Burn Anyway

I came across this little piece by Erin van Vuren the other day:

Its appearance on my computer screen felt like a moment of serendipity.

Fuck them. Burn anyway.”

These were exactly the words I needed to hear as I was, in that moment and in the last few weeks, experiencing some major insecurity about head/strong and about speaking up in general.

By choosing to make my experiences and my words public, I’ve had to push through a lot of fear. My anxiety creates a sense of fear around literally everything, but choosing to write publicly about my life—my past, my kids, my struggles, everything!—has essentially been a practice of putting something on a page, closing my eyes, and hitting “publish” before I chicken out or throw up.

That’s because the act of sharing something personal, of offering something authentic to the world, also means being vulnerable. And feeling vulnerable is a deeply uncomfortable feeling. Even more so when you are a person who has been taken advantage of in moments of vulnerability before.

The current authority on vulnerability is most definitely Brené Brown. Her amazing TED talk about vulnerability, aptly titled, “The power of vulnerability” has been viewed on the TED website over 38 million times. Her 1.2 million Instagram followers, plus her five New York Times best-selling books, attest to Brené Brown being a tour-de-force in her chosen field of study (not to mention the fact that she has a PhD in Sociology, is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and teaches at the university of Houston in Texas. No big deal, right?).

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brené Brown

I’ve put myself in a position where I feel excruciatingly vulnerable. I felt this way when I first started talking to friends and family about my mental health struggles and the issues in my marriage. I felt this way every time I went and spoke to a counsellor and tried to dig deeper into what was causing me so much pain and heartache. And now I feel this way every time I sit down to write, and especially when I share that writing here on my blog and via Instagram or Facebook.

I’d be lying if I said that writing for head/strong isn’t partially about creating a sense of catharsis for myself—it does help make me feel justified in my experience. But I think that’s a helpful thing for me and for anyone who reads this. I’ve learned that there’s a difference between writing for yourself and writing for an audience (thank you Janelle Hanchett) and for every post I make, I keep this guidance in mind and I try to tread the line between being vulnerable (and therefore, authentic) and not using my blog as a personal diary.

I recognize that I’m the one who has put myself into this very liable position. I could have continued to keep my mouth shut, keep my words to myself, and not allow myself to be vulnerable. I was pretty much a master at maintaining the status quo already (regardless of how much it was hurting me), and likely could have kept on maintaining.

Except that I couldn’t.

And also, I wouldn’t.

I mean, I won’t.

A fire’s been lit inside me (to reference back to the piece from Erin van Vuren) and now…well now, I’m not going to shut up.

I think my experience gives me something worth saying and I think that using my life as an example allows people to connect better with what I’m talking about. I’m trying to connect with emotional abuse survivors, mental health warriors, and the people who support them. This is a very courageous, yet delicate group of people. Trust definitely needs to be earned authentically, so I feel its necessary to share about my life. I need to show that I’m in the club too; I’ve lived what I’m talking about.

The flames that are now flickering with head/strong want to grow and I want to fan them and let things build into a flaming inferno (not to be dramatic or anything…). I want to become a powerful woman who uses her position of authority to accomplish something meaningful and head/strong is an avenue to do that.

So I’m stoking the fire. It was lit a few months ago, really, when I made my first post and committed to writing every week. The spark I struck by hitting “publish” that very first time has ignited a flame and I intend to grow that fire and burn the hell out of anything that gets in my way.

I let myself be full of ashes for most of my life, but I won’t allow my light to be dimmed again. I’m not going to stop burning, even if I’m afraid.

Because I think we need to talk more about emotional abuse.

We need to talk more about domestic abuse.

We need to talk more about mental health.

We need to talk more about single parents and divorce and writing and creativity and healing and struggling and we need to allow ourselves to come from a place of vulnerability so that we can authentically connect.

So look for big things. Watch as I fumble around and try to make head/strong grow. Stick with me (I hope) and be vulnerable alongside me. There’s beauty in the flames, remember?

xxJ

Burn, baby, burn.

