Is it ever okay to cut off a parent?
March 22, 2013 3:30 PM   Subscribe

I am at a point where I really would like to cut my mother off my life. Am I a scumbag?

My mother was physically abusive, hysterical and psychologically poisonous. She terrified me for what seemed to be never-ending years.

I moved states a couple of years ago, and now she likes to pretend we were always a perfect family. She calls every week, comes and visits once in a while (major PTSD for me) and when she heard I was going to therapy because I have horribly low self-esteem her reply was “Yes you do, and that is all your fault”, so I guess she did some major history revision and now thinks she was lovely and I’m insane.

Because she had such a horrible temper and would fight with people left and right (in the street, at school, everywhere), and call them horribly vulgar names, my father, my sisters and I always protected her and were very careful about not making her mad (which was unavoidable, really).

So due to a recent display of her manipulative bullshit, I wrote an email to my dad telling him exactly how I felt about my mom and all the misery she has caused me. This is like a taboo for our family, because for she is supposed to be perfect and misunderstood, so the email didn’t go over well. They haven’t contacted me ever since (first time ever this has happened).

I understand that I made my dad deal with issues he didn’t want to deal with. But on my defense, this email was a reply to an initial email he wrote to me, telling me he could not deal with her anymore (also a first). I accept I may have been too direct, but honestly, I’m don't really regret it. I’m kind of relieved and now I realize that when they want to fix things (I am sure they expect me to crawl back and apologize and again pretend it was all my imagination) I will simply refuse. I am a little bit sad, I feel like I’m grieving for the family I never had, but I am not grieving for my actual mother, and I understand that it’s the decision of my father and my sisters to side with her because that’s what we always did.

But now that I have made the decision of cutting off all contact with my mother, and maybe my whole family, I am starting to feel really guilty about all the pain I will cause them. I know my mom is probably suffering hysterically, and my father and sisters feel betrayed. But I am so happy… I feel finally free. I don’t want her to ever visit or call or have anything to do with me. I don’t want to see her ever again. I know it’s childish but I can’t forgive her, especially when she is not even sorry.

Am I a scumbag? Is it ever okay to cut off a parent? Should the hurt feelings of my other relatives supersede my need to be away from her?
posted by ADent to Human Relations (63 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Is it ever okay to cut off a parent?

posted by curious nu at 3:34 PM on March 22, 2013 [92 favorites]

Of course you will feel sad, but you cannot be a scumbag for cutting off anyone - parent, sibling, anyone - who has been abusive to you.

What you suffered from your mom, and your family's complicity, is real. You are allowed to be free. No one's hurt feelings can supersede you doing what is right for you.

No one has the right to guilt you into maintaining a relationship that you do not want to be in, period. Especially an abusive one.
posted by Ouisch at 3:34 PM on March 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

You're not a scumbag. You're doing what you need to do.
posted by entropyiswinning at 3:35 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

no. yes. no.
If it was a friend being "physically abusive, hysterical and psychologically poisonous" would you feel the same way? I think that because it's your mother it is even worse, since she is supposed to protect you from those things, not be the source.
posted by Sophont at 3:39 PM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

You are absolutely NOT a scumbag. No person has the right to abuse someone, even if they're a parent. Especially if they're a parent.

The bad news is your horrible treatment will never fully leave you. The good news is that you will heal, and find happiness. However the first step is cutting her - and anyone who defends her - out of your life.

Think of this as self-defense. You are a good person, and you deserve to be happy. No one should take that from you.
posted by endotoxin at 3:41 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

You are not a scumbag and you are right to cut her off. It is not healthy to keep such a toxic person in your life and it is not your responsibility to indulge her fantasies of having been a good mother to a troubled child.

She was abusive to you as a child and continues to be abusive to you now. No one has a right to tell you to continue to put up with that or make you fee guilty for no longer allowing it.

Make a clean break and enjoy your freedom from abuse. It's the best gift you can give yourself.
posted by quince at 3:41 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

She's not engaged in revisionism, she's just got a different power relation to you, and a different set of lies to boot.

Cut the cord. You don't even have to be nice about it, and either way, get ready for a whopper of an emotional scene and/or interplanetary guilt-trip.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, it's okay, no you're not a scumbag.

But I am so happy… I feel finally free.

Do you want this, or do you want more physically abusive, hysterical and psychologically poisonous interactions?

Cutting someone off can be a healthy and mature way of setting boundaries. It doesn't have to be forever. But it can be, if that's the best way to keep yourself safe and sane.

Take care of you.

Also, you might have to start - if you haven't already - setting boundaries with your dad and your siblings. Write yourself a little script ("I know you're upset about this, but I won't discuss it further. I've done what I feel I need to do to keep healthy. How 'bout them Red Sox.") and stick to it while you need to.
posted by rtha at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

It is difficult to understand because family is fundamentally different from anything else - but yes, just because you are related to someone does not mean that you can allow them to make you suffer for them. It is childish to assume that your parent knows better than you, to trust yourself is probably the better thing ...
posted by an opinicus at 3:46 PM on March 22, 2013

I had similar issues with my family. I actually made the same decision you did - to cut them off completely - and since I live 2,000 miles from them it was easy.

But even though they can be manipulative, after about a year they slowly came back into my life and I let them. I don't regret reconnecting with them, and I think the year off really helped.

Good luck.
posted by tacodave at 3:47 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thank you, your replies are such a relief. I was googling about this situation and everyone seems to push for forgiving and forgetting...which I can't do.

