Lingering Effects of Child Abuse: How Do I Get Out of Abusive Relationships?

by L.P.
(Charlotte, North Carolina, USA)

My mother is now 88 years old - my sister is 60, I am 56. My sister is still holding a grudge over things that I did when I was a teen. She states that I was the one that was always getting into trouble, I was the one that lived with guys, I was the one that did this and did that. My mother is still letting, not only me, but others know about things that I did when I was little. Both of them have not let up.

I recently wrote an email to my sister, stating that I humbly request her to not send any additional insulting emails to me and that she should find other things to do with her time than to rehash the past. I told her that what I did in the past was my life and that it had nothing to do with her. I told her that she is a negative individual that just likes to hold a grudge and pick on a sore. The fact that she still continues to bring up things that happened over 50 years ago has led me to feel very bad about myself.

I would love to cut all ties with her and my mother, however, I do have a wonderful son who now is 17, and have wanted him to feel like he's had some sort of family (which only is an illusion). Thank goodness both of them live in another state.

I can see how childhood insults can really stay with a person emotionally, even when you are an adult. This has colored my entire life, the types of men that I chose to replay my childhood out with - and to this day, unfortunately, I have chosen an emotionally abusive man to live with. I want to change things, however, I can not financially afford to do so. Please help me figure out a way to change my life and get out of abusive relationships.


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Aug 06, 2008
Part 1: Abusive relationships...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

L.P., when we make choices for ourselves that are either destructive or unhealthy, we must look inward in order to effect change. Sometimes that inward glance is more than we can bear, because doing so dredges up the past, a past that most abuse victims would rather forget. But it is the "trying to forget" mindset that gets that person in more trouble as life goes on.

Child abuse victims have it doubly hard; not only do they have to overcome the abuse they dealt with as children; they also have to re-program themselves to understand they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. All too often, they themselves continue to treat themselves the way they were treated as children: as undeserving and unworthy of love, nurturing, support and encouragement. They live out their lives in a self-fulfilling prophecy, because they don't really believe they deserve better.

L.P., you say you can't financially afford to get out of your abusive relationship. I've known women who have left abusive relationships with only the clothes on their backs. I've known women who have left abusive mates with not enough change in their pockets to make a phone call. I've known women who have left their abusive partners with no job skills, and no prospects in obtaining job skills. What motivated each of these courageous women was that NOT leaving meant they continued to expose their children and themselves to abuse. These women realized that NOT leaving was teaching their sons how behave as abusive husbands, and teaching their daughters how to be victims.

Statistics reveal that married women in abusive relationships on average go through the cycle of violence (triggering episode, violent/abusive act, honeymoon period) 35 times before finally leaving the abusive relationship for good. All of these women are riddled with fear. Many of them feel trapped for one reason or another, the financial situation being near the top of the list. These fears and feelings of being trapped, among other reasons, are what necessitated women's shelters.

The best advice I can give you, L.P., is to seek out some form of counselling so that you can start rebuilding (or perhaps just plain old "building") your self-esteem. You've started the building/rebuilding process by setting boundaries with your sister for the way she continues to rehash the past. Don't stop now. You—and your son—are worth far too much to allow yourself to be treated with indignity.

Part 2: As for your sister and mother...
follows below.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Aug 06, 2008
Part 2: As for your sister and mother...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

I have a suggestion, but you may have difficulty with it; I'll be upfront about that. It requires that you set aside your own emotions for a time.

I've had great—and I do mean great—success with such situations in my life by putting myself in the shoes of the person who continues to do the rehashing. Instead of focusing on my feelings when the past was dredged up, I focused on how the other person felt. Allow me to elaborate using one example from my own past...

As a little girl, I basically grew up with—I'll call her Gabrielle. Gabrielle was forever in my shadow. I was 2 years older, and had the benefit of her mother's ear and attention because I was a very talented work horse, and because her mother knew my mother was extremely demanding of me. Gabrielle's mother took care of me when my mother was ill, which was often; she tried to make up for my mother's shortfalls, but she did so at the expense of much-needed attention for Gabrielle. My own mother had not only physically and emotionally abused me and neglected me; she used me like a slave. As a 6-year-old I could scrub a toilet so clean you could eat off the ruddy thing. I could make a bed, complete with hospital corners and sheets so taut you could bounce a dime off of it. This all served to elevate my status in the eyes of Gabrielle's mother, indeed, many mothers, except my own. Even in adulthood, Gabrielle kept trying to get me to admit to all my childhood wrongdoings: I wasn't the person her mother thought I was; I was immoral; I'd made choices that in the eyes of God were going to send me to hell; and on the list of grievances went.

One day, instead of saying to her, "I was a child" or "I was troubled" or "I really didn't know any better" I tried an approach that addressed how she, Gabrielle, had been impacted by my behaviour or presence. I said, and meant, words to the effect: "That must have left you feeling betrayed, Gabrielle. You didn't deserve that. Your mother should have been there to listen to you."

Using this approach, not just with Gabrielle but with others as well, made all the difference. Once their emotional needs had been acknowledged, we were able to move forward in the relationship(s). And it really cost me nothing, L.P., just a bit of heartfelt empathy. Yes, there were many incidences that needed "addressing," but it made me realize the pain of others. It made me realize that when I focused the attention on their pain, it didn't take away from mine; rather, it further helped me deal with mine. Perhaps utilizing such an approach would be helpful with your family situation, L.P. But again, it's only a suggestion. Even in my life, I have found it necessary to distance myself from certain people.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

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