Til Death Do Us Part

When you have a partner who is narcissistic or emotionally abusive and you make the choice to leave them, the advice that’s always given is to go “no contact” and cut them out of your life completely.

That would work beautifully as a solution to healing from the emotional trauma of being in a relationship with a narcissistic emotional abuser. Except…

What about when you can’t go “no contact”?

What about those of us who created beautiful children with terrible people? What about the women and men who have left an abusive partner but can’t fully escape them because of the children they share?

What about the people like me?


The single, most difficult thing about my life now is managing the co-parenting relationship I have with my daughters’ father. It feels like I continue to hold the vast majority of the parenting responsibility, as I always did, but am required to engage in a relationship with my children’s’ father, regardless of my history with him.

My struggle in this relationship is so bad that I’ve idealized the lives of other parents whose former partners have completely abandoned them and their children. I recognize (and empathize so much with) how incredibly difficult it must be for these parents, financially and otherwise. But I envy the freedom they have when it comes to making decisions for, and being caregivers of, their children.

I also envy my friends who got divorced BEFORE they had kids. In my mind, that type of divorce is akin to ending a middle-school relationship; you both move on and it never has to matter in your life again EVER. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it’s easier than divorcing when you have kids.

I don’t actually think of what my ex and I do as co-parenting. In fact, there’s a different term for the type of parenting we do: it’s called “parallel parenting.” “Parallel parenting” looks more like a business relationship than a typical parenting relationship. You detach from the other parent and operate separately, aside from making major decisions together. This article explains it much better than I can, but hopefully I’ve given you the gist.

Thinking about all this stuff makes me wonder, how do other parents manage when their partner is abusive? Whether that person is narcissistic, emotionally abusive, physically abusive, or just a shitty person…how do the non-abusive parents cope with an ongoing parenting relationship? Because it’s hard. It’s really, really, fucking hard. And it takes time to figure out ways of coping.

If you also need to continue engaging in a difficult relationship, I do have a few ways you can help minimize the effect it has on your day to day life. You can do things like…

  • Setting a specific ring- and text-tone for your former partner. This way, when calls or messages come in you know right away who it is and you can pause to prepare yourself before answering.
  • Bathing your children when they return home (or having them shower if they’re old enough) and washing the clothes they came home in. I find that scent is a HUGE trigger for me. If it’s a problem for you too, you can eliminate or reduce triggering smells by literally washing them away and the kids never have to be the wiser. All you need to say is “it’s bath night!” and that’s enough.
  • Doing all pick-ups and drop-offs outside your house or in a neutral location. Two choices here: either arrange to meet your ex and the kids somewhere close to home, but not AT your home, or move the pick-ups/drop-offs to your driveway. Again, this is about putting boundaries in your life (and your children’s lives) to keep you feeling safe and secure. Your home should be your sanctuary and if you feel threatened by your ex, inviting them in—or even just having them stand in your doorway—may be too much to ask of yourself. On top of that, and I may have some personal experience with this, opening the door to your ex may enable them to invade your space without permission. So do the drop-offs elsewhere and keep your space sacred (or at least douche-bag free).
  • A similar solution, if it’s possible with your kids, would be to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs around the school schedule so you don’t even need to face your ex at all. Yay!
  • Calling in the recruits! When you have to face your ex, having back-up in the form of another trusted person (a parent, new partner, or friend, for example) can help immensely. Not only is there strength in numbers (or at least that’s how it will look if there are two or more of you), having another person there holds both you and, more importantly, your ex accountable for what is said and done. (Soooo what I’m saying, really, is to make sure there are witnesses, because if your life starts to look more like a crime drama than an actual life, you may need them.)
  • Hiring a professional. If you have the funds, hire a parenting coach or counsellor and attend sessions separately (parallel parenting, remember?). Let the coach do the work of managing your ex’s outbursts, irrational behaviour, out-of-whack expectations, and all other forms of bullshit. If you do end up meeting as a group, you’ll have the counsellor or coach there to keep things on track and keep everyone feeling safe.

