COLUMBIA — As a child, Alex Fischler would go to the movies with his father and two brothers. When he returned home, his mother would torment him.
"'How could you do such a thing to your own mother?' she would rant. "I'm disappointed in all of you. Especially you, Alex,'" Fischler recalled.
His mother was in fierce competition with her ex-husband about taking their three children to see new film releases. If he beat her to it, she punished the kids.
Fischler said he suffered verbal and emotional abuse from the time his parents divorced when he was 8 through high school. It drove him to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
For years, Fischler, 20 and a junior at MU, kept a journal about the experience. In August, Duffin Creative published an account of his troubled childhood, called "In Need of Love: Anxiety, Depression, and My Personal Battle for a Life With Meaning."
The first half describes Fischler's personal experiences and the second half reaches out to help others who may be suffering. The book is available in the alumni section of The Mizzou Store, as well as through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
Fischler said he wanted to address the emotional abuse, especially the verbal lashings, that people are often unwilling to talk about.
"I don't think people know the impact of their words," Fischler said. "Words are very powerful."
Emotionally abusive behavior is anything that intentionally hurts the feelings of another, according to Steven Stosny's article "Effects of Emotional Abuse: It Hurts When I Love" in the Aug. 26, 2008 issue of Psychology Today.
The perpetrator undermines the confidence of another, makes the victim feel crazy or unstable and uses fear or shame to control, Stosny wrote.
It may be more psychologically harmful than physical abuse because it can be relentless. Victims of emotional abuse are also more likely to blame themselves, the author asserted.
Fischler knows the scenario well.
Growing up in San Jose, Calif., he suffered most of the verbal and emotional abuse from his mother.
After his parents divorced, he and his two brothers were shuffled back and forth between the two parents. His mother began to use him as an emotional whipping post, channeling all of her frustration and hatred toward his father.
"My mother hates my father, and I am a lot like my father, so that's why she treated me the way she did," Fischler said.
He said he "walked on eggshells."
"She started to question me often about how much I loved her.," Fischler writes in his book. "She would tell me that I didn't love her at all and I should go live at my dad's."
If his mother was happy, everyone was happy. If not, he said, she would erupt in rage.
The pattern of abuse also included emotional blackmail and other tactics to make him feel guilty, Fischler explains in his book.
A friend, Steven Karr, who wrote the foreword to Fischler's book, called him "a 40-year-old in a 20-year-old's body."
"He had a melancholy attitude all the time," Karr said. "He was always exhausted at school."
Finally, Fischler began to believe his mother. He decided he was worthless.
"When you hear those things so often, those feelings set in, and you start feeling really low and don't have a lot of energy to live," he said.
He began seeing a therapist during his freshman year of high school and continues to seek help.
Therapy finally persuaded Fischler that he was not to blame for his mother's behavior. He began recording his experiences in journals as a way to make sense of what he endured.
When he was sophomore in high school, his mother drafted a contract to disown him, he said. One day, she set it on the table before school.
"When I sat down, there was a contract, typed on a piece of paper, lying on my plate ... The contract was about a paragraph long ... There were two horizontal lines at the bottom of the sheet of paper. This was where we could both sign to make it official," Fischler writes.
Another incident happened during his junior year. He had left a history book at his father's house and wanted to pick it up before dinner. His mother called.
"You are trying to abandon me," she told him. "Is that what you are doing over there? Hatching a plan to leave me?"
A plan of action
On Aug. 12, 2010, something snapped. He severed ties with his mother and left home for good.
"People may not believe this, but leaving that day was the biggest achievement of my life so far," he writes. "I was free. No more emotional abuse. I would never have to deal with her again."
But she still held extraordinary power over him.
Later that year, Fischler grabbed a knife, pressed it to his wrist and began to slice through the first layer of skin.
"I wonder if anybody would care if I killed myself?" he recalls in his book. "I really have nothing to live for at this point. ...Mom was right. I am nothing without her," he recalls in the book.
As he opened his wrist, he had a sudden revelation: Killing himself would accomplish nothing.
He stopped, picked up the phone and called his therapist. He was assured that everything would work out in the morning if he could make it through the night.
Fischler was diagnosed with depression, general anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately, with the help of his therapist and antidepressants, he began to heal.
In the second half of his book, Fischler addresses mental illness, therapy, medication and the process of healing.
The signs and symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to, persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, and thoughts of suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Those with general anxiety disorder worry excessively about many things, even when there is little reason, according to NIMH. The disorder can develop at any age, but the highest risk occurs between childhood and middle age.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is often the result of a terrifying ordeal that results either in physical harm or the threat of harm. Those with the disorder often have flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts.
Fischler includes some of his dreams in the book, and many are about his mother. She is sitting in front of him, crying, her wrists slashed, blaming him.
In fact, he has not spoken to her since he left home more than three years ago. A tattoo on his arm marks the date.
He says he is not ready to let her back into his life, now or perhaps ever.
"If I gave her inch of my life, she'd want a mile," he said.
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.