Fictional survivors of emotional abuse

Every Christmas I re-read Harry Potter, simply because it’s a fun story, full of magic, adventure and positivity. Following my life events in the last two years, therapy and the birth of this blog, this time I saw Harry’s story with different eyes. How much did this boy suffer, and how strong he was to not succumb. Could it be that this is one of my favourite stories because I hoped that I, like Harry, could overcome my childhood and live a happy life?


Hoping to bring positivity, help you feel motivated and empowered, I put together a list of fictional characters who thrived following emotional abuse. And by thrived, I mean that they did not let their hearts fill with hate or were driven by a need for revenge. People who did not continue the circle of abuse like so many other fictional characters such as Hannibal, Joe Goldberg, Norman Bates and many many more. Who despite everything that happened to them, were kind, thoughtful, compassionate, loving. They did not lose their sense of humanity, but like true warriors kept fighting. They broke the circle of abuse and found joy in life when the people closest to them only gave them pain.


They broke free.


For those who have been in similar situations, this is a form of escapism. Seeing someone who has gone through abuse and not only survived but managed to have a normal life can be very empowering. I hope this list can help with that.


Harry Potter




The abuse: Harry, like all children in this list, was unwanted. Raised, reluctantly, by his uncle and aunt, he was expected to shrink himself as much as possible. His room was a cupboard under the stairs, he was bullied by his cousin and his birthday was not celebrated at all while they went over the top for his cousin. A classic abuse technique, he was also isolated; when Hogwarts sent him letters the Dursleys, his caretakers, kept throwing them away. This hints to the idea that they enjoyed keeping Harry as their prisoner - as, if anything, they should be thrilled to receive these letters as they were Harry’s ticket out of the house.


The result: When everyone around you tells you that you’re worthless, you feel worthless. When the story begins, Harry has really low self-esteem and expects nothing. Shrinking himself is the perfect defence mechanism to survive in that house, yet outside, the result is that he still feels less than others, he does not deserve anything good. Once he’s at Hogwarts, life seems too good to be true - soon he’ll wake up and this will be but a dream, he thinks. He also, at least in the beginning, does not seek help, which is understandable as he was taught to never rely on anyone. He doesn’t seem to question the behaviour of those close to him as much as he would with Snape or Malfoy; Ron, Hagrid or Dumbledore’s actions are often questionable.


Yaaas Harry:

  • He repeatedly rejects abusive people and behaviours

  • He’s a generous and thoughtful friend

  • He allows himself to feel anger. Yes, that’s good! As boundaries are repeatedly stepped over, it is a good sign that you allow yourself to feel and show anger. It shows that you’re aware you deserve better, you take your life in your own hands and are ready to heal.

  • He shows curiosity, a sense of adventure, a thirst for joy, life and love.



Matilda


The abuse: This adventurous genius created by Roald Dahl is another unwanted child. Matilda’s parents usually just ignore her and think she’s weird because she doesn’t want to sit on the sofa all day and watch TV but she likes reading. To add to that, her dad is also screaming at her and accusing her of lying without ever asking for her point of view. Again, her reality is denied. Of course we all remember the overtly abusive headmistress too, Mrs Trunchbull, who screams at children, locks them away in the infamous chokey and throws them around.


The result: Matilda is rejected to her core by her family, a certain path to damage a child’s self-worth and sense of identity. However, this book does present an optimistic view and Matilda is actually exceptionally mentally healthy. Potentially, we could say that she’s used to not asking for help, as she takes things in her own hands to get rid of Mrs Trunchbull.


Yaaas Matilda

  • Matilda has separated from her family mentally and emotionally. That’s very hard to do, even for adults, as our need to seek support and approval from our family lies deep within us. She even grabs the opportunity to abandon them when they flee and moves in with Miss Honey.

  • She stays true to who she is; she doesn’t hide her interests, her emotions, her thoughts, even if that gets her in trouble.

  • She’s courageous. She speaks up to her horrific dad and even the monstrous Mrs Trunchbull.

