When you grow up with abusive parents, you tend to learn some hard lessons very quickly. You learn by osmosis, without anyone speaking a word. It’s there in the air. You breath it in and just like that, you know.
One of the first, most critical lessons you learn, is that your parents are not there to care for you; you exist to care for them. To meet their every need. Or desire. So, if you are to survive, you must see what can’t be seen, hear what hasn’t been spoken, perceive the intent of the heart behind verbalized words, and accept that reality and truth are cloaked by smiles and pleasantries. You must read the shifts in mood and atmosphere. React before there has been an action. Anticipate danger so you can escape before everything explodes and falls out from under you. You must recognize the monsters who live within, who are secretly watching and waiting, harboring ravenous, ungodly cravings, their presence masked by your parent’s innocuous faces.
You learn that certain things are expected. Certain things are forbidden. Certain actions are mandatory. There are thoughts that must never be vocalized. Questions you must never ask. The abuse teaches you what you must and must not do. Who you must be. Who you must never be. What you must say and must not dare to utter, not even if you whisper the words in your mind when you are alone in your empty world. You learn. When it’s safe to come out and when you should hide. What is required. Demanded. How to earn the right to exist. What you must do to protect the family. You learn because abuse is a harsh taskmaster, painfully driving the points home.
By the time you reach the tender age of 4, you know all of this and much, much more.
You learn that being seen is dangerous. Being known makes you a target. If your parents don’t really see you, they might forget about you for a while. If they don’t know your heart, they can’t gouge their sharp, cutting words into your weakest parts. You come to understand their world is all about them. What they want. What they need. They’ll find you when they want something from you. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have some space, some time in between when you can breathe and recover from your encounters with them. If you can protect yourself well enough, you just might make it through another day.
You learn to take soundless, shallow breaths and to expect nothing from those who created you. Nothing but abuse. Many different varieties of abuse.
You also learn that it’s dangerous to be seen and known by others, those you interact with outside the home. You quickly realize any recognition requires quick thinking to effectively hide in plain sight. Wearing a heavy, suffocating mask. Smiling when you want to cry. Not talking, not sharing, remaining a closed book with a pleasant cover. You learn to wear silence like your own skin. Because you must not tell the secrets. You must never talk about the things that happen in the dead of the night behind drawn curtains and locked doors.
You must not be seen. Known. The truth must never be revealed.
You learn to live in a very dark space in a very lonely sphere.
Once you enter elementary school, you discover how different you are from your classmates. They laugh from their heart and belly. They smile with their eyes and their soul. They are who they are and don’t yet have anything to hide. No dark secrets to guard. They are helium-filled balloons, fluffy white clouds meandering across a blue sky in the sunshine, butterflies, ice cream and rainbows. They haven’t yet glimpsed the darkness of life. They haven’t had to live in a perpetual, frightening nightmare where one wanders through thick fog, stalked by dangerous predators.
But you must appear to be the same. The same as the untouched. You must never let them see the you who lives inside.
Those lessons are driven deep into the psyche and personality. They become who you are. They shape everything you do. They define and limit your possibilities. The older you get, the deeper they go.
You learn to keep yourself to yourself. To keep your feelings tightly bottled inside your innermost being. To numb your heart in order to endure the unbearable agony of your existence. You realize that who you are…the real you…is unacceptable. No matter how hard you try, how much you give, how well you perform, you are defective. Less than. Shattered. And because you are fractured, oozing from raw wounds, you are a burden and threat to others. An unbearable weight. A liability. Toxic.
You have become an alien, forced to wear a disguise as you walk among the humans around you while desperately trying to avoid being discovered.
You learn. That no matter how painfully you long to connect with someone in an intense, profound way, you can’t. Because you can’t let them see you. If they see how broken you are, how much “baggage” you carry, the ugly scars that crisscross your heart, they will turn away in shock and horror at even a glimpse of the real you. You are too much of an encumbrance for anyone to bear.
To be seen. For who you really are. The greatest risk. A risk you wish you could take. Because it is also your greatest desire.
To be seen and loved for who you really are. A wild, ridiculous hope. The impossible dream.
There are too many secrets that must be kept. Too many deep, dark secrets and foul deformities within you that must never see the light of day.