I never realise how the abuse I went through as a child impacts my behaviours. When you’ve been subjected to this same maltreatment since the day you were born, it can be hard to break the habits and reactions you have learnt. You learn these behaviours in the same way a child in a healthy home learns how to be kind and respectful.
Normally, a parent will in some way punish their child if they have been naughty – and this punishment will be in proportion to the naughty deed. For example, if your child does not tidy their room they are potentially grounded for a few days. Or, for the sake of this post this one does not require consequence as such, if a child does not say thank you then they are reminded to use their manners. However, abusers do not take their sanctions so lightly.
I remember that, as I was growing up, I was becoming more depressed. The motivation to do tasks such as tidying my room were diminished further by the day. Not to mention my mother would never clean my clothes yet also would refuse to teach me how to use a washing machine or iron. Leaving my room rendered more of a pigsty, as it would be repeatedly called, than a kids bedroom.
When you have just two different school shirts that you have to rotate through the school week, they get sweaty pretty quickly. To give you an idea of how bad they would get: a 5 mile journey to school every single day was certainly enough to leave those awfully grimy yellow sweat stains (and a yucky smell!). Not to mention summertime was the opposite of merciful on me and those poor shirts. As a result, said shirts didn’t really have much of a living place. I definitely did not want them put away with my clean clothes (if I was lucky to have any at the time) and I wore them every week to school so my wash basket was not fitting either. I’m really not sure what the point of that wash basket was anyway, it was mostly there to catch dust. If I put clothes in there, the chances were I’d need them before they’d eventually get washed. By process of elimination, the then natural resting place of the majority of my clothes was the floor.
If you consider the washing situation alongside the non-existent motivation, my bedroom floor became a rarer sight than a unicorn… accompanied by this lingering odour. My mother would see the situation as ‘Casey is disrespecting me yet again!’ and then there goes the punishment. Rather than seeing the situation as my young daughter is incredibly depressed at this age and also look how bad her clothes are let’s keep her clean, she just saw what the apparent message was to her.
Doesn’t really make sense, does it? Regardless, on came the punishment. Without fail, there would of course be the verbal abuse, the screaming and shouting, the ‘you’re a selfish little cow’ (her favourite comment which was often more relevant to her behaviours than mine – classic case of projection). But, to accompany this, there would be the grounding. See, my groundings weren’t of the typical kind as I was allowed out of the house. My only guess is that she hated me that much that she would be significantly happier in my absence. I wouldn’t have my phone of course (which she never paid the bill on so was only usable on WiFi anyway) or any other electronics. She would take my DS and even my Kindle, simply because during the holidays I would get so desperate and lonely that I’d often find a way to access the internet on these to send out a cry of help to my father.
She would also take my laptop. This one is extremely significant because it was a gift from my father. He gave it to me and my sister after my step-mum passed away. It was originally a birthday present to her but she sadly passed just a week after. My father hadn’t wanted this to go to waste and knew ours had recently broken. I was close to this step-mum in particular as she was the first person to see what was going on at home. She spoke of adopting me and I saw her as my mum… Having that laptop was so precious to me and my biological mother had no regard. I still feel anger towards her as I type this out.
My only escape during these times was school. There, I could speak to my friends and often not come home. Sometimes I’d stay out until just 9/10 in the evenings, sometimes overnight and, if circumstances were more extreme, weeks. In the holidays, this was not possible as I had no school to put me in contact with friends. Nobody knew where I lived and even if they did they were A: scared of my mother and B: my mother would just send them away then tell me off for their unannounced visit.
During these times of grounding, total avoidance was also a common occurrence. As in my own mother would point blank ignore me. I would ask her something I needed to know and she god’s honest truth would sit there and act like I wasn’t even there. This seemed contagious to my sister at times, unfortunately she would endure it for much longer with a year being the average term. These 'groundings' would last for a long time, on average 3-6 months. I don’t think it was ever shorter than 2 months. So for that amount of time, I would have no contact with the outside world whilst enduring abuse and be treated like a ghost. Because I didn’t tidy my room.
Now think to if your child has no manners. You will generally calmly ask them to use their manners, right? Hoo boy I wish my mother was that kind. If I forgot a thank you I was an embarrassing and disrespectful little shit. If I didn’t ask for something then ‘you don’t ask you don’t get’ and I’m too shy. I need to learn how to ask for things so now I won’t get anything unless I ask but if I did ask (with extensive thank you’s and please’s of course)… Well then I’m apparently a disrespectful little shit once again, how rude it is to ask for things! I would most definitely not get something if I asked for it, generally quite the opposite.
I remember whenever I was grounded, often would my mother forget she had grounded me as it would go on for so long. I knew this. Naturally, it would always get to a point where I’d know I had to ask otherwise I would never see those items again. After a week of building myself up to the task I would always shyly say something along the lines of ‘I’m really sorry to ask but please can I have my things back yet please or even just one of them but it’s okay if you’re not ready yet, I’m so sorry to ask...’. Each and every time I would be greeted with a response of shouting and going back to that disrespectful comment, I would then be grounded for longer. Usually, she’d give my things back a month later – a clear indicator she had forgotten.
So why is all of this relevant? Imagine going through such abuse all of the time from things as simple as not tidying your bedroom, not using manners or even just asking for something. I actually get anxious and stressed out for a person if they forget to say thank you to a cashier or a waiter. If they forget to say it to me, that’s fine because it was made clear through my childhood that I am not worthy of anything, especially not manners.
I am so anal about manners that my foster carers decided to play a little light-hearted joke on me one Christmas. I love Timberland boots. I had wanted some for so long and was told that Santa may be getting me a pair. I was 16 years old at this point. They had bought a toy drum set for one of their daughters but decided to set it up in their playroom as a little surprise for her to find. Obviously, they then had this empty box which the box for my Timberland boots fit into perfectly! So they decided to hide them in there and wrap up that kids drum set box in wrapping paper with my name on it. I unwrapped that present last, expecting to see those boots. I was trying desperately to hold back the tears when I asked if they had gotten the name tag mixed up and they said no. No lie, I 100% sat there and pretended to be happy about getting a kids drum set whilst literally melting inside – at 16 years old! Obviously my foster mum then told me to open the box and thus there were those boots I had so longed for and all was funny in the end.
That is what has been hardwired into me. I get upset and scared in situations that should be little jokes. I remember the first few times I was grounded by either of my foster placements and I would just overreact. I’d be absolutely terrified to ask how long for and even if I did know I would break down as if I was going to be subject to that same nastiness my mother showed me.
Nothing makes me more anxious now than if I have done something wrong, even as an adult. Petrified is probably a better word. I have found myself being called into a superiors office at work, whilst walking there I’m doing my breathing to prevent a panic attack with my head racing trying to work out what I have done. So many times that has happened for me to get a commendation on doing well or be offered a promotion.
The most heartbreaking part is that you think your abusers actions are normal. The abuse was always in the presence of me doing something wrong – in my mothers eyes at least. I had no clue that the things I was being punished for were ridiculous. I am still remembering things that would happen in my upbringing and realising that what I did wasn’t wrong. Often it takes not just remembering but saying out loud to another person who then has to actually explain why it was wrong. As a result of that, I continue to behave like this abused child… Like the world is my abuser, I carry on with that insecurity.