How does an adult child of abusive parents approach life and her perception of reality? With great agony and skepticism.
She told me that I was a liar. She taught me that I could not be trusted. She taught me that I was evil. This schema that drilled into my mind about my perception of reality served them well. If a child cannot trust her experiences, then she will never disclose the reality that she is living. She will never trust herself enough to risk the reputation and lives of those that she loves. If you teach a child self-doubt and extreme loyalty, then you will never risk exposure. You can get away with anything. If all that you care about in your narcissism is your own self-preservation, then this strategy is win-win.
But what of the life of that brainwashed child? How will she grow up? How will she ever come to terms with reality? She will for the rest of her life question the reality of your behavior. Oh, but it goes so much farther than this. The consequences of this self-distrust are catastrophic. The ripples of this early teaching touch every single experience that touch the life of this manipulated soul.
My life is currently under the influence of medical restrictions. I am at the mercy of individuals who are helping and caring my family. I cannot get a drink without the assistance of someone else. Over the last two years, I have been piled with medical diagnoses. It started with hyperadrenergic Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (HyperPOTS), followed by Interstitial Cystitis. A few months down the road, Gastroparesis surfaced, followed by Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. I fear that if I allow further testing, the list would get longer. There are a few extra illnesses that I think have been confirmed, but I am not entirely sure, so for the sake of accuracy, I will not include them in my list. Any rational person could look at my medical history, or glance at me physically, and conclude that I am very ill. There is no question about it….and yet….I find myself asking the question “Am I actually sick?” Every. Single. Day.
How can I question the reality of my illness? The self-doubt undermines every recovery effort, because I question the need for treatment every step of the way. I ask if I really need my daily infusions, or if they are placebo. I ask if my PEG tube is absolutely necessary. I look at my 11 medications that I take daily, in my massive pill organizer, and I wonder if the doctors are just prescribing them to placate me. I have an epinephrine shot in my medicine cabinet for anaphylactic reactions, and I haven’t bothered to read the instructions, because I am under the assumption that when my throat is closing up, it is probably just anxiety. I allowed myself to fall asleep last night in the midst of a near anaphylactic reaction without bothering to even ask the question if my situation could be an emergency. It is only today that I can look at it in retrospect and see that I should have taken more extreme measures. How can I begin to assess my situation as one that needs to be managed with care and caution? How can I ever begin to validate my bodily experience?
I feel sabotaged. I feel like someone removed my brain, took out my ability to believe myself, inserted it back in my head, and let me loose, saying “Go on, have fun trying to live your life under the assumption that you are always, without a doubt, a deceptive, manipulative, liar.”
Here’s the catch. Since childhood, no one has ever echoed the message that my parents drilled into my head. No one has ever questioned the validity of my word, my experience, or my perception. People have trusted and believed me. Even with rare, hard to understand diagnoses that are often questioned, I have never experienced a doctor communicate implicitly or explicitly that it is “all in my head.”
Upon communicating my doubt to my specialist this week, she responded by stating her credentials, achievements, and specialties, all of which are in my areas of diagnosis. After asserting her qualifications and skills set, she said, “I absolutely, without a doubt, am entirely confident that you have these illnesses, and that you are incredibly sick.” I responded with a skeptical, “Are you sure?”, to which she responded with a face-palm.
I am desperately trying to navigate this path toward truth and trusting myself. We all have misperceptions at times, and we all need input from others to help ascertain that we have a firm grasp on reality every once in a while, but it becomes dysfunctional when we doubt, question, and test every perception we have as we walk through our day. It becomes a problem when no matter how much we are reassured by loved ones, professionals, and friends, we still cannot believe ourselves. I am so tired of this self-doubt. The consequences of being taught that I could not trust my perception of reality are extensive and crippling.
I take comfort in the idea that the Spirit of Truth lives within me, and that I can trust that Spirit to lead me into truth. This is a promise delivered to us by Jesus. Sometimes I feel like I am cycling around and around, making no progress at all in my pursuit of self-validation and trust, but I am reminded of how far I have come. I have sought treatment, allowed doctors to prescribe medications and surgical interventions. I have surrendered my driver’s license and allowed helpers to come into my home every day to care for my children and for me. I have recognized the cost that my body pays for doing simple chores and have sacrificed my sense of household duty for meaningful connection and relationship with my children and husband. I have moments when I trust myself and entrust myself to the care of others because I know that I am weak and need help. I am not a lost cause.
Where there is life, there is hope, and as long as I am living, I will continue to trust that God can rebuild and restore any and every area of brokenness in my life. He will continue to do so until my final breath. And as surely as the Spirit of Truth dwells within my heart, I will continue to trust Him to re-write the messages of my childhood and to re-wire my brain.