Tag: emotional abuse

24 Crayons

I had finally moved up to the bigger box. The coveted 24 pack of Crayola Crayons. I had colored my 5-year-old way through the 8 pack and the 16, and had graduated to 24. I was so excited to have so many more options, so many more of the bright, happy colors I adored. My coloring books would never be the same.

We didn’t have a lot of money, and it was 1976, so coloring was one of my favorite forms of entertainment. Things were slower back then, and without television networks devoted to endless cartoons, video games and the internet to entertain us, we had to find things to do on our own. Free from the psychological constraints having an incredibly talented sister would later place on me, I still fancied myself quite the artist.

I’d gotten in trouble before for leaving my crayons on the floor of the living room, and had been instructed, as usual, to go get my father’s belt for a beating. I was a precocious, stubborn, strong-willed little girl, but I lived in fear of the belt. When the belt entered the picture, my red curls snapped to attention, and my blue eyes widened in fear. I had the task of picking up my crayons permanently seared into my memory with every lash of leather on my young skin. From that point on, I always picked up my crayons when I was done coloring. Always.

My sister was a few years younger than me, and I never wanted to play with her. She was a great kid, but I was an odd child, and preferred to play alone. She followed me around and wanted to do everything I did, to my annoyance, and I was required to share my things with her, which is a nice lesson. But she was younger than me and didn’t quite have the house rules committed to memory. I should have seen it coming.

When I let my little sister borrow the glorious 24 pack of crayons, I was probably relieved that she’d found something to do besides emulate me. I had been busy playing with toys in my orange shag-carpeted bedroom, probably listening to the Mickey Mouse record player I loved so much, when my dad got home from work.

My dad really liked to take out his bad days on his wife and two daughters when he got home, and because he was an unhappy person in an unhappy marriage working a job he didn’t like, most of his days were bad. Much of my early childhood was spent avoiding the man, because being within his physical or mental reach never yielded anything particularly pleasant. He had proven himself easily capable of hitting my mom and me, so I kept my distance from the junkyard dog of his psyche.

He yelled my name, and I froze in terror. He sounded mad, and that never meant anything good. But I knew that hiding would only make the punishment worse when he found me. And he always found me. Full of dread, I walked down the hallway from my room, toward the living room where he stood.

Where he stood over my crayons.

My sister had left them out. She was younger. She didn’t know. She didn’t realize the enormity of what she’d done. And I would love to say that I was a brave girl and took the fall for her, but instead I ratted her out immediately. It wasn’t noble of me, but I knew she wouldn’t be punished as harshly. I thought that maybe if he knew I hadn’t done it, that I’d respected the rules written on my bare ass by the stinging belt, he might calm down and understand this time. Just this time, maybe it could be different.

I apologized again and again, repeated that I’d lent my crayons to my little sister, that I never would have left them out. When he didn’t send me to go get the belt, I thought that maybe my begging had worked.

He bent down and started to gather up the crayons into his hands. I was confused. Surely he wasn’t picking them up for me? Shouldn’t he be making my sister pick them up, the way I’d had to pick them up before, limping from the spanking, with snot and tears crusting my face, gathering them into my shaking toddler hands?

He walked into the kitchen with my 24 crayons. My mom was cooking dinner and turned around to watch as he started snapping them in half, slowly, individually, while he laughed at my growing hysterics. He dropped the broken pieces into the open garbage can while I sobbed in horror.

I was screaming for my mom to stop him, that my sister had left them out, not me, while she screamed at him to stop. But no matter how hard I cried and apologized for what I hadn’t even done, no matter how my mom pleaded, he just kept snapping them.

Red, snap! Dandelion, snap! Violet, snap! Orange, snap! Green-yellow, snap! Yellow-orange, snap! Violet-red, snap! Yellow-green, snap! Yellow, snap! Blue-green, snap! Scarlet, snap! Cerulean, snap! Apricot, snap! Red-violet, snap! Indigo, snap! White, snap! Brown, snap! Black, snap! Carnation pink, snap! Red-orange, snap! Green, snap! Blue, snap! Blue-violet, snap! And gray, snap! So much gray.

Until all of my beautiful colors were ruined.

He grabbed a beer and left the kitchen to sit in his chair in front of the television until my mom finished cooking dinner.

I think the worst part of all was how my father destroyed my brand new crayons with a smile on his face. This was no “it hurts me more than it hurts you” parental lesson, he clearly relished the pain he was causing me; I have no doubt. I am not one of those people with an amazing brain that can recall many clear moments from childhood, but the traumatizing ones have always stayed with me. This was one of my first lessons about the great cruelty of which humans are capable, and I’ll never forget it.

5 Things to Kindly Keep in Mind with People Processing Violence

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Children learn what they see, so please, lead by positive example. Psychologically healthy parents protect their children, they don’t hit them. Fear and respect are not the same thing, and children deserve to feel safe.

