My Story: Emotional Abuse and Identity Theft

17 years old.  I was sitting in her living room, her hot breath on my face. Hushed words with so much intensity. I was told how ignorant, god-less, un-christian, "common"(rude), cruel, ungrateful, disrespectful, worthless, and evil I was. I was videotaped as I sobbed and shook and wished I could die. I was told that my school friends needed to see how their "Christian" friend and leader really acted. I was asked if I would be embarrassed to show my friends the "real" me. I was asked why I was crying and why I was angry. I'm a "lucky little bitch". I was told that I was the reason for her sickness and strokes/seizures, for her outbursts, and rage, and thoughts of suicide. I was finally left to sit alone. I wasn't allowed to speak or cry or move off the couch, because I would contaminate the rest of the house. I was disgusting.  -- A tiny house in the middle of the country, no streetlights, and the continued "conversations" that were meant to be heard through paper-thin walls about my worthlessness and cruelty. Then nothing. Just crickets outside in the black.

Eventually, one of them appeared again and pulled me close. She laid my head on her lap, brushed the little hairs from my temples and told me how proud of me she was and how good I was.
And that's the night that I died.

---

The summer before my senior year of high school. A normal time for uncertainties. A time for hopes and dreams, questions and fears. A time when the future is equally exciting and terrifying. A time when we most desire stability and belonging, when we seek direction and hope. 

After a years of constant family drama and a particularly severe year of emotional torment, I left my school, my church, my best friends, my boyfriend, all of my positive influences, my leadership roles, people that knew me and respected me as a person, half of my family and all normalcy and sanity. I was forced to move out of state to live in a camper with my mom and my 7 year old sister. No drivers license, no car, no freedom, no friends, no church, limited calls, if any. Definitely no contact with my Dad. We were "starting again", away from everything that she hated, no loved, no hated, no loved.

She thought that we needed counseling. But "we", meant me. If I would just let go. If I could just love her more. She couldn't understand why I didn't love her enough to be entirely happy about leaving everyone and everything. We sought counseling at a couple of little churches but once they actually caught on to what was happening, we would find fault in those manipulative traitors and and stop going. The game would be played and apologies made for past boyfriends or behaviors or "working too much" but never admission or apology for the current situation. 

A bad example to my sister ... a diva, a brat, cruel and callused, selfish, ignorant, uncaring, disloyal. A liar. The mental and emotional control went on for what felt like years. I had no right to be depressed or upset, angry or sad. I had no right to feel unless they were her feelings. No right to speak unless they were words that she wanted to hear. I felt like I had nothing. I didn't matter. I was either screamed at or ignored. My voice didn't matter. My opinion didn't matter. My emotions didn't matter. I had to shut down. So I did. I went into emotional hiding.

I prayed so much that summer. I walked to the campground playground when I could. I would sit swing and listen to praise music to try and find something bigger. I was dying inside. Apparently my sudden silence was taken to be a "cry for help" and I was literally wrestled into the car and taken to the ER.. The doctor prodded me with questions about my depression and "thoughts of suicide". I never threatened to, kill myself, I explained. I just didn't want to be tormented. I wanted normalcy, stability. I want to feel loved. I want to be away from my mom's 'friend'. But what my mom (apparently) heard from the doctor was quite different. "She hates you. She loves her Dad. She doesn't want to be with you."

The scratching squeak of the glass doors sliding open was the only thing I heard as we walked into the parking lot. No eye-contact. No words. Finally one word, not so hushed this time, "In". The door slammed behind me. A few moments of piercing silence, just the sound of the pouring rain on the hood, and then every word and name in the history of names.
"How could you tell some stranger lies about your family?!"
"You're lucky to be alive right now."
"You're lucky you weren't slapped shit-less in the parking lot."
"No one wants to look at you because you're worthless."

"You're dead to me", she said.
And for the first time in my life, I really wished I was.

