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  • Writer's pictureI'm a Survivor

Bonsai children lead bonsai lives

by Isabella M

My mother was narcissistic, which meant she was very reactive and controlling. She saw me as a companion, a comfort and an accessory. Often she saw me as an annoyance and an inconvenience. She felt she should have "done better" in her life, that she deserved a better career and that she deserved someone better than my Dad. I was blamed and given responsibility for her career decisions, a responsibility too heavy for a child to hold. Her parents did not approve of Dad, and I think she internalised that prejudice, but her relationship with them was also not good. She had been raped and was probably sexually abused. Dad was very emotionally shut down and avoided triggering my mother. I took my cues from him. Both my parents were estranged from their families so there were no other close adults in my early childhood.

I was sexualised as a child, and significant relationships with other adults in my teens were also abusive and sexualised, meaning that when I was abused and later raped it seemed inevitable and I felt hopeless. I had never been allowed my own opinions or feelings and was trained to put everyone's feelings and needs before my own. The way I was brought up meant that I saw myself as an inconvenience. I felt like a fraud, like I wasn't who I should be. I felt out of place and that I would never fit in. I felt that there was something wrong with me and that I was a bad person. I felt that I did not matter, my feelings and needs did not matter, I felt all I could ever be was a disappointing shell who always fell short of expectations, not a real person at all. I felt that I was not safe, other people were not safe to be around and they could not be trusted. I felt I had no power. I had to follow the rules but I never knew what the rules were, so I have always tried to discern the expectations that people have so I can avoid triggering anger or upset in them.

I have always seen intimacy as dangerous. Emotional intimacy felt dangerous because the knowledge gained could be used to judge or hurt me. Physical intimacy felt unsafe because I was used to being restrained, by my mother and by others who abused me sexually. Those rare people I trusted in my childhood and adolescence had their own motives to use me, or were inconsistent in their nurturing due to their own difficulties. Intimacy was withheld because I had upset people, or forced because it was what someone else wanted, even if I didn't want to and said no. As I went into adulthood I had no trust in my ability to keep myself safe because I didn't think I had the right or power to do so. I think I gave up trying to understand or communicate my needs and feelings, and just tried to do my best to manage the consequences. This meant that when someone wanted a relationship with me, I was surprised and grateful. When I was asked to do things and tolerate things that hurt me or compromised my needs I went along with them because that is what I had been trained to do. I had no faith in my power to set boundaries, no belief in my right to do so, and no trust in other people to respect my needs or feelings. I was in an abusive relationship with a narcissist for 10 years, and married to them for 5 years. The relationship became abusive early on and escalated as the years went by.

Last October I reached a point where panic attacks and crying were a daily occurrence, I was self harming regularly, and I feared both for my life and my sanity. I was hit, manipulated and verbally and emotionally abused. I wasn't sleeping, I lost time being dissociated, I spent nights driving on the phone to samaritans, and I was often so overwhelmed by the abuse that I shut down completely and could not move. I tried to prove that I did not want to hurt them or anger them, getting lost in a maze of accusations and gaslighting that left me desperate, terrified and defensive. I went to the beach and stood in the sea, but something always made me walk back to the shore.

That something also placed an opportunity before me to access trauma therapy, and gave me the strength to take it. Through this I was helped to see that I am more than an empty shell, that my needs and feelings should be validated and respected, that I have unique skills and a purpose, that I am lovable and have power in my life. I left my abusive relationship and am building my authentic life, with the help of my therapist and a wonderful circle of friends. I had grown so used to avoiding other people to avoid them seeing what was going on in my relationship and the uselessness I saw in myself. Now it is amazing and wonderful to connect with people who think I am amazing and wonderful. Trauma therapy is transformative and I continue to process, grow and heal.

Narcissistic parents produce bonsai children, children who are only allowed to grow in the direction dictated by the parent. We continue to live bonsai lives, collected by new abusers who block, bend and corrupt our growth, until we are shown that the wires and strings that twist us are not as strong as the beautiful branches we are meant to grow. Not strong enough to stunt our growth unless we believe that they can. I am starting to see the potential of my life tree, and believe in the freedom I have to live that life as my tree grows. I am healing.

I will never live a bonsai life again.

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