Drew stopped as he walked past Caleb’s room, straining to hear if Caleb was playing one of his video games with the sound turned down. Drew’s anger, still simmering close to the surface, was ready to blow if Caleb was being disobedient. Listening intently, Drew could hear muffled sounds coming from inside the room. With a shock, Drew realized those muffled sounds were his son crying. He heard his son punching, probably his pillow, and saying over and over again, “You’re so stupid! You’re so stupid!”
Instantly, Drew was transported back almost twenty-five years to his own room, to his own frustration, to his own realization that he just wasn’t as smart as he needed to be. Now it was happening all over again with Caleb. How had he let this happen? How had he made his son feel so bad about himself? He just wanted Caleb to do better than he had at his age, yet he’d made his son feel worse.
There comes a point in a person’s life when that person says, “Enough.” Each person needs to decide where that point is. Once that point is reached, the person is ready to commit to the kind of changes necessary to remake life and relationships. Sometimes that point is reached by looking into a mirror. Sometimes the point is reached when a person realizes there is more to love than what they experienced.
When a person comes to understand that there is more to love than what they experienced, this knowledge can be devastating. Acknowledging a past in which emotional abuse was present means acknowledging a damaged past. We have seen adults cling desperately to the illusion of a loving childhood with excuses such as, “It wasn’t so bad. He was only trying to help.” Or, “She just didn’t know any better.”
One of the core traits of a dependent personality is difficulty accepting challenging or disturbing truths about self or others out of a need to maintain the status quo. To cover over the harsh reality of an emotionally abusive past, the person seeks to redefine the emotionally abusive behavior as loving and necessary. The only way to justify the necessity for such harsh behavior toward self by another is to agree through self-condemnation. In the warped view of childhood, a loving parent was still possible, if only the child had been good enough. The fault, then, lies with the child, and accepting fault keeps the dream of a loving parent alive.
This is the sliver of hope that emotionally abused children cling to. To finally admit, as an adult, that there was nothing they could have done to win that parent’s love or acceptance is to crush that fragile sliver of hope. Emotionally abused people often must believe love was a possibility then in order to believe that love is a possibility now.
That fragile sliver of hope may be crushed by an acknowledgment of emotional abuse, but hope need not be completely lost. By giving up the illusion and accepting the truth, you can finally turn your energy toward learning to live with that truth. By giving up promoting the lie, you can choose to examine all the facets of the truth.