Telling abuse survivors who are parents to go no contact with our abusers is actually shitty advice We don’t get to go no contact—it turns out that when you have children with your abuser, “til death do us part” is a life sentence whether you stay married or not. Instead, we should be given tools and language that enable us to set up and, here’s the key part, maintain strong, healthy boundaries that protect us when we feel (or are literally) threatened. Life’s not as simple as just turning away from our problems and when you have kids, you always have to stare those issues straight in the face.  

xxJ


My home is my sanctuary. I feel safe here and my daughters feel at home. We can be secure in these walls no matter what else is going on.

I’m a Codependent

So I guess I’m into admitting things on here now…? Last week I came clean as a swear-aholic (damn right!), a few months ago I talked about being a perfectionist, and really the whole point of this blog was to come out as an abuse survivor and talk about it.

Well, it’s time to admit one more of my issues: I’m a recovering codependent.

It took me a long time to realize my issues with codependency. In fact, I had no idea what “codependent” meant until 2016 when it came up at the mental health day program I attended. I remember that day so clearly because when the clinician explained codependency to our group, I got shivers up my back: I had never been described so perfectly before.



(source)

Language has power, right? And so does knowledge, to paraphrase the familiar colloquialism. Coming to understand the word “codependency” and recognizing how I participated in codependent relationships…shit! It was eye-opening! And it allowed me to take a monumental step forward in my therapy work and in my recovery as an abuse survivor.

I now imagine a codependent relationship as a circle—it’s a revolving loop of two people who need each other in the worst possible way. I’ve come to believe that it’s also a form of self-medication; whether we are the person in the relationship who holds power or we are their victim, we’re still using another person to try to fulfill a need.

In emotional abuse, power-hungry narcissists create a “sub-reality” in which they gaslight, manipulate, use, or otherwise abuse their victims. Narcissists prey on passive individuals who often have a strong inclination towards being caregivers and once victims are convinced that we’re responsible for our abusers, the cycle of codependency is created.

But how can you recognize signs of codependency in your own relationship or with people you care about?

Never fear, I have a list! (Note: I’m going to assume in my list that you are looking to identify codependent tendencies in yourself, but you could easily interpret these when looking at someone else. Also, I use the term “partner” when talking about the other person in a relationship, but for most of these points it could also be your parent, sibling, friend, coworker, or another person in your life. Read it however you need to.)


How to Tell If You Are Codependent: A Handy List

1. You define your worth based on the opinions of others

More likely, on the opinion of one, specific person (i.e. your partner). Codependent people require external sources to tell them who they are and if or how much they matter.

2. You no longer trust your own experience.

You question your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours and always assume that you are wrong. You live with a deep sense of shame, guilt, or embarrassment, regardless of what you say or do.

3. You consistently put your partner’s needs before your own.

You never say “no,” you get things done regardless of your own needs, and if your efforts don’t “work” you become depressed and feel like a failure.

4. You cover for your partner’s shortcomings and feel responsible for their behaviour.

You come to believe that no matter how they act, your partner’s behaviour is a reflection on YOU because you have assumed responsibility for it. (Or rather, they have foisted the responsibility upon you and because you’re codependent, you accept it.)

5. You feel viciously abused by the mildest criticism.

This is because you’re working so damn hard to keep the person who holds the power happy and because you depend on them for your own happiness. In this situation it’s easy to begin thinking self-deprecating or suicidal thoughts, especially in moments when you feel criticized.

6. You seek permission from your partner before doing anything.

Since you can’t trust yourself (see #2) and you need the approval of another to let you know that what you’re doing is okay (see #1), you always have to ask for permission first. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, without your partner’s “okay” you can’t confidently do anything. (And it should go without saying that gaining this “permission” is often excruciatingly difficult.)

7. You are always afraid that your partner is going to leave you.

This becomes your worst fear and leads to doing just about anything in order to ensure that your partner stays with you.

8. You focus on your partner’s emotions and struggle to differentiate between how you feel and how they feel.

Instead of having your own thoughts and feelings, you become a mirror for the other person’s emotions.

