Understanding My Abusive Parents Didn’t Heal Me

Dec 26th, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Christina's Blog

by Christina Enevoldsen

After I watched the movie, “The Joy Luck Club”, I felt hollow and sad. The feelings haunted me for days. In the story, four daughters struggle against their emotionally abusive mothers until they discover their mothers’ difficult and tragic pasts. Through understanding, the daughters begin to appreciate their mothers’ trials and their relationships are restored.

I thought that was my solution—not only with my parents, but with myself over my guilt for being angry with my parents. I tried to resolve the sexual abuse from my father and neglect from my mother by understanding them and their childhoods. I told myself, “My parents didn’t know any better” and “At least I had it better than they did.”

I validated their pain, but by doing so, I invalidated my pain. I identified with their feelings and experiences more than I identified with my own. While I allowed their childhoods to excuse their abusive behavior, I remained unreconciled to myself.

I’ve heard it said that people are products of their pasts. I understand that the way my parents where treated by their own families handicapped them. But to say they are “products” of their pasts as though they are inanimate objects who don’t have any choices about what their pasts “make” of them is an excuse. Yes, they were influenced. There are sick things they were taught to view as normal and things that they weren’t equipped to give me because of their own neglect, but they are responsible for their actions, no matter their past.

Even if they were robots who were at the mercy of their programming, all that type of reasoning did was to keep me trapped in my pain. Now that I’m being honest with myself, it’s true that my dad never threw me through a window like his dad did to him, but the things he did to me were equally destructive. Even to say “equally destructive” isn’t really relevant. I’ll never know everything my parents lived through as children and maybe they did have it worse than I did, but so what? It doesn’t matter who was hurt more. Comparisons don’t heal anybody.

In “The Joy Luck Club”, the daughters discover that their mothers have good motives for their mistreatment—the mothers are attempting to spare their children the harm they experienced. I tried to find relief and “make peace with the past” by looking for ways I might have misunderstood my abuse—they couldn’t have meant to hurt me. But those things couldn’t have been done unintentionally or without forethought. My dad didn’t use me as a sex toy and allow other men to rape me for my benefit. I don’t think any amount of digging into his history will explain away that kind of behavior.

Instead of admitting that my parents didn’t love me, I tried to find some other explanation. Attempting to understand my abusers was my way of separating from some of the pain. It was a lie to “protect” myself from really seeing the awful betrayal that I suffered. And their present treatment shows me more clearly just how little they care about my feelings.

A few years ago, the patterns from the past were repeating and weakening my relationship with my mom. Out of an effort to be closer, I confronted my mom about the ways she hurt me. Instead of hearing me out, she threw everything back at me. She sarcastically apologized for not being perfect and insisted that I needed to honor her. She didn’t care anything about my pain, only in defending herself.

My father still denies sexually abusing me and lets everyone believe I’m the liar. There is no remorse or admission of wrong-doing. Both of them continue to accuse me and lay all the blame at my feet. Neither of them have my best interests at heart now any more than they did while I was growing up. The way they treat me now is the way they’ve always treated me.

It really doesn’t matter if my parents intentionally hurt me or not; the bottom line is that their neglect and abuse damaged me. Whatever my parents’ histories, whatever their motives, they still hurt me and I still have the effects to deal with. As long as I looked for reasons and answers in my abusers, I remained damaged. In the process of searching for the solution with them, I missed finding the solution within me. I had to recognize that no matter how the wounds occurred, they did occur but healing is in my hands. I’ve made peace with the past, but it’s only come through facing the truth—and the truth can’t be found in them, but I did find it in me.

Now that you’ve heard my experience and thoughts about this, I’d love to hear yours. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to partake in the discussion.

Related Posts:
The Truth About Blame
Forgetting About Abuse: Who Does That Really Serve?
My Parents Are Dead (To Me)
Life-Saving Anger
What About Forgiveness?

Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and four grandchildren.

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  1. I am in the process of coming to this realization myself. It is both incredibly painful and incredibly freeing. I do not try to erase the reality of what my parents and other abusers went through. I feel sympathy and compassion for the children they were and grieve the loss of the adults they chose never to become. But I do not allow any of those feelings to make me turn away from the child that I was, and the adult I am fighting every single day to become. I choose to see what they grew up in as an explanation, but I am choosing to stop seeing it as an excuse. I am not perfect, and I know that I do not do a perfect job with the children whose lives I am blessed to be a part of, but I would never be ok with hurting a child the way I was hurt, or intentionally damaging them in any way. And I try as hard as I can to minimize how my past impacts them. And if I hold myself to that standard, I have to hold the adults in my like to the same standard- and I have to face the fact that they failed.

  2. In my view, this is one of the most critical understandings of healing. In validating my parents by my constant attempts to understand them and make excuses for them I didn’t realize that by making excuses for them I invalidated myself. I was invalidating myself exactly the same way that they had invalidated me, by putting myself second after them. They came first. Their thoughts, wishes, beliefs, all of it. They were most important and I was never important. I had to stop looking at them through the false grid that they put in place for me in the first place, and see the truth through new eyes. Understanding them never contributed to my healing process at all.
    Great post Christina,
    Hugs, Darlene

  3. Wow. My dad didn’t sexually abuse me (that I can recall) but I had him sent to jail for messing with my son and my mum was emotionally, physically and verbally abusive towards me. As I was growing up I was regularly told stories about her hideous upbringing and these were always shared with such upset and anger I was essentially programmed to feel sorry for her and to in effect downplay what I was going through…almost a preemptive effort from her to make me feel as if I had no right to feel hurt. I’ve tried many times to communicate about it all and how I feel but she gets very angry, sarcastic and turns it all around – which actually hurts more…so I don’t bother and instead choose to manage my boundaries with her carefully. I hear that I haven’t honored her effort just as much as she tells me she’s proud of me. All I know for sure is that she is so damaged by her past that I can never expect her to ‘be’ like other mums and her presence always feels like a sacrifice of myself. I just try not to set her off. As for my father…gutted doesn’t begin to cover it. He was a very good mate – tough person to live with but as an adult we had a great friendship and in a way I relied on him as a father and friend. He betrayed me and hurt my son and my family. I no longer give a shit about how tough ‘they had it’ as you say it doesn’t excuse their bad behavior but mostly by buying into that I dishonor myself. It’s taken a lot of counseling to be honest with myself and truly recognize that I too did ‘have it tough’ and no amount of feeling sorry for them helps me OR heals me.

