Dealing With an Abusive Mother

Reader’s Question

I’m writing in response to the person who asked you for advice regarding their abusive father. I am in the same position, although I am still accepting that I have an abusive parent (this is my Mother). I have decided to detach from the family because of my Mother, but I am still in contact with my Father. I grew up being aware that the family life was not healthy, but my sister and Father have accepted and condoned it. I have told them that I will no longer condone my Mother’s abusive behaviour, but I have no wish to try and persuade them to do the same. Aside from feeling like the outsider of the family, or the black sheep, I feel guilt and sadness towards my Father, as he is a good man, and I feel that he is trapped in the middle.

I have never spoken out until now — I am 29 years of age, and this has come as a huge shock to my family. I decided to step away from family life in order to get some perspective, and have since managed to see her behaviour with a little more clarity. I have changed the relationship completely with my Mother, and now I am unsure as to whether or not I want to see her again. I feel as though I am grieving, because the relationship I have had with her was based on my being quiet/subservient. Now that I have said what I feel, we are no longer talking, and I don’t honestly know if I like/love or respect her.

My main issue is leaving my Father to deal with this. I want to keep in contact with him, but I no longer want a relationship with her. This is putting him into an awful position, and he is getting older now.

Psychologist’s Reply

People with what psychiatry calls “personality disorders” often have children. Their personality disorder features then become part of their parenting behavior and contaminate their relationship with their children. As you have seen, everyone in the family must develop a strategy to deal with the abusive behavior. Your father has decided “til death do us part” and your sister may have her own strategy. Once you’ve taken your position, you must now select your strategy. You can completely detach from Mother, emotionally detach, etc. As we often find in personality disorders, your Mother now feels entitled to punish you for confronting her behavior. If you don’t play the game with a personality disorder, they don’t take the ball and go home — they try to beat you senseless with the ball.

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Folks in your situation take several strategies. The live independently of the family with selective contacts with other family members, they meet nontoxic family members (Dad, sister, etc.) at other places such as your sister’s home or grandparents’, or they might recognize that Mother is who she is and come to the house very emotionally insulated. It’s like working in a prison…you go to work each morning knowing that you may be called names, threatened, etc. — but you know that’s who/how the inmates are and you don’t take that personally. You can read up on personality disorders (antisocial, histrionic, and borderline) and see which behaviors are present in your Mother. Recognize that it’s her personality — not you as a daughter — that creates her abusive behavior. Also recognize that she will never accept responsibility for her abusiveness, will always feel entitled to punish you if you dare question her behavior, and will always expend all her effort to control, manipulate, and abuse others so that she maintains her position as undisputed ruler and controller of the family. Literally, it’s all about her.

You can have a very happy and successful life without the acceptance and even love of your mother. You can’t have a happy and successful life if you remain involved in her manipulations, abuse, and drama.

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