Healing and forgiving after traumatic childhood?
April 23, 2014 11:41 PM   Subscribe

There are possible [triggers] inside. I'd like advice and resources on healing and reconnecting after past familial abuse, when I want to bond with my family and keep them in my life.

I was not sexually abused by this person, if that makes a difference. There was physical abuse but the emotional abuse was more intense seems to hinder me most. The examples are only a few of many.

Is there a way to come to terms with this on my own and realize my self-worth as a person, without involving my Mom at all? And how do I actually *start* that process? I want to love myself unconditionally. I want my inner voice to not automatically call me stupid, ugly, worthless, etc. But I'm hoping for a method that also addresses past abuse as a child.

I have not reached out to a therapist about this because I told all my teen therapists and a few of my teachers at the time what was going on and no one took action; most said my Mom seemed too nice or that I must be mistaken or lying. Some told my Mom or forwarded e-mails which got me in trouble at home, and the one time something may have happened (I ran away from "home" but did so from school; she dropped me off 2 hours early at the front door and I waited for her to leave and bolted), my Mom called the school and threatened to sue and a host of other things happened. Even the two High School boyfriends I told told their parents, or someone, and it somehow got back to my Mom which ='ed more Badness.

I realize I'm an adult now (23) and it will be different, but I do not see myself being comfortable sharing this with my therapist for awhile. Eventually I would like to.

1) Mom and I have not been close for long. We had a tumultuous relationship, did not speak for around 3-6 months after she kicked me out for being gay. This was either in 2011 or 2012.

2) The night I left home, my Mom and step dad sat in their SUV and pointed and laughed at me and my then-girlfriend while I hugged Girlfriend as she was crying. They then drove off. Before this, my Mom would accept me when my step dad wasn't around but would act differently if he was. He started threatening to leave her (after 10 years together!) and call off their new engagement because her daughter was gay and she in turn started threatening to kick me out. There was a countdown on the fridge to the day I'd be kicked out. In Mom's defense, when I later told her that if she wanted me gone I'd walk out the door right then, and to just say the words and I'd be gone, she refused to say anything and told me to calm down and get some rest. This is the incident that bothers me most because I think if he'd pressed the me vs him issue she would have chosen him, over her own daughter, because the environment at that time was extremely hostile towards me from both of them, if they were both around or just him if she wasn't. I feel that maybe my Mom had grown to love me at that point but when they found out my "boyfriend" was a girl, all the trouble it caused Mom and my step dad as a family unit, maybe Mom hated me then or resented me as a person. She told me my step dad resented me because I spent so much money going to high school, didn't pass that, different colleges, didn't pass any of them and liking girls was the "last straw."

2a) Also in Mom's defense, I was not directly told to leave but told I could either continue to see my girlfriend or get out. To me this was a choice to hide who I truly was or get out, so I chose to leave & ended up homeless (not for long) that way. My Mom did try to reach out to see if I was okay a few times but I ignored her given the circumstances. It was also her (I think) that initiated the contact again a couple months later.

3) I have very low self-esteem. This is likely because I never felt unconditionally loved by my Mom growing up, or loved at all, and I still cannot say if she loved me as a child/teen. I also have a lot of guilt for being a spoiled brat. I begged for stupidly expensive things I thought I needed to be happy, like going to a private $$$$ college and needing an expensive laptop. Because of this (and other recent things not involving me) my Mom cannot retire yet. I feel extreme guilt, and at the same time I try to tell myself that I was ~20 the last time I did something like that and teenagers tend to be bratty and whiny. As a teenager, I did not truly understand the implications of the expenses and my Mom needed to protect her finances and say "no" to me.

