Disclaimer: All are welcome here, and welcome to read my blog posts, I welcome you with open arms. That said, I’m a bold speaker and a truth-teller. I don’t sugar coat things and I don’t play games. I say things like they are and make no apologies for anything I say. If you’re a family member and happen to be offended at something I write here, I suggest you either stay away from my blog, or perhaps learn how to respect other people’s rights, which include the right to express their thoughts, ideas, feelings, notions, and anything else they feel like expressing. Remember, this is my personal space. I’m entitled to write about my personal life, and anything that involves my personal experiences, including my experiences with “family”.
Also, do keep in mind that I speak on family members as an outsider sometimes. As a studying psychologist and counselor, it’s my job to study family structures, family units, and the many intra-personal relationships within families, and that includes wonderful families and family members and it also includes toxic relationships and toxic family members. When I write about “toxic families”, for instance, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m talking about my own. Many times, I’m speaking about families from a therapeutic perspective. Afterall, I’ve studied family relationships for a decade now, academically via psychology and counseling.
That said, there have been a number of times that a specific family member (you know who you are) literally stalks my blog, and if I so much as write the word “family”, she sends me raging, angry texts- lashing out at me, hatefully. *Newsflash* I’m allowed to post my life experiences and feelings that involve families, along with my own family. You’re not the gatekeeper and you’re not my personal warden. Back the hell up and respect my autonomy. I’m a writer. You’re allowed to create your own blog posts and say whatever you like there. But you’re not going to silence me, and you’re not going to control me. Due to the fact that I was sexually abused as a child- BY A FAMILY MEMBER- that forced me to be in my own little boat. I wasn’t allowed to have the same relationships that my other family members had, so from the time I was 9 years old, I’ve been a loner- even among my own family.
I’ll never reveal the secrets and private things that my brother, John, shared with me many years ago. But he too suffered some of the same things that I did as a child, unfortunately. As tragic as that was for us, it bonded us in a special way, and I thank God that he and I were in our own boat. When he passed away in January (four months ago), I feel like I lost the last true family member I had. He loved me unconditionally, and he’s the only one who did (besides my Dad). They were the only ones, though. Everybody else loves me conditionally. (Meaning, sometimes.) When John passed on, he was the last of the Mohicans. He was the last one. Now I’m on my own.
I dreamed of my sister again. She’s almost always cold and distant in my dreams; much like in real life. We haven’t spoken in more than 5 years, and that’s an absolute tragedy. As Pentecostal Christians, we were raised to understand the importance of forgiveness. There are so many scriptures in the Bible about forgiveness, and Jesus clearly states that if you don’t forgive your brethren (and that includes sisters), there’s no place for you in Heaven. As a matter of fact, Jesus makes it crystal clear that if you say you love God, but hate your brother (or again, sister) and refuse to forgive her, then you’re a murderer. That’s a pretty serious charge! I honestly don’t know how any “Christian” can go on in her life, making a deliberate choice to not forgive, but instead, harbour hatred in her stone cold heart but still try to call herself a Christian. You’re a fraud. Jesus said so.
“Whosoever hateth his brother (or sister) is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. –1 John 3:15
Understandably, not everyone has the capability to forgive. They really don’t. They’re shallow and selfish and have no depth for the long roots that forgiveness needs. See, it starts in childhood. As I said before, because I was molested, I had no choice but to forgive. I had to. I had to go on living in the same house with everybody else, and despite my anger or hatred at what was done to me, I had to suck it up, forgive, and still try and have “healthy relationships” with everyone (including my offender) regardless. Needless to say, being sexually abused will change your relationships with every single family member, how could it not? For the longest time, I couldn’t even say the words “sexually abused”- it terrified me. I had no idea why it happened to me, out of everyone in the house, it was me.
For years, I told no one. But being sexually abused by a family member and then having to carry on daily with all of the other family members- as if it never happened- it created fractures within my core. You see, I never knew these things until I began studying psychology. I began to understand why I was clinically depressed at age 10, and at age 11, my Mom had to take me to the doctor because my stomach was in knots, and I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t eat or sleep. That deadly secret was so toxic- so heavy and destructive- that it threatened to destroy my entire family if I told anyone.
So I carried that burden alone. For years. All the while, I was being destroyed on the inside. I began having breakdowns in my 20’s, because it was all just too much for me to bear. Again, thank God for my schooling and psych. studies. I learned exactly why I was having breakdowns. I was labeled “crazy” by other family members and was pretty much branded as being “mentally ill”. I actually bought what they sold me for many years. I believed it too. After my 5th year studying psychology, I began my new course which was “Abnormal Psychology”. I learned that my fragmentations and mental breakdowns were absolutely appropriate for what I went through. There’s just no way that you’re going to be molested as a child by a family member, and continue living with that family member year after year, having to interact with that family member- along with everyone else- and be “normal”. It’s just not going to happen.
What is going to happen is you’re going to start breaking up from the inside out. Clinical depression is just the beginning. There’s also the rage and anger- and that’s appropriate as well. There’s shame and guilt that’s heaped on you in huge mountains that you’re forced to carry- day in, day out. As the years roll on, you begin to feel highly abnormal- like a circus freak. It’s so damaging. The majority of all women who were sexually abused as a child- especially by a family member- end up mere statistics. Alcoholism is basically a prerequisite. I too tried to drown out my pain with alcohol for a number of years.
But most women who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through end up so damaged, they’re either suicidal or a complete basket case. I consider myself a living, breathing, miracle. I was so tired of that disease (disease = being sexually abused as a child) controlling me and confounding me and destroying me…I knew that I needed to do something that I had never done before…I needed to address it. As I said, for a number of years, I couldn’t even pray about it and ask God for help. I was so scared of even saying it out loud- even to God! But I knew that as long as it lay in the back closet of my being, I would continue to be consumed by it. I needed to address it, so that I could move beyond it.
You might think, “Well, for somebody who’s moved beyond it, you sure do mention it a lot,” but you see, secrets keep people sick. Let me say that again, “SECRETS KEEP PEOPLE SICK’. By broadcasting it, addressing it, and discussing it openly, I took its power away. I began to gain control over IT, rather than it continuing to control, me.
I stopped drinking hard liquor, stopped smoking weed, quit smoking cigarettes, and stopped taking prescribed medications all around the same time. They were smokescreens. And they only complicated things in the end. Instead, I faced the biggest demon I’ve ever known, and I stared that awful evil right in its disgusting little face, and I took my life back.
I can’t speak for others, and I can only attest to my own experiences, but I was tired of going to therapy and psychiatrists and psychologists and other professionals who weren’t helping me much. I began to understand that all of the breakdowns and emotional problems that I’d had in my life were a direct correlation of having been sexually abused as a child. I wasn’t “mentally ill”, I was trying to live through devastation and tragedy and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I had gone through my own war, and I began to learn how to live- for the first time in my life- rather than just survive.
Shortly after having these epiphanies, and after removing substances (alcohol, weed, cigarettes, etc.) from my life, I enrolled in college. What better (and really, who better) major could I select than Behavioral Sciences? So, I began studying psychology and the brain, and coping mechanisms, and psychological perspectives, and learned how to have healthy relationships. I learned all sorts of things about family structures, family dynamics, etc.
I began to learn and truly understand that when a family is raised by an alcoholic parent, the entire family is sick. Being yelled at or hurt by an intoxicated parent creates distorted filters. Abusive behavioral patterns are passed down from parent to child, so that when the children grow up, their own filters of perception are distorted. This is why drug and alcohol counselors teach people that addiction is a family disease. The entire family is sick- as a whole- so that the relationships between the family members can be, and often are, toxic. Rather than forming close bonds, and protecting one another in love, anger becomes the base that relationships are built upon.
