are very caring people, but their house is small and they are very elderly.  My mother-in-law has had two strokes, is diabetic, has blood pressure problems, and needs round the clock care which my father-in-law provides.  Their house is very unpredictable and stressful.  It is hard to explain, but no one can handle being in their house for more than a few hours. We are looking at another six to eight more months without plumbing. It realistically could be longer than that.

Even though I call my husband “my husband”, we are not legally married any more. He made sure of that during those three years of hell.  He recently has informed me that he doesn’t know what makes me happy and he doesn’t know how to meet my needs when it comes to our relationship.  That really hit me hard. After all these years, he still doesn’t know how to be a husband to me (he has admitted that he has sucked at being a husband and father), but there is a positive note to this.  He wants to learn and he is listening.  Progress has been at a snail’s pace, though, painfully slow, but for the first time he is putting in real effort. He is committed and is determined to make our relationship work.   

Then there is my employment situation. I have been a certified teacher for 18 years in grades Kindergarten – 12th grade.  The 2011-2012 school year literally almost killed me with stress.  Over the past four years I have slowly been transitioning myself away from working a daily teaching job.  I can no longer physically or mentally continue working every day and also care for my two children who cannot attend a regular school day at a school.  They are both homeschooled, but are also enrolled in our local Home Link program, and my daughter receives her education services at our local high school by attending only mornings Monday – Friday. 

I finished my Master’s degree last April. I now officially have the credentials to say I am both a professional in Autism Education and a Science Teacher, yet I am still under employed and I don’t see how that is going to change anytime soon.  As of now I have five invisible disabilities:  Autism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Complex-PTSD, and Dyscalculia.  I struggle everyday with chronic pain, Misophonia, anxiety mixed with depression, and I struggle to live in a world that is not designed for someone like me. I have been on ten different anti-depressants, five different anti-anxiety medications, and three different sleep aids.  I have tried a variety of pain medications as well.  I have paradoxical effects with all these types of medications. Nothing works for me and only makes things worse.

My medication is running. I have been a runner for 23 years and I fight every day to stay out of a wheel chair.  Due to the continued degradation of my connective tissues all over my body from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, it is only a matter of time before running may be taken from me. I have already had to give up weight lifting, backpacking, mowing, gardening in other than large pots, picking boxes up, moving furniture, the list keeps growing every time another injury occurs or another body system begins to fail. I carry on, though. I just brace up my joints, bind up my torso, and continue to persevere.  I have to, but it gets harder and harder when the feeling of hope just isn’t there. The chronic pain wears you down.

With all of this, I am still struggling in thinking about what brings me hope.

The first thing that comes to mind as I have been typing all this out are the two young people who kept me going before when I found myself horribly burned out, my two children. They are everything to me and I am determined to persevere above all odds for them, always.

I have been told by my own mother that she would never be able to do what I do. If it had been her raising my children instead of me, my daughter would have been sent away a long time ago. As for my son, his needs would also have been ignored just like mine had growing up, because he is so “high-functioning” in my mother’s eyes.  Neither my son nor I are “high-functioning”, but we are quiet enough to be easily ignored.

Both my children have Dysgraphia and both are autistic (my daughter as an accompanying expressive language impairment and my son does not).

My daughter was also diagnosed with Bipolar II (but it may instead be Schizo-affective Disorder – Bipolar Type) with debilitating anxiety. She takes six type of medication either once, twice, or three times a day depending on the type. We have alarms set to help her remember to take her medication. She has been hospitalized once for suicidal thoughts and hallucinations telling her to use knives to kill herself.  

My son was also diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Social Anxiety as well as Misophonia. He also struggles with re-occurring depression. He takes two types of medication once or twice a day depending on the type. He has been on suicide watch twice.

Then there is the glimmer of hope that comes when I look in my husband’s eyes now and see the man I married in there. In his eyes I see an older, tired, and struggling version, but I see hope there, too.  He sees a future for us, a future that I thought we had lost that one October night when he decided to give up on me, our family, and the life we had. 

I have not reached the same point where he is, but I want to.  This place where we live now is where he grew up.  This is his world, but it is not mine.  This is why I am not at the same point where he is.  This world is so foreign to me.  The language is different, the mannerisms are different, the way of life is different, and I am cut off from my world due to our rotten living conditions.  No internet and all my belongings, my tools I use to self-regulate and make my environment safe and comfortable, are all locked up in storage.

My senses have been on overdrive since moving here. Everything is too loud and too bright. It hurts here.  Then there is the problem of my husband’s recent poor choices haunting us.  During those three years of hell he involved himself with four women in ways he shouldn’t have.  One of these women he purposely used to rip our family apart and my children and I caught him with her. Neither had feelings for each other, which just made it worse for me.  This woman ended up marrying my husband’s first wife and they both show up at my in-laws’ house on a regular basis. They are also both invited to family gatherings, gatherings we can’t go to because of their presence.  I am reminded of my recent trauma and loss all the time.  I can’t get away from it. This has taken a considerable toll on me.