  4. Jen,
    Brilliant comment! I especially like, ” I feel sympathy and compassion for the children they were and grieve the loss of the adults they chose never to become. But I do not allow any of those feelings to make me turn away from the child that I was, and the adult I am fighting every single day to become.” That’s how I feel too. It’s truly sad that they suffered so much as children, but I was so busy feeling bad for them that I didn’t feel bad for me. Now, I can feel bad for them and for me, but I had to put them on the back burner so I could deal with my feelings. Until I separated them, their feelings competed with mine and theirs won.

    Thank you so much for sharing!
    Christina

  5. Darlene,
    EXACTLY! They always came first! We learned from the abuse that their needs and desires trumped ours. They taught us to take care of them and their needs first and we brought that lesson into adulthood and continued to make them first. Wow, such a great point–thanks for highlighting that!
    Hugs,
    Christina

    Note to readers: Darlene’s site emergingfrombroken.com has lots of insights like this one and is an excellent source for finding these types of hindrances to healing.

  6. Sherie,
    You reveal one of the abuser tactics: “As I was growing up I was regularly told stories about her hideous upbringing and these were always shared with such upset and anger I was essentially programmed to feel sorry for her and to in effect downplay what I was going through…almost a preemptive effort from her to make me feel as if I had no right to feel hurt.”

    Competition is such a big part of the abusive system. There is no equality–there are only winners and losers. Love, compassion and understanding is doled out in limited quantities (at least their versions of love, compassion and understanding), so not everyone gets some. I’m sorry that you were treated that way. With true love, there is enough for everyone and nobody gets left out.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and the truth you see now.
    Christina

  7. This was fascinating – and hugely helpful to me.
    My mother died 17yrs ago – she never spoke about her childhood, or about her past prior to becoming a nurse. She kept nothing – no photos, no letters, nothing – all the way through her life. My dad also never spoke abut his childhood – nothing about his family , but after the death of his father we had little contact with his mother, my Grandmother. He died in 2008. I began my healing journey only a year ago. This year I have learned things abut both my parents that I had never heard before. Some of which explains – but does not excuse – their behaviour as I was a child.
    But – it has not helped me to feel better. If anything I felt worse – it raised more questions for me than it answered. And I can never have those answers now. Ity has taken me a while, but I now know, at a deep level, that whatever happend to them as children, they did make INFORMED choices as adults. They were both mental health nurses. I also trained as a mental health nurse. So this tells me very clearly, that they DID KNOW BETTER.
    I have no way of knowing if their abuse of me was intentional – sins of commission – or omission. Whatever. They badly damaged me, they failed to protect me, failed to comfort me and ultimately denied that they had any responsibility for what happened to me. I will bear the scars forever. I am now beginning to address the gaping woulnds left by them and others – and I am begining to see – to understand – that life can be different. I so hope so, I am tired of all the sh*t and the lies and the masks. Finally I am starting to learn who “me” really is. RIght now I think I am stil in the feeling worse stage – but there is less pain than there used to be, I reciover quicker than before – and I am coming out of my personal closet and starting to confide in my friends and family – and they are being fantastic in their love and support. They are a better family to me than my parents ever were.

  8. Libby,
    I’m so sorry for how much you were wounded, but I’m so glad you’re acknowledging your wounds and your pain and beginning to heal. Yay for you that you’re learning who the real you is!!!
    Christina

  9. I grew up in the John Bradshaw era of the 80s, in which Bradshaw argued that parental abuse was like if you were sitting in the driveway and your parents backed out without seeing you. The argument was that they couldn’t possibly have meant to hurt you, they were just too wounded to see the harm their actions did.

    Bull. Anyone who sexually abuses a child knows exactly what they’re doing and means to do it. If they are unable to recognize the pain they cause, it’s because they have dehumanized their victims, and again, that’s by choice.

    The irony of my mother – a psych nurse and counselor, who herself was abusive, and enabled my brother’s and father’s abuse against me – championing Bradshaw’s books and tapes, is not lost on me.

    I think in that regard, at least for myself, it *does* matter to know whether my abusers had hurt me intentionally or not. It allowed me to redirect my anger where it belonged – on them.

    I followed similar paths as you in attempting to heal, and like you found such avenues were fruitless. It wasn’t until I began reading about narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathy, and saw how much of those traits described my family of origin to a T, that I had my eyes opened and the light turned on to a different path.

    By then I’d gone no-contact with my birth family for a few years, but I still wrestled with wondering if I was the one who’d done something wrong, if I was too unforgiving by having nothing to do with them, even though deep down I knew if I hadn’t made that choice I’d have destroyed my own family through my own spiraling behavior and falling apart. Being able to recognize my birth family is narcissistic (and I have since learned that narcissism occurs in a very high rate with pedophiles) turned the tables radically for me.

    It helped me see that they were wrong for every time that they told me or implied that I deserved abuse, neglect, or outright not being loved at any level because they felt something was “wrong” with me. For the first time, I realized they really were the ones with the problem and something was severely wrong with *them*. It began the real healing, the real process of letting go. It allowed me to say wow, they really are a lost cause, time to move on to something else.

    My mother’s response the last time I confronted her about my brother’s abuse (which she repeatedly claimed was “normal family experimentation” and that “all families fool around like that”) was “I’m going to choose to believe what I want to believe.” Nice way of saying that she didn’t care if his behavior really was abuse or that it damaged me, she was going to keep him on the pedestal… period. I thank God I stopped seeking her validation or believing it was necessary to heal, otherwise no amount of therapy or support I’ve sought out over the past several years would have done me any good. Ditto with my father and brother.

    My abusers also choose to allow everyone to believe I’m a liar. I informed my extended family, they have sided with my abusers. Once again the irony is not lost on me that my ex believes me and took measures to protect our now-grown child around my abusers.

    You are so right in that we need to find the truth in ourselves when it comes to making peace with the past. Our abusers aren’t going to give us any sort of validation, they’re too screwed up and frankly, someone who is willing to harm a child in such a depraved and horrible way as to sexually abuse them is simply too dangerous to seek out as a source for getting the answers we need.

  10. PS,
    I can say the same thing, ” I thank God I stopped seeking her validation or believing it was necessary to heal, otherwise no amount of therapy or support I’ve sought out over the past several years would have done me any good.” I couldn’t expect the ones who damaged me to know anything about how to repair me or to be willing to participate in my repair or to even acknowledge they had any part in the damage. I couldn’t wait for an apology or anything else from them. The truth is, they didn’t want me well. They wanted me quiet and compliant so I could keep serving them. For most of my life, I never questioned if I needed them or not. I assumed I needed them to live. But thank God I found out that not only can I live without them– I can’t really live with their continued abuse. I’m glad you’re finding the truth in you, too.

    By the way, I was one of those parents who abused my kids without realizing that’s what I was doing. Even though I didn’t mean to hurt them, I still believe that my children have a right to be angry about how I treated them. Their needs weren’t met and they were exposed to things they never should have been, and that’s something to be angry about. I failed them and their healing process is the same whether I intended to harm them or not.
    Christina

  11. Christina,

    I totally hear and appreciate what you’re saying. I was abusive to my daughter and started being the same way to my son before I began to get help.

    I knew what some of what I was doing was wrong (and even then it would take additional healing and being able to see some things more objectively to change my perspective on yet more and more), but I thought I could stop what I knew to be wrong of my own free will. My children paid the price and in respect to my daughter, I’ve reaped what I’ve sown – she hasn’t spoken to me in over a year. I respect that as her choice and hey, if that means I’ve taught a good example through my staying away from my abusers, then good, that means the cycle’s been broken on my end. I’ve also had to work to repair damage to my marriage because of PTSD rages, self-sabotage, nasty patterns of emotional and verbal abuse, etc.

    When I was referring to Bradshaw and that I didn’t agree with what he was saying, I was thinking of extreme abusers such as what I mentioned – malignant narcissists, sociopaths, pedophiles, etc., people who have no empathy and dehumanize their victims, and clearly know it’s wrong but not only do it anyway, they even enjoy it. My family of origin falls within those categories; the way they would smile at me or stare at me coldly while abusing me as I showed fear or pain still runs chills down my spine when I recall it.

    I’ve had therapists and close friends who know my situation strongly urge me to pretty much stay away from them forever because they are that dangerous to my mental and emotional health. I’ve got no problem abiding by that anymore.

  12. PS,
    I made the same decision to stay away from my abusive parents and when I did that, a few people asked me how I would feel if my kids did the same thing to me. I expressed the same thing you just said. I would want them to stay away from me if I hurt my kids the same way my parents hurt me. I’ve worked very hard to repair the damage that I did to my relationship with my kids and they’ve had different responses at different times. They’ve both had seasons of backing away from me and I respected that. I’m glad they consider their feelings worth honoring and their boundaries worth protecting. If they learned to do that from my example, then I’m glad.

    I really appreciate you sharing your experience with this. It’s so common for abuse survivors to continue the cycle of abuse, yet fail to see it or to take responsibility for it. It’s refreshing to hear someone who isn’t following that pattern.

    I don’t know how many people understand how painful it is to be abandoned by your parents and then face abandonment from your children–all because of abuse. I do and I admire your determination to deal with the issues head-on. Thank you for sharing.
    Christina

  13. Christina, thank you for sharing your story. But more than that, thank you for showing how as victims, we so want to accept the blame but that when we do that, we invalidate our own pain and wounds. I really can appreciate your statement about competition being an element of abuse. Wow! Did that hit home with me. Everything was a competition in our family. And love and acceptance was the prize. Your story also shows how children will accept responsibility for anything if it means they will get their parents love. That’s where my people pleasing began. I learn so much from all you at OSA and please keep sharing for those of us still on our journey.

  14. My parents were physically,and emotionally very abusive and the scars are still there for me,now as a mother myself. I forgave them,I wanted my children to have grandparents,I believed they had changed as beatings were no more,but the selfishness remained,spitefulness,irresponsibility remained,even jealousy…Thanks to their selfishness I have no close adult blood family,no one to talk to,no one to advise me,protect me,love me,be there for me…They had no more children as they realised they did not like small children,so i never had anyone to share the turmoil with and still have no one.
    Still,despite the traumas and pain,I do not use it as an excuse to abuse my children,but do my best to make them happy,protect them (though discipline them as well within limits). I gave my parents many many chances,forgave and forgave,they never appreciated it. They will not be forgiven any more,I will not attend their funerals,I wish not to see them again though they are ill,enough is enough as they are not freinds of my family,if they were,they would have beheaved decently,like most grandparents.They had a choice and they made a choice,to be abusive,selfish,unprotective,not to be a bigger part of our lives when we begged them to.
    I believe there is life after this one and maybe spiritually I will evolve there one day to be able to forgive them,but in this earthly life,I am afraid,that will not be the case.

  15. I can relate to this a lot Christina. I constantly try to find ways of excusing my parents for what they did to me. Actually, I just wrote a post about blaming myself when I tried to tell what my father was doing to me, and the person I told blamed me. I believed them and I still find myself absolving him and accusing myself of not stopping him, or even tempting him into doing it. I excuse my mother’s neglect and abuse even more. She had too many kids, she was overwhelmed, she had a horrible husband, she didn’t want another son for her husband to abuse, she was mentally ill… I can come up with thousands of excuses for her, so I don’t have to admit she was just a shitty mom and didn’t care about keeping me safe, and enjoyed hurting me. I appreciate your post on what you went through and how you are coming to terms with the same urge to excuse and understand your parents.