When a family is raised by an alcoholic parent, their methods of communication will be anger-based as well. When family members are getting along, they’re tolerating one another more than truly forming loving bonds. The children learn to communicate angrily, and as a result, when problems arise between family members, there’s little to no “healthy conflict resolution”, because it was never learned. Instead, they freeze up in anger, against one another. This is why toxic families (such as this example) who never receive any type of group or family therapy, never truly learn how to communicate in a healthy manner. They don’t even know they’re toxic! But yet they are, because anger was integrated into their family unit from childhood.
I am SO grateful for my psych. training. I began to understand why the communication patterns are the way they are in my own family. It all began to make sense.
Because addiction was such a huge part of my life growing up- having been raised by an alcoholic parent- I knew I needed to get a formal education regarding substance abuse. So, while I was studying Behavioral Sciences, I also received my CPC/Certification in Substance Abuse. (It tacked an additional year onto my associates degree, but it was well worth it.) I graduated with honours and transferred over to a 4 year university and began working on my bachelor’s in psychology. After receiving my bachelor’s degree, I transferred a final time to my Master’s program, which is where I am now. I’m just over a year shy of receiving my Master’s degree in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. Eleven long years!
I can’t thank God enough for the training I’ve received. I quite literally became my own therapist, and client. 🙂
People who aren’t educated in family system theories will hear an individual say “toxic family” and naturally, they become judgmental and heated- emotionally charged and angry. However, when you’ve had an entire decade of mental health training- particularly in abnormal psychology and toxic families 101, it becomes a general study. There’s no bias or judgment or anything along those lines. You classify it for what it is because it fits the criteria, such as being raised by an alcoholic parent. (And that’s just one point, among many.) That’s not to say that it’s not an altogether loving, wholesome family, etc. but it’s liberating to be able to see it for what it is and then say, “Alright, so this is what was handed to us. How can we be the best that we can be, together?”
And this is where the heartbreak lies, yet again, between my sister and me. I’m more than capable of moving past any hurt, any anger, anything. As I said, I had to learn how to do that 40 years ago- for the sake of my family. it is literally NOTHING for me to forgive. Absolutely nothing. It takes less than a second to do! You simply have to choose it, and once you choose to forgive, truly, every bit of anger and hurt and blame and everything else evaporates- completely. As if it was never there. That’s how powerful forgiveness is!
God forgives us, so we must forgive others. If God forgives you, and you don’t forgive others, you’re a thief. You’re literally stealing His grace. God’s grace is a gift- it’s true. But you don’t get that gift if you choose UNforgiveness. It doesn’t work like that.
…and you’re running out of time.
For what it’s worth, sister, I forgive you. I’ve been standing on this bridge for 5 and 1/2 years, waiting for you to take those steps of courage. Thankfully, you didn’t suffer the things I did as a child. So you’ve never had to forgive somebody “against your will”. I did that for you. I forgave my offender for you, and everybody else in my family., so we could continue being a family. I had a choice to make. I could choose to either report my offender’s actions to the authorities and watch our family be ripped apart and deposited into foster homes (as my offender told me would happen, if I ever told), or I could remain silent and say nothing, so we could all remain a family. We know what I chose, because we stayed together as a family, but that came at a heavy price, and I’m the one who paid it. Me. Not you. You were protected and given a large room with a lock on your door. Must’ve been nice. I, however, had no lock on my door, and was repeatedly molested while you were in your locked room.
So you see, I paid a heavy price to keep our family together.
I do hope you find it in your heart to choose love over hatred, and forgiveness over unforgiveness. You see, I kept our family together, as I said, and as it’s now obvious to those who never knew my story. (And they never knew it because I’ve kept the details private for all of these years.) But those details are mine- they belong to me- and I’m the one who gets to share them or not. Nobody else can choose that- because it didn’t happen to them or you.
