i’m a good actor. growing up, the best acting i ever did wasn’t on the set.
TRIGGER WARNING: ABUSE
I read this post on Tumblr, and it spoke to my lived experience in a loud and familiar voice. I posted it in comments on my Facebook yesterday, but I think it’s worth promoting to Main for other survivors who may take some comfort from it the way I did.
“Living in long term abusive situation, the abusers will often require you to ‘act normal’, as if everything is fine and good, even if you don’t feel okay. They present it to you as necessary, polite, ‘don’t be rude to xyz’ or will straight-up belittle and humiliate you until acting ‘normal’ will be the only safe option for you. It creates the illusion that everyone is secretly falling apart inside and suffering silently only to be polite.
“Acting normal in every situation can become a compulsion, something you do automatically to protect yourself against possible or imagined backlash; you live as if you’re unphased by anything, because showing pain feels like showing weakness, and being hurt while you’re weak is worse. You additionally might feel that your feelings are too much, nobody would want to deal with them, you’re oversensitive, overdramatic, over-emotional disaster of a human and you keep it all in to save yourself rejection and embarassment.”
“My father did all the abusing, and my mother did all the gaslighting, so I would act okay around not just him, but everyone.
“To the day I ended contact with them, after trying so fucking hard to heal with them, he denied ever doing anything to hurt me, and she gaslighted me about it.
“I was so good at acting okay, most of my biological family doesn’t believe me about his cruelty and abuse.”
I was telling Anne yesterday afternoon that my childhood was defined by a father who clearly didn’t love me, didn’t even like me, and a mother who somehow convinced herself that he wasn’t hurting me. Like, after raising two kids together, I had this realization one day that nothing happened in our house that we both didn’t know about. If one of the kids was upset about something, we both knew about it and we talked about it, together, so we could be the best parents we could be.
I’ve talked to my sister about it, and it’s like she grew up in a different family than I did.
There’s no way my mother didn’t know that the man who was my father was cruel to me. There’s no way she didn’t know he was so mean to me. He humiliated me, he teased me, he picked on me. He put me down, he mocked me, he minimized everything I cared about. He did it in front of the whole family, endlessly. There’s no way she didn’t know he clearly and obviously and demonstrably loved my brother and sister in a way he did not love me. I mean, look at pictures of me. Pictures where I was putting on my best face for the whole world! The sadness and pain in my eyes is painfully obvious. Some of you are mothers. I know that every single one of you would recognize that pain and sadness if you saw it in your children. I know that every single one of you would do everything in your power to help your child.
There’s no way she didn’t know, unless she deliberately chose to ignore everything I was going through, for whatever reason. Honestly, that’s worse, I think.
I wonder if my mother convinced herself that, because he wasn’t hitting me or leaving marks on me, that he wasn’t abusive. And I wonder if, having made that choice, the emotional abuse and endless cruelty was that much easier to ignore.
I’ve talked to my sister about it, and it’s like she grew up in a different family than I did. She says she never felt unloved, or like she had to be good enough for their affection and approval. She felt like she was enough, just because she existed. She never felt like our parents didn’t love her or accept her exactly as she was. Watching my parents worship our brother, it was obvious that he was more than enough for them.
But I was a thing. When I was seven, Mom made me a thing that she could use to chase fame and fortune in Hollywood, and that man who should have been a father to me … I guess he resented that thing.
If I’m being honest, the thing that hurts the most is knowing that my parents had unconditional love to give, because I saw them give it freely to my siblings.
He wasn’t physically abusive toward me until I was a teenager. I mean, they both spanked me and my siblings all the time in the 70s and early 80s. I understand now that we consider that physical abuse, but in the 70s I understand that corporal punishment was more common than it is now? I don’t know. I think using the threat of physical violence and pain to make your kids behave a certain way is monstrous, but I also know it was a different time and … well, my parents were kind of monstrous. I just didn’t have anything to compare my experience to at the time.
I wonder if she convinced herself that, because he wasn’t hitting me or leaving marks on me, that he wasn’t abusive. And I wonder if, having made that choice, the emotional abuse and endless cruelty was that much easier to ignore.
I’ll never know, because all the times I tried to talk to her about it, she just gaslighted me. As far as I know, with the exception of my sister, my birth family sincerely believes I am the villain in their story. And that really, really hurts.
As I said in my post on Tumblr, I got so good at pretending everything was okay, just so I could survive, I fooled everyone in our family, in our neighborhood, and at work. To this day, people I trusted don’t believe me, because I was such a good actor.
It hurts so much to know that people I love don’t believe me, or believe that I’m anything other than a survivor. It hurts, and the lingering vestiges of those childhood survival skills occasionally assert themselves, making an argument to me that I should just reject everything I know to be true, and accept their version of reality, just so I can have the family my brother and sister have.
If I’m being honest, the thing that hurts the most is knowing that my parents had unconditional love to give, because I saw them give it freely to my siblings. The man who was my father made a choice to treat me like shit, and my mother made a choice to ignore or justify it.
My sister told me she has these memories of going on family vacations without me, and that she always missed me being there. I remembered them taking a few trips when I was in my late teens, and how I didn’t want to go with them, because the way our parents and our brother made me feel was just so awful.
I am having a little bit of a flashback right now to one of the many times my brother and father gleefully ganged up on me, teasing me, humiliating me, mocking me. Just relentlessly bullying me. And when I punched back, it was always, “WOAH why are you so sensitive? Learn to take a joke!” and etc.
This has gotten much longer than I intended, and a big part of me feels like I should just delete it all. That part of me is always scared and vulnerable and anxious about everything. But when I posted this yesterday, the ensuing comments helped me feel so NOT ALONE in knowing that all of these things I endured, all the gaslighting and all the pain and trauma were REAL because those things didn’t happen just to me. It hurts to know other people experienced these things, but it also helps me know that I’m not alone, I didn’t make it all up, and none of it was my fault. I hope it helps them, too.
If you see yourself in any of my experiences, I want you to know that I see you, right back. I believe you. We didn’t deserve any of it, and I am so sorry.