Switching Off Autopilot (A Tribute to the Therapeutic Quality of List-Making)
This is going to be my first blog post in two months. Since then, noteworthy things unrelated to my past have happened, but I don't think I'm going to write about those just yet. I'm going to jump straight in with some thoughts on all the abuse I've suffered, and the multitudes of ways it was covered up. A variation on the Unpleasant People post, if you will, as I was not in a place when it was written to be able to elaborate on just how many more people deserved a place on that list, and why they did. I feel it's necessary to have this down on paper/the internet/something/anything as I've been completely eaten up by the idea that I had to keep the extent of everything I've endured secret, and had to hold it and all the associated damage inside. But not anymore. There may be a lot of lists in this post.
First of all, it's important to note that none of it was my fault. That I'm not responsible for it continuing as long as it did just because I didn't speak up about it sooner. That I didn't do anything to deserve it, ever.
I want to talk for a bit about the psychological abuse I received from my dad. I could just leave it here in a sentence, "I was psychologically abused by my dad". I'm aware of it now. I know it was happening. Its intent was malicious, and its effects were serious and long-lasting. It happened! It continued for as long as it took me to block him on Facebook, and if I ever contact him again, it will probably continue then. I know about it. And this is a huge thing. Seriously, being able to say "my dad psychologically abused me" gives me the power to move on with my life, because it means I'm no longer under his control. And to demonstrate what kind of control he had, here are some of the things he did to keep his abuse going (this will be quite long):
- Lying to me
- Shutting down my anger with petty arguments about semantics instead of taking responsibility for his actions
- Trying to turn me against my mother and then trying to turn her against me behind my back
- Actually trying to convince me that my mother was the abusive two-faced parent, not him
- Emotionally manipulating me
- Saying/doing things he knew would upset me for fun and wondering why I couldn't take a joke
- Acting like he was a "laid back" parent but never letting me have any actual independence outside of his whims
- Constantly threatening to take away things that were necessary for the upkeep of my mental health (like my allowance, my computer, or the fact that I needed to be woken up in the morning by another person in order to get to college) in order to control me
- Consequently taking away those things as punishment for whatever arbitrary bad thing I'd done this time
- Encouraging me to calorie-count/exposing me to unhealthy eating habits
- Lifting punishments early (giving my laptop back a week early, for example) so he could pretend he was also a "lenient" parent
- One more extreme example of this was this one time where I hadn't done the washing up or some shit so he didn't let me go to a friend's birthday party? But half an hour later said I could and made damn sure I knew he was "incredibly benevolent" for it (his own words!!!!)
- Making my mental health issues alllll about him (acting like my low appetite was an attempt to manipulate him, indignantly lying about his own experiences with self-harm if I dared insinuate he didn't understand what I was going through, etc etc)
- Calling me "spoiled" on those rare occasions that I questioned why I was so low on his list of priorities
- Calling me "spoiled" when I didn't buy him presents for Christmas/birthdays (anyone can understand why I wouldn't have wanted to)
- Calling me "spoiled" when I didn't do chores around the house (also "lazy", and apparently I didn't know how good I had it. Yeah because a person with mental health issues in a toxic environment not being able to do chores is like, really rare and unnacceptable, and a demonstration of entitlement, right? /sarcasm)
- Calling me "spoiled" when I didn't constantly worship the ground he walked on, haha
- Gaslighting the everloving FUCK out of me - seriously - if I brought up something he'd done to hurt me, he'd completely deny he did it at all, and if that was impossible, then he'd deny that it should have had any negative effect on me, and convince me that I was in the wrong for having been hurt by it. If I brought him up on a lie, he'd ask me accusingly why I was making it up and where I'd "gotten that idea from". He used to read this blog and then yell at me for making up lies about him. Hence why I changed the URL.
- and so on....
To this day my sense of reality is very shaky. But, anyway. This I can remember being passed off as "teenager/parent trouble", just me "rebelling", or "not seeing things from his perspective". As if I want to see anything from the perspective of an abuser... This is all important because in itself it is very clearly abuse. However, it's had far, far more ramifications than just the effect that the abuse he personally perpetuated has had.
I'll explain... in detail. Because I grew up in a house where feeling unloved and worthless and being mistreated was the norm, being abused became the norm. So I was unable to recognise further abuse when it happened to me. Well... I guess I knew on some level that it was abuse, but it took a long time to be able to report any of it, because you know, it was normal for people to shit on my feelings and my boundaries and my sense of self. I was that much more affected by the idea that abuse/bad things in general is Something That Just Happens To People Like Me, and must be covered up and endured.
