Emotional Abuse: How to Heal, What We Learn.
Katherine Mayfield and I spoke at length about her life and how her life has shaped her goals to help others through her writing. She grew up in a family where her parents bullied her and had the same experience in school. She is writing a book for teens who have been bullied to help them learn how to manage the experience on an emotional level. After caring for her parents at the end of their lives, she found herself at an end of her own, contemplating suicide, and sought help. When her parents died, she gained a new perspective, and has found a sense of freedom and wellness.
Following is our conversation regarding how she became the writer she is after working successfully as an actress. She gives us a window into the healing process, and deepens our understanding on what happens when someone is abused emotionally, which is the direct result of bullying. Her mission is to give back to teens through the Indiegogo project by writing a book that shows teens it’s okay to have feelings, all of them.
EL: I want to ask you if you have always written?
KM: Yes. I wrote a poem when I was six, and I’ve been writing ever since.
KM: As often as I can! I’ve published three print books, and two Kindle books. Also, lots of magazine articles, a newspaper column for awhile, and lots of online articles.
EL: I read your reviews, blog, interviews…fascinating really…from actress to writer and successful at both. That is impressive in my book. The arts in any realm is the toughest arena to make it.
KM: Well, thank you! I’ve always loved the arts. It is tough… and most people don’t know how difficult it is to make a living at it.
EL: I see….and if I can ask, when did you realize or waken to the fact that your childhood was abusive…did therapy play a role….and when did you learn about most all families being dysfunctional on some level?
KM: I realized during the process of therapy that my family was totally dysfunctional, and then eventually that what I had experienced was emotional abuse. Lots of reading helped me to discover all of the negative messages I received about life and my self. It took about twenty years to come to a full realization of how deeply it had affected my self-esteem and my view of life. And I think emotional abuse occurs more than anybody knows.
EL: I see….somewhere along the lines I learned we all have dysfunction, but that is not the same as abuse. I ran in odd circles, so I know how often there is outright abuse, sexual, incest, beatings and emotional abuse…which is insidious.
KM: There are so many secrets in families, and most people think it only happens to them, that other families are happy, because that’s the façade most dysfunctional family’s project on the outside. Every family probably has some form of dysfunction, but there’s a long continuum.
EL: Were you bullied by your peers or mainly in the family?
KM: Mainly in the family, but that set me up to be bullied by peers because it was so familiar. I was “Four Eyes” and “Metal Mouth” and got slapped around a bit. But my mother was the real bully in my life. She probably had BPD, and may have had some other disorders. The emotional darkness as I went through recovery was overwhelming at times. There was a period of time in therapy that I didn’t want to wake up in the morning and face the feelings. At one point, I thought about committing suicide, so I know what it’s like to be in that place, and I know it’s possible to recover from it.
EL: Tell me about your project, your upcoming book, and how The Box of Daughter came to be.
KM: My Indiegogo campaign is raising funds to finish and self-publish a book for teens who have experienced bullying and abuse. It’s called Hope Will Set You Free: Why You Feel Bad Inside and What to Do About It. I’m hoping that it will help them understand that they’re not alone, and that there are ways to let go of the emotional pain and create a better life. The Box of Daughter is the story of my recovery from my own experience, and it began with a bereavement writing group I attended after my father died.
EL: When you’re a teen, it is so hard to have perspective. You said your parents’ illnesses worked as a catalyst….to your deepening your understanding.
KM: Yes—as I went through therapy, I began to see that my parents were raised in the same kind of environment, so they didn’t know how to parent any differently. As I started getting reality checks from my therapist, I learned about the emotional issues that were at the root of my non-existent self-esteem, and learned ways to overcome them.
EL: And what got you into therapy?
KM: I went into therapy because I had a difficult marriage, and I thought I wanted to leave my husband. I needed help figuring it out.
EL: I see…I guess you found a good therapist.
KM: I did! I’ve had two excellent therapists over the years, with a number of breaks in between. I was very lucky to have found them. A good therapist can make all the difference. A not-so-good one can mess you up more.
EL: Yes. I see you read Drama of the Gifted Child…
KM: Great book!…I’ve read it many times…
EL: Tell me more about your project—how you envision it, marketing it, getting the word out…I think it is just fantastic.
KM: Teens who are bullied think they’re alone in having feelings, because they don’t usually see anyone else expressing emotion. They often take what the bully says personally because their self-image is not yet well-defined. So they may believe what bullies say, and think they’re not worth having a life. Or, they just want to end the pain, and suicide seems the only answer.
Hope Will Set You Free will help them understand that it’s okay to have feelings, and will include interviews from others who have gone on to lead happy and productive lives after being bullied, so teens can see that there will be an end to the bad stuff. There are interviews posted on the project page, along with the intro to the book. It will also include suggestions from psychologists for coping with bullying.
The project is sponsored by Ark of Hope for Children, a non-profit organization that advocates for abused and bullied children.
EL: Will this address the bullies as well? They may seem stronger but they really aren’t.
