There are often times in life when we are just trying to put one foot in front of the other. Like I’ve written before, life is HARD. Parenting is HARD. Marriage is HARD. Even harder is understanding that the only way to find happiness is through acceptance and compassion for ourselves.
As an adult, I had the same feelings of sadness and anxiousness that I did from my childhood. I felt disgust that I felt scared about things, angry that things that came easier to others were so hard for me, and self-loathing that I couldn’t just let go of my feelings of sadness about my mother and about my childhood.
Those feelings never went away, despite trying all kinds of therapy and implemented every suggestion and tool that they gave me. I was desperate to figure out why. With each failed attempt I asked myself, “What is wrong with me?” and, “Will I ever get better?”
One day I was asked a question by a therapist that I had never been asked before. I was explaining how badly I felt that nothing I did ever worked. She looked at me and asked, “What if there is nothing wrong with you?” Say what? I was speechless. I had a list the size of my arm of things that were wrong with me. Why in the world would she say that?
the road to healing and compassion
I was told by more than one therapist that happiness is acceptance of who you are. That made as much sense to me as the question I was asked. I was seeking professional help because I wanted things about me to change, so how could I accept them? This was the ultimate catch-22. I needed to accept the parts of me that I disliked to heal the parts of me that I disliked? I couldn’t wrap my mind around that.
No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get that question I was asked out of my mind. There were so many years I tried to fix myself, that it never occurred to me that maybe giving myself permission and compassion to feel however I needed to feel would set me free.
I had endless compassion during my husband’s journey of sobriety. I felt nothing but compassion for my daughter and was her number 1 supporter and advocate. Furthermore, when she felt badly about herself because of her learning issues, I told her that she might learn in a different way, but that doesn’t define who she is a person . I reminded her that who she is as a person is what defines her. I even had compassion for my mother because her own mother had been abusive to her. Why in the world could I have compassion for everyone else, but I couldn’t give myself that same support and understanding?
giving ourselves permission to embrace our emotions
Regardless of what our set of circumstances may be, we all feel sad, anxious, and badly about ourselves from time to time. We have all put pressure on ourselves, and we have all judged ourselves . Whether it is getting mad at our kid and losing our temper, feeling overwhelmed because of all that we’re juggling, or feeling badly that we didn’t do or say the right thing, we are all guilty of not giving ourselves grace, compassion, and forgiveness. We forgive the people we love, but do we forgive ourselves? What if we showed compassion for all parts of ourselves instead of judging ourselves?
I finally discovered the answer to my lifelong question of how to accept myself. What if I defined myself based on who I am as a person, and had compassion for my struggles? What if I understood that it was perfectly understandable for me to feel the way I feel based on my life’s circumstances? Even crazier, what if I recognized that what I went through would affect anyone? What if instead of judging myself and feeling shame, I applauded myself for being the person I am, despite all the terrible things that happened to me?
finding happiness within yourself means acceptance and compassion
It took me awhile to find my way, but I now know that the key to happiness is acceptance and compassion. Just as I told my daughter that she is defined by the person she is, I now understand that labels don’t define me. Who I am as a person is what defines me. I can show acceptance and compassion for my struggles, and by doing so, leave space for healing. I have learned that not only am I okay with who I am, I am proud of who I am, flaws and all. Accepting myself is how I found happiness.
Acceptance means understanding who you are and why you are the way you are. It means understanding your struggles and showing love for ALL parts of yourself. What if the next time we feel shame or badly about ourselves, we ask ourselves how we would feel about someone else who had the same feelings or went through the same circumstances? I’m willing to bet that if it was the same circumstances happening to someone else, most times we would feel empathy and understanding for that person. The only way we can be happy is if we show ourselves acceptance and compassion.
No matter what cards life has dealt us, we all have struggles. Everyday life, and especially life during a pandemic, is a world filled with uncertainty, hardships, and confusion. My hope is that now, more than ever, instead of beating ourselves up, we are able to lift ourselves up. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. If we show ourselves compassion and acceptance, maybe, just maybe, we can be better equipped to handle whatever comes our way.