And it wasn't just that I couldn't recognise abuse when it happened elsewhere. The abuse from my dad also came in the form of... yep... you guessed it... actively minimising all the other abuse I received. Which is understandable. If I could get suitably angry about everyone else's abuse, what's to stop me from recognising his? And so, minimised it all was.
The first example is the abuse that happened with my former stepdad, which took a similar though more violent and less subtle form of psychological abuse that was aimed at everyone in the family:
- Throwing things around when he got angry
- Loud shouting
- Threatening to kick my head in or beat me up
- Insulting my appearance, insulting my taste in music, invalidating my sexuality, calling me "stupid" and telling me I "had academic smarts but no common sense" as an insult
- Convincing me that getting upset at said harsh "jokes" made me humourless
- Locking me inside the house and taking the rest of the family outside to hide to "teach me a lesson about what to do in that situation" or fucking something like that (I remember that there were other attempts at teaching me lessons in a similar manner, but not specifics)
- Trying to "fix things" about my personality/sense of humour/music taste/etc.
- Getting furious whenever I expressed sadness, misery or anger for any reason (unless I blamed it on PMS, oddly)
- Not letting us have different political opinions to his
My dad didn't have anything to say about this at the time it was happening, because I hid it from him. He found out about it by reading the section about formerstepdad in the post I linked in the first paragraph and asking me "Is that about me?" When I told him it wasn't and explained, he used that as a time to seem like a such a caring parent by saying shit like "I can't believe you were going through that for so long" as if he hadn't also been putting me through abuse for years ugh. He then minimised it by further attempting to convince me that my mother was a bad parent for "letting [formerstepdad] abuse me". Disgusting, and untrue, but I'd have been more surprised if he hadn't said that, to be honest.
The second example is the abuse that happened with the aforementioned former best friend (hereby abbreviated to FBF) that was, my god, like, psychological, and verbal, and physical, and sexual. Fuck:
- Took my stuff, threw it around, and held it to ransom - one particular example of this is her having stolen one of my keyrings and threatened to throw it out the window unless I would let her write in my school planner. She often did this. And wrote grotesque stuff about one of the teachers I fancied and the word "SEX" and lots of drawings of penises.
- Drew penises and wrote stuff like "ANAL" on me/other possessions of mine, a lot, too.
- Called me "slag", "slut", "whore", "virgin", portmenteaus of "twat" and other swear words, the t-slur, the r-slur, the f-slur, told me stuff like "no one loves you", found it hilarious when her insults upset me, made fun of my sex drive, described my body parts in degrading ways, encouraged other people (including my boyfriend at the time) to use misogynist slurs against me, and basically just verbally abused the shit out of me
- Hit me, stuck her fingers in my ears ("wet willies", or something), slapped me, pulled my hair, threw things at me, encouraged others to throw things/hit me too
- Convinced me that she was able to read my mind and control my thoughts and that it was "disgusting in there". Also convinced me that she was posessed by a demon and that she was going to try to kill me some day.
- Found my upset/worried reactions sadistically enjoyable when she would tell me about her eating-disordered behaviours, her self-harm, and her own history of abuse, or get me to tell her about mine
- Touched my neck a lot, kissed it a couple of a times, bit me, grabbed my breasts, kicked me in the crotch, restrained me and got others to interfere with various erogenous zones for fun, encouraged others to sexually harrass me, and so on
- Manipulated me emotionally constantly and also on the two occasions I attempted to get the fuck away from her (the second one having been the successful attempt, obviously)
- Got me into dangerous situations with creepy assholes on the internet
- Got into my head (figure of speech) and convinced me I was literally not allowed to actually object to any of the shit she did because it was funny and my role was Punchbag and I had no other skills, nor other calling in life.
There was other stuff she did but this is getting kind of heavy to recall so I'm going to stop listing things now. The way this was minimised by dad was pretty fucking unpleasant. Before he even knew I was being abused by her, I told him I didn't want to be around her during the summer (summer 2010, I think it was) because she kept "making me uncomfortable"? And this didn't make him tell me that it was ok to stay away from her or even really react? Right...
After everything came out, it got worse. He'd ask me a lot, "Are you sure it was bullying?" I never even described it as bullying, I never would have done. I hate that word. I hate that the "bullying" concept allows for abuse to be considered an integral part of the school experience, and an integral part of life. Was I "bullied" for years at primary school? No! What actually happened is that I was left to slip under the radar because letting other children isolate me and ignore me and hurt me and help my abusers set me up for a childhood and adolescence of thinking I deserved mistreatment was easier then actually giving comprehensive education to kids about what bullying actually entails, and why it's wrong.
(I'd say "but I digress", but I don't think I was being entirely off-topic there. In any case, my schoolyard bullying was an altogether different experience to the very personal kind of abuse I received from FBF, despite the overlaps, mostly due to the setting, and due to the psychological aspect of it.)
Anyway. Dad also would tell me to keep in mind that there were good times we had, and tell me to "put it aside" because there was "no reason to let it affect my GCSE grades". Like I had any fuckin control over that. The school told me that too! And about a year later when telling him other people with FBF's traits I'd met at college, he laughed, and told me to make sure I give people a chance. Uhhh. Why would I want to give the time of day to people who keep poking me and demanding my time and ignoring my friends' physical boundaries?
And, this is the part that got to me the most - a few months before I moved out, as I gradually became aware of his bullshittery, I started to learn how to stand up to him a little bit. In response, he told me that I was becoming as manipulative as FBF. I fucking sobbed like a baby every time he said that, and he'd back off a bit, but still say stuff like, "I don't think you're turning into her, I just think you need to be wary of the traits you've picked up from her." ??????????????????
Thanks for making me believe not wanting to be abused makes me an abuser, dad, thanks very much for that. That hasn't fucked me up at all, or anything.
And now... the sexual abuse that I received from my grandfather. Which I've barely mentioned on this blog. But I'm now certain it was groomy and creepy and weird, so I'm ready to discuss it. What he did was:
- Take lots of pictures of me in "photogenic" poses. And then he'd print them out and give them to me (I don't know why I even asked for the printouts? Selfies were hard to come by in those days and I didn't understand just how creepy this was. I thought creepy grandads were normal)
- Tell me how beautiful I was like all the time. How I had a stunning figure and gorgeous eyes and beautiful hair and all this creepy shit.
- Pinch/touch my butt from time to time
- Hug me too tightly
- Try to kiss my neck
- Search "teenager old man porn" in his laptop's browser and leave his internet history uncleared + open for when I went to use his laptop
- Rub my sides
- Give me money in envelopes with little notes that said "Our secret"
I didn't tell dad this right out cos I knew how we would respond. I told the school first. When he eventually found out, he seemed really accusing and obviously thought I was making a big deal out of it. He asked me darkly if I wanted to take legal action against him. I said no, of course not. He begged me not to skip out of going to my grandparent's house for the upcoming Christmas, because it would "ruin Christmas" or something. For the next year, I spent it still in contact with my grandad because I didn't want to disappoint my dad by "overreacting". What a fuckhead. Nothing happened to my grandad except being shouted at by nan. The abuse continued, albeit several months later. Everyone seems to have forgiven him for it except for me. I was also encouraged by dad to "go easy" on my grandad about it and not mention it to other family members because he's old and getting senile or something and "didn't know" it was wrong to do. Yeah uh I don't think so. He knew what he was doing. Even if he didn't, ya gotta love how it's fine and dandy to hurt people if you're a man who's senile but you're an essentially powerless teenager in a situation like that, that's less important than the man's reputation.
There might be people who've noticed there is no list for the sexual and physical abuse I received from the man who was described as "Unpleasant Person 1", and that's because I don't remember 99% of it. But I've gone into detail about that in a separate post, so I'll leave that alone.
Looking back over this post, I can see why people are kind of awed when I tell them what I've been through. I still feel weird when people talk about how brave and strong I am for enduring difficult situations. Surviving difficult situations is what I was raised to do, in a sense. It's as natural as autopilot. If I'd had a perfect childhood, I might have reacted differently. But I accepted being in pain and auto-piloting my way through the pain as something I just had to do, and just got on with it. Up until Summer 2012, and January 2013, of course. Gonna pat myself on the back for a minute here. You see, having moved away from the home I grew up in, and having started therapy in a different city as well as living in a healthy environment, has facilitated a lot of realizations about my previous situation. That's why this post was even writable in the first place - I'm starting to understand that dysfunctional families, abusive friends and toxic households, are not normal. They're common.... but they are definitely not an example of the way things have to be. I don't have to just "endure" bad experiences - I'm allowed to accept support, I'm allowed to distance myself from people who want to hurt me. I don't have to give a single shit about what other people's opinions are about the abuse I've suffered. I know it happened, the adults in charge of my welfare all know it happened, and they accept the limitations I have due to it, and that's all I care about.
Yesterday, during therapy, I was hurling a cushion around the room - which, apart from deliberately smashing a glass object a few months ago, is the angriest I've ever let myself be about the toxic environment I've had to endure. I understand that getting angry is necessary for my recovery. The more I hold anger back, the more likely I am to have mood difficulties, and the worse my anxiety is. It's very difficult to let it out, though. It never feels safe. It's why I've resorted mostly to isolating myself and partaking in self-harm over the past year. But it feels good to be letting it out, if only in fits and starts.
That's all for today. I'm gonna go out and get some fresh air, now. Take care.
This post was first published here - thanks to author for permission to cross post.
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