Emotional Abuse is Heart and Soul Mutilation
Emotional abuse is a devastating, debilitating heart and soul mutilation. The deepest lasting wound with any abuse is the emotional wound.
I wrote the lines above as descriptive phrase to describe emotional abuse for a pay per click search engine on which I realized I could cheaply get the number 1 ranking for the keyword emotional abuse. After obtaining that number 1 ranking and starting to get a lot of hits for this keyword, I realized that - though I mention emotional abuse throughout my book and web site - I had never written anything specifically about emotional abuse. I am writing this page to more specifically address this issue.
I am going to use quotes in this article from different web pages and my book to explain my beliefs about emotional abuse - starting with one that comes from one of the Question and Answer pages of my very first web site.
"although i was only emotionally abused, my father was physically abused.
There is not such thing as only being emotionally abused - I have heard many horrifying stories of physical abuse and the most damaging aspect of the physical abuse is the emotional abuse it causes - when we say "I was only emotionally abused" it is the disease minimizing the trauma we experienced. Emotional abuse is underneath all other types of abuse - the most damaging aspect of physical, sexual, mental, etc. abuse is the trauma to our hearts and souls from being betrayed by the people that we love and trust. The other types of abuse can add more levels to the healing necessary but the bottom line is the emotional abuse and it's effect on our ability to Love and trust ourselves. In fact, being only emotionally abused can sometimes make it much harder to get in touch with our issues because it isn't always blatant and obvious. Some of it was very subtle - some of us were abused and shamed by the way they looked at us or said our name or did not see or hear us - on a daily basis." - Q & A 5
Emotions are a vital part of our being. We can not be whole and healthy without having an emotionally honest relationship with our self. We can not know who we Truly are if our relationship with our own emotional process is twisted, distorted, and repressed. Body, mind, and spirit are three parts of a four part equation. Emotions are the key to healing our broken hearts and wounded souls.
Our emotional reactions are messages from our being to our consciousness.
"Emotions are energy that is manifested in our bodies. They exist below the neck. They are not thoughts (although attitudes set up our emotional reactions.) In order to do the emotional healing it is vital to start paying attention to where energy is manifesting in our bodies. Where is there tension, tightness? Could that "indigestion" really be some feelings? Are those "butterflies" in my stomach telling me something emotionally? . . . . .
Western civilization has for many years been way out of balance towards the left brain way of thinking - concrete, rational, what you see is all there is (this was in reaction to earlier times of being out of balance the other way, towards superstition and ignorance.) Because emotional energy can not be seen or measured or weighed ("The x-ray shows you've got 5 pounds of grief in there.") emotions were discounted and devalued. This has started to change somewhat in recent years but most of us grew up in a society that taught us that being too emotional was a bad thing that we should avoid. (Certain cultures / subcultures give more permission for emotions but those are usually out of balance to the other extreme of allowing the emotions to rule - the goal is balance: between mental and emotional, between intuitive and rational.). . . . .
3. Our emotions tell us who we are - our Soul communicates with us through emotional energy vibrations. Truth is an emotional energy vibrational communication from our Soul on the Spiritual Plane to our being/spirit/soul on this physical plane - it is something that we feel in our heart/our gut, something that resonates within us.
Our problem has been that because of our unhealed childhood wounds it has been very difficult to tell the difference between an intuitive emotional Truth and the emotional truth that comes from our childhood wounds. When one of our buttons is pushed and we react out of the insecure, scared little kid inside of us (or the angry/rage filled kid, or the powerless/helpless kid, etc.) then we are reacting to what our emotional truth was when we were 5 or 9 or 14 - not to what is happening now. Since we have been doing that all of our lives, we learned not to trust our emotional reactions (and got the message not to trust them in a variety of ways when we were kids.)" - Feeling the Feelings
I believe that codependence (outer or external dependence) has been the human condition in civilized societies for thousands of years. Being human on the planet Earth has been an emotionally abusive condition for a very long time.