But that view seems bratty and just... wrong. I wish I could go back in time and be different in that aspect. My Mom did tell me often about how my decisions affected our family finances. I wish I could be a different child that graduates high school, gets a full-ride to that fancy college all the graduates of her highschool got, that graduates on time and can keep a job and has a lot of friends and makes her mother proud. My Mom expressed a lot of disappointment in me growing up. She doesn't do that now but I still feel almost worthless as a human being. If I cannot tell if my own Mom loved me as a child, how can anyone else love me & how can I ever love myself? I want my Mom to see me become a healthy, well-adjusted adult. The thought of disappointing my Mom today is almost unbearable.

4) I have difficulty accepting that my own Mom probably didn't do the best job raising me. She's my Mom, she's awesome and I love her, and my childhood didn't land me on Oprah as the newest cereal killer. How can I think she was/is anything but an amazing parent?

5) I can *objectively* see the ways that she loved me and did the best she could as a parent. I love her as a Mom but I *do not* forgive her

6) Because when I've confronted her about it in the past... The first couple times, when I was a teen/younger, she would heap on more (for example, telling me I was strange child and she'd wished I'd died in a car accident we'd been in.) When I got older and tried to talk to her about it a few times, she denied remembering anything at all. Not enough time had passed that she would have forgotten what I was talking about. I know she may have *actually* forgotten because Freud.

7) I don't want to talk to her about this if I don't have to. We've recently gone through some health issues and it's likely we'll be around for awhile but that and seeing my peer's parents passing away left and right. I don't want to rock the fragile boat we're on. We get along now but there are days when the old dynamic threatens to show up; but now I live on my own and I'm an adult and can walk away until my Mom calms down.

The following information isn't relevant to the question but I do not want to paint my Mom in a negative light:

I want to add that my Mom is a very good person, and I can (objectively) see the ways she loved me as a child. She was a single Mom, worked two jobs to support us, & sacrificed most of her savings helping me out.

She worked hard to provide a good & safe home for me, so much so that I was born extremely poor in a dangerous area but by the age of 10 I was "upper middle class."

She sent me to all private middle/highschools, paying an arm and leg for that, so I'd get a good education and wouldn't have to live in poverty and work as hard as she did. She kept sending me to them even though I switched schools every year of my childhood-schooling career except 2, because I was bullied so often at each school I went to.

Then I developed weird physical ticks such as walking extremely slowly through the hallways at school; being too scared to raise my hand all the way in class, etc etc. because of things like that I actually got asked *not* to come back to one of the grade schools. Despite these failures I scored so high on the GED I got into every single college I applied to, because my Mom made sure I had a good education.

Mom'd saved up for 4 years at Local College (which would have been free anyway) and that was gone in a year because I picked Expensive Private School, which I flunked out of. Then I enrolled in Equally Expensive School. Emotionally, I couldn't handle everything going on in life and attempted suicide again toward the end of the semester. My Mom and Step Dad paid $$$ to take the plane to come out and see me; when I was in the hospital I was asked if I wanted to be released to them and I said I'd rather die than go home, which the nurse told my Mom and she later repeated back to me. I can't imagine how this must have devastated her at such a time. So I've definitely given her a lot of trouble.

I am still in school and she still supports me and tells me she wants me to succeed. I don't know what happened when I was smaller that there was so much anger towards me. But I was a very quiet, anxious child who spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals for head scans because I did not talk to anyone, when I did speak I spoke too low for anyone to hear, & then on top of that I had a seizure disorder.

I was not a "bad" child in the traditional sense, but I was a very isolated person who spent most of her days in internet chatrooms and on WoW. I overslept High School frequently, could not stay awake in class even when I did sleep and had multiple suicide attempts. I also failed out of online Homeschool/Highschool. She sent me to expensive private schools,

