Emotional Abuse and Anger by Carla Dippel

Emotional abuse, psychological abuse
Carla Dippel

In honor of the first anniversary of Emerging from Broken, I thought it was fitting to have a guest post from my very special friend Carla Dippel who Co-Authored this blog with me for the first 6 months of its life!  I am really excited to welcome Carla back as a guest blogger!  As always please feel free to contribute to this wonderful post by leaving your feedback and comments.  ~ Darlene Ouimet, founder of Emerging from Broken

Emotional Abuse and Anger  by Carla Dippel

During one of my sessions, my counsellor left the room and came back with a document created by the Canadian government which defined child abuse. He brought his chair around to sit right beside me and traced his finger under the following words as he read aloud:

Neglect is often chronic, and it usually involves repeated incidents. It involves failing to provide what a child needs for his or her physical, psychological or emotional development and well being… . Emotional neglect includes failing to provide a child with love, safety, and a sense of worth.

Emotional abuse involves harming a child’s sense of self.  It includes acts (or omissions) that result in, or place a child at risk of, serious behavioural, cognitive, emotional or mental health problems.”

(You can find this information as well as other abuse stats at the Dept. of Justice Canada)

I remember feeling two things when he read this to me: a deep sense of affirmation that something had indeed happened to me to explain my current struggle, as well as a subtle disbelief that what had happened to me really was all that bad. My childhood would have looked absolutely normal to most people. I was never beaten, deprived of physical needs, verbally or sexually abused. But at age 16 I knew for the first time that I suffered from depression. It wasn’t the kind of depression that took me through huge highs and lows. It was just this ever-present, cloudy feeling. I operated my life in a constant state of anxiety. I strived to conform to what I thought was the “ideal” or “perfect” way all the time. I had a chronically low self esteem. I see now that the nature of my depression was exactly the same as the nature of my abuse.

My home life was not emotionally vibrant. I had no idea how much of an impact this would have on me. I don’t remember sharing in a lot of joy with my family or being encouraged to express myself freely. My Dad, though very consistent and responsible, was a very emotionally shut down person because of his own childhood. My Mom was more emotionally healthy but also anxious because of the lack of relationship with her husband. There was a lot of simmering, under-the-surface anxiety in our home that was nearly impossible to put your finger on. I never knew the pain of my situation, never was able to consciously feel the disappointment or grief at what was lacking in my emotional development .There was no kids help phone for emotional neglect! And, even if I had some kind of education on the subject, it would have been impossible for me as a child to suspect my own parents of this kind of neglect. But my human soul felt it deep deep down inside, was left with an ache and a hunger that is still under healing to this day. I had all the array of emotions deep within me that every one of us has, but I learned to keep them hidden. They weren’t encouraged to come out in my home and because of this I believed it was safest to keep them locked away.

I do remember expressing anger. From time to time it would come out and was always directed towards my Mom. It might have been in a fight we would have over what I was going to wear- just simple everyday things where I felt safe to let out some of my pent up emotion. (Interestingly, I never expressed anger towards my Dad. I believe my childlike wisdom knew he wouldn’t be able to handle it and I needed to protect myself from the unpredictable). As I got older, I got angry a lot but always at things removed from the actual root cause.  It would come out in rages towards myself (for not being perfect) or rages at drivers on the road or at my pets who were driving me crazy. It would fly out at my brother when he mistreated me in those “little” ways, and I didn’t understand that part of that anger was also towards my parents who didn’t stand up for me appropriately. Through counselling, I was able to put a spotlight on the very real root causes of these feelings, the root cause of not being taught my true worth at a young age, of learning to accept mistreatment to prevent “rocking the boat”, of fundamentally not being free.