A Definition of Codependence
"Codependence is a primary, progressive, chronic, fatal, and treatable disease which is caused by being raised in an emotionally dishonest, Spiritually hostile environment. The primary environment is the family system which is part of the larger emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional society which is part of a civilization that is based on false beliefs about the nature and purpose of being human.
Codependence is characterized by dependence on outer or external sources for self-worth and self-definition. This outer or external dependence, combined with unhealed childhood emotional wounds which get reactivated whenever an emotional "button" is pushed, cause the Codependent to live life in reaction to, give power over self-esteem to, outside sources." - Codependence Defined
We live in societies that are only a few generations removed from the belief that children and women were property. And not much farther removed from so called "civilized societies" that saw nothing wrong with slavery and genocide.
Human beings have been being abused in all ways, including emotionally, by the belief systems of Patriarchal, Spiritually hostile (hostile to the idea that we are all connected and have equal Divine worth), emotionally dishonest civilizations for many generations.
"In this society, in a general sense, the men have been traditionally taught to be primarily aggressive, the "John Wayne" syndrome, while women have been taught to be self-sacrificing and passive. But that is a generalization; it is entirely possible that you came from a home where your mother was John Wayne and your father was the self-sacrificing martyr.
The point that I am making is that our understanding of Codependence has evolved to realizing that this is not just about some dysfunctional families - our very role models, our prototypes, are dysfunctional. Our traditional cultural concepts of what a man is, of what a woman is, are twisted, distorted, almost comically bloated stereotypes of what masculine and feminine really are."
Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
Our parents were emotionally abused in childhood because their parents were emotionally abused in childhood. Our parents were our role models who taught us how to relate to ourselves and our own emotions. We learned to relate to ourselves as emotional beings from the role modeling of the adults we came in contact with and the messages we got from the way they treated us - as well as the messages we got from cultural sources ranging from fairy tales to religion.
"We are set up to be emotionally dysfunctional by our role models, both parental and societal. We are taught to repress and distort our emotional process. We are trained to be emotionally dishonest when we are children."
"When the role model of what a man is does not allow a man to cry or express fear, when the role model for what a woman is does not allow a woman to be angry or aggressive, that is emotional dishonesty. When the standards of a society deny the full range of the emotional spectrum and label certain emotions as negative - that is not only emotionally dishonest, it creates emotional disease. If a culture is based on emotional dishonesty, with role models that are not honest emotionally, then that culture is also emotionally dysfunctional - because the people of that society are set up to be emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional in getting their emotional needs met.
What we traditionally have called normal parenting in this society is abusive because it is emotionally dishonest. Children learn who they are as emotional beings from the role modeling of their parents. "Do as I say not as I do," does not work with children. Emotionally dishonest parents cannot be emotionally healthy role models, and cannot provide healthy parenting."
"The dance that we learn as children - the repression and distortion of our emotional process in reaction to the attitudes and behavior patterns we adopt to survive in an emotionally repressive, Spiritually hostile environment - is the dance we keep dancing as adults. We are driven by repressed emotional energy. We live life in reaction to childhood emotional wounds. We keep trying to get the healthy attention and affection, the healthy love and nurturing, the being-enhancing validation and respect and affirmation, that we did not get as children. This dysfunctional dance is Codependence. It is Adult Child Syndrome. It is the tune that humans have been dancing to for thousands of years. Vicious, self-perpetuating cycles of self-destructive behavior."
Quote from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls
The most destructive emotional abuse is the emotional abuse we learned to inflict upon ourselves. We formed our core relationship with self in early childhood and have been judging and shaming ourselves ever since. The most destructive thing about the emotional abuse we suffered because our parents were wounded, was that we incorporated the messages we got from their behavior into our relationship with self. We emotionally abuse ourselves on a daily basis. If we had healthy self esteem we would not allow anyone to emotionally abuse us - including ourselves.
"When we were 3 or 4 we couldn't look around us and say, "Well, Dad's a drunk and Mom is real depressed and scared - that is why it feels so awful here. I think I'll go get my own apartment."
