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If you were emotionally abused in childhood have you found it hard to develop your own personality?

(29 Posts)
Clapwhenyourehappy Mon 13-Mar-17 11:29:11

I was emotionally and at times physically abused as a child and as a result of this I have never really been able to develop my own identity or personality, and even now, at age 40, I don't feel like I really know what type of person I am, or much about myself.

As a child my dad in particular was very controlling and angry. I was told off if I was or looked miserable, I was told off if I was too happy, I was told off if I enjoyed myself or was too friendly with someone, or not friendly enough with them. I wasn't allowed friends, so don't have a group of life long friends whom I've grown up with. I was told constantly that I was awful, evil, nasty, miserable, and various other things.

As a result I have grown up as a people pleaser, and with poor boundaries. My boundaries are a bit better now and I think I am less of a people pleaser, but it plays on my mind more and more that I just don't have a sense of 'self' or a strong sense of who I am. I feel as though my mind is a huge crowded jumble of different thoughts and personalities, I guess because I grew up having to second guess what moods my parents would be in all the time and fitting in accordingly?

I am so envious of people who have a strong sense of who they are. I was wondering if anyone else can identify with how I feel and if anyone has any advice about developing my 'self' and about improving boundaries,

I have been N/C with my parents now for about 5 years, and this has helped but I still feel the classic FOG a lot, especially the guilt part if I do anything my parents wouldn't approve of (which really, is a lot of things as they never approved of anything I did!). I have also had counselling which again helped a bit but I still feel very damaged from my childhood.

Yoksha Mon 13-Mar-17 13:01:26

I'm 60 OP & I could have written your OP. Both my parents are dead now.

I was hovering over another thread a few months ago, & a poster suggested a book called Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. It was a revelation for me. Completely turned my opinion of me on it's head.

HerRoyalNotness Mon 13-Mar-17 13:07:39

Absolutely, what you've written is me all over. It's left me paranoid that I am a dull, boring person and I don't express happiness well. Find it difficult to maintain friendships and to read people as to wether they like me or not.

I'm NC with my "mother" which is a relief tbh. I don't know how to improve myself, I just plod along. I have a friend who is a psychologist, she has aFb page called here to thrive, and has great thought provoking posts and podcasts (which I must make more use of) look her up, some might help. There is also an Aussie one called project self which i read regularly. flowers

LadyHelenOfShitsville Mon 13-Mar-17 14:35:23

I can empathise. I totally lost my identity at the age of 38 after starting therapy for anxiety. Mind you that my identity was one of being a disgusting, evil, stinking, fat bitch so no loss! It was like a thunderbolt that my mother's opinion was not necessarily the truth. I am still a bit lost and keep asking myself who the fuck am I? I have a lot of self doubt that I am worth anything and all my efforts are put into making sure my DCs NEVER feel like me so I still neglect myself a lot. Still can't make friends. I don't think I will feel like a 'normal' person or particularly like myself. I am starting to try postive affirmations and hope one day I finally believe them. I often wonder what kind of person I'd be if I'd not been the family scapegoat and my mother had had the courage to get help for her own mental health issues sad.

LadyHelenOfShitsville Mon 13-Mar-17 14:51:45

Just to add I was emotionally, physically and sexually abused. The last two pale into comparison to the emotional abuse. I can forgive my mother for not being able to deal with the sexual abuse (by a sibling) and for almost strangling me to death funnily enough! I will never forgive her for destroying what was a highly intelligent, loving, creative little girl who believed in fairies, out of bitterness because I happened to look like my father, and making me think that I was dangerous - she used to tell me that she had to lock knives away because she thought I would kill the whole family in their beds while I was sleep walking (don't think I ever did). It has taken a lot of counselling to accept that was a product of her own mental illness which she projected onto me. No wonder I ended up with 'harm' OCD which has wrecked my life.

StripeyDress Mon 13-Mar-17 15:09:24

Tried a few things, which is good and I think a bit of trial and error over what resonates with you is a good part of self-discovery.