I feel like it would be an insult to myself and the child I was to put up with this farce any longer.
posted by ADent at 3:51 PM on March 22, 2013 [23 favorites]

I wanted to share this 2013 article with you (excerpted):
Loved ones and friends—sometimes even therapists—who urge reconnecting with a parent often speak as if forgiveness will be a psychic aloe vera, a balm that will heal the wounds of the past. They warn of the guilt that will dog the victim if the perpetrator dies estranged. What these people fail to take into account is the potential psychological cost of reconnecting, of dredging up painful memories and reviving destructive patterns.

Eleanor Payson, a marital and family therapist in Michigan and the author of The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists, sees some clients who feel it would be immoral to abandon a now-feeble parent, no matter how destructive that person was. Payson says she advises them to find ways to be caring while protecting themselves from further abuse. "One of my missions is helping people not be tyrannized by false guilt or ignore their own pain and needs," she says. Setting limits is crucial: "You may need to keep yourself in a shark cage with no opportunity to let that person take a bite out of you." It’s also OK for the conversation to be anodyne. "You can say something respectful, something good-faith-oriented. 'I wish you well'; 'I continue to work on my own forgiveness.' "

It’s wonderful when there can be true reconciliation and healing, when all parties can feel the past has been somehow redeemed. But I don’t think Rochelle, Beatrice, and others like them should be hammered with lectures about the benefits of—here comes that dread word—closure. Sometimes the best thing to do is just close the door.
["The Debt: When terrible, abusive parents come crawling back, what do their grown children owe them?", by Emily Yoffe]
posted by simulacra at 4:02 PM on March 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

You're not a scumbag, and your father, who did not stop your mother from abusing you, is culpable here, too. He was and is also a survivor of your mother's abuse, but neither of them parented you.
posted by liketitanic at 4:06 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Do it. Drop her. I had to cut my mother off for a while. It straightened her up a bit.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:10 PM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, ugh.

Ok, this is something that really hits close to home for me. Because i completely understand where this question is coming from, and why you'd have these doubts.

It's not even because she's the person who raised you, your family, etc etc. It's because almost to a pregnant lady degree, random people on the street will butt in if they hear you even suggesting this. Seriously.

I reached a point in my life where i was considering the same thing, and i was talking to a friend on the bus about it and several obnoxious loud people cut in from across the aisle to go "You can't do that, she's your mother! that's family!" and all this BS. I also talked to several people i thought i could get a honest, worthwhile answer out of who basically told me the same thing.

People can be very, very unhelpful about this because it's "taboo" in western culture.

Fuck them.

I was googling about this situation and everyone seems to push for forgiving and forgetting...which I can't do.

Yep, these are the exact assholes i'm talking about. Them, and the people who reply to "what are red flags when dating someone new" with "OH OH! they don't have a good relationship with a parent!"

Never feel guilty about cutting someone toxic out of your life, even if they're a family member. Anyone who tries to guilt you or otherwise react negatively about you doing so is not your friend, and is detrimental to your mental and physical health, or hell, your entire life.

Keep repeating what Ouisch said over and over until it becomes law in your mind.

No one has the right to guilt you into maintaining a relationship that you do not want to be in, period. Especially an abusive one.

Run far and fast from anyone, especially any "therapist" who thinks it's unhealthy for you to write this person out of your life.
posted by emptythought at 4:14 PM on March 22, 2013 [32 favorites]

Is it ever okay to cut off a parent?

Hell yes. My level of happiness is often inversely proportionally to how much family contact I have, and I didn't go through nearly the same level of abuse you describe.

I have no further contact with my father and limited contact with my mom. It really is for the best. FWIW, you can forgive people and still not allow them in your lives, that is OK, it is not mutually exclusive. The forgetting part? No. You do not forget abuse, because unless the person undergoes some serious-ass conversion the bed rock for that abuse is still there.
posted by edgeways at 4:17 PM on March 22, 2013 [13 favorites]

I broke up with my parents 16 years ago. My mom is also unstable and abusive, my dad is wound pretty tight from his Vietnam tours.

I did not have a great experience growing up as a smart, free thinking weirdo.

They are fundamentalist Christians and only really associate with people in their faith. My dad is a pastor. All 3 of my sisters are strong adherents of the faith.

As the black sheep I was sort of a loose end.

After years of years of making each other feel bad, I found a shrink who helped me work through the process, I called them up and said, "I love you, I respect your passion for what you believe in, but because of your belief system, you won't ever respect or love me living in the secular world, so you do your thing, I'll do mine, let's leave each other in peace."

I never looked back.

Parents of friends and girlfriends have completely filled the gap with a love and compassion that isn't filtered through dissent.

My new family is a community of loving, caring and supportive people, it has been liberating.

I know my opinion is in the minority, but I think biology and tradition and societal expectations are all things we can transcend.

When we shed the people, things, the ideas, the beliefs that are making us feel trapped, and we walk through a new door and into a much better version of reality.
posted by bobdow at 4:33 PM on March 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

I love that quote that simulacra posted, and I will add that when cutting toxic people from your life it's useful to remind yourself that it doesn't mean forever. It just means "as long as I feel I need to." Which may mean forever, or it may mean "until I develop teflon coatings towards cruelty" or may mean, "for the next five years."

For me it's useful to say okay, for 3 months we're cut off and I'll reevaluate then. If, at 2 months I'm DREADING the end of my 3 months of paradise, I give myself another 6 months. Then another year. Or maybe things will have changed. Hey, miracles happen. But putting down a brick, solid, permanent wall is painful to ME, so I don't do that. This is not a favor to the toxic person. It's a favor to myself to remind myself that I will always have choices.