Our parents were our higher powers. We were not capable of understanding that they might have problems that had nothing to do with us. So it felt like it was our fault.
We formed our relationship with ourselves and life in early childhood. We learned about love from people who were not capable of loving in a healthy way because of their unhealed childhood wounds. Our core / earliest relationship with our self was formed from the feeling that something is wrong and it must be me. At the core of our being is a little kid who believes that he/she is unworthy and unlovable. That was the foundation that we built our concept of "self" on. . . . . .History has been, and is being, made by immature, scared, angry, hurt individuals who were/are reacting to their childhood wounds and programming - reacting to the little child inside who feels unworthy and unlovable." - Loving the Wounded Child Within
We not only were trained to be emotionally dishonest and emotionally abusive to ourselves - we learned concepts that set us up for more emotional abuse. One of the most damaging of those dysfunctional concepts was what we were taught about love in childhood.
"I don't remember how the particular insight that I am writing about here came about - whether I heard it, or read it, or just had the thought occur (which would mean, to me, that it was a message from my Higher Self/Higher Power - of course any of those methods would be a message from my Higher Power.) In any case, this particular insight struck me with great force. Like most great insights, it was amazingly simple and obvious. It was to me earth shattering/paradigm busting in it's impact. The insight was:
If someone loves you, it should feel like they love you.
What a concept! Obvious, logical, rational, elementary - like 'duh' of course it should.
I had never experienced feeling loved consistently in my closest relationships. Because my parents did not know how to Love themselves, their behavior towards me had caused me to experience love as critical, shaming, manipulative, controlling, and abusive. Because that was my experience of love as a child - that was the only type of relationship I was comfortable with as an adult. It was also, and most importantly, the relationship that I had with myself.
In order to start changing my relationship with myself, so that I could start changing the type of relationships I had with other people, I had to start focusing on trying to learn the True nature of Love.
This, I believe, is the Great Quest that we are on. Anyone in recovery, on a healing/Spiritual path, is ultimately trying to find their way home to LOVE - in my belief. LOVE is the Higher Power - the True nature of the God-Force/Goddess Energy/Great Spirit. LOVE is the fabric from which we are woven. LOVE is the answer.
And in order to start finding my way home to LOVE - I first had to start awakening to what Love is not. Here are a few things that I have learned, and believe, are not part of the True nature of Love.
Love is not:
Critical Shaming Abusive Controlling Manipulative
Demeaning Humiliating Separating Discounting
Diminishing Belittling Negative Traumatic
Painful most of the time etc.
Love is also not an addiction. It is not taking a hostage or being taken hostage. The type of romantic love that I learned about growing is a form of toxic love. The "I can't smile without out you," "Can't live without you." "You are my everything," "You are not whole until you find your prince/princess" messages that I learned in relationship to romantic love in childhood are not descriptions of Love - they are descriptions of drug of choice, of someone who is a higher power/false god.
Additionally, Love is not being a doormat. Love does not entail sacrificing your self on the altar of martyrdom - because one cannot consciously choose to sacrifice self if they have never Truly had a self that they felt was Lovable and worthy. If we do not know how to Love our self, how to show respect and honor for our self - then we have no self to sacrifice. We are then sacrificing in order to try to prove to ourselves that we are lovable and worthy - that is not giving from the heart, that is codependently manipulative, controlling, and dishonest.
Unconditional Love is not being a self-sacrificing doormat - Unconditional Love begins with Loving self enough to protect our self from the people we Love if that is necessary. Until we start Loving, honoring, and respecting our self, we are not Truly giving - we are attempting to take self worth from others by being compliant in our behavior towards them." - The True Nature of Love - what Love is not
Any kind of physical, verbal, mental, sexual abuse is also emotionally abusive. Any attitudes or behaviors that convey a message that the other is less than a being who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity - including objectifying and stereotyping - are emotionally abusive.
The overt forms of abuse are often much more readily identifiable than the more covert forms. It is relatively easy for most people to see that raging and yelling are emotionally abusive. That name calling and verbal put downs are emotionally abusive. It can be hard to identify some of the more passive aggressive forms as being just as wounding - as being abusive and damaging.
