Children are often raised to be emotional jesters or even emotional objects, but my upbringing represents an unconsidered scenario: being raised as a human stuffed animal.

I never realized how harmful my upbringing was until I was nineteen years old and diagnosed with C-PTSD. One month later, I was admitted to a psych ward for five days. Aside from being quarantined in an environment haunted by emotional abuse, my true detriment was the insults and tirades that were hurled towards me both through childhood and beyond.

However, it was attempting EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy at twenty years old that uncovered the degradation that I faced on a near-hourly basis. In high school, my mother’s stuffed animals were the crux of my social life. They were my morning, noon, and night. They were why I had my phone taken away in class, not Instagram. She was my daily throat pain from continually straining my throat to give the stuffed animals high-pitched voices to make her laugh. Never had I seen her smile so brightly or laugh so boastfully as when I was a living doll. At this point, I had gotten accustomed to grieving any semblance of normalcy from my childhood, but never like this.

Like many other children, I was brought up with Webkinz, Disney, and other forms of anthropomorphic media and engagement. However, the older I became, the less human I became. To my mother, I was hardly addressed as Elizabeth. Aside from being her “Swee” (short for “sweetie”) often addressed by her with a pig emoji, I was Sally the lamb, George the turtle, Norman the bear, and tens of others. She herself had a similar identity and nickname to us. This form of communication is, in her words, how she shows her love towards me and how we “keep the peace,” conditioning me to live in a near-constant state of age regression. These plushes lived in the car cup holders, couches, and even on our dinner table. After spending many hours into many nights yelling at me, she’d lay in my bed and coddle me with the likes of Meera the elephant and Petie the penguin the next morning. The whiplash of being either babied or insulted was truly groundbreaking. My identity was dictated by her mood.

Dwelling on this maltreatment answered so many questions. No wonder my psyche feels so fragmented. Never in my life had I ever considered my own happiness. My routine inner monologue was, “Mom works so hard. She has so many meetings. She’s always stuck in traffic.” I automatically committed every waking hour to make her laugh and smile, not even considering that it meant casting my life aside. It is beyond painful to realize that my existence was a state of many forms of degradation. To her, my ideal state of being had to be as her stuffed animals, possessions that are lower than subhuman, in order for the household to function properly. The lack of dignity I felt in the aftermath was so devastating that I nearly attempted suicide.

How could I find any semblance of self when I’m buried underneath the broken pieces of who I was raised to be? Fortunately, I have good friends and close extended family. I began contacting them more frequently, and they provided more support than I ever could have imagined. Having my own living space and being able to navigate my own relationships with stuffed animals became a liberating experience. It shouldn’t have been liberating, but I’m glad it was. A silver lining of having a childhood of constant humiliation is that it quite literally sets the bar very low. Even strangers can fulfill the expectations that weren’t met at home: automatic respect, equal emotional ground, and being seen as a human being named Elizabeth. I will not tolerate being treated as anything less ever again.

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