Part of that, however, is not doing anything I will deeply regret later. No burning down of houses or slashing of tires, or telling someone that they are despicable, unredeemable people. Just a lot of "that won't work for me" and caller ID. If they show up at your house, tell them you're taking a break. If they get pushy tell them, regretfully, that you'll have to call the police. If they continue, call the police. (Hopefully it won't come to that- hopefully she'll be in such a snit that she'll give you the silent treatment til you regret your decision, but people aren't always so cooperative.)
posted by small_ruminant at 4:34 PM on March 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

Another vote for "yes, it's okay". Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

My situation wasn't as horrible as yours; but I too have felt much better since I stopped beating my head against that particular brick wall and cut off all contact with her. My mother is self-centered, passive-aggressive, emotionally manipulative, doesn't listen to anyone else - and is completely oblivious to all of this. I've explained clearly why I don't wish to talk to her anymore and she still doesn't get it. What would be the point of "forgiving" her if it will only invite her to continue her unacceptable conduct?
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:34 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I cut my mother out of my life some twenty years ago, and have been nothing but happier and healthier since. No regrets.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:43 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thank you for your support and your practical advice. I am pretty sure this will confirm her suspicion that I am the trashiest trash that ever trashed the Earth. So in a sad way I will make her happy. I don't know if she will try to yell at me or she will go the silent route (that seems like a flying-pig kind of impossibility!)

I always suspected part of her hated me, and this was confirmed in her last visit, when my husband up right told me he thought she hated me. He is a very patient, cerebral kind of person, and he said it without me ever mentioning my suspicion. So that moment I knew it wasn't my imagination and it was somehow liberating because then all her cruelty was explained.

In summary, I'm pretty sure she will go nuts, but I can deal. I have before and now I have secret weapons: my newly found confidence (therapy), my husband's support and your approval!
posted by ADent at 4:47 PM on March 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

You're not a scumbag. If you're happier and emotionally healthier as a result of getting this person out of your life then you've made the right decision. Also, Nthing that no-one has the right to guilt you about this.

I'm gonna Nth the "it doesn't have to be forever" sentiment too though. I don't know your Mom, I don't know if it's even possible for her to change. But I did cut off a family member (sibling, not parent) for several years, and eventually wound up reconnecting with them. I regret neither cutting them off (at the time) nor letting them back in. But your relationship with your Mom sounds much more toxic, so YMMV.

Either way, in the meantime, if cutting her off is healthier for you then it's absolutely the right thing to do.
posted by Broseph at 4:55 PM on March 22, 2013

crazy with stars, I don't know if we should tell ADent to feel bad for taking much needed steps to keep herself sane. Yeah, I am not a fan of proxy guilt trips.

Really just came in here to share Captain Awkward's very timely advice column today: When is it time to cut off communication with abusive family?
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:56 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

By the way, it's totally ok to change your number and not give the new one to her, or to simply screen her calls, and to block her email or have it filtered to a folder you never read. Just because she wants to yell, doesn't mean you have to listen to her do it.

On preview, I'd like to also mention that you are not responsible for her actions in any way. You didn't provoke her abuse, you didn't cause or deserve her vile attitude toward you, and you're not responsible for any other thing she does--including if she takes out her frustration with you on your father or other family members. If she were to harm herself in any way, that would be another consequence of her own mental state (the same one that causes her to behave monstrously toward you).

In some ways, she's cutting herself off from you. She doesn't need to be physically attacking you in order to be someone it is not safe for you to be around. You may be the person making the decision to keep yourself safe, but she's the one making that decision necessary. There will be people who don't understand why you won't continue to take her abuse. That's ok. They're either lucky enough never to have seen the type of abuse you've faced, or they're deeply invested in preserving the scraps of their own unhealthy relationship with a toxic relative or family. Don't let their judgment deter you from keeping yourself safe.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:59 PM on March 22, 2013 [13 favorites]

I am pretty sure this will confirm her suspicion that I am the trashiest trash that ever trashed the Earth.

The hardest thing to do is stop thinking about what she is thinking about you. It's really hard to get out from under someone who is neglectful or blaming or just otherwise awful but it totally can be done (I've gone from having a close-up mother to a much more arms-length one and that has worked very well for me) but it's really challenging to top running your every thought about them through an "I wonder what THEY think about this" filter. Best of luck. Yes this is fine.
posted by jessamyn at 4:59 PM on March 22, 2013 [19 favorites]

I definitely agree with the consensus here, that it's absolutely an okay thing to do to look after yourself. Additionally, I want to emphasize that we have the option to decide how we define our family. The traditional definition is blood or who raised you. But you have the choice to define your family as the people who nuture and support you, who are there for you when you need them, and allow for reciprocity in the giving and receiving of love. My wife have people we consider family (holidays together, saying "I love you", the whole bit) that are just people that circumstance brought into our life and we pro-actively cultivated that type of bond with. It's not just a hand you're dealt.

Life is too short to waste energy on poisonous people, no matter who they are. Make the choice to fill your life with love and support.
posted by dry white toast at 5:05 PM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

but I'm not convinced that there is any action that one person could do to another that causes more pain and hurt.

This is good practice for reminding yourself that indeed there is something worse - and that's treating the child that you brought into this world, that you're supposed to love and protect, with abuse and cruelty.
posted by gaspode at 5:10 PM on March 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

Do you really want to be responsible for it?

So ADent should stay in an abusive relationship? The link you posted doesn't actually address abusive relationships, which the OP says this has been. It's up to her mom to get help for herself; she's an adult, too, and capable of making her own decisions.

When I cut my mom off, I did what small_ruminant said: I said to myself it wasn't forever (and it wasn't - it was less than a year). I reevaluated periodically, internally. Our relationship was also not abusive the way yours is, so the dynamics and reasons were different. It was still fraught and hard, but even though I felt guilty, I felt relief more. It gave me space to better figure out what I wanted and how, without being caught in an endless cycle of reacting to what she said and did.
posted by rtha at 5:19 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

[Comment removed, please find a gentler way to convey your disagreement.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:39 PM on March 22, 2013

I have known people in your position, and to a man or woman, they were much happier and better off not having abusive blood family in their lives.

