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01101101's avatar

Could you please describe emotional abuse to me in simple symbolic words?

Asked by 01101101 (252points) October 14th, 2016

Hello! I’ve been emotionally abused by my parents when I was a kid.

Now I am in college and making my thesis about Parental Emotional Abuse. My project is a web comic and I would like to help parental emotional abuse victims and new parents to seek for professional help. Words do not come to me freely and I have troubles expressing what I want to, so I am asking for help. (Also, my project should be in English but it is not my native language! Hehehe)

I would like to describe emotional abuse in simple symbolic sentences so my readers would get an understanding about it. My comic has one character and she will tell a story about her life being emotionally abused by her father, however, the only sentences I could only think of are:

“It’s entrapping.”
“It’s a wave that slowly drowns you.”

Please help me describe it?
Thank you so much.

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11 Answers

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canidmajor's avatar

The description that I use that has been most evocative yo others, is that it’s like living in a cloud of tiny biting midges, punctuated occasional wasps. I’s never not happening.

zenvelo's avatar

The classic description is ” walking on eggshells, hoping none of them break”.

CWOTUS's avatar

Don’t get too wrapped up in the words here. Remember that ALL words are symbolic; words are not the things that they represent (except for the words meaning “word”, I suppose, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole). I would expect that if you draw your graphics – especially from the point of view of a pre-verbal child, perhaps – the words will be a lot less important.

If you’ve ever seen “Charlie Brown” videos and animated cartoons, then you might understand how the voices of teachers and parents are never heard directly, only represented by a “wah-wah-wah” trombone sound. (I’ll try to post a link to a video of that to illustrate the point.)

Soubresaut's avatar

If you want symbolism, I would start first with images, and then let that guide the words. You’ve got the image of the wave slowly drowning someone. I can see that, I can feel that. It becomes tangible.

Entrapping—a little more abstract—entrapping like she’s in a closed-off box? Like she’s got a hundred thread-like ropes wrapped around her wrists, tying her down? Like there’s some vast, dark, unknown space between her and where she wants to be? Like something’s pressing in on her from all sides? >> I don’t know that you’d want to use any of these, I’m just throwing things out there.

Also, something that may help, is trying to get a symbol that represents some small part of the larger ordeal. Some piece. It doesn’t have to encompass everything.

In fact, maybe try thinking first in terms of story arcs. Are there specific types of incident or specific patterns of behavior you want to be sure your audience can recognize? I would start storyboarding/outlining/sketching/drafting those, and working on creating a character and a story line that are detailed enough to feel real for the audience. Let the symbols arise naturally out of this—look for elements or objects already in the story that have some sort of “overlap” with the emotional aspects of the story, and then strengthen those connections. You can wind up with unexpected and more natural-feeling symbols that way.

For example, when I was in a writing class, the assignment I was working on had specific parameters that led me to writing about someone who could sew. Family friends had also just lost their father/husband after a long fight with leukemia (blood marrow transfusions from his twin brother weren’t enough), and I was emotionally stuck on this idea that even giving someone part of your body might not be enough to save them. To put some distance between that and my story, I went with a kidney transplant.

As I was developing the story, I didn’t know where it was going to go or how anything would fit together. But soon I began to see some overlap with the sewing and the surgery that I could work with—stitches, for sure; and also the fact that a sewing pattern only has “half” of the shirt or the pants, and after the surgery the two sisters would only have half a set of kidneys; and also the idea that the sister who sewed is used to being able to make things right, sewing and patching things back together, but she can’t make things right for her sister, can’t put things back together. So I worked, more or less, on using the sewing to express the sister’s emotions, while a sewing project contrasted the sister’s decline.

Not sure if that really makes sense across the internet and out of context… but hopefully it helps. I’m not sure how far you are into story building around this character, but that’s where I would start. Get her and the world around her in motion, and then look into that world to see what you can use.

Best of luck! This sounds like an important, significant project you’re working on.

Seek's avatar

There is one morning I’ll never forget.

It was Mother’s day.

I was 18 – still living with the family because I was a good Christian girl and in our church girls stayed in their parents’ house until they married.

My brother (2 years younger) and sister (6 years younger) didn’t have money or anything like that, but I had them help me execute the big Mothers’ Day plan.

We each made a handmade card. Not like a 2nd grade card – I’m the artsy type. They were nice. We had them on the table surrounding the gifts from all of us.

I’d bought a set of three crystal perfume bottles, in blue – her favourite colour – from a local department store. They took perfume oil, not spray.

I spent three days trying to track down a store that even sold perfume oil, then found one in a scent I thought she’d like – not flowery, not fruity. She preferred musks. It was so expensive, but it was Mother’s Day and mothers deserve to feel special on Mother’s Day, right?

Finally, we visited a florist and picked out a nice – no carnations, she hated carnations – bouquet.

My sister was just learning how to cook, so I had her help me make a big breakfast for the whole family. Bacon, sausage, waffles, “milk-egg” which was this soggy scrambelled egg thing my stepfather liked, and eggs over-easy for Mom. There was hot coffee ready when she came to the table.

After we excitedly presented our gifts, the woman sat there in tears, wondering why we hadn’t bought her a living plant, instead of a bouquet that would just die in a few days.

She never thanked us. She didn’t comment on the cards or say whether she liked the perfume. I don’t think she even ate breakfast. She took her coffee, and went into the garage to smoke and cry.

Our stepfather’s response was “You know she doesn’t like flowers”. And that was it.

And so, after all that, we were (more accurately, I was) in trouble for making Mom cry on Mother’s Day. It was my fault. It was Mother’s Day and I failed to make Mom happy.

The last time I was in their house I was 21. The box with the crystal perfume bottles was still sitting, unopened, on her cedar chest. Collecting dust.

A simple symbolic word-illustration?
Emotional abuse is swimming for the surface of a lake that keeps rising.

Doing all the work you can to be the perfect child, the perfect offspring, the perfect family, and no matter what, you fail. You’re never good enough. Your tries are never sufficient. The one thing you do wrong – and there will always be something – will colour and destroy all the things you did right.

snowberry's avatar

I’m sorry @Seek. Something like that really hurts.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Her whole life was like that @snowberry. I dreaded even reading the story. I knew it wouldn’t end well.

Kardamom's avatar

Wow @Seek! That was a horrifying and heart wrenching story. I can’t believe that you were treated like that. You are such a kind and intelligent and lovely person. I’m glad you were able to escape.

While I was reading it, I was picturing a movie version with Dakota Fanning (as the young girl) experiencing this scene, and then later, many years later, Cissy Spacek playing the same person as an adult, recollecting this horrifying scene.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@Seek what a powerful story. So sorry you went through that. Your description is spot on.

Here is mine:
It distorts your reality.

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