9. You change your personal values for your partner’s.

You become utterly loyal to them and adopt their values as your own. You may take on their interests and hobbies and will quickly back off when challenged to avoid anger or rejection.

10. You have become hyper-vigilant and are compelled to keep track of your partner at all times.

You know their routine inside-out and backwards, you jump up as soon as they enter a room, you are constantly listening out for them, and you put significant effort into anticipating what they need before they even need it.

11. You’ve become controlling with others (NOT the person you are codependent with).

Since you feel so utterly out of control in your own life, you attempt to regain a sense of stability by exerting strict boundaries or expectations on other people, or in other places, in your life.

12. You avoid conflict with your partner at all costs.

Your #1 operative is to keep the peace with your partner, so you acquiesce, you give in, you avoid; you do whatever is necessary to make sure everything is “okay.”

13. You allow your body to be used for your partner’s pleasure.

Sex becomes an act of duty and you allow your body to be used regardless of whether or not you want to participate. You may fear your partner’s touch, but you’re simultaneously compelled to give in because you can’t say no and view sex as one of the things you “have” to do in order to keep your partner happy.

14. You participate in self harm in response to the codependent relationship.

“Self harm” can happen in many ways, but it is all an attempt to regain a sense of control (see #11). We typically think of self harm as cutting yourself, but it can also include bingeing on or restricting food, pulling out your hair, picking at your skin, forcing yourself to stay awake, exercising excessively, using drugs or alcohol, or engaging in any behaviour that intentionally causes your body harm.


I’ve heard it said that once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict, and I now know that one of my addictions is being codependent. I vividly remember living that way, but after a lot of very hard work, I’m now able to have healthy relationships instead of destructive ones.

I hope sharing this helps other people recognize codependency and take steps towards managing it in their own lives or with someone they love. Thankfully, I’ve been able to radically change my experience and the best advice I think I can give is to reach out, get help, learn more, and focus on your own needs first. You can overcome codependency. You absolutely can.

xxJ

Codependents; the modern day two-headed monsters. (source)

Why I Swear So Goddamn Much

(And Other Small Acts of Rebellion)

Hi. I’m Juliana and I like to swear. Like, a lot.

Okay, I’m not exactly Eminem or Lil’ Kim, but I do like to utter expletives on a fairly regular basis.

Some might think that doesn’t make sense… I’m a university educated individual who studied classical music and English. I have degrees in music and education, and an early childhood education diploma. I have two young daughters at home and I maintain a professional life as a music teacher and tutor, which involves presenting myself competently to parents and my fellow educators.

But, I still love to swear.

Especially on this blog, let’s be honest.

But why swear so much, Juliana? Why????

Because I fucking can!

Because I fucking didn’t before!

(Because I fucking couldn’t before!)

I grew up in a family that placed politeness at the top of the list when it came to expectations around behaviour. Unfortunately, because of my tendency to be passive, insecure, anxious, and an all-around goody-two-shoes, I deeply internalized this messaging and wouldn’t allow myself to do something so embarrassing or inappropriate as swearing, not to mention anything else that might be considered rude or attention-seeking. Tut tut. This tendency to avoid “inappropriate” language, carried forward into all my other relationships. When I got involved with my emotional abusers, I was held to a high standard of behaviour and was both implicitly and explicitly told that I shouldn’t swear, so I kept my mouth shut.

But times have changed…and I’ve changed! And now, I swear whenever the hell I want to!

I do it because it’s incredibly liberating and it’s a small act of rebellion against my abusive exes and my polite upbringing.

I spent my youth and young adult years swearing only in my head, silently enjoying the sweet sound of a well-timed “fuck” in the lyrics of a song I happened to hear, or quietly typing curse words in the poetry I wrote as an escape from my life. I spent those years being repressed in all ways and changing the language I use has been a small, but impactful choice I’ve embraced now that I’m on my own.

