This week we’re taking a break from our usual content to talk about something that has deeply impacted my life, and has once again reared it’s ugly head: Domestic violence.
This conversation might be triggering for some, so if you’re not ready for this discussion, feel free to check back next week when we return to the regular books/writing/knitting content.
In family counseling, there’s something called “tricky families.” These are families that look good on paper, but once you peel back the layers they are not okay.
Both parents are present. The kids are fed, clothed, and clean. The bills get paid, and no ones goes to school or work covered in bruises. The kids probably seem pretty normal, but maybe a little off—maybe they’re too shy, or too extroverted, or just have difficulty relating to their peers or completing large projects, but those are normal growing pains, right? They typically get good or at least average grades, and are probably involved in something outside of school—a club or sport, scouts, church, something like that.
One or both parents hold down steady, respectable jobs and are often cornerstones of the local community. They’re involved in things like organizing school trips, community events, or church functions.
But then you really start to talk to the kids, who don’t know that the way they’re living is strange or different. They might say that they aren’t allowed to do something perfectly normal, or that they can’t do something.
You notice that there are certain social events where the family just doesn’t show up. When it comes to things like school plays, award ceremonies, band concerts, or big games, one parent is consistently absent, usually blaming it on their high profile, respectable job.
When they are present at the community meetings or church functions, they want to be the center of attention. You notice that they are always right. Fight them too much, and they’ll walk off in a huff, like a two-year-old having a temper tantrum.
At home, without the prying eyes of strangers, things get worse. That parent might obsess over every penny their partner spends, or obsessively control who their kids associate with and what they do. They fail to show physical affection or empathy, but are quick to correct and discipline.
I grew up in one of these families. We started off pretty normal—or what I thought was normal. Sure, my dad was gone all the time. But he worked two jobs, and at one of them he was risking his life as a fire fighter. No one’s going to begrudge him time off, or taking an overtime shift the night of a big awards ceremony.
But here is where things start to get more complicated: my mom is disabled. As I’ve mentioned before, she has the same condition AJ does in Magic in the Headlines and Magic in Midtown. There are different grades of Bilateral Nystagmus, but she’s relatively lucky. She has most of her vision, just lacking depth perception, which keeps her from driving. This means that technically, she’s legally blind.
So instead of looking for a new home that would provide accessibility for her, such as with sidewalks, local jobs within walking distance, and public transit…we moved to the middle of nowhere when I was five. Slowly, the changes built up over time, but by the time I was 13 and he started drinking, it became undeniable.
For reasons that will become clear later, I don’t want to go into specifics. Suffice to say that I knew something was off, but because it was all I knew, I just thought our family was a little different. It had to be, with my dad working two jobs and a disabled mother.
Like a frog in a pot with the heat rising, it took years for the discomfort to build. It wasn’t until I started college and began studying abroad that it really hit me how bad things were. I finally moved out for good about a year later, and by the time I was in my mid-twenties I realized that things were not going to change. I started reducing my contact with my dad slowly at first, and then more and more. I made sure that any time I was with my family, I had had an escape route—a reason to leave early, and my own transportation, which I would also use to protect other family members as needed.
And for a while, that’s how things stayed. When I finally lost patience with the employment situation in Ohio in 2019, I made the snap decision to get out completely. We moved to Washington, and except for my mom I went to near-zero contact with my Ohio relatives (There are reasons for this, which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say it’s a family problem).
At the end of May, my mom came out for her first visit. We had a great time, but then she had to go back, and that is when things exploded. I can’t go into details here, because there are now, finally, lawyers involved. Mom is taking steps to live safely and independently for the first time. It’s something I thought she would never do because emotional and psychological abuse are so insidious.
When someone is physically abusive, you can point to a bruise and say, “this person hurt me. They have caused harm, and here is the proof.”
But you can’t do that when the abuse is emotional and psychological, because it’s literally “all in your head.” For years Mom and I tried to get help from friends and family, but we were told that we were being dramatic, reading too much into things, that it wasn’t what we thought, and we were being too hard on someone with a stressful job who worked many, many hours. After all, who works 80+ hours a week if they aren’t trying to support their family?
Narcissists, however, frequently hide their behavior from the public because public opinion matters more to them than anything. They work high profile jobs as police, firefighters, CEOs, or jobs in the military where they get praise and are in the public eye. They put on a show of self-sacrifice (i.e. working excessively long hours) in order to get praise and respect from coworkers and the public.
Narcissists and tricky families often go hand in hand, as they did with mine. Since I moved out in 2011, I’ve done a lot of work on myself to get over the mental trauma I went through growing up. I’ve had to learn how healthy families and friends communicate and work together. I still regularly recall things from my childhood in conversation only to be met with horrified looks before realizing that that treatment is not normal.
Make no mistake, emotional abuse is abuse. You do not deserve to be treated as less than human.
Most people don’t associate mental and emotional mistreatment with domestic violence, but the National Domestic Violence hotline has a great graphic which shows the facets of different kinds of abuse. Just because there aren’t bruises, it doesn’t mean you aren’t being armed, and it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do anything about it.
If you are in a dangerous situation, please reach out and ask for help. Leaving an abuser is dangerous. It’s scary and it’s hard, but there are support systems out there to help you.
Domestic violence is not just a women’s issue. Men can also be the victims of abuse. Anyone can become the target of a loved one’s rage, indifference, control, or verbal abuse. This is not an issue limited or controlled by gender.
I can’t go into specifics on my situation and what is happening with my family because of the legal situation. I’m also talking about this situation on Youtube, and the comments both here and on that video will be heavily moderated.
I am talking about this now because it is important. I’ve tried to subtly address it through my books, but I thought it was time to be out in the open, as much as I can about it.
My family has been torn apart by alcoholism and domestic violence, but that doesn’t mean that other families in this situation have to go through the same thing. Below, I’ve linked some resources. While these are US-based, like the majority of my readers, many of these sites do include information that might be useful to your situation, regardless of what country you are in.
And because I have bills to pay, I’m also going to make a list of fiction books, including mine, that deal with emotional and psychological abuse. Just to pull us back into the main subjects of this blog.
Domestic Violence Hotline
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
Emotional Abuse, Narcissism, and Alcoholism playlist on youtube
Novels that deal with emotional abuse (from Goodreads)
Colors in the Dark by Sine Peril
The Evie Cappelli series by Sophia Beaumont
Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter (This was the first book that made me feel SEEN as my family was falling apart)
Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey (actually, a lot of Mercedes Lackey books deal with emotional abuse; it’s what first made me realize what was happening in my own life)