The Creative Portfolio of Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso

Thoughts of an Aspie: A Brief Look at Abuse & the Disabled


A Brief Look at Abuse & the Disabled

By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso


Abuse is something that can affect any of us and in many forms. Many people in America and the world over suffer some form of abuse on a daily basis and some are forced to suffer silently because the abuse they suffer from leaves no marks on the outside.

While a lot of us can recognize signs of a person being physically abused, a staggering number of people are scarred even more through verbal and psychological abuse. It’s a form of abuse that leaves no marks but leaves lasting damage,breaking a person over time and killing them from the inside. When we think of things that afflict people in our society it can be hard to truly see the dangers of things that don’t leave marks. Often humans through their nature alone have a hard time comprehending something they can’t see or physically touch.

It’s one of the situations that leads to people having a hard time grasping verbal and psychological forms of abuse. While we can see the bruises and injuries when a person is physically abused,it’s verbal and psychological counterparts often don’t have that component and often damage a person over time as opposed to in a single incident.

Forms of Verbal and Psychological Abuse

All forms of abuse have a lot of sharing when it comes to roots. Often the people abusing are doing it out of fear,insecurity,or anger and the people being abused fall into some disadvantaged group. But unlike physical abuse the other forms can be almost covert and may not even seem like abuse early on. It can start with casual lies and insults than eventually progress to where a person completely loses themselves and their sense of reality. Verbal and Psychological abuse relies on the abuser being malicious and patient. It slowly chips away at the victim over time and attacks the very foundation of their being. Sometimes it can even escalate to where it is basically brainwashing.

Over time the person loses their confidence,personality,and voice. They accept the truth of the abuser and let themselves fall away. But the whole time this is happening all those deep cuts will usually be invisible to an outsider and sometimes not even completely recognized as abuse to the victim. While a physical injury may realistically heal, verbal and psychological abuse creates deep mental scarring that the person often carries throughout their life and unconsciously shapes themselves under even away from the abuser. You may leave the situation or even avoid the person but the damage has already been done to a point that you question every step you make,dehumanize yourself out of habit and develop behaviors that purposely inhibit your happiness.

Eventually the true horror is that you dig your own grave at some point. Your abuser has been able to train you into doing the work for them and destroyed what made you unique and special. You may go through a large chunk of your life or even your whole life never truly knowing the extent of the abuse and you may never truly be able to heal from it or relearn a better way to think and live your life. If you do it may take years and it may damage key relationships in your life,making it hard to make friends, relate to coworkers or even find a spouse. It may only just damage them but it may also ruin them and your ability to truly trust others.

Verbal and psychological abuse can happen in a number of relationship types that are sometimes at least partially difficult to fit physical abuse into. Anyone can verbally or psychologically abuse another person with relatively low risk to them as an abuser in terms of being called out on it. It often occurs when the abuser is in a position of power or has something the abused party needs or wants. The feeling you need something from the abuser is key to creating a situation of dependency. Psychological and verbal abuse is especially good at hiding in these circumstances because the abused party will be distracted by the bait being held over their head and not notice the abusive practices as much, especially without the obvious element of physical abuse as a red flag.

Situations like a boss verbally abusing a subordinate or a family member you lodge with using your need for a roof over your head as an excuse to mistreat you can easily seem justified to you as the abused party because they have something you need to sustain yourself. You’ll be less likely to question it or fight it for fear of losing that thing you need. The true danger of verbal and psychological abuse is that it is slow and deadly but also very versatile and covert. It can exist in situations,do well beyond it’s intended amount of damage  and sometimes never get truly detected. In a way it’s a slow and deadly poison that no medical test can truly detect.

How it Affects the Disabled

Disabled parties are especially susceptible to forms of verbal and psychological abuse. Most mental disabilities already cause some sense of instability in a person as well as things like anxiety,depression. or a skewed sense of reality. When you consider this it’s almost like the foundation for verbal or psychological abuse is already present for the abuser to take advantage of. Many times  those who are disabled are at a distinct disadvantage because they can’t always leave an abusive environment or clearly comprehend the danger of the situation. The abuser is essentially filling dirt into a grave the disabled person is already standing in.

Unfortunately it’s quite common for the families of the disabled to intentionally or unintentionally abuse them while acting as caregivers. It can be out of fear or not understanding the person’s condition when unintentionally done. Many people will default without realizing it to dehumanizing a disabled person in their life to avoid having to fully look at the reality of them being ill. By making the disabled person less than human they don’t have to look at the situation at it’s full weight or possibly confront their own mental health issues. Many families have a hard time coming to terms with a family member being sick at all and take actions that belittle the person or put some sort of distance between them and the person.

