Healing Old Wounds

Personal experience has taught me that partnership has the profound power to heal old wounds. But as true as I’ve found that to be, it’s always been hard for me to explain why (without quoting parts of Titanic, I’m lost). So today’s anonymous post holds a particularly special place in my heart. Because it’s about allowing yourself to trust someone implicitly and finding power in that trust to overcome past trauma. Which, even if your personal history doesn’t match that of the author’s, I think there’s a little (or maybe a lot) of that exchange in every marriage. Trust begets trust, and together—we heal.

—Maddie for Maternity Leave

In my first year of marriage, I found out I had a problem. It was the first time I’d ever gotten into arguments with my husband that I couldn’t easily back away from by, say, hanging up the phone or taking a shower. These were big arguments that needed a lot of time for discussion and vulnerability. There was my problem, though. Showing any kind of vulnerability terrified me, but not in some kind of conscious way where a buzzer went off in my head that he was getting too close to a secret. It was more like there was this quiet need to avoid difficult subjects and if that failed and an argument arose, I found myself being defensive to the point of attack. I don’t think I realized how bad things were until we were coming home from church one day and I confessed to him that I felt I could argue more positively. He said something to the effect of, “Yeah, you can be a real ninja when you feel threatened,” and I don’t know why but I asked a question that changed my life. I asked him, “Do you ever feel abused by me?”

He said no. I thought about why I had even asked that. I was not good at staying on a positive track and I knew that but I had never cursed at him or hit him or even screamed at him. I just made nasty, hurtful comments like all people. Right? But then, why did I think that all people made those kinds of comments and why did I feel the need to suddenly connect that with feelings of abuse? Then something came out of my mouth that never had before.

“I learned this from my mom.”

At first, it was something small like a whisper. A brand new feeling was growing inside me that my relationship with my mom was not right. I pushed the feelings down because they pertained to things that happened years ago. It didn’t feel fair to dredge up emotions when she wasn’t doing those things anymore. To be honest, though, that thought was a cop out. I didn’t want those memories to surface because there was something really painful lurking inside them. They emerged anyway, first in a trickle, and then in a deluge.

When I was a teenager, I had a recurring nightmare. In the earliest morning hours when my mind was swimming along just below the surface of sleep, I built myself a castle. In this castle, there were lots of gates, barriers, and huge wooden doors. I was alone there at first, in an empty purple foyer, but slowly I heard the rattling of armor, shaking the floors and chandelier, and the suit of black, smoky armor materialized in front of me. I ran down a long hallway where I could pull closed a black, iron gate and keep going to the end where I could shut and barricade the doors. Then I ran up a flight of stairs and turned into a first room where a potion waited for me on a long wooden table. The suit of armor was always behind me with a heavy, giant axe and a mace. I took the potion and ran through a door to an adjoining room where I locked the door behind me and closed two more on the other side of the large bedroom I found myself in. Every time in this nightmare, I pushed all the furniture in the room in front of the door and I collapsed on the floor, begging the suit of armor to leave me alone. I heard clawing and scratching on the other side of the doors until the axe began to break through. Finally, I resorted to the mysterious potion I still had in my hand, which would transform me, giving me enormous black-feathered wings. I opened a window and woke up.

At the time, I had lots of nightmares and I usually chalked them up to my love of fantasy books like Lord of the Rings and to my love of anime and video games, which also featured a lot of these themes. I even thought it could have been because of my first boyfriend who had taken to cursing at me and telling me that I was a terrible, selfish person. Actually, that last theory was not entirely untrue but it wasn’t the entire truth either.

The entire truth didn’t solidify in my mind until two years into my marriage when I was getting better at saying only the kinds of things to my husband that could build up both him and our relationship. I was feeling safe with him and I was even kind of excited in a way to share my vulnerabilities with him because I gave him a newly discovered level of trust. He was proving all the voices in my head wrong—all the ones that told me he was going to devastate me and that I needed to strike first. All those times we got into arguments, he had never said anything to make me feel insecure or threatened so I was forced in the best possible way to reframe my thoughts about what I could expect from him. Bitter words were no longer the norm for me. My husband’s constant control, compassion, and tender love for me freed me to expect good things from people and to trust that the people who love me will actually care enough for me to try not to hurt me.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Even now as I write that, it seems like such a given. This freedom is extremely new to me, though, and it came with a price. One night, I was lying in bed, unable to sleep, and I had this sudden realization—this world-crushing, heart-shattering epiphany—that the nightmare I described earlier was nothing but a reenactment of the real life showdowns I had with my mom so many times as a teenager.