This post is incredibly hard to write because I am sharing something private and very painful. This is my story of surviving narcissistic emotional and psychological child abuse and stopping the cycle of abuse.
a cautionary tale about surviving emotional and psychological CHILD abuse
I wish I could say that I had a happy childhood, but that would be the furthest thing from the truth. I grew up with a mentally unstable mom who was narcissistic and had Borderline Personality Disorder.
At a very young age my role was to listen to my mother’s marital problems. She and my dad were always arguing (sometimes physically, but most of the time it was screaming at one another). I developed a very codependent relationship with her. It was my job to listen to her problems, support her emotionally, and take care of her. I did not set any boundaries with her, as I felt my well-being and safety were completely contingent on my mother’s well-being. When she was upset or wanted nothing to do with me, I felt worthless.
I wanted nothing more than my mother’s approval, and as a result I would parrot a lot of what my mother said to me and try to emulate her. My father was very resentful of this, and growing up he was angry at me most of the time.
As a result, I grew up feeling that my father didn’t like me or care about me.
At the age of 8, my mother started throwing me out of the house when she felt I misbehaved. The first time this happened it was dark outside, and I walked a block to a nearby park and sat on a bench. I felt helpless, unloved, and discarded. My father came out at some point and told me I could go back inside. The memory of sitting on that bench for the first time will forever be etched in my mind.
This became my mother’s go to way of punishing me. The amount of time I wasn’t allowed inside varied from minutes to many hours. I felt unsafe and incredibly degraded each time I had to leave and then beg to come back inside. It made me view the world as a very scary place. I had nobody to protect me, and I felt very lost and alone. I could not understand why the person who was supposed to look out for me was the one who was hurting me.
My father was complicit and would follow my mom’s instructions.
I always voiced that what was being done to me was wrong, but my mom would tell me that I brought it on myself by not listening to her.
My mother was abused as a child, and in turn, my mother abused me. I vowed that the emotional and psychological cycle of child abuse would stop with me. I vowed to give my child the love and support I never got, and make sure she knew she was loved unconditionally. In order to end the cycle of abuse, I had to face all of the horrors I endured so I would know what to never do to my child. I go into more details about how I stopped the cycle of abuse in my post about parenting.
My parents divorced when I was 24, but as an adult, I still had the belief system that it was my job to make my mother happy. I tried to do everything possible to get her love and approval. As a result, I completely enabled her behavior and set no boundaries. This pattern of codependent behavior was so dysfunctional that I spent two hours of my honeymoon trying to calm my mother down due to her recent breakup. Her feelings were always prioritized over mine, and I felt it was my job to make sure she was okay.
We were the definition of codependency.
Shortly after my parents divorced, I met my husband, Matt, on Jdate. He was the first person who I felt loved me unconditionally. With him I finally felt home. We got engaged a year after we met and married the year after that.
A few years into our marriage we decided to start a family. I got pregnant, and my husband became terrified that I would miscarry.
He started drinking heavily, and once I found out about it, he moved onto pills.
Due to my husband’s battles with substance abuse, I spent the first 4 years of my daughter’s life raising her by myself.
We moved to Atlanta to get a fresh start, but soon after I realized he was abusing drugs again. I reached out to a therapist that specialized in addiction. I didn’t want my child growing up in that kind of environment.
My husband and I went to the therapist together, and for the first time someone besides me told him that he was an addict and needed to get help. It was the wake up call he needed, and he bravely made the decision to seek treatment. My husband checked himself into an outpatient rehab center. He received individual and family counseling and learned heathy coping strategies. He has been clean and sober for the last four years. You can read more about my story of loving an addict here.
I have a wonderful daughter who I love more than life itself.
I have been a Stay-at-Home-Mom since my daughter was born. In school I advocated for my daughter to get a full assessment (and subsequently, an IEP) due to numerous symptoms including inattentive behavior, difficulty processing instructions, and poor short term memory. Brielle was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I decided to homeschool her to give her the support that she needs. My daughter has made huge strides, and I’m so proud to be her mother. I’m proud to say that I kept my promise to end the cycle of abuse.
I went no contact with my mother two years ago. I did not want to subject my daughter to the same pain, confusion, and heartbreak that I went through. Brielle needs to know that love isn’t something that ebbs and flows based on a person’s whim. It is something that is everlasting, and a mother’s love should be unconditional.
My entire childhood was spent feeling my identity was taking care of my mother.
I managed to break free from that, but somewhere along the way I forgot who I was besides being a wife and mother. I wanted to have something that I did which was separate from those two roles and just for me.
Very few people knew about my abuse, and it was typically glossed over because people felt uncomfortable about it. I decided that I wanted to reach out to foundations for abuse survivors and use my love of writing to try and help others. What started out as writing about abuse for monthly newsletters soon turned into my blog.
I always felt that what my mom did to me was wrong. It took adulthood to grasp that what she was doing was emotional child abuse.
Emotional/psychological abuse is often taboo and harder to recognize by others because the scars are internal.
There needs to be more light shined on emotional and psychological child abuse. The lack of openness and education about this made it easier to see my mother as a wacko rather than to see her as abusive. There isn’t enough widespread knowledge about the various cycles of abuse. There are numerous ways abuse can rear its ugly head.
For most of my life, I felt intense shame about what happened to me. I felt scared and anxious all the time. I went to numerous therapists to figure out how to get “fixed.” I tried medication, hypnosis, brainspotting, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Somatic Experiencing.
Different therapists told me that I needed to accept myself to heal and grow. This made no sense to me, and I felt frustrated and confused. How could I accept myself and change at the same time?
One day a lightbulb went off in my head.
I realized that I needed to show compassion to all parts of myself and accept that the damage that was done to me was not my fault. I finally understood that anxiety and fear does not define me. Just as my daughter’s ADHD and SPD do not define her, my anxiety and fears do not define me. I am defined by the person that I am. I am proud of the person that I am. That is something that can never be taken away from me.
I am sharing my story because I want to take my horrific past and use it to support and help others. My hope is that something good can come out of something terrible. It doesn’t make what happened to me any better. I am taking control over my life by speaking about it.
Many cannot relate to what I endured, and I am glad for those who are unable to do so. That said, all of us have gone through some sort of trauma. I want you to know that you aren’t alone. We don’t get to rewrite our past, but we get to decide our present and future.
Emotional and psychological abuse leave scars that only their victims can see. They are there nonetheless. I hope reading my story will encourage you to reach out and tell someone yours. With advocacy and awareness, we can give a voice to those invisible scars.
If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I talk a lot about awareness and acceptance. They are crucial for healing from trauma, and they are crucial to properly advocate for your child. My husband was able to get the help he needed to get sober when he closed the door on denial and chose awareness and acceptance. Awareness and acceptance are also necessary components of a healthy marriage. I had to accept that I had a toxic relationship with my mom. As a result, I had to figure out a way to survive no contact with her.
My mother is many things to me. For a long time, she was the center of my world. I wanted more than anything to get her approval. I believed that somehow she would become the mother I needed if I kept believing and trying.
She did terrible things to me, and as an adult I realized those things were abusive. I understood that my mother is toxic. Yet, I have fond memories of her too. In some ways, the good memories made it harder to accept the truth. I have memories of her singing songs to me, rubbing my stomach when it hurt, and playing games with her.