This a completely normal and not always fully intentional jerk reaction many people have out of fear and ignorance when it comes to mental health. I have personally encountered people in my lifetime that I can clearly tell are just scared and don’t know the proper way to approach me. It still hurts but at the same time it’s not as hurtful as when I’ve encountered people in my life that essentially broke me as a person and clearly aren’t trying to do any differently. Many people harbor bitterness toward the disabled and act as if they are some kind of mistake or disappointment. This can definitely happen with parents who instead of embracing their child act as if they’re repulsed by them and clearly regard them as less than human. Over time the child becomes invalidated and ruined as a person,unable to trust or form relationships. Sometimes depending on the level of abuse this effect can even be triggered by people similar to the family members in build,personality,or voice.

It can also create something akin to PTSD where triggers like a certain tone of voice or even a certain phrase or small idiosyncrasy can trigger a negative reflex in the abused person. When the abuse comes from family it can cut especially deep because we have a natural assumption that our family is supposed to love us  and support us. When the complete opposite is the case this is mentally jarring and conflicting with human expectation. Children who suffer  verbal and psychological abuse will eventually grow into troubled teens and then broken adults,sometimes never realizing the deep-rooted cause of their pain because they may not want to believe their family is the problem. Not being able to depend on your family and especially your parents goes against human nature in a lot of ways so it’s often not an easy task to shift your mind around to seeing them as the cause of your woes.

For the disabled separating yourself from that can be especially hard. Some disabled people are unable to actually leave their families depending on the disability and their ability to be independent. This can mean an almost impossible chance of leaving your abusers even if you identify them and actually be its own source of depression.

But families aren’t the only abusers the disabled party has to fear. Many will take advantage of someone disabled if they deem them to be an easier target. This can include spouses,friends and even medical professionals who make the assumption that the disabled person is either dumber than them or less of a person than them. A disability doesn’t make a person less. It just makes them different. But the unfortunate reality is that many people have unclear knowledge about how disabilities affect people and a lay person’s impression a disabled person is often more assumption than fact.

In turn many disabled people either aren’t fully informed about how to advocate for themselves or don’t have the means to do so in one way or another. Many disabled people don’t know they have rights specified in the workplace and the numbers for disabled workers that are psychologically abused and ultimately wrongly terminated are staggering. Some of them have no idea there are government agencies and bills of law made to specifically protect them from workplace abuse. Abuse toward the disabled in the workplace can easily go unnoticed in most cases because the disabled person is embarrassed,hiding their disability or just unaware they have rights. Some of those people already go into a job with self-esteem problems or living each work day in fear of being judged or discriminated against. By going to lengths to not get singled out they often set themselves up to become abuse victims.

Believe it or not there are people in management positions that can spot people who are different somehow and trying to blend in. While most coworkers may never notice the signs, some people do and use that to abuse the disabled person. Self disclosure in the workplace is equally risky as it does create a bit of an open wound. Most workplaces will not try to accommodate you but will find a reason to terminate you based on how they feel about those with disabilities. You might think this sort of situation would be obvious but most workplaces are very crafty about it. They will appear to coddle you a little and then terminate you the first chance they get an excuse. Often they use acts of kindness to lull you into a sense of comfort so it will sting even harder when they do terminate you. Since most people don’t make it a practice to educate themselves on the Americans with Disabilities Act they don’t know they can fight that unfair treatment and usually walk away blaming themselves for the incident and never truly blaming the company or possibly taking rightly deserved legal actions toward them.

I had never actually taken a look at the ADA until my last job and I honestly had no idea how much some of my past employers had done wrong or that I had half the rights disabled people do in the workplace. It was sad to realize I’ve actually been wrongfully terminated based on a disability issue multiple times in my life. If you are disabled and working I would highly recommend checking the ADA out because it might truly enlighten you how many rights you have and how many different ways you have to advocate for yourself.

Abuse toward the disabled in the workplace is unfortunately more common than people would like to think and it’s allowed to thrive because it’s a form of psychological and verbal abuse the disabled person isn’t fully aware of. They are so distracted with being able to have income and often tired from a long string of failed jobs so they never notice what’s happening even after a company puts them out. For a disabled person getting and maintaining a good job is hard so after a long and spotty work history you are more likely to identify you as being the problem and not the place of work if something goes awry.

If the disabled person is coming out an abusive home environment it can be even easier for a work abuser to also victimize them because the groundwork is already done.

Abusers who are friends also prey on a common vulnerability in the disabled and that’s acceptance. It is often hard for a disabled person to feel accepted or normal. Some people see this as an opening. Because the disabled person is so focused on the concept of acceptance they can be blinded to seeing their friend is no friend but rather an opportunistic abuser. Sometimes because being disabled leaves a significant dent in a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth they settle for a person not fully respecting them so they can have friends. While a lot of people may not put that level of weight on friendships,it is especially easy for it to take a heavier weight for a disabled person as they may already have a sense of loneliness or a stronger desire and need for social acceptance than a regular person.

Targeting the disabled in a pseudo friendship can be especially attractive to child,teen, and young adult abusers who are suffering from a number of  personal insecurities of their own and can sometimes escalate into physical abuse or even in some documented cases fatal physical abuse due to the lack of perspective and control in a younger mind.

Children while typically not mean by nature may lash out at those weaker or different without fully comprehending their actions which is why abusive friendships can be a little more common to younger aged people. But alternatively it can also manifest between siblings with one sibling intentionally or unintentionally abusing the disabled one and not realizing the damage that will cause later in the relationship. This can often be a result of the sibling not understanding the condition of the disabled sibling or even resenting  what they perceive as special attention that sibling gets without realizing the gravity of why they get that additional focus. A child’s mind may only perceive the sibling is getting something they aren’t and see it as them getting a reward for something even though that’s far from the truth.

I recall quite often that as I was growing up and going through high school it was a surprisingly common misconception I was getting special treatment and forcing people to accommodate me  and that was never the case but this was something that arose from a young and inexperienced thought process on the part of my peers. Instead of seeing all the pain I was going through they saw I was getting some kind of special attention they thought they wanted.

Adults can also still have abusive friendships but what I actually ended up doing personally out of high school was being pickier about friends. I’m not sure if this is a common progression or not but I think in general friendship wasn’t a priority as much as say a career or just acquiring stuff  and settling down. My goals for relationships progressed to where friendships just didn’t have the same weight they did when I was younger. In general I kind of find adult friendships have a very different criteria  to them then the ones you make as a youth. This small change creates a very different dynamic for making friends overall.

In conclusion…

Abuse is something that affects a number of disadvantaged groups and while we have made great lengths at seeing the red flags of physical abuse we also need to better educate ourselves about the forms of abuse we may never see a physical mark for. A lot of people suffer quietly and never even fully register that they are being verbally or psychologically abused. If you’re disabled and you feel even the smallest sense someone isn’t treating you the right way I would urge you to seek help. It’s a hard thing to do but the earlier you identify and treat it the more chance  you have to gain a fully satisfying life even with your disability. Make sure you are in a living environment that is healing and not hurting you. Make yourself aware of your rights in the workplace. Surround yourself with a circle of friends that understand and respect you. No person deserves to feel like less than human and a disability doesn’t give anyone the right to treat you poorly.

If you are an abuser, realize that your damaging a person for life and get the help you need. Most people engaging in abuse have an issue of their own to distract themselves from and hurting another person is not the right way to do that. If you need help,do the right thing and get it. Don’t take it out another person just because you’ve decided they’re weak or different. It won’t make your pain go away. It won’t fix your problem. Making another person feel miserable to try to help yourself is just never an answer or an okay thing to do. If this article made you realize you might be unintentionally hurting a disabled loved one then you can stop and get help. Identify your problem behaviors and begin to repair the relationship with your loved one before too much damage has been done. Make it your mission to treat the people around you well moving forward no matter what their relationship is to you. Sometimes the best thing we can do to heal ourselves is learn to see the value in the people around us.

Author’s Notes

I feel a little burnt out after that one for some reason. Obviously this one was  a little more of a sensitive topic than some of the other ones I’ve done. It is a topic I can relate to personally but also something I feel like people might not think about as much. It’s really easy for us as humans to need to physically see things to understand them and I know personally I never really realized verbal abuse was a valid form of abuse until maybe 3 or so years ago. If this strikes a personal note definitely share,inform and get the help for you or another affected person. I’d definitely like to touch on the abuse from health providers a little more at some point but …just not today. It’s a very complicated subject that might deserve a follow-up to this one in the future though. While you’re here please take a look around. There’s a sample of my book and of course past blogs. I try to tag them but sometimes I forget. Definitely also check me out on Facebook,Patreon or Twitter and I will see you on the next one of these.

You may also like