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,
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.