Last night I began to reflect on the underlying cause of my sleeplessness: my inability to separate emotionally from my parents and grandmother. Once I realized that this inability to separate from my abusers was the underlying cause of my physical illnesses, I was relieved because I knew it meant there was hope of solving the problem. My stomach stopped burning for the first time in many days, and I had a much easier time falling asleep last night than before.
I felt greatly alarmed and anxious when my mother left me a voice mail on Friday or Saturday, and when my grandma left me a voicemail on my birthday. I was so anxious and frightened by their attempt to contact me that I got physically ill. I don’t wish to have any contact with my family of origin at this time for two reasons: one, I don’t want them to know I am physically ill because I am sure they would use this information against me and try to manipulate me for their own ends. And two, I know that I am still so angry at my family of origin that I would yell at or abuse them if I had any contact with them. So for now I am continuing to maintain the no-contact policy with all members of my family of origin. I have followed said policy for six weeks now, and I intend to extend it for at least another six weeks or so.
My friend Z. reminded me of why I need to rigorously observe the no-contact policy with my family of origin. She has been struggling to separate from her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend, with whom she broke up six months ago. She maintained a no-contact policy with him for about a month, and then last week he called her by phone to tell her he was in distress. Unfortunately, she fell into his trap and took his phone call, and he managed to lure her back into his games of power and control. So no-contact means no interaction by any means. It includes obviously no phone contact but also no emailing, texting, and facebook contact as well. I deleted the voice mails from my mother and grandmother without even listening to them. By rigorously observing this no-contact policy with my family of origin, I allow myself the chance to heal from their abuse and to begin the difficult process of separating from them on the emotional level. I cannot safely embark on this recovery process as long as I remain in any form of contact with my family of origin. I will not allow my abusers to suck me back into their web of lies, deceit, and cruelty.
Last night I got very upset and tried to find a web site that would give me some sort of magic trick that would allow me to instantly separate from my abusers on an emotional level. In reading these web sites, I remembered that separation from abusers is not a one-time event but rather a difficult long-term process. I began to forgive myself for my emotional collapse and to treat myself with more mercy and self-understanding. And I found a wonderful web site for adult children of controlling parents which helped me realize I am not alone in my struggle to separate from my abusive parents. I highly recommend this web site for anyone else who is struggling with this problem. http://www.controllingparents.com/stylesof.htm
In looking at this information, I realize that my parents exhibit several forms of controlling behavior. My parents, particularly my father, practice the depriving style of parenting, where they deliberately withhold affection from their children. My father has consistently withheld his love and affection from me, making me feel constantly deprived of his love and causing me to suffer from a profound inner emptiness and sadness all my life. I have felt profoundly robbed of my father’s love, and this denial has caused me tremendous pain. It has also destroyed my interest in marriage and motherhood because it has left me feeling that marriage and motherhood are inevitable sources of pain and trauma for women rather than opportunities for self-growth.
One key aspect of this depriving style of parenting is that my parents have always practiced conditional love. They give me affection when I do something that pleases them, like cleaning my room, getting an A on an exam, or wearing clothes that they approve of. They give me affection when I follow their wishes by dating and seeking to get married and have children and by attempting to work in an office. They withdraw their affection once I stop wearing the clothes that they want me to wear, once I refuse to date and marry and have children. They remove their affection once I refuse to work in an office. So in their eyes I am not a child who is inherently worthy of their love and affection but rather an object for their control and power that they can use and exploit for their own advancement and pleasure. I grew up in an authoritarian home environment where really I had no right to think for myself and make my own decisions.
My parents are also abusive naturally. They do hold in their hearts a volcano of hatred and resentment against me which threatened to explode at any moment. The more that I began thinking for myself and making decisions that they did no agree with, the more emotionally and financially abusive they became. They ratcheted up their emotional abuse in a desperate attempt to regain control of me, occasionally varying the routine with false expressions of compassion which I now know they do not feel toward me. They also used money in an attempt to control me, taking full and cruel advantage of my financial dependence upon them. They tried to use my financial dependence upon them as a weapon to control me and force me to conform to their wishes. And when I refused to fulfill their wishes for me, they first stopped paying for my psychologist. Then they stopped paying for my psychiatrist. And then they stopped paying for my essential psychiatric medications. Finally they threatened to stop paying my food and throw me out of the house, and that’s when I finally reached a breaking point and decided to leave them.
