HA Editorial note: The author’s name had originally been changed to ensure anonymity. “Shiphrah” was a pseudonym. I am editing this today because I am ready to say that Shiphrah is me. I wrote this and asked that it was posted anonymously because I had only begun to explore the depths of my memories and my pain at that time and I needed an outlet to work through it. I no longer feel the need for anonymity, no longer am I afraid to claim the darkest parts of my story. I am Darcy, and this is my story and my pain and my healing. ~Darcy Anne, HA Editorial Team
< Part One
I grew up thinking I was unworthy.
Unworthy of love, nice things, friends, God’s favor. I strove to be the kind of person who would be worthy of these things, but always fell short. I did everything I could to look the part on the outside: I dressed modestly and acted like a godly young lady and played the part as best I could.
“Fake it til you make it,” my Mom liked to say to me.
My journals of that time are so filled with anguish and desire to be accepted and to be good. I can barely read them. I want to go back there and hug that girl and tell her that she WAS worthy, she WAS good, she was enough. But I can’t. I can’t go back there and comfort that girl with the broken heart that was broken by the ones who were supposed to protect it. I am left with the woman she has become. The woman who has had to teach herself how to be loved and how to accept worthiness and how to see herself and the world through different eyes.
When a boy fell in love with me, and I with him, they all did their best to convince him that I was a terrible, selfish person and he would be sorry if he married me. That they knew me better and I was just putting on an act to impress him. He was skeptical, but thought maybe they really did know better. So he watched me, befriended me, and realized I was every bit the person he thought I was and my mom and sister were crazy.
I coudn’t understand why he would persist in loving a person like me, but he did and it was such a wonderful feeling.
I was so afraid he would find out who I really was and would run far away. But that didn’t happen. We fought for our relationship against my parent’s wishes and we married very young and very in love. Not too long after we were married, we were talking and I said “Well, I am a selfish person”. He looked at me in surprise and said, “Why do you say that?” It was my turn to look at him in confusion and say, “Well, my mom and sister always told me I was selfish and I struggled my whole life to not be, but I guess it’s just who I am and I thought you knew that.” He took my face in his hands, looked right into my eyes, and said, “You are the most selfLESS person I have ever met. Never let anyone convince you otherwise. You can’t fool me. I know who you are. They don’t know who you are.”
I cried that day, at 20 years old, for the first time thinking that maybe I wasn’t the person my family had tried to convince me I was, that my religion tried to convince me I was, that I needed to hide and pretend not to be so people would love me. Maybe I really was loveable and the fact this man had married me wasn’t because I had fooled him into it. But it would be 5 more long years before I was able to clearly see how dysfunctional my past was, the part that fundamentalist religion and homeschool culture played, and began to heal and figure out who I was really and to fight for myself. It would be 10 more long years before I was able to put a label on the treatment I received from them.
Emotional Abuse. The systematic diminishment of another person….their worth, their dignity, their character.
“Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidating, or under the guise of ‘guidance,’ ‘teaching,’ or ‘advice,’ the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting than physical ones.” (University of Illinois, Counseling Center)
Spiritual Abuse. The use of religion and spirituality to control, manipulate, coerce, dominate, and beat down. To control behavior and thoughts by religion.
“Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.” (Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse)
I can’t tell you what came first: the dysfunction or the religion.
But they worked together to create a complete brain-washing and erasing of my self-worth and self-concept. Our religion taught that self-esteem was really pride and God hates a prideful heart. We were not to think highly of ourselves but to remember that we were nothing without God and probably nothing even with His help. To be told that I was a selfish, horrible person but that they loved me anyway “because you’re our daughter/sister” is no different than this view of God that makes us all worms who are only worthy of anything because God created us and therefore must love us. Turning the idea of a “relationship with God” into an abusive relationship between a narcissist and a victim. A manipulative power-play. Is it any wonder that “God’s people” turn out abusive when they see Him as such?
If I try to say any of this to my family, to recount my experiences and feelings, I am told I’m overreacting, too sensitive, too emotional, that these things never happened or “didn’t happen like that”. I’m told that even if they did happen, I should forgive and move on because family is the most important thing in life and I’ll regret making a fuss over the past. That I was raised in a good home and was loved and am ungrateful. I am denied, belittled, and word has spread that I’m a crazy, unstable person who has a chip on my shoulder and is trying to tear apart our happy family. But I am done accepting their definition of who I am, their portrayal of my identity.
