This is a hard piece for me to write, because it involves the events leading up to my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It may be triggering to fellow survivors of emotional abuse. If you aren’t in a place where you can read about it, don’t read this piece. It’s okay not to be ready to face your past by hearing about mine.
According to HealthyPlace.com, many people with BPD describe a history of child abuse or neglect. Since the personality is strongly influenced by childhood, abuse and neglect may be strong factors in developing BPD. In fact, some believe that BPD is a type of PTSD from childhood abuse and neglect. While physical abuse is easy to recognize, emotional abuse leaves no physical marks and is far more difficult to detect. I remember writing in my journal “They’ve never hit me, but I almost wish they would so I would know if this is bad or not.”
Signs of childhood emotional abuse
According to HealthyPlace.com, signs of childhood emotional abuse include:
- extreme behavior, such as overcompliance, demanding conduct, aggressiveness or extreme passivity
- inappropriately adult behavior as a child (“parenting other children”, for example)
- inappropriately infantile behavior (rocking, head-banging)
- delayed physical and emotional development
- suicide attempts
- lack of attachment to the parent
Much of this carries over into adulthood. I tend to bang my head in an effort to feel better at times, I have difficulty showing emotions, and I have a history of suicide attempts.
Other signs of emotional abuse can come from the caregiver, including:
- constantly blaming, berating or belittling the child
- is unconcerned about the child and refuses offers of help for the child’s problems
- overtly rejects the child
This can also carry over into the child’s adult life. I remember first suffering symptoms of depression as a child. My parents blamed me, yelled at me for crying, dragged me to a psychiatrist and complained about the money spent to “fix” me, demanded high academic performance (there was a volatile argument over whether or not I would be valedictorian), and were often so unconcerned with my emotions that therapists expressed amazement that their parenting skills were as poor as they were. My mom even told me once “You’re an embarrassment to this family and you’re an embarrassment to me.”
Facing the secret
In AA meetings, it is often said “We are only as sick as our secrets.” This also applies to BPD. As long as the emotional abuse is secret, it maintains its power because we believe what our abuser says is true. When we face the secret by discovering our abuser’s words are not true, then we take the first step in breaking free from the family secret.
It is slowly becoming more acceptable to talk about emotional abuse. When I was a child, the school I attended knew that I was being emotionally abused, but had nothing to call it by, so it continued, albeit an open secret that “Becky has problems at home”. Fortunately, I had friends who cared about me and helped me survive (one even set up an appointment with a counselor for me). Now I’m facing my pain in therapy. A support system is vital to surviving and healing from emotional abuse.
The good news
There is life after emotional abuse, and there is life without BPD symptoms such as self-harm. You can find freedom from your past. It may be difficult–for me facing the past has been a gradual process with occasional setbacks–but it is possible. Every day of your life is a day you can improve.
This doesn’t mean every day will be easy; I still struggle with self-injurious behavior. But it does mean that hope is real. Recovery is possible. People can change. You don’t have to be miserable for the rest of your life.
That’s something to look forward to.