For a long time, I didn’t identify with being abused. Not even because I thought what I’d experienced wasn’t abuse, because I suppose I did. But rather I didn’t think what I’d experienced was bad enough, because it wasn’t the worst you could imagine. I felt like I’d gotten off lightly in comparison to others, my story could have been much worse.
A friend recently asked me “do you not feel worthy of the title abused?”. It was a strange question, because I’d associate the word ‘worthy’ with a positive achievement… and sure enough, being abused doesn’t quite make my top 10. But she was right on the money. I did not feel worthy of that title, abused.
In my mind, abuse was a word reserved for the most harrowing ordeals – being physically beaten, raped, drugged, starved, enslaved and the like. I have not experienced abuse to this level and I dread the thought. How could I call myself abused and put myself alongside victims of these crimes and not feel like a fraud?
In times like this, I find that delving into the dictionary to understand the proper definition of a word helps bring clarity, and a greater depth of understanding. Even when I think I already know what a word means, I always learn something new. I looked at the definition for abuse, as well as what the words used to describe abuse meant…
Abuse – to misuse something. To treat with cruelty or violence, especially repeatedly or regularly
Cruelty – intentionally causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it
Suffering – undergoing pain, distress or hardship
Distress – extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain
These words hit home, and I am becoming more accepting of the title. Even moreso for the emotional abuse I’ve suffered. Emotional abuse still seems to be a tough one to crack, as it’s not as obvious as physical abuse.
This article explains it well:
“Emotional abuse is a painful pattern of serious abuse of which the primary effort is to control someone by playing with their emotions. We dumb down the implications of emotional abuse by mislabeling minor interactional issues as emotional abuse.”
The ‘minor interactional issues’ the article talks about can still be described as abusive behaviour in my opinion, but as they tend to be one off interactions (e.g snapping at your partner after a hard stressful day, swearing at a careless driver) they aren’t abuse as there isn’t an ongoing focused effort to control the other person, rather, they are just unable to regulate their own emotions in that moment. These definitions back me up:
Abusive – extremely offensive and insulting
Offensive – causing someone to feel resentful, upset or annoyed. Actively aggressive, attacking
Insulting – to speak to or treat with a lack of respect or scornful abuse
Respect – to consider for the feelings, wishes or rights of others
Consider – to think carefully about something, typically before making a decision
Emotional abuse has been a large part of my life. The more I understand it, the angrier I become. Not just at the individuals, but at the never ending cycle. Those that abused me only did so because of what they experienced growing up, so I’m mad at whoever crushed their spirits, and all those before them, that ultimately led them to crush mine. I’m angry that the whole world of emotions isnt better understood, and so the victims become the perpetrators because they don’t know how to stop it and behave any differently. I long to see emotional intelligence acknowledged, understood, nurtured and protected in school, for all those that will never get it at home, but despair at how far away the UK is from realising how vital that is.
So yeah, I’ve been abused. Thats still a strange thing to write. But it’s true. It was horrible and it’s stolen a lot of my life. I know I have many years left ahead of me, but I find myself grieving for the years that have been devoured by it, and the time spent now to recover from it.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for what I do have, and my story indeed could have been much worse. But do you know what? It also should have been much better, and for that, I feel entitled to my anger, disappointment and grief.