I’ve talked about the power of language before (here, here, or here, for example) because it’s an important tool for abuse survivors to use in their healing. Language is also something emotional abusers use to manipulate their victims. In my experience, abusers use their words to repress and reprimand, while elevating themselves by adhering to a completely different standard of communication.

Swear words have power. They hold weight. There’s a reason 10-year-olds whisper and giggle if they hear someone say “ass.” (Side note: I’ve learned that “bad” words completely lose their potency with children if you treat them like any other word and explain the contexts in which you should or should not swear. My daughters both know a bunch of swear words, but basically ignore them. In fact, they usually insist on saying “heck,” “dang,” or “darn” when they need to vent some frustration. Honestly, I don’t even know where they learned those words; Mommy uses the “proper” swears!)

Being liberal with my utterances of “fuck this” and “goddamn shit” has enabled me to feel a sense of power over my words again. And I take every opportunity possible to enjoy moments of feeling like I’ve re-claimed my life.

Swearing has the bonus of being a small act of rebellion within society too. I may look like a soccer mom, but I can sound like a total badass babe when inclined to do so.

I can think of other modest acts of nonconformity that I practice in order to feel a sense of control in my life again. Like, setting up my home and yard however I like and in spite of my nosy neighbours. I can hang pictures and art that I choose in the way I want, and I can cut my grass or plant my gardens however want to. I can make plans without getting permission to do so. I can walk around without shaving my armpits and not worry one damn bit about what someone else thinks! There are all these little, itty, bitty ways that I can subvert the expectations previously placed upon me and it feels so damn good! It’s like when you break up with someone and you feel sad, but then realize that you can now go to that Thai restaurant your ex hated but you love; it’s like that, only better.

So, fuck not swearing. Some people may not like my potty mouth, but then this blog isn’t for them! I think the people I’m closest to actually appreciate my new ability to be authentic. Especially because I’m not stepping beyond what would be considered appropriate; I’m just using my language intentionally and allowing myself to enjoy the satisfaction of calling someone an asshole when that’s exactly what they’re being.

Will you join me? Have you tried swearing more often and experienced the liberating effect of articulating yourself through curse words? I would highly recommend it. And if you’re not convinced, watch this famous video of Sir Billy Connolly describing the power of the words “fuck off” and get a better sense of their potency and maybe a chuckle or two as well.

If swearing isn’t a small act of rebellion that suits you, I encourage you to think about other ways can you reclaim your identity and exert a sense of control in your life. Abuse survivor or not, we can all do something to live more authentically and create some fucking space for ourselves in the big, wide world.

xxJ


Image credit: falseknees.com

1,040 Days

I was told it would take two years. “Two years,” they said, “and you will feel better.”

“In two years, this will feel normal and you will have healed and you’ll be happy and it will all be okay.”

They were wrong.

Because it’s been almost three years; 35 months, or 1,040 days, give or take, and I still hurt and it’s still hard and it still doesn’t feel normal.

There is no timeline for emotions. Our feelings don’t adhere to expectations placed upon them. They don’t care if we want them to go away. They don’t listen if we try to shut them out. True, we may be able to distract ourselves for a time, but in the end, our emotions make themselves known. And, in fact, when we attempt to suppress them, they always reappear with vehemence.

I think this is why emotional abuse is so hard to recover from. Physical injuries heal. Our bodies have an astonishing ability to look after themselves and heal the scabs and bruises inflicted upon them. But our feelings are different. Once they get bruised, the tender ache has no set timeline for when it goes away.

I was told at the beginning of my separation that it would take two years for me to “get over” the devastation of my divorce. I suppose my lawyers and counsellors and friends and family were well-intentioned in their attempts to both temper my expectations (i.e. it takes a long time to get over something like this) and give me hope for the future (i.e. this won’t last forever). Unfortunately for them, and for me, I’m the kind of person who clings too strongly to promises like that. I grab hold of expectations and stick to them like super glue, allowing them to set me up for acute disappointment. No one could guarantee when things would get “easier” but that’s what they tried to do.

It’s not fair to promise someone that their grief, or anger, or sadness, or even their joy, will last for a finite amount of time. We each move through our emotions at our own pace and no matter what, we can’t be rushed to overcome how we feel.