I am not who they think I am. I am so much more.
I am worthy of love. I am a good person. I am a human being, wife, mother, and friend. I love unconditionally and fiercely. I fight for the people I love and for people I don’t even know because I desperately want them to know that they are worth it. I fight my own demons to give my children a healthy mother and so I can explain the scars to them someday and they can know that I valued them by valuing myself —
— That I fought for them by fighting for myself. That I broke the cycle.
“Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.
It’s time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self-respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to “forgiveness”—forgiveness of yourself.”
~Andrew Vachss, taken from this excellent website: The Invisible Scar.
“Shiphrah”, I hope you see this comment. Thank you so very much for sharing your story. I wish I could give you a hug. My story is so similar to your story, much of it nearly word-for-word, that it gives me chills and brings tears to my eyes. We are enough, and our children will know that they are, too.
I am blown away after reading this post and the first part to her story. Thank you, Shiphrah, for being so brave and sharing your story with us. It breaks my heart. I’m so glad that you see now that you aren’t selfish and you are loved.
After reading this, I feel like part of the chain slipped off.
I guess what I really wanted was for one human being to just acknowledge what happened to me- to US- back in the bad old days. And this story IS what happened.
You were raised by a narcissist as the scapegoat. Reddit subreddit raisedbynarcissts might be helpful for you.
This poem is written from an autistic’s point of view, but I think the themes and advice of the poem, especially the last stanza, could be helpful to anyone who has been emotionally abused.
You Get Proud By Practicing
by Laura Hershey, poet & Disability Rights activist
“If you are not proud
For who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
If every time you stop
To think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
With golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can get proud.
You do not need
A better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.
To be proud.
You do not need
A lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.
You do not need
To be able to walk, or see, or hear,
Or use big, complicated words,
Or do any of those things that you just can’t do
To be proud. A caseworker
Cannot make you proud,
Or a doctor.
You only need more practice.
You get proud by practicing.
There are many many ways to get proud.
You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,
Or playing guitar,
And do well or not so well,
And be glad you tried
You can show
Something you’ve made
To someone you respect
And be happy with it no matter
What they say.
You can say
What you think, though you know
Other people do not think the same way, and you can
keep saying it, even if they tell you
You are crazy.
You can add your voice
All night to the voices
Of a hundred and fifty others
In a circle
Around a jailhouse
Where your brothers and sisters are being held
For blocking buses with no lifts,
Or you can be one of the ones
Inside the jailhouse,
Knowing of the circle outside.
You can speak your love
To a friend
You can find someone who will listen to you
Without judging you or doubting you or being
Afraid of you
And let you hear yourself perhaps
For the very first time.
These are all ways
Of getting proud.
None of them
Are easy, but all of them
Are possible. You can do all of these things,
Or just one of them again and again.
You get proud
Power makes you proud, and power
Comes in many fine forms
Supple and rich as butterfly wings.
It is music
when you practice opening your mouth
And liking what you hear
Because it is the sound of your own
It is sunlight
Wen you practice seeing
Strength and beauty in everyone,
It is dance
when you practice knowing
That what you do
And the way you do it
Is the right way for you
And cannot be called wrong.
All these hold
More power than weapons or money
All these practices bring power, and power
Makes you proud.
You get proud
Remember, you weren’t the one
Who made you ashamed,
But you are the one
Who can make you proud.
Practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,
Keep practicing so you won’t forget.
You get proud
So Sad and so wearisome, to see the damage these fundamentalists do, back in the Middle Ages up the the present time. They are monsters. One reason why I refuse to attend church any more. I still have my belief, but might have been driven to dump God if I put up with those crazies another day. They make God look so rotten and it’s like they don’t care, or they are PROUD that their twisted ways have the effect of making God and Jesus repulsive to others. Do you still see your relatives ? There is a blog about narcisstic parents(I gave this to my room mate some years ago)called lightshouse blog, You will need to Google this if you want to see it…it’s been a while since I read it ans can’t remember the exact name but it’s close. In it, I read about religious narcissm- and it’s part of the list of personality disorders that go along with this. Many of the mothers in this category have something called Borderline Personality. Your folks may have this, too. Yes, they will defend/deny what they did to you, tell you it “never happened” and you can’t trust your memories, it’s slandering the family and God, blah-blah. Be prepared for some real pushback, as abusers don’t want to give up that rush they get from abusing you and you having to take it.