A Story of Lifelong Abuse by a Narcissistic Parent — And the Path to Freedom
Here is the life story of one of our readers whose abuser has been, and remains, her mother. As we know, abusers / sociopaths / narcissists can effect their evil in other arenas besides a marriage. We greatly appreciate this lady’s willingness to share her story, heartache, and path to freedom with us in the hope that others will be helped. Many thanks to her.
I understand that your ministry primarily addresses spousal abuse, but I would like to highlight another group of abuse victims that is harmed by church teaching: victims of parental abuse.
A brief summary: I grew up as the fifth of six kids. My mom, who I later came to believe is narcissistic, favored some of her children over others. Those who were favored never saw my mom’s ugly side. Those who were unfavored could do nothing right. In an abusive family, no one is really loved and no one grows up whole. My mother was so skilled at covert abuse and “rewriting” reality that siblings were pitted against each other and we never saw her hand pulling the strings. I was very empathetic, compliant, and obedient, and I wanted to “show Christ” to my unsaved family. This made me very guiltable and I became a secondary favorite. My mom called me “The Christian” and “The Caring One” who could be counted on to be helpful. I had no idea that we weren’t all loved equality. When I discovered that we hadn’t all been loved, I reached out to my other unfavored sisters and we became friends for a number of years. However, that was an illusion. The relationships had been too damaged in our childhood to survive.
My status changed when at the age of 28 I got engaged to my husband. My mom tried to establish control over us, she tried to break us up, and when I resisted, she lied about me and turned my whole family against me. Never again could I ever please her. I thought at first that my mom was just having trouble letting go, but this was not a normal struggle between a mom and her adult daughter. My mom wanted total control. For 20+ years I tried to reconcile with her without submitting completely to her control (the same sort of control abusive spouses try to exert over their victims), but it was impossible.
My mom refused to help me plan my wedding when I asked but she told my husband’s family that I refused to let her help. She made life so stressful that I ended up having had an “immediate family only” wedding, not the wedding I had always dreamed of, in which she wore black and she muttered under her breath all through the ceremony. Our pastor said that in all his 30 years of ministry, he had never encountered a family like mine.
Shortly after our wedding my mom called me “a daughter from hell — the worst daughter a mother could have” and “the worst Christian she had ever seen.” She criticized how my husband and I spent our time together after we got married, and how we managed our finances — even where we placed our furniture in our home. One of the last times I talked to her, I called her to tell her that I loved her and always had, thinking that maybe she just didn’t know I loved her. In a rage, she began listing all the good things that she had done for me all my life and all the rotten ways in which I had betrayed and abandoned her. I had done no such thing. When she began to speak against my husband, who had never done her any harm, I told her, “Don’t you dare speak against my husband.” I hung up after several minutes of hearing her rant over and over again in an absolute rage, “I dare, I dare, I dare. Oh, I dare speak against your husband. I dare, I dare, I dare.” But a few months later she sent me a card as if nothing had happened.
Through the years if I withdrew from the abuse my mother would send me a sweet card or one of my siblings would contact me with dripping guilt: “God wouldn’t want you to be bitter.” “We ARE family after all.” Or “Mom is having medical tests for a health problem that could be serious. . .” I had once heard my Mom deliberately planning to write a letter to one of my outcast sisters making my mom’s broken leg sound as if it might be cancer. . .”to see if she loves me enough to respond.” Because of this, I distrusted vague un-named health problems. Health problems were especially a no-win situation because if I responded by reaching out to her (as I normally would have), I was allowing myself to be drawn back into abuse. If I didn’t, I was “the terrible daughter who didn’t care.” It took me years to realize that these were all common abuse tactics to draw a victim back in.
For many years, I was very confused and hurting, trying to reconcile with my family but finding it torturous. I went to the church for advice, and I confided in Christian mentors, but their advice was that my mother was wounded, she was doing the best she could, they were sure she actually loved me, I needed to love and forgive her more, and I needed to “honor my parents.” “Honoring parents” appeared to mean that I should do whatever my parents wanted me to do, which would have meant submitting to being told what to do, what to think, what to feel, and what to believe. I struggled with the 4th Commandment until I fully understood that an adult is not dishonoring if she doesn’t submit to her parents’ abuse. The relationship changes when a child becomes an adult. Because of this advice, like many victims, I stayed in the abuse far longer than I would have otherwise.
In the church, there is a strong bias against an adult child who speaks about an abusive parent, especially a mother. An article about unloved daughters from Psychology Today says that:
. . .the adult child who cuts her mother out of her life is judged on the spot, labeled as ungrateful, irrational, immature, impetuous, or acting out. The myths of motherhood are largely responsible for this cultural stance, those (false) truisms that tell us that all mothers are loving, that mothering is instinctual, and that maternal love is unconditional. These myths — combined with the Fourth Commandment — make the daughter the responsible party.
I finally went No Contact when I heard that my mom had said that she considered all of my efforts to reconcile to be a “mere drop in a teacup” and she would never forgive me, no matter what I did. I had been learning about narcissistic abuse over the years and working to free myself from it, but her statement gave me the final release: If nothing I do will change anything then I can stop trying. Going No Contact was filled with anguish for me. I did it only when all other efforts had failed and to protect myself, my husband, and my son. As the Psychology Today article so accurately describes:
Maternal divorce [No Contact] is a last-ditch effort to salvage some normalcy in a daughter’s life. It is usually preceded by years of effort to try fix things, either on her own or with a therapist’s help. Because a daughter never divorces just her mother — she inevitably will lose other family members, including siblings, aunts, uncles, and even her father, as people take sides — it is emotionally highly fraught and very painful. Ironically, maternal divorce is usually difficult for these daughters precisely because the decision has to draw on self-love and esteem which are usually in short supply. Sometimes, after going no-contact, a daughter will try again, a phenomenon I call “going back to the well.” Alas, unless the mother is willing to go into therapy to thrash it out, it rarely works. Maternal divorce is filled with anguish for the daughter.
In going No Contact with my mom, I also lost my family. As is usual in narcissistic abuse, sides are taken. My Dad died when my son was an infant, but he had supported my Mom and rejected me. Some of my siblings also completely supported my mother, seeing her as loving and kind, a victim of my abandonment. I was unable to reconcile with them because my mom re-interpreted everything for them, painting my actions, words, and motives as bad. My unfavored siblings were so hungry for her love and approval that when I walked away, they turned on me. I had dared to write publicly about abuse. I broke the Code of Silence. “We are, after all, family,” they said. It all became so insane that I decided to go No Contact with all of my family. It broke my heart. It’s not easy giving up all family. It means losing — and grieving — a thousand things that family “is supposed to be and do.” However, abuse was too damaging to endure.
The years since I have gone No Contact are years in which I am continuing to work towards recovery from my mom and family’s abuse. In these years, I am trying to rebuild everything I had lost, including my identity, my self-esteem, my sense of safety, and to erect boundaries that were never allowed to form in childhood. Sometimes I think that I have been very strong because I kept fighting for freedom and never gave in or gave up. Other times I see how much damage has been done in my life and I think I will never fully heal. Last year my husband and I moved our own family several hours away as a final break with my family. Once we were moved, we changed all our contact information. This has helped us feel more secure and peaceful. However, I still have nightmares. Emotional recovery will take time.
Recovery is made harder by the church’s teaching about abuse. Too often the church sides with abusers against the victims. Your messages about the church and abuse are needed. They give victims — of all sorts of abuse — the tools needed to overcome the constant messages that the victim is to blame for the abuse.
(This is the link to the Psychology Today article quoted in this post.)