Whats in a name?
As a current therapy client, I spend a lot of my time recounting my childhood and piecing it all together. This is despite family members telling I should move on because ‘it was all such a long time ago’ and I need to move on, or just ‘sit down and talk’ with those who are not sorry and continue to abuse. This dismissal itself functions as another reason why I need to comb through the past, to live in it in therapy sessions and beyond.
Because naming is important.
Naming something as abuse allows the healing process. It allows you to feel ‘no, ‘’jokes’’ about my appearance aren’t ok’, or my mother stealing my communion money to pay for her affair wasn’t ok, or to be threatened with ‘assessment’ each time I reacted to abuse was really not ok. It brings the abuse to light, to shine a spotlight on how damaging each joke, comment, or threat was, and how interconnected it all is. It gives me back a feeling of control, and provides strength:
I wasn’t actually mad, I wasn’t a bold child, I wasn’t a problem child.
I was subject to abuse, and surrounded by enablers of abuse.
Instead of being loved, I was emotionally abused.
I was abused.
This is hugely powerful to say, and an important part of the healing process is that verbalisation, that verbal spotlight on the ugliness. It gives the abuse a place on the red carpet, looked at with nowhere to hide, instead of rolling that carpet out over it and allowing it to fester underneath. Unseen and unnamed abuse lingers on underneath, and will continue to cause damage until that carpet is rolled back and the light pours in.
When she tells me it was all so long ago and to move on, I can see this now as gaslighting, minimising the pain and positioning me as the problem, once again. Instead of repressing the abuse, and playing nice to keep the peace, I am disrupting the status quo, no longer willing to be the family’s punching bag. I see it now, I see the triangulation that my mother used, in telling me other family members didn’t like me, I see the belittling used to keep me in my place. I cannot unsee it now, cannot allow them to do it anymore.
Learning terms such as scapegoating, gaslighting, triangulation, narcissistic injury all feel like lightbulb moments. It is a forceful realisation when it clicks into place, a realisation that comes sometimes violently like a punch to the stomach, heart and head at the same time. It can stop me in my tracks, and make me break down in tears, crying for that inner child treated so badly, so scared and alone. I feel anger that it was deliberate, relief that it wasn’t imagined, and grief for a family love that never existed, and sorrow in the realisation that it never will. It is heart breaking, soul breaking trauma. It’s not over thinking, it’s not causing trouble, it’s not causing drama, it’s not being difficult, or any of the myriad putdowns and insults levelled at me when I tried to stand up to them. Its healthy to say no. Its healthy to say ‘this isnt ok’. Its healthy to make the connections between all the jokes, comments, threats, dismissals, and see it as abusive. It’s not healthy to continue to allow it to take up such devastating space in my life anymore.
Naming abuse allows for boundaries to be set, for healthy separation and to identify what you will and will not accept. Boundary setting as an adult with no experience of childhood boundaries is a difficult process, but it is a process of containing the terror felt around the abusers, of protecting yourself. Making yourself safe around people who never made you feel safe is a huge task, one that is emotionally difficult and provokes feelings of quitting and just going back to being the scapegoat. But it is a task that carries huge rewards, paving the way for new beginnings.
There’s no going back once you take it out of the shadows and name it.