Parents get to choose whether to have children. Children do not get to choose their parents. We get stuck with whatever parents God, the universe, or luck, or deity of your choice hand us, and sometimes we get the short straw. Children do not have agency, but adults do. And being an adult means you are under no obligation to maintain contact with abusers out of a mistaken sense of duty or obligation or sacredness of "blood family."

I say that you have to do what is best for you and your own mental and emotional health. If that means cutting off your family, then so be it. It doesn't have to be forever. But even if it is - your health and your right to live without abuse trumps any notion of "But they're your faaaaamily!"

Some people find that the estrangement is finite and then fences can be mended and they can have a relationship with their family that is, at least, cordial and respectful. Others never go back and fill their lives with chosen family. No matter what happens, make this your mantra: "I am a human being and because of this I deserve respect. Being related by blood is not a license to abuse. I only allow people in my life who treat me with respect."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:50 PM on March 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

sometimes the hardest choices to make are also the ones you need to make the most.
posted by davejay at 6:01 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I cut off my parents and I've never been happier. At the time I did it, I didn't decide to cut them off forever -- just until interacting with them made my life better in some way. It never has.

I sometimes miss them in a vague way, like, oh, those people I used to know. I miss the family I never had way more than the family that I did have.

Also, for the next phase, if you do this and you have strong emotions afterwards, feel free to post on here about them. It's not an easy process and it takes a while to get through it. We've been there and we're all on your side.
posted by 3491again at 6:09 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

" I am a little bit sad, I feel like I’m grieving for the family I never had, but I am not grieving for my actual mother...."

That's exactly how it should feel. That + The Relief mimics my own experience.

As someone above mentioned, my life has also increased in happiness exponentially since ditching my abusive parents.

"In summary, I'm pretty sure she will go nuts, but I can deal."

Don't be so sure. My mom went silent. After years and years of attacking me, she went silent. And has stayed that way.

It's almost 20 years now, but I honestly haven't kept track:)))
posted by jbenben at 6:21 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not only are you NOT a scumbag, but I'd say your therapy is going well and you're growing and stretching your wings, learning to stand up for yourself --- congratulations!

You have absolutely NOTHING to feel guilty about. Your mother treated you like dirt for years, and cutting her out of your life is one of the best things you can possibly do: you are calling a halt to her manipulation, telling her you won't let her mess with your head anymore. You didn't write anything in reply to your father's email about cutting him or your sisters off, and I assume you'd welcome it if they DID contact you. YOU aren't the person who has created the drama and pain in your family: your mother is. Your father and sisters know where and how to find you if they want to or chose to.
posted by easily confused at 6:23 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a person who was abused, horribly, by several members of my family right up 'til I was 29 years old, I have to concur with Rosie M. Banks. When I told my abusers that I had nothing more to say to them until and unless there were some changes on their end, I got the denial, the "accusations" that I was lying about my abuse and the whole, "You're a terrible person for not loving us and not wanting to have a relationship with us!"

But I stood my ground, as guilty as I felt about it at first - and I felt guilty for years afterwards. As time has passed, some family members have tried to bully an ex-aunt-in-law (she divorced my abusive uncle) to give up my numbers and addresses or, barring that, telling her, "YOU TELL DROPLET SHE BETTER CONTACT US!" If they honestly wanted to fix things in these last 14 years, why not send a letter to her for me? An email? Anything? If they really wanted to find me, they could. However, I've gotten bupkis, which tells me that for them, demanding I contact them is about controlling me, not caring about me. In their heads, apparently I must do what I'm told like I'm still 10 and still in their power. It's crazy, isn't it, when you step out and look in? Eff that ess.

I have a right to be treated with respect. I have always had that right. I have a right to have people in my life who show me that they care about me. I have always had that right. If anyone else treated me like they had, they'd be arrested! Nor would anyone consider these people my friends.

In essence, it's not what people say. The proof is in the pudding of their behaviour towards you. Who shows you that they're happy to be around you? Who treats you with love and care? Stay around those people, and stay away from anyone who doesn't treat you with love or respect until they show you that they do care, and not just because they're on some narcissistic, delusional kick that everyone has to adore them, no matter how they behave.
posted by droplet at 6:27 PM on March 22, 2013 [21 favorites]

Limiting or eliminating contact with anyone toxic is always an ok thing to do. But you seem to care what other people would think of you over this. A question you might want to reflect on is: Who's permission do you want and why do you want it?
Its perfectly ok to validate that reasonable people would not disprove of your decision. However, as you've noticed unreasonable people exist in abundance and its up to you how much weight to give their opinions (none being where i'd personally start).
posted by forforf at 6:36 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

[This is an answer from an anonymous commenter.]
I am approaching this from the other side of the equation. One of my children cut me off a few years ago, as well as most of the family. It hurts, but I survived it, and after a deep depression, life goes on.

He told me to my face, we had a conversation, and I told him that I respected his decision, I loved him, and the door would always be open. I do realize that this response from your Mom is unlikely, but it was mine, partly because I had cut my own parents off many years ago.

My son and I had had many conversations about my early behaviour when he was growing up, and he had supposedly forgiven me when I asked for it. I had also changed (12 years of therapy), but that does not change what took place before that.

Ultimately, my concern is for what is best for my son, and if this is what he needs to do, then he has my blessings.

