What You Can Gain from Abuse

The experience can make you super, or destroy you.

Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

Child abuse makes it a lot easier to fire people. Even if they’re in the hospital. Being a heartless bitch when called for, it’s one of the many superpowers I gained as a survivor.

One spring, an instructor I supervised got into a bad car accident. When I took over her class, that’s when I found out she hadn’t been doing her job. Her students didn’t even have a syllabus.

After ten weeks, she hadn’t graded a single assignment.

The students were pissed. This was a creative writing class, dammit, and they wanted to know if they had futures.

Later that week, I was obliged to pay the instructor a visit. So I handed her some gift shop flowers and said, “I met with your students yesterday.”

Her face went white. “Oh,” she said. “How did it go?”

“Not well.” I sighed. “Listen, do you have a grade book or anything? It’ just that none of them have any work.”

The instructor slowly shook her head. For a few seconds, she stammered. A normal person might’ve felt bad for her. But those neurons were burned out of my brain long ago.

Still, I’ve learned how to be civil. So I shrugged and said I’d handle it. On my way out, she asked “Am I fired?”

To which I answered, “Basically.”

No, it didn’t go down exactly like that. But pretty close. You see, the local newspaper did a story about this teacher. Everyone in the department talked about what a great teacher she was.

I was the only one who asked, “But what exactly do you know about her teaching?” They paused and said — actually, not that much.

Ah, child abuse had also given me X-ray vision. Otherwise known as the ability to see through other people’s bull shit. When you grow up with an abusive parent who had borderline personality, followed by schizophrenia, your life depends on spotting manipulation.

1. Mind Control.

Most people never encounter an objective yet personal description of child abuse. Allow me to give you an immersion experience. First, your mom doesn’t hit you. She just pushes you.

And if you fall, it’s your fault. You’re so clumsy.

She empties the contents of the fridge and cabinets at you one afternoon, because you asked for a glass of milk.

Oh, you want milk. Huh? Here you go!

Ten minutes later, you’re huddled in a corner on the kitchen floor. The wall looks like a Picasso.

An hour later, your mom apologies. She asks for a hug. Says she loves you. But only because she wants your help cleaning up the mess.

You want the hug so bad. This is why you agree. You also promise not to tell anyone what happened — including your dad.

And especially not your teachers.

Your mom does all kinds of nefarious shit, and asks you to keep secrets. About her private mailbox. About the money she spends. That’s how she winds up $40K in debt, and then blames you.

You’re ashamed to bring friends around. On top of that, she plants doubt in your mind about them. “They’re stealing your toys,” she says one afternoon. “And you’re such an idiot, you let them.”

To win back your mom’s respect, you subject your friends to an interrogation and a pat down. You accuse them of stealing your stuff. It’s complete nonsense, but you believe it. Why would your mom lie about that? And just like that, no more friends.

Strangely, you pick up multiple super powers from these moments. Your mom accidentally taught you the basics of mind control, as well as the ways to resist it in the future. You understand when someone’s trying to use your doubts and insecurities to their own advantage. Sure, sucks that it was your mom. But plenty of people never form these abilities.

2. Telepathy.

But wait, there’s more. Your parents put you on diets. Not because you’re overweight. They’re just afraid you might get there.

When you make straight As, they plan fictional parties and then cancel them. One time, you drop a glass. Your mom screams for hours. She pretends to call Pizza Hut. Tells an imaginary manager over the phone to cancel the party. Send everyone home.

That’s right, all your friends were waiting. But you dropped a $5 glass on the floor, and it shattered.

You really let everyone down.

Your dad sits you down for a lecture. “You have to pay more attention to what you’re doing,” he says. So you don’t drop dishes.

They cook ham for dinner, your least favorite food. It’s not exactly sending you to bed without food. It’s the gaslit version— where you have a choice between eating something that makes you gag, and just going to bed hungry. So you just go to bed, thinking everything’s your fault.

Later, you realize there was never a pizza party in the first place. Your mom simply felt guilty, then found a way to project it on you.

You got conned, bitch.

The upside, another superpower. Mind reading. You know when someone’s trying to pull a fast one. Sooner than everyone else.

3. Bullet Proof Skin.

Abusive parents tell you it’s normal. “My mom used to slap me for mispronouncing words,” they say. “You have no idea how lucky you are. You really don’t.”

