My mother’s favorite phrases – when I was doing my best to grow up – included these three gems, “What do you think you are doing?” “What do you think you are wearing?” and “You aren’t going out looking like that!” There were plenty of things she did not want me to wear – because Bad Things might happen – outside the house – if I did. Yet she never paid much attention to the emotional attire I was clad in.
In fact, Mother had no idea that emotional attire has a big impact on a person’s quality of life. In this week’s ezine, we shall be looking at,
- a) your current emotional attire,
- b) who chose it for you and
- c) how you get to upgrade your emotional wardrobe – and your quality of life.
A lightbulb moment
Yesterday, I had one of those lightbulb moments that mostly occur when my mind is allowed to roam free. I was walking Bazyl K. and thinking about the wonderful success that a lovely client had just notified me of. The client in question could not have been more thrilled about her success. However, she struggled to believe that she herself was worthy of that success.
Even though she knew she was 100% responsible for creating that success.
In the words of another lovely client, perceived success was one thing, “but if people only knew what she was really like….”
You can probably complete that statement from your own beliefs about yourself. In fact, that is the point.
As Bazyl K. and I trotted through our green and pleasant village, my relaxed mind did a quick review of my wonderful clients. All of them are extraordinarily gifted, each in her own way.
But how do they see themselves?
“It’s as if they were wearing some kind of emotional burka,” I muttered to Bazyl K. (who was, I have to say, too busy with his own interests to reply). Whether or not Bazyl K. actually saw what I was saying, didn’t really matter.
Because I did.
The emotional burka
Emotional abuse is very like an emotional burka. It is the garment in which an abusive partner envelops you, from head to toe, leaving you just a mesh through which to see the world.
Does that sound fanciful to you? It shouldn’t.
If you think about the way an emotionally abusive relationship develops, it will start to make sense.
The development of an emotionally abusive relationship
Stage 1 Right at the start, an emotionally abusive suitor – or partner – feels like your ideal mirror. He positions himself as the mirror that tells you that you are, quite possibly the fairest of them all. You are, at any rate, fairer than you thought you were.
Stage 2 Once you start to buy into the relationship, your emotionally abusive partner settles into the process of refashioning you. First off, he sets a virtual scarf on your head. He is working on imposing feelings of modesty on you – in the sense of making you feel that you have much to be modest about. In other words, he has started the process of diminishing your already fragile sense of self.
Stage 3 He proceeds to conceal the whole of your face leaving only your eyes uncovered. You still have some direct connection to the world outside. However, your life has become primarily about him and his needs and demands.
Stage 4 Gradually, things shift again so that you find yourself swamped by an emotional burka, looking out on a world that is filtered through the veil of his truths.
How it worked for me
When I met “my” wasband, the mirror stage lasted a few months – albeit with occasional blips. But I could overlook a blip or two. (I had been trained throughout my life to overlook or deny blip after blip after blip.) In fact, I was willing to overlook and deny a multitude of blips for someone who had told little old me that I was wonderful.
Wonderful was not a word that had ever been applied to me in my (emotionally abusive) family of origin.
However, before long, the wasband started applying the scarf. When I told him of exciting work and academic opportunities that had come my way, the boyfriend (as he then was) donned his most pained expression and told me why those things could not work. I gave up on all of them except my Ph.D. (In fact that proved something of a gift for him since a Ph.D. – at least in an Arts subject – is, of itself, a profoundly isolating experience.)
Once I had “accepted” the scarf, it was no big deal for him to cover up the rest of my face, leaving only my eyes exposed.
My world through his eyes
He used intimidation and explanation to get me to see the world – my world – his way. My work was less important than his. My achievements, including the Ph.D., were negligible. My friends were not anywhere as nice as I thought they were. Either they were stupid or they had an agenda. Or both. When I took up a martial art (which I absolutely LOVED) he devastated me by informing me that I was “too old” to learn it (despite knowing zilch about martial arts).
Quite when the full emotional burka descended, I do not know. I just know that my world became very small, isolated and fearful. I became, quite literally, imprisoned by all the limitations that he had brought to my attention. For a long time, I believed that I could not leave him because
- I was too inadequate to cope on my own.
- I was too useless as a mother to take care of my own child without his guidance. (Actually, he was a fairly horrid dad.)
- I was such a horrible, selfish, crazy person that nobody else would ever want me.
- I’d be making the biggest mistake of my life if I left him.
- I was too stupid ever to do anything worthwhile in my life.
- I had no skills and nothing to say for myself that anyone would ever want to hear.
- I was incapable of making good decisions for myself.
- Everything I ever did – or would do – went to hell in a handcart.
- I always, always messed up.
- I had no future to look forward to.
Eventually, I left because I was suffocating under that emotional burka. I honestly believed that I would die of asphyxiation if I stayed.
What happened when I left
However being apart from him did not go that well either.
Yes, there were glorious upsides, like,
- Getting into bed at night and not having to worry about him picking a fight to destroy my rest,
- Waking up in the morning and not having to worry about what kind of mood he was in.
Nevertheless, I still felt small and fearful and hopeless. What I couldn’t know, at the time, was this, I felt SO bad because I was still shuffling through my days under that emotional burka. I still believed the wasband’s mantras and repeated them to myself as self-evident truths.
That emotional burka prevented me from truly seeing myself and other people from seeing me.
And that brings us back to my lovely, gifted clients. As stated at the start, they are turning their lives around. Other people (that is normal, functional other people, as opposed to their former abusers) see just how wonderful they really are.
They, on the other hand, can’t see for themselves when that emotional burka envelops them once again. Then, they tell me what they can never be, or do, or have. Then, they predict their own dark future.
Well, they would wouldn’t they, when they have a heavy emotional burka enveloping them?
It can be hard to recognize when Emotional Burka Syndrome envelops you. Your clue, is always that the world looks and feels like a very dark place.
The more my clients see Emotional Burka Syndrome (EBS) for themselves, the easier it is for them to remove it. But the truth is, there a lot of scenarios that can trigger those old bad feelings.
Part of the healing process from emotional abuse requires you to become your own emotional detective. You need to understand what causes that burka to drop back over you and how to lift it off fast. I hope this article provides you with a new and useful insight. And if you need help and support to free yourself of that emotional burka, then get it in touch and let’s talk.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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