My parents are perfectionistic in every regard. The only thing that made me worthy in their eyes was my intellect and my high grades in school and my acceptance into Brown University, an Ivy League university. Later on they became obsessive and perfectionistic about my physical appearance. In addition, they view me as defective from birth because I was born with mild cerebral palsy, and they used force in an attempt to coerce me into doing exercises. My parents never really let me be a kid and have fun – I was always having to perform or achieve for them.
My mother is also an emotional smotherer. She is overbearing and tries to intrude on every area of my life. Her actions in this area are less toxic because they’re more unintentional and do come from a place of love or compassion. But her actions also have dramatically reduced the scope for my independent development, which explains why I have had such a terribly hard time with emotional separation from my abusers.
These stats also helped me to put my parents’ emotionally abusive and controlling behavior into perspective and realize that I am not alone in having to battle controlling and cruel parents. My parents, especially my dad, are among the 100% of controlling parents who are completely unwilling to admit that they were ever wrong. For my dad, apologizing and admitting he was wrong is like a mortal threat to his manhood, to his identity. My parents cannot stand the thought of making a mistake, of anything imperfect ever happening to disrupt their perfect little world. Like 96% of controlling parents, my parents also tend to see the world in black-and-white terms. They accuse me constantly of rigidity, and yet their rigidity stands out overwhelmingly to me. http://www.controllingparents.com/Stats.htm
Like most of the controlling parents in this study, my parents did not encourage me to have contacts with others outside the family. Just 14% of these parents encouraged their kids to build connections outside the family. The abusive family is built on secrecy, and so it is no accident that abusive parents will deliberately try to discourage their children from having meaningful contact with the outside world. In addition, maintaining secrecy about their abusive practices requires them to limit their children’s interactions with the outside world. Every contact that their child makes with the outside world carries with it the risk that the parents will be exposed to the outside world as emotionally abusive and cruel parents who deliberately brutalize their children. The parents also fear that once the veil of secrecy is lifted on their abuse and outsiders find out what is going on inside their home, outsiders may challenge their abusive treatment of their child. And each time their child makes a friend in the outside world, the child’s chances of eventually separating from their abusive parents.
My parents were among the 95% of abusive parents in this survey who discouraged their children from expressing their feelings. As a consequence of his severely abusive childhood, my dad has almost no capacity to give or receive loving feelings from anyone. My dad becomes severely alarmed any time anyone tries to give him a hug or other loving, appropriate, non-sexual touch. And naturally my dad cannot allow me to express my feelings either because the expression of any kind of loving feelings is profoundly frightening, dangerous, upsetting, and threatening to my dad. Also once I have feelings of my own, then I also have thoughts and opinions of my own.
And my parents felt mortally threatened by my friendship and solidarity with Arabs and Muslims, which they wrongly interpret as a sign of my disloyalty toward my people the Jews. They cannot see that my Zionist convictions for Israel and my support for Arab and Muslim freedom in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt are two sides of the same coin to me. I left my abusers behind in large part because they threatened to expel me from their home if I maintained contact with my Arab and Muslim friends. I consider this decision on their part to be a profound affront to my freedom and dignity as a human being. This example demonstrates how my parents are among the 90% of parents who forbade me as a child from questioning and disagreeing with them. This example also shows how even now that I am an adult, my parents continue to treat me like a child and try to ban me from forming any opinions different from theirs and acting on those personal convictions.
The survey indicates that as children 96% of kids of controlling parents felt tense and on guard when their parents are around. Unfortunately, I have suffered such extreme, severe, and consistent emotional abuse that even as a 35 year old woman, I still feel tense and on guard when my parents, particularly my dad, are around. The abuse has left me profoundly scarred and upset in this way. I was also punished if I expressed anger or sadness, in line with the 96% of kids of controlling parents who felt that they were not allowed as a child to express anger or sadness.
In addition I recognize myself in other elements of this survey. For instance, 91% of adult children of controlling parents feel extra-sensitive to criticism. I find even constructive criticism hard to take because the only thing I ever consistently received from my parents was criticism and abuse. To a large extent, I still have little or no capacity to separate legitimate constructive criticism from destructive and abusive criticism. Therefore I tend to find all forms of criticism as threatening.
