Abuse by mum
For Chris and Martin, Marian, Dad and anyone else who knows both me and my mum.
Trigger Warning: child abuse
Something I’ve learned from Byron Katie1 is that whenever we are suffering there is always a decision we made at some point that is the cause. And this has been my experience. Often when I’m troubled about something, there’s always something I’m avoiding saying, doing, or in some cases just looking at.
In the case of my abusive childhood, which I’ve been looking at recently, I realise the thing that I never did as a child was to talk openly to other adults about what life with mum was like. I thought that how mum was with me was normal, and that everyone knew. But by not saying anything, I cut myself off from the potential support of more well-adjusted adults, and also was complicit in my mum cutting herself off from the support of more well-adjusted adults, since she also didn’t reveal to them what was really going on behind closed doors.
So, my aim now is to correct this by describing some of the things that happened in my childhood, that I now realise friends of my mum probably didn’t know.
The aim here is not to assign blame or guilt to my mum or anyone else. As with anything else I do while in my right mind, the goal is to fascilitate forgiveness. The appropriate response to mum in all the following events is compassion, not condemnation.
Regarding mum’s privacy in these matters: mum has zero right to keep her abuse of me a secret.
Also some context for anyone else reading: I was raised an only child with my mum. Dad wasn’t really involved, and for the most part neither were any other adults. Also mum has ‘itchy feet’ so we moved around a lot (about every 3 years), thereby increasing my dependence on her.
trigger warning reiterated: child abuse
What mum was like generally
Reading through this list of types of emotional child abuse, I was surprised to find that none of them seemed to apply to mum, until I got to:
Terrorizing. This behavior is what people first think about when they think of emotional child abuse. Parents threaten the child verbally; they yell, scream, or curse. The parents swing from rage to warmth to rage, ridicule the child, and/or force the child to watch inhumane acts. The abusive parent keeps the child on edge, jumpy, nervous about meltdown. Emotionally abused children often end up extremely attuned to the parents’ tone of voice, slightest movements, nonverbal cues, in order to try to avoid a blow-up.2
The phrase “walking on eggshells” also rings true for me. Even now, I find my nervous system accutely attuned to mum’s emotional state. I can hear exactly what’s going on for her in her tone of voice. I lived in constant fear but didn’t know it because it was the only experience I could remember. Yet there were times when I visited friends who had more normal parents, and felt a warmth and safety that I then had to leave. I generally didn’t want to leave.
Mum was angry and yelling at me (not for any particular reason - It wasn’t safe for me to be anything other than a very well behaved child) about half of the time. Eckhart Tolle’s description of the “pain body”3 has been quite helpful in understanding. Mum’s pain body was active about half the time. The rest of the time she was normal-ish. She used to describe this other version of herself as “monster mummy”.
Regular occurrences (that I can remember)
- She would ask me to massage her back. I massaged her back enough times that I got very good at it. While this may seem to be a choice that I made, no consent by a child in this situation could be considered valid. To this day I feel quite uncomfortable using those skills.
- She would threaten to kill herself, often blaming me for how she felt, though I almost certainly hadn’t done anything at all except be born.
One time incidents (that I can remember)
- One time I was in the kitchen and, while facing away from me she picked up her very sharp knife and went through the motions of stabbing herself in the chest many times while yelling/grunting as if it was going into her. I thought she was actually killing herself but she was just expressing how she felt/what she wanted to do. Not sure how old I was. I might have been 4.
- On the way driving to school, mum was ranting (again, no particular provocation on my part) and stopped the car and lashed out at me, punching me in the belly. She apologised about this later, when her painbody had become inactive.
- Apparently when I was breastfeeding as a baby, mum was angry and grabbed my head and pushed it into her breast to smother me. I don’t remember this, but mum does and feels terribly guilty about it.
- Apparently mum had one of these episodes while I was out, and threw all of my toys in the bin. But then she came back to herself, she took all my toys out of the bin and put them back in their place. I would never have known about this if it weren’t for mum admitting it to me when I got home.
- Once in one of these fits of rage she threatened to leave and never come back “do you want me to leave, is that what you want?”. She picked up her keys, went out of the door, and I heard the engine start and the car driving away. I don’t remember how long I was alone then, believing she had gone forever. When she came back she sort of excused herself, saying that she only drove a bit down the road and stopped to have some space, almost like “did you think I was really going away?”.
Other things I’ve learned from my research into emotional child abuse
- The deep pervasive sadness in me is a symptom of abuse. I had always wondered where it came from.
- My uncanny ability to read people (though I can’t necessarily translate what I see into words) is a ‘superpower’ developed in response to abuse, not some mystical ability. Same goes for a lot of my other seemingly positive mental attributes.
In secrecy, abuse persists
Mum has discouraged me from discussing her in this way so publicly. But I realise now, keeping it all a secret protects her; it doesn’t protect me at all. Telling the truth about it protects me much better than keeping it a secret does.
Bringing it back to the Course
The reason mum doesn’t want me to talk about this is because, even though I’m not condemning, nor calling for condemnation, she feels guilty about her behaviour and (consciously or unconsciously) condemns herself. This self-condemnation then leads to attack thoughts, in which she expects various forms of judgement to come from others.
As Ken might say, forgiveness is looking at something without judging it. I invite you, whether you know my mum or not, to look at this situation fully, without condemnation.
I’m sure there’s lots of events and detail and context I’ve missed. I haven’t, for example talked about stuff that’s still happening. But this feels like a good start.