The emotional wounds abusers inflict upon their victims are what really make us suffer. And in my case, where I have children with my most recent abusive partner, I continue to face that person every day and there is no timeline for when that will change. I still struggle with relationships from high school; how can I possibly get over my ex-husband after just two years, when I have to engage with him all the time??

I know last week I wrote about love; about setting an intention to proliferate, seek out, and practice love in my life. And so the way that I’m showing myself love today is to notice that I am depressed and to allow myself the space to rest, eat good food, write, and sometimes cry; I’m letting myself feel how I feel because forcing a smile onto my face makes everything harder. When I pretend I’m okay, but really I’m not, it’s not good self-care. And I think that an intention to bring more love into my life includes loving myself no matter how I feel.

My kids have been gone for five days. I still won’t see them for another three. Was this the stuff that was supposed to get easier after two years? Was this feeling of devastation supposed to go away in those 24 months? Because I’m still sitting here, 1,040 days later, crying while I miss my children. And I still feel angry. And I’m resentful. And I hate being here alone.

There is no timeline for how we feel. So can we please stop trying to put one on those people whose emotions make us uncomfortable? Or those who are still struggling even though “enough” time has past? Those who are perpetually and authentically happy, but “should” be feeling something other than that? Or anyone whose feelings don’t mesh with ours, or whose feelings we don’t understand?

We can’t force others to follow an emotional agenda; feelings just don’t work that way.

xxJ

Life feels heavy right now and noticing that is practicing good self-care.

REPOST: looks like/sounds like/feels like

Re-posting this because Christmas time is ripe with triggers and puts many of us in close quarters with lots of people. If you or someone you love think emotional abuse is happening, this checklist can help you understand it better. Much to love to you all.

xxJ


People have a hard time understanding what emotional abuse is. In fact, I’m going to confidently state that most people really don’t get it.

Like, at all.

Because to most people domestic abuse = physical violence. To most people, domestic abuse is loud and nasty and BIG and leaves bruises and cigarette burns, broken lamps and smashed dishes and holes in walls.

And yes, sometimes (too often) domestic abuse is vociferous and physically violent. But what if I told you that domestic violence isn’t always physical? What if domestic abuse can be subtler? What if it’s relatively inconspicuous? What if the victim is so good at compensating and pretending that EVERYTHING IS OKAY ALRIGHT?! that no one has any idea what’s going on? (Not that I’ve ever done that before…)

I think emotional abuse is usually misunderstood because most people don’t realize that neglect or silence can be just as vicious as a punch in the face.

I  want to try to explain more about what emotional abuse is and how people may experience it, so I’ve drawn upon my past as a teacher and what follows is basically going to be like a kindergarten circle time where we all gather together to talk about what something “looks like/sounds like/feels like”. Except instead of discussing “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” or how a bean seed grows, we’re going to tackle emotional abuse. Decidedly not a kindergarten-appropriate topic (Or maybe it is? I mean, kids are never too young to learn about consent and showing respect!) but I’m hoping you’ll find it insightful.

So, come join me on the carpet. Please sit criss-cross applesauce with your hands in your lap, eyes up, and mouth closed…Ms. J is going to start the lesson…

Emotional abuse looks like:

  • Absence
  • Stifling
  • Codependence
  • Intense control
  • Financial control
  • Manipulation
  • Vindictiveness
  • Pettiness
  • Insecurity
  • Narcissism
  • Lack of intimacy
  • Withholding (affection, money, time, etc.)
  • Lack of consent
  • Isolation
  • Patterns of negative behaviour
  • Idealization
  • Chronic forgetfulness
  • Posturing
  • Grandiose gestures that are out of context or used as leverage
  • Forced affection
  • Saving face
  • Hypervigilance
  • Disdain
  • Perpetual indifference or apathy

Emotional abuse sounds like:

  • Shouting
  • Silence
  • Harsh words
  • Lies
  • Backhanded compliments
  • Gaslighting
  • Indignation
  • Name calling
  • Threats
  • Put downs
  • Reprimands or punishing
  • Criticisms
  • Punitive statements
  • Questioning
  • Comebacks
  • Rationalization of unhealthy things/ideas/behaviours
  • Scapegoating

Emotional abuse feels like:

  • Loneliness
  • Despair
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Craziness
  • Self-loathing
  • Low self-worth
  • Lack of purpose
  • Rigidity
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Needing to be in control
  • Surreal
  • Duress
  • Pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Stress
  • Being overwhelmed
  • Worry

People who exhibit these behaviours (or other similar ones) chronically are perpetrators of abuse. Those who struggle continually because of these feelings and behaviours, are victims of abuse.

My own experience of abuse was insidious and cumulative and I’m tired of feeling like I have to prove that my experience was real.

Emotional abuse looks/feels/sounds real.

Abuse = abuse.

And accepting that helps people like me by letting us know that what we’re going through, or what we’ve been through, is just as real as a punch, kick, or slap.

You can now un-cross your legs and go have free-play time. Just don’t hog the Lego table and remember to use kind words with your friends.

xx J

2018-07-24 13.24.28
Feels like belly rub time for my pup, Kara.

What NOT to Say to A Survivor of Emotional Abuse

I’ve been posting some pretty heavy stuff lately, so think it’s time to lighten things up and bring back some sarcasm. Adding humour to conversations about emotional abuse and mental health is something that’s always kind of “funny-not-funny” but I think we can laugh every now and then and not hurt our cause.

So today I would like to present to you, complete with the witty and charming commentary you’ve all come to love hearing from me,


Number 10: “Well, it takes two…”

Um, excuse me?

Whoever says this manages to both undermine the legitimacy of your experience and place responsibility for that experience on you, the victim. OBVIOUSLY relationships involve more than one person BUT only the abuser is responsible for their abusive actions. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it: you are only responsible for yourself, no one else! You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings, behaviour, or choices. Emotional abusers use tactics like gaslighting and playing the victim to convince you that everything is your fault and not theirs. There may be two of you in your relationship, and neither of you are perfect, but when you are being abused emotionally, you cannot be blamed for it.

Number 9: “No one’s life is perfect, so why are you complaining?”

Ugh. This one. The worst! Okay, well, one of the worst.

Saying this to someone is like when you were 6-years-old and refusing to eat your Brussels sprouts and your parents said, “There are starving children in Africa who would love to eat those” in an effort to guilt you into consuming what you’ve come to understand is a vile vegetable. (My adult-self now loves Brussels sprouts, for the record.)

Actually, it’s worse than that. Clearly anyone who says this has no understanding of what it feels like to be abused emotionally. When you come to someone and confide in them that you are experiencing abuse, there is no place for shaming. Yes, we all experience stress and hardship in our lives, but ABUSE IS NOT NORMAL STRESS OR HARDSHIP and therefore, it can’t be treated as such.

Number 8: “Couldn’t you just try harder?”

Wow. Okay, again, what a shitty thing to say to someone! When I was in abusive relationships, I worked my ass off to change them into healthy ones. I sacrificed and struggled and exhausted myself putting effort into making things work.

If your abuser isn’t putting equal effort in, or, if the effort they are putting in is narcissistic and hurtful, then it won’t matter how hard you try; your relationship will still remain abusive.

I think it is safe to assume that anyone who comes forward and says that they are being abused has spent an incredible amount of time and energy trying to avoid coming to that conclusion. So don’t say shit like this to them.

Number 7: “But how can you leave them? You have children together.”

There are probably lots of people who will disagree with me on this one and I’m betting some of those people have made the decision to “work through things” with their partner “for the sake of the children.”

I’m calling bullshit on that.

Who in their right mind thinks it’s better for kids to live in a dysfunctional home where one parent is being abused? What kind of model is this setting for those children? And why is it considered selfish to try to stop being abused?