In your circumstances, this likely won't be the response, but it sounds like it's time to start allowing your mother to see herself and stop having the family cover up for her. Perhaps this will be a catalyst for therapy for her to deal with her own issues. I recommend therapy for you as well. Also, when your siblings and/or father talk to you, tell them you need to do this to go on, and that you want to keep a relationship with them (if that is the case). Over the course of a few years, things will shake out to a new normal for everyone.

So, yes, it is okay to do what is best for yourself. Everyone else will deal with it somehow. The best way may be to not initiate contacct, and to not return calls or emails... do it how feels best to you. Grieve. Don't feel guilty. Live on.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:40 PM on March 22, 2013 [24 favorites]

You are not a scumbag. You are remarkably strong.

I haven't spoken to my mother for about 8 months. I took me seeing her start to treat my children the way she treated my brother and I for me to actually tell her that her behavior was unacceptable and I wouldn't allow it to continue. That did not go over well. I had to take my three young children out of her house late in the evening and find a hotel (we were visiting them on the other side of the country).

I was seeing a therapist before this break happened, and continue to see the same therapist. I have learned that my parenting struggles are very much related to my struggles in coming to terms with my childhood. In the time since I last talked to my mother, I have been more at peace than I remember being in my entire adult life. That doesn't make it easy, and it doesn't make me wish things were different. And I can't say that I will never again speak to or see my mother. But our relationship will never be the same. And I am a better mother, wife, woman - hell, PERSON - for it.

Remember: being related to someone does not give them license to treat you badly. In fact, it should require them to treat you BETTER. If they can't treat you with the respect and dignity every human being deserves, "related" doesn't mean a damn thing. And that is your MOTHER'S failing, not yours.

Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to chat more.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:45 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't spoken to my mother in 3 1/2 years and I'm pretty sure I'm no scumbag! Overall, it's been such a relief, I can't even tell you how much. But do be prepared for some emotional fall-out. It is definitely a relief, but the first year was especially sort of a rollercoaster as I started dealing with a lot of pent-up anger and grief.
posted by upatree at 7:13 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think your relatives are the jerks here, if they are indeed automatically siding with your mom and just cutting you off. Screw that.

If you are part of a family, and two of your relatives are feuding, as a part of that family you owe it to both of them to hear them out. Unless you wrote something totally vicious and over the top, or something irrational with no merit to it whatsoever, (and I strongly doubt that you did,) your family should be listening to you now and trying to help fix this mess however they can.

I say this as somebody whose mom and favorite aunt haven't spoken to each other for about six months. It drives me crazy and I wish there was some way I could get them to just deal with each other... But I love them both, and there is no way in hell I will shut either one out of my life. Their fight is not my fight, and I refuse to take sides to the point that I would just cut one of them off. They're my family, for god's sake.

I would suggest contacting your family one more time, specifically stating what they would need to do in order to continue your relationship with them. You could make it clear that you don't want to lose them forever if you can help it, but in order to make things work, they will have to address some wrongs.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:44 PM on March 22, 2013

As someone who went through this with a parent, people always assume it's some kind of teenage rebellion thing, like "My stupid mom won't let me go to the Rage Against The Machine concert because it's a school night! Fuck you, mom! I'm never talking to you again!" It's like, well, you're in therapy, so it's like depression. People with good families literally do not, they cannot, understand the dysfunction in other families. It's like when they tell you to "just cheer up and stop being depressed, jeez," you know. So you can't let them get to you. In their own way, they mean well, but they are literally incapable of understanding.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:51 PM on March 22, 2013 [17 favorites]

Thank you, your replies are such a relief. I was googling about this situation and everyone seems to push for forgiving and forgetting...which I can't do.

I am not suggesting you forgive and/or forget. But if you choose to do either or both, that doesn't mean you need to give her a whateverth chance. You can later decide to forgive her while also cutting her off. Or you can choose not to forgive her. You can forgive other members of your family, or not forgive them. You can also cut them off, if you need to. You are not a horrible person for doing so.
posted by jeather at 8:11 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are not a scumbag. You can absolutely cut your mother off. It doesn't matter what she thinks of you because of this; not having to try to manage her emotions is half the point
posted by RainyJay at 10:23 PM on March 22, 2013

Adding my voice to the chorus - you're absolutely not a scumbag. On the contrary, you seem like you're both strong and kind, and have had more compassion for your mother than she has had for you.

Your mother sounds similar to my abusive parent in many ways; I haven't spoken to my abusive parent for over four years. At our last meeting, said parent started ripping into me as usual, and I told them that I didn't have to stay and let them treat me that way. I made it clear that I welcomed a relationship with healthy boundaries, but wouldn't accept anything less; we haven't spoken since. I know my parent's still telling anyone who'll listen that I cut them off, but my parent has done a lot of rewriting history over the years, so that's nothing new.

There is indeed the possibility that you will face an extinction burst when you cut your mother off. The thing I wasn't prepared for, though, was the way much of the rest of my family reacted to my drawing my boundaries. They tried to talk me into reconciling, and when that failed, tried to drag me back into the drama by telling me all about the latest way my abusive parent had hurt them. Some people call it the "crab pot" mentality - the proverbial crab pot doesn't need a lid, because if a crab manages to climb towards the top the pot, the others will latch onto it and try to pull it back down.

I also realised just how wounded my entire family was - every family gathering I attended (my parents are divorced, so I haven't had to see the abusive one at all since we last spoke) eventually devolved into people talking about my abusive parent. Even family members who hadn't been in direct contact with my abusive parent for years would raise the subject, and every time it would dominate the conversation for a long time afterwards. I'm hoping for the day when my family is healed enough that they don't need to dissect the actions of my abusive parent every single time we get together.