I kept our family together all of those years, and I had to sacrifice a lot to endure what I did, year after year. But you, are continuing to rip our family apart. And isn’t it funny that I was blamed for that instead! Ha! I dare say…
For every year that you continue to not forgive me, or speak to me, and continue pretending that I’m dead, is another lash upon our mother’s back. YOU- are keeping this family separated. I love my family- very much. I’ve longed to patch things up and move the crap on already. You remember, on the way back from our camping trip, after our blow out, I begged you. I said, “Let’s work this out, man. Let’s not do this. Let’s forgive each other and move past this. Let’s say we’re sorry and and move on! if we don’t patch this up, we’re going to go back to Jeffersonville and probably not speak for months. Let’s not do that! Let’s not be silent like this!”
And you looked at me, icily, and said, “My silence is serving me well.” And you looked away from me, and that’s the last time you spoke to me- ever.
Let me ask you, is your silence still serving you? Are you at peace with your unforgiveness and iciness? Really?
Who in the hell stays mad at somebody for almost 6 years?! That….is insanity. And that is a deliberate perpetuation of sickness and toxicity. I truly hope that God fills your heart with His warmth and love and grace. I really do. And I’ll tell you- I’m terrified for you. Because you can’t take that crap into Heaven.
As long as you continue to choose silence, you continue to keep our family apart. What’s that about the 99? Remember? Not good enough.
I just needed to get some things off my chest. Needed to open the windows and let the dust fly out. You may wonder why I’m choosing to address you openly like this. Well, I’ll tell you. Because you’ve single-handedly murdered our relationship. You’ve suicided yourself. You said yourself; you chose silence over forgiveness.
And that’s your right. You do have the right to remain silent. You get to be as silent as the grave, in fact. But you don’t get to choose silence for me. You murdered your relationship to me, but I never murdered our relationship. I’ve been standing on this damn bridge for almost 6 years, waiting for you. But I can’t do your work. I can’t take your steps for you. You have to do that.
Just so you know, I’ll continue standing on this bridge with the hope that someday, you’ll have the courage and the guts to back up that “Christian claim”- because that’s what Christians do- they forgive one another. That’s all I’ll say on this matter. (For now). But again, I may or may not write you again in the future, and again, it’s my right to do so. Like I said, you can be as silent as you want, but it’s not within your rights to silence me. I get to talk (write) alllllll I want to. If you don’t like what you’re reading, you have the right to exit and go about your business. But I have the right to talk/write to you all I want- you don’t have any authority when it comes to my rights and choices here. My rights are mine. /end
Ahhhh… the rain is pouring down! There’s a beautiful thunderstorm outside- lightning crashing. It’s supposed to rain for the next four days and that makes me blissfully happy. 🙂 Nothing makes me happier than a torrential thunderstorm. Life is good now. I’m in a good place in my life. I just purchased a new 13 x 19 professional photo printer along with professional photo paper. I’ve had it for more than six weeks now and there it sits- in its box. I haven’t quite gotten around to setting it up yet. I will at some point, hopefully soon. I’m not ready yet. As long as I’m still in school, I’m not quite ready to dedicate 100% of my time to starting my photo business, but I’ll work my way in that direction down the road a ways. One more year of school, and I’ll be done for good.
I used to think that I was in school because I wanted to help others- especially other women who’ve lived through the same things I’ve lived through. Now I know that I was in school to learn how to be a mentally strong and healthy human being. I’m finally free from those chains that kept me bound for so long.
And it’s about time… ❤
Jacksonville, Texas- just down the road from my grandparent’s house- Helios film- 44-2.
