Emotional Abuse Can Be Very Subtle
I'm going to share my story, because I figure a whole lot of people might be in the same boat. I think if you've been badly, blatantly, abused, it can be easier to eventually get fed up with it. In my case "the church" was extremely subtle with their abuse (as my husband is most of the time, unless he's really raging), so it might be harder to break free because it's "not really that bad."
My husband and I grew up in the "church" (Worldwide Church of God). I don't remember being spanked much, but all my dad had to say was, "Do you need a spanking?" and I'd start bawling, so I know my parents spanked some early on. My mom routinely threatened me with the obligatory wooden spoon. I felt so bad for some of my friends, who nearly every Saturday were taken into a bathroom stall and had to suffer through having their pants and underwear stripped down and spanked repeatedly on their bare bottoms, and another person would be beat with a belt over any small infraction. Nobody so much as batted an eye.
What was hardest for me was an all-pervasive high-pressure performance mentality of trying to be perfect. I never rebelled, never did anything "wrong," got all A's, didn't date or kiss until I went to Ambassador College, yet I always had (and have) zero self-esteem. I've always felt guilty, but for what I can't say--being human, maybe? Rationally I know that we're all human and can't be perfect, but it was constantly ground into us to be better, give more, not associate with "the world," all we could do for 24 hours on the Sabbath was read the Bible, act happy--and then there was the end of the world.
In our church and family, they kept saying the end of the world [i.e., the end of the age] would happen by the time I was 18. Ever since I can remember, I thought I wouldn't get to really have a boyfriend or experience life, go to college, have an adult job, get married, or worse--not have babies. So just in case, I tried to do everything on an accelerated schedule. I finished college early, got married (too) young, had kids young, and now I feel worn-down and confused. I have children I adore--but then there's my husband.
My husband grew up having a WCG elder for a father. His father gave sermonettes and put on a big front to everybody, but to everyone in his private life, he was a dictator narcissist, constantly screaming, physically, mentally and emotionally abusive, very controlling, 100% demeaning and disrespectful to all females. My husband is now carrying on the happy tradition, minus the physically abusive part. And just like growing up in the WCG, I am constantly stressed out by trying to be perfect (which my husband says is the way I should be because it's good to strive for perfection). I make excuses for his sullen or abusive behavior and his abhorrent treatment of me. His complete self-involvement and lack of involvement with the children he mostly ignores. I am expected to always act cheerful (remember the song "Just Put on a Happy Face") and I'm not allowed to raise my voice or criticize pretty much anything he says or does, all the while calmly taking his unjust criticism and judgmental attitudes toward me. After 11 years of this, I realize nothing I say (i. e., trying to defend myself) will change his twisted thinking, his opinion of me and of women, so I stopped trying to defend myself. He takes this to mean I admit my guilt to whatever small offense he's taking me to task for, blowing out of proportion, this time. I know differently: I'm going to counseling, I'm biding my time.
In counseling, I couldn't understand what made me put up with such horrible treatment from someone who should have been my best friend, the one who loved me more than anybody, and whom I should be able to trust with emotions. Then yesterday I was trying to comfort a relative who is a teenager. She's in a very strict WCG splinter group and was talking about how she's never even held hands with a boy or done anything wrong, never rebels, always gets good grades and keeps the O.T. laws to a "T" but feels so unworthy of existing that she practically thinks about killing herself. I'd always felt like I was the only one who felt that way. I just assumed it was yet another way that I was faulty/flawed, but to hear her say all that totally resonated and I told her how I grew up feeling and still fight feeling those things. She was amazed and said it helps her not feel so lonely and afraid. We kinda both realized that maybe we grew up in "cults."
So today I did an Internet search on WCG and found this site. In reading the list of different ways cult leaders control people, I realize that almost every single one also applies to my husband's treatment of me.1 So I guess now I know the answer to my earlier puzzlement of how I got into this marital mess when I grew up in a fairly "normal," loving home. I got out of the "church" in 1996, once I figured out all was far from right, and now I have to summon more courage and try to figure out how to get out of my unhealthy marriage. I thought I'd come farther than this (in my recovery from the WCG) but as my marriage goes, I have been burying my head in the sand. I'm just now opening my eyes to what a sham my life and marriage have been.
Good bless all of you.
By Gina - Child Survivor (and member) of WCG, 1976 to 1996
November 12, 2007
Footnote by ESN: