In our last entry I stated that the sister had been “psychologically abused, but was not subjected to any other abuse”. Reading it again has made me realise what an odd statement it was, and it’s possibly tied to the rather large issues we have with the sister. The family dynamics created a household where psychological abuse occurred frequently – the mother has now accepted this as a reality. What I find frustrating, annoying and degrading is the way in which psychological abuse is often ignored or treated as if it isn’t serious. All you have to do is consider the Megan Meier case to realise the implications of psychological abuse – in this instance a campaign of cyber-bullying.
I wonder how many people know what psychological abuse is, and what it’s like to live in a psychologically abusive environment.
One of the most obvious examples we can think of when we were growing up, was presenting our report cards to the father. At the end of each year we all had to give our father our respective report cards and wait for the fall out. We all used to show them to the mother first so she could determine which order we’d present them to the father. Depending on his mood we would go first or last, as we generally had the best grades of the four children. If we went first then the others would get compared to ours and he’d end up in a foul mood calling at least one of the siblings useless, thick etc. If we went last, he was in such a rage by the time we got to see him that we were terrified.
Due to the abuse we were subjected to, we became very withdrawn at school. We didn’t talk and were incredibly shy. One aspect they assess in school is participation, it eventually led to the teachers being honest and starting to give us B’s, C’s and D’s for class involvement/socialisation. While we can now understand why this happened, seeing these lower grades on the report card caused major panic. We were never praised for the straight A’s, so what was going to happen with these lower grades appearing? We’d seen the abuse given to the siblings, so what was going to happen to us?
But if you look at psychological abuse as this one incident, it doesn’t give a true indication of the nature of psychological abuse. The difference between psychological abuse and a father being angry at his children’s academic achievement is the nature of that anger, how it’s shown and its context within the life of the participants. One quote we quite like to describe this is that psychological abuse is a campaign.
So if the fathers anger at our grades were a one off incident, it could be explained by him having a bad day. It’s still not acceptable, but once the anger had blown over the family would be able to re-unite to talk about what had occurred with genuine remorse shown by the father. Hurt had been caused and it would be addressed. In families where pressure was building to the point where there was anger management issues, you can see how there would be room for family and individual counselling as a way to stop patterns developing. This seems to be how a healthy family would deal with isolated incidents that cause harm, but they are not what would be considered a campaign of psychological abuse.
Without going into too much detail, it’s easy to see how the parents ended up in the marriage and family dynamic that they did. While there are no indications of physical abuse, psychological abuse did seem to be a factor in the fathers up-bringing. The mother married the first man she seriously dated. Add to this the father’s alcoholism and enjoyment of pornography, and it was a disaster waiting to happen. By the time we were born, the disaster was full blown.
Looking at any form of abuse that occurs over time as an enduring pattern, it can be quite baffling to stand outside of the situation and question why the victim doesn’t just leave, or the perpetrator realise how destructive the behaviour is. But when that abuse is all you’ve ever known, or has been so slowly introduced into your life and is now insidious; you often lose sight of what is “normal” or healthy.
In our experience, the psychological abuse ensured that we didn’t tell anyone about what else was happening to us. It meant that we tried to help a woman at work escape from an abusive marriage, without realising we were also in an abusive marriage.
In the sisters experience, the psychological abuse and having Cushings Syndrome, meant that she also went from one bad relationship to another. She abused us in order to release the anger that she felt and couldn’t express in any other way. She repeated those patterns for many years.
We haven’t had any real contact with the sister in over eight years. We both continued the patterns learnt from childhood – we did become a product of our environment. In our own ways, we’re all trying to break those patterns.