I know now that it is good to be angry at what is not right. Anger is a human emotion that helps us keep ourselves intact. It’s an alarm system that alerts us if we are not getting what we fundamentally need or deserve. After I had learned that the emotional neglect in my childhood was very real and deeply damaging, I was able to understand my anger and actually start to practice it. I strive to do this with all of my emotions now which will be a lifelong process for me. I can see in myself the child that wasn’t given the opportunity to express herself. In all my life situations, I am learning to pay attention. I use my perceptive powers to catch glimpses of my real feelings as they ebb and flow. I grab hold of them and say “Carla, you’re feeling disappointed. I can see why- it makes perfect sense.” Or I’ll feel  really anxious about something and I’ll think, “Yeah, I’m not just anxious- I’m also excited, curious, unsure, and eager! How normal is that?? You can handle it all.” If I’m feeling really angry at things that don’t really deserve my anger, I use the opportunity to dig a bit deeper and pinpoint the root cause, to understand myself more deeply and practice compassion and constructive action.

I believe the hardest part of recovery from emotional abuse is affirming that it actually did happen. The nature of emotional abuse makes us doubt how we really feel about anything. It’s a challenge to start to trust our emotions and help them guide us to the answers we are hungry for. But I do know it is possible because I am finding my way step by step into freedom.

I would love to pass on a most excellent resource for anyone else who resonates with what I have shared. If you’d like to learn more about the effects of an emotionally repressed childhood, check out Gabor Mate’s amazing book “When the Body Says No.” He offers a wealth of insight and hope in his findings as a medical doctor and psychiatrist.

With hope for the recovery of an emotionally vibrant life,

Carla Dippel

Bio for Carla in her own words ~ Since I was very young, I have searched for what would truly make me happy. I tried being a good girl, pleasing my parents, pleasing my friends and relatives, going to Sunday School, giving of my time and talents at church, Christian school, being “accomplished”, being popular, being smart, getting a degree, having boyfriends, getting my own home, being thinner, being prettier, having hobbies, having more friends, having less friends, being a leader, consulting everybody else, pleasing EVERYBODY. I laboured furiously, always putting the cart before the horse. The answer to my ultimate question “How can I be happy?” has been whispered in my ear many times along my travels. Within the last few years, I have been able to hear the answer more and more clearly: real happiness lies in accepting, knowing,  that I am valuable just as I am, with no strings attached and no extra dressings, and that there is a definite purpose and meaning for my own unique life. Walking in this truth has changed everything, giving me the courage to replace despair and depression with hope and joy. ~ Carla

Carla Dippel lives in beautiful Alberta Canada. She loves to cook, dance, write and grow in knowing what is good and true about this life.  As Carla has emerged from broken, she delights in being a distinct and adventurous woman, living her life to the full, exploring new possibilities and making her dreams a reality.  Carla loves to share reflections of her journey with others and to hear the stories of others in return.

21 response to "Emotional Abuse and Anger by Carla Dippel"

  1. By: Amber Posted: 4th September

    Carla, I love this article! I see so many similarities in the ways you and I handled things in our young years. I too coped by keeping my feelings locked inside. It just felt safer that way. I believe I feared either being ridiculed for my feelings, or punished. Punishment included such things as being completely ignored when I was upset, dismissed as not important, yelled at or even smacked. So I learned to just squash them down. Of course this also transferred to other relationships. I became fearful of having an opinion or feelings.
    Without consciously realizing it until I read this, I have as a result of what I’ve learned on this site been starting to notice feelings that surface and zooming in on the cause. So much has to be traced far far back. Much of what Im discovering is something you stated so well and is so true for me too I was never taught my self worth, ever as a child, and how I learned to accept mistreatment rather than to rock the boat and upset others, who somehow obtained the undeserved status of “more worthy”.

  2. By: Marla Posted: 4th December

    Wow..this was so affirming: “Neglect is often chronic, and it usually involves repeated incidents. It involves failing to provide what a child needs for his or her physical, psychological or emotional development and well being… . Emotional neglect includes failing to provide a child with love, safety, and a sense of worth.”