We drove to a laundry mat. --Just going about normal business while my mom stared off into the distance and I wept uncontrollably in the back seat. I couldn't breathe. When the car finally stopped, I obediently walked inside the laundry mat while being berated with words. Fight or flight took over, I suppose, and I ran to the closed down gas station next door. I melted beside the pump, praying for God to have mercy on me and just kill me rather than torture me like this. They didn't follow. I paced the dark country street and considered walking to the motel a couple of blocks away to plead for help but history had taught that my lack of scars would lead to nothing but being put back in the same situation.

More than an hour later they loaded laundry and drove down the road past me, while I still sat by the pump at that gas station. They eventually came back because my 7 year old sister saw me there and started screaming when they left me behind. They made me get back in the car and told me that they only cared where I was because they were responsible for me and "would be damned if they went to jail for some little bitch". We drove off into the middle of nowhere to that tiny hell-house with just trees and fields and darkness. So much darkness.

My innocence was slaughtered that day and my identity was stolen. I was left questioning who I really was, what value I really had, and what I could possibly offer anyone in life, especially God. What I knew to be true was completely altered. My identity had been forever changed.

There is certainly much more to this story ... good things, great things, and bad things. God did incredible things and wonderful people worked very hard and loved me so well through these times.

But my purpose in writing this is two-fold.
1. To work towards truth. And I can't work towards truth if I can't ever speak the whole truth. I feel things deeply and personally because those attacks were personal.  My "trust" issues are valid. My hardships may not be particularly blog-worthy or visible or memorial-able but they are no less real.
2. To encourage other people that my not have a "platform" or physical proof of injury, to know that they aren't alone. You are valuable. You aren't crazy (as much as certain people would like you to think you are). You are wholly loved.

Lots of people have written books and blogs about abuse, loss, addiction, tragedy... but I feel like emotional abuse is rarely spoken of because it's label-less. It's not a "platform" that's seen as acceptable or reasonable or truly tragic. It's messy, somewhat self-inflicted, continuous, and most who have experienced it don't ever get "past it" or away from the influence of their abuser. Like an addiction, it's always calling from the shadows.

--------

The wounds still haven't really healed. It's been more than 10 years and these scars can still be easily opened. I fight my own personal identity crisis daily. These things may have been brushed under the rug, buried beneath the surface, or never acknowledged but that doesn't make them less true and it certainly doesn't make them less painful or toxic.

I'm sure that many people will be quick to tell me to count my blessings and to be grateful I wasn't beaten or physically tortured. And I am thankful about so many wonderful things in my life that I certainly don't deserve. The truth doesn't negate thankfulness. There are people who would say it's best not to speak of these things but respectfully, not speaking of these things is just more isolation. Because until you've been in a place of mental and emotional chaos at the hands of people you believe love you, you don't understand. And to the abusers who refuse to acknowledge the things that happened, it's real. It's been very real for me these past several years and it has affected every single aspect of my life -- from my marriage to my children to my relationship with my sister to my aspirations and decision making abilities. But honestly, the worst of all is my spiritual life. You made me doubt things I never knew I could. I walk on eggshells in my own mind. I can't even be "good" without thinking that I'm probably doing it for the wrong reason.

I will never let you in fully, again. I will not let you hurt my family. I will try to protect those that I love against torment. I will not let you control my mind or my emotions. I will protect my boys, because that is what parents do, protect their children from harm. So instead of guilt-trips and conversations about forgiveness, lets converse about this... when you can acknowledge that all these things were done and said, then we can communicate. Until then, it's not actually a conversation... it's manipulation. 12 years and these sores still burn so wildly that there isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel the sting. I need to cut off the cancerous limb and all the twigs that have sprung from it.

I need to be able to tend to the true heart issues in my life. I need to hear the truth and believe it, good and bad. How am I supposed to work on issues when I'm consistently made to feel as though I'm insane? How am I to seek truth and believe the truth when I'm not allowed to speak about true things that happened?

I'm finished with being fearful of what people think and assume. I'm finished wondering if people understand me or really care about me. I'm finished second-guessing. I'm finished feeling crazy. My identity doesn't come from you or your friend. I know, in my mind, that you both were wrong, but my soul still feels tormented.

My faith needs to be greater than all the fears within me. I want to believe that God can heal even the invisible wounds. I have been wholly crushed and wholly lost but I know that I am wholly loved, if I accept it and believe it.


And that is my meditation for this year: Renewal. Revival. Truth.
I'm ready for this endless winter to be over and for spring to come once again.

13 Ways to Support Someone Who Has Been Emotionally Abused


If you know someone who is journeying through the depths of their thoughts and feelings after emotional abuse and you are unsure of what to do, this could a helpful resource for you.

Loving someone at their darkest and most vulnerable is really hard. Trying to help can be overwhelming and exhausting, especially if we haven't stood in those shoes before. But I wanted to offer a (non-exhaustive) list of things that may be an encouragement to someone in search of healing. These are all things that I wish my own abuser had heard when she was young. I think they could have made all the difference in the world.

I'm not a counselor or a therapist, I'm just someone who has walked in these shoes and is learning what my heart needs to hear most. Maybe these things could be helpful in your effort of loving and extending grace.
 
----
Listen. 
Being heard is incredibly important in the healing process. Chances are that there have been years of being shut down, shut out, and misunderstood. See past the mask and understand that there is real and intense hurt.

Think about how you might advise someone who was being physically beaten on a daily basis and apply that to emotional abuse as well. 
Emotional abuse may leave no physical scars, but is no less harmful. Saying things like "at least you weren't" and "you need to toughen up" and "don't burn bridges" can be incredibly damaging.  The scars are deep and the the support is generally non-existent.

Affirm the most basic things.
The phrase, "I believe you" can go a long way.

Affirm (the believer's) identity in Christ.
But what does that really mean and look like? I've heard it over and over again and it never really make sense - until it made sense.
Affirm that the Holy Spirit is in them. Tell them that they can work towards trusting the voice of truth again. Affirm that the Lord is capable of healing and renewing. Affirm that where they feel weak and broken, the Lord is strong and powerful and is also a good and gracious Father.

Tell them that "It's okay to grieve". 

Even if that person is responsible for cutting ties or creating solid boundaries. It's still a loss. Grieving the loss of a relationship, a childhood, security, control is valid and necessary.

Tell them that "Every victory counts".

A step in the right direction is absolutely huge. Seeking help, allowing the hurt to rise to the surface, dealing with feelings as they come rather than stuffing them down is absolutely good.

Tell them that people can not give them the clarity that they so deeply desire. 
Lead them to helpful resources. Admonish them to find the truth and live according to those core truths. Living while listening to a constant committee of internal naysayers and conflicting thoughts is exhausting and depressing. Depending on other outside "voices" can be damaging in the search for truth. Listening to just a couple of trustworthy and wise counselors may be best.

Help them to find their vision and goals.

One of the hardest things when searching for clarity is choosing goals to meet. Achieving those goals requires grit and grace and ultimately falls on them.  But helping a friend prioritize their goals and find "vision" is a huge help.  (ex: personal and spiritual health, keeping their own family safe, doing the right and honest things.)
If you don't know what to say, saying, "I'm so sorry" is enough.
You may not know how to handle the situation and you may not be able to take on that type or amount of emotional burden.  Knowing your limits and knowing that you may not "know" is important too. Gentling guiding them towards a counselor (a safe place) where they can talk it through is great advice.  

Ask,"What can I do?" 
Don't be surprised if they say, "I don't know". They may be too overwhelmed to have an answer off the bat. Recognize that sifting through heavy emotional baggage is taxing mentally and physically. Maybe it's watching children or bringing a meal on occasion so they can attend counseling. Maybe it's giving them uninterrupted time to spend with God.  Maybe they need a couple hours of extra sleep. Maybe they need to just have fun, away from the emotional stuff, for a while. Offering to do [x,y,z] to lessen the burden so they can find help and safety makes a huge impact.


Keep trying. Keep encouraging. And also learn your limits.
Don't burn yourself out trying to hold someone up. Those who have been abused have years and year of baggage and confusion to work through. You can't be the hero, holding them up (along with that overwhelming weight) BUT a little note, an affirming word, a helping hand, can go a very long way in helping them feel valued and supported. The last thing someone wants to be is a burden. Do what you can but don't allow them to become too taxing for you. It's okay to rest. You can't fill anyone else up if you are empty. Creating healthy boundaries in your friendship may empower them to create healthy boundaries as well.

Be a source of truth. 
Those that have been abused have a hard time deciphering truth from lies. Be a source of honesty. Put advice through the filter of "is it kind and is it necessary" before speaking. The depth of a relationship will determine how well honest direction will go over.  I can not stress enough how important honesty and genuine concern can be. Do not exaggerate and do not compliment falsely. But if you have something sweet and uplifting to say, say it!  They can definitely use the boost ... even if they don't want to accept the positive encouragement.  It takes a lot of affirmation and positive reinforcement to replace the negative.

Recognize that the healing process takes time. Don't get annoyed when grief and pain doesn't go away quickly. Being sad doesn't mean that progress isn't being made. Tears can be healing. Time does not heal all wounds. But time and small victories do create a new normal. We are who we choose to be - just one step at a time.

----
Dear Sweet Friends,
The simple fact that you took the time to read this list means so much. It's obvious that there is a great deal of compassion in you and a desire to understand. Sometimes there are no words or actions that can make things"better" when someone is hurting, but I want to encourage you that YOU are a key component in ending the cycle of abuse that can plague families for generations.

Your concern and care, your honesty and graciousness, are huge tools in helping someone get the help and healing they need. Showing someone they are valued and heard can be life-changing.  Someone like YOU can be what keeps someone from becoming an abuser someday. Even the most simple words or actions can be the seed of hope that a hurting heart needs in order to bloom again. Thank you for caring, thank you for trying. That is the best we can do, really. 



Safety is Important Too

It's a beautiful winter day. You and a group of good friends drive into the country and lace up your ice skates for a fun day on pond. You are leisurely skating when suddenly you hear a sharp crack and the glassy ice gives way, sending your friend plunging into the frigid waters. You rush to help her out of the water and onto solid ground. But what next? How do you save someone from freezing to death in the middle of winter, covered in ice water? If you don't take action quickly, they could lose all of their body heat and they could die from hypothermia. When the body can no longer regulate internal temperature, other measures have to be taken to get them warm ... and quickly.

Someone suffering from hypothermia couldn't get the warmth and healing they needed if part of them was still stuck in an ice-bath. Warming up requires stripping away the cold, wet, clothing and bundling up in thick warm blankets and drinking warm liquids. Warming up requires a lot of effort and absolutely no exposure to cold.

My point is ... sometimes the only way to real healing is by getting away from the cold. Sometimes healthiness and wholeness require warming up fully before ever allowing the cold back in.

This is like emotional abuse. At some point, someone who is abused can no longer regulate their internal thoughts and feelings without help. Putting truth into our brains can only get us so far. Putting blankets on top of icy, wet, clothing will only do so much. If we are piling truth and grace on top of layers confusion and anxiety, perhaps we aren't really treating the core problem after all.
 
----
The hardest part about navigating the aftermath of emotional abuse, for me, is actually in the spiritual realm. The person that hurt me and failed to protect me is the same person that regularly spouts out bible verses. The person that turned my own brain against itself is the same one that "prays for me every day" and "wishes I understood".

It would seem as though these traits couldn't co-exist within the same person, but I assure you, they can. The one who is a master at manipulating and is capable of making me question my own reality (gaslighting) is the same one that consistently tells me that they are proud of the woman that I have become and don't understand why I'm so cruel and unfair. It's quite a contrast of mentality and an extraordinarily confusing place to live.