I'm still learning to draw boundaries with the rest of my family, to tell them that I don't want to hear about what my abusive parent's doing to them unless there's good reason. But I do know that I don't have to get dragged back into that mess, that I'm healthier out of it, and that you and I are not responsible for managing the emotions/reactions of our other family members, any more than we're responsible for how our abusive parent feels. Your father and sisters aren't ready to pull themselves away from your mother; that's okay, but you get to make the decisions that are best for you, and you don't have to protect them at the expense of yourself.

Susan Forward's book Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life was a worthwhile read for me. You might find it useful.
posted by Someone Else's Story at 10:52 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Am I a scumbag? Is it ever okay to cut off a parent? Should the hurt feelings of my other relatives supersede my need to be away from her?

Definitely not a scumbag. You're in therapy, so you're probably aware that sort of negative self-talk has a source, right? A source such as your parents? :o) And of course it's okay to cut off a parent. I read that 2013 article linked earlier when it came out, and it was pretty liberating how the author equated parental abuse with spousal abuse. "Is it ever okay to divorce a spouse/break up with a significant other?" Few and far between are the people who would say "no!!!" when abuse is involved. It is interesting to think that just a hundred years back, though, answers would have differed, and it mainly would have been based on religious and patriarchal reasons. When you think about it, much of the "no!!" related to cutting off parents nowadays does boil down to a kyriarchical worldview: as if being a parent is automatic, lifelong ownership of offspring. Emotions and "blood" are used as an explanation, just like "duty" and "place" were used to "explain" women being the property of their husbands, not having the right to vote, etc. Bear with me here, the point is coming quickly: let's take "blood" at face value. It so turns out that:
if we compare any two genomes, they will differ from one another roughly once every 1000 base pairs. This is usually expressed as 99.9% of the human genome sequence is identical between individuals, but it is more formally correct to say that 99.9% of the human genome sequence is identical between any two copies of the genome.
In other words, if "blood" means you can never break up with family, then "blood" should also mean that you never break up with any human being, ever. This is neither a practical nor a feasible proposition, although as an idealist it is tempting to think along the lines of "if only humans were as compassionate towards each other for these reasons as they purport to be towards their families for 'blood'."

And if emotions are a good reason to stay connected, then they should also be a good reason to disconnect.

I know what it is to realize that your mother doesn't care about you. My mother often behaved as if she hated me, but I don't think it's me the individual she hates; she picked on characteristics I had as despicable, but when those characteristics were shown by others, they were desirable. She hated something in herself (her own upbringing was awful) and used me as the sacrificial sheep to carry it off. That's where scapegoat comes from; communities would designate an animal to carry all their sins and toss it off a cliff. Obviously the individual animal had done nothing, but it still paid its life.

It's clear you feel compassion for the emotions of your parents; if it can help to look at cutting them off from a compassionate viewpoint, think of it in the scheme of greater things. It's a good thing that blatant, endangering, cruel irresponsibility be faced with consequences on the part of those who are being cruel, and not a facile scapegoat. Only when people actually have to live directly (not indirectly) with the consequences of their actions, can they hope to recognize them and possibly change them. Letting someone continue to use you as a scapegoat, is literally giving them an escape from their behavior. Giving a voice and individuality to that scapegoat, however; giving a final "no, I really meant it when I said your behavior is unacceptable, it has gone too far, you have not listened, you continue to hurt me and thus I need to protect myself" (not necessarily in those words, but with that intent) leaves them without the satisfaction of seeing their sins carried off a metaphorical cliff.

Most of the time, yes, they will, unfortunately, find another scapegoat. Some do change, I've seen it in less cruel families, but those who have such pervasive scapegoating usually just change tack. It is sad. But the only thing you can do is save yourself, and doing that is huge. Having your own, free, self-aware voice is vital. Not just for you, but for the people you interact with too. After all, abusers are also people who refuse to accept responsibility for the entirety of their voice; their actions; their being.

I've kind of gone philosophical because I have been thinking about it along these lines lately; I have been through this same thing. Recently got back in touch with a sibling in January, who sent me a book on forgiveness, with nothing else, as a Christmas gift, after two years without contact from them. I tried staying in touch. It ended up being the same sort of catastrophe that had happened over, and over, and over, and over during childhood, though. It was catastrophic to the point that for all I know, a baby has died due to the blatant, obvious irresponsibility of my family. I have no idea because for all they kept claiming "blood" and "sacred family ties", no one responded to me when I asked how the baby was doing. No one. Not a word.

If there is no love, there is no family to honor. Honor the people who do truly love you; they're your true family. Sounds like you have a really neat husband. Take care, you're not alone.
posted by fraula at 4:17 AM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I always suspected part of her hated me, and this was confirmed in her last visit, when my husband up right told me he thought she hated me.

This. My mother was cut off by her mother first when she was 16 and again when she was in her early 40s. In the latter incident of cutting off, my grandmother also severed ties with her 3 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren (whom she's never even met) in the process. Though we were the ones cut off, it's because my grandmother is a horrible, mean, petty nutbag. After 12 or so years, we all now view it as a situation in which WE cut her off -- we didn't apologize for behavior she deemed necessary to apologize for. WE cut her off...and we are a much stronger, happier, healthy family for it. WITHOUT A DOUBT.

My mother experiences what you do, the feeling that her own mother hates her and that's something that's incredibly difficult to understand and grasp. I often tell my mother (who is happy to be free of that vindictive woman but still struggles to understand her) that her mother doesn't hate her, she just loves herself and her ego more. I don't think it lessens my mother's pain but I do think it helps her understand it a tad more. Feeling like your own mother, the woman that gave you life, sees no value in you is awful and I hate to watch my mother go through that. But if I were you, I'd try hard to remember that her treatment of you says nothing about who you are and who you've grown be to be, but more about her instability, ego, and self-righteousness than anything else.

