It is amazing and, in hindsight, troubling how easy it is to accept something as normal when you do not know any better. If all you know is emotional manipulation and abuse, that’s normal for you. And then you’re left to wonder why it is you’re so twisted and broken inside.

People label it shyness. People label it introversion. Most likely either or both manifest in conjunction with the underlying issue. You’ve heard introversion and shyness described as negative traits--they are not. There is, however, something inherently wrong with you, but neither shyness nor introversion fully encompass what’s going on deep inside your head. You worry that your inability to cope and to understand other people’s emotions and your own means you’re a psychopath. A lifetime of mixed signals and training to feign emotion leaves you hollow. And true to form, you ring like a bell when those that made you this way ping at you. You say, “I love you” on reflex, not sure what it actually means. You are paradoxically disappointed to realize a psychopath would not be worried about being a psychopath. If you could put an accurate and affirming label on it, you could deal with it better.

But you feel. You empathize. Sometimes too much. You could accept yourself as a psychopath. As it is, you’re just a question mark. So where does that leave you? Is it just a quirk of the personality? Are you tinged with crappy-human-being-syndrome? Sure, you’ve been diagnosed with depression. You’ve gone through therapy and medication for that. But then you figured out how to be happy on a day-to-day basis, yet you know you can never escape the bentness. Sure, you’re happy, but lurking behind every corner is… something.

The ones that did this to you criticize you for their own work. It seems supremely unfair, but you know better than to contest this. Arguing is a zero-sum game. Any failing of yours is the direct result of your own shortcomings, despite the best efforts of those actually responsible. Only in hindsight do the largely baseless accusations make sense. You were charged with being lazy, being incompetent, and being ungrateful. These were all projections from your caregiver. Who was either charged with the same accusations or felt them to be true about themselves. You were never lazy, just apathetic towards unreasonable whims. Your progenitor was incapable of understanding how something they desired might not be something you desired or how something irksome to them could be entirely benign to you.

The progenitors certainly cared, or thought they did. They did their best and did what they knew. No one sets out to be a malevolent force in their child’s life. They had the best intentions. But, with those intentions, they did not pave a road to hell. Brick by brick they built a cell for you, locking you inside your own head, like a psychic cask of amontillado.

In your head you dwell. So many unspoken conversations play out. So many acts of violence, unfulfilled. In your dreams you are helpless, unable to fight back against any foe, real or imagined. In your dreams, your limbs are inadequately muscled to physically fight back, and in your dreams, your car’s brakes are unresponsive, unable to prevent the stomach lurching creep forward into unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncaring traffic. Not being one for indulgent Freudian self-analysis, it’s easy to just dismiss the dreams you’ve had for years, for all your life. But when the symbolism is this obvious, it’s hard to deny: rooted in your subconscious is a pervasive and disruptive fear of being out of control of your own life. The physical training and financial independence for which you have worked and earned is ultimately meaningless to your subconscious. At your core is a child helpless and afraid, cowering in the shadow of a parent.

You wish you could be stronger. You wish an umbrella of shame, guilt, and embarrassment did not envelope you, paralyzing you from action. You find your progenitors’ irrational fear of victimization laughable, but continue to be sapped by your own fears. You are a third of the way through your life and are realizing some things are unlikely to change. The person who you dreamed of growing into is looking more and more like a stranger. You’re still the same five-year-old kid struggling to confront his emotions. You have picked up a few coping mechanisms since then, but you’ll never be the strong, heroic extrovert you fantasized about growing into.

You faced an unbalanced anger. Uncontrolled rage that stemmed from a previous generation’s abuse and neglect that your progenitor lacked the strength, self-awareness, and external help to overcome then wittingly or not faithfully passed it on to you. You resent them for this weakness and even more so for fortifying you with the same, for making you through and through utterly vulnerable. Despite the best facades, despite years of reflection you are imbued with garbage that denies its own stink.

You bullied others as a child. You tortured them; their suffering brought you glee. You were a sadist and still are to this day. It is not the healthy-to-express bedroom sadism. It’s the evil kind of sadism. The kind that, left unchecked, leads to moral thresholds where once crossed can never be uncrossed. You remain aware and on edge--you contain the monster within you for fear of it ruining everything you’ve worked for. It thinks you deserve to be ruined. You know better, but you also know just how good it feels to let it run free.

You did not realize you were a bully. Like everything else, this was normal. This is how someone who has power over another person acts. You did not realize you were simply passing the harm done to you onto a new victim. You never realized you were a victim. Perhaps that’s where some of the misplaced self-loathing comes from. You do not feel guilty about the bullying; you just feel a general sense of disgust towards yourself. At the time, when occasionally called out for the bullying, it deeply confused you. How could it be wrong for you to treat others the way you’ve always been treated? As a child, the logic just would not flow in the right direction: what happened to you was wrong.

You learned from an early age the best response to any emotional challenge was to shut down and provide the required response. Typically this was simply silence. Failing that, it was an immediate acquiescence to demands. Any other reaction garnered more anger and more abuse. Allow the raging storm to pass and go about your business. You had your own emotions denied to you and were forced to play a role rather than living as you truly are. You’ve carried this emotional detachment on into adulthood. It weighs heavily on your marriage. It makes interacting with people awkward and painful. Anything that causes you to feel, anything that brings emotions to the forefront drives you to avoidance. You are a coward and know it.

There was physical abuse and threats of physical abuse. Never anything so dramatic as to leave evidence. It was only enough to make a point. A yanking of the ear, a pinch of the arm or leg--never as a punishment to enforce behavior, but as an expression of intense anger. It was always just enough pain to sate the sadist dishing it out. Worst of all, you had to take it in stride. You were disallowed from any response other than cowering and acquiescence. Otherwise, again, more anger and more pain. You had to acknowledge you deserved what was happening to you.

Does it get better? You are not an optimist; you are a realist. It has gotten better. What they did not give you in strength you have learned on your own. You owe them nothing. You want nothing from them but enough space to forget them. But that means casting out any vestiges of them. It means cutting out healthy flesh to ensure all tumors are removed. It hurts. It’s scary and uncomfortable because it is new and different. You may not have been happy before, but you managed to be comfortable most of the time, somehow.

And after that first cut, after something other than the sting of the scalpel can enter your mind, you start to feel better. So you cut more. More and more. You don’t have to face them or anyone who supported them. You are your own person. You fear you’ve cut too much. But no. You’re allowed to be broken inside and now, full of self-made holes. People will love you and cherish you anyway. No one is perfect and no one expects perfection. When you’ve finally stopped cutting, and set aside your seven pounds of flesh, you’re no longer sure of who you are.