For some reason that is in no way clear to me, my mom went through a phase where she came home from work angry about something and she antagonized me. She would push me and prod me, and my reaction was to back away, while still retaliating. I was a smart-mouthed brat, I will admit, but I clearly remember that in every argument, when I felt like I was about to burst and say something that I really couldn’t take back—something that would make me into a person I didn’t want to be—I would try to get away. I would tell her to leave me alone because I just needed time to calm down and I would back myself into my room or the bathroom and try to close and lock the door. Once I couldn’t get the door closed in time and I finally burst and said something awful, something I can’t even remember, but she was through the door in an instant, slapping me and dragging me into the hallway by my hair. Several times, I could make it into my room and lock the door but I would hear her picking the lock with a hanger. I would just cry in my bed because I had nowhere else to go. Sometimes she would sit on me, yell, and call me a bitch until, in her mind, we were done. Afterward, I would feel broken and worthless, not because it seemed she thought so, but because I had let her make me into someone I wasn’t—I let her reach inside me and pull out something monstrous.

So how could I not have understood that I was being abused? How did it take me years to piece it together? Well, for one, I think to some extent that everything that happens to you when you’re young seems normal as long as it’s consistent. I never knew what my mom was going to be like when I walked in the door from school or she came home from work. Not ever. It became more extreme when I was a teenager and young adult but overall, it wasn’t unlike her. Two, human beings are incredibly complex and we have lots of coping mechanisms, one of which is the power of repression. I truly think I didn’t realize I was being abused until well into my married, off-on-my-own life because it would have been too much pain and too much struggle to deal with my mom every day. Now that I have someone who is a source of safety for me and I also don’t have to deal with my mom in an immediate sense, I can adequately deal with this fact without losing my mind and tearing my family apart.

I have distance from it, which, in some ways, has made things unexpectedly complicated. My mom has not, over the years that my husband has been in my life, been so much abusive as controlling and manipulative. She hasn’t truly changed the things about herself that hurt me so much but I have changed tremendously in my ability to deal with her. Ever since I recognized her dark side and called it by its name, I’m able to section her off from areas of my life where she will be able to criticize me or make herself more present. Sometimes this means I have to make power plays like choosing not to invite her to events in my life I know she can’t appreciate, or not answering her calls when I’m already having a bad day. Other times, I get to be more positive by offering to share certain experiences I know she can’t ruin. If somehow my relationship with or opinion of her comes up, I choose not to talk about it with anyone but my husband because right now, he’s really the only person I trust to be on my side. Unfortunately, there are times when cutting her off also means that I have to leave out other members of my immediate family like my dad, brother, or grandma who lives with them. I also find myself sometimes letting my past with her cloud my relationship with those people who knew about it and didn’t do anything. I’m as fair as I feel I can afford to be, and I make my peace with that.

I can’t tell you that my wonderful marriage has healed me completely. My faithful partner is someone I can depend on, though he’s definitely not perfect, and that is so powerful for someone like me. Just trusting one person this much has given me back so much of my power, yet I still look for proof that what happened back then wasn’t my fault. I still question that all the time. I can clearly look at it and say, “No, there’s no way in hell that I would ever, ever do that to my child, no matter what she said,” but a daughter instinctively wants to trust her mom—to give her the benefit of the doubt. All I know for certain is that I feel so incredibly lucky and blessed to have the gift of a patient partner who, when I expressed all these things to him, said, “I’ve known all along. Why did you think I hated visiting her so much? I can’t stand the way she treats you.” All I could do was tip my head into his chest and breathe in deeply.

Photo by: Emily Takes Photos

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  • Wow…awesome post. Thanks for sharing your story. I can so very much relate. Actually, *are* we related???

    I’m so happy you found a trustworthy partner with whom you can heal. I have too, and it’s amazing. Like you, I have to learn to erase those old tapes. I wake up some mornings moody and defensive, but then I realize I don’t need to be that way anymore. It’s amazing what becomes engrained in our psyche. It’s tough to re-shape templates, but it’s worth it.

