A literature enthusiast.

Abusive & Gaslighting Parents in Educated

Agnita Fitriani

3 min read

I would say this book is the best memoir I’ve ever read. It does not only tell about a woman’s struggle to get a proper education. It is deeper than that, and deeper than I thought.

The author, Tara, lived in a unconventional family whose father doesn’t believe in the power of authority and even in public education. So her parents decided to homeschool her.

At 17, Tara could finally go to college after battling many considerations and thoughts against public education. Initially, Tara’s father heavily disapproved her going to college. But after much consideration, her father finally let her.

Her father has been the most influential figure in her life. Almost every step she took was influenced by her father. However, it did not last as  she went through her Ph.D. education at Harvard. Her father’s strong religious faith had no longer affected her as she went to higher education.

Tara Westover, the author of Educated

Reading this book halfway through I didn’t realize that she was abused by her brother, Shawn, who was playing mind games to confuse her. If she didn’t get what her brother wants, he would grab both of her hands and put them on the back while pushing her head facing walls. While doing so, he would shout and call her ‘a whore’ without any reason. They would call such an act as a game — but she actually didn’t enjoy it, she always forced herself to laugh after that.

He didn’t do that to his sisters (Tara also has an older sister named Audrey) only, but to his girlfriend and exes as well. Their mother also witnessed Shawn’s violent action against her daughter but she pretended not to see it. And her brother wasn’t the only one abusing her. The family did it too.

Tara had kept what Shawn did to her to herself and only wrote it in her journal, but as the time went by she finally confessed it first to her sister, Audrey, and then to her mother. After she told her mother, she thought that her mother would be on her side but she would not. Her mother betrayed her by insisting that her memories were not true — Audrey agreed to their mother as well. This affected her own sanity and mind, she wasn’t able to trust her own thoughts anymore. Everything she saw she always wondered if it’s true.

“I knew that my memories were not memories only, that I had recorded them, that they existed in black and white. This meant that more than my memory was in error. The delusion was deeper, in the core of my mind, which invented in the very moment of occurrence then recorded the fiction.”

“In the month that followed, I lived the life of lunatic. Seeing sunshine, I suspected rain. I felt relentless desire to ask people to verify whether they were seeing what I was seeing.”

Her father, who is the most religious member of the family noticed that changes in Tara, considering her to be evil and impure. He said that her daughter is taken over by Lucifer, and that she should get a priesthood blessing when her parents visited her in UK, but she said no. After that incident, her parents are more convinced that she is pure evil and tell that to everyone they met.

After many thoughts and consideration, Tara finally decided to cut ties with her parents. She realized that the more she learns the more she knew what morality is, convincing her that her father was wrong.

She believed that her father was maybe suffered from Bipolar Disorder after she attended a mental disorder lecture, citing the fact that he was always angry and having excessive excitement over something. But her classmate said that it was more likely to be paranoid schizophrenia as he is always scared that something is gonna hurt him or chasing after him. It was only their speculation though.

She felt hopeless as it seemed that no one is believing in her, even her parents. The only one she could trust was her boyfriend, Drew. After a few moments of despair, her eldest brother, Tyler — the first in the family who got into school and also the first one that went away from the family — finally stepped into the conflict. Initially she got no hope in him as she thought he would be the same as Audrey. But she was wrong, Tyler was on her side.

“Our parents are held down by chains of abuse, manipulation, and control… They see change as dangerous and will exile anyone who asks for it. This is a perverted idea of family loyalty…. They claim faith, but this is not what the gospel teaches. Keep safe. We love you.” — Tyler

After knowing that Tyler is on her side, her condition gets better. She was able to get focus on her dissertation again, after failing once. Her dissertation which is based on Mormonism in it — which is basically her parent’s background — finally got her into her Doctorate title.

Impacts of Gaslighting and Manipulative Parents

In Chapter 37 of this book, there is  a story where Tara found herself awoke while screaming in the street. This is called Sleepwalking. This is caused by stress and anxiety as her parents constantly said that her memory wasn’t true until she questioned her own mind and sanity — until she believed the lies her parents made.

What her parents did is a gaslight behavior, a type of manipulation where an abuser is trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own memory, reality, or perceptions. In other words, control a victim by twisting their sense of reality.

The abuse was started by Shawn who hurt her physically, call her ‘a whore’ for no apparent reason, and indirectly threatened her. This causes her a fear of making a mistake in front of Shawn. Fear of making Shawn mad. Later, the abuse remains when she finally strong enough to confide Shawn’s behavior to her mother, only to get blame back.

The abuse caused extreme stress, causing her to fail her Ph.D. final exam, perpetual sleepwalking, and panic attack.

It takes time for the victim of gaslighting and manipulative behavior to heal. In Tara’s case, she finally got support from Tyler and his family until she feels a definition of having a family again in it, and she finally accepted the past and live a new life.

Agnita Fitriani
Agnita Fitriani A literature enthusiast.

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