* talk therapies- one-to-one and group, in person and online
* extensive reading on psychology, effects of neglect (including dissociation and establishing a self-care routine), neurobiology
* helping others- through volunteering, activism
* reconnecting with myself physically- often with a spiritual/mental angle, so things like yoga, meditation, tai chi, regular massage, reflexology, dance
* creative pursuits like art
*developing a competence out with a work setting, for me it was cooking

The spiritual/physical angle worked best for me- combination of yoga, massage and meditation. Reading was useful up to a point, as was art. Talk therapies less useful, with one notable exception, so it's really important only to go down that road with a therapist/group you really feel not only comfortable with but actually find a proper resonance with.

I'm sure the actual pattern of what works is different for everyone, but the exploration can be really fun as well as challenging, bothersome at times.

user1483981877 Mon 13-Mar-17 17:03:05

Yes, although I am struggling to write this as I feel my experiences perhaps weren't on the same level as yours. Nowhere near, yet still I have no idea who I am, I am a constant people pleaser (right up until the point where I implode and let everyone down, that's where I am currently, back in the spiral again) and the words I use to describe myself are vile. I have kids and I can only hope I can sort this out enough to ensure that I haven't passed too much of it on, well that and the fact that their Dad is very level headed.
I struggle a lot with friendships too, people generally think I'm odd, likewise with work relationships. I am tired of feeling like this. I just want to run away and hide all the time. But I am trying to find a new way. For me it is through something I am studying that is massively relevant to all this, as long as I can hang on to it and not self-sabotage as I normally do.

user1483981877 Mon 13-Mar-17 17:05:51

Sorry OP, I hope I didn't go on about myself too much.
I wanted to say also that I read something recently about asking yourself questions like 'what makes me happy?' 'what makes me sad?' 'how do I feel about this?' kind of starting an inner dialogue with yourself that is different from the one that is dependent on the feelings of others. Believe me, I know how destructive that is.

665TheNeighbourOfTheBeast Mon 13-Mar-17 17:16:46

Like this ?
You are not alone.

user1483981877 Mon 13-Mar-17 17:37:00

Hmm. Yes, pretty much exactly that, thank you.

Lottapianos Mon 13-Mar-17 17:44:44

Hi OP, i recognise so much of your post - people pleasing, poor boundaries, poor sense of self, guilt over all sorts of stuff, constant jumble of thoughts in my head. It's seriously bloody exhausting. I absolutely put it down to growing up with parents who never really saw me as a separate person and never really acknowledged my feelings, let alone value them.

Psychotherapy was the path to freedom for me. I was in therapy for 7 years in total. I'm not currently attending but I still have plenty of work to do. In terms of people pleasing and boundaries, i am SO much better than i was. The guilt is usually more of a background hum these days rather than the full on roar it used to be. I am very low contact with my family and my life is better for it

I think it also helps to know that you're not alone smile other people feel just as messed up as you do, but they are getting through it, and so are you x

tootiredtobeinspired Mon 13-Mar-17 18:07:57

Yes absolutely I totally identify with this. In fact the realisation I was emotionally abused came about because I realised I didnt have a personality of my own! I didnt have a clue who I was or even what I liked. I was really depressed but didnt know why and I was thinking one day about what people would say about me if I died and I couldnt think of a single defining characteristic about myself. I am totally bland. My mother basically quashed any personality I had that did not agree with her view of me. Yet I knew I was nothing like her (she is loud, rude spiteful and selfish) so that left me just being very 'beige' I guess as a way to make sure I didnt set her off.
I am just starting the journey to 'discover' who I am at the ripe old age of 40 and it is both liberating and frightening. My mother predictably has not taken this well, I have stood up to her over what would be a fairly minor issue to anyone else and she has flown off the handle and cut me off (of course blaming me for the whole thing and sending me vile letters etc) but for the first time I have just let her and not tried to smooth it over by toeing the line. I am in counselling which is helpful to an extent but I need to work on finding out who I am, problem is I dont know how to do that!

cafesociety Mon 13-Mar-17 18:18:20

I can identify with you OP as I was constantly criticised and judged, and disappointed my mother as I wasn't who she wanted me to be. Emotional abuse is so damaging and stunts someone's personal growth so much it cannot be retrieved that easily. I was not allowed to express myself or follow any path which would help me find my own personality and identity.