They offer to play video games with you when you’re sick. But if you cough too much, they’ll get angry and throw the controller at your chest. When you cry, they’ll make fun of you.

Your mom might do an impression of you crying. She might say, “That’s what you look like. So stupid.” And your dad will roll his eyes. He won’t do anything, though. Because he agrees.

You do look dumb — especially when you cry.

So naturally, you learn to stop crying. Doing that isn’t easy. It requires you to stop feeling. But once you manage that, things become so much easier. After you stop feeling, you can’t be abused anymore.

Meet your next superpower, bullet proof skin. If even your own parents can’t pierce you, then nobody can.

4. Super Strength.

Your newfound lack of emotion also makes you feel powerful. You join the track team, despite your parents’ objections.

Part of you realizes they don’t want you to become stronger. So now you’re especially eager to join.

Your parents refuse to pick you up from practice. Or they say they will, then conveniently forget.

So you start running home, even though it’s an extra three miles. This makes you even stronger and more resilient.

Do you run home with your book bag? F*ck, no. You hide that in the bushes. Once home, you fetch the car. You pick up your pack.

Your track coach makes everyone do strength training — even the girls. Soon, you can do pull ups.

You can do sit ups and crunches for eight minutes. Not bad for a girl.

Around then, your mom starts to act a little scared around you. You’re not clumsy anymore. In fact, you’re kinda fast now.

You’re 15, and she tests you. Gives you a push. You don’t fall this time. In fact, you push her back. You tell her to f*ck off.

And she listens. She says, “Jeeez, you’re a moody little bitch.”

You let her have the last word. Because you know that if she tries that again, you can lay her out. As a bonus, puberty really treated you right. Your dad backs off about your weight and bone structure.

5. Extreme Adaptability.

Abusive parents like to remind you it’s not that bad. Stop being so melodramatic. Things could be worse. They’re partly right. After all, you could be poor. Or one parent could develop a mental illness.

And then things get worse.

Your mom enjoys her first schizophrenic episode.

Then your brother comes along. He’s been in the background until recently, but now he’s walking and talking. Going to school. Getting in trouble with the teachers. He gets away with everything, though, and you hate him for it. Once, he kicks your mom in the stomach.

Nothing happens. He’s going to get out of jail free. So you become the disciplinarian. You slap your brother.

And you tell him to apologize.

You tell him to apologize to the mom who abused you for years. Because she didn’t abuse him, after all.

You’re 16 now, and you’ve taken on most — if not all — of your mom’s responsibilities. You buy the groceries for the whole family. You do the laundry. You cook the meals.

Later you feel guilty about the slap. You vow never to touch your brother again, even when he acts like a little c*nt. After all, you can’t turn into your mom. You have to transform into something else.

6. Your Hidden Weaknesses.

You have to remember your abuse. Not for pity. Not so you can feel sorry for yourself. But because it explains so much about you.

It explains why you don’t apply to the best universities. Your parents tell you not to bother. They can’t afford the tuition, and you’re not special enough to win a full ride at someplace like Johns Hopkins. You ignore your friends and teachers and advisors.

It explains why you almost drop out of college.

It explains why you don’t harass your undergraduate thesis advisor to do his job. Yeah, you write an undergraduate thesis. You defend it. But you let your advisor miss the deadline for signing the cover page. You figure it must be your fault, and you don’t want to make him angry. And so you don’t graduate with honors. You pretend it doesn’t matter.

It explains why you only apply to three master’s programs, even though everyone tells you to apply to ten.

It explains why you’re scared to ask your graduate thesis committee to write recommendation letters for jobs.

It explains why you turn down an offer from your top PhD choice, and let your professors berate you for under-performing.

It explains why you see a hidden agenda inside every compliment.

It explains why all of your relationships last three weeks. Then one finally lasts a couple of years, and he dumps you. Why? Because he can’t get you to open up about anything. So he starts cheating.

It explains your nightmares. Like last night, you dreamed about being chased by panthers with human skulls for heads. Dozens of them. Even in your dream, you wanted it to happen. You secretly enjoyed it.

It’s why you spend a year as an adjunct, teaching all day and reading all afternoon, and writing all night. You figure yourself out. You realize you have all these superpowers, but you’re not using them.

Doing that helps you learn to harness your abilities. You’ve been super this entire time, and just didn’t know what you were capable of. Oh, and it explains why you like origin stories so much.