￼I wrote this piece as a guest blogger as part of a series on emotional abuse by the lovely and talented blogger Abby’s chronicles. It was lovely being able to work with another blogger and working together with her to help raise awareness on the issue. You can read her work here;https://abbeyschronicles.com/2019/03/16/dealing-with-emotional-abuse-from-family/
The other side of family
Different forms of physical abuse is more commonly discussed compared to emotional abuse. I am so self conscious when I speak to my children when they push the boundaries and do something wrong. My aim is to always point out what they have done wrong in a calm and constructive way. Sometimes my eldest son comes home telling me some of the nasty things that a child has said to him, I ensure that I point out all his positive attributions, but also I tell him that those words doesn’t define him. Instead it speaks volumes of the person who has tried to hurt him with their words and the best thing he can do is to show that child kindness because kindness may just be what they need.
We live in such a judgemental society where it is easy to pick on other peoples attributes because they differ from ours. It is not what society may deem as normal. What is normal anyway? This got me thinking about my childhood. I was different to most of my family, in the way I look, think and act. Growing up I’m in a South African township I faced so many challenges, but my parents gave me the best possible life they could. When you live in a township you don’t tend to dream of a life outside of what you know. You’re seen as destined to alcoholism, drugs and unemployment, but I was different. I was a dreamer. Dreaming of a life with an education and a good career. My parents never had the opportunity to finish primary school and therefore had to go into underpaid employment, but they instilled a drive within me to follow my dreams and goals. I wanted to become something other than the expected. I dreamt of a life away from the dangers and strong possibilities of being raped and killed. I dreamt of a life where I was celebrated and accepted. I dreamt of a life where I felt secure and safe enough to be me regardless of how different I was. This was always met with resentment and judgement from my own extended family.
I suffered years of emotional abuse from my family. I remember as a child I was never treated the same as my other cousins because I looked different to them. They are mostly dark skinned and I have pale skin, light hair and rosy cheeks. It all started when I was around five years old. I remember the first time they called me a derogatory name. I cried wondering what was wrong with me. Believing the words they spoke towards me. How I pushed it aside at such a young age I do not know. The abuse continued as I grew up and it got even worse. I remember standing on the beach whilst my granny handed out Christmas presents to all the grandkids. I stood in line patiently waiting on my turn and when my turn came there was nothing for me. I walked away empty handed with my tail between my legs, sad and disappointed, but that didn’t hurt half as much as the statement ‘there’s no present for the little white rat’ from one of my cousins. I walked away and sat on the beach staring at the ocean looking at absolutely nothing. From that Christmas Day I isolated myself from them all and only saw them when I had to. I always played by myself as that way I would not put myself in a position where I had to listen to their nasty negative words.
As I grew older the name calling became worse and then came the body shaming. I was either too fat or too skinny. If I ate something the little piggy comment was thrown in my face which lead to me not eating, then when I lost weight they accused me of being on drugs. This has really shaped my relationship with food over the years and I found myself completely stopping eating when I’m faced with stressful situations. I went through a phase of weighing myself everyday. The scars left by the emotional abuse by my wider family runs deep and to this day I am working on myself to ensure that I do not pass this on to my kids.
Some may wonder why my parents didn’t act. They did, but they were unable to stop it. Culturally respect is a crucial factor and therefore my parents especially my mother as it was coming from her family mainly, had their hands tied. When my mum stood up for me she faced the emotional blackmail from her own mother who would then stop speaking to her. I remember when I was a first year at university my granny called me the most unthinkable name (a whore) and that broke my heart more than not receiving a Christmas present. It hurt me so much as all I wanted to do was please them all and make them proud. I worked hard at school and university and thought if I prove to them I can do it maybe just maybe I’ll fit into my own family. I know she felt bad as she tried to make up with a plate of food. Us Africans loves to feed each other. I forgave her and she never called me that again, but the hurt was not something I could get over that quickly. My mother stood up for me and her entire family went up in arms because her standing up for her child against her mother, a respected elder in the community was viewed as disrespectful.
My mother’s youngest sister was perhaps the worst of them all. She used to tell the younger kids in the family to call me nasty words and if she ever passed me on the streets she made it a priority to embarrass me in front of my friends. She used to call me everything from a dirty pig to a slut and the emotional abuse quickly escalated to being physical. The occasional slap and bruises left healed much faster than the emotional scaring. Emotional abuse I endured left me questioning my identify and who I am as a person. I lost my sense of belonging and felt that I did not fit in. A child should be having fun with their family members, but for the most part when I was surrounded by some of my family it was emotionally torturous. My aunt enjoyed the effects of her abuse and the pain her words caused me. I believe it made her feel better about herself. Family should protect each other and build each other up, but for the most part my extended family did the opposite. If the goal was to break me, they have failed miserably. Family dynamics can be so complicated. For the most part I had a great childhood, but the scars I bear from a life of emotional abuse left me weary of others and that was what drove me to leave the township and build a life for myself and my children away from the negativity.
Whenever I return home I always ensure that I go back to the township as it is a part of me. I am so proud of where I come from and do not hide that from anyone. What I went through as a child shaped me as an adult and I now know that it has helped me to be a more loving and patient mum. I come from a family where you hardly ever heard the words I love you, but in my home we can’t say those words enough. My emotional scars run deep, but my will and determination to heal and refusal to pass that negativity on to the next generation of my family surpass the hurt I endured. The name calling and body shaming did not break me, instead it shaped how I treat others and I ensure that whoever I encounter regardless of their status or background is treated with the utmost care and respect and that is I value I am trying to instil in my own children. We may all be different, but we all feel and emotional scars is something I have no intention of leaving in anyone.
Through my journey with anxiety and depression I have learnt that I am not the names they called me. I am not a pig, or a little white rat. I am a proud African woman who deserves to be treated with love and respect. For years their words haunted me and I believed it, but I am stronger and wiser now to know better. As part of my recovery and maintaining great mental wellbeing I have learnt that I am whatever I say I am and by believing their words I gave them the power over me. My wider family and the years of mental and emotional abuse I endured because of them no longer has power or me. They no longer control how I view myself. Life has a cruel way of teaching us some valuable lessons, but I truly believe what happened shaped me as a person, wife and mother. In spite of what I endured and my mental health diagnosis I am happier than I have been. I cannot change my childhood not my family’s treatment of me, but what I am changing is how I see myself: A strong, determined and well rounded African woman!