  16. Renee,
    Validating our wounds and pain is so important. I never wanted to be caught “feeling sorry for myself” or for “making a big deal out of nothing”. I never considered what happened to me to be important and I felt even more shame for having pity parties. It’s been vital to my healing to acknowledge that I deserved to be treated better and that I truly DID have something to heal FROM. Now I know it’s not wrong to have compassion for myself, even if nobody else ever did, ESPECIALLY since nobody else did. Thanks for your comment! I’m glad OSA has been helpful to you!
    Hugs,
    Christina

  17. Millie,
    There’s a book for abuse survivors that says that unforgiveness is just as bad as the abuse, which I think is a horrible thing to say to wounded people trying to heal. I was told that forgiveness was necessary to heal and I tried to forgive for a long time, but that just kept me from processing my feelings and actually prevented healing. Once I put forgiveness aside and worked on me, healing led to forgiveness, but not forgiveness as it’s generally defined. It doesn’t include having a relationship with them.

    I’m glad you’re doing what’s best for you and your children. We can’t control others, but we can control what we’ll do about their actions. Thanks for sharing!
    Christina

  18. JackB,
    It’s not always easy to face the truth. As a child, I needed to believe that my parents loved me so I took the blame on myself and came up with excuses for their failures. As an adult, I don’t need their love to survive so i can afford to see the truth now. Sometimes, the truth hurts, but it always sets me free. I’m glad you’re being set free too.
    Christina

  19. As a child I spent many years wondering why I had to go thru this expericnece. However as I face the new year going thru a divorce I am facing the reality that I am still holding on to the past. I think the best way for any survivor to learn how to move on is that we have to understand that it was out abusers fault and choice. None of us asked to be abused, yet there are times that those choices are taken from us. I know that I have spent many years being angry at everyone in my life and becasue of that anger I have lost some great friends however I have also come to realize that I can work on myself and still be able to move past the anger and resentment of my childhood and come out a helathy woman on the other side. Sometimes I think we forget that we all face challenges in our life and if we let those challenges keep us down, then we are being revictimized daily but this time it is by memories rather then real life. Thanks for such an eye opening article really has me looking at my life

  20. I’ve found myself trying to “heal” my family and trying to “unite” them so that we could all be wholesome together. I’ve done this a lot in my past at my expense. I’ve put my Mother on a pedestal as some kind of saint because I thought that she was a victim of society and my Father’s mental illness and abusive behavior. The truth is that she is a willing participant. She’s an enabler. No amount of my denial (and there is tons of that in my family,) will change that my family was not there for me in many important ways. They supported me in my education goals and that was nice but the personal goals that I set and tried to maintain, safety of myself and my sons, raising my sons to be respectful but not fearful, and removing myself from abuse (which included the bullying and mobbing behavior that my parents and siblings used to humiliate and “mold” my behavior {my Mother called it “Peer Pressure”}) was never supported and I was chastened every time I practiced what I believed.
    Extricating myself slowly from this families values and removing myself from family events which potentially include taunts and degradations is going to be part of weaning myself from the sick behavior that my family practices. Movies like “The Joy Luck Club” do a deep disservice to people who have had to deal with abuse their whole lives. It leads people who have experienced abuse to use their empathy for the wrong reasons. In order to change the world you need to change what is happening to you. You need to leave abusive situations, not accept them as a way of learning in life. Whether or not the abusers have had abuse in their past does not change what their behavior is now. And any way you can not change someone else, only yourself and how you react.

  21. And once again Christina, you have read my mind. This post relates with everything I have been going through since I decided to cut my mother off 3 months ago. She was abused by her father and thanks to the triangle of abuse, he went to abuse me and my sister. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out that he did the same thing to her and I have spent the better part of the last 15 years excusing her actions and minimizing my own pain. Thank you for sharing and reminding me that I’m not CrAzY!!

  22. JessicaS,
    I agree that we can’t move on at least until we know that the abuse wasn’t our fault. When I was a child, I coped with the abuse by thinking that I could control it. I took the blame so I’d have some sense of being able to change things. That helped me to survive then, but it was a lie that I had to deal with to really heal. It’s ironic that to get my power back, I had to acknowledge how powerless I was. Thank for your comment!
    Christina

  23. Bipolor Bear,
    I love your statement, ” In order to change the world you need to change what is happening to you. You need to leave abusive situations, not accept them as a way of learning in life. Whether or not the abusers have had abuse in their past does not change what their behavior is now. And any way you can not change someone else, only yourself and how you react.” AMEN! Thank you for sharing that.
    Christina

  24. Ruth,
    I’m glad you realize that you’re not crazy. What IS crazy is the abusive system and how it’s protected and defended as “normal”. Those of us who recognize the truth and go against the grain aren’t the crazy ones!
    Thanks for commenting.
    Christina

  25. I feel SO much of your pain. Just because a parent suffering in their own upbringing, NEVER justifies spilling it on to their children. We spend so much time analyzing and pulling everything apart and even when the answers are found, it still doesn’t heal us. Movies like to have happy endings to make people walk away with hope. I hate to sound like a pesimist, but we can spend years in therapy to get to the root of the problem and it still doesn’t change what happened. I don’t care how bad some one’s life ones it is NEVER ok to hurt others. We are supposed to treat others as we would want to be treated, but justify bad behavior because of something that happened. Here’s the thing, we spend all this time in therapy trying to heal and the part that ticks me off the most is even when you make a break through ot make progress, you can go around those people that did the damage and if you speak to them about it, it’s as if all the time in therapy was useless because they still don’t see what they did wrong and will never change. I went to talk to someone for about 6 months and I was told the most profound thing that I carry with me to this day. After 6 months of crying about the fact my mother never helped with my first or second wedding, never went dress shopping or was there at the birth of my baby girl or when I was laid up for 2 months from surgery come and help out. Or even when my husband was in the hospital and almost died from cancer and I BEGGED her to come stay for a week or two (mind you, she was not working, retired at 58), I even offered to pay her gas and for her time. My own mother, and instead of helping out, she had one of my brothers call me up and leave about 10 voice mails telling me off about being selfish and self-centered and that my mother was fragile and weak, blah, blah. Mind you, that same brother was 39 years old, still living at home and didn’t pay any bills and got waited on hand and foot. I had 3 brothers who were treated like gold and they would do ANYTHING for, me, they treated and still treat like garbage. Sorry……got off track there…….the thing I was told was this……: My mother is who she is now, she is set and will never change. The only thing I can change is how I view things. She doesn’t care about what she says that would hurt me or her actions. However, I can change putting up with it. Now, I don’t even ask to come to their home (3 hours away) for Christmas. We used to offer to come over WITH the food, prepare the meals and take care of everything to make their lives easier and they would still have an excuse for us not to come. I would invite them to our home and there was always an excuse to not come for that either. So now, I extend the invite through e-mail and if they call, I don’t pick up and they can just leave their refusal on there. It has helped me deal with things much easier. I finally got brave enough to send them an e-mail this year saying that is no one came for Christmas we were going to start planning to leave town and do our own thing. Hey, if they don’t want to see their daughter, son-in-law or granddaughter, why should we sit home all Christmas eve and Dad feeling sorry for ourselves? Instead, we’re going to find a way to make our own traditions and have our happiness. My mother is happier knowing she could affect me, now, no response and it makes her CRAZY. Now she can sit with the misery lol. I guess what I’m trying to say is heal yourself, make sure you don’t repeat the cycle and distance yourself if necessary. I could say so much more, but it could take me weeks.