“Though, when we begin to lose hope, things can seem bleak. When we run into constant resistance and are prevented from reaching our goals we can start to feel like there is nothing to live for. If we can’t get to where we want to be and don’t feel in control of our life, what’s the point?” – Joe Wilner (How We Lose Hope and How to Get it Back)

I have been finding myself asking, “What’s the point?”

What is the point? Why do I keep going when all there seems to be is endless struggle and pain?

The answer:

Because I must!

My life would be very different if I had been dealt a different set of cards. I know this, but there is no point in lamenting over that fact. I was dealt a certain set of cards and I have to live with what I was given and make the most of it. 

Over the years, I have written a lot about persevering and not giving up. I have to keep on fighting.  I have to keep moving forward.  I have to keep trying to reach that light at the end of the tunnel.  When I was at my darkest all those years ago, I kept telling myself that the tunnel will end and light will be reached again.  I knew it would happen, because that was the only option available.

I am there again telling myself that this dark, burned out tunnel that I have found myself in will eventually end. It has to.  I don’t know what I will find when I reach the light again.  My life may once again be transformed into something I wasn’t planning on, but at least I will be there to see that transformation. 

I will persevere. I will keep moving forward.  I will keep on keeping on.  That is the only option I have. 

 

Perhaps that is where my hope really lies, by keep on keeping on . . .

 

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Dealing With Emotional Abuse in Families

(Trigger Warning: Personal Experiences Discussed)

Families.  What makes a family?  What does it mean to be a family?  What does it mean to be emotionally supportive? At what point do you say that you have had enough? At which point do you have to walk away for your own protection?

These are loaded questions and not something that can be easily answered.  These are questions that I have been grappling with lately.  Well, to be honest, I have been grappling with these questions for some time now.

What brought me to this place, a place where I am finding I am at a loss as to how to even address these questions?  It first started when I realized I had been in emotionally abusive situation for some time and it had been coming from several directions.  One direction had been from my husband who was crumbling from a lifetime of untreated mental illness.  The situation he was in is not an excuse for his behavior, but it is a fact that his refusal to acknowledge that he was mentally ill contributed greatly to his inevitable decline and eventual self-destructive behavior.  He had to lose everything and stay there for a while before he realized what was really important to him, me and our two children.  The ordeal that led up to a three year nightmare eventually had a happy ending.  He finally got help and eventually came home.  He moved back in five months ago.

We are a family again. During that three year-long nightmare, I questioned if he really was part of the family anymore.  He didn’t want to be, or it appeared that he didn’t want to be, but he was still genetically connected to our children and we had 15 years of marriage together.  You also don’t have to be genetically linked to be family.  Was he still considered family?  In the end, the answer to that question was a resounding “Yes!”  Surprisingly, our bond survived all that destruction that had taken place over those three years.  The love was still there.

In many other cases, the situation is so bad that there is no more love, only abuse and pain.  I don’t know why I held on to hope that my ex-husband would eventually have an epiphany and would find his way home.  You could say we got lucky, but there was more to it than that.  We are determined to make this work.  We are taking the necessary steps with family counseling and working on our communication skills.  We are still going through the healing process, still figuring our roles as a family of four. It is going to take time, but we are on a positive path to recovery.

My daughter asked recently what love was.  I told her love is when you don’t give up on someone. For us, this statement is true.   I never gave up on the man that I married even when he had given up on himself.  Please understand, not giving up on someone is not the same as walking away. I had to walk away and give the man I loved the time and space he needed to figure things out.  You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.  Sometimes you have to walk away.  In our case, it worked out.  Unfortunately, much of the time it does not.  You have to move on; otherwise an emotionally abusive situation could potentially destroy you.

I wrote more about emotional abuse —> Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

I am facing the question of walking away again.  I had to put up a healthy boundary in regards to three family members in my life.  This occurred almost a year ago.  I had to do this for my own mental wellbeing, for my own protection.  I have Complex-PTSD and last June I had the worst trigger I have ever had apart from a medical trauma that led to my diagnosis of PTSD in the first place twelve years ago. I know they didn’t mean to cause me such harm, but it was through their lack of understanding that led me to being is so much pain.  I couldn’t stop the flashbacks.  I was back in that hell again.  I could hardly function for days.  It was a horrid experience.  You can find more about that experience here —> The Volcano is Awake

For more information on my experience with Complex-PTSD —> The Hell that is Spring

When I tried to explain to these families members what had happened and why I had to have the healthy boundary, I was met with “I thought you were over this.” and “I am so angry at you right now!” and “Don’t you care how your sister feels? You hurt her feelings.”  Ya, it wasn’t pleasant. I was so full of guilt and pain, but it didn’t seem to matter to this person. They just dumped more guilt and pain on to me.  These comments were made by one person out of the three.  One of the others hasn’t communicated with me for a year now and the third is keeping a respectful distance.