May 29, 2019 | Categories: Essays, family, Uncategorized | Tags: 1 John 3:15, 12 steps, AA, addiction, addictive behaviors, adlerian theory, adlerian therapy, alcoholism, anita, associates degree, b.s. in psychology, bachelors degree, bedwetting, childhood molestation, childhood sexual abuse, childhood trauma, choose love, choosing to forgive, choosing to love, Christianity, college, criminal abuse, drinking alcohol, emotional abuse, family, family dynamics, forgiveness, God, Jesus, Jesus loves you, learning to forgive, letter, love, master's degree, master's degree in addiction counseling, master's degree in psychology and addiction counseling, mental abuse, mental illness, mentally healthy, molested, national honor's society, offender, Pentecostal, perpetrator, Phi Theta Kappa, post traumatic stress disorder, psychological torture, psychological trauma, PTSD, religion, self-help, seminar, sexual abuse, silence, sister, smoking pot, smoking weed, staying mad, substance abuse, substance abuse addiction, the ties that bind, trauma, unforgiveness | 4 Comments
Helios 44-2 film lens + Canon Rebel XSI
I’ve decided to write this post about a sensitive subject matter that is both confusing and often misunderstood. While I’m not a doctor, I do have my degree in Behavioral Sciences (yea! I can say that now!) as well as my bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and, I’m currently working on my Masters’s in Psychology of Addiction and Counseling and have spent a great deal of time studying OCD and other psychological and emotional disorders. I’m not merely spouting theoretical book noise, however, I’ve been an OCD sufferer from the time I was a young girl. These days, my symptoms are almost always dormant, due to aggressive home therapy (and homeopathic medicine which is somewhat controversial) but it works for me, and that’s what’s most important at the end of the day. I do what works for me.
Ten years ago, I couldn’t find any posts about tongue or cheek biting. Nor could I find any five years ago. Only recently, I’ve seen more and more posts about people who bite their tongues until they bleed, etc., most are asking questions and wonder if it’s a form of OCD or other psychological disorder. I can answer that.
Yes. It is.
When I was a young girl, maybe 7 or so, I developed a horrific habit of chewing the flesh on the insides of my cheeks- ripping off the cheek flesh and spitting it out. It’s really quite a disgusting habit! My habit was still in its infancy, unfortunately, and gradually, I began to chew on the sides of my tongue- often not satisfied until it bled and my tongue would swell. I didn’t dare speak to a therapist about it. I knew she would think of it as a psychological disorder and the next step would be medicine from a shrink. No thanks! I don’t think the solution for every problem that manifests is pharmaceutical medicine. There must be other ways.
Taking medicine for an uncontrollable habit is merely putting a band aid on an amputated limb. It does nothing to get to the root of the problem. Oftentimes, a psychiatrist will prescribe a medicine for OCD or other tricky disorders all too quickly, without really breaking down the matter and getting to the roots of what is really going on. It should be understood that tongue-biting isn’t a “cause” but a result of a cause. It’s the effect.
I needed to get to the root of why I was ripping at my tongue, and why I was causing my own muscle to bleed. When the pain would begin to set in, I’d gently scrape my teeth over my tongue, causing a “sweet” kind of pain. It was like pain on pain, and it brought about a euphoric feeling. It was only when I began studying Substance Abuse at my university that I realized what was really going on.
Children spin around as toddlers to get dizzy. The child is literally trying to get high! It’s a human curiosity and it’s in every one of us. Do we all act upon it? No. But we all have the built-in curiosity and capability to settle that curiosity by trial and error. I experienced heightened trauma and abuse as a child. I never really made a connection between the trauma that was inflicted upon me involuntarily, and the trauma that I voluntarily inflicted upon myself thereafter.
Somehow, in my mind, I felt that I needed to punish myself. I’m not talking about consciously, but subconsciously. And also, the physical pain distracted me from the emotional pain. Again, much of this was taking place on a subconscious level, which is why I would find myself doing it over and over, absentmindedly.
Eventually, after much introspection, I came to realize that biting my tongue in such a way, put me in the same category of self-mutilators. I didn’t want to accept it for many years, but it is the exact same thing. Cutting one’s arm with a razor or cutting one’s tongue (or cheek) with the teeth is still cutting just the same.
I used to think it was self pity. And then I believed it was guilt. From there, I made connections psychologically. Over the years I’ve discovered that it’s a multi-tiered disorder. It’s not just one thing that is causing a person to self-mutilate, but a combination of physiological, socioeconomical, biochemical, psychosocial (the list goes on) factors that when combined- cause an explosive reaction that results in pain, and the desire for pain.
