I published Monsters today. This tiny book is one that I challenged myself with late last year because I don’t typically do short stories. I may try a few more at some point, as it was a surprisingly fulfilling project.
I don’t usually write short stories, but Monsters is close to my heart.
I often spend time on a help group forum, trying to encourage and advise people dealing with emotional abuse. Some of the people who post are older and out on their own now. Others are minors still under their abuser’s control. Some were or are married to their abuser rather than being raised by them.
All of them tell the same sorts of stories, however. Many times, someone will post something with the disclaimer, “No one believes me when I tell them what happened.” Yet in the company of so many others also dealing with their own abusers, invariably many of the responses are, “That happened to me, too!” And yes. We believe.
The abuses that these people describe, over and over, touched me. And the common lament that ‘people just don’t understand’ touched me as well. Emotional abuse is the ‘hidden’ abuse. It doesn’t leave visible bruises. Often even the words used to wound are couched in terms that are only abusive in context. If the victim tries to explain it to someone else without that context, the abuse is not seen or acknowledged. More often excused, especially with unknowingly callous words like, “But she’s your mother.”
Imagine, if you will, a mother or father who tells their child that they are too loud. It’s a common correction, right? I’m not sure there’s a parent on the planet who hasn’t told their child exactly that at least once. I’d bet most say it numerous times as their child grows up.
But take your imagination a step further. What if that parent told their child they were ‘too loud’ every single time the child spoke? It’s the same words. They might not even say those words angrily. And yet, the context is so very different. By telling their child they are too loud every time they speak, that parent effectively tells their child that they don’t want to hear the child at all. They don’t care what the child might have to say. The child isn’t important enough to listen to.
Yet if that child complains to someone else, the first response is likely to be, “Well, were you being loud?” Of course, having been told his or her entire life that they were loud, the child can only assume that yes, they were being loud. It’s what they had been taught. And only when they finally get old enough to get out into the rest of the world, to see typical interactions and listen to how normal parents talk to – and listen to – their children, do they understand that no, they actually weren’t loud…and never have been.
The exact manner of emotional abuse will vary from abuser to abuser, victim to victim. Each one tailored for maximum impact. They are almost always difficult or impossible to explain to people who have not experienced it themselves. Almost invariably will the response be something along the lines of, “That doesn’t sound that bad,” or “I’m sure she means well.” People filter life through their own experiences, so if they can’t imagine their own parents or spouses meaning insult in an apparently-innocuous statement, then they have a hard time believing you when you say that your parent or spouse did mean an insult.
Monsters is my attempt to give the victims and survivors a story they can give to someone that might, possibly, help them to understand. Or, maybe, to simply give validation to their experiences. To let them know that, no, they’re not alone. YOU are not alone. You’re not crazy for believing those behaviors are abusive. Every insult, slight, back-handed ‘compliment’, useless ‘gift’, and all those other abuses that are impossible to explain – they’re each a tiny little monster tearing at you. And I know they have claws.