    Best of luck to you.

  • Anon

    Wow – I actually do relate a lot to this post. It describes a lot of my relationship with my stepmom (she raised me most of my life). I do feel more guilt though that I was a brat all the time and I did say those nasty hurtful things that I don´t mean. We actually had a fight like that the week before the wedding. I was doing exactly that – trying to get away from her so I could calm down because I didn´t want to be involved in this crazy fight. I went out running in like 100 degree heat and when I came back she kept on going and said horrible mean things to me. Of course I fought back too.

    My relationship with my husband has evolved a lot, but in our pre marriage counseling the subject of the way we fight came up a lot for him. It still bothers him even though I think I have improved a lot. We came from totally different backgrounds in this aspect. At first he would NEVER fight with me and I told him that. Then he fought with me about everything! I pick fights with him when Im upset about something else in my life because he is the one I feel comfortable with. That is the thing I have tried to work on the most. Not taking my moodiness out on him. I also ask him to recognize my moodiness and not respond back escalating the fight.

    Its really important to recognize our communication and fighting styles that most likely come from our families. That is the only way to make things better and not repeat the past. Its constant self evaluation I think.

    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • This hits home hard for me. While my exact situation differed somewhat in the details I found myself reading along and nodding to so many of the thoughts and emotions here.

    Thank you for sharing. I also wanted to say: it wasn’t your fault. Even if you didn’t react in a way that you’re proud of, you did not create the situation and were only doing the best you could with the cards you’d been dealt. I know getting to the point of truly believing that is a long road, but sometimes (for me at least) some outside validation of that fact can help.

  • Lynn

    It took me a really long time to come to the realization that I was emotionally and sexually abused by a former long-time boyfriend. I just…didn’t see it that way. It was what it was. It took a counseling session with a friend and therapist, seeing the looks of horror on their face as I was just matter-of-factly stating what he had done, for me to get a clue that perhaps that wasn’t the way a relationship was supposed to work. I knew all about physical abuse, and he knew that was a line he couldn’t cross, but I didn’t know that there were other ways to be abused. Which in the immediate aftermath made it all worse because I felt so stupid for not having recognized what was going on. How could I have not?

    Opening up about that to the PA was incredibly difficult. I could easily acknowledge the childhood abuse, but that relationship…letting him in on what it had been, what it had done to me, the protections I had created for myself…was painful. It is an on-going process, and I am getting better. He is the one I tell things now because I know I don’t have to be afraid that it’s later going to be used against me.

  • LJM

    Thank you so much for this posting. Like the other commenters, I found myself relating and nodding my head to this article. I had similar issues with my parents being physically and emotionally abusive throughout my childhood. I stopped talking to my father about 8 years ago after he harassed me and threatened to find me, but cutting things off with my mom was much more difficult. You see, like you, there are so many things blocked out and weren’t related as abuse until you start remembering. It’s been only been the last 2-3 years that I’ve realized a lot of my behavior has been maladaptive, learning from the ways my mom treated me.

    My fiance knows about the abuse, but not in detail. It’s hard for me to relate it to him, since a lot of it is still coming back in pieces (also makes me go to pieces at times). In spite of that, he has been extremely supportive and understanding about it all. Luckily, I’ve been able to recognize when my behavior mirrors my past, but I still harbor a lot of anger towards the rest of my family, especially those who watched it go by and did nothing. I’ve spent and still do spend a lot of time trying to actively change my behavior, but over time, it doesn’t feel like so much work anymore – just more mindfulness.

  • Does your mom like your husband? Although never physically abusive, my mom’s way of trying to control me now is by hating my husband and accusing him of always “being hostile.” She constantly claims that I don’t know the whole story and am only hearing his side (his side is just that he doesn’t like the way she treats me, and that she’s always been pretty rude to him) — like she has some secret she’s “protecting” me from.

    It’s been really difficult for me to distance myself from the relationship with my mom enough that I feel okay, and sometimes she still really manages to hurt me or make me doubt all of my life choices and commitments. As much as I know in my head that the things she says aren’t true (such as, a few months before my wedding, she told me she doubted my marriage would last much more than 6 months and I was making a terrible mistake) it’s so hard to turn off that little girl part of you that just wants to instinctively trust your mom.

