Another excellent personal essay! I love this and its multiple layers of meaning.
I think you will really like Alice Miller’s ‘For Your Own Good’ if you don’t know her already. She was a strong advocate for children in the context of abuse and did not give short shrift to any form of abuse, acknowledging in many of her books exactly what you are saying: emotional abuse is deforming.
I don’t think emotional abuse is necessarily worse or better than other kinds; they differ somewhat in both approach and elaboration. I find that people who are at higher levels in society must find a form of abuse which doesn’t show in order to maintain the false face (often a narcissistic one) to the world; thus, emotional abuse becomes more convenient to them. For people who are already ‘exposed’ as unsavory, physical abuse is less of an issue because the necessity to keep up that ‘good face,’ the false one, isn’t as pressing.
I think the main problem is, as you point out, that emotional abuse gets short shrift relative to physical abuse, so that it seems to be less important, rather than giving it equal import. The lines are much more clearly demarcated with physical abuse, so it is easier to identify and that leads to acknowledgement of the victimization. Emotional abuse is more insidious, so it feels as if the victim’s reality is never acknowledged.
You do a great job of describing the Stockholm Syndrome in these people; it is shocking how often we, as humans, will lie to ourselves in order to tolerate egregious circumstances, whether we are victim or perpetrator (often both, like your father.) Of course, people who accept the abuse only guarantee it will continue to happen. People willing to break this cycle — the first step is talking about it, as you have — are the ones doing the hard work of ending it.
Thanks again for your great insights!