The Mighty Logo

The Moment I Realized I Was Starting to Break Free From My Abusive Parent

It’s 31 degrees outside. I’m sitting in my car with the air conditioning on. I am hoping to cool down, to stop the tears, to figure out what just happened. All I want to do is go watch my daughter swim. My daughter was so excited to swim today.

She ruined that. Like she ruined many things for me, but maybe this time something is different…

The “she” is my mother. They say there is no love as pure as a mother’s love. Whoever made that shit up has never met a mother who’s narcissistic. Her love was damaging. Forever damaging. She enjoyed telling me when I was a younger,”I’m your mother, I will always love you, but that doesn’t mean I have to like you.” Over the course of 35 years, she has proven this statement true time and time again.

I must say, I love my mother. I love her for all she is, all she could be and despite of all her faults. She is my mother and I know deep down she loves me to. But it is a different love. A narcissistic love. She is selfish and focused only on how things affect her. She is stuck on how things make her feel. She ignores other people, she stomps on them, laughs at them and degrades them. She has convinced herself that all she does is care for others and gets nothing in return. The harsh reality is we all care for her, walk on eggshells for her and do what we can to please her.

I’ve spent 35 years being a punching bag. I am an emotional escape for someone with major rage and aggression issues. My life revolves around several concepts: What will she say? What will she do? Will it make her happy? How will she react to my life’s decisions? I’ve been raised never to question her, and most certainly never to challenge her. Questions and challenges of her authority or the control she has over me leads to violence, yelling, degradation and eventually me begging for forgiveness just to make the altercation stop. Yes, even at 35.

Our relationship is very sad. It appears, to an outsider, that we are close. We talk almost every day. But that is because the guilt that she lays on me if I avoid one phone call is too much to bare. She gives me things, only to hold it over my head and say I couldn’t survive financially, physically or emotionally without her. I see her a few times a week, because she watches my children for a few hours. Before you say, “Aw, that’s so nice,” it’s not. It’s a way for her to criticize my parenting, to remind me I need her and to enforce that I cannot breathe a breath of life without her. It creates an anxiety so deep I can’t explain it. Every time I pick up my boys I ask the same questions. “How did Nana make you feel today?” “Was Nana happy or sad?” “What do you feel right now.”

This has been my life. I insist to my therapist that I’m “OK” with the relationship, and I just block her out. The relationship is what it is, and it does not upset me anymore. However, as I close in on 36 and progress in my third pregnancy, something is happening. It’s strange, it’s empowering and it may ruin my life as I’ve known it. The more I think about it, that may be a good thing.

Today when I stood up for myself I immediately regretted it. Her brown eyes stared cold. She waited a moment for me to apologize. I didn’t. I watched her eyes slowly glaze over. Immediately I thought, “Oh shit, why oh why did you say that?” As her eyes glazed over they filled with rage. I watched them fill with anger, like a water filling into a balloon about to burst. Just then I was no longer the 35 -year-old picking up her two kids from Nana’s. I was 8. I was petrified. I wondered if she’d hit me or just come at me verbally. I tried to stay strong and stare her right in the eye and I did, but only for so long. My fear grew, because it’s all I know. Fear. I looked away. I lost.

My moment of power gone. Like an animal in the wild I looked down from the dominant leader of the pack. Now it was her turn. Her turn to once again show me she will always be better. I don’t know what she said. I started to wonder to my “nowhere place.” I created it as a child. When I go to my “nowhere place,” she yells, screams, throws, hits and I reply on autopilot. I’ve been trained in how to calm her down, be subservient, apologize, take it, play dead, don’t fight back. When I’m here, I don’t know what she’s saying, why she’s yelling or hitting. I hide in the deep recess if my mind. My self-preservation kicks in. I am a robot. I am in survival mode.

But this time, as I went to my “nowhere place,” something was different. I got half way there and stopped. I looked up, I looked right at her and said, “I don’t laugh at your insecurities, why do you think it’s OK to laugh at mine?” Her eyes widened, she laughed at me (again), she sarcastically and angrily apologized. She told me to “get over it,” and stormed out of the room.

Did I just win? Did I just lose? What just happened?

I quickly but as casually as I could packed my husband and kids in my car. We started to drive to swimming lessons. My husband asked what happened (he was in the other room). I shook my head and said, “Nothing, it’s not worth it.” I blinked and a tear rolled down my face. I took a deep breath and wiped it away, but another came. Then another, and another. I don’t cry. I’ve been trained that weak people cry, selfish people cry. Just then something came over me. A power so strong I could not control it. I screamed, “I can’t do this anymore!” and burst into tears. I couldn’t see the road, I couldn’t breathe. I am no stranger to anxiety, and this was not anxiety. This was something different. I nearly crashed the car. I was bawling. My husband shocked and taken by surprise asked me to pull over and let him drive. I couldn’t. I had to focus, I had to drive to regain control.

And now I’m here. In a cold car, with the air conditioning on. Wondering what the fuck just happened. Something is changing. It is scary, but maybe… just maybe… it’s time. Maybe, I’m starting to break free. I think this is what some call “hope.”

Photo by Oliver Johnson on Unsplash

Conversations 7