Like 78% of adult kids of controlling parents, I feel extremely tense when I think about visiting my parents. I feel so tense just thinking about my parents that I begin to sweat in my under-arms – and that doesn’t even count thinking about visiting my abusers. Just passing by my parents’ house without even going inside the house or seeing my parents two weeks ago was enough to send me into a week-long anxiety attack characterized by vomiting and sleeplessness. And I am way too frightened of my parents at this point to feel comfortable with the idea of visiting them under any circumstances.
Also I am among the 82% of children of controlling parents who have found it incredibly difficult to separate from my parents. I have only just barely begun to separate from my abusers now, and I am already 35 years old. By physically leaving my abusers, I have begun to separate from them at long last. However, I now realize that the emotional separation process will be a lot longer and more difficult than the physical separation process was. And so I have to be patient with myself.
Last night I discovered the Catharsis Foundation. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia it is designed to be an international forum for adult survivors of child abuse to speak up about their experiences. I highly encourage all adult survivors of child abuse to visit their web site at http://www.catharsisfoundation.org. I found they have links to a wonderful list of books written by adult survivors of child abuse. Most of the books were written by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and I could only feel great outrage and compassion for these people. I feel lucky to have been spared this particularly horrifying form of childhood trauma. The authors came from Ireland, Lebanon, India, Canada, and the USA. I felt an immediate and instant kinship with the survivors of this abuse, and I enjoyed this site a lot.
Today I was speaking to a British Face Book friend who is a survivor of domestic violence. She told me that UK shelters offer something called the Freedom Programme, a 12 week course that teaches survivors about the broader social context of domestic violence. You can find out more information about it here at http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/. It looks like an interesting program, so I ordered a digital copy of the Home Study Course and the textbook for a total of $16. I plan to look at it tomorrow. This is a great example of how survivors from around the world can network to help each other.
A few days ago, I was speaking to a Pakistani Sunni Muslim friend of mine on Face Book. Unfortunately, he harbors the same basic bigotry against Shi’ite Muslims that I used to hold toward Christians. He constantly tells me how much he hates Shi’ites and how they are all deceptive liars and how much he wishes he could carpet-bomb Tehran and other areas containing Shi’ite Muslims. He told me that he is angry at Shi’ites because his Shi’ite classmates in school used to bully him. I told him in response that he needs to recognize that Shi’ites are human beings, even if he does not like them. I also told him that I think I know what he is feeling about Shi’ites because I used to feel the same way about Christians.
I was severely bullied, shunned, and taunted in high school by my Christian peers in a Christian high school, and this traumatic experience left me with a profound hatred and fear of Christians which lasted for a very long time. It took me many years of healing before I felt comfortable socializing with Christians again. I remembered the kindness of the female minister in my high school, but it wasn’t enough to outweigh the overwhelming cruelty I suffered from Christians at that time. I came into the work force, and I had a wonderful boss who was a true Christian and gentleman in every sense of the word. And even where my job situations didn’t work out, I came to realize that my inability to function in the work force had nothing to do with my religion and everything to do with my lack of social skills. I remember many employers who kindly indicated that they had no problem with my Jewish observances although they didn’t end up hiring me for other reasons. In recent years, I also began interacting on Facebook with evangelical Christian supporters of Israel and was amazed by their genuine empathy and solidarity with Israel and the Jews. I was also amazed by the fact that they didn’t attempt to convert me to Christianity and showed total respect for my Jewish identity.
And then I came to stay at HOEF. And I have felt loved and embraced by literally every single resident, staff person, and manager at HOEF. I have felt loved and embraced by the executive leadership at HOEF: Julia, Gisel, Marie, and board member Ibis. I have felt deeply loved and supported by residential director Bev and her daughter Kristin. I have felt loved and embraced by C and her daughter S; by R and her four daughters, and by former residents such as A. And every single one of these people except for Marie is Christian, whether they consider themselves Christian (Protestant) or Catholic. And although I don’t eat bacon or pork in accordance with my Jewish beliefs, I could not feel more loved and embraced here if I tried to do so. I think we are a loving fellowship of Christians and Jews brought together by our common womanhood and our desire to help and empower abused women and children to live happier, healthier lives.