Hey everyone! Things have been a little more quiet lately around here. Fires are still going strong and don’t seem to be giving up any time soon. We’re still safe, but man it’s rough around here. Air quality is getting pretty bad too.
I have to get up early to do a talk tomorrow morning in LA about scams (fun stuff!), so I’m going to do 2 questions today instead of 3. In this episode of the Hardcore Self Help Podcast, I’m talking about recognizing abuse and raising children with mental illness.
I’m seeing symptoms of the depression and anxiety in my kids. How can I help them and keep them from following my path? I have to heal myself so I can save them. How can I teach them to handle those difficult feelings when I don’t know how to deal with them myself?
I completely see where you’re coming from. You get a lot of messages like you need to love yourself before you can love others or fix yourself first. It’s certainly easier to help if you have figured some things out on your own, but don’t forget that you have gained a lot of knowledge through this process even if you haven’t “overcome” the issues yet.
For one, you have learned what your risk factors are. You have learned what sorts of things are difficult and what points in your life were really difficult for you. You have learned some important things that did NOT serve as good solutions for you. And you don’t necessarily need to heal yourself to save them. You can suffer and still a good job parenting. Many of us were brought up by parents with mental health difficulties or even substance abuse difficulties and turned out alright.
Is there a greater risk of your kids having anxiety and depression? Sure. Absolutely. However, it’s not a death sentence.
The fact that you are asking this question indicates that you give a shit, which is a good indicator. Keep caring and keep trying to do your best. Here is actually a great interview clip from Kristen Bell from the off camera show where she talks about how her mom helped her understand the potential of mental illness.
Don’t underestimate your wisdom. You also know what your blind spots are. You can point them in the direction of resources that you wish that you had utilized. I’d also like to say that you also get to be a model for them. “recovery” from mental illness is rarely about getting rid of every symptom. It’s about being able to live your life in the context of these difficult feelings that you have. You have been able to live your life with its ups and downs. You are still here. You have some beautiful kids and you’re continuing to try to better yourself. They can see you trying to better yourself. That’s important.
Think of it this way – if they had anxiety and depression and you had no idea what that was like and you could not empathize at all, they might be in worse shape because you wouldn’t recognize it until way too late.
Now there is always the risk of being hypersensitive to those symptoms because you care about them so much and don’t want them to experience what you do, so you over-interpret normal developmental stuff and think of it as signs of mental illness. This is where being concerned, but leaving the diagnostics to a doctor can be helpful. It can even be helpful to simply enlist the help of other friends or family members to get their take on things and see if you are being hypersensitive or whether you might need to intervene in some ways.
Last thing I will say is that parenting classes can be a good resource for anyone. Especially behaviorally focused ones. I led some of the groups at Kaiser when I worked there and they are just good for learning the bread and butter ways of dealing with difficult behaviors and reinforcing the good ones.
I recently ended things with my boyfriend of nearly two and a half years. About a year into the relationship, we moved to a new city and moved in together, and that is when the physical and emotional abuse started. Looking back, I think the emotional abuse may have started before that, but I didn’t see it then. The first time he physically went after me was a few weeks after we moved in together. He would always say he was sorry, and that he didn’t mean it, and that he wouldn’t do it again. I always believed him. I’m in therapy, and I was prior to this (I have OCD and depression), and she said that it’s the cycle of abuse, but I feel like I should have left earlier. I feel like it must not have been that bad if I stayed, even though part of me knows that isn’t true, I’m blaming myself for continuing to let it happen. We adopted a dog over the summer to try and help with my anxiety and depression, which it did, but he started also abusing the dog for not listening to him and other times when he would get frustrated with the dog. I also think it may have been sexual too, I would say no, and he would end up making me feel guilty and I’d end up giving in, or I’d ask him to stop, and he would only stop once I kissed him a certain number of times, even if I didn’t want to. I’m confused as to if it was sexual abuse, or what it was, but it just doesn’t feel like it was right. Was it? I finally ended things, even though I feel like I should have sooner, especially once the dog entered the picture, but now I just feel guilty all the time and he thinks he did nothing wrong and that I am overreacting (that I am acting “immature”). Is it normal to feel like this? How do I stop these feelings and accept what happened?
First off – I’m just going to validate you super hard. Given your description, yes 100% he is abusive and the things that you are concerned about do count as abuse. There are multiple legal or diagnostic definitions for abuse, but what it comes down to is control and abusing your boundaries.
There are a lot of piece to dissect here, but I just want to say that it is okay for you to feel the way that you do. You are supposed to have mixed feelings about abuse. It is SO common to feel guilty or confused about what counts as abuse. That’s how abuse sustains itself. But you have every right to have left and be upset. It’s okay that you didn’t feel “upset enough” or leave soon enough because that’s how abuse goes.
The point is to keep you dependent and feeling like something is your fault even though logically it makes no sense.
I want to pause for a second to explain what your therapist had mentioned to you, which is the cycle of abuse. If anyone is in a situation that feels abusive, this will probably really hit home.
I used to work at a place called the family violence center. I can’t tell you how many people came in scared that they are just being dramatic or making it all up. Saying sorry does not excuse abusive behavior. That’s actually a part of the behavior. To make you feel like your are being unreasonable and to make YOU feel like the one who should be feeling sorry for them. Whether they are consciously devious or this is just a natural trait for them, this is an emotional manipulation technique.
The kissing thing is also a form of abuse. He’s making you PAY him albeit with kisses, which is a way to disguise it as something sweet, to get out of having sex or whatever the case may be. He’s extorting you. Kisses are the currency that he uses here because you’re automatically going to feel shitty if he asks for a kiss and you say no.
All of that said, you mentioned that he actually physically came after you. You can’t get more clear than that. I’m proud of you for leaving. It’s normal to feel like maybe you should go back or give him another chance, but most people would highly encourage you to not do so. You don’t owe him anything and you need to keep yourself safe.
As to what you can do to stop the feelings and accept what has happened, that is tough. It takes time. Doing what you are doing now and trying to education yourself and get other perspectives on your situation can help out for sure.
I will warn you that one of the other main strategies in an abusive relationship is isolation. To keep you away from people who might influence you to leave or stay away. This could also take the form of checking your texts or emails, making sure that you aren’t spending time with you “crazy friends” or something like that. Isolation leaves you vulnerable.
It’s important that you have people that you trust around you in your situation so that you can have that sounding board. If you don’t have people that you know in real life that can serve as supports, you can find support online or through support groups in your area.
Stay strong. Give yourself some slack and be kind to yourself. This isn’t your fault. You fell into some traps that unfortunately are all too common and I’m really sorry that it happened. Keep moving forward and keep asking for help if you need it.
Want to submit a question for the podcast?
I'm always taking questions for the podcast, so contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something you want me to talk about.