Advice on family relationship
February 15, 2021 11:18 AM   Subscribe

So my mom & dad were awesome parents up until about age 11. I had an awesome childhood and really good memories, bonded lots with both my mom and dad. From age 11-17 my mom turned into a narcissistic monster and my dad became spineless. Everyone in the family was severely emotionally abused by my mom, including dad who just watched the whole show unfold and did nothing. She was incredibly cruel and would kill pets by "setting them free", cancelled birthdays & holidays, methodically took away things we loved (toys, tv, sweets, games), burnt all trophies I had, burnt childhood photos, isolated us,... Needless to say I was absolutely destroyed after this, it's a miracle I made it through high school. Low self-esteem, destroyed identity, no friends/girlfriend, shame & guilt... She was admitted to a psych clinic and got better, almost "back to normal". I am 27 and both my parents are nice now and act like nothing happened. I have worked a lot on myself, got a degree, travelled the world for 2 years, had a gf... Even now the past still weighs heavy on me. When confronted they will not admit they did anything wrong. My mom thinks she was a great parent. How does one deal with this? I'm consumed by anger, sadness and frustration. Stuck living with them because of COVID atm.
posted by dan22 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Minimal contact. You don't need a confession from them... You knew what happened. Maybe she blocked it out but if she chose to pretend it never happened, then you'll pretend she's just someone who inhabited your mom's body, but isn't really her. It's a coping mechanism: pretend it's a doppelganger, not her.

But you will eventually need to talk to a therapist about this. If you have a job, I wonder if you have employee assistance programs and telehealth options to talk to a therapist online or something. You have to finish grieving for the childhood you never really had.
posted by kschang at 11:30 AM on February 15 [9 favorites]

That's truly horrible. I'm sorry that you went through this and what you're dealing with now. It's very hard to process and move past trauma and hurt when the people who hurt you won't or cannot take responsibility for or at least acknowledge the harm they caused you.

More than just dealing with it, you need to determine what kind of relationship you can have with your mother and father and proceed from there. You need to make that decision with the assumption that your parents won't admit they hurt you. Of course they may someday, but don't hold your breath or make plans based on that hope.

First, you need to make plans to move out. Create some distance between you and your parents. Not having to face these people daily will make a world of difference in the way you feel.

Then you need to decide what kind of boundaries you want to set. Do you want to go no contact for a while? See them only on major holidays? Have weekly dinners? What can you take? What is best for YOU and your mental health? When and if your parents object or ask, you can be truthful with them - "I cannot have a full relationship with you until you acknowledge the harm you've caused and we work on things together."

Then you should grieve. You lost the family you wanted, needed, and deserved through no fault of your own. It's awful. It's a great sadness.

Therapy to help you figure out these answers and a process for grieving is key.

Finally, go out and create the best chosen family possible and enjoy the love and happiness they will give you.
posted by brookeb at 11:34 AM on February 15 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry your mother did this to you, and that your parents are not capable of admitting that it happened.

You don't have to (and probably can't) get your parents to agree with you about your childhood for your version to be accurate. You are intrinsically a better judge of the impact of their parenting on you than they are in any case.

Therapy is the metafilter cliche, but I do think it is the right answer, even if you've already had therapy before. Mainly because it sounds like you need some coping tools while you need to live with them, and possibly some support to help you get to a place where you can afford to live elsewhere.

My only practical suggestion is that you keep your conversations and interactions with them superficial, and try to change the subject or walk away if the conversation turns to that period of your lives. It is easier to ignore their views when you don't actually have to hear them.
posted by plonkee at 11:38 AM on February 15

I'm not one for forgiveness, but I will say that in this case, forgiving your mother for being sick is probably a good first step. Narcissism isn't something someone can recover from, so it sounds like she had a really serious mental illness she was finally treated for.