 

People who’ve survived any form of physical abuse or threat are often left with hard-to-heal emotional scars. The damage can take many forms, such as: sexual molestation, rape, being physically struck or beaten, experiencing danger, and military service. But no matter how personal safety violations are inflicted, any may lead to psychological dysfunction.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, dissociation, denial, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are some issues experienced by humans whose nervous systems have been pushed beyond their limits. People who experience assault-based trauma are more likely to develop PTSD, but everyone has a different level of stress they can handle before becoming permanently overwhelmed. Because all humans are different, there’s no way to predict psychological disorders, and no guaranteed cures.

Some common symptoms felt by those who’ve been in threatening situations may include hypervigilance, being easily startled, insomnia, never feeling safe, brain fog, irritability, an exaggerated fight-or-flight response, mood swings, and panic attacks involving dizziness, nausea, sweating, rapid heartbeat, tunneling vision, or a sense of impending doom.

Below are 5 things to kindly keep in mind while talking to people processing violence:

  1. The Compassion Competition—

One of the worst assumptions to make about a person affected by violence is that they lack perspective or don’t understand that somebody always has it worse. Abused people know they’re not the only person to which injustice has happened, and unless they’ve never been on the Internet, they’re obviously aware of life’s many atrocities.

Examples of this might be saying, “Well, at least THIS WORSE THING didn’t happen to you…” and giving an example of something you consider a greater wrongdoing.

This reaction completely invalidates the feelings of the person who trusted you enough to confide, and insults their intelligence. The fact that bad things also happen to others doesn’t magically erase the bad things that have happened to them, no matter where you’d place the abuse on your spectrum.

In short: Pain is not a contest. You can show empathy to more than one person at a time without dismissing the feelings of anyone. Because regardless of how someone was hurt, it always matters.

  1. The Dance of Denial—

Many victims of physical or sexual abuse find themselves alone with their pain because the topic makes others feel uncomfortable. This can be especially true if the person was violated by a family member.

Families sometimes brush unflattering stories about sexual or physical abusers under the rug because it’s hard to believe a relative is capable of such brutality. But this reaction can re-victimize people by invalidating their pain.

Often, rather than helping those harmed by a family member or stranger, friends and relatives defensively ignore the issue, allowing the perpetrator to get away with something evil. This lack of justice or support can severely hamper the healing process, because a person can’t heal from a wound nobody will acknowledge.

In short: Abuse at the hands of a stranger -or- a family member hurts, and all forms of abuse are abuse. Ignoring the “icky” can make those harmed feel like they’ve done something wrong, rather than the person who caused the damage. Listen, believe, and strengthen instead of shaming.

  1. The Blame Game—

If you ever feel like saying, “Well that person is a ____, so what did you expect?” or, “I just accept that they’re messed up, and ignore it. That’s just who they are!” about the person who harmed someone, go ahead and keep that thought to yourself, because it reeks of victim blaming.

You may have the best intentions, such as trying to commiserate with the person who’s sharing their painful experience with you. However, what they often hear instead is: “Shame on you for being stupid. You should have known what you were dealing with, and anticipated your own violation.”

In short: Nobody in a civilized society should ever have to expect violence. Don’t imply that people could have predicted their own abuse and avoided it, because this only makes you look uncompassionate.

  1. Downplaying the Damage—

There is nothing more unhelpful than someone telling you to “get over it” in reference to anything, including the violation of your personal safety. Unless you have the ability to crawl into another person’s psyche and assess how something has affected them, dismissing their damage can be downright dangerous.

Everyone has a right to feel safe, and whether you’ve experienced similar things or not, your decision that everyone else has to deal with emotions exactly the way you do is thoughtless and condescending, at best.

Being told you’re “histrionic” or to “put on your big boy/big girl pants” are examples of thoughtless advice, and often given by those who choose to live in denial, rather than being brave enough to deal with their problems. This form of blatant invalidation is heartless and harmful. If someone has the courage to face their personal demons, rather than attempting to humiliate them into silence because of your own cowardice, you might instead watch and learn.

In short: Gaslighting is gross. Stop trying to make people feel like they’re overreacting or incorrectly imagining their own abuse. Everybody’s emotions are valid, and your motives are questionable if you’d prefer people in pain “suck it up and move on.” If you feel this way, why don’t YOU move on… somewhere out of hearing range.

  1. No Pity Parties, Please—

Most people who’ve been hurt by someone else are furious that they were forced into the role of victim, and don’t enjoy it. Treating them with compassion is lovely, but viewing them with pity can be upsetting. Being helpless is the worst feeling in the world, and nobody who’s experienced it ever wants to feel it again.

The word “survivor” is preferred over the word “victim” by many because it implies strength, rather than weakness. Surviving doesn’t have to mean someone has survived a life-or-death situation, either—it simply means someone is trying to accept and cope with what’s happened to them.

In short: Nobody chooses to be abused, and treating people like they’re fragile or broken because of the violating actions of another can frustrate them. Let them know you think they’re strong for moving forward, despite those who’ve tried to hold them back. Survivors of abuse would much rather you celebrate their courage than pity them.

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People on the path to wellness don’t appreciate roadblocks created by other humans, well-intentioned or not. If you truly want to help someone move past bad things that have happened to them, listen to and believe them, don’t invalidate their feelings, and try to empathize.

Kindness and understanding go a long way in this world, and by avoiding the potentially harmful reactions listed above, you might give someone the compassion and support they need to heal themselves.