I’ve tried to start this post so many times over the past several months, and failed to say what I needed to. Probably because I’m not sure what I need to say, even still. It is long (2000+ words), and quotes other people’s writing extensively. If that’s not your cuppa, I bid thee farewell for this post. [*note – ableist language used as example of mother’s verbal abuse*]
I’ve been raised to believe that I’m the problem in my mother’s and my relationship. That my possessions are the majority of the clutter. That my laundry is the majority of the laundry in the house. That I eat so often, I cause most of the dirty dishes in the house. I’ve never contributed enough to my mother’s household – either in cleaning, or by monetary means. I’m ungrateful and have an entitlement complex. My passive-aggressivity is not a learned behavior, but rather is my fault and I need to fix it or else. I mismanage finances to upset my mother’s financial success, instead of using money in a responsible manner. My depression and social anxiety can be fixed and/or cured by interacting more with my mother. My difficulty functioning in a room with mismatched dresser knobs or sloppy paint jobs are just examples of me being difficult and procrastinating. See also: my phone anxiety. I need to drop everything (including, quite possibly, other people’s needs whose schedules depend on mine) to help my mother do things. I’m a lazy piece of shit and I just need to get over my issues so I can be more useful for her. My religious views need to be put out of sight to avoid offending people.
My mother is emotionally abusive.
It took me until late 2008 to acknowledge anything my mother had done to me as abusive – one series of conversations, over a number of weeks. Until she moved away in June, I remained convinced that only the conversations we had had over the past 6-7 months qualified as abusive.
I didn’t – it didn’t occur to me that I ought to – take into account the years and years of conversation before that, where she insisted that I was useless, worthless, a drain on her resources, stupid, and so forth. I didn’t take into account the control over my actions, the words I used (negativity was not welcome, coming from me), my hairstyle (especially from about 11-16, I was forced to change my hairdo to suit my mother’s requirements), the silence I maintained over my political views, the coercing behaviour which taught me my body was, by default, vile. I didn’t think about the therapy I didn’t want at 13-14 but was taken to anyway; I didn’t think about her insistence I join a religion I had no need for or interest in (and understand this – I did become a member of this religion for 2 years, though I believe this was partially an escape from home life and to allow myself to build a social network on my own terms). I didn’t realize she was just as bad before – I didn’t know I was the one who had changed.
In August 2008, 4 months before the conversations mentioned above, I began reading feminist blogs. Slowly, at first – Shakesville and Shapely Prose, then, as I discovered the concept of RSS feeds, more blogs were added. I started identifying myself on my own terms. I started thinking in words like “autonomy,” “agency,” “auto-identification,” “acceptance.” I realized that I was attracted to more people than labels like “straight” allowed. This…this…revolution (!) was going on in my brain, and my mother was able to destroy more of my identity than she could before, because I was, for once, forming an identity outside the one she set for me.
A 2006 blog post by belledame222 entitled “Objectification, Continued Further” (ableist language at link) I recently read (hat tip to amandaw on Tumblr) put it thusly:
According to [Patricia] Evans [, author of Controlling People], most abuse happens when a person who’s very disconnected is suddenly confronted with the a glimpse of the reality of the other person as a separate individual, as opposed to the “pretend person” the controller has made up inside his/her head (and thus, an extension of him/herself).
By taking myself away from this “pretend person” my mother saw me as, I became vulnerable to her abuse. This is not to say that I am responsible for my mother’s behaviour towards me – absolutely not! – but it does contextualize why I became more aware of the problematic nature of her actions.
So, when people are manipulative around me – not even directed at me, necessarily – but when people use others to get what they want, while I am in the general vicinity, I react badly. I give the manipulator what ou wants, in the (usually vain) hope that this means ou can stop objectifying people and respect them and their identities. I go back to the silencing of my self, to the person who did what she was told so that she could try to get her mother to stop controlling her for long enough to maintain her own identity. For example, I took my antidepressant for six weeks, even though it exacerbated my anxiety attacks, because if I didn’t “just give it a chance to work,” my mother would blame me (more) for my depression.
In a post about abuse in online spaces, amandaw writes:
[I]t’s not just that you have flash-backs to previous events; it’s the way you return to the state of mind you were in during the previous abuse, the way your patterns of thought go back to how they were then, the way you react to things restored to its previous setting. You might find yourself becoming highly self-critical, questioning your own experience of things, doubting your knowledge of yourself and what happened. You might find the same problems with self-loathing come rushing back. You might be wondering whether you really deserve it. You might start to see yourself as a burden again, highly aware of all the ways you drag other people down.
You can’t just ignore it away. You can’t just Think Positive your way out of it. You can’t just tell yourself that all these thoughts are untrue; no matter how well you understand something intellectually, there is something about the human psyche that still follows those same self-destructive emotional patterns when exposed to the same kind of situation that originally set them in place.
The thing about my mother blaming me for having depression – the really big, damaging thing – I believe her. No matter how much science I read, or how often I read the Wikipedia page on the causes of depression, or how often I am told by people I trust that it is not my fault, I believe what she says about me. I believe that I am a worthless piece of shit, because she says I am. I believe that it is my fault I am depressed, because she says it is. I believe I am the source of the relationship problems between my mother and myself. I believe I am horribly overburdening my mother’s finances by asking for money for things like food and medicinal prescriptions, because of the way she behaves when I ask.
And I know – intellectually, on a relatively deep level – how incredibly messed up that shit is, but that doesn’t matter to the way my brain understands things and how my brain has been trained by my abuser to understand things.
Another quote from amandaw, this time from a Tumblr post on “That learned inability to protect oneself”
But a person who just keeps extending hirself… over and over… getting hurt over and over, and never acting in self-protection … there is something, someone (maybe multiple someones) who destroyed this person’s boundaries, taught hir that acting in protection of oneself is completely beyond the pale (by punishing the person whenever sie does try to act in self-protection, and then telling sie brought that punishment on hirself by acting in self-protection). Someone did this to hir. And it took work, it took time, to create a situation where the person honestly feels that self-protection is never an option.
I mentioned the control my mother had over my hairstyle earlier in the post. I remember fighting her on this once, when I was 14 or 15. I told her that I wore my hair in the style I chose because otherwise, it looked like crap. I was immediately informed that I was not allowed to use such awful language, and that wearing my hair in that tacky style again would lose me various and sundry privileges.
One other time I recall defending myself. I told her [something she did/said, can’t remember what] made me upset. This infuriated her. I was given a long lecture about how she couldn’t “make me” feel anything – my emotions were not her fault. This conversation never sat right with me, and I can’t recall defending myself ever again, but until now I had difficulty expressing exactly what was wrong with it. Essentially, my mother denied the validity of my emotion and her role in it, forcing me into doubt over whether there really was a problem or if I was “just imagining it” or “looking for things to get upset about.”
Yesterday, I was informed via a third party of my mother’s intent to move me in with her, 1000 miles away, if I don’t “shape up.” The definition of “shape up” is unclear, although it may be that I need, according to my mother, to get on antidepressants again, because the last time wasn’t traumatic enough (I received an e-mail from her which indicated she thinks I’m exaggerating the psychiatrist’s behaviour *sigh*). I need to perform well in school – this will, of course, be easy-peasy once I’m cured of depression by those antidepressants. I need to get a job, to show I’m motivated to achieve (the fact that I had a semi-breakdown last semester because I stretched myself too thin – insignificant). I need to work on her house, doing odd jobs until it is perfect and gets sold. With all my free time. You know, the free time which I need to do schoolwork and unwind. I need to organize my belongings (this one infuriates me (wait, so do the others) because my mother is the one who disorganized them in the first place – she packed my things in boxes with neither my permission nor any care to my organizational system). There may be a few other things entailed in this “shaping up” process, but I don’t know what they are.
All of this, forcing me, based on my financial dependence on her, to take medicine whether I want to or not (for the record, I would like medication for the depression and anxiety attacks, but that isn’t being taken into consideration in this ultimatum), to do exactly what she wants me to do exactly the way she wants me to do it, to do well academically (which, if it were so easy as being told to do it and I magically could handle school again? Well, shit, I’d patent that method.). This is nothing less than paternalism and manipulation. It is unfair, abusive, controlling, and absofuckinglutely infuriating.
A few hours after I found out about this scheme of my mother’s, I read the following on Zero at the Bone, the blog of the most excellent Chally:
You’ve got to ask why your sense of control over what’s what is so important as to invalidate that person’s autonomy. Reassuring yourself that the world is a certain way, that those around you are a certain way: it’s just not worth it where as a consequence someone’s being dissolves under them – where they themselves are dissolved. That’s what’s important here, not your relatively unimportant wish to assert your own worldview.
Trust people to identify their own identities.
These words resonate with me, because my mother’s abuse has caused my “being [to dissolve] under [me].” Because I lose my identity to my mother’s controlling behaviour. Because I am hurt, and I am human, and I don’t want to be silent anymore.