I know you'll get lots of good advice on other aspects, I just wanted to touch on that.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:57 AM on February 15 [28 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. Unfortunately, you have to work on letting go of the idea that someday there will be a cathartic moment where they admit to you what they did and repent for it. It's so unfair, but most people in their position will never do that. The ones that do usually do it after they choose on their own to engage in a huge amount of self-reflection that ends up bringing them to that point. There's nothing you can do to manage them into being the parents you were entitled to. Given that, what are the best remaining futures you can imagine for yourself?

If it were me, in the short term, I'd draw conversational boundaries around that set of topics. They won't tell you what you deserve to hear, and hearing anything else hurts you. If they bring it up, don't engage. But, please, find someone (ideally a professional) you can talk to about these experiences. The shame, fear, and anger don't just go away because you're no longer being abused. The sooner you can work through the fallout of these experiences, the less your life will be shaped by them.

Good luck. I wish you every happiness.
posted by praemunire at 11:57 AM on February 15 [6 favorites]

I think constantly being around someone whose airy behaviour negates the horrible things they did to you can really do a number on you. It makes you doubt your experiences or feel you have to defend your memory of what happened (if only to yourself).

Only you can judge if this might make you feel worse, but if I were you I might consider writing down the things that happened to you, exactly as you remember them. Writing things down, putting them outside your head, gives them a weight and heft. It makes them more real. It gives you a counterpoint to your parents' cheerful revisionism.

Obviously, if you feel this is a bad idea emotionally, don't. But it might help against the gaslighting.

Also, living with parents turns everyone back into the kid they used to be - unpleasant for most people but probably excruciating for you. Spend as much time as possible talking with people who know you the way you want to be known. Not the person you were then but the person who grew out of that. The person who left this sorry childhood behind them. Let people reconfirm the person you are now. Reach out.

And finally, I have no hotline suggestions but perhaps other people do. I think your situation is harsh enough to warrant a call to a helpline, or online therapy, or any other trained person who can help you deal. This is not trivial. You are not oversensitive. This would do a number on anyone's mental health. You deserve help.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:32 PM on February 15 [7 favorites]

Therapy with a GOOD therapist (not a biased one who says forgive just because they're "family"), plus visit these Reddit subforums for support and advice provided by thousands of other people who have been in your shoes:
posted by stormyteal at 12:33 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

As someone who went through a milder version of this, I'd say the absolute best thing you can do for yourself is get out of their house. I left at 18 to go live in a crappy basement apartment as soon as I could...I feel like the goal you should have laser focus on now is moving out. Physical distance will help more than anything else. Honestly (and others may feel differently), there is no other more important thing in the short term. Pinch pennies, consider living with 21 roommates, whatever it might take.

I still think about how my life might have been different if my dad was present and my mom wasn't who she was throughout my teenage years, and your experiences seem worse than mine were. I'm in my fifties now, and have had a generally ok life in many ways...but it still makes me grouchy. My parents both passed away (well, my mom's body is still alive but she's not in there any longer) without any acknowledgement, so just beware that reconciliation is never going to happen.

I had cordial if not a close relationship later in my life with both my parents, but I was always astonished at how their company made me feel like I was that unhappy teenager after a very short while. Over time, you'll grow an extended family who you choose, of friends and loved ones, and they'll be the people who help you put some distance between your now and the time you are angry about now.
posted by maxwelton at 12:45 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]

I think for me, who had a similar experience (mother was amazing and supportive until I turned 16 and afterward became similarly narcissistic and abusive), the best solution was to go no contact because the abuse never stopped well into adulthood. Obviously you can't do that now, so if the abuse has stopped and you have no choice but to be around her, it might be time to focus on healing yourself and differentiating yourself from your parent's abusive behavior rather than getting them to validate your experiences. Narcissists will never admit to anything that threatens their ego. You know it happened, you know the damage is real, validation would absolutely help but it won't completely heal you. Even after I had therapy for the abuse and figured my life out (traveled, got advanced degrees, landed a high paying job in tech) I still found myself suffering from my mother's critical voice (and similar critical voices from others), until I read The Self Under Siege. It taught me how our brains keep us stuck in survival mode that our parents put us in as vulnerable, helpless children and it was the only thing that kept me from dwelling on past abuse and come into my full self. It might help you as well to accept your parents as they are now, because I never got that validation from my mother, but now I don't need it now that she's no longer in my head.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:03 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]

So I had a pretty bad experience with my dad when I was growing up. Physical and emotional abuse, stuff like that. The reason I'm telling you this first is because I'm actually going to try to get you to see things from their perspective a little.

The thing is, as other commenters have said, people don't just wake up one day and decide to be crazy assholes. The behaviors you're talking about are signs of really serious mental illness. It's natural for you to perceive these things as being done to you, but I don't think that's how your mother was seeing things. The first step is to stop framing things as actions she took, because she probably had very little control over herself at the time. So first, as DarlingBri said, be kind to her: as scary as this was for you (and I'm by no means minimizing how scary it must have been), it was probably a lot scarier for her.

Be kind to your dad as well. I'm sure he was just as confused and hurt as you were by stuff like burning family photos. You're blaming him for not handling it better, but there's not really a step-by-step guide to handling a family member's psychotic break. Everyone in that situation just does the best they can. And this veers toward no-win territory here. If he had done something like leaving her and taking you with him, would you then be upset that he'd cut her out of your life?

I think you're being uncharitable to say they now "act like nothing happened". I'm 100% sure they know something happened. There's probably a lot of trauma around it for them. They almost certainly feel a ton of guilt, and sweeping it under the proverbial rug is their way of dealing with it. (I'll note that denial is actually a pretty common response to even comparatively insignificant negative events among people of older generations.) Is that the healthiest or best way to deal with it? Maybe not, but they have to find a way to be able to move forward, just like you do. And your way is not letting you move forward.

What do you expect to happen if they do admit something happened? Because even if they do admit it to you, it's unlikely to change much. As praemunire said, a big cathartic event is unlikely. Even if they somehow read this and sit you down at dinner tonight to acknowledge everything that happened and apologize profusely, it's not going to magically make your troubles disappear. You're still going to have to do the work on yourself, probably including therapy. Your issues are still going to be there, because their denial is only one of the issues.

Circling back to my dad, we have a pretty good relationship these days, but that's not because of anything he did. It's because I spent a lot of time, both in therapy and on my own, thinking about what I actually needed from him to have a relationship going forward. I realized that an apology, or even an acknowledgement, wasn't actually what I needed. What I needed was for him to take interest in me as a person, not just as his child - for him to be the one to call me, for us to talk about things other than family matters, etc. And then, when he was able to provide that, I accepted it. Now, he'll call, and we'll talk about politics, or sports, or whatever, and it works. We haven't talked about the past, and I don't see a reason to bring it up. Talking about it now won't change what happened. All that conversation can do is to spoil the relationship we've built since then. So that's my advice to you: Either on your own or with a therapist, figure out what it is that will allow you to have a relationship with your parents, individually and together, and then see if they can provide it. In the meantime, try to assume positive intent on their part. As you said, they're "now nice", nice enough to let you stay with them. It's not perfect, but they're trying.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:19 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]

I'm going to really disagree with the last poster.

It is really hurtful that your parents are trying to behave like this never happened to you. It is actively harmful of them to negate your lived experience that way, enough that it also is abusive - just a different kind. I'm speaking from experience as well - I was sexually abused as a child (and other ways), and my abuser confessed to my parents, so there was no question that it happened.

But after a brief flurry of also-not-respectful drama, my parents basically reverted to the preferred narrative of a happy childhood. It's a weird, weird place, when you have the acknowledgement that (in my case) you were raped each Christmas, and people are still reminiscing about their great Christmases that year.

People can absolutely be nice and abusive.

But they can't be truly wanting to reconcile and make amends and really understand and support you and the impact on you without acknowledging the reality of your experience. So here you are stuck with nice parents, who are pretending that everything is okay - and you haven't had the opportunity to reconcile with them. I will say that yes, it is possible to have a relationship anyway - I mean I do with my parents, and I love them. But I don't trust them. And I would not live with them unless it was an emergency (a worldwide pandemic does qualify.)

At 27, there is a difference between the you of now and the you of when your mother made your world so awful. You are now an adult, and your parents don't have to hold as much power over you. Our parents can always hurt us! But I agree that you really should just laser-focus on everything you can do to both start to let go of your expectations of them - and move out as soon as possible. A lot of this will get easier when you can choose when to be in touch with them. If you need support in the meantime I think a therapist is a great idea. But definitely work on that moving out thing.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:50 PM on February 15 [40 favorites]

I also had an abusive childhood and there is one particularly horrific incident that still haunts me. The parent in this scenario was high on drugs and I got a lot of "well intentioned" advice to let this go because the parent was in an altered state and thus was not really "themselves." For various reasons, this never resonated with me. However, I say this because I wonder if that's how your parents have framed that period, too.

This is not advice or a justification, just an observation.
posted by sm1tten at 2:34 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]

I think you're being uncharitable to say they now "act like nothing happened". I'm 100% sure they know something happened.

I have seen people act like this. It absolutely does happen. And it is profoundly hurtful. My advice to give up hope for an apology is not based on the equities of the situation, but on a realistic appraisal of how OP's parents are likely to behave, and how best OP can protect himself and heal based on that reality.

Urging charity towards someone who "would kill pets by 'setting them free', cancelled birthdays & holidays, methodically took away things we loved (toys, tv, sweets, games), burnt all trophies I had, burnt childhood photos, isolated us"--or the person who completely failed to protect their children from this person--is its own form of cruelty. If OP wants to and is able to forgive them at some point in some fashion, that's for OP to determine.
posted by praemunire at 2:45 PM on February 15 [24 favorites]

It is utterly reasonable to want validation and acknowledgement from your parents. It is incredibly dangerous to expect it or depend on it, since it is unfortunately pretty unlikely to arrive at all or in your preferred format if it happens. And even if it did arrive perfectly and properly formed, it does not undo the trauma you experienced.

But it also isn't required to obtain that to begin processing the trauma you experienced. The downside is that all that work is on you to do, but the upside is that it's all you and nobody else's participation is integral to the process. They do not have to admit to it or take responsibility for it to be true. Trauma recovery does not hinge on a confession, you can proceed without that. (You may have done some therapy in the past, but if it wasn't specifically using methodologies developed to process/resolve trauma reactions it's not the same. Just talking generally isn't enough.)

If you have any means to begin therapy, please do that. If your access to that is limited, find support groups and resources that will let you get some relief for now because clearly this is building up a lot of internal pressure and you deserve ways to deal with that for the moment until circumstances let you do more.

There may well one day be a time and place for real sustained confrontation on this, but it's not going to be productive to do it while you're living there. Just focus on one foot in front of the other for now, do what you must to get by and get through the pandemic and get to a place where you're able to be alone long enough to think all your thoughts uninfluenced by their constant presence.

There's no one solution to this. Some people who had prolonged childhood disruptions by parental stuff do find a way to have meaningful relationships as adults, but I'd guess that for most who do it's probably not in their 20s or early 30s when you are still trying to build an adult identity and heal that childhood damage. You are right on the threshold of your first big adult identity shift (astrologers like to call it a Saturn Return, but I like to call it Reckoning With Your First Decade As An Adult/Congratulations Your Brain Finally Finished Developing) and it's a doozie - I would not trade you my Late 30s OR Late 40s crises for that one. This is going to need re-grappling (it won't be the last time, whether or not you end up having children, but be aware that caring for children as they grow up can be enormously triggering to people with childhood trauma and you should prepare a toolkit) over the course of your life, too, so the skills you need now are ones you will use again.

It is technically true that something really awful happened to your mother and something really awful happened to you. But you were the child and you were failed by multiple adults and systems who should have taken better care of you and I do not think you owe your parents anything in terms of credit at this time. Maybe later, when you can extend that credit because you want to and not because you're "supposed" to or out of trauma bonding or codependency. I think your own oxygen mask is the important part here first, and what you do about them is for later and may come in numerous stages, including periods of no contact whatsoever, before you reach what feels like a workable relationship for you.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:50 PM on February 15 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the advice and the kind words :)
posted by dan22 at 2:58 PM on February 15 [4 favorites]

I had a similar childhood to yours. I second every comment about moving out, and going low contact with your parents. You need to distance yourself both physically and emotionally before you're able to process your childhood events in a way that's healing.

Are you aware of the concept of CPTSD? It's not yet classified as a disorder, but it's by far the best description of my symptoms I have ever read. I have started reading this book, it's a fantastic resource:
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving

Also, Gabor Maté's work is very recommended. Here, he talks specifically about addiction, but still has incredible insights in the effects of childhood trauma: Gabor Maté: Childhood Trauma Creates Addiction

Good luck!
posted by dark_sider at 3:15 PM on February 15 [5 favorites]

My parents also do a lot of denial and gaslighting around the toxic, abusive childhood I endured. That denial is really re-traumatizing and triggering for me, as I'm sure it is for you. I know in my mother's case - and possibly true for your parents as well - it's primarily driven by guilt. But that doesn't make it okay.

Part of the work we have to do when we harm other people is to deal with our feelings enough so that we can acknowledge and make amends. I had to do this myself, after getting sober nearly a decade ago.

For parents, I think the burden to do this is even more so. It sounds like your mother was very mentally ill, but that doesn't excuse her or your father pretending like they didn't hurt you in that way.

I just don't want you to think you have to let them off the hook for this. I spent a lot of time wondering if I was exaggerating or making things up or making too big a deal of things. That can eb really harmful and makes it harder to move past the trauma.

Please do what you can to find somewhere else to live. I'd really recommend finding a therapist experienced in dealing with childhood trauma. If they seem to focused on forcing you to have a relationship with your parents, then find a different therapist.

Please take care of yourself. I'm sorry that you are going through this.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:22 PM on February 15

I am so sorry you are stuck in this unfortunate situation. Help is available from the national domestic violence helpline on 18007997233. They can give you confidential, non-judgemental support now while you wait for this time to be over.
posted by parmanparman at 3:27 PM on February 15

Mod note: Comment removed -- people manage dealing with bad situations differently please do not minimize other people's experiences of abuse or their coping strategies.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:30 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]

Step one is minimize contact; step two is move out asap. You’ll be able to figure out step three yourself after you finish with step one and two. But I think it’s going to be difficult or impossible to set appropriate boundaries as long as you’re in the same house with them.
posted by PaulVario at 3:32 PM on February 15

I'm sorry. I'm glad that you asked this question and I'm sorry that you are currently stuck in this home. I agree with other posters that your first order of business is figuring out how to physically distance yourself from the house and your folks. You should also try to get therapy, because as much good advice and kind words are in this thread, the type of work that you will probably need to do is best done with a trained and experienced therapist. Emotion focused therapy or trauma focused therapy would be avenues I would explore. Childhood abuse like you describe is very traumatic, and cognitive behavioral therapy and skills-based methods are not actually what people who have experienced this kind of trauma usually need. So when you do look for a therapist, try to find somebody who has experience with and training in trauma focused therapeutic modes.

Physical distance will also help you do the work with your therapist around figuring out what kind of relationships you actually want to have with your parents; whether those relationships are possible; and if not, working through that grief. Your feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration are valid and make total sense given this situation you are in, and processing those emotions could be another good thing to address in therapy. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by k8lin at 4:41 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Hello, I had a childhood involving physical abuse and sexual abuse with radio silence from my parents. I moved out at 18 and had decades of nightmares, and decades of therapy. One estranged parent died recently. I do not think I regret my no contact with him until he passed away.

My mom who is in poor health, always told me to 'move on' but I wonder how I was supposed to move on from something that was never addressed. She is in very close contact with my abuser. I am still wondering whether I should maintain no or low contact with her.

But I know the choice will ultimately by mine, not society's, and my mental health will always come first. I am financially independent now, and can choose to do so. You were an innocent child back then and it breaks my heart that there are so many abused children out there. I do not want to have children but I wish I had the ability to give all the abused, maltreated children out there a safe and healthy place to be in.
posted by thesockpuppet at 5:17 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

What a rotten situation for you. Your Mom had some sort of major psychiatric illness, took years for it to be seen, diagnosed, treated, and now there's massive denial. You were harmed during this period. It's natural to want the person who caused the harm to acknowledge it, your parents are not capable of this right now. It may be useful to consider that it wasn't malice or meanness, but mental illness, but that doesn't mean the harm you experienced isn't real; it's obviously significant and legitimate. And you're stuck in their home, which must be so very difficult.

How does one deal with this? I'm consumed by anger, sadness and frustration Therapy. There are therapists doing work by phone of videoconference during the Pandemic. Pres. Biden may have re-enabled the insurance marketplace and you may be able to get insured even though it's not the usual open enrollment time. And/or consider telling your folks you badly need a therapist and ask them to help financially. There isn't a quick solution; you need assistance to process this and make a plan for how you want to address this with your parents.

Do whatever you can to manage time with them. Hang out separately, watch tv/ streaming shows on a computer, go for walks, etc. Practice self-care by getting sleep, eating properly (avoiding junk food and sugar, getting good nutrition), exercise, some sunshine if possible. I'm so sorry that you have to deal with this, live with them, etc. You deserve healing.
posted by theora55 at 8:54 PM on February 15

The fact that they're pretending that nothing happened is partly generational too — notions of good behavior from their era, as well as coping (dis)abilities learned, probably, from their parents. That you know the difference and can describe it so cogently speaks well of your emotional health. Men, generally speaking, have fewer emotional outlets than women, so your ability to articulate your own emotional burdens stands out for that reason too. Don't ever let anyone tell you what you know to be true is not true. By the same token, you have to make peace with the fact that some people will never admit to certain truths.

I suspect the biggest problem living at home is part of you just keeps waiting for the crazy to come out all over again. For now, be polite, but stay busy and distant. If you share meals, try not to do it every night. As much as possible make a life of your own, share only a little: Keep it at pleasantries. Talk to a therapist if it will help you cope, or vent, or just provide you with some much needed socializing right now.

I agree with the others above who said your main goal is to get out. It's always easier to make sense of the complexities of our families at a distance.
posted by Violet Blue at 9:37 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Hi. I had a textbook bad childhood with a parent who will only vaguely allude to said difficulties. I found these materials helpful and I hope you will too.

Book suggestions:

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents which addresses issues about the parent(s) not acknowledging what they did wrong and how to continue interact with them if you choose to do so.

Running on Empty: Childhood Neglect This book is good at pinpointing what neglectful parents did wrong, why and the effect on your life. It skews towards individuals who have an uneasy feeling from childhood as (as opposed to textbook abuse) but is useful all the same.

YouTube suggestions:

Jerry Wise is a relationship systems therapist (meaning he deals with the family and how they effect you growing up) and has excellent videos on topics such as neglect, narcissism and more. His videos are on the long side but very good.

The Personal Development School which primarily deals with attachment styles (which are primarily due to a difficult childhood) but also has videos on co-dependency and neglect. The website has courses and if you cannot afford said courses, there are discounts and scholarships available.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:05 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This situation definitely does something to your mental health for sure.
Thanks again for all the suggestions :)

Writing down what actually happened definitely helps a lot, I already did that a while ago. Gets it out of your head and on paper which is good. I've made 2 attempts to move away, both failed due to jobs turning out really bad and COVID restrictions. Not easy right now.

I think what makes this situation so hard is that I have this strong childhood bond with them from before. Like they were genuinely awesome parents and there are so many good memories as well. Add the fact that they are really nice now. That's what's "tearing me apart".
posted by dan22 at 3:57 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Add the fact that they are really nice now.