To better understand the depth of this disorder, one should consider what’s going on in the brain every time a biter rips off the flesh, or, a cutter cuts him or herself. Our brain releases neurotransmitters called endorphins. These are the feely-good chemicals that act as natural painkillers. They actually mimic opiates such as morphine and codeine. Stress and pain are the two most common reasons that these endorphins are released into the bloodstream. Once the endorphins are kicked out, a series of natural biological responses occur immediately following: feelings of euphoria, a regularity in appetite, enhanced immune responses, and a release of sex hormones. Who would have thought pain could do all of that?
Upon learning this, I have a new theory as to why cutters cut and biters rip off their tongue and cheek flesh: it’s not simply OCD, or self pity, or guilt (or anger, etc.), it’s much deeper than those things: It’s a drug addiction. Inflicting pain triggers the exact same endorphins that morphine, codeine, and other narcotics/opiates do! Once these chemicals learn their neural pathways repetitiously, they take on a life of their own and without the consent of the host, they begin to call the shots.
There is a difference, however in degrees of this “drug abuse”, between cutters and biters.
Cutters are ritualistic. They prepare for their cutting and even just the very thought of their utensils and other preparatory goods will trigger the release of those euphoria-inducing endorphins. The adrenaline kicks off a bit, and the sympathetic nervous system goes into fight-or-flight mode. The heart beat speeds up, breathing becomes quicker, the pupils can either dilate or shrink, depending on the level of adrenaline, the palms may get sweaty- there are very physical changes that take place in cutters. Secrecy is a large part of their preparatory ritual. Contrary to what many people think about cutters trying to “get attention”, it’s quite the opposite. It’s not a “cry for help”; they’re often very secretive about their cutting.
Biters (of the tongue and cheeks) however are not ritualistic in their behaviors. I am a biter. (I would know.) Cutters have times throughout the day and night that they prefer to cut. Sometimes, it’s because of environmental factors, such as people being home or not, etc. Usually, they’re more systematic and methodical though. Biters don’t have to “plan” for biting. If the stress level rises, the tool is right there! The teeth get to work at once, nibbling first- scoping out the territory to find a good soft, painful, “raw” area to traumatize. And so it begins. The teeth start to dance in a bit of a frenzy, darting here and there, finding more flesh to attack- taste buds are mercilessly ripped off in pieces, or in whole- and then the host realizes what’s happening and the guilt comes in. The biter stops, and swears to try and stop for good. But by now, the endorphins have already been sent out and the mission has (temporarily) been accomplished. The “drug” has been partaken and the person has gotten his or her “fix”. Literally. Just like a junkie.
And so it must be treated like a substance abuse issue also. It’s not merely a “psychological disorder”, like OCD. It’s very much a biological/physiological disorder and should be handled as such. There absolutely will be withdrawals if a person tries to stop “cold turkey”. Perhaps not seizures or other dramatic withdrawal symptoms, but changes in appetite, sleep, stress levels, hormone levels, attention and focus, irritability, and other areas will absolutely be affected.
I wouldn’t recommend prescription medication in treating this type of disorder. Why treat a “neurochemical drug disorder” with drugs? I would recommend replacing the cutting/biting activity with other activities that release the same endorphins: laughter, sex, exercise, ginseng, vanilla scented aromatics, dark chocolate, a firm massage, and music- to name a few.
What’s helped me tremendously is pausing for a moment, when I realize my thoughts are going in that direction, and cleaning out my mind- immediately- taking a few deep breaths- calming myself, and I’ll “regroup” my thought processes. Usually, the # 1 trigger of biting/cutting is stress. I can’t really speak for cutters, as I’ve never really been a “cutter”, but the cutting/biting process is the same, so I would assume that cutters are triggered by stress as well. Even if it’s not an overt and obvious stress, stress is most likely the culprit.
