What‘s it like growing up with an emotionally abusive parent?
Imagine that every meal you eat is poisoned. Not enough to kill you, but enough to make you feel nauseated all the time. Every meal makes you sick, sometimes so sick you are afraid you‘re going to die.
If you try to tell the person poisoning you that the food they are serving you is making you sick, you just get served more poison.
This goes on from birth, and continues into your adulthood, so the poison is just an everyday part of your life. You think it‘s normal to be fed poisonous food, and to always feel sick after every meal, though you know vaguely that something isn‘t right.
The consequences are that you are wary of any food. You want food, you long for it, but you are afraid of it at the same time. You‘ve been trained that food = poison; it can never be trusted.
More perniciously, you expect poisonous food; you don‘t even know that wholesome, nurturing food, food that leaves you feeling good after eating it, even exists.
When anyone new offers you food, you just know it will make you sick, so you refuse it if at all possible, and you sure as hell don‘t ask for it.
Unfortunately, in your adulthood, poisonous people gravitate to you, because they sense someone they can manipulate and use, and because they have their own issues to work out.
And you don‘t know any better, so you let those poisonous people into your life. Even though some people tell you that not all food is poisoned, you don‘t believe them, because you‘ve never experienced wholesome food.
And even after you start to believe that wholesome food exists, you know at a visceral, preverbal, cellular level that you‘re never going to get wholesome food. You just know it.
Now take the word “food” and replace it with the words “safety,” “love,” and “acceptance.” (So, “Imagine every offering of “love” is poisoned…”)
That‘s what it‘s like to grow up with an emotionally abusive parent. Everything they say and do is a savage attack on your emotional and mental health and well-being. Your experience with anything having to do with emotions is that you aren‘t safe, you aren‘t loved, and you aren‘t accepted for who you are.
You carry those learned expectations into your other relationships. You allow people to abuse you because you think that‘s just how it has to be. Even when you see others in safer, more loving and accepting relationships, you know you can‘t have that for yourself. Even if you have loving people in your life, people who genuinely care for you and want to give you gifts—of safety, love, and acceptance, you are deeply, deeply afraid of accepting those gifts.
Eventually, you might start to heal. Something might happen in your life that gets you thinking, or you might be lucky enough to have had a teacher in college who started you on the path of the self-examined life, or you might come across a book that opens your eyes. You may find a book that helps you learn how to forgive the abusive parent (and others). Forgiving that parent is incredibly hard, but you do it, and forgiving them feels great.
But the fear of accepting the food of love is harder to overcome.