So I stopped. My energy went into trying to please her, putting myself aside. never succeeded at pleasing her though. To this day [I'm in my 60's] I can hear the words she said to me in my head, cruel and destructive horrible stuff, also saying I was like my father [the bad bits] and I'd never have friends etc. etc.....on and on, year in, year out.

Told off for being happy, told off for being unhappy, ridiculed if I showed any interest in anything, pressured to succeed at school and I was just crushed. My mother had mental health issues which she refused to acknowledge let alone address. And I was also the family scapegoat.

Still feel crushed now, can't ask for what I want, try and please people too much, poor boundaries and don't feel that I am interesting enough for others so just keep to myself for self preservation. However I am interested in a lot of things, lots of interests and activities but not confident and do it all in solitude. Had enough judgments and unkind remarks to last a lifetime.

ohidoliketobebesidethecoast Mon 13-Mar-17 18:43:24

OP, tho u feel lost, u are on ur way, because you have identified with your logical mind that your parents, for whatever reason, were never going to approve of you, whatever you did to try to please them. It takes time and intelligence to work that out, but you'll eventually FEEL that, as well as THINK it.
There are lots of us out there, it does get better (I also found that talking to a therapist helped - they can give you honest feedback, and will point out your strengths (I found I accepted and absorbed this a lot better, than a partner telling me I was great, because they're professionals!).
I spent a lot not too me wishing for good friends I felt relaxed with, but didn't seem to click (and like you, felt that maniy people saw me as odd). At some point I gave up a bit on that, and took up a hobby which I found really exciting. By chance i picked something where i had to work with others and there had to be trust. I met a very different set of people, and because we had a common interest, maybe no one stopped to care if I seemed a bit 'different'. Along the way I got a lot less self conscious, and found I had some likes and dislikes of my own, and now I don't mind that not everyone warms to me, I'm happy in myself. I have some great friends too now, but find I actually like quite a bit of time to myself, after all.
Sorry for the ramble OP, but please have hope that you'll figure this out, and be patient with yourself flowers.

MiscellaneousAssortment Mon 13-Mar-17 19:21:02

Yup, all ringing bells to me, I wish I wasn't nodding with every sentence, but I am. Yup, yup and triple yup.

Kuverty Mon 13-Mar-17 22:45:49

Totally agree with you - my father is just like yours, has not only destroyed me but also my mother and my sister who still live with him. He's always been extremely abusive emotionally and sometimes physically. Just like yours- he hated everything I took interest in and would ridicule and disrespect me in private as well as in front of friends and family. I was a straight A student and trwoniony sports on a profesional level - but never good enough for him. He was crazy controlling, with serious mental health issues.

A few years back I've been reading something on boundaries and asking to have your needs met by others when I realised I didn't even know what my needs were. My people pleasing was so hardcore I didn't even realise when I was doing things for others against myself or that were not beneficial for me.

My recovery started from literally analysing situations and asking myself a set of questions - is this request convenient for me to fulfil? Is it going to cost me additional resources? Will I feel happy having done that? This was an excercise to help me develop an inner voice to represent me - stand up for me, my dignity. Needed that voice to actually signify me as a person.

Then took time off from some "friends" who were really just users spent some time just with people who care about me in a genuine way.

These actions helped me develop a strong sense of dignity and more social confidence. Confidence as in I don't pine for anyone now and don't rush to please people - not afraid to lose them.

As to finding out my interests and what brings enjoyment - this is still something I'm working on. I have many things that interest me but nothing that I feel really passionate about. I had such lust for life and was interested in everything growing up but my father made sure to block access to everything I liked that wasn't sports or school.

665TheNeighbourOfTheBeast Tue 14-Mar-17 07:28:30

My mother predictably has not taken this well, I have stood up to her over what would be a fairly minor issue to anyone else and she has flown off the handle and cut me off (of course blaming me for the whole thing and sending me vile letters etc) but for the first time I have just let her and not tried to smooth it over by toeing the line.
I was really surprised to read this, but in a good way..This was almost exactly my experience a couple of years ago. Tootiredtobeinspired and not a common one I think. To have been estranged by a parent.
Its taken me a while to come to terms with my mother being the kind of person who would do this...(more than once! )and how that illuminates my past.
I don't know how far on from this you are, but two years on I know very much who I am, and what makes me happy..Of course I'm not sure what to do about that but I'm not beating myself up about it. And now at least im not drowning in other people's dysfunction and needs I can be open to opportunities.

handslikecowstits Tue 14-Mar-17 11:52:52

This thread has definitely struck a cord with me and I wanted to share some of things that I've done.

