This week I attended my second meeting of the Unicorns. For those of you, who haven't read my post The last Unicorn - I refer to a self help group for adult children of toxic parents. I call them the unicorns because they are just like me a little lost, confused and very much different from everyone they are acquainted with. Like The last Unicorn in the movie, I was always feeling alone in a confusing world, looking for someone who understood. Someone who was like me in a world full of people I had never belonged to.
In that group, I had finally found people, who get it. No more explaining myself. No more thoughful evaluation of what is okay to be spoken out loud and what is not. I firmly believe that if we can speak in a safe environment about the horrible things that have been done to us, that we can, with enough support, make our way out of the trauma and learn how to lead a meaningful and autonomous life, probably not without - but with significant less pain. Then we can stop feeling so different. I might have yet a few sessions to go, before I'll be able to get there, I guess.
This week it was only five of us. Due to the corona pandemic, people might be afraid to leave their homes. Which is understandable. As I stated before, I do not feel comfortable in big groups. Accordingly, this this particular meeting really was for me. It was intimate. Even more than the one before, because we could interact with each other much more frequently.
One of our topics this week was guilt. The guilt we feel for somehow having failed our parents. Why would you feel guilty towards someone who is obvioulsy not even capable of loving you, you might ask. Well, this is what we all have been trained to do. It has been programmed into our brains to comply with any task however painful or unsuitable without asking questions. As a kid, you don't know what is right or wrong. In a nutshell - you watch your rolemodels and repress your following contradictory feelings (which happens automatically - it is not a conscious decision). Later, when you get depressed and developp disorders of whatever sort, you think there is something wrong with you. Because the sources of your pain are successfully repressed. Basicly losing touch with your emotions causes you to lose yourself - therefore you get depressed.
But back to guilt. What do we feel guilty about? I personally feel guilty for not being able to save my mom. I know this is rediculous. She should have been there for me and she wasn't. She couldn't be. All I ever wanted was for her to be happy. That never worked out. I was doomed to fail, because I was just a kid.
It is one part of our healing journey to understand on acognitive level, that what was going on actually was abuse. That part is crucial to move forward. Though it is an entirely different story to deal with the feelings associated to the abuse. Our painful emotions are not only stuck in our memories. They are stuck in our bodies as well. This part of healing is much harder to do. In order to heal our emotional wounds, we have to get in touch with our repressed feelings again. Guilt in response to something painful that was done to us is only a byproduct of our losing touch with ourselves.
Other group members talked about not being good enough and therefore having failed their parents. I bet, you can relate to that one can't you? I certainly can. One woman of the group said, she still up to this day purchases sleeping pills for her addicted dad, "because he needs them". Crazy isn't it, how much of a grip guilt has on people?
Do you ever feel so triggered that you fly off the handle? I do. And I did fly off the handle a few times. That wasn't okay. We got to own our own mistakes, right? Rage is another sign of repressed feelings. Rightful anger in this cace. It is the outrage stuck in our bodies about what we had to endure as children or even adults. Some people do, however, never feel any anger at all. Quite a hand full of unicorns do, though. What do you do when you get angry? I personally go on long walks. Sometimes I grump under my own breath. It doesn't solve the problem, but at least it doesn't hurt anyone else. Afterwards I feel calmer.
Some of us really didn't know what to do with their anger. We can't through it back to the cause, as toxic parents never receive criticism well. Consequently, our rightful anger remained unheard. Until we found each other. In this group we can express our anger in a constructive manner and it is always heard and validated. I cannot even begin to describe how amazing this feels.
Love and the Stockholm Syndrome
Believe it or not, some of us still love their parents. I don't. My mom shattered my last ounce of love for her when she forgot about that I had been raped. (That story is coming, stay tuned.)
Have you ever heard about trauma-bonding? This might be the best and most valid explanation why anyone would love a person who absolutly destroyed their trust and their dreams. Some people's hearts have been broken into a million pieces by their own parents and they still love them beyond reasoning.
So what is trauma-bonding? In 1973, there was a huge bank robbery attempt in Stockholm, Sweden. The robbers held four bank workers hostage for six days. The police managed to get them all out. No one got hurt. At least not physically. In the aftermath however, all of the hostages refused to testify against the robbers and instead protected them. The mental state in which the hostages developped positive feelings towards their abusers was named The Stockholm Syndrome. I very much recommend researcching this topic as it closely relates to toxic love.
Think about it for a minute. We can draw multiple parallels here. A child has no or very limited power. It can be viewed as a hostage as it is completely at his parent's mercy. If the parents are abusive or neglectful towards the child, she finds herself in a life threatening situation which she can't escape from, just like the hostages in the Stockholm robbery attempt. Children do depend on their parents entirely. They cannot take care of themselves.
Then there is another aspect in the love (adult) children feel for their toxic parents which also came up in our group meeting. What if you manage to break the trauma bond and you start seeing it for what it is - abuse? I wrote about my mental breakdown following my light bulb gowing off before in my post How do you know who you are. Feel free to check that one out. What is left is just a sense of beeing lost. I felt like an orphan. Like my parents had just died and never even existed at the same time. It felt soul crushing. For most people this so hard to bear that they continue to love their parents no matter what. Some of the unicorns do, too. Some don't. And that's okay.
Usually it is me who brings up the topic to try to educate people on the matter and make them aware that this is abuse. This time, someone else started to talk about it which actually made me feel increasingly relieved. I am not the only one who was is talking about it! The other unicorns do, too.
Gaslighting is to doubt someons's reality or feelings:
"That never happened!"
"If it happened, you don't remember it correctly!"
"If you do, it was justified!"
"If it wasn't, you are too sensitive!"
"If you're not, it was just a joke!"
That's what it sounds like in real life. The term stems from the old movie Gaslight, that was produced in 1940. You can watch it for free here. It is about a husband who tries to drive his wife mad. He needs to get rid of her in order to find the money that is hidden inside of the house, they are living in. This movie illustrates the term gaslighting perfectly.
There are entire books out there written on gaslighting. The best one I found was In Sheeps Clothing written by Dr. George Simon. He lines out not only gaslighting but every covert and overt manipulation technique of the text book.
What I personally experienced was to be verbally abused first and then gaslighted to conceal the abuse. My mom said to me that I was incapable, stupid, fat, not good enough, strong enough, successful enough or simply not enough and later she told me it was a joke, or better yet: she only said it for me to try harder. I just discovered one and a half years ago, theat healthy moms don't do that. Healthy moms don't belittle their children but encourage and support them. It is as simple as that.
This week's meeting of the unicorns felt so validating. I felt heard and seen. I belong to the unicorns, now. If you are struggeling too, please by all means try to find a support group!
Thanks so much for reading! I'm sending you lots of hugs! Please feel free to reach out! Where ever in the world you are, you are not alone!
Till next time...