There’s truth in the adage “mind over matter”. I was able to give birth to four children calmly through my determination and solid mindset. I had very little pain medication (I chose to have my 3 girls “all natural” so that I could be bonded with them in the pain process) and didn’t scream at all. I controlled my mind and told myself that the pain was “nothing at all”. And, through deep meditation and control, I was able to give birth without screaming and wailing. So, I do believe the same can be achieved by simply taking a moment, pausing- and telling myself that “biting isn’t the answer”.
At that moment, I can redirect my “biting thoughts” to the source of my stress. After locating the source of my stress, I can then reroute my energy to do what I can to eliminate the stress, rather than cut my flesh with my teeth. In this way, I’m laying the axe to the root and over time and with practice, will become more successful and efficient at eliminating the biting(/cutting) altogether.
It has to be a conscious effort. And it has to be a cold, hard choice.
But these simple “mental exercises” shine the light on the problem area, allowing the person to see what is truly going on (and where), so that he or she does not continue to drone on in the same methodical disease-driven behavior, and to proactively and consciously choose a healthier path- one step at a time.
Footnote: Just as there are various degrees and types of substance abuse, there are various degrees and types of cutting/biting. One person’s combining factors may not be another’s. Each person must identify his or her own stressor/s and work to eliminate the source or sources of those stressors. If the person feels that he or she is the source of his or her own stress, then rather than eliminate the source- try and peacefully merge to coexist harmoniously with oneself.
I hope this was of some help to some of you biters and cutters out there. Your mind is a very powerful machine. You absolutely have the goods to turn this thing around, and I wish you all the best. x
April 14, 2014 | Categories: Essays | Tags: bruxism, cheek biting, cutters, cutting, cutting flesh, emotional disorder, night grinding, obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, psychological disorder, self harm, self injury, self mutilation, tongue biting | 51 Comments
There are two words that bother me greatly when I see, hear, or read them. They are: “Mental Illness”. Why does this wildly popular and acceptable term bother me so much? I’ll elaborate.
Quite a few of my friends are “mentally ill” at their own admittance, and those that aren’t, continue to use the phrase easily and without conviction. It’s just what people are known to be that have “mental problems”, right?
But who doesn’t have “mental problems”? Who hasn’t at some point broken down and cried? Who hasn’t felt afflicted spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, financially, health-wise or otherwise? How did it affect you as person? Did you feel defeated? Did you feel like giving up? Did you fret? Worry? Call people? Overeat? Not leave your house for the day? The week? Pace your floors? Cuss? Scream? Throw something? Drink? Drink more? (See where this is going?)
How do we differentiate between a person who is exhibiting (fatigue, duress, insomnia, depression and other) physiological manifestations -very natural responses to his or her sexual abuse or other traumas- combined with their chaotic environments, and a person who is exhibiting these signs when everything is hunky-dory?
One would be classified as appropriate behaviors given the circumstances, and the other would be classified as exhibiting psychological disorders. Both examples describe the same behaviors! But the environmental norms surrounding them separate the two.
If a person has been sexually abused and placed in a normal environment with siblings and other happy folks who have a swell life, there is no way the sexually abused person is going to behave in an expected manner. Who would behave at optimal performance in school, church, family gatherings, etc. after being sexually abused and having to “guard it” like Fort Knox gold? A person who tries to keep it together year after year will eventually break down while trying to process massive amounts of: guilt, anxiety, shame, anger, rage, confusion, blame, self-loathing, envy- the list is very long.
Given the circumstances, it’s actually very normal behavior to exhibit signs of distress, anxiety, anger, OCD-like tendencies, insomnia, night terrors, and other maladaptive behaviors that are associated with trauma. People who have not suffered these traumas do not understand and it is extremely unsettling for them that they do not have answers that they can file away, shelve, and dress up with a tidy bow so that it’s sorted out in their heads.
