All of her life, Carrie moved within the shadow of her mother’s opinions. Nothing was ever significant enough for her mother to be neutral about. From the temperature of the room to the volume of the television to the position of the chair, Carrie’s mother altered her surroundings to fit her preferences. Other people simply were not consulted.
As a child, Carrie soon learned that it did no good to argue or attempt to explain her own opinions to her mother. Carrie felt her mother just wasn’t interested in what she thought. Depending on her mother’s mood, confronting her could bring disastrous consequences. It simply wasn’t worth the risk, not for Carrie or for anyone else in the family for that matter.
Resigned to always keep her opinion to herself, Carrie discovered as an adult that she had a hard time making decisions. Distrusting her own opinions, she would often look to someone else, a dominant personality, to validate her own thoughts and decisions. As a child, Carrie had learned she wasn’t a competent judge.
I once saw a sign that read, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as long as it agrees with mine!” This is the essence of the overbearing opinion. The sign I saw was in jest, but for the emotional abuser, this is a life statement. It defines how he or she views the world and everyone else in it.
Healthy discussion, on the other hand, allows for the expression of a variety of opinions on any given subject. Few things can be said to be black or white in reality. Most opinions are very personal and are derived through experiences, knowledge, and personal preferences. Because individuals are unique, the opinions they arrive at will necessarily be different. This brings variety, contrast, and flexibility, all of which enhance healthy relationships.
We communicate through facts, opinions, and feelings. Facts are jus that – indisputable segments of reality. “The sun is out, the sky is blue, and the birds are singing” could be facts about a day in the park. We also communicate through opinions. “It certainly is crowded here today” and “This is the best park in the city for taking a walk” are opinions based on experiences, knowledge, and personal preference. Finally, we communicate our feelings. “It makes me happy to see the ducks swim in the pond” and “I love to walk in the grass without my shoes on” are statements of feelings.
Statements of fact, the first example, rarely come under dispute. But opinions and feelings, the second and third examples, are subjective observations. They are personal perspectives on the day in the park.
The abuser with the overbearing opinion restricts the flow of free expression, treating his or her opinions and feelings as if they were as incontrovertible as facts. The personality of the abuser is superimposed onto the abuse, stifling the abused’s ability to bloom on his or her own. This robs the abused of the experience of trial and error, of exploring his or her own thoughts, likes, and dislikes.
Healthy give-and-take in relationships allows for an honest, gentle exchange of feelings and opinions. But when opinions or feelings are forced on us, we resist and often rebel. Not only are we not allowed to have our own thoughts, but we are forced to accept unfamiliar or unshared ones.
The above is excerpted from chapter 4 in Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Dr. Gregory Jantz.