The Mighty Logo

How Childhood Emotional Abuse Led to My Dependency Problems as an Adult

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s note: If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

If you had met my parents, you would probably have liked my mother and thought she was a gentle, loving person — if a bit awkward socially. You might have liked my father if he was having a good day, otherwise you would have found him difficult to talk to. I don’t think you would have guessed the truth about them – that they both treated me so badly as a child, I developed dependency problems that affected my whole life. That’s not an easy thing to say about your own parents. I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to think my mother and father loved me, that any pain I felt at the way they treated me was my fault, that I had a fatal flaw in my character and they were trying to “put me right.”

My mother was very controlling. She used emotional manipulation to force me into a mould of her own making that didn’t suit me. I gave up my dream job because she told me I should take something more secure, with a pension at the end. If I did or said anything that wasn’t what she would have done or said, she told me there was something psychologically wrong with me. I grew up believing I was not capable of looking after myself, and relied on other people to tell me what to do.

I was deeply unhappy. In order to cope, I became two people — the inner one or the “real me” and the outer one, the one that did what I was told. I would watch myself doing what people told me to do, saying what they wanted me to say, as if I were an actor on a stage, playing a part. Unlike an actor, though, there was no time when I could shake off the part and revert to being me. That inner self stayed hidden at all times, too scared to come out.

I thought things would be better when I was older, but doing what I was told had become an ingrained pattern by then which continued as an adult. It didn’t make me happy. I wanted to be free to express my opinions and do some of the things I wanted to do. Because life continued to go wrong, I was convinced my mother had been right about me.

My only hope was that I would one day discover what it was that was wrong with me. In the meantime, I was powerless to bring about any sort of change in my life. I trundled on as best I could, a puppet at the mercy of other people. It felt as if the inner me was shrinking and eventually I thought it was about to be extinguished completely. At that point, I had a choice — fight back, or give up “me” and allow myself to be completely taken over by other people.

It was obvious what I needed to do: I had to stop trying to be the person other people wanted and let the inner me out of its cage, but achieving that was far harder than I ever imagined. I had a breakthrough when I realized things were going wrong because of the way I was treated as a child, not because I was a bad person. I imagined the negative experiences as a layer surrounding me, distorting the way I saw the world, and the way the world saw me. I worked to strip it away, so I could reveal the real me. It took many years, but once achieved, I was rewarded in the best way possible — by meeting a wonderful man and having a relationship my mother had told me I could never have.

Follow this journey on “Moving On.”

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Rively

Originally published: November 2, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home