She "prays" that I can learn to forgive. She "doesn't know where this is coming from". She thinks that my behavior is unfair and uncalled for. She sends me texts and notes and letters explaining how God has changed her, how she "had to work through hard stuff too". She sends bible verses and bible story books to my kids and writes sweet notes about when I was a little girl. She wishes that I could "just work through my hurt and open up to her".

She has all the right words, and they often sound so nurturing and natural and sweet ... so why does it sting so deeply?  Why do words about God and faith,  forgiveness and love and "opening up" still hurt so terribly? Why do these words feel like slinging sand in a raw wound?

Because for years I witnessed her manipulate and blame, all while putting on a loving and helpful Christian front. I watched as she said one thing and did another. I watched the rage and the tearful meltdowns. I saw that reputation was much more important than integrity.

Why does it hurt? Because year in and year out, my feelings didn't matter. My opinions didn't matter. My best wasn't good enough. I was made to question who I was and if any of my efforts could be "good enough" for her ... and for God.

----
I see this darkness and resentment in myself. I feel so ashamed of thinking so poorly and not offering grace upon grace to her when I offer it to others so much more easily. When I'm beside her in church, I feel the anxiety boiling up inside of me. Each little comment and nod and "amen" poking holes in the grace that I try to cover up my overwhelming anger with. When she stands next to me in church, hands raised in worship, or nudges me after the delivery of a sermon statement, I feel like throwing up. Not because she doesn't belong there but because it all feels like a lie. Because I have seen the other side. From small exaggerations to huge issues of integrity, she knows how to create the narrative that suits her best.

Why would I believe her notes about her unconditional love and devotion to family and God and prayer? Why would I believe, knowing what I know, that her words are honest and good and not full of manipulation and selfish ambition. Everyone else may not believe it, or see things for what they are, but I know what happened and continues to happen. I spent years believing and defending. I spent years trying harder and harder to win approval. I tried to be a better daughter, a better sister, a better example, a better christian. I never measured up and I had no escape from the constant mental and emotional push. But right now, safety is more important to my soul than reconciliation.

----
We are all broken and in need of healing. We all fail and need the Lord's grace, and the grace of other's to function well and move forward. Without God's extraordinary grace and mercy, I would be condemned. Therefore, as a believer, the last thing I want to do is be destructive or cruel but when someone is an abuser, truth and caution have to reign.  At least for a while -- maybe long term.

I don't have an answer about how to put the resentment and hurt and anger to rest right now. I so wish that I did. I am working through it as more pieces of the puzzle come to light. Perhaps sometime in the future, the process of reconciliation can begin. But I have to get warm before I can be brave enough (and healthy enough) to go back towards that icy pond. And maybe the danger is too great to return. I'm not sure yet.

----
Every situation and story is different. People are flawed and sinful and selfish, and grace is so necessary in forming and preserving loving relationships. BUT... being emotionally stable, and whole and safe is just as important.

For anyone reading today that is going through this process of anxiety, anger, disappointment, guilt ... I just want you to know that I'm in the trenches with you.
I am for you -- and you are not alone.

I indefinitely ended a relationship in order to preserve my emotional and mental stability. I don't regret it.  My life is calmer and my inner committee of critics are much quieter these days.  I have more space for good things because I made less space for the negative input.  I have more space for the truth because I've cut out the lies.

I'm growing. I'm learning. I'm actually "trying" less than I ever did before, but I feel more spiritually successful. And even the smallest victories count in overcoming the chaos inside my head and heart. Knowing my smallness in this area makes me appreciate God's greatness all the more. I can't. But He can. He is doing good things inside of this heart, just one piece and one small certainty at a time.
 
Perhaps someday I'll be stronger. I'll be able to separate the truth from lies and decipher and deal with false guilt and true shame as it comes. I hope that someday I can extend the same grace to her as I do to so many others. I can't wait for the day when I can feel confident enough to just "let it roll off my back" when something negative gets thrown my way. But right now, in this moment, all I can do is work on me and have faith that heart-change is coming.