The Voice Inside of Me
As far back as I can remember into my early childhood, I observed how people treated me and each other, and perceived the differences in intent and consistency. For example, my great-grandma, who took care of me, was very loving and nurturing. I innately trusted her because she never failed to make sure I was fed, cleanly clothed, soothed, encouraged, and entertained. My experience with my mother, however, varied between laughing, playing and singing to being rejected in favor of whichever man she was romantically involved with. She married one, whose smiles and gifts I’d never trusted and whom I’d witnessed acting very differently around an audience compared to when we were at home without witnesses.
Although the instability and inconsistency in people’s behaviors felt wrong, I didn’t have the understanding or verbiage for how people behaved in different circumstances. I was just a kid whose inner voice was telling me that the people in my life, whom I was supposed to trust to take care of me and keep me safe and secure, were making me feel otherwise.
I couldn’t understand how my mother and her husband were both so hot and cold with me. I noticed my mother submit to her husband to avoid conflict but refused to do the same despite the unpleasant consequences. I struggled with trusting people when my mother constantly called me a liar and accused me of trying to get attention when I’d tell her about her husband’s harsh words and increasing physical aggression towards me when she wasn’t around to witness any of it. I overheard her husband’s twisted stories of how difficult or defiant I was and was even coached about what I should and shouldn’t tell people about us and our lives, even though they were lies that protected whatever reputation my mother and her husband wanted to uphold in social circles. As I grew older, they would tell me that my experiences didn’t happen the way I remembered or didn’t happen at all. But it was all lies, and it angered me that family and friends so willingly accepted them as truth.
I wasn’t the defiant and manipulative liar my mother and her husband made me out to be. My teachers thought very highly of me. My friends’ parents enjoyed having me in their homes. Music and dance instructors saw tremendous potential in me that seemed to evade my mother and her husband. The stark difference made me realize that I wasn’t the problem; my mother and her husband were. They were liars and manipulators. And it wasn’t right.
My mother’s husband was wrong to tell me no one ever wanted me and that I was a burden he shouldn’t have to deal with. He was wrong to handle me harshly when I stood up for myself against his mistreatment. I resented my mother, too, for submitting me to mistreatment, and failing to stand up for me like a mother should. She chose to believe her husband over me, however, or simply chose not to go against whatever lies her husband wanted her to believe out of fear. Regardless, my mother’s actions proved her husband’s assertions that she didn’t love me, and when my mother and her husband had their own child—which he’d insisted on because I wasn’t his biological spawn—my mother’s loyalty to her husband and her husband’s emotional and physical offenses against me escalated.
But I had no way out. I was a kid who didn’t know about gaslighting, narcissism, and the emotional tactics and physical abuse narcissists used to manipulate their victims. I didn’t know what a scapegoat was. I didn’t know what projection and deflection were. All I felt was excluded and out of place, abandoned, and alone to fend for my own emotional and physical safety and security, and to question my reality altogether.
I spent my college years seeking to understand what I felt and trying to determine if there was something wrong with me, as I’d been made to believe. Instead, I learned that I was a victim. I also learned that our polite society doesn’t want to acknowledge victims of abuse, because then people would have to accept that people they know and care about, including their own sons and daughters and siblings, are intentionally cruel people with whom they normally wouldn’t associate. They’d be burdened with the decision of whether to stand with the abuser or stand up for the victim, and most would rather accept that the victim is a vengeful and a crazy liar than accept their association with an abuser.
So, victims are silenced, called crazy, and told to get help. That, my friends, is gaslighting, which is a form of more emotional abuse. And to continue to manipulate and abuse those of us who were already traumatized is just cruel.
It’s our abusers who should be silenced, and who should be shamed for their actions. Our abusers are the ones who are antisocial and exhibit psychotic tendencies. It’s our abusers who need help. Not us.
That’s why it’s time to join together and speak up. I’m thankful to have the understanding and education to be able to give voice to the millions of abuse victims who are afraid or unable to speak up for themselves. I know I will face obstacles and be made out to be a liar, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take if it prevents one child from experiencing the devastating life-long effects of emotional and physical torment or helps one adult better understand what happened to them.
As I’ve joked to many, my big mouth and negative experiences weren’t a coincidence. Together they gave me purpose, and that purpose is to give voice to fellow victims of abuse and start a conversation that will hopefully lead to justice for those of us who never got it.