Leaving an abusive partner when you share children is incredibly difficult; I know that firsthand. It’s not the kids’ fault and yet they have to endure the struggles of managing the breakup of their family. Some days I feel insanely guilty about putting my kids through a divorce, but then I return to the little mantra I made for myself: I would always rather explain why I left, than why I didn’t.

‘Nuff said.

Number 6: “But if you leave [insert name here], you’ll be all alone. Do you really want to be [insert age] years old and single??”

Fuck, it sucks to be a single divorcée! It especially sucks to be a single parent! Do you know what sucks worse, though? Being in an emotionally abusive relationship. As hard as it is to be alone, I would never EVER go back to my previous partners.

As if being single is someone’s primary concern when they come to you and admit that they are being abused! Please don’t say this to someone who comes to you looking for support. Just don’t.

Number 5: “Well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea…”

This one’s kind of the opposite of Number 6, isn’t it?

So someone’s just come and told you that they think they are being abused. Now is not the time to offer clichéd dating adages. Also, if someone has experienced emotional abuse with a partner, there is so, so much that they need to work through before they can feel safe and secure enough to trust somebody new. I’m not saying survivors don’t get into rebound relationships or go looking for another “fish” too quickly (yep, guilty of that!); I’m saying that to suggest that there are other, better fish out there in the sea, at a time when the fish this person had chosen has let them down and fucked them up monumentally, is completely inappropriate.

Number 4: “Suck it up; just get over it.”

In the most significant relationship of my life so far, I spent the majority of my time “sucking it up” and since ending that relationship, I’ve done everything in my power to “just get over it.” There is no magic way to recover from emotional abuse. There may not be physical reminders of a survivor’s experience, but emotional scars run incredibly deep and they have their own timeline for healing. Advising someone to “suck it up” is a callous and insensitive thing to say, no matter what they’re telling you about.

Number 3: “They didn’t actually hurt you, so it’s not abuse.”

Oh my goodness, this one drives me absolutely crazy! People don’t usually put it to words so clearly, but often there is a strong implication that emotional abuse doesn’t count because it wasn’t physical (something I argue against here).

If you tell an emotional abuse survivor that their experience wasn’t real, you continue the cycle of abuse by gaslighting them into believing your own misinformed perspective. I still struggle with accepting the legitimacy of my experience because I assume that since a) my former partners don’t recognize the abuse, and b) I have no police report, hospital stay, or physical reminders to show that I was abused, it must not count.

How messed up is that? I am literally writing a blog about my experience of emotional abuse and I continue to question my experience! No one who has gone through something like what I did should have to justify it with corporeal proof.

Number 2: “But he/she/they seem like such a nice person…”

Wow, gee, yeah…I guess since you think he’s such a nice guy, I must be totally wrong! Thanks so much for helping me see that!

I have heard this so many times in the last few years and it is infuriating.

Do you think an emotional abuser isn’t capable of “playing nice” outside of the home or wherever they proliferate their abuse? In my experience, emotional abusers are exceedingly talented at manipulating others, so they can seem “nice” when it serves them to do so. I was once told that my story couldn’t be true because my former partner was “so handsome and charming.” I think I threw up a little in my mouth when I heard that and it definitely set me back a few counselling sessions too.

Ugh. Let’s move on to number 1…

Number 1: “I don’t care. I don’t believe you.”

Clearly, this is the WORST thing you could ever say to a survivor of emotional abuse. I don’t think I need to say much more about it; survivors need to know that we have the love and support from the people we confide in. A much better response when someone tells you that they are being abused is to say, “How can I help and what do you need right now?”


Helpful? Not helpful? Fuck, I don’t know all the shitty things people say to each other! But I do know that there are lots of ways to mess up supporting someone who needs loving kindness after recognizing a pattern of abuse in their life. (If you think you need a better understanding of what emotional abuse looks like, check out my post “Looks Like/Sounds Like/Feels Like”.) 

I hope you laughed a little; I hope you thought more about what you could say to someone in need. I mean, no one’s perfect (see number 10) but we can all try to show compassion to those who come looking for support.

Emotional abuse = abuse. Period.

xxJ