Growing up with an adult who suffered from severe mood swings and outbursts made my young life very confusing. I never knew what the day would bring. People with Bipolar, Borderline, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder have unpredictable behaviors. A lot of blaming and shaming is involved. As a young kid, I was on the receiving end of behavior that was extremely unpredictable. It alternated between physical outbursts one day, then a nice gift the next. All of it was frightening, because a bomb could go off at any second. I was—and still am—always on edge. The most anxiety-ridden part was that I could never figure what caused it. Why was this person so volatile? What should I avoid saying or doing the next time? There was always a next time and there was no way to prepare.
When there is trouble within the home, we are desperate to be heard. Sometimes, we turn to family figures or anyone who can tell us that this is not normal. For many years, this was my biggest misstep—seeking comfort from the wrong people. Going to someone who will make excuses for your abuser, or worse, defend your abuser adds to the existing damage.
When I was looking for help, and experienced that kind of rejection repeatedly, I heard: ‘what you’re going through doesn’t matter’ and ‘you don’t matter.’ I pulled away and kept to myself. I was convinced for a very long time that people hated me or were waiting to humiliate me. I learned that abusers isolate their victims through manipulation and mind games. They make you feel alone and that they are the only person that should matter in your life.
My head repeated the insults and cruelty I heard: You’re worthless, you’re evil, you’re lazy, you’re stupid. After a good 20+ years, the pain and words had its chance to sink in and settle. I developed depression and suicidal ideations.
“Children will invest as much energy as is needed to ensure the preservation of family harmony, even if it means sacrificing themselves to do so by developing psychological disorders.”
-Joel Covitz, author of Emotional Child Abuse
I remember watching this show on HBO where Gabriel Byrne plays a therapist. I’m not sure why, but right as an episode ended, I was on the computer looking for a therapist. I think it was the kind, quiet nature of Byrne’s character—so different from the person in my life!
Sometimes the search for the right therapist can require patience. Find someone you feel comfortable with and don’t settle. My own therapist was empathetic, innately warm, patient, and funny. For a year and a half she was the trusted voice that stayed with me as I worked to heal. I could not have made such positive changes without her support.
Additionally, writing about my own struggles helps to chip away at the shame that I’ve been carrying around. Sometimes seeing my words in print helps me to realize the absurdity of my negative and defeating thoughts.
What I’ve learned: Don’t diminish your own experiences. Trust what you’re instincts tell you. And find a trustworthy person to confide in. I went to the wrong people for a long time, which yes, does make it worse. An empathetic mental health professional, support group, online community, or supportive friend—these figures can help us take the first steps toward healing and recovery!