If I could bestow a moment of clarity upon my relatives, it would be one that allowed them to understand that all forms of abuse from a parent are traumatizing, life-changing, and valid. My experiences are no less troubling just because they may not seem to be as severe as what my extended family members dealt with growing up.
Stop brushing me off.
For some background, I’ve grown up in a family where emotional and verbal abuse is the norm.
I have lived through disturbing events and situations that I didn’t even know qualified as abuse until I was older and had the education and the resources available to help me internalize what I witnessed as a kid and young adult. For years, I’ve known that my home environment is, at times, detrimental to my health. I’ve struggled to find my own voice and stand up to my father.
I’ve felt trapped, I’ve cried for my mom, and I’ve avoided family gatherings and holidays just to protect myself from the stress that comes with them.
But when I was younger and I spoke up to my relatives, they disregarded my strained relationship with my father. They essentially shut me down by telling me that they had it worse growing up from their own father. They claimed that my home life could be much more abusive.
They explained that since I was often “disrespectful” to my dad, I brought on a lot of the problems myself. They started many sentences with, “Just be grateful that your dad doesn’t…” and finished it with some extreme act of violence.
No, I’m not going to be grateful that my dad doesn’t beat the shit out of me on a weekly basis.
Yes, maybe your childhood was more violent, but I’m dealing with the repercussions of living for almost two decades with an emotionally manipulative man and I’d appreciate it if you stopped making my grievances all about you.
These comments from extended family members always proved effective in ending whatever conversation we were having about my home life. They were, and continue to be, a barrier to understanding and communication.
Comparing your awful childhood experiences to those of someone else and attempting to prove how you were worse off isn’t supportive; it’s a way for you to exit the discussion.
If a relative comes to you about sexual, emotional, or physical abuse within the family, listen to them.
It’s understandable that you may not want to hear that your sister, brother, son, daughter, aunt, or uncle is causing harm to their own child. It’s hard to digest. But the most important thing you can do is offer your support and at least listen to what the victim has to say without making their trauma about you.
Don’t compare your toxic family to theirs in an attempt to one-up her and make her realize that they have it “good.”
Don’t dismiss their experiences just because you feel it’s child’s play compared to what you’ve lived through. Don’t make them justify how the abuse has affected them.
If you’re stuck in a toxic, overwhelming family or are suffering abuse from a parent or any family member, your problems are still valid. If we truly want to empower victims and survivors of abuse, we have to recognize when our own family perpetuates the violent, controlling, or manipulative behavior.