But there needs to be an understanding in this area that these odd behaviors are very normal for sexual abuse survivors. What wouldn’t be normal is having suffered sexual abuse (especially as a child) and then sailing through life with little or no behavioral quirks. I dislike the word disorder because I challenge anybody to say that surviving sexual abuse is a disorder.
It is a triumph. Sexual abuse is a violation like no other and people give medals to those in wars who have been violated less and call them heroes. Sexual abuse survivors fight in the battlefields of life, and there’s no hero’s welcome. There’s no parade. No medals. We have to be our own heroes and rescue ourselves from the collective trenches of societal stigma and hate bombs that others throw at us and that we throw at ourselves.
Being a sexual abuse survivor is like being locked in a dark, dirty cell and given 5,000 keys: Only one will unlock the door, and you have one hour to find the right one, or you could die! Doom. Doom doom doom! And lots of crying, worry, and fears that you will never find the right key in time.
But again, I reiterate that these horrible feelings are absolutely normal given the circumstances. We need to carefully select the words and labels we assign to people who have suffered such traumas. What if they believe you?!
God forbid I ever believe any labels that have been placed upon me in life. I would be the biggest mess in the world. But I have assigned healthier labels for myself: loving, compassionate, real, honest, valuable, happy. After all, I am the one who has to live with myself and why would I want to live with a pessimist?
The term mental illness came about in the 1800’s after various psychological perspectives disagreed on what actually defined a person to be mentally ill. Some believed that it was evil spirits. Some believed it was “psychogenic”, or psychologically induced, and others believed that it was somatogenic, or “of a biophysiological nature” (that’s a fancy way of saying “relating to your body” rather than your mental processes).
They locked “mentally ill” people up on psych wards and in chains where they were beaten and starved, or placed in a metal contraption that rendered them motionless for hours and days at a time. When the patients in these asylums exhibited paranoia, fear, depression, sleeplessness, excessive anxiety and other abuse-related behaviors (as a direct result of the abuse), their friends and families sadly accepted what the doctors had prescribed them all: mental illness.
Many of these patients were exhibiting very normal responses to being held against their wills and physically and psychologically abused. People were quick to swallow the ideology of “mental illness” because it satisfied their need to classify and understand what was happening to their family member.
In other words, people created the term “mental illness” to be able to better control individuals, societies, groups, and religious wars were often the fuel that kept these controversial fires burning. With the classification of mental illness, the acts of physical and emotional abuse on those who broke society’s norms were not only unpunishable; but sanctioned, approved, and rewarded!
Just as toxic as any sexual abuse is the belief by the victim that he or she is mentally ill, because somebody said so. This is such a powerful weapon of self-destruction, and only the act of sexual abuse itself is stronger.
We need to start tossing out terms like “mental illness”: those two words alone are TOXIC. I will never accept terms like “mental illness” and “psychological disorder”. Those are conceptual words made up by people who do not understand what it is like to live in a world with wild, technicolor vision. How about that?
How about, “I have a family member or friend who has really been through it, but they have still been able to [insert accomplishments here] despite their setbacks.”
It’s all about perception and presentation, and I think we owe one another a sum of decency as to how we present each other.
I wrote this post so that other sexual abuse survivors might gather strength and comfort. Know that there are others who have suffered the same things in life, but refuse to be labeled! You are who and what you believe you are.
You have to believe yourself into something positive, constructive, hopeful– and be fearless in your conquests! Be bold in who you are, and acknowledge that you are a survivor rather than a victim. And when you learn that, teach others that too. Choose positivity rather than negativity.
Those 5,000 keys?
They all open the door.
January 24, 2014 | Categories: Essays | Tags: ADHD, birgitta, black sheep, huggjng the monster, love, maladaptive behaviors, mental illness, OCD, order, overcoming obstacles, perception, photo therapy, phototherapy, positive affective, positvity, post traumatic stress disorder, psychological disorders, PTSD, self-efficacy, self-healing, self-worth, sexual abuse, sexual abuse survivor, stigma, surviving sexual abuse, trauma | 30 Comments