    For me, I think I also inherited my mom’s depression, and when that strikes, I see myself thinking and wanting to act a lot like she did, towards my husband. I think I’ve finally come to terms with seeing a shrink to help me sort out all of my insecurities and defense mechanisms that are certainly holding me back from many aspects and relationships in my life.

  • KB

    Wow – just, wow. This post is so brave and layered, and I just want to give you massive props (and hugs!) for sharing something so intimate and important. It would be easy to say, “I was abused” and let that stand for itself, but you really delve into the complexities of your relationship and how it affected you then and now. Thank you for the thought-provoking honesty.

  • anonthistime

    This is really timely for me, as I’m working my way through some mother issues of my own. I mean I’m really just having the realization that the reason I was such a bad fighter (?) for a long time is that I couldn’t just argue about the topic, I had to tear my partner down. It’s all this crazy superiority complex thing that I definitely learned from my mother. Anyway, I don’t need to work my personal issues out here–I’ve actually been thinking about therapy for this very specific mother-past-issues thing. What you say about trust, with your partner, I just… my head is wrapping around it; I’m chewing on the idea. My partner and I have worked really hard to get to a place where we can explain and identify where our frustrations come from. It’s pretty rad. Trust is weird–I guess I didn’t identify it as something that might have been lacking, but, hmmm. It’s so much to think about. “Just trusting one person this much has given me back so much of my power…” Thisthisthis. That statement is really full of hope for me. I like it.

    Wonderful post. Thank you very much!

  • AS

    “Well, for one, I think to some extent that everything that happens to you when you’re young seems normal as long as it’s consistent.”

    That stood out to me among all the rest because it’s so true and so eloquently put.

    • Daynya

      Me TOO. I think that was amazingly insightful.

    • anonymous (2nd below)

      Ditto, ditto. It’s true not just in cases of abuse. For me, it took me over 25 years to understand that not everyone had the experiences with death that I did as a preteen, and so if daily life seemed hard for me it wasn’t because I was somehow inadequate to daily life; it was because my daily life was NOT NORMAL due to all the loss I’d experienced. Sounds so stupidly simple, but it took me decades to see it. Such a relief to realize that I was different because my experiences had been different!

      As adults, I think we forget how self-referenced life is for children (totally normal for that stage of development), and so we don’t realize that we can carry with us a very limited perspective on our childhood experiences.

  • KC

    This post is amazing. “These were big arguments that needed a lot of time for discussion and vulnerability. There was my problem, though. Showing any kind of vulnerability terrified me…”

    I relate to this so much. I am currently in therapy for dealing with this issue, because similarly, I am recognizing these traits in myself and it is effecting my relationship with my husband. My aversion to showing vulnerability has even manifested to an aversion to having sex— the ultimate vulnerability…completely giving yourself to another person without any armor.

    But, like you, I recognize that there are reasons in my past (my parents) that are contributing to this. Particularly because my husband is so sensitive, caring, compassionate, and stable. He is wonderful! But my past relationship with my parents is holding me back from emotionally and physically connecting with my husband.

    My husband is informed and with me every step of the way, and I really appreciate that and the openness is helping me move forward. It is a long process, but my Cognitive Behavioral Therapist is helping me work towards positive changes.

    Best of luck to the author and others who related to the post. And best of luck to me, too.

    • Catherine B

      Oh your last line just makes me want to give you a big internet hug. Best of luck to you too!

  • Daynya

    This was fantastic, thank you. I had a really rough time with my mom growing up as well. It has taken a lot of time, and therapy, and finally just me being completely (we’re talking BRUTAL honesty here) upfront with her about how she makes me feel…and more time. But now, we have the best relationship we’ve ever had. I completely have had the talk with my husband, earlier in our relationship, about how I fight like this because of my mom. And he got it. He still gets it. He’s more reluctant to forgive than I am though. I know that I am so mean, and so volatile when we fight because fighting is terrifying to me. It is a serious threat to my perceived security, and I have always associated it with the hatred and disgust for my existence that I saw coming out of my mother. It broke my heart to realize this, and to share it with him. But now, we have a more solid foundation to build from. This is also a paralyzing fear of why I don’t know if we should have children. I can say all day long that I would never treat a child like that, but I bet my mother said that as well.

    • Whitney

      I have the same fear about kids. I am absolutely terrified of treating my kids how my mom treated me. I mean, I really do think my mom did the best she could do. But intentions aren’t enough, are they? So for now, no kids for me. Not sure it’s worth the risk, because they can’t advocate for themselves.

      • Cass

        I have the same fear, on so many different levels. While my intentions are good in that I hope that I would never ever do the same things my father did to me growing up, I am absolutely 100% terrified that I will become what I fear the most. Being destructive and abusive with anger to the point of tearing the seams of my family apart, which have never really recovered. Moving forward with my partner, the question of whether good intentions are enough is something that is weighing heavy on my heart and spirit.

      • Anon

        I’m a little late on this, but my mom was abused as a child. She said that one time when my oldest sister was young (toddler aged?) my mom got really mad with her and threw her on a bed. My sister wasn’t hurt, but my mom said that she was so surprised (and frightened) at her own reaction. From that moment on, she said she was so on top of her own feelings when dealing with us, and she never crossed that line again.

        She wasn’t a perfect parent by any means, and we are at a point where we can sometimes talk about her shortcomings (I usually only bring up the ones that still tend to pop up and hurt me sometimes). There is enough distance from that time in our relationship that we both forgive each other. ALWAYS when we have a conversation like this, I always thank her for working so hard to break the cycle of abuse (she and my father both had alcoholic dads). It makes it much easier for me as a mom to do things for my son that she wasn’t so good at with me, and then hopefully my son will be able to be an even better parent than I am.

        I’m not saying it’s easy to have children after you suffered abuse from your parents. It takes self-control, but it is TOTALLY POSSIBLE!!!

    • Anonymous

      I have that same fear about having children, as well, and for a long time I felt like I didn’t even want to run that risk. Now that I’m healing, though, and things are getting better all the time, I’m starting to feel like maybe I can really help other children who went through this. Whether that’s through fostering or mentoring somehow, I’m starting to feel more open to the idea of kids being a part of our family.

      That’s the weird, mostly positive result of all this for me: being so hurt myself has made me so protective of and sensitive to others in my life. Like I was listening to an old episode of This American Life called Show Me the Way where this boy runs away from home to live with his favorite author, Piers Anthony, and the whole time I’m thinking, “You can come live with me!” but then they read an excerpt at the end that just broke my heart. It’s from his book, Fractal Mode:

      “One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all costs or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we’re not that way from perversity. And we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.”

      And I just want to be there to make sure the kid who fits that description has a confidant like I had in my high school English teacher. Damn it, I want it to not happen anymore.

      • Daynya

        Wow. That passage was AMAZING, and so applicable! I’m the same way. I’ve gone from thinking, oh I’ll never ever want kids because I’m afraid of what it would be like for them, and me! Then I turned into this adult person, who (if I do say so myself) has a huuuge heart, and the most compassion, and I want to take care of anyone who has ever been hurt by anything. As I have healed and gone through this work, it has definitely helped me see that it might not turn out badly. When we thought maybe having kids wasn’t right for us, I assumed I would need to seek out some sort of foster/mentor role, otherwise that part of me will never feel fulfilled. I completely get what you are saying. Now I’m going to look up that book. Thank you for sharing that.

  • anonymous

    Oh, wow… This is by far the best thing I’ve ever read here. You’ve articulated something that I didn’t know how to say. I’m only three months into marriage, but I’m experiencing the same revelations:

    “He was proving all the voices in my head wrong…My husband’s constant control, compassion, and tender love for me freed me to expect good things from people and to trust…”

    So true. Until I developed a relationship with my husband, I had no idea it was even possible. My amazing therapist calls this “emotionally-corrective experiences,” learning that what we learned before was wrong. My situation was different, but this new learning has been an absolute revelation that is already affecting so many other parts of my life.

    I loved this, too:

    “Just trusting one person this much has given me back so much of my power.” It’s affecting everything in my life–I even find myself imaging what re-doing past job interviews would be like with this new-found poise and confidence. Can’t wait for the next interview. Somehow, being loved and welcomed without reservation has given me the power to do almost anything. The gratitude is overwhelming–my eyes are blurry as I type this, and my greatest wish is that every person experiences this at least once in their lives.

  • Heather G

    As someone who has made a career out of studying attachment and interpersonal relationships (psychologist), this warms my heart. As KB said above, you really illustrated how your relationship with your mom can impact your current relationship. That is so helpful for people to read. Everyone knows that childhood trauma affects relationships, but it’s not always so clear *how* that happens. Brave of you to write and beautifully written.

  • Kayla

    This post was wise, brave, and beautiful. Thank you.

    Learning how to fight respectfully is hard stuff. It’s shocking how many bad habits I’ve gathered from my parents and exes. Wanting to be a good partner to my fiance is finally making me change my ways.

    I just realized this week that I sound angry when I’m sad. Sure. My dad respected anger, but he mocked sadness. My fiance wouldn’t do that. Wow. May we all be lucky enough to find someone who makes us safe enough to sound the way we feel.

  • Sara

    {{I would tell her to leave me alone because I just needed time to calm down and I would back myself into my room or the bathroom and try to close and lock the door. Once I couldn’t get the door closed in time and I finally burst and said something awful, something I can’t even remember, but she was through the door in an instant, slapping me and dragging me into the hallway by my hair. }}

    This describe my fights with my mother from junior high til I moved out for good. She would follow me around the house screaming at me for whatever slight I had committed that day as I tried to find a door to put between us repeating ‘I’m done, I don’t want to talk, you win’. And then either your situation would happen or (most likely) she’d burst into tears, and I’d be the jerk for making my mom cry.

    To a lesser degree, I relate. My mother and I are on decent terms now, and once I moved out completely, we’ve stopped fighting to a degree. But I hope your husband helps you to heal. Its amazing how having a postive bug in your ear instead of a negative one completely changes your life.

    I’m not in a serious relationship – and some days I think this is the reason – but my best friend and her mom put me back together during summers in college. I came home that first summer, high on self esteem with new friends, a few pounds heavier from crappy dorm food, and she immediately dug in. My friend and her mom would repeat over and over that I didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that, that I was beautiful, that I didn’t need to lose weight, that I was smart, funny etc. She helped me set boundaries – we don’t go shopping together since it ends in someone’s tears. I set limits on how much time I can spend at the house. I didn’t show her any of my bridesmaid dresses because I knew she’s pick some flaws out that would get in my head. She tells me when I’m starting to get controlling or sniping at people because she knows I don’t want to turn out like her. I can’t thank her or her mom enough. They saved me.

  • Thank you. Just, thank you for posting this.

  • Edelweiss

    You touched on one truth I blame myself for. That cutting my mom off would mean cutting off other members of my family. I haven’t been able to cut her off because I can’t bring myself to cut off my brother and nieces and nephews. But I have an immense amount of guilt for dragging my fiance into this world. And I realize that if we have kids I will have to cut her off and lose the rest of my family as a result.

    I’ve carried a lot of guilt thinking it was my own weakness that’s let this continue into adulthood. Hearing an experience that’s common in some ways helps continue to open my eyes. I can’t afford therapy so I’m working through a lot of this on my own. Reading your story and the comments above helps continue my understanding that I’m not to blame.

    Thank you.

    • anonymous

      If you are in/ near a major city, try Jewish Family Services. They offer a sliding fee scale and I was able to get some absolutely fantastic therapy for $30 an hour. Obviously I don’t know if that would be too much for you, but if not, try it.

      For me, that was $10 less than their usual lowest-fee, but I literally couldn’t afford more and I was so serious and determined in my entrance interview that they could see I was willing to do the work, and so they took me on. I guess I’m trying to say: go explore it and see if they will work with you. If you are absolutely serious about changing your life, they will likely do whatever it takes to make it work for you.

    • i obviously don’t know your situation, but your comment on “if we have kids” reminded me of this: one of the things i am most proud of my mother for is cutting her father out of our lives. in part because it was most likely a good decision (i truly don’t know him at all, so i don’t feel justified saying more than “most likely” – but based on their abusive relationship, it seems clear, and i trust my mother’s judgement), but primarily because of the strength it must have taken to do. i also think it is interesting that she did not cut him entirely out of *her* life in the process (although their relationship is minimal).

  • Liz

    Oh man, oh man. This brought up a lot of memories. I remember locking myself in the bathroom, too, to get away from my mother’s belt – until she called through the door that she was taking the dog to be put to sleep unless I unlocked it.

    Once we get past the cultural narrative of mother-as-ultimate-nurturing-loving-constant, there’s a lot of crazy going on in a lot of our pasts. I’m so glad you’re able to start letting this go and be happy.

    Strength –

    • Daynya

      Wow. What a horrendously awful thing to threaten someone with. That just breaks my heart, I’m so sorry.

  • What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing.

  • A.P.

    WOW. Do we have the same mother?! Internet HUGS to you!! And as usual, APW has exactly the kind of post that speaks to people about an issue not many talk about openly.

    It’s interesting to read through the comments to see how people have reacted differently to growing up in a house with this kind of abuse. My reaction to my mother constantly screaming horrible, vile things at me and the physical abuse was to try to tune it out but I vowed to never let my words hurt others like her words had hurt me. And yes, words from my mother hurt way more than any belt or broom ever could. But this kind of a past has turned into a different kind of “fighting issue” for me and my partner. Whenever I get pushed to that point where I am SO upset, I just shut down and walk away from the fight because I’m terrified of turning into my mother and saying horrible things I don’t mean out of anger. I worry that even if I try to express what I’m angry about, it’ll just into a word vomit (yea, that is a Mean Girls reference.) and I’ll end up saying baseless things that will wound him and our relationship irreversibly. Because that is all I know. And this isn’t just with my partner, this goes for all my relationships.

    Unfortunately, as a broke grad student living off of student loans I can’t exactly afford therapy but I know this is something I will need to work through with a professional before my partner and I can decide about having children. I absolutely agree with Anon that a loving and supporting partner does so much to heal these past wounds.

    • CW

      Most universities have free counselling services for students, faculty and staff. Might be worth checking out.

  • L

    This is such a wonderfully profound post. I can’t even begin to say how much I related to the whole thing. My partner and I have been going through a similar process with our “fighting styles”. It has included a lot of, “Oooooh, that’s why I do that!” moments.

    And this sentence:
    Afterward, I would feel broken and worthless, not because it seemed she thought so, but because I had let her make me into someone I wasn’t—I let her reach inside me and pull out something monstrous.

    I cannot tell you how important this sentence is to me. My family defined me by those moments that my Dad forced out of me and I don’t know if they will ever see me any differently. It is incredibly painful and frustrating.

  • Mely

    Control and manipulation are also abuse. They are emotional abuse, a part of her larger pattern of abuse that included the things that she did to you as a teenager. The steps you’ve taken to heal yourself are excellent! I hope you continue gaining insight, protecting yourself during vulnerable times, and setting firm boundaries with your mom. Thank you for having the courage to write about this with such clarity and depth!

  • SM

    The impact that my childhood abuse (physical and emotional) has had on my relationship with my husband breaks my heart sometimes. Any time I react in a way that is linked to my abuse–flinching at sudden movements, emotionally shutting down midway through arguments that aren’t even half serious because a particular phrase gets to me–it just kills my husband, and then I feel tremendous guilt for how he is affected by my reactions. It’s been years–we’re talking at least ten–since I reacted to anyone else in these ways, but it happens much more around him; I think it’s because, around others, I’m always guarded in some ways, but my guard is down with him and that allows genuine reactions that would otherwise be immediately suppressed. I hope that over time, these reactions will fade, but in the meantime the only thing I can tell him is that it’s not him, it’s my history–and the irony of the turnaround on the classic “it’s not you, it’s your abuser” is not lost on me! I think there is a special place in the afterlife for we who have survived abuse and come out still standing, and an even better one for the people who hold us up when we need it.

    • KC

      Well said. I relate to your words so much, I feel like they could be my own.

  • britt

    Thank you so much for sharing this and for asking that life changing question.

    My husband and I have been married just over a month and my mother and sister currently live with is. I had similar experiences with my mother growing up but have been hesitant to call it abuse. My sister has grown to be very much like our mother so I am noe being manipulated by them both on a regular basis. My family makes us crazy but I guess it’s time I finally delve into the abusive past of my relationship with mother with him. I’m so glad you have someone who is helping you to heal!

  • anon

    I was abused throughout childhood, and it took me years to crawl my way out of the mental morass of self-hate. Last night, my partner admitted aloud for the very first time that he was molested by a family member for years as a small child.

    I am still exhaling a long sigh of relief, and staring down a road of more therapy, but the first step is the hardest and now we’ve cleared it. I just wanted to say: I feel I can relate to both you and your spouse, and I am incredibly thankful for this website.