  • She has a strong sense of curiosity, wonder and adventure.

  • She seeks emotional support from emotionally mature people - Miss Honey. Matilda is especially emotionally insightful; after recognising that she won’t get what she needs from her family, she seeks it externally to great success.


Eleven


The abuse: Taken away when she was a baby for psychological experiments, Eleven doesn’t even have a name - she’s called 11 because of the tattoo she was given for experiments. She is stripped of anything that would help her develop her sense of identity. She is treated like an object, there to satisfy adults who use her for their needs. When she doesn’t give them what they need, she is punished brutally.


The effect: It looks like Eleven is suffering from complex childhood trauma as she has responses such as screaming, rocking herself, she’s easily startled and not able to relax like her friends while getting flashbacks of traumatic memories from the hospital. Her sense of self is seriously damaged as she describes herself as a monster. Even though she found a group of friends initially she keeps her distance. As expected, she’s terrified of adults - when you grow up with an abuser, you think everyone is abusive.


Yaaas Eleven:

Eleven finds a good support group. Her first words are “friend” and “promise” - even though she’s been brutally abused she’s keen to build social bonds and eventually she succeeds, even with adults.

She shows extreme courage; a true warrior overcoming fear.

She shows empathy and is deeply loyal to her friends. She would do anything to protect them.

She chooses to be on the good side even when tempted to seek revenge by her “lost sister”, who has the same powers as her.


Cinderella


Note:

This story could be an article on its own. This fairytale goes all the way back to ancient Egypt and China but we’re aware of it due to the Grimm’s story as interpreted by the Disney film. Of course, this is not the only Disney princess that was abused. In fact, most Disney princesses were abused, usually by their controlling parents who kept them away from the real world. Evil mothers. Absent fathers. A familiar story. Why they’re always saved by a prince is something to think about for sure.


In the 17th century, Cinderella was celebrated for her cleverness - but post Grimm brothers (1812) and Disney it was all about her beauty and gentle nature. In fact, earlier Cinderellas were little tricksters that plotted schemes against their sisters. And indeed the initial stories - by the Grimm brothers - had Cinderella talking more and protesting her abuse while later on, she barely talks - ‘good girls’ are pretty and silent. Speaking up, of course, is incredibly hard if you’re a victim of abuse - you would be afraid of the consequences, feel helpless and that no matter what you do there is no escape. But in the realm of fantasy, where anything can happen, two white males decided to take Cinderella’s power away.



The abuse: Cinderella’s parents are dead and she’s stuck with her terrible stepmother and stepsisters. She is basically now a servant for them, cleaning and cooking, having no rights. Her name comes from the French word for ashes, cendres, because in the original story her stepsisters emptied her dinner into the ashes, so that she has to pick them out. She would also have no bed and sleep by the ashes. She is verbally abused by her family. In one scene her step sisters grab and tear her clothes while the stepmother observes in satisfaction.


The result: In the Grimm’s story, as Cinderella’s mum dies she has one wish, for her to be good and pious, and then the good God will always protect her. Of course, the story was written in different times, where religion was a necessity, and women were meant to be seen and not heard. Cinderella indeed continued to be kind and she doesn’t express any opinions. To be good is to be silent and accept your fate, while doing your best to keep your spirits high.


Yaaas Cinderella:

  • She’s kind and wishes no one harm.

  • She asks for help, either from birds or her godmother. Asking for help is important, because it shows a sense of empowerment, she does want better than this. It shows maturity, she knows who to ask for help.

  • She can still connect and trust people around her. Most abuse victims isolate themselves.

  • A sense of joy and will to live. She still wants to go to the ball and dance her night away.

  • She’s optimistic, persistent and determined. When her mother in law forbids her to go to the ball she perseveres. She finds alternative ways to get what she wants.


All these stories have common elements. An unwanted child. A house that’s a prison rather than a shelter. But what I would take away, which is again and again supported by psychologists, is that to heal you need a good support group, to start trusting people, learn how to accept and give love and care.



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