"Passive-aggressive behavior is the expression of anger indirectly. This happens because we got the message one way or another in childhood that it was not OK to express anger. Since anger is energy that can not be completely repressed it gets expressed in indirect ways. This takes the form one way or another, overtly or subtly, of us acting out the Codependent battle cry "I'll show you - I'll get me." As a kid I was very angry at my mother for not protecting me or herself from my father - but it was not ok to be angry at my mother so I was passive-aggressive in various ways. One was to not show any feelings. By the time I was 7 or 8, I was being cool in a passive-aggressive response to her attempts to be close to me - I would not let her touch me, I would not show happiness if something good happened or pain if something bad happened. I would just say "it's ok" no matter how much it wasn't. I also "showed" her and my dad by not getting the type of grades as I was capable of getting in school. I have spent much of my life sabotaging myself to get back at them.
Passive-aggressive behavior can take the form of sarcasm, procrastination, chronic lateness, being a party pooper, constantly complaining, being negative, offering opinions and advice that is not asked for, being the martyr, slinging arrows ("whatever have you done to your hair", "gained a little weight haven't we?"), etc. If we don't know how to set boundaries or will go along with anything to avoid conflict, then we often will agree to doing things we don't want to do - and as a result we will not be happy doing them and will get back at the other person somehow, someway because we are angry at them for "making" us do something we don't want to do. A classic codependent scenario is being asked where you want to eat and saying "oh, I don't care, wherever you want to" and then being angry because they take us somewhere we don't like. We think they should be able to read our mind and know we don't want to do whatever. Typically, in relationships, one partner will ask the other to do something and the person who can't say "I don't want to do that" will agree to do it and then not do it. This will result in nagging and scolding which will cause more anger and passive-aggressive behavior.
The way to stop being passive-aggressive is to start being honest (first of all with ourselves), having boundaries (the more we get in touch with our inner children the more we can have boundaries with the angry ones that are causing us to be passive-aggressive), saying no when we don't want to do something. It is easier said than done. On one level what we are doing is recreating our childhood dynamics of being criticized by our parents. It is because at our core we feel unworthy and unlovable that we have relationships - romantic, friendship, work - where we will be criticized and given the message that we are bad or wrong. Because we don't Love our self we need to manifest people outside of ourselves that will be our critical parent - then we can resent them, feel victimized, and be passive-aggressive. They are in fact just a reflection of how we treat ourselves internally. The more we can learn to defend ourselves internally from the critical parent voice the more we will find that we don't want critical people in our lives." - Q & A 7
If we had a parent in childhood who criticized and shamed us - that was emotionally abusive esteem mutilation. If the other parent did not protect us from the verbal abuse (or physical, or whatever), then they were also being emotionally abusive to us through their role modeling - and through abrogating their responsibility as a parent. As a young child the only "normal" we know, is what we are experiencing. Growing up in an emotionally abusive environment sets us up to be attracted to emotionally abusive people and situations in adult life.
Emotional abuse is a devastating, debilitating heart and soul mutilation. Bruises to the body fade away, bruises to the heart and soul stay - until we start focusing the Light of healing upon them. Emotional abuse is crippling to self-esteem and sets us up to become trapped in the viscous self-perpetuating cycles of shame, suffering, and self-abuse that drive the dynamics of the dysfunctional dance that is codependency.
It is vital to start learning how to protect ourselves. It is vital to start realizing that emotional abuse is not acceptable - that we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. In order to do that, we need to start learning how to treat ourselves in kinder, gentler ways - we need to start learning how to be Loving to our self.
Realizing that we have been emotionally abused is the beginning of a recovery process that involves growth, change, and healing in our relationship with our self. There are a myriad of different facets and levels that are involved in our internal relationships - with our own emotions, bodies, minds, gender, sexuality, etc. In an attempt to shed some Light on what to do once you become aware of emotional abuse, I have written a new page - the first of a series of articles - on Emotional Honesty & Emotional Responsibility.