I distinctly remember a moment when I was perhaps two or three years old.
It had occurred to me that my parent’s had stopped saying “I love you,” to me. What did this mean? Had they just forgotten? Had I done something wrong?
So tiny little me formulated a plan. I was still at the super-cute-toddler stage and I’d still get a kiss on the cheek if I climbed up on anyone’s lap. I decided that any time anyone kissed me I’d say, “I love you, too.”
But they still didn’t say it back.
As the years passed things only got worse. I was the victim of a constant stream of emotional abuse. My dad drank – a lot – and often gambled away our money. Periodically he’d come home drunk and beat my mother in front of me.
My mother either used me as an emotional pawn to try and get my dad to behave, or blamed me to my face when he didn’t. My dad made it abundantly clear in a million different ways a million different times that I was at best an inconvenience, at worst a lazy worthless drain on the family.
I wasn’t routinely physically abused, however I did get a few very excessive spankings as a smaller child and one physical attack as a teenager that left handprints on my face. My dad is 6’5″ tall, and when he berates you he puts the full force of his size behind it. He makes it seem that he could turn violent and truly hurt you at any moment. This threatening verbal assault was very common the entire time I lived under their roof.
The message I got from them was very clear: you are not worthy of our love.
Connecting The Dots Via Tarot
So as I’ve written previously, this past weekend I attended a memorial service that he was also likely to attend. It was to be the first time I’d seen him since his abuse went too far and I ceased all contact.
Since I was in Asheville, I stopped into Raven & Crone, where Heather Gaffney-Darnell was on duty for Tarot readings. (Reach her here: https://www.facebook.com/Phoenix.nest.healing/ . This was the best reading I’ve had. Ever. )
Heather picked up on my prior abuse, and as we talked toward the end of my reading and I mentioned my time in the UPC cult she said something interesting – that the abuse I suffered growing up made it that much easier for me to be sucked into an authoritative, abusive cult experience.
Guess What? Science!
Just today I stumbled across an article that backed up everything Heather said to me.
In How Childhood Abuse Becomes Self-Abuse, Darius Cikanavicius says,
When a child goes through an abusive experience, it usually results in deep trauma. More often than not, however, it is unrecognized and the child is unable to process it properly. Instead, a child dissociates from it to cope with this overwhelming experience.
This is encouraged by the caregiver who is, oftentimes, directly responsible for the traumatic experience because they are unwilling or unable to properly empathize and care for their child. A child may be told that they are bad, that they deserve it, or that it’s their fault. Sometimes the damaging messages are implicit such as when a child is ignored, neglected, or rejected for being themselves.
In our culture the caregiver is still highly protected, and the child—and the child’s sanity and dignity—is sacrificed in the process. “They did the best they could,” “They are your parents,” “They didn’t mean to,” “These were the times,” “They didn’t know any better,” “Honor thy mother and father,” “How dare you talk badly about your family!” “This person would never do that!” and so on, and so on.
Or course, I’ve heard every one of those excuses regarding my parents. I still hear them by relatives who wish I would just shut up and stop rocking the family boat.
According to Cikanavicius, however, this doesn’t just go away when we reach adulthood.
At some point the child consciously or unconsciously may think, “Why don’t you love me?” “Why didn’t you protect me?” “Why did you hurt me?” “Why do you disregard my emotions, thoughts, and preferences?” But these questions easily morph into certain beliefs. “I am unlovable.” “I am worthless.” “I don’t matter.” “Nobody cares about me.” “I deserve it.” “I am bad and inherently defective.”
Of course, it’s that last one that leaves you wide open to Christian spiritual abuse. The core doctrine of Christianity is that we are born defective, worthless sinners who can only be saved by the grace of god.
So how does this manifest in our adult lives?
In extreme cases, people even commit suicide—an ultimate act of self-destruction. Others actively and routinely hurt themselves, or fall into relationships where they are mistreated and abused—basic repetition compulsion. More common manifestations are a lack of self-care, living for other people, poor boundaries, ignoring your true emotions, thoughts, and preferences, self-loathing, self-attack, addiction, self-isolation, and much more.
That entire paragraph pretty much sums up my time in the UPC, and to a certain extent even after getting out. I still struggle with self care and drink entirely too much.
But cutting off my parents, leaving the church – all of these are fantastic steps forward. I’m learning to set boundaries and stick to them. They’ve gotten me out of the cycle of abuse. And as I’ve mentioned, I credit my relationship with The Morrigan with a lot of the strength I’ve developed.
But I still have a long way to go to really deal with all of this trauma. I’ve not expunged it, I’ve not healed completely – not by a long shot.
I just hope that by sharing my struggles, it can help give strength and/ or validation to someone out there who’s been through similar experiences. If so, I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.