The trauma of child abuse: from denial to healing, part 2 of 4

The evil in the house

Things aren’t always what they appear to be. Can I get an Amen with that? Have you ever bought a piece of clothing that looked really neat, and after the first washing, it started to literally unravel? Have you ever seen a house that looked nice from the outside and then you stepped inside to find that it was a total pit? Have you ever cut into an apple to find it rotting inside?

People can be like that. So can entire families.

What and how
I wrote our story a number of years ago in the third person before I knew that we were dealing with sociopaths. I just knew we were dealing with troublemaking gossips who were always on the attack.

You may be thinking What in the world does this have to do with denial and grieving? Good question. As you read the first half of our story below, take note of the underlying issues that created in Brandon an adult who was in denial for decades that his parents were abusive. They were admittedly “difficult” at times, but not “abusive.”

How did seriously mentally ill parents—sociopaths—convince their victim that they were good and he was evil?

How did they do it?

Our story

Many of us have experienced gossip to be a mark or symptom of family dysfunction that’s passed down from one generation to the next, like other dysfunctional behaviors.

The backstory
Let’s consider a common scenario. The matriarchs in Brandon’s family (i.e., his mother and older sisters) run the show. His mom’s dad was a scary guy who traumatized everyone in the family. So Brandon’s mom decided long ago that no man would scare her or be the boss of her ever again. When she made this decision, probably at a very young age, the traumatizing/bullying torch was passed from her father to her.

Unlike her father, she wasn’t physically domineering or overtly scary. Dear Old Mom didn’t hit and shove and throw and curse and threaten and shoot. She used more subtle, but no-less-damaging, tactics. She used manipulation, lies and gossip, with the skill of a surgeon, to control and literally cut to pieces the unfortunate men and boys in her life. And it worked. It worked like a charm. Until it didn’t.

Gender and family roles
Her daughters had a great life with Dear Old Mom because they were born the right gender. Her first daughter was the family’s Perfect Princess, and her second daughter was the Chaotic Domineeress, who made Dear Old Mom’s tactics look tame. Awesome! Dear Old Mom had a princess to adore her and go shopping with, and a bully to do a lot of her dirty work. Perfection on earth. Until it wasn’t.

Silence and violence
When Dear Old Mom’s son Brandon was born, he was in for big trouble. He was the wrong gender. If men are scary and need to be dominated or manipulated in order to be kept in control, what did this mean for her innocent son? What did it mean for little Brandon? It meant misery. It meant being labeled the family’s Problem Child literally from birth. It meant manipulation, gossip and constant troublemaking from Dear Old Mom, who ignored, allowed, minimized, and secretly celebrated when Grandpa, Dad and Big Sister would beat, scare and bully little Brandon. After all, it wasn’t that bad, was it? Brandon has a place to live, plenty of food, and gets taken to church on Sunday. We’re getting it right! Wrong.

Dear Old Mom was happy to let Grandpa, Dad and Big Sister do a lot of the dirty work for her. Besides, she wasn’t responsible for all the things they were doing. That’s just the way they are. Dear Old Mom could lay her head on her pillow at night and feel good about herself. She could spin it all like this. I wasn’t the one who kicked and punched him today. I’m not responsible for that. Besides, I don’t hear him crying, so it must not be that bad. It’ll make him tougher. It’ll be good for him in the end. Right. Interesting re-write of history. Very creative.

[If you missed it in the last series or if you’d like a refresher, read Date Night for Sociopaths from this post. It says a lot.]

Facilitating and blaming
Dear Old Mom turned a skillfully-blind eye to her son and his dangerous environment. She was at the heart of that environment, but she could happily blame all of Brandon’s problems on him or on Grandpa or on her husband. They were males. And, in Dear Old Mom’s world, males are bad, even little two-year-old ones. They were responsible for all of the problems in the family. Dear Old Mom was an energetic bundle of devoted perfection, don’t you know.

One of Dear Old Mom’s most important missions on Project Brandon required him to wholeheartedly embrace his roles: The Problem and The Victim. I mean, we don’t want to have a victim who fights back, do we? That would ruin everything we’ve worked so hard to build. It meant making sure that little Brandon understood that he was the problem so he wouldn’t cry foul to all the abuse. You’ll do what I say how I say when I say because I say it, or else, buddy. And nothing you ever do will be good enough, because you’re a boy, and boys are bad.

And that was Brandon’s life. He never felt at home in his parents’ house. He never felt wanted. He never felt understood. Why? Because he wasn’t. He was the wrong gender, and that would never change.

The fall-out
Gosh. Brandon got in a lot of trouble during his teen years. I wonder why.

The new problem
Fast forward to adult life. When Brandon got married, it was vital that Brandon’s new wife understand her role in the larger extended family. Dear Old Mom’s silent but loud-and-clear message went like this: Little Miss Frankie Ann, everyone else in the world may love you and think you’re wonderful, but you’re not. You’re married to Brandon. And in this family, that’s a bad thing. We need to make sure you understand how this family works. You see, Brandon’s the problem. He’s always been The Problem, and he’ll always be The Problem. So if you’re married to Brandon, you’re The New Problem. We need to make sure you understand that, missy, because we wouldn’t want you to think you belong here. You don’t. We’re going to make sure you embrace your role as The New and Bigger Problem. Just watch us spin, honey. Here it comes.

So the gossip-fest gets spun-up into “We hate Brandon’s wife” high gear. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again….

The seething attacks
Now, Frankie Ann, since you’re The New and Bigger Problem, we’re going to let up on Brandon for a few years or decades—however long it takes—while we make sure you get a really clear understanding of who you are and where you fit (or don’t fit) in the all-important scenario of Our Perfect Family. You’re The New and Bigger Problem. We’re going to make sure you know that and feel that and embrace that, honey, because you don’t belong here. We don’t want you here. We’d much rather beat up on Brandon without some troublemaker like you here to defend him and stick up for him. We don’t like that. And we don’t like you. Anyone who sticks up for Brandon is our New, Much Bigger Problem. And we’re going to make you pay, sister. Big time.

If you married into this particular flavor of Our Perfect Family, that’s the way it rolls, ladies. Dear Old Mom and Big Sister are the ringleaders, while the Perfect Princess, Dad and the rest of the extended family are the willing audience for the non-stop drama-fest.

Coming next: Come back next time for the second half of Our Story. You’ll read about a shotgun, a sleepover and The Next Generation.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Isaiah 59:9-14

Song for Healing: “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher

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