When Brielle was born, I was determined to be the mother to her that I never had. Still, I hoped my mother could be a part of my life and part of my child’s life. After all, she was my mother, and she was Brielle’s grandmother. Although I hated what she had done to me, I loved her.
the straw that broke the camel’s back
Several times over the course of Brielle’s life my mother got mad at me, and she would stop talking to me. As a result, she would also stop talking to Brielle. I warned her that this couldn’t happen. Brielle deserved consistency, and it wasn’t healthy to have her in and out of Brielle’s life. It was confusing and painful to try to wrap my mind around that when I was a child, and I didn’t want that happening to Brielle.
Two years ago my mother and I got into an argument. On that fateful day she told me she didn’t like me and wanted nothing to do with me. I felt like a knife was plunged into my heart.
I reminded her that Brielle was a child. There was no way she could see Brielle without making some sort of arrangements with me. She refused to communicate with me and sent me an email threatening to sue me for visitation rights. As angry as this made me, it also made me incredibly sad. She would rather take me to court than be cordial with me for the sake of her granddaughter? I knew on a rational level that her behavior was erratic at best, but knowing that my mom would go to such lengths to avoid me made me feel like the problem was me. What was wrong with me that my mother could just throw me away? Why did I have such a toxic relationship with my mom?
my decision to go no contact
After decades of wishing upon a star for my mother to love me, I looked at my innocent child and had to face reality. My mother would never be someone I could count on for emotional support. My mother is toxic and is incapable of unconditional love. If I allowed her in Brielle’s life, it was inevitable that she would do this to Brielle too. I had to figure out a way to survive no contact with my mom.
It was important to remember that even though my mom would eventually reach out to me (this wasn’t my first rodeo with her), this wouldn’t change the fact that my mother is toxic. I defriended her on Facebook and removed her from my email and phone contact list. Brielle knew that her grandmother was constantly in and out of her life. I had to explain to her that that kind of behavior is unacceptable, and I wasn’t going to allow that. One day I might tell her about my horrific childhood, but for now, I want her to know as little as possible. I had my innocence ripped away from me as a child, and I am determined to not have that repeat with my child.
estrangement was my only choice
My mother texted me a year ago. She said she missed me and Brielle. It took every ounce of strength to not respond. I’d like to say that I decided to go no contact with my mom because it is what was best for me. Although that is true, the reason I had the courage to do it was because of Brielle. My toxic relationship with my mom would translate into my daughter having a toxic relationship with my mom too. I am surviving no contact with my mom to spare my daughter the pain of loving someone who cannot love her back.
There are moments of weakness where I think about the fact that my mother is getting older. I feel a wave of sadness that my mother is now a stranger to me. Guilt absolutely creeps in from time to time, along with grief. I am mourning the loss of the mother I had and the loss of never having the mother I needed.
It is a personal decision to go no contact, and everyone is entitled to decide what is best for them. For those of you that have gone no contact with someone who has brought you tremendous pain and suffering, I hope it brings you some comfort to know that I understand how hard it is to make that choice. I also recognize the bravery and strength it takes to do this.
Surviving No Contact
I am proof that surviving no contact is possible. The biggest piece of advice I can give you when making (and continuing) this choice is to ask yourself if this person is capable of change. The definition of insanity is making the same choice over and over again, expecting a different result. I realized that I was acting insane for being on this endless roller coaster with her, and hoping each time that it could change, that she could change.
Going no contact was a hard pill to swallow. I will never have the mother I so needed. It took decades of denial for me to get to a place where I was aware and accepted that she cannot be a mother to me in the real sense of the word. My mother is toxic, and having her in my life would only bring pain to me and to my daughter. I will never allow anyone to do that to my child, even if the perpetrator is my own mother. To give my daughter the childhood that she deserves, I had to close the door on the person who destroyed mine.
I have had to accept a lot of hard truths in my life. Sometimes it took some time for me to get there, and other times I looked awareness and acceptance straight in the eyes. What I’ve learned is that you can’t reach the light at the end of the tunnel unless you are willing to walk through darkness. I never claimed that acceptance and going no contact is easy. However, like Robert Frost said, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”