Hi, I’m 33 years old, and I’m in an abusive relationship.
With my mom.
And while I cannot tell you how I got here — how we got here — somehow I became a victim.
The victim of her abuse.
Of course, I know what you’re thinking: What did she say? What did she do? What made her so abusive? And as an adult, why would you put up with this?
And to be honest, those are fair questions because my mother never struck me. My mother never hit me, or touched me inappropriately.
We had both good years and good times together, and yet here I am. Here we are.
But that’s the confusing reality of abuse: Abusers don’t hit you — or berate you — on day one. Instead, they love you. They woo you. They lull you into a false sense of security, and that’s what my mother did.
I didn’t regard her as an “abuser” or label her behavior as “abusive” for many years. But hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight is crystal fucking clear, and in hindsight, I know I was abused.
I have been abused most of my life.
My mother’s “advances” started subtly. The early days weren’t marked by violent outbursts or hurled insults but with with head games and emotional manipulation.
Mommy’s crying. Mommy’s sad. You don’t want to make Mommy sad, do you? Help Mommy. Hug Mommy. Love Mommy. Stay with Mommy.
Of course, that doesn’t sound bad. She doesn’t sound so bad, and in and of itself, it wasn’t. She wasn’t. But before long, things changed. My mother’s abusive tactics changed, and while manipulation still played a big part, she also assumed the role of a stereotypical abuser, controlling me with anger, hate, resentment, hostility, and rage, and I became the recipient of her vitriol and disgust.
She cursed me, mocked me, insulted me, and did everything in her power to break me down, and it worked. I believed each and every hateful every word she repeated. I was stupid and fat. I was needy and dramatic. I was a total fuck-up.
And then she sheltered me. She isolated me. She shut me in, which is to say this child — this young girl who was about to become a woman — wasn’t allowed to go out. She wasn’t allowed to just hang out with friends, and things like parties, dances, dinner dates, and sleepovers were strictly forbidden. In short, I had little to no social life, and it remained that way for years.
I didn’t break free until my 18th birthday, when I got out and never looked back.
But even then I didn’t understand what my mother had done. I knew I hated her, but I didn’t realize I had been abused until I broke down in my therapist’s office last Wednesday.
“This needs to stop. She needs to stop. It’s like I’m in an abusive relationship, an abusive relationship with my 63-year-old mom.”
And that’s when it hit me, I was.
I still am.
Psychological abuse can look like a lot of things. Some psychologically and emotionally abusive individuals isolate and reject their victims while others belittle, humiliate, and demean them. Some abusers terrorize their victims, with excessive teasing, screaming, cursing, raging, and/or verbal threats, and others abandon them. They refuse to acknowledge them and even their most human needs. And some abusers exploit their victims.
They judge them, blame them, and shame them into an unreasonable position. They make them engage in absurd, inappropriate, and (at times) unlawful acts.
But since the signs of psychological abuse aren’t obvious, since this type of abuse does not draw blood or leave bruises, many victims of said abuse do not realize they are being abused until it is too late.
Many victims, like myself, fight this invisible war for years, not only with their abuser but in their own mind as well — because psychological and emotional abuse is more than criticism or demeaning words. It is cold. It is cruel. It is degrading and controlling, and it has a lasting impact on its victims. It can affect your confidence, your self-image, your friendships, your future relationships, and your entire perspective.
It can permanently impact your mental health and worldview. In fact, my abusive relationship with my mother forced me to lose my power and my voice early on. Even today, I am a people-pleaser with little to no social skills.
Because I grew up knowing nothing but emotional abuse, I fell in love with abuser. I married a man who emotionally and physically abused me. Who hit me, kicked me, punched me, and choked me. And both relationships caused me such trauma I developed anxiety and PTSD.
Both issues I still struggle with daily. I’ll never be able to ‘get over it’.
But what then can we do? How can we come together as survivors and help others escape? How can we break the cycle?
Well, first, we can talk about it. We can speak out against it. We can support those still suffering by believing them, listening to them, and giving them tools they need to get out (and to get help).
And most importantly, we can call these behaviors what they are: abuse. Straight up.
Because yes, psychological manipulation, emotional degradation, neglect, humiliation, and isolation are forms of abuse.
As for me, the woman who just realized she is the ongoing victim of abuse, well, I’m getting professional help. I’m going to therapy to confront the pain, work through the trauma, and regain my voice.
I’m learning how to stand up for myself and establish boundaries which honor and respect myself. I’m learning how to believe in myself, how to feel like I’m enough, and I’m doing everything in my power to break free.
I love my mother — the woman she was, not the abuser she became — but I can no longer maintain a relationship with her because I love myself enough to break up with toxic people.
Is that difficult? Yes, god yes. It is disappointing, gut-wrenching, and painful. Plus, I feel guilty. (My mother is also a product of her upbringing; she has her own baggage and her own abusive history. She is mentally unstable. She is sick. She is ill.) But I cannot change who she is; I can only change myself.
And the same goes for you, dear reader.
You, the sweet person on the other side of this screen saying “Oh my god, that’s me. That’s my story. That’s how I feel.”
If you are struggling — if you are facing your own trauma and psychologically abusive war — know things can get better. You can get better. With time, guidance, patience, love, and care, you will get better.
You can make it too.
You are worth it too.