    I went through just about every kind of abuse possible. But outsiders (including family) never saw it because it was so subtle. On the outside, I probably seemed fairly normal because I was clean, wore nice clean clothes, had the best shoes, etc. But inside…I wanted to feel loved, accepted, & liked. I was desperate to feel those things. I am not sure when my desperation went away but it did. I didn’t care anymore who liked me or hated me. didn’t care if I was physically assaulted, or threatened…none of it mattered. I had been broken…who wants broken anyway? Everywhere I went, I was criticized for being different. If only those people could have known…could have asked. It would have been nice if someone had cared.

    Finally some encouraging words, validation to my experiences…guess I am not so broken after all. 🙂 Thank you for your blog on this subject.

  3. By: Carla Posted: 8th November

    Hi Ann,

    I’m so glad this post was a validation for you, and I can relate to what you’re sharing too. I’m continually learning to uncover and validate whatever feelings flow through me, and I believe every one of them has a source and a reason and that the experience of them is a vibrant part of being human. It is a consistent hope for me that whatever we appreciate/pay attention to, grows- just as our true emotions when we were children that were NOT appreciated got repressed. I wish you my warmest encouragements in your journey of healing Ann! All the very best to you, Carla

  4. By: Ann Posted: 8th November

    Hi Carla,
    I had to write because I can so identify with you. Like you, I always knew something wasn’t right with me. I felt so stoic and anxious most of the time, but didn’t realize it. My childhood appeared idyllic: all my material needs were met and there was nary an angry word in my house. My parents adored me, or their image of me; I was the star student and athlete. Compared to many of my friends’ messy houses, relationships and all, mine was stellar. Only now at age 48, after a traumatic event, have I come to realize the incredible emotional neglect that I endured from both parents. My dad was like yours in your post on the distant gardener. I can’t remember ever talking intimately or at all with my father or my mother about anything.

    I am currently doing a lot of self therapy to unearth all the repressed emotions from a lifetime of experiences. Sometimes I am so discouraged from being so emotionally bankrupt. At least now I am starting to feel an awareness of my emotions, but all of them are negative-fear, anger, anxiety, bitterness. Do I ever check in with myself, and find that I am happy? One day, I am trusting that this will happen.

    I guess right now I am just enjoying writing down how I feel. I have never been allowed just to feel. In the past, I always either repressed, judged, or lectured my feelings. I hate that now. I just accept and embrace any feelings I have while I’m trying to recover.

    Just last week, I surprised myself by sobbing over an episode of Undercover Boss. Prior, I might have choked up, but this time I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Because I so rarely cry, I took this to be a great sign of me getting better.

    Thank you, Carla, for writing about your abuse from emotional neglect. It really validates my feelings and journey.

  5. By: Krissy Posted: 8th December

    Thank you so much Carla. I am applying what I read not just to my own situation and where I need to heal, but also to heal my children heal. They are happening simultaneously because it is not like I can put one on hold.

    The problem is that both the kids and I have anger, and what I need to realize is that we are actually going through similar things and are fellow victims. I need to make things different for my kids to allow them to acknowledge and address their anger over the psychological abuse they suffered (their father and I have split but we are dealing with the aftermath). The interesting thing is that they feel safe expressing their anger at me (which sets me off) while I used to express my anger at my dad, and now I can see he was the non-abusive one. So I can at least take heart that they find me safe to vent on and I need to “contain” their anger for them while being firm in not allowing abusiveness. That’s the hard part – I get so triggered by rage and abusiveness because of what we suffered at the hands of a perpetrator. But when I let loose at them, it doesn’t help their healing because they have grown up with messages of invalidation and criticism and if I do that now, they have no other sources of validation of their worth, which makes them even angrier, to the point of having no hope and self-harming.

    I really hope that learning to acknowledge the abuse and being able to be aware of what the anger is about, as painful as it may be, will lead to much healing and a different future for my kids.

  6. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 4th December

    Hi Rainbow! I can relate to the hesitancy in acknowledging abuse as abuse, and actually calling it that. I think it’s challenging because we’re afraid of hurting our people’s feelings or sounding too harsh or being melodramatic. I just think now that it’s good to call something what it is. It gives food to our healing process. No matter what words we choose to describe it, the most important truth for me was to know that what happened to me wasn’t right, wasn’t the “best” for me, that it was wrong. And to know that I didn’t do anything to deserve it or make it happen. I’m still working that truth into my life in many ways.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and your story. All the best to you Rainbow! ~ Carla

  7. By: Rainbow Posted: 3rd December

    “I believe the hardest part of recovery from emotional abuse is affirming that it actually did happen.”

    Carla, thank you so much for writing this! This was one of the main motivations I had in starting my blog. I write, for the most part, about emotional abuse in a family environment. This “am I crazy” mindset disturbed me so much that I wrote a post on validation at http://www.rainbowgryphon.com/abuse/validating-your-pain/.

    It took me 38 years to admit that what I endured was abuse. That was a hard word for me to use. Both of my parents were emotionally abusive in different ways. My father was very controlling, critical, and emotionally distant. My mother was clingy, hostile, and smothering. When parents fulfill all of their children’s material needs (shelter, food, clothing, education), our society tends to judge them as good parents. Mine certainly felt they were based on this.

    After I was willing to admit that it was (that ugly word) abuse, I went through a period where I would be overwhelmed with feelings of anger. I actually experienced physical convulsions from the anger that would come to the surface. I didn’t feel physical pain, but it was a very physical experience. The anger had been buried so deeply for so long that it just had to come out physically, I guess. I’m glad it did, though, because I wouldn’t be able to write about my emotional abuse today if it hadn’t.

    Stay strong!


  8. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 3rd December

    Darlene, I love how you tie things together so well. I think that’s exactly what the truth does- it connects things together in such a way that can lead everyone and anyone’s story to healing and freedom. In all the time I have known you, you have helped me see this message more and more clearly- that the root of all abuse is really the same, and this is so freeing. Thank you for the privilege of contributing this post, for your friendship and truly loving ways. Love Carla

    Hi Jay! Welcome here! Your points are so excellent. Yeah, it is amazing how powerful neglect can be. Not acting in a way that is best for a child’s self-esteem or sense of value leaves such a vacuum, such a big “question mark” that leaves so many people struggling well into adult-hood. It happens to subtly, just like you say. I want people to know in their adult life that if their story is similiar to my own, there are reasons for their struggle. I hope my post has brought some light, and thanks so much for your comment because it definitely brings more light too! Great to meet you here Jay. ~Carla

  9. By: Jay Posted: 3rd December

    Hi Carla,
    I appreciate your words about the difficulty in allowing yourself to acknowledge the emotional neglect and abuse. It resonates with me. I don’t know if you have children…. I have two young sons and my relationship with them has made this phenomena more clear to me. Parents teach their children whether they’re conscious of it or not. Parents teach their kids whether they’re worthwhile, accepted and loved. Or not. When a parent teaches a child that they aren’t acceptable, there can be blame that goes along with it. In various ways, the child can be made to feel responsible for their “inadequacy”. Or the abusive parent may deny the child’s emotional response to the abuse. Then the child will deny it themselves (into adulthood), and may eventually have difficulty even recognizing how they are feeling. I look forward to reading your future posts!

  10. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 2nd December

    Thank you Christina! Being a very comforting and supportive friend to myself is definitely my goal! It is amazing what can happen the more I cultivate the relationship I have with my own self. And I am seeing how this relationship really is the key thing that opens the doors for healthy relationships with others too. It’s exciting! Hugs to you!

    Bright blessings to you too Shanyn! Yes, writing this post was really empowering for me and I’m so glad you connected with my experience as well, and took the time to share.