I've had therapy, lots of it but I think one of the most important things any person can do is to be good to themselves. It's easier said than done and until I found a decent therapist I didn't know what that meant. I grew up wanting to please my parents but nothing I did was ever good enough. As an only child I was the scapegoat and golden child all in one - sometimes I was perfect and at others I was the devil. I grew up feeling very confused and disjointed.

Until recently, I still tried to please my parents. I twisted and contorted myself into what they wanted and then gradually the penny dropped and I realised that no matter what I did it was never going to be good enough - no job, hobby, action, feeling, expressed thought will ever be what my father in particular wants at any given moment. To be honest, I don't think even he knows what he wants most of the time. I haven't stopped caring, I don't think I ever will but I have stopped sharing information (just gives them ammo, you see) and I am detaching emotionally. It's a real struggle to find yourself when you have that horrible critical little voice in your head but I am learning to ignore it and do things/not do things that I want/don't want anyway.

I am in short, trying to be good to myself. It isn't easy and to the outside world, I seem to have a very strong sense of self when in reality, I feel rather overwhelmed but I'll keep going.

Sympathy to those suffering.

Lottapianos Tue 14-Mar-17 12:36:44

Great post hands. People often say 'be kind to yourself', 'be good to yourself' or whatever, but as you so rightly point out, some of us have to develop that skill from scratch. It takes practice and I don't think I will ever be finished learning how to take care of myself. Luckily, like all skills, it gets easier over time.

I'm in the same position - I haven't stopped caring but have stopped sharing information with them. I'm very low contact with my parents and when I am in touch, I keep it light and frothy. They know nothing of any substance about my life - I deliberately keep it all from them. I used to share almost everything, absolutely desperate for their approval. I think I have finally accepted now that I am just never ever going to get it. Its quite freeing when you stop trying - sad, and hurtful, but ultimately freeing.

AgathaC Tue 14-Mar-17 14:05:25

Clapwhenyourehappy I know exactly what you mean. Thank you for being brave enough to post this thread and to all other posters sharing their thoughts and experiences. I have absolutely no idea who I am. I am 60 years old, have raised a family and am now retired, but I still have no idea what sort of life I would like to live / have lived.

I am no contact with 2 siblings and low contact with the other 2 and both my parents. They see this as my fault, and extended family (aunts, uncles etc) see my parents as great people who have done their best with a low income and a large family, so therefore my not fitting in must be down to me and my awkwardness.

However, I have no memories of ever being cuddled or told I was loved. I have many memories of being told how thoughtless, selfish, awkward, and bad tempered I was. I was sexually abused by my paternal grandfather when i was 10 but told no one as I knew it would cause trouble and I would be shouted at and somehow it would be all my own fault. I tried very hard to avoid being with him after that but often ended up shouted at. Had this been a behaviour one of my daughters showed I would have wanted to know why.

The thing is your upbringing is your normality. However weird it truly is, you have no way of knowing that it is weird - it's just normal for you. I look back now and shudder that my only sex education was to be told bluntly about periods and provided with sanitary towels once a month. I never new what I was supposed to do with the used ones, I used to take them to school and put them in the bin there, or if school holidays, in a bin in town. We lived in a remote rural location so to my shame, if I had no other chance to get rid of them I would take them to the field and bury them in the hedgerow. It was only about 5 years ago it occured to me to wonder why my Mother never asked me what I did with them? I thought I should just "know" and because I didn't I felt thick and stupid.

Girls at school laughed at me because I had terrible BO and greasy hair, but I had been bought up to bath on Sunday evenings only and had no idea about deoderants or stuff like that. Because I had no sense of self, or of entitlement to everyday things, I would blame myself for my stupidity in not knowing how to behave like everyone else. This has led to a lifelong belief that I should know things, even when I have had no way of knowing them IYSWIM, so I often feel stupid and out of step.