So I know I put a lot of stress on her as a kid. Some of it was probably caused by our family environment but I don't know that she would have known that at the time. She is a very strong person to go through all those years and still be where she is now.
posted by Pericardium to Human Relations (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know you say you don't want to raise this with your therapist right now, but what if you printed your question and showed it to them?
posted by tel3path at 12:27 AM on April 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Who chose your therapists when you were a child/teenager? Who paid for the therapy? And did you switch therapists often at your mom's decision? Not all therapists are wonderful objective people. We've been lucky with most of our therapists, but I would find it easy, now knowing what I do about the system and child development, to select an accommodating private therapist who didn't push when presented with an apparently good parent. If your mom paid for and frequently changed your therapists, I wouldn't put a lot of stock onto their assessments. It took 6 months with a really good therapist, fully supported by us, to get a relationship with one of our kids with social anxiety for therapy to actually start and we're looking at a 2-3 year span at least to really help. Short of that is just sort of a defensive posturing (I got taken to therapists briefly so my parents could say they tried, although they never continued the therapy or took part)

My parents paid for private school and lots of good stuff. I have some happy good memories of my childhood. But on the whole, it was very damaging and they were generally bad at parenting. You can love your parents and be grateful for what they did do right, and still be angry and sad about what went wrong. It's not a single judgement, but looking for a complete picture. It's not even a question of judgement - you don't have to decide who was to blame, who was more or less responsible. You just have to see it clearly and completely, and decide what's healthy for you now.

Choose and pay for your own therapist. Don't talk to your mom about it until you're ready. That may be years from now, it might be a few months. Your mom doesn't have to know about your therapy at all.

Are you worried your therapist will think badly of your mom? Don't worry about that - what you say one session, you can always explain or change the next time. Your therapist is supposed to help you safely sort through this in your head, and that means keeping confidentiality. Even if you tell your therapist awful awful things about your mom, if your therapist met her, they would just politely say hi and be pleasant. I think the only thing they have to act on is if your mom is currently actively hurting children in her care. Short of that, your therapist is by their own code not allowed to reveal what you say to your mom.

And I promise you, there are a bunch of us out there who were not loved by our moms who still managed to eventually be okay and love other people healthily. The human heart is resilient.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:14 AM on April 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seeing a therapist as an adult is a way different thing than seeing a therapist as a child (or teenager) because you can totally fire them at any time you want just because you want to. You can stop if they aren't helping you. My experience with therapists as a child and adolescent mirrored yours--my mom was paying the bills, of course they didn't think she was the problem. I think you really need to look into that now. If you feel less than totally supported by one, you just move on to a new one.

Beyond that: You want to love your mom. You want to defend your mom. Those things are laudable. But she did something that was absolutely, 100% indefensible, and you cannot defend her for it. She can't be simultaneously an okay person and the person who treated you like that. So you're putting a lot of this on yourself. But--she was the one who decided to buy you things, not the other way around. She was the adult. She was responsible for making the sound financial decisions. It was her money. It was her responsibility to raise you and love you and protect you, her decisions to make that deprived you of the safe space that should have been your home, in favor of her own gratification. She was the adult, and she made those decisions, and you are allowed to be angry about that. You do not have to forgive her for that until she is actually sorry for everything you did, and it does not sound like that has happened yet--hell, you don't have to forgive her in general. You need to forgive you. All you ever did was totally reasonable behavior for a young person in your situation.

Any unhappiness she ever got out of that was just reaping what she'd sowed. It's not your responsibility to protect her; it was hers to protect you. You now have to learn how to protect yourself in lieu of that. It will take awhile, but eventually you'll get there.
posted by Sequence at 3:04 AM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

You're pretty much describing a lot of what my life story used to be. The good news is that through therapy (ones not hand-picked by your parents) and being around people who are actually not abusive can really turn your life around. I'm not one to throw labels around, but your mom does sound like a classic narcissist. Feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk more.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:13 AM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are therapists out there specifically trained in trauma therapy. I wondered through some not so good therapists before I found somebody who is a really good fit for dealing with my sexual/emotional/spiritual abuse.

Pandora Aquarium is an online extensive resource (forums, chat room, lending library) it's run by really knowledgeable people and is an actual organization not just somebody running a board. It can be overwhelming but it's something I used for years and loved. The chat room is monitored by peers but it's an extensive process to make sure as many people feel safe and crazy stuff isn't happening. (I chat modded for a year or two.)

Also there is no right way to process but your own way. Forgiveness is optional. Contact with your family is optional. What do you want? What are you comfortable with? Those are the most important questions.

Take gentle care of you and you can pm me anytime.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:07 AM on April 24, 2014

You poor kid. I'm so sorry that all this stuff has happened.

I know it can be so, so hard to reconcile seeing our parents as real people who - on one level - did their very best to raise us and were just human people with flaws, and on the other they also did serious harm. I know how it feels to want to defend them and feel guilty for criticizing them.

Some thoughts:

Your mother's finances are her business while you are a dependent child. It is not your "fault" that she spent money on expensive things for you, even if you asked for them. (Especially relatively ordinary things for a child in an upper-middle-class milieu, such as a private school education or a laptop.) It's her job to assess her finances and decide what is reasonable to afford for the family. It's not your job as a child to understand all the ins and outs of the family finances and never request anything that might not already be in the budget. It's really wrong of her to lay this on you - and it's silly. She could also retire if she hadn't done a bunch of other stuff, right? She could have lived in a cheaper neighborhood, skipped a bunch of other things...but it's only when it's something that she did for her gay daughter that it's all "oh now I can't retire".

Family homophobia. My family isn't like yours (and I don't want to get into mine here) but dealing with that has been a wound my whole life, a big source of guilt and shame that has derailed so much for me. One thing that did help me was reading an excerpt from Sarah Schulman's Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. I haven't read the whole book, so maybe parts of it are terrible, but when I read the excerpt it really helped me to realize that the whole thing Wasn't My Fault, and that it was okay to feel hurt because I had been hurt.

I think you're really brave. It may not feel that way looking at things from the inside, but you stood up to your mother (and stepfather) and were honest and real about who you are. I think that's amazing. I think it's amazing that you've just soldiered on through all this muddy, difficult, horrible stuff.

I think a lot of people who had a duty of care toward you have failed you. (In the case of medical personnel, they've failed you in a way that is probably legally actionable.) People telling your mother stuff that you told them about your abuse? That's bullshit, and they know it, and it's really disrespectful to you, and for all they know it could have been physically dangerous.

I think you're brave and strong or you would not have gotten this far. I know you're looking at your life and thinking that you're weak and damaged, but you are someone who has survived all this unutterable shit.

If you can see a therapist, look for one who specializes in GLBTQ issues, and tell the intake people that you are looking for someone who can talk about social class. (Because - and I'm just spitballing here - I bet a lot of the stuff that's going on with your mother and your upbringing has to do with her climbing into the upper middle class financially and the attendant social pressures and the personality type it takes to succeed at doing that, and I think it's possible that a lot of the non-family stuff you experienced has to do with class.) Here is what I would do: find some GLBTQ resources - the center at your college, something online, a local community center, whatever. Ask them to recommend some therapists. Do you know any older GLBTQ people?

I know it seems like I'm beating this particular drum. Things are different for your generation, I know - you don't experience the same degree of homophobia and rejection that older folks have, and I think it can be easy to feel that what you experience isn't about homophobia but just about abuse in general, rejection in general. But I really think that a queer therapist will be able to get at a lot of stuff with you, though, speaking from experience. (If for some reason you are secretly in Minneapolis, I can recommend some people.)

I think it's really, really hard to say "yes, people who should have cared for me betrayed me and harmed me for no justifiable reason". It's easy to write that, of course, but it's hard to feel it, because it's so sad and it feels like you're insulting or failing to understand the people who hurt you.
posted by Frowner at 6:08 AM on April 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

It's really hard when you have a parent who on one hand seems to be doing everything right, but on the other, is a narcissistic mess.

My dad is an amazing therapist and my mom is a narcisist. That was a recipe for disaster my WHOLE life. My mom chipped away at my self-esteem and everything that went wrong in the family was my fault. But you can't say anything, or if you do, they look at Dad, and he's so comptetant and amazing, there's NO WAY what you're saying could be true.

I totally get it. But, you can trust your therapist. Disclose EVERYTHING to him/her. It would be illegal and unethical for your therapist to share anything you tell her about in your sessions. Also, my therapist was AMAZING at helping me come to terms with my mom, and allowing me to be angry with her, disappointed in my dad and to still form a healthy relationship with my family.

What it looks like is boundaries. You establish for yourself, without regard for anyone else, what you're willing to deal with as an adult.

I have done some crazy-assed shit protecting my boundaries, but the craziest thing is, it helps our relationship for the better, every time I do it.

1. On a family get-together in New Mexico, my Mom was riding and nagging me so hard, that I took the rental car I rented, leaving my parents to be schlepped around by other family, drove to the airport and caught the first plane home.

2. Took wash out of the washer, soaking wet, and carried my ass to a laundromat to finish when my mom got on a tear about something stupid.

3. One of the final family activities on a weekend visit home was to see a movie, but my Mom was in a mood and just nasty to me. I got in my car and drove home instead. Screw that.

4. When sightseeing in Philly, Mom was being a total control freak about something, and was screaming at me at the Liberty Bell. Husbunny and I just started walking away. Since she and my Dad are slow moving these days, so they couldn't catch up. Again, screw that. This was two years ago.

Note, Mom is now 75, so things haven't changed, and likely won't change with her. But that's okay, I have a good relationship with my family, but it's built on my boundaries. When I visit them from out of state, I get a hotel room (or stay with my sister, whichever works.) I always rent a car, and I make damn sure that if getting out of dodge is essential, that I can do so.

Just like you, I know my mother loves me, she's just mentally ill in this respect and there's nothing she nor I can do to change it at this point. We have reframed our relationship, but you have to be strong enough to say, "I refuse to be spoken to that way," and to remove yourself from the situation swiftly and with extreme prejudice.

All family relationships are complex. Yes, your mom can be a narcisist and say hateful and hurtful things to you, but she can love you too.

Work with your therapist to get to a place where you can live with the relationship you have. It's okay to love your mom, even if a lot of the stuff she did was totally shitty. And let's be objective, a lot of it was horribly shitty.

Weirdly enough a disproportionate number of my friends have similarly narcisistic mothers. We all make fun of our moms and crack on them. We support each other and remember to say, "No, that's not normal, she's crazy, you're sane."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:34 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you're yearning for something you can't really have without causing you more pain. It sounds like it would not be a good idea to be close to your mother in the way some families are. I think it's better for you to keep a cool distance, and visit on the major holidays, but trying to be girlfriends is just going to be more of the same you experienced in the past.

In other words, I think the current status is the best.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:44 AM on April 24, 2014

You might find reading about the scapegoat as a family role helpful in dysfunctional families. What happens, especially in families where the parents get to appear as successful and healthy, is when the children struggle and the cause is related to the parenting (or even if the child is struggling for their own reasons the parenting behavior is hurting instead of helping)- the child then gets to become the scapegoat for the family-- the cause of all the families problems. The child gets sent to therapist after therapist and no one can figure out why they are so messed up. They get diagnosed and labelled and medicated as an "ill" person.

A research study in JAMA found that parenting behavior was highly correlated to personality disorder and that it's quite likely that parents play a much larger role in their children's dysfunction than parents will want to own up to. This doesn't mean parents are bad, just that they are not healthy and their behaviors are hurting their kids. That they don't MEAN for that to happen doesn't change that it does happen and it would really help everyone involved if the parents would admit that they need help with their dysfunctional behaviors or life pain or unresolved issues.

"Association of problematic parenting behavior in the home by a mean offspring age of 16 years with risk for specific types of offspring personality disorders (PDs) at a mean age of 22 or 33 years. The composite index of problematic parental behavior was significantly associated with risk for offspring antisocial (P = .003), avoidant (P = .005), borderline (P<>
And since most therapists or psychiatrists are not often going to give a personality disorder diagnoses (and I have a problem with the word choice in naming "personality disorders" as well as the handling of them even if they did hand out these labels) and DEFINITELY are not going to dare call out the parents on their harmful behaviors; the kids take the entire weight of the whole situation and become a "problem child."

You might also enjoy Alice Miller's book "Journey of the Gifted Child".

This is really the sort of thing therapy is really helpful for. Get the validation you need, get ideas about how to heal going forward and how to handle your difficult family which mending the damage. Find someone you really like. Interview people and get a feel for them and feel free to fire them if they don't seem to get it. I can understand why you would distrust therapists, as you know, they are apparently often incompetent to see what is happening right in front of them and are all to eager to facilitate the scapegoat role for the benefits of the parents. You've been harmed by therapy that should have helped you and it's a shame on the profession as a whole which really ought to clean itself up. There ARE good therapists, but you do have to interview for them, do your own reading about what kind of healing and therapy models sound good to you and find a therapist that works in a way that feels comfortable and validating to you.
posted by xarnop at 9:45 AM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might like: Legacy of the Heart: the Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood. As I recall it is sort of wisdom based, and not really hardcore "spiritual", so don't let that word scare you off. Read the little free preview on Amazon and see if it speaks to you.
posted by griselda at 11:01 AM on April 24, 2014

I will suggest that you talk to your therapist about your emotional relationship to money.

It looks to me like your mother equated money with love, worked hard to give you money because she really wasn't good at being loving, and, since men tend to make more money than women, may have chosen loyalty to your stepdad over loyalty to you because he made more money than her and this gave her some ease after years of working two jobs, etc. I will suggest that you probably asked for expensive items and things like that because in your family growing up, spending money on you equaled "love" (or the closest thing to it you were going to get). Since that value was shaped by your mother's choices and you were a child, you should forgive yourself for doing that in the past. But you should work on it as an issue so you don't bring it to future relationships.

My mother grew up in Germany during WWII and it's aftermath. She can be difficult to deal with but is in many ways a very good person and in many ways a very good mom, though emotional warmth was never her strong point. I am 48. I have mostly lived far away and that has helped. I like my mom, respect her and have a decent relationship to her now though we don't talk very often. So, yes, I think you can make your peace with it.

I will also say that you might benefit from testing for learning disabilities. Your description of your school problems do not quite add up. I feel like I don't have the full picture. But "twice exceptional" kids -- kids who are bright but also have learning disabilities -- are often misfits and not good at school. Your high score on the GED may be because of native intelligence, not because of expensive schools. It might help you to educate yourself about some of the social and emotional issues typical of gifted kids, especially twice exceptional kids. That might resonate with you and help you with your self esteem issues, which are typical of twice exceptional kids. The learning disabilities mask how smart they are and their high intelligence masks how challenged they are. They wind up with either seemingly average performance (B students) or very uneven performance (A's in some subjects, D's in others) and just can't seem to figure out why things never go smoothly, never quite work, etc.

Your use of the phrase "cereal killer" maybe is part of why I am thinking that. For one thing, I know you meant serial killer, so it's the wrong word even though your overall writing is good. For another, my oldest son and ex husband both have some of the traits typical of serial killers. Some of those traits include high IQ and ability to manipulate others. So I am sort of feeling like there is some recognition there that you fit a certain profile but that recognition is being framed in the worst way possible and you are taking all the responsibility for anything "bad" and giving your mom all the credit for anything "good" -- like you frame this as "you should have ended up a serial killer except she was such a great mom" and then give her all the credit for your high GED score. If there is anything good, mom gets the credit. If there is anything bad, you get the blame. And that is likely a pattern she taught you. It's not healthy. But the profile called forth -- potential serial killer -- also points to another answer: Probably a twice exceptional kid who never got proper testing, and thus never got proper accommodation. It is not too late to get some of that and get your act together.
posted by Michele in California at 11:12 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's really difficult to be angry at a parent who, you appreciate through adult eyes, did the best they knew, when their best turned out to be so damaging.