But are they, really, if they're pretending they did no harm in a way that upsets you so deeply? There's a line in The Age of Innocence: "The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!"
posted by praemunire at 7:42 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]

I think what makes this situation so hard is that I have this strong childhood bond with them from before. Like they were genuinely awesome parents and there are so many good memories as well. Add the fact that they are really nice now. That's what's "tearing me apart".

What you're speaking of is loss: the loss of those genuinely awesome parents from the first decade of your life. They may be nice again now, but they'll never again be the parents who didn't seriously drop the ball for a 10-15 year stretch of your life. Because of that, it means that the parents of your first 11 years, who were ONLY awesome, are no more. This is a sad and tragic loss, and it may help you to mourn it as such.

When people experience more concrete losses, e.g. death of loved ones, the rituals of funerals, wakes (or even celebrations in some cultures) etc. are notably public/social for good reason - by being so, they have the effect of cementing the reality of the loss, of providing witness, and literal witnesses, to a big change. It sounds like the wish for an acknowledgment from your parents of what they did serves that function, of making the loss real so that you can fully move on; I agree with the other posters that it sounds like your parents are not capable of providing you that recognition.

Instead of relying on them, you may have to get creative and look for that recognition of loss elsewhere. Perhaps this was already a part of the work you've done on yourself - if so, it may be time to revisit it, and if not, it may be time to ritualize and thereby make real this jarring loss from your childhood -- with people who you can trust to support you on this.
posted by obliterati at 7:56 AM on February 16 [3 favorites]

There is a lot of overlap between our parents' actions, though for different reasons. They also had times when they did good parenting things, and they are also fairly "nice" now. Very few parents are cartoon villains at all times, even the ones who did horrible things like ours did.

I can't answer how you should react because it's different for everyone. Even among myself and my siblings, we have different relationships with our parents. I'm very very low contact with one (years between interactions) and low (and superficial conversation only) contact with the other. My other siblings are all no contact with one parent. One sibling is also no contact with the other, while the others are low contact with that parent. Several have gone to therapy and found it very useful. We are all sad about not having a "typical" parent relationship now or in our childhood, but spending more time with our parents now wouldn't change that. I don't know if this is helpful at all, just know that you're not alone in having parents who did very shitty things, and there are a range of different responses to that, which are all ok.

When you're able to move out, it will do wonders for your mental health. I understand that it's not easy right now, but at some point there will be another opportunity. Secretly preparing to move out (e.g. looking at apartments online, budgeting, maybe even some light packing or making packing lists) might help your mental health in the meantime.
posted by randomnity at 8:27 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Both of these things can be true at the same time:

1. The period during your adolescence terrified you and was detrimental to your development. You deserve compassion and healing.

2. Your mother underwent a period of crisis and tribulation that she couldn't handle, and which spilled out on how she treated her family. She also deserves compassion and healing.
posted by Sublimity at 9:55 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]

I had a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder. She also had paranoid delusions. My life and relationship with her was both loving and horrible until she died in 2013.

I was so angry at her all the time too, especially during high school and college. I wanted her to acknowledge that she had wronged me, even if she did do a lot of good things as a parent. As I grew up, I asked myself why I needed her acknowledgement of all the terrible things she did to me. I found that while maybe it might make me feel better, it didn't mean that I couldn't move on with my life until she admitted her mistakes. In the end, I'm in control of my life. Only I can really make my life better.

She was sick, really sick mentally. That helped me in forgiving her. I didn't go through therapy, although maybe I should? I feel like I washed that negativity from life. I learned from it but then I look forward to my goals, my relationships and my future. It will be harder since you're living with them right now, and with the pandemic going on, it is more difficult to find a job and move out. But you can do it! Keep your eye on yourself and your future and you'll be more than fine.
posted by extramundane at 10:23 AM on February 16 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wanted to say thank you again to everyone :)
It's very reassuring to have answers from so many people that point in the same direction.
This was my first question on MetaFilter and I'm so surprised by the response, incredible.

I will reduce contact and focus on moving out!
Also look into some online therapy for now.
posted by dan22 at 6:03 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]

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