Healing Emotional Abuse and Covert Family Violence

Definition of Abuse: Anything less than nurturing is abuse.
As the description of one of Alice Miller’s foundational books states, 'Far too many of us had to learn as children to hide our own feelings, needs, and memories skillfully in order to meet our parents’ expectations and win their love.'
This information is crucial in understanding that it's the deficits in the parents' nurturing, rather than a defect in us (the child), that is the cause of feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy that plague so many of us into adulthood.
‘They did the best they could, but they did a lousy job’, was how one of my early teachers, Bob E. described his traumatic childhood experience.
The process of healing is not about blame, but rather responsibility. Although our parents were responsible for the wounds they inflicted because of their own wounded-ness, we are responsible for getting help to heal those wounds.
Similar to an undiagnosed malignancy, which sends toxins throughout the body; this wounded-ness manifests toxicity in body, mind, emotions, and spirit and carries over generation to generation in subtle or overt ways.
Whether the abuse was physical, sexual, verbal, mental, emotional or spiritual, the trauma needs to be acknowledged. The latter forms of violence are often denied, or minimized, so there is no awareness at a conscious level of the damage that was perpetrated. When our boundaries of selfhood are violated, the sense of self-worth is critically damaged.

For example, if we were threatened or verbally punished for crying, ‘ Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about’, i.e. were punished for feeling, we learn to question our emotions, see them as separate from ourselves; wrong and needing to be denied, intellectualized or acted out, or in. If no one was there to validate us, the abuse will be normalized to make sense of the violence, and will be passed on or passed in.
**Note to 12 Step members: sadness is not self-pity
In the 12Step programs there is often a lack of acknowledgment of the effects of emotional abuse and it continues to feed multigenerational addiction and codependency. Spiritual bypassing, where negaive emotions are suppressed in order to appear "spiritual", is common.
Until there is understanding about what truly nurturing parenting and relationships consist of, followed by sustained personal work to recognize the triggers for re-enacting the abuse, the reasons and excuses for covert violence prevail as the norm.
Family of Origin Work involves identifying the incomplete and dysfunctional parenting and correcting our interpretation of ourselves as defective because of that lack of nurturing and abuse.
The hole in the soul, created by childhood trauma, results in feeling empty and worthless. Since there is nobody home, our self-worth is defined by others, and by our actions. • The Solution:
To be authentic means taking responsibility for ourselves; owning our emotional set point, and having spiritual, emotional, mental and physical boundaries to maintain our wellbeing.

• To develop into a fully integrated, emotionally healthy person means learning how to deal with resentment, sadness, disappointment and hurt without beating ourselves up, or someone else. Addiction is an act of violence toward the self. In addition, the witnesses to that violence, i.e. family members, are affected deeply.

• Positive self-esteem begins with feeling valued by our earliest caregivers. When we recognize that didn’t happen, it's a starting point to healing.(and being given lots of material things is not necessarily being valued, in fact many times it’s the opposite.) The work requires a therapist, mentor, sponsor or other individual who has done his or her own work to provide corrective mothering and fathering. We need someone who will be present to our emotions because they are present to their own. Someone who offer appreciation, praise and models healthy boundaries. Learning self-forgiveness is crucial. One of my earliest teachers at Unity talked about learning to say, ‘ I did something that was less-than-wonderful’, when she felt she had screwed up, rather than self-punishing words and thoughts that surface in times of stress for many of us who are shame-based.

This essential personal work identifies areas of wounded-ness in our parents’ lives that resulted in the passing down of abusive behaviors and negative messages. As we find the areas of lack of nurturing, in self-esteem building, (from parents who had low self-esteem themselves), we begin to understand why we don’t feel important to the world in a meaningful way.
'If I, as a helpless child was abused and am not allowed to see this, I will abuse other helpless creatures (including myself* Lynn’s note) without realizing what I am doing'. (Alice Miller, Banished Knowledge)

Author's Bio: 

Lynn has 35 years of continuous recovery from an eating disorder and addiction. She works with individuals and families to enlighten the body, mind and spirit of those affected by emotional abuse.