A Young Man’s Journey Through Childhood Trauma, Emotional Abuse

Isaac Amechi’s harrowing journey through childhood trauma and emotional abuse by his uncle and mother highlights the profound impact and his eventual path to healing.

Isaac Amechi*, 29, from Enugu State, southeastern Nigeria, grew up believing his father was dead. This lie, coupled with severe emotional and physical abuse from his uncle, led to a childhood marred by trauma and attempted suicide.

“In 2012, when I was about to write my West African Examination Council (WAEC) exams, I ran to one of my uncles for help,” Isaac told HumAngle. “Instead of telling me he didn’t have money, he rained curses and abuses on me, calling me a bastard. 

His uncle then revealed that Isaac’s father was still alive and advised him to seek financial support from him instead of relying on his maternal family. This revelation marked the beginning of a series of emotional abuses that even led Isaac to attempted suicide.

Emotional abuse and isolation

Frank Agbara, a clinical psychologist, explains that ’emotional abuse uses words and psychological manipulation to make the victim feel bad about themselves, giving the abuser a sense of power and control.

“Emotional abuse uses words and psychological tactics to undermine the victim’s self-esteem, giving the abuser a sense of power and control,” he told HumAngle.

Isaac’s ordeal began at the age of nine when he was sent to live with one of his mother’s brothers. 

“My younger sisters and I grew up believing our father was dead because that’s what our mother told us,” Isaac said. 

At his uncle’s house, Isaac faced starvation, humiliation, and overwork, often going to bed hungry. He couldn’t return home as his mother had warned him against it.

Frank notes that isolation is a common tactic used by abusers to separate victims from their support networks. A tactic he suffered from both his mother and his uncle he was sent to live with. 

“Isolation creates dependency and gives the abuser more control over the victim,” he explained, adding that such emotional distance can lead to superficial relationships, preventing victims from confiding in or seeking support from others.

Isaac eventually fled his uncle’s house after enduring severe beatings and sought refuge with his maternal grandmother in the village. His grandmother supported him as best she could, but financial constraints led Isaac to seek help from another uncle, who revealed the shocking truth about his father being alive. 

Gaslighting and manipulation

Isaac confronted his mother about his father’s whereabouts after learning from his uncle that his father was alive. She reluctantly admitted that they had separated years ago and that she had told her children he was dead to sever ties with him completely. 

“From that moment, I hated my mom. The mention of her name stirred up negative emotions,” Isaac said.

Isaac decided to find his father despite his mother’s threats to disown him. 

“Manipulation involves making the victim feel guilty or self-blaming, often by highlighting past mistakes,” Frank explained, adding that “victims are usually aware of the manipulation but feel powerless to resist.”

Isaac’s search for his father ended tragically when he found him on his deathbed, only to lose him shortly after. This led Isaac to a point of despair where he attempted suicide.

“I drank a concoction and blacked out. The next day, I woke up feeling stronger, though I still don’t know how it happened,” he said. He was 17 at the time.

Living with PTSD

Two years later, Isaac pursued a diploma at the University of Maiduguri, relying solely on his grandmother’s support. “I started school in 2014, trying to forget my harsh past, but I often fell back into those memories, especially during tough times,” he said.

The National Library of Medicine links childhood maltreatment with an increased risk of psychiatric disorders, including PTSD. Symptoms include re-experiencing trauma, avoidance, negative mood, and hyperarousal, particularly following exposure to life-threatening events.

To cope, Isaac overworked himself, juggling school during the day and work at night, which delayed his academic progress due to financial constraints. “Anxiety was a constant battle, linked to my depressive days,” he said.

Frank highlighted that emotional abusers use various tactics, including abusive expectations, name-calling, denial, emotional blackmail, and invalidation. Isaac struggled to connect with others due to his isolated upbringing, making it difficult for him to seek help. 

“It is not easy to spot signs of emotional abuse, but recognising abusive behaviours is crucial,” Frank said.

Isaac’s coping mechanism was prayer, a practice his grandmother instilled in him. Frank emphasised that prolonged exposure to emotional abuse can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep disturbances, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse.

“In school, I struggled with life decisions,” Isaac said. He battled anxiety until 2016, when he stopped blaming himself and forgave his mother. 

Sharing his story has been therapeutic for him. “The more I talk about it, the better I feel,” he said.

The Clinical Psychologist concluded by noting that anyone can be a victim of emotional abuse. “It’s important to understand that it is not your fault. Don’t dwell on shame or take responsibility for your abuser’s actions. Seek help from a trusted friend, relative, or mental health professional,” he advised.

Moving forward

Isaac’s journey through emotional abuse, isolation, and manipulation highlights the profound impact such experiences can have on an individual’s mental health and overall life trajectory. Despite the severe challenges he faced, Isaac’s story is one of resilience and the ongoing struggle to find peace and self-worth.

Isaac’s decision to forgive his mother and share his story with others marks a significant step in his healing process.

“Forgiveness wasn’t easy, but it was necessary for my own peace of mind,” he said. His willingness to talk about his experiences serves as an inspiration for others who may be suffering in silence.

Frank Agbara stressed the importance of recognising and addressing emotional abuse. “Emotional abuse often goes unnoticed because it doesn’t leave physical scars, but its effects can be just as devastating. Awareness and early intervention are key to helping victims recover and rebuild their lives,” he emphasised.

He said Isaac’s story underscores the critical need for support systems, both personal and professional, to aid individuals in overcoming the scars of emotional abuse. It also highlights the importance of education and awareness in preventing such abuse from occurring in the first place.

In May 2015, the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (VAPP) was passed into law in Nigeria. The act was meant to eliminate violence in private and public life as well as prohibit all forms of violence, including physical, sexual, and psychological violence, among others, to provide maximum protection and effective remedies for victims and punishment of offenders.

According to section 16 (1) of the VAPP Act, a person who abandons a wife or husband, children, or other dependent without any means of sustenance commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding ₦200,000 or both.

Isaac Amechi is a pseudonym we have used at the subject’s request to protect him from stigmatisation.

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