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Abuse - My personal notes
Written around 2001
My guess is that if you have come to this page you have had some emotional problems in your life. I know at least that I certainly have. I have debated whether to say I was actually emotionally abused, so today I looked up some definitions of emotional abuse. I concluded that there is no agreed upon definition. I think my definition is probably as good as any. I say that if someone uses you to try to meet their unmet emotional needs, it is emotional abuse, just as if they used you to try to satisfy their sexual needs it would be sexual abuse.
Using this definition I suppose I would have to say, then, that I was emotionally abused, since my mother, in particular, had many unmet emotional needs which she tried to use me and the other children to help her fill. For example, the need to feel loved, to feel in control, to feel important, to feel needed, to feel superior, etc.
At least one of the academic definitions talks about growing up in an atmosphere where there is recurring parental conflict. This was clearly the case in my family as my parents seemed to be either arguing, slaming doors or not speaking to each other more often than not.
It is uncomfortable for me to say that I was emotionally abused. It it hard to explain why it is uncomfortable. I suppose basically it comes down to not wanting to admit that there is anything wrong with me. I would almost rather have someone else tell me, to give me their "professional" opinion. I somehow think I am making excuses if I say I was emotionally abused. I also think that a lot of people had it much worse than I did. My online friend Sarah, for example, whose father swears at her and tells her to "get the fuck out of bed" even though she is sick. And my online friend Mary whose mother calls her a "sadistic lesbian bitch." It is hard for me to believe that parents can speak this way to their children. To me this seems like emotional abuse much more than what happened to me.
What happened in our family was more subtle. My mother would make indirect comments so you felt disapproved of but weren't sure exactly. It does seem likely that she called us things like "idiot." I never really paid attention to what she called me when I was growing up. As I have written about somewhere I didn't notice her calling me an idiot till I was around 35 and had started working on my personal growth so I was paying more attention. I remember clearly where I was standing when I first really heard her saying this to me. I was standing in the hallway of my condominium in Florida and I said something about how there was room for improvement in our family. My mother replied, "Well of course there is, you idiot." Now that I am writing about here it seems more brutal, more abusive than it did at the time. I think of some people I know I am wonder if their mothers ever called them an idiot, or what they would think if they knew that my mother said this to me. I can't even begin to estimate how many times she might have said it, or similar things before I caught it that day. Nor can I estimate what effect these types of things might have had on me.
As I read the article on the definitions of emotional abuse several other things reminded me of my family. It seemed that nearly all families met the criterion for emotional abuse, so I wondered if the definition had been expanded too much, as the popular definition of emotional intelligence has been. On the other hand I wondered how pervasive this was, and now I am wondering what kind of society would we have if there were no emotional abuse, or just half as much.
I suppose we have to define it more clearly if we are going to use the term. But I don't feel up to the task of defining it any more precisely than I already have done. My definition probably wouldn't work in academic research though. It would be too hard to "operationalize." But does this mean it is a poor definition? I am not sure. But of course I like to think it is a good definition. By good I guess I mean one which helps us recognize abuse so it can be prevented.
Other EQI.org Topics:
|Here are more notes I
made at different times:
Other types of abuse
- Telling kids they deserve it
One of the problems is there are different levels of abuse. Also, the exact same behavior by the parent or guardian can have much different effects on different children. For example, teasing for one child may be relatively harmless, and may even help develop that child's sense of humor. But for another child the same teasing may be devastating. The same words with a different tone of voice or facial expression can also have much different affects.
Examples of subtle forms of
Example from my mother:
I was telling her once that it was hard for me to be in the town I grew up in because I had so many bad memories from my relationship with the Russian. Before I could finish my thought she in said in an accusing tone: How do you think I feel about being here?! I have lived here a lot longer than you have and have some dreadful memories!
This gets back to the question of whose feelings are more important, whose needs are more important. The only times it seemed my needs were more important were when I was in some kind of a crisis. The rest of the time it seemed my mother's needs took precedence.
Maybe she tried harder to get her needs met from me since she thought "this is my last chance, as I am not having any more children." Maybe it was worse for me because she saw that I had many things to offer her which she needed. I may have been more affectionate, more cuddly than my brothers and sisters closest to me in age.
(These are just some notes right now)
- You should have
Attacking, Disapproving - Over-generalizing with using "always," "again," "yet again"
- You are always sleepy;
You are sleepy again.
- It's not that
far, that hard, that heavy etc..
(How many is "that" many?? -- It depends on your perception. Implication is that your perception is wrong so you are wrong. "It's only your perception..."
Sounding Self-Righteous, Superior, Patriarchal, Condescending, Judgemental, Disapproving
- You don't.... (example - US soldier saying "You don't take a plane full of innocent people and crash it into an office building."
- You just don't do that.
-- Taking the topic away from the other person and talking about yourself or something irrelevant. For example, once I told some about problems I was having which were really troubling me. That person took over the conversation and ended up talking about something completely unrelated.
- How was I supposed to...?
See also my section on invalidation
* This next section is under construction *
Written around 2001
Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Abuse
For the past five years I have invested my time in two related pursuits: (1) The recovery from what I will call moderate emotional abuse, and (2) The study of emotional intelligence theory and research.
Popular vs. academic definitions of EI
Early signs of EI
Ways EI is damaged
Just as we know that a child's environment can significantly affect his intellectual development and IQ score, we can expect that his environment will also affect his score on an emotional intelligence test. It seems fair to also assume that not only will his EI score be lower, but that he will have more emotional problems.
I suspect, though, that the damage which can be done to a child emotionally is potentially greater in the emotional area.
Beliefs - how they affect feelings, behavior.
Childhood ends the first time you tell someone younger than you not to interrupt when two older people are talking.
The other day I at the hostel I was sitting alone on the front porch when a young girl and her older sister came around the corner. They were laughing, smiling and playing. The younger girl was perhaps 5 years old and her sister in her early teens. I smiled at them and asked the teen what her sister's name was, where they were from etc. While we talking the younger sister was entertaining herself by climbing on things. Then she said something to her older sister. My eyes turned to her as I listened to see what she had to say. Her older sister also quickly turned her attention to the child. Which, without really thinking about it, pleased me, since so many adults will continue to talk when a child approaches them. Many will even tell the child not to interrupt. My philosophy is just the opposite, however, I believe the children come first and that when a child approaches it is generally better for the adults to stop talking and see what the child wants.
Something interesting happened to me once when I did this. I was in the home of a young, working class Australian couple and their two young children. While I was talking to the father one of the children came up and said something. I turned my attention to the child and responded to him. The father looked a little shocked but he let us talk. Later he said that wants to teach his children respect and that it was his belief that children should not interrupt when two adults are talking, but that since I was the guest of the home he didn't say anything to his son. I explained to him my belief that my idea of teaching respect was to show respect by listening to what the children had to say. I added that my belief is that children's needs come first and that my theory is if we give them lots of attention when they are little they won't try unhealthy ways of getting attention later in life. He didn't know quite what to say after that, but it was seemed clear to me that he found this to be a bit of an odd way to look at things!