  26. Amy K,
    The things family does can be so painful. I’m sorry you were treated that way. It’s really great that you’re acknowledging that you don’t have a choice in how they behave, but that you can choose how you’re responding to their choices. There’s freedom in that!
    Christina

  27. Christina, wow this issue is one of the main ones I have tried to deal with for years. I go back and forth between trying to understand and forgive my mother, to well, not trying I guess. But you are right about invalidating myself. I do not know if the anger will ever go away, Glad I found your site

  28. Barbara,
    Welcome to OSA! I’m glad you found us, too.

    The invalidation of myself was (and is) one of the biggest obstacles to healing. There have been so many ways I’ve done it, even when I was completely unaware of it.

    I think the anger does diminish, though with my parents, they keep doing awful things and I keep remembering things from the past that I’d forgotten, which gives me new reasons to be angry. But I’m not carrying the anger around anymore like I used to do. Now, I express it as it comes and I’m so much happier.

    Thanks for your comment!
    Christina

  29. My first therapists, during my 20′s, constantly told me to consider ‘my parents’ childhoods.
    They never validated or empathized with my experience.
    I was supposed to empathize with ‘my parents’ childhhood pain, not my own.
    I thought the therapists knew what they was doing, and tried to take their advice.
    I was 40 before I realized I needed MY abuse recognized.
    I read a book by Alice Miller about how many therapists protect parents because they’ve never faced the reality of abuse by their own parents.
    People feel anxiety, shame and loss if they allow themselves to know that mommy and daddy weren’t good people.
    Honor Thy Mother and Father.
    Actually, no, not unless they deserve it.

  30. I was abused physically and emotionally by my selfish,violent parents all my life and the scarring is horrific,yet now at 40,I am constantly being abuserd by people how I need to put my now ill mother before my children and look after her,get into debt to visit her with my family,she is abroad…yet I shiver at the thought of being in the same room as her. I have lost several long-term “friends” who told me,no matter how much I told them of what my parents had done to me,that ragardless I should “reexamine my conscience”…Now I have neither any adult family nor freinds,all because of THEM,the selfish monsters…

  31. Jessica,
    I agree with Alice Miller’s opinion that so many therapists protect parents because they’ve never faced their own pain. It’s not just therapists who try to steer survivors away from parent blaming–it’s the majority of the survivor community as well. Thank you for sharing that.
    Christina

  32. Milie,
    Wow, that’s so sad that you haven’t been supported in such a life-affirming decision! I’m glad you’re standing with you, even if nobody else does.
    Christina

  33. I think that the way I use now as U said , Christine …….” instead of admit the truth that they do not love me …….. I am trying to know how their childhood is miserable and painful as me or more” . I need more courage to believe in the fact that they do not really love me .Try to see the truth as It is not as I want it to be .

  34. and I have a question , if my friends sometimes I feel they donot respect my feelings and limits , and I know how their childhood is painful too ….. I mean what is point to differentiate between who is hurting Us and people’s mistakes ?

  35. Martha,
    I’d always used people’s pasts to excuse behavior, not only with my parents, but with everyone. When I was excusing them, I also wasn’t setting healthy boundaries so whatever they were doing to cause me pain didn’t stop. The thing I learned in my recovery is that it really doesn’t matter what caused a person to do something that caused me pain–I still had a right (and a responsibility to myself) to protect myself from more mistreatment by setting appropriate limits. One of the things that helped me decide what was appropriate is how the person reacted when I told them I was hurt by something they did. Some didn’t care, some blamed me, some apologized but kept doing the same things and some actually changed. That’s what told me the truth about them and how close I could be to them.
    Christina

  36. ****PLEASE, FEEL FREE TO RESPOND TO MY POSTING…I WOULD APPRECIATE THE HELPFUL RESPONSES!****

    Wow, I am so sorry Christina that you had to go through a sexually abusive relationship with your father…I am currently struggling with an abusive parent, my father. He himself also grew up in a very bad past, which he claims is the reason why he is the way he is. I do agree with you Christina, just because you grew up in a difficult life in your past, you still have a CHOICE to CHANGE….if he decided to go down this road that is because he made his choice to…his excuses will never justify his actions…I’ve been physically abused by my father since a child and did that influence me to grow up and start beating my children? Absolutely not…I would never think of laying a hand on my children…It’s not the solution…there is a fine line between discipline and abuse…and crossing over that line really causes damages…in many ways. I am now 23 years old and I am having difficulties truly relating to my father and providing myself that peace of mind..I really want to close my past chapter, but I don’t know which way to go about it? I tried listening to his stories, I even tried to relate in some way, but I can’t seem to come to acceptance…my brother was also a victim of his abuse and he had the opportunity to close that chapter of his past…he had the opportunity to speak to my father about it face to face and maybe he related more to what he went through…so he got that reassurance…but I never did…How can I genuinely forgive someone who still continues to remain abusive to his current children? I think I would be more understanding and forgiving if he never did it again with his new family, but when I found out that he is still inflicting pain on his children…I broke down in tears…I never hurted so much in my life, but hearing that my lil sister, who by the way we just recently got reunited with after not having them in our lives for over 12 years, was living with him, and as many times me and my brother forewarned her of his behavior….. she called me up one day, after living with him for about a year and half, and told me that he has been physically abusing her..I never in my life felt so enraged, disappointed, hurt, broken, then I did that day…I can’t believe he would HURT HER! Why? You just got your daughter back in your life and YOU DO THIS!! ……It still strikes a nerve with me…..I realized right then and there…that he was never going to change…until he comes to acceptance with himself and stops denying his behavior….We all tried talking to my father about our past with him and how it affected us, but neither of us got to hear those words we craved…he denies it every minute he gets and it only gotten worse…now my father is making false accusations against me stating that I need help and I am under the influence of drugs…for stating the truth..about what he did to me in the past….really? He is in a very deep stage of denial with himself and I know that he is officially set in his ways…no one can change his perception, but himself…and at this point it is very unlikely…he is who he is…the question still remains…”What do I do from here?”…I know clearly that he won’t change, but how will this help me get over my past…I dated a man for 5 years who inflicted fear in me just like my father did, and once I finally woke up to the red flags..I left him…it took me that long to stand up for myself…because I allowed my fear to overcome me…I built a wall against men for years…and now I finally met a man who broke that barrier…I feel secure, safe, and loved…I find myself very attached to him and we both plan on getting married in our future…but if me and my father don’t patch things up…who will walk me down the isle? I want my father to be apart of my life…but I need to come to acceptance.. If anyone has any ideas to how I can put this past me…or will I never be fully healed?…the scar continues to seep..and I can’t help but to bleed….I want to be healed of this…so I can live life happily…

  37. Christina, I have been fascinated reading this post and all of the responses. I used to think something was wrong with me in that I have never felt compelled to listen to all those that suggest forgiveness is necessary to move through the pain and heal. I could never bring myself to forgive my parents for being selfish and unloving. I carry around anger about this that never seems to go away no matter how much insight I obtain.
    I have a secret desire to cut my ties with my father so I get relief. Ther problem is that my brother has coped with things by becoming an emotional robot, so I do not have him on my side. In addition, my father has tons of friends that love him and think he’s the best person in the world. So if I cut him out it would appear that I am the one with the problem and he will get to revel in blaming me for our problems. My father was Jeckyl and Hyde, galavanting around town making sure everyone around him loved him and told him he was the best guy in the world. But then at home he was not that same person, he acted like a rage-filled child. In my opinion, he was afraid to be that same loving wonderful man with his wife and children because he was afraid we’d reject him. I have to guess his own parents made him feel unloved and caused this fear. Since being a husband and father is often a thankless job that didn’t get him the outside approval he so desperately needed, he couldn’t handle his home life like a mature adult. I used to get sick hearing how wonderful he was from others, because they had no idea who the real person was. I felt like I was in a prison. My mother was too miserable and depressed to put any energy into trying to counteract this and she had no love to give either. She just moped around angry or crying all the time. At the end of the day I always felt very alone and unloved. When my mother died recently, it was a relief and I am sure I will feel the same way when my father dies. I know it sounds terrible but I have a feeling that there are people on this thread that understand this. When they are gone I don’t have to keep up the charade any longer. I recently had some time to myself and thought about how sad I was for the child in me that never had a loving mother like the kind of mother I am to my 4 year old daughter. I cried as I imagined myself at the age my daughter now is, not getting the love that I currently give her and it breaks my heart. I can’t quite comprehend how these abusive parents do not concern themselves with the damage they do to their beautiful, innocent precious children. And like many others on this thread have commented, these parents are incapable of caring about how they have damaged their children. I just hope I can continue to be loving and nurturing to my daughter and overcome the natural tendencies to repeat abusive cycles. If I do start to repeat that I hope I can be strong enough for her sake to seek counseling, as I do not want her to endure the misery that I have endured my entire life over this. Thanks for listening, I hope this makes some kind of sense.

  38. Kathy,
    I understand feeling relief about your parents dying. My daughter and I have talked about that feeling and we wrote a blog about our feelings about another abuser in our family who died: http://overcomingsexualabuse.com/2012/03/20/when-an-abuser-dies/

    I’m glad you’re able to show yourself compassion for the love and nurturing you never got. That’s so important in the process of healing. Thanks for sharing your feelings.
    Christina

  39. Gabriella,
    I’m so sorry for the pain inflicted on you by your father.

    “I want my father to be apart of my life…but I need to come to acceptance…”

    That’s one of the things I had a hard time with too. It’s a child’s instinct to stick close and want a relationship with his or her parents. That desire helps the child survive. I was stuck there, thinking from the position of a helpless child who needed mommy and daddy to live. I thought I could eventually please them enough so that they would love me and finally take care of my needs. I had to accept that I am an adult who can care for her own needs and that my parents would never be the loving people I wanted them to be. There was a lot to grieve and that has taken a few years to go through the layers of acceptance, so I understand how difficult that is. There are some things that we will never have. Acknowledging the loss is painful, but it’s also a transition in the healing process.
    Christina

  40. Christina your words really hit home to me. I am only just coming to terms with the fact I was emotionally and physically abused by my parents ( mostly my mother). After the death of my mentally ill father and having had 10 years no contact since the age of 15 I decided to be the bigger person and strike up a relationship with my mum and try to help her. In doing this I had to repress my feelings and allow her version of events regarding my childhood. I accepted that she would never acknowledge the pain she had caused me and my brother. I would say to myself “things could of been a lot worse”and “she only did the best job she knew how to”.In doing this I invalidated my pain.
    After reconciling with my mum i tried to keep my boundaries at first but before long she was consuming my life and I got in to a very unhealthy pattern without realising it. I was so consumed with making things good for her and keeping her happy I forgot about my own needs and allowed her to emotionally blackmail me. I believe like when i was a child she knew the power she had over me and abused it.
    It was only after the birth of my first child and after my mothers illness I began to wake up to what was going on. Only now after several months of no contact with my mother am I beginning to realise there was no excuse for what happened as a child. My mum used to say how hard things were for her growing up and that I had it easy, once again invalidating my experience. It’s hard coming to terms with the past and knowing you will never get the recognition from your parents about how hard your childhood was. I would so love my mum to just say sorry and that she was wrong but i know it will never happen. In their eyes it wasn’t wrong and they just can’t see it. They are blind to any suffering but their own. I hope with therapy I can shake off the pain but can you really ever fully heal? The memories will always be there and sometimes there is just no understanding of abuse. I thought I had dealt with the pain and forgiven my mum but it was just buried only to resurface with the birth of my child.

  41. Cate,
    I thought I had dealt with my past too, but I had only wrapped it up in a nice big pretty “forgiveness” box and stuffed it away instead of really dealing with it. I’d discounted my pain the same way my parents had. Validating my own pain and experience was both soothing and excruciating. For the first time, I was really acknowledging the truth of what they did to me and that was full of pain. But I also learned how to truly be there for myself in the way they weren’t there for me, which has been so key to my healing.

    Yes, there is true healing. I still have my memories, but they don’t hold that same pain anymore. I can remember it or talk about it without feeling much of anything. I didn’t need my parents to finally understand me or to apologize or to recognize what they did, I needed ME to recognize what they did. That was the beginning of my healing.

    Welcome to OSA, Cate!
    Christina

  42. Hi. I still harbour a lot of anger and resentment towrds both of my parents, but my mother in particular. I hated my mother at times, and have felt extreme anger/rage towards her at times. I am an adult now, but did not have a good relationship with her from the time I was…not sure when it started, 10 or younger maybe, up until now. Our arguments don’t get explosive anymore, as I’ve learned to walk away, but I end up holding the anger inside; it was never allowed to be expressed, unless it was at an opportune time, or the situation was swept under the rug. I hated the fact that my parents fought. They had arguments, and one time I remember a dish being broken. I was never abused, that I could call it – no molestation, no beating – although there was occasional spanking, no swearing at me, until my teen years when my father swore at me once – that was awful. I did feel that I wasn’t noticed much. I had to be sweet to get their kindness and love; atleast, that’s how I saw it and I acted accordingly. I felt they wanted me to behave a certain way. With my mother I felt that I was never good enough; I couldn’t do anything right. When I started to live my own life – completed high school, was working, and went to school, I know she was proud of me. She didn’t show me much love outside of that until after my parents were separated. Then, she was able to take my brother and I on a vacation – something she could never do before because she couldn’t afford it – she told us, and she was very happy about that. My mother and I have gone to garage sales together, and if I’m ever sick, she’s there for me; she has taken care of me, but when I need emotional support from her, she has not been there for me. In fact, she’s often turned her back on me, and told me she can’t or doesn’t want to talk to me, when I’ve said I really need to talk to her. For the last 6 months she’s “been there” for me by allowing me to ask her personal questions, which never would’ve happened before, and we can sometimes discuss issues. But usually there is some form of judement, explanation, excuse for something she did, or a guilt trip – like after discussing things that hurt me from the past, she’d said she thinks she may not have been a good mother after all, and then I end up feeling guilty. I hate this. She also still says things about my father, and when she does I tell her I don’t want to here it – she usually gets defensive or angry with me, and I feel like I’m taking his side instead of hers; that I’m being disloyal or ungrateful. My father’s been easier to talk to lately, but again, if it’s to do with him, he gets defensive or changes the subject or doens’t want to finsh the conversation; he tries. But when it came to me telling him I don’t want to hear him talking about mom, he was silen and angry – the look on his face really scared me, and I went in to a bedroom and shut the door. I was afraid of his reaction I guess, or maybe just remember how angry he could get, yet I didn’t see it very often; it was something I tried to avoid. With mom it was much easier to try and argue. Atleast try to get someone’s attention as to how miserable I was feeling. Anyway, I still find this a struggle as an adult, and saying that I hated my mother makes me feel awful, but that’s sometimes how I feel, but I should love her, and I shouldn’t hate anybody; isn’t that how violence starts? Geez. This has played a fine havoc on me psychologically. Again, they say they love me, and they show me love sometimes, but where were they then? I needed them then more than now. And even though my mother tried, she’s still judgemental, critical of me, and I feel like I still disappoint her. How do you let that go without letting your parents go? I don’t want to let them go. How could I not have a relationship with them? Did any one of you go through this type of conflict in yourself?

  43. Christina,
    I know that you are wise beyond your years. No wiser words have I heard than “Looking for the reasons, answers, and truth in our parents will keep us damaged, but seeking the answers and the truth in ourselves will heal us” (my paraphrase). Yes, this is the way but how to achieve the healing? My spirit soaks in these words, but the pain in my gut discounts the practicality of applying your wisdom. I have spent the majority of my 59 years overcoming the reality that my childhood of abuse. It seems I am forever in various stages of overcoming but I never quite get to a place where I can let it all go. The anger, rage, sadness, they all are alive and consuming to my precious life energy. Thank you for your words that I will hold in my heart.

  44. Gloria,
    Yes, I understand not being able to apply what I’ve learned to your circumstances. The lessons I learned aren’t meant to be neatly passed on to anyone else–only to offer hope that there is more than only pain. I think the only way I could come to the acceptance that I did was to go through the pain–to really give myself permission to feel it and to sit with it. To me, “letting it go” only came when I stopped telling myself to let it go and really validated the damage and the pain. That was counter to my survival mode that I’d learned since childhood and continued to live in, so I resisted that for a long time.

    Thanks for your comment. I hope you find the answers you’re looking for.

    Christina

  45. Erin,
    You say you were never abused but the way your parents treated you (and still treat you) are abusive. It’s no wonder you feel angry. That’s a very healthy response to being mistreated. That anger is meant to protect us from more abuse by calling us to take action.

    You expressed a fear that anger leads to violence, but I think it’s the mismanagement of anger leads to violence. I’ve found in my own life that when I acknowledge and validate my anger, I can evaluate the situation better so I can take the action that I need to take. Usually, that means standing up for myself in some way. Before I started handling situations in a healthy way by being direct, I directed my anger inwardly and eventually, it came out in destructive ways.

