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Doc@DrIrene.com

Interactive: Mommy Dearest

 Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here Mommy Dearest

October 30, 2003

Dear Dr. Irene,

I cannot remember much before the age of 18 (I'm in my 30's). I have been having unpleasant flashbacks to my childhood. The first happened about a case in which a small child died because of a means of punishment that had been used on me- it was very shocking to remember my fear and the truly out of control anger on my mother's part. I have early  memories (age 5 or 6) of her taking away things that she knew I liked, although generally only if they were not her idea. I remember clearly the helpless feeling of going shopping for clothes with her, standing there unable to say, "I like this," because if she doesn't say it first, I wouldn't get it.

She thinks she was teaching me not to beg. I think she taught me some kind of sick dependence. I agree. She taught you to be a victim. I was a girl, and I liked clothes, and I have always blamed myself for being so weak. Please don't blame yourself for being "weak." A parent's job is to protect and care for the child, not to overpower the child, tantalize the child, intimidate the child... Was this appropriate behavior on her part? Absolutely not! It was her money, so of course she had the final say, but still...... Yes, but still: a child is not an object. A child does not belong to the parent. A good parent encourages the child to (responsibly) exercise his or her free will. Like, "You prefer the green dress over the blue one? They are both nice. Even though I like the blue one better, you like the green one. So we'll get the green one!"

Among the many flashbacks that I have been having, one stands out: when I brought a friend home my first year in high school. She did something horrible and humiliating to punish me in front of her and the rest of the neighborhood. I don't want you to print what I said because I don't want to be identified, but after that incident, I was no longer able to face this girl, and, I'm sure I was the talk of the town. Humiliation is NEVER OK. Never!  And the incident I deleted at the writer's request is HUGE. Very, very sadistic and perverted, and from the bottom of my heart, I am very, very sorry that you had to experience such a sick mother...

Even though she knew I was bringing that girl over, from what she said, she was working so hard, she resented me having time to socialize!  Seems mom forgot that socialization is one of the primary "jobs" young adults this age need to master. Of course, she didn't do anything like that when either of the two friends she had picked out for me came over. Of course. So, is this normal? Thought I know you already know the answer to that: Absolutely not! She treated you as though you were her possession. You are not and never were anybody's possession. Did she have a right to do that? Well, each of us has the right to do whatever we do, but just because we choose to do something does not make it right.  More plainly, as far as parenting goes, your mom was wrong to be as controlling as she was. 

To rub salt in the wound, I was always the one blamed and punished for the consequences of her actions. Years later we were talking about something, and she said, "Why didn't your friends tell you that?" I wanted to ask how she thought I would have been able to have anyone over to the house after the humiliating incident she inflicted. But instead, I just felt spineless because I hadn't been able to just laugh off that kind of degradation - and ask for more of it by bringing anyone else over. Please have a little empathy for yourself. A child needs his or her parents to survive. You had to do what you had to do simply to get by and survive. You were not "spineless." You were a child, with very normal reactions, placed in an impossible situation. One of the normal reactions any child in your place could have had was to feel compelled to do what you did. You felt appropriately humiliated while you also knew you had few choices. So you complied. And you felt "spineless." I suppose you could have run away, or married someone to get away from her, or poisoned her, whatever. And had you done any of those things, you still would have felt "something." Maybe you would have labeled yourself "angry" or "wicked" or "bad" or whatever. The point is, you were a young person in an impossible situation, and you had no good choices. Please try to see that now as you likely find yourself feeling "spineless" in response to some situations today.

Also, I have started having sort of sense memories of what it was like to be expected to know what she wanted done but to not be able to ask. if I did, I was yelled at for not being independent enough, and told that she wasn't the one who made all the decisions (as if!). Damned if you do and damned if you don't. What I remember mainly is the bewilderment of being at least yelled at, if not physically punished, no matter what I did. If I did the right thing, I did it wrong. If I did the wrong thing, I should have known to do the right thing. Unable to ask, unable not to ask. Now, I see that there was no way out, but at the time I thought it was all my fault for being so stupid and slow.

Obviously, these were not isolated incidents, or I would not be sending this email. I can tell from your website that she was probably not acting very much like a good parent. (My father wasn't either).

I can't seem to make myself pick up the phone because if I go to a therapist and they confirm what she thought, that I was an impossible, useless and worthless but over-confident monster dressed up as a little girl- then she wins. I know you can't say too much based on so little information, but could you give me some idea what to expect? I think I will be more likely to pick up the phone if I have a better idea of what I would be getting myself into. Thanks, Uncertain

Dear Uncertain,

You are beginning to heal from a hellish past. I am glad you are recalling some of these things because it means you are beginning to heal. You are ready to heal. Abused children often have little recollection of their difficult past. Our bodies help us cope with what we can't cope with by blocking out horrific pain until we're in a time and place where we can handle it better. Children in particular often don't remember things until adulthood. Sometimes they never remember. That's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Your mother abused you physically, verbally and emotionally. She humiliated you. She imposed her will on you. She tried to control you and break your will... Such horrific treatment will rob even an adult of self-esteem and self-confidence. Even an adult, who has so many more coping resources than a child, will begin to second-guess themselves and think they are the problem! You see that phenomenon over and over as you read through this site and hear from people who started out OK, but lost their confidence after time with their abuser. When humiliation and abuse are imposed on a child, the effects are more widespread and often feel incredibly frightening to the individual.

That your mother saw you as an "impossible, useless, worthless, over-confident monster dressed up as a little girl" is dead wrong. Dead wrong!

That you were seen as this little monster is your mother's problem. That you are afraid her view may be true is your problem, and it is a wonderful and healthy thing that you are considering exploring this. And, yes, of course it is scary because you are facing your worse fears. But that's all they are: fears. Fears are not Truth. The truth is that you are a perfectly imperfect human being with good stuff and not-so-good stuff, and that all that you are - the good and the "bad" - is very OK and very deserving of love: your own love as well as the love of others.  

YOU are the one who thinks you may be all this awfulness that your mom instilled in you. All I can say is t

Please make that phone call. Get some help with this. Find a therapist you feel comfortable with and who has some experience with childhood abuse/PTSD. The therapist's job is to help you make sense of what's happened to you and help you change your view of yourself.

There is no fault in experiencing yourself as "spineless." What were your choices? You probably were an "overconfident little monster." And thank God you were! That feisty, appropriately angry part of you is part of the strength that got you through your childhood Hell!

As far as "worthless" and "useless," most likely that's your mom's contempt being dumped on you. Perhaps you'll find that she has a problem with her own (and anybody else's) sensitivity, vulnerability, soft side. Growing up like that, it's likely that you, as an adult, have a problem with your own vulnerability as well. It's likely you don't accept that it's perfectly human and OK to make (even dumb) mistakes, to get hurt, to be afraid, etc...

Therapy will help you accept yourSelf. Yes, it can be scary - because you don't know what you'll find. What you'll find is not nearly as awful as what you are afraid you'll find. There is nothing to be afraid of - but fear itself...

My very warmest regards, Dr. Irene  

Ps: For the next month, I'll be checking the board about once a week. Please feel free to talk about your fears and reservations.

Readers: Has anybody experienced some of these issues? Can you understand where Uncertain is coming from? Can you help her? Please press "Submit" just once and wait.