Your mom wanted a certain kind of success, right? That kind of drive often comes from a conflicted place. It's not uncommon for parents who work hard for success (and sacrifice loads for it) with the explicit motivation of providing for their children (though there are usually other reasons, maybe unknown to them) to be mystified by what they see as their children's passivity. Even, to be angry about it. Because of their blindness. What those parents miss, with all their good and messed up intentions, is that in the course of all that striving, they might neglect to offer their kids the things they need to become well-rounded adults - attention, love, stability, the chance to master some skill on their own, and to learn to solve their own problems. A lot of times, those parents try to compensate for the deprivations they themselves experienced through their kids. Your mom's compensations were all about your future success, the kind she wanted. Because those were her concerns, and she couldn't see anything else.

People are flawed and limited. Because of that, we often hurt each other without even meaning to, without understanding what we're doing. Can you accept this idea about your mom? That she was a messed up person with mixed intentions, a lot of them good, as far as she understood what that meant? Like others say, if you can do that, you still have a right to be angry about what happened to you as a child, and about its long-term effects. You can still protect yourself from your flawed and limited mom today. You can still work on growing in a direction she couldn't see or conceive.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:41 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just want to come back in and say that I am angry at your mom. I mean, I am really angry. She threatened to kick her daughter out for being gay - that is super, super shitty. I've known plenty of terrible parents who wouldn't stoop to that. That's no joke. She pushed you to the point where you were ready to run away. To where you would rather die than go home. That's just classic, Reagan-era child-abuse bullshit.

Your mom put a "count down to the day you get kicked out" count down on the fridge.

It just reminds me of some of the stuff that this girl I knew in high school twenty years ago went through with her parents, horrible stuff that was about control and abuse and, separate from that, homophobia.

I think that it's good to recognize that your mom can make some mistakes and say some cruel things and still have her good side. But I also think there's a risk (ask me how I know!) when you put to much emotion into "but my mom is still a good person" - because it pushes you to blame yourself and diminish the harm that is done to you. Anyone can look at an abusive parent and say "but we should reconcile, she meant well". There's no point where that stops, no extremity of abuse - that's the dominant cultural narrative, that reconciliation is always good, parents are human too, parental suffering means that abuse should be forgivable.

I think you should work on letting yourself not forgive your mom for a while. I'm not talking about confronting her or anything that you don't want to do - but I think you should focus on being able to think "what my mom did was shitty and abusive" without immediately following that up with "but I need to make sure that everyone knows that she is not that bad a person and she loved me and tried hard". Kids - especially girls - get pushed to hard to say that our parents didn't really hurt us, partly because we get this narrative that it is immature to complain about our parents.

Here is the thing: I'm not even going to get into my family situation right now because I don't want you comparing it to yours, which is always such a temptation, but it has been immensely helpful to me to separate the thoughts "my parents are homophobic and that has hurt me a lot" from "my parents love me and had hard lives". I don't need to pair those up. I can think about one without thinking about the other.

If a friend of mine kicked out their kid out for any reason short of unmanageable violence and destruction - if a friend of mine kicked their kid out for being gay or trans! - that person would not be my friend any more. Not for a minute. Not for a fucking minute. I would not rest until their kid had a place to stay. If a friend of mine was threatening their kid with homelessness - yeah, they wouldn't be my friend any more either.

I'm so glad you're dealing with this at 23 and not at 37, too. Go you!
posted by Frowner at 11:58 AM on April 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

Your story sounds very much like several of the examples in the book Healing Your Emotional Self. Maybe that could be a good place to start.
posted by zennie at 4:25 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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