It hurts to even discuss this.  How can person get mad at another for having an excruciating panic attack that lasted for days?  How can a person who claims that they have unconditional love for another end up throwing guilt on to them during their most vulnerable moments? I was told that I was wrong to feel the way I did. A person has no right to tell another how they are supposed to feel.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t understand the behavior and this has been happening to me for as long as I can remember.

This week I was told I had a fevered brain by this same person.  When I asked for clarification, I did not receive any.  I have been told I am full of anger, hatred, and disdain.  I have been told that my words are full of vitriol and that there is a disconnect between what I write and how I perceive it.  I don’t understand where this is coming from.  I am not full of anger or hatred or disdain.  What I do feel is sadness, frustration, and fear.

My blogs reflect my journey through loss, grief, healing, and self-discovery. It is natural to experience anger as you go through a grief cycle and everyone is different when it comes to grief. Working through grief is really a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. Any reflection of anger would have been expressed in my blogs at the time I was experiencing it.  As you continue to read through my blogs, you see a definite change.  I have changed.  This is why I do not understand where these accusations of anger, hatred, and disdain are coming from are coming from.

For more about my journey through grief, click on the following links:

—> Autism, Empathy, and Grief – A Personal Story (Dec 16, 2013)

—> Grieving (Mar 30, 2015)

—> Sadness – Moving Through Grief and Finding Understanding (Aug 22, 2015)

My relationship with this person is not healthy, but this person seems to think that I am at fault for the situation that we are currently in. I suppose in some respect I am at fault.  I chose to put up a healthy boundary, but then was accused of pushing the family away. Growing up, I was never taught about healthy boundaries or how to say “no”.  I was taught to comply. I had to comply or face the wrath of yelling, crushing disappointment of a parent, or a major guilt trip. I had no defense against guilt being place upon me.  I was basically taught to be a co-dependent, which is not healthy at all.  I only learned how to overcome my co-dependency these last few years since my diagnosis. I didn’t even know about co-dependency until my marriage failed, and that co-dependency, that extreme feeling of wanting to help people that I have always carried contributed to my marriage failing.  I learned how to say “no” as an adult in my 30s. This is why I have been teaching my children the power of “no”. I want them to understand that they can say “no”, too.

This same person said I was “a fairly happy child despite of the problems autism put upon you”.  I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 36 years old and I have a real problem with the wording of this comment.  Did I struggle growing up? Yes.  Did this person try to get me help? No.  Was there any discussion about my struggles?  Only that I needed to “come out of my shell” or questioned why I wasn’t more like my sister.  I was labeled shy and quiet and left to be.

To be clear, autism didn’t put problems upon me. Autism is not some separate entity that squishes people and holds them down.  My autism is not separate from me.  I am Autistic. The problems I faced growing up were a direct result of me not having the type of supports that I needed to be successful. I had to struggle on my own, because my autism was not recognized.  I was a girl, after all, born in the mid-70s and growing up in the 80s and early 90s.  There wasn’t a whole lot known about autism then, definitely not Asperger Syndrome, which is what I was originally diagnosed with in late 2011.

Okay, I am starting to rant now, back to the topic of families.

What does it mean to grow up in an emotionally abusive home and not realize it?  It took me a long time to accept what my home life was like even though as a child I felt something was off.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, because it was all I knew.  How do you know that there is something wrong if a certain environment is all you know? I always had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over my head.  I was always told that I was loved, but something wasn’t right and I never understood what it was until after I became a parent. Why didn’t I feel comfortable at home?  Why was I always so tense?  Why did I spend so much time alone in my room?

Facing the truth of one’s emotional child abuse takes a special kind of courage. But to be an emotionally healthy adult, the truth must be known, so that healing can begin, and the pattern doesn’t repeat.

An emotionally abused child who does not, as an adult, face the truth of their childhood is in great danger of repeating the cycle of emotional abuse with his or her own children.

“As long as [the experience of cruelty] remains hidden behind their idealized picture of a happy childhood, they will have no awareness of it and will therefore be unable to avoid passing it on. It is absolutely urgent that people become aware of the degree to which this disrespect of children is persistently transmitted from one generation to the next, perpetuating destructive behavior.” (Alice Miller, “The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for Self”)

Unfortunately, because emotional abuse is often tolerated or because the abusive parents are very secretive in their abuse (hiding their true selves when in public), emotionally abused children will assume that how they were treated at home was natural. They have no frame of reference. And so, the child will develop a skewed sense of what a healthy relationship is.

Emotionally abused children become adults with little or no self-esteem; a deep, pervasive sadness; problems bonding with others; and a tendency towards self-destruction.

