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.
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
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.
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
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...
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
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.