My Mother is Abusive

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Reader’s Question

I am 17 years old. Ever since I can remember, I have been emotionally and physically abused by my mother. My parents divorced when I was about five. She told me and my brother that if we chose to live with our father, we wouldn’t “have a mother anymore”. When they asked us in court whether our mother ever abused us, I lied. I didn’t realize that I am not supposed to live this way.

She calls me horrible things and, regardless of what I do, she drags me by my hair, throws me on the floor and then kicks and punches me. She insults not only me, but the Catholic Church too. She knows perfectly well that my faith is my dearest thing. She doesn’t like it when I go out but especially when I go to church. She always threatens me when she asks if I ever confess what is happening at home. And I don’t ever.

I am forced to hide almost everything from her — what clothes I wear, when I go to church, what things I have, what people I talk to, and that I go to my father’s. I feel so happy with him and my grandparents. People know that I have difficulties with my mother, but no one knows everything. My brother is studying at university and he probably has no idea how much worse things are now. He never talks to me about it.

I just cannot understand if something is wrong with me. I have straight As, do not go out much, help my mother with money, and I am affectionate to her. Sometimes she is so very attentive and behaves as if I were everything to her. That makes everything worse.

We live in what many people would call poverty. My mother has been ‘almost’ unemployed for about five years now; she doesn’t like going out, doesn’t eat well, sleeps too much, and is often aggressive to others. She trusts no one and always blames me for everything. She doesn’t like almost anything about me. She never congratulates me on anything I achieve, but only insults me for not achieving more.

If I ever mention the times she beat me up, she behaves as if she doesn’t remember, like it never happened. I am scared that she is getting worse every day. I could never contact the authorities for fear she would be forced to suffer a certain sentence. I know she would deserve it for even one time she has beaten me up but it would destroy her. I don’t know what else I can do but wait — until October, when I go to university with my brother. And I feel tired already.

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Two days ago, for the first time in my life, I wanted to die. I am sorry for insulting God in this awful way, but the pain is choking me. I am not the happy person that everyone, including my mother, thinks I am.

Psychologist’s Reply

Please allow me to extend my deepest sympathies for your situation. No one deserves any kind of abuse, be it physical, emotional or verbal. Nothing you’ve ever done or not done warrants this kind of treatment. This is not your fault at all.

Unfortunately, thousands, perhaps even millions, of children experience the kind of abuse that you’ve described. It’s difficult to know the exact number of victims because of the veil of silence you so eloquently described. One of the hallmarks of abuse is that the victim often feels like what happens is their fault and/or they are threatened into silence by the abuser, so they rarely tell others what is going on.

Some of the other dynamics you’ve described are classic symptoms of abuse. For example, you talked about how your mother will abuse you then, if you mention it at a later time, pretend it never happened. She’ll also act as if she believes that you’re horrible on some occasions, while at other times she’ll behave as if you mean everything to her. This is called the “cycle of abuse.” Typically, after the abuse occurs, it is followed by a “honeymoon period” in which the abuser is kind and attentive, sometimes even sorrowful. However, this will not last, and the abuser will move into the next stage, which is called “tension building.” This is the period during which the victim knows that an angry eruption will occur sometime soon, leading to abuse and the start of a new cycle.

It is important for you to realize that your mother may be severely mentally ill. It is a shame that the adults around you haven’t realized the severity of your situation and taken steps to help. It sounds like you’ve handled things the best that you could, but now it’s time to ask for assistance. You don’t have to wait. In order for the abuse to stop, it is imperative that you speak out and let people know what is happening to you. I know it will be difficult but please keep in mind that none of this is your fault. You mentioned your father, grandparents, your brother and friends, so I would start with them. Tell them what is going on and ask for help. It’s possible that they will have good ideas and maybe even a new living situation for you.

If your family and friends do not or cannot help, don’t stop there. Talk to your priest and see what resources he has to offer. If that doesn’t work, look around for child abuse hotlines and/or other community resources for kids in your situation. You may even want to consult a suicide hotline. Hotlines are there to give you someone who can listen and provide information. It is possible that your mother may get into legal trouble, but she may also get the help she so desperately needs.

Please realize that you are not in this alone and that things will get better. It is admirable that you try to help others, especially your mother, but there is no shame in helping yourself too.

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