Good luck. And congratulations on ridding your life of the toxicity. It might take some time but I wager that in the end, you'll be much, much better off.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:52 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you everyone.

I think what confuses me is that she is less nasty nowadays. She still gets cruel but she is generally a lot less violent, so it feels like I am holding a grudge from my childhood. She isn't doing therapy, but she is taking antidepressants, so she HAS mellowed down, even though she does still say horribly racist things and treats my dad like crap, but it isn't nearly as horrible as it was before.

I feel like my father and sisters could say "why can you let it go already?" And that is the million dollar question. Because her beatings and her cruelty hurt me now as much as before, and sometimes even more because I am just gaining perspective on the truly fucked up things she did to me, like holding a spoonful of shit from the toilet to my face when I was 7 and yelling me to eat it because I forgot to flush. (She eventually gave up on it, but it was terrifying and it still makes me cry). I am actually shaking right now just writing about it. How could she do these things?

Now she is just nasty, but not abusive. But I wonder if I don't see her as abusive just because I don't live with her anymore.
posted by ADent at 6:58 AM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

*I meant to write why can't you let it go already?
posted by ADent at 7:03 AM on March 23, 2013

The "forgive and forget" stuff is about your peace of mind. You certainly don't have to speak to your mother, father, or siblings ever again if it causes you distress. But if you spend too much time worrying about their reactions, what they're saying, how they're feeling, etc., you may as well be in regular contact. Cutting off or limiting contact can be very helpful to the process of letting go of the past, but don't stop there. Work on being able to acknowledge the past without living in it.
posted by xyzzy at 8:39 AM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Everyone's saying, "No you're not a scumbag." I'll go one step further: please don't call yourself names. Along with getting her out of your life, don't carry around a miniature version of her in your head, talking to you like this.
posted by BibiRose at 8:42 AM on March 23, 2013 [14 favorites]

All the more reason, then, that you can call a "time out" and deal with the repercussions of all that mess.

When you're living in the midst of abuse as a child, there is nothing to do but to dissociate from it. It's the only form of agency a child has, short of running away. Once the danger has passed, then you feel the effects more keenly. You need to take some time to yourself to process what's happened to you. Forgiveness and reconciliation may come after that, and it may not. Either way, you'll be stronger for having worked through the anger, grief and pain.

That doesn't make you a scumbag, that makes you a person who needs care. Your wounds need tending to. Your siblings and father may not be able to see it because of their wounds, but it doesn't mean you can't take the steps that you want and need to to take care of yourself. The idea that you are considering this step is worthy of your consideration also. Some part of you is telling you that you need to heal, and I feel you should honor it. It's coming from the part of you that loves you.
posted by droplet at 8:46 AM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Not nearly as horrible as before" is not a reason to retain a relationship with someone who causes you nothing but misery.

I don't have personal experience with this, but just to add to the 'you're not a scumbag' pile: on of the nicest, most decent guys I know cut off his parents so completely that he actually changed his first and last names. Nobody I know thinks he's a scumbag.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:09 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Instead of framing it as Cutting Your Mother Off, frame it as Not Allowing Yourself to Be Abused. If your mother is nice, you'd spend time with her. When she is angry, mean, drunk, manipulative, etc., you choose not to be with her. This helps make it sound less drastic, and is also quite accurate.

I moved 1000 miles away, and went without a phone for nearly a year (in the 70s when it was less weird) to take a break from my Mom's manipulation. I have left many phone conversations, dinners, etc., when she behaved badly. When I traveled to visit her, I always had a plan in case I had to leave, and some Xanax. Both were used. Over a lot of time, which included other siblings confronting her about her behavior, we developed an okay relationship. You don't have to try to have a relationship with her unless you decide you want to, and unless she seems like she might be getting more sane.

Your Mom sounds like she has some form of personality disorder. You didn't do anything to make her be mean to you. You may, over time, develop compassion for her. If you do, this doesn't affect the rule that you do not have to spend time with a person who is unkind to you.

You need to prepare yourself for your father choosing not to connect with you, and/or to intervene on her behalf. Siblings and other family, as well. Be calm and cheerful, and explain that you just can't be around Mom when she's unkind/ manipulative, etc., and that perhaps they'd like to help Mom get some help so she can be happier (re-focus the attention on Mom, not on you). You may also experience grief at the loss of even the goal of a relationship with your Mom. Try to limit accusations and revisiting the past; that's for a therapist.
posted by theora55 at 11:34 AM on March 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I agree with most other's posts here. It is perfectly acceptable to get yourself healthy and happy and cut someone out of your life who is making a negative impact. You can't choose your family but you can choose if you talk to them.

I haven't spoken to my mother since I was 16. She is blocked on social meda, does not know my address/phone number, although some family leak information to her.

I would talk to your therapist about how to make it clear that you do not want to talk or how to set up a situation in which you can cut off contact. (For example I wrote my mother a letter that my dad delivered, however she completely ignored it, showed up at my work, and we nearly called the police.)

It sounds also to me that the current "nice" behavior may be part of the manipulation. My mother has borderline personality disorder and acted so sweet when she showed up at my work, like we were best friends. Again, talk to your therapist about how you feel and how to set the line for contact. I hope you get to a place of peace and happiness!
posted by Crystalinne at 11:55 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are absolutely not a terrible person for doing this. It sounds to me like you are finally starting to heal after years of abuse followed by a little understandable denial and simply "coping," and now the reality of who your mother is and what she did to you are hitting. It doesn't matter if her behaviour is slightly better than it used to be, the fact is that she is still horrible. And, as another commenter pointed out, she is also choosing this situation by continuing to behave so terribly to you.

So absolutely, do what you need to take care of yourself and continue to heal. It is your right and your responsibility to yourself, and you do not need to justify it to anyone else, enabling relatives included.

That said, I think it is also important to remember that this does not have to be forever. Who knows, your mom might have an epiphany some day, and want to reach out to you. If and when that happens, doing the work to heal yourself now will put you in a good, healthy position to decide how (and whether) to respond. And if that never happens, it is her choice just as much as yours.
posted by rpfields at 12:05 PM on March 23, 2013

And now I have to go watch Tangled again, for the best antagonist ever- the narcissistic "parent". (link to video of "Mother Knows Best.")
posted by small_ruminant at 2:01 PM on March 23, 2013

I feel like my father and sisters could say "why can't you let it go already?" And that is the million dollar question.

Well, first of all, you're the one asking yourself this question all the time, dollface, and because you're scared and doubtful and ashamed and hurt and you've been taught not to trust yourself, this question could haunt you for a while, even if it has no value whatsoever.

And it doesn't. It is not a million dollar question. The answer is quite simple: you can't let it go because there was never any way for it to be over for you. No one in your family ever acknowledged it or talked about it or processed it or, god forbid, apologized for it. And your mother is still not a safe person for you to be around, even if she's "mellowed out," even if the bullshit coming out of her mouth seems way less bad than her shoving a spoonful of shit in your face. It's not over, and you never got the chance to let it be over, and it is not your fault.
posted by liketitanic at 2:22 PM on March 23, 2013 [11 favorites]

Biblically (book of Jude) you are supposed to "treat [people like your mother] with a mixture of mercy and fear". It also says "by their fruits shall you know them".

If your mother is making you feel this terrible, she is producing bad fruit, so feel free to avoid her. If you like, you can set temporary limits: three months with no contact, then you can consider contacting her again, or you can decide not to. And then you can renew for another three months with no contact or however long you would like.

Tomorrow's a new day, and you can do whatever you want!
posted by tel3path at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I cut off my dad sixteen or seventeen years ago, something like that.

After a miserable childhood at his hands, I sort of distanced myself in my late teens, early twenties, but any contact I had with him left me feeling sick to my stomach. After a while, I just didn't have anything more to say, and so I said nothing. And here we are!

I mourn all the time the father I didn't have: I am insanely jealous of people with loving, nurturing fathers, and I cannot watch movies or read stories about awesome father/daughter relationships. Way too sad. But I have never regretted, not for one second, putting distance between him and me and my children. People won't always understand or agree with the choice you make, but they are not living your life, and they cannot feel what you do.

Best wishes to you.
posted by thylacinthine at 2:48 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're taking steps to protect yourself. This is a good habit to develop.
posted by ead at 10:36 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are right to cut people off, you are free to love yourself, though:

I feel for everyone it is still important to forgive. Your parents are tiny children on the inside who need love too. They were criticised in turn by their parents and theirs. Don't take others anger personally, we are all doing the best we can, release all the criticism, have compassion for your parent's own childhoods, you've clearley still learned a lot... forgive them, not for them, but for you! :)
posted by krisb1701d at 9:27 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

If having your mother visit you causes "major PTSD," then cutting her off means you can start to heal. You are cutting her off for your own good, not because you want to cause her misery or grief. If your family is continuing to cause you grief because of their support for her and their lack of support for you, keep separating yourself from family members until you find people who support you.

This is for you, not for them. Yes, it will hurt them, but their hurt is less than yours.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2013

Final update from the OP:
So, in the end I ended up kind of taking a break from my parents. They were really sad, but surprisingly they understood. I did a lot of introspection and after a couple of months I realized that for all the abuse and violence, my mother did a ton of positive things for me. I know this sounds wrong, but I realized her violence and need to control was more out of a need to see me succeed than anything else.

So then there was the issue of accepting that even though her intentions were good, her methods were terrible, and here is where talking things out with my husband and therapist I decided that the healthier thing for me was to just see things with compassion. My mother is mentally ill. I suspect she has been depressed all her life. I can never completely forget the things she did because they are part of my psyche, but I can learn from them and also recognize that we all suffered just because my parents didn't have the mental health literacy to understand the situation.

So I have forgiven her. I also forgave my dad for letting things happen. It doesn't mean they did the right thing. I think they made a huge mistake in not seeking mental health and just let things fester, and I think this mistake has real life consequences in the way my sisters and I relate to the world and people around us. They were wrong, but the older I get, the more obvious it is to me that I held grown-ups up to unrealistic standards, and that no matter what age, people are people and everyone does what they can. My parents fucked up in some important ways. They also succeeded in other ways and love us unconditionally.

This thought has liberated me. My relationship with my parents is now free of resentment and filled with love and understanding. They are grateful, which makes me think they were remorseful, even if they didn't want to admit it.

If anyone is in a similar situation, I would like to clarify that the reason why this has worked for me was that my mom is now a lot better. She started treatment for depression and anxiety at age 60, and even though she can get a little nasty sometimes, it's nothing out of the normal range of crankiness. If her violent and dramatic behavior were to continue, I would still have forgiven her, but I would probably have cut her out of my life, which means I would have also cut my father out, because he is eternally loyal to her. I do sometimes grieve for the life I would have had if my mother had started treatment say 30 years earlier, but that's life.

I really appreciate everyone's input and experiences. It really is like a support group of sorts, this thread, because it allows me to see what other people in similar experiences have done and felt, and it validates my feelings and experiences. I wish you peace and happiness and positive relationships, Thank you all.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:52 AM on December 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

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