    Hi Susan! It is good to see you again too! That is so cool, how you describe your “awakening” process. I love that- “the amazing array of ‘me'” I really love that Susan! Thanks for sharing your inspiration~ it will stick with me. 🙂


    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 3rd December

      Hi Carla,
      I really related to this post and it really reminds me that all abuse has it’s roots in psychological abuse. We live in such a ‘damaged world’.
      My father was totally emotionally unavailable and the older that I get, the more that I feel as though I didn’t have a father. My mother was so caught up in herself that there wasn’t much left over. In my case there were other abuses, but I have always found it interesting how similar the outcome is no matter what the foundation of abuse is. When I got to know you I was fascinated to realize that although our lives were very different, our struggles ended up so much the same with both, low self esteem that just never seemed to let up, and depression ~ at the top of the list.
      And our solutions were very similar too. The rebuilding process has been similar. The process of realizing where certain debilitating beliefs came from, and the process of undoing them or maybe “correcting them” is a better way of saying it. The best news is that it IS doable!

      It is so great to have you back! I love your guest post. What a fantastic contribution to the blog!
      Hugs and Love!

  11. By: Susan Posted: 2nd December

    Carla – It’s so good to see you again and as always – you share an insight around these issues that is so important…that abuse doesn’t have to be physical to be abuse. I can so relate to what you have to say here – this is the subtle cruelty of this kind of abuse; it steals our sense of self and destroys our sense of well being. Like Christina pointed out I really like the way you share how you are able to identify your feelings now…and me too! I’m finding an amazing array of “me” as I learn to identify the feelings that I once stuffed and stifled in all kinds of unhelpful coping.

  12. By: Shanyn Posted: 2nd December

    Carla, thank you for sharing this, and I so can relate to the shutting down and blowing up. There is so much that we share even in the diverse nature of our experiences and that sharing makes us stronger! Bright blessings…

  13. By: Christina Enevoldsen Posted: 2nd December

    I absolutely love the process of validation and investigation you mentioned:
    “I am learning to pay attention. I use my perceptive powers to catch glimpses of my real feelings as they ebb and flow. I grab hold of them and say “Carla, you’re feeling disappointed. I can see why- it makes perfect sense.” Or I’ll feel really anxious about something and I’ll think, “Yeah, I’m not just anxious- I’m also excited, curious, unsure, and eager! How normal is that?? You can handle it all.” If I’m feeling really angry at things that don’t really deserve my anger, I use the opportunity to dig a bit deeper and pinpoint the root cause, to understand myself more deeply and practice compassion and constructive action.”

    You sound like a very supportive and comforting friend to yourself. That’s wonderful! Thanks for sharing this with us!
    Hugs, Christina

  14. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 2nd December

    Jen M, I’m so glad that my story affirmed your own. Wow- that’s a powerful statement about a young girl shutting down all emotion to feel loved. And the perfection thing- that’s another huge coping mechanism I am working my way out of too! I send you hugs and huge encouragement on your journey of healing. Thank you for taking the time to share your reaction to my post. And… I love the Grover pic! So cute! ~Carla

  15. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 2nd December

    Hi Fi! Thank you. That subtle disbelief is a HUGE thing to become aware of, in my opinion. It’s like a young child, sitting there, not saying very much, but full of the knowledge of what she lacks. And after so much quiet-ness, she speaks up with a few little words and the room suddenly takes notice. That is what I practice with myself now~ listening to what for so long wasn’t affirmed (that’s why it’s subtle when we first become aware of it). It has honestly taken me years of listening and affirming that subtle voice for the truth to sink deeper and deeper to the point where real belief is taking place inside me. It’s a worthwhile practice! All the best to you Fi~ thanks for sharing.

  16. By: Jen M Posted: 2nd December

    I am sitting here in amazement. Our stories so, so exact. My mother was the more significant “offender” but regardless the result was the same. “Young girl shuts down all emotion to wear face of perfection to feel loved.” Thank you for sharing. Your experience is now part of my process of accepting and growth.

  17. By: Fi MacLeod exNicholson Posted: 2nd December

    Hi Carla, love the post – that point you made about the subtle disbelief that what happened to you really was all that bad – I’ve wrestled with that over and over although I know the truth, the true scale of things, there is still that little voice niggling away “nah, you’re wrong it wasn’t that bad”.

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