KM: Good point! Bullies bully other kids because of their own sense of powerlessness, and if they could be encouraged to express their feelings in a healthy way, they wouldn’t need to bully other kids. I want to have the book available in every middle school and high school library by the end of next year. I’ll be publishing with Maine Author’s Publishing, which is a great authors’ coop.
EL : Yes. I’ve been to the local schools and libraries in the area. What’s interesting is that there is still a sense of “stigma” around both the emotional abuse issue, and the idea that the project is based on—the stigma of “it’s not okay to express feelings…”
EL: How does your project let teens know it is okay to have feelings?
KM: You’re absolutely right! People are still skittish about acknowledging feelings, and the results are disastrous. The tragedy at Sandy Hook is a case in point. We can’t know what Adam Lanza was thinking, but we can bet there was some incredibly strong emotion involved. Teaching teens to express feelings in a healthy way can help stop school violence, along with bullying and teen suicide.
The book will first of all validate the fact that everyone has feelings, even if they don’t show them to other people, and that feelings are an absolutely normal and natural part of being a human. Even if most people don’t show feelings in everyday life, we can see them in photos in response to a tragedy such as Sandy Hook or 911, so we know they’re there. Hope Will Set You Free will also provide methods for letting go and releasing difficult feelings so that they don’t build up and become overwhelming.
EL: You mention you were raised in a fundamentalist family…do you have a relationship with Christianity of any religion today, if you don’t mind my asking…
KM: I consider myself a very spiritual person, but I’m not a member of an organized religion at this point. In my experience, many of them are also dysfunctional, and I think the relationship between a human and a Higher Power is a very individual thing—in my mind, it can’t really be dictated by a structure of religious dogma.
EL: And your experience acting…gave you permission…
KM: Yes, acting helped me discover who I am. I think the idea of expressing feelings gets at many people’s shadows—huge reservoirs of unexpressed feelings— so after an emotional experience, they kind of turn back into denial instead of moving forward and exploring how they feel in the quest to become more authentic…
EL: Honestly, we are all full of fear…And I find people who are not in touch with their hearts are more apt to feel threatened.
KM: I think you’re exactly right.
EL: Last question. What is your spiritual practice today…if you can say…
KM: My spiritual practice is probably best described as an odd mix of Buddhism and Paganism, with a bit of Martha Beck and Deepak Chopra thrown in. I believe in Infinite Intelligence (which I think is the same thing everyone believes in, but call it by different names) orchestrating the Universe based on our thoughts, expectations, and beliefs. I believe we’re all one, and I connect as often as I can with all that is.
EL: Martha Beck?
KM: Martha Beck is great! Her writing helps me to connect with my deepest self. I’ve read her book Finding Your Own North Star a couple of times, and several of her other books.
EL: I see…love it….How does paganism manifest…?
KM: Paganism….more a kind of believing in the sanctity of nature, whether it’s Mother Nature, or our own inner natures—part of why I so believe in expressing feelings, following instincts, etc.
EL: I see…interesting… you go on lots of walks?
KM: I walk almost every day, for exercise, as well as to be outside. Love it outside.
EL: I must say a friend is being bullied at work. It’s very sad.
KM: Oh, workplace bullying! That’s another book I’d LOVE to write! It’s everywhere, isn’t it? And it is very sad.
If it feels right, you might find a way to tell your friend not to take it personally—that she is whole and complete however she is. When we listen to others’ criticism and begin to believe it, we often forget that it may not be based on truth—it’s usually based on someone wanting control and needing to feel powerful.
EL: Yes bullying is everywhere….it hurts to see others hurt.
KM: Thanks for your great questions, Edith. I hope your readers will visit the Indiegogo Project and donate and share the link.
A former actress who appeared Off-Broadway and on the daytime drama Guiding Light, Katherine Mayfield is the author of the award-winning memoir The Box of Daughter: Healing the Authentic Self, two books on the acting business, and the Kindle book Dysfunctional Families: The Truth Behind the Happy Family Facade.
Ms. Mayfield’s memoir The Box of Daughter won the Bronze Medal in the 2012 Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and an Honorable Mention in the 2012 New England Book Festival, and was inspired by the title poem in her book of poems, The Box of Daughter and Other Poems. Her short story, The Last Visit, which is based on the last time she visited her father in hospice care, won the Honorable Mention award in the 2011 Warren Adler Short Story Contest. She has written for national magazines, local newspapers, and numerous websites, and blogs on Dysfunctional Families on her website.
I am a full time yoga teacher, trained at City Fitness in Washington, DC and Willow Street Yoga Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. I have been writing poetry since I was nine years old. Poetry is my first love and yoga continues to feed my heart. I write because I love it. I teach because I love it. I tell my students all the time: do it because you can. That works for me. I believe in creating opportunity. I believe in helping my self and others. I think faith is the most important gift of life, because when we lose everything else we still have that in our heart. I believe the natural state of being is happiness, or bliss, or Ananda. Life is a celebration. Poetry and yoga help me celebrate. Check out my blog and website here.
Ed: Kate B.
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