Describe an event in your life that was hard, but good. What happened?
My childhood, as a whole, was very difficult. Both of my parents struggle with intense mental disorders, perhaps the most devastating being my mother’s Narcissistic and Dissociative Identity Personality Disorders. A house run (or, rather, ruled) by a narcissistic and deeply ill parent always involves abuse of some kind. In my case, it was constant emotional abuse and abandonment, something many psychologists are starting to view as just as bad if not worse than physical abuse (and certainly harder to detect!). My mother’s extreme self-worship demanded that anything that went wrong in the family needed a cause outside of herself. That became me, the family “scapegoat” on which my mother could pour all her contempt in order to make herself look better. This resulted in putting down my looks, ignoring my needs, dumping care of my siblings onto me (and punishing me when I failed at it), making fun of my hobbies, demonizing my friends, taking credit for my accomplishments, spreading lies about my conduct to other family members, trying to get between me and the men I dated, alienating me from my siblings, and even going so far as telling my father he shouldn’t ever call me once I left home for college because she was afraid we’d be “conspiring behind her back”. It was truly a terrible environment, living in a home where your mother hates you and demands everyone else o the same. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure.
How did you feel about this event while it was happening?
As a child, I idolized my mother, which was exactly how she wanted it. But, no matter what I did, I could not get her attention. I couldn’t ever be “good enough”, and, let me tell you, I was a stellar kid. Top grades, choir star, never did drugs or slept around, very devout, gave the high school graduation speech and was college valedictorian: it was literally worthless to my family. Ashes. Barely worth acknowledging. Yet I kept pushing forward because I thought, surely THIS achievement will get their attention, surely THIS will be good enough to cleanse away whatever I’ve done to be so hated! I didn’t understand that I was fighting a losing battle. But, as I hit adolescence, part of me started getting frustrated. I was receiving two very loud but conflicting messages: My teachers and professors fawned over me, my friend’s parents adored me, all my achievements bedazzled those around me, and I could almost do no wrong in the big wide world. But then I walked through my front door and the exact opposite was true; I was nothing, worth nothing, if I laid down and died I was fairly certain they’d barely notice my absence. This caused a deep instability within me. Was I good? Was I bad? Did I deserve love or hatred? Who was I? Why was my home life and school life so different? I felt confused, angry, and often hopeless. Above all, I wanted out. Sometimes that meant planning to run away. Sometimes that meant indulging in harmless and then harmful distractions to dull my pain. Sometimes that meant contemplating suicide. I’ve been in the dark Pit of the Psalms. It’s truly miraculous I’m here to tell about it.
What meaning did you see in the event after it happened, as you looked back?
It took cutting my mother out of my life, marrying a good supportive man, and years of therapy to get to the point where I can actually now look back and understand what happened to me and why. I don’t understand how my mother could be the way she was towards me, but I do understand one thing: God never left me. I had so many opportunities to ruin my life, so many moments I could point to where I was on that precipice, but, for whatever reason, I didn’t fall. I think my guardian angel had me by my shirt collar, keeping me from tumbling over the edge even when I was begging for it. I hated my life so much, but today I am happier and more content than I ever thought possible. I believe that my experience taught me how to be grateful and to persevere. Above all, it taught me that God will never abandon me. I cried to Him, and He heard me, and time and time again He delivered me and spared me from the worst. Even though my family had turned their back on me, He kept me close to Him, providing just the right people and opportunities to eventually, bit by bit, bring me out of the Pit and into wholeness. I would never want to go back to my childhood, but, without it, I wouldn’t have the faith, security, empathy for others, resilience, and discipline that I have today. Child abuse in any form is evil. It breaks an innocent person into a million pieces. But God can take those pieces, heal them, and make them stronger than they were before.
How has the memory of that event affected other areas or choices in your life?
I’m not going to lie, it’s not been easy. I suffer from Complex PTSD as a result of my upbringing. I’m an extrovert who loves being with people, but my past makes me fearful of them, worried constantly that I will never measure up. I struggle with perfectionism and forgiving my family for hurting me. I will probably be fighting these things for the rest of my life. But I also have more compassion for people who are hurting. I see myself in those who are grieving, and I don’t shy away from the difficult conversations or circumstances surrounding pain. I can see where abuse is happening, and now I have the tools to protect myself from further abuse. Hopefully, I can pass these tools on to others, especially to my daughter as she grows up in a hostile and very narcissistic world.
What one piece of wisdom might you share with someone else living through a similar experience?
Go see a licensed therapist, preferably a Christian one. I’m a firm believer in therapy. It doesn’t mean you’re “crazy” or “weak.” Chances are, no one has ever listened to you or taken your pain seriously. A therapist’s job is to do just that: listen to your story and help you piece it together so you can heal. It’s not “just in your head.” It’s not your fault. God isn’t mad at you. You matter. You’re made in His image, and no one should be allowed to treat you like you’re worthless, because you are invaluable to Him. Find a good therapist, because you’ve been shouldering this by yourself too long. Let them help you carry the load and find peace.