For me, I never have had a tendency towards self-destruction, but more towards survival and always feeling that I had to move forward in life. I have to keep going no matter what.  I have had quite a bit of trouble with self-esteem and pervasive sadness, though. I also form very strong bonds.

An emotionally abused child usually continues being emotionally abused by the parents long into adulthood. The patterns have already been established since the child’s earliest years. The dynamics of the family have been set into place. Nothing is to drastically change it—unless the child grown up awakens.

Some adults experience a jolt, a sudden flash of memory, that is triggered by an event, a song, a movie scene, anything, really. Others remain asleep until the abusive parents become abusive grandparents—continuing the cycle of emotional abuse to the adult survivor’s children. Others will just reach the point where they cannot take it anymore; enough is enough.

And the abused child-turned-adult awakens, slowly realizing that not everything is as it has seemed. Everything is different now.

Taking the red pill regarding your emotionally abusive childhood leads to a very difficult path—but the important thing is that it is a path. You no longer remain stuck, wondering about the pervasive depression or sorrow.

I started fighting back after my children were born. Something inside insisted that I had to raise my children differently than the way I was raised.  They were going to get the emotional support I never got.  I was going to be their advocate, because I never had one.  I have been a parent now for fifteen years.  I tolerated much of my parents’ behavior over the years.  I tried to ignore it, tried to make excuses, tried to tell myself that it was just how they were and I had to accept it.  The finally straw came last June when I was slammed with the trigger.  There was absolutely no emotional support provided.  I was dying all over again and absolutely no shit was given.  Enough was enough.  I feel the most disabled when I am with my parents.  I am also always on guard.  I can’t relax.  There is something wrong, something very wrong, but whenever I have tried to discuss the matter I get nowhere.

Here I am again, asking those questions about family.  They are my parents.  There is a genetic link.  The love is still there, but this time it is different.  There seems to be no sense of responsibility on the part of my parents. No sense that there is something wrong with the situation.  Maybe I am being naive, but I want to make it right.  I want to feel safe with my family members.  My sister has kept a respectful distance, but she doesn’t feel there is a problem. She makes the same excuses I once did.  She also seems to have trouble seeing me as disabled.  I am her big sister.  I am not supposed to be disabled, or at least that is the impression I get.  She seems to want her idea of how the family is supposed to be to be true.  She did express some understanding of why I couldn’t talk on the phone, because many weeks after my trigger occurred she miscarried at 14 weeks. She found herself not able to talk on the phone either.  I really appreciate it that my sister contacted me to let me know what had happened.  I was able to give her words of comfort which she in turn greatly appreciated.

Families can make amends, it takes time, but healing can happen if both parties are willing to work with each other.  The healing might not look like the way you want it to or go as fast as you want it to.  It most likely will never be like it once was, but the important part to remember is that you don’t give up on each other.  You might have to walk away, but you don’t give up.

As for my situation with my parents, at this point in time I need to keep my healthy boundary up for my own protection.

“Adult children who have never spiritually and emotionally separated from their parents often need time away. They have spent their whole lives embracing and keeping and have been afraid to refrain from embracing and to throw away from of their outgrown ways of relating. They need to spend some time building boundaries against the old ways and creating new ways of relating that for a while may feel alienating to their parents.” (“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life”, pg. 38)

Here are some suggestions from For Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse that will help you to begin your path to healing:

  1. Seek professional help from someone who understands emotional child abuse. 
  2. Create some distance between you and your abusive parent.

You will find it difficult to put your new thoughts in perspective if you are still immersed into your parents’ lives. So, you need to create some space. Let them know that you need time to think about things.  In some cases, adult children will find healing, and they will eventually find new ways of communicating with their parents that is healthy.

  1. Don’t give up! Stay awake, stay vigilant.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Educate yourself about emotional child abuse.

You’ll be going through myriad emotions, so you should read to better understand how healing is a process and will not happen overnight. You can find a starter’s recommended readings here.  In the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, the clinical psychologists discuss the severe impact of being raised without boundaries and its affects into adulthood. Also, look at the various sites here for information about emotional child abuse and healing.

  1. Be patient and loving with yourself. 
  2. Surround yourself with good, supportive friends.
  3. Understand you may lose friends and family members—but let them go.
  4. Keep a journal.
  5. Be mindful of your relationships.
  6. Pray or meditate.
  7. Let yourself receive love.
  8. Accept change.
  9. Find a creative outlet.
  10. Don’t give up.

Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Rest, sure. Take a little time to just lose yourself in music or TV or books for a little while… then continue on. DON’T QUIT. Don’t stop on your path to healing. Sometimes, the sorrow will be biting and cold—but don’t quit.

Know you are worthy of love, of respect, of kindness, of happiness, of dignity.

Know you matter.

Know that your life does make a difference.

**All quotes are from For Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse.