When you grow up in an abusive environment, you’re often told that the only way to get out is to pull yourself up from your bootstraps, to understand how messed up your home life was all on your own, to recognize your own self-worth and to teach yourself all the skills you were never taught before. Many times, when I would point out that I couldn’t leave my abusive family because I didn’t have the social support in place to do so, people would dismiss that as not a real concern – one time I was told that thinking this way was me thinking that I needed a savior, and I needed to just give up this idea that someone would rescue me and rescue myself.
I don’t know if people understand the implication of this belief though. One of the reasons emotional abuse is so damaging is because other people play a major role in shaping how you see yourself. When those people are positive influences in your life, it’s very easy to believe that how you see yourself is based solely on your own self-creation. But if that were true, then the implication follows that people who were emotional abused were only abused because they were so weak as to rely on others for their self-perception.
Let me tell you what has been the most healing force in my life – being in an environment where I am only surrounded by positive influences. Where all the abusive messages I received are slowly being overwritten by more positive ones.
I noticed this recently when I was thinking about how I hate how my clothes fit. And my next thought was, “Hmm, I wonder what it takes to learn how to tailor your own clothes,” and, after googling it, my first thought was, “you know, I think one day I could learn to do that.”
Me. The person who grew up to believe that they were inherently stupid, inherently incapable of learning, the person whose mother told them that they had no talent, no skill, no nothing, that no matter what they tried they would fail. I have reached a point where I believe that I can learn things, that I can want to do something and then take the steps to learn how to do it.
It has taken four years – four years! – of being constantly surround by a social support system that encourages me, that tells me I can do things, I can learn, that honestly tells me when I need to improve something while also telling me when I’ve done something well, for my mothers words to lose some of their power. They’re still there, but now there are new words in my life. Because people matter. Because social supports are a necessary part of undoing the damage of abuse.