People hear the word abuse and their minds flash to bruises, broken bones and physical violence. Are people blind to other kinds of abuse?
I have memories of my mom telling me “I love you as my daughter, but I don’t like you as a person.” As I was already a weird kid with severe emotional issues, this probably wasn’t a good thing, especially not coming from my mother. We’d be sitting, watching T.V together, and I would make a comment about some actress or singer I liked; you know, the kind that young gurls use as role models. She would immediately criticize this choice, pick it apart and essentially lay everything good about this person to waste.
I’ll admit: Good female celebrity role models were slim pickings, but my mother had a talent for making them even slimmer. I would express how I liked a dress, or how her song was nice, and mummy dearest would turn this into how shallow people are, how there are no “nice gurls” left in the world – all kinds of negative things. In a way, I took this to mean that because I looked up to these gurls, I wasn’t a “nice gurl,” that I was shallow, that I was all these things my mother accused these gurls of being. There were repeated attempts on my part to tell my mother how she was making me feel, but every time she would turn it all back on me and make it my fault. I was the bad daughter. I was the one who made all the stupid mistakes.
Now I know it sounds like I’m just another teenaged girl complaining about how my mother will never understand me. But that’s the problem. It is a common thing for gurls, and boys, to be humiliated by their parents into feeling a way that they didn’t before.
Abuse comes in many forms, not just physical. Emotional/psychological abuse is much more common, and not as easily identified as bruises or broken bones. It’s also harder to identify because it is so common. Emotional abuse includes verbal attacks, such as ridiculing, name calling, yelling or screaming. Everyone has at least one story of how mum or dad made a joke about them at the family reunion, or got so angry about them disobeying that they initiated a screaming match. It might sound like these rules are very vague, that they encompass too many of the behaviors that most if not all parents exhibit to discipline their kids. But when these kinds of things happen for years and years on a daily basis, no matter how small and insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things, it can wear at a person’s emotional state. Especially when that person is a young adult, who’s emotional balance is changing due to puberty and multiple other factors.
I’m not saying to go to your parents and tell them that they are emotionally abusive to you. Parents get mad. They have to punish you sometimes to help teach you. I bet you’d rather have your parents ground you than the police – the jail cell is very different.
However, society needs to realize that the words we use matter. When I jokingly call my sister fat, it’s extremely detrimental to her, even if I mean it as a joke. I abuse her, and I don’t realize it, because I don’t respect the weight that is behind words. There’s an old saying “There’s power in a name.” That goes for nicknames and name calling too. If you tell someone something enough, they’ll start to believe you, whether they want to or not.
It’s easy to say you lost your temper, and that’s why there are bruises. It’s easy to see the bruise, realize what you have done to your loved one, be horrified and want to change. But it is extremely hard to see the psychological bruises that emotional abuse leave.
Maybe if we understand what our words do and what it is when our words cause that damage, we can change, so we aren’t abusive in a way our parents never realized.
For more information on family violence, visit Futures Without Violence.