I have no academic qualifications as I had no idea I could have gone to college. I used to walk past the place every day on my way to school but just saw it as somewhere real people went - and yes I used that phrase "real people" in my head, but had no idea how peculiar it was to see things that way.

I have ended up a people pleaser in the hopes that one day someone would say "well done". My DH often says this, and my kids too, but no one in my birth family has ever said it so it's left me feeling sort of unfinished and not good enough.

I always feel guilty if something happens to my siblings or my parents to upset them, even if I wasn't there when it happened, didn't cause it and have no way of changing it - I still feel like it's my fault.

I don't believe I am likable or interesting and always assume anyone who spends time with us does it because they like my DH and so they put up with me.

I have poor boundaries because deep down I believe I have no rights, so whatever anyone asks of me I should just do it.

Typing all this out has been very helpful in clarifiying my thoughts, but what to do about it? I have no idea. FInally realising you have been emotionallhy abused is a good start, but how to go forward is a lot more tricky.

Lottapianos Tue 14-Mar-17 14:23:30

'I don't believe I am likable or interesting and always assume anyone who spends time with us does it because they like my DH and so they put up with me

I know that my DP feels this way too. He believes that other people think he's weird or a freak or other unpleasant things. Its not true - most people really like him and find him very funny. I can see this clearly from the outside. Its so sad that he can't see it for himself.

Your whole post is very sad AgathaC. It sounds like you were very badly neglected emotionally as a child and young person. I relate very much to your anxiety that other people see your parents as marvellous folks and devoted parents and all the rest of it, and maybe judge you very harshly for your lack of relationship with them. Its bloody exhausting being your own harshest critic all the time.

The path to freedom for me (which I'm still very much on) was psychotherapy. This is dark, scary stuff and having professional support with exploring it all was absolutely invaluable. My therapist helped me to learn to trust my own judgement and to realise that my parents' treatment of me was not ok. I am not my own worst enemy any more, I am kinder to myself, kinder to other people and I think a more pleasant person because of it. It was bloody hard work but worth every second.

I hope it helps you to know that you are not alone in how you feel, and that there are others who have similar feelings in adulthood

danTDM Tue 14-Mar-17 14:32:56

Thank you for this post OP

It, and the replies have helped me a lot.
Yes, you post resonates100% with me too.

MusicIsMedicine Tue 14-Mar-17 15:06:15

Also had angry controlling father.

They still won't let me be me, nothing ice ever done is good enough.

You are not the problem.

Be yourself.

FinnegansCake Tue 14-Mar-17 15:53:46

I'm in my late fifties and don't know who I am. I spent my childhood walking on eggs to avoid upsetting my mother, who would suddenly stop talking to me and give me the silent treatment for days on end. Sometimes she wouldn't speak to me for a whole week, and if I plucked up the courage to ask why, she'd reply "If you don't know, I don't see why I should have to tell you". If ever I complained to my father, he'd just say "Oh, you know how she is, just try not to upset her".
I preferred DM's unexpected rages when she would slap my face hard because she didn't like my tone of voice or the way I looked at her, anything was better than the icy silence and the glacial mealtimes.
I'm a people pleaser who will avoid conflict at any cost to myself. I have difficulty making decisions over stupid things like choosing somewhere to go for a coffee, in case the other person would prefer somewhere else. If someone asks me "where would you like to go?" I panic, trying to work out where I think they would like to go.
After nearly forty years away from home, grown-up DC etc I still feel like a little girl inside, who should be seen and not heard - that was my DM's mantra throughout my childhood, along with "spare the rod and spoil the child".
Thank you for this thread, OP. I'm sorry so many of you have the same kind of feelings as me, but it's a comfort to know that there are other people who understand how I feel.

Lissette Tue 14-Mar-17 16:06:25

I have emotionally abusive parents but my lovely Gran lived with us and she would be affectionate and loving towards me. I have a good sense of me due to her love. However my parents recently walked out of my home and we are no contact. I have found it helpful to design a mission statement of my goals, likes and values just so that I can distance my mind from the parental babble. I don't want anything bad to happen to my parents but I'm forced to admit that as people I don't like them. Take care OP.

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