    I understand not wanting to let go of your parents. I don’t know very many people who really want to do that. For me, it wasn’t my choice. They walked away from me when I stood up for myself. I preferred to let go of them than to let go of me again. But that was what I needed to do for myself. Everyone is at a different place and all of us have difference circumstances, so do what’s best for you.

    Christina

  46. Christina,

    Thanks for your comment. I am grateful that I found this site so I can feel inspired by your empowered voice. Clearly you have taken the steps needed on the long and arduous journey home where you could reclaim your power. The power I speak of has little to do with how you did or didn’t choose to relate with the people in your life. But I am speaking about the power that comes to us when we have made a sincere and ongoing connection to our authentic self inside, who was not affected by the horrific circumstances that went on around it. It is that essence of yours that I sense that radiates from your site that has profoundly touched me. So it tells me you have really done your healing work. The main work is not mind-based but has more to do with our energy-emotional-spiritual nature. I am not there yet but in time I will be. So glad that now I have your site to come back to as its essence serves as a reminder of learning to stay connected with my own essence and power.

  47. Hi Christina,

    This article totally resonates with me. I had a break down in 2011 and had to finally come to terms with the fact that my own father sexually abused me as a child,along with my uncles (his brothers who BTW were sent away to get married when they were discovered raping me( I was a toddler). Apparently that was considered a cure and the never to talk about it again). Actually the more I become aware the more I see how my entire family on both parents side was filled and riddled with incestuous pedophiles. The silent rule being that the women turned a blind eye to the men and let them do what they wanted ( at least they had a break). Than when the husbands had passed out the women would step in.

    I was trying to come to terms with the shock and horror with the help of a very good therapist . My family ALL turned against me(My mother went insane when I asked her to help me. If you remember than it happened ,if you dont than it didn’t was her response). My brothers and sisters sided with my filthy parents,and I was pushed aside( as if I was the one that committed some gross heinous crime). I can not even begin to put in to words the tremendous amounts of grief and pain that I endured in all that time(even now). I than happened to come across your website to believe that I was not some sick twisted woman who had just made everything up (and Emerging From Broken) reading your articles finally helped me to see where I was in denial.

    2 years I have been dealing with this, and in ALL that time i kept crying over my mothers life and her pain, and crying over the filthy drunks past and pain. Not seeing and ignoring my own pain.Because according to New Age/spirituality/God/The Universe or whoever decided to say – we must forgive …It makes me so angry now.

    They were both violent tyrannical people,cold and distant they ruled the house with pure fear and violence. I could have forgiven them for that,I could have forgiven them for the lack of love,and the violence I endured growing up. I will NEVER EVER forgive them for this, the lies,manipulation and LIES they filled me with.Still to this very day my gross mother would defend him, he is like a disgusting hairy baby that they all feel the need to protect as if he is a fragile doll. Everybody choosing to forget what it was like growing up in that war zone.It has been an emotionally hard journey, which has mostly been a lonely journey. Even though I am very lucky that I have supportive friends,alot of it has felt lonely and painful.

    For every trigger,flash back nightmare I am transported back in to a horror filled nightmare,screaming to get away from and unable to breathe. For every one that I greatly suffer at the time it also brings me validation to myself as I see what the child in me had to endure.And it is horrific.

    I admire your strength for starting up this website and the Facebook page I am so thankful for that. Even though we have never met it has felt like an invisible strong arm around me guiding me forward. I have heavily relied on both these last 2 years. Its amazing how every status seems extremely apt to what I need at the time.I realize now that I am not alone, my story is not so different to anybody else’s. We may share a similar pain from such trauma however I also believe that sexual abuse survivors are the strongest people. Im aware that I am still healing and every day brings new awareness. Im in awe of myself as I am alot more stronger than I ever thought possible.And I BELIEVE I will move forward, I believe in myself.

    Of course having stepped away from that disgusting enmeshed dysfunction family who share just 1 voice and 1 thought without ever questioning why,I feel sad and it is painful, yet it also feels like the best thing I have ever done(Im sure it will get better). I still receive nasty emails from my brothers and sisters, telling me they think I am going downhill full of anger and that I am bitter amongst other things,they miss the old me. The old me are you kidding me, the old me was broken down,heavily depressed did as I was told and sat there crying by myself. Never once in that time had any of them wanted to know why, or how I had been doing. They just want to know when will I move on and get over this phase.arghhhhhh.My sisters friend was involved in an accident and lost her leg, I watched my sister go out of her way to do research on similar situations she even met a man who lost his leg to advise her on how to approach her friend and what not to say/react or do. So she could support her friend. Yet with me not one of them would read up or try to understand me. I felt sad that I lost my family over something that was never my fault. Until I finally realized that I never had a family to start off with :( .. still doesnt make it any easier emotionally.

    So many thanks Christina from the bottom of my heart , the work you are doing is amazing. I would like to start making a donation however I do not have a credit card so if you can please send me an address that I can post a Chq to I shall appreciate it. Or advise an alternative way. This website has helped me in so many ways that even my bloody family could not.

    Lots of love forever and always
    Sanita
    xxxxxxxxxxxx

  48. Sanita,

    So much of what you wrote resonated with me. This part especially stood out to me:

    For every trigger,flash back nightmare I am transported back in to a horror filled nightmare,screaming to get away from and unable to breathe. For every one that I greatly suffer at the time it also brings me validation to myself as I see what the child in me had to endure. And it is horrific.

    That’s so similar to the way I felt about seeing the truth about my past. Before my memories resurfaced, I didn’t know what a strong person I am. I saw how damaged I was but that was all. Knowing what I went through was so very validating. I was stunned that I could not only live through those things, but that I could be a wonderful, caring person in spite of the cruelty of nearly my entire family.

    Thank you so much for your encouraging comments. I appreciate knowing that OSA has been so inspiring and helpful to you. I also appreciate your desire to make a donation. It’s a good time for it right now! I’ll send you the address through the email. If that’s not your real email address, contact me through the contact form and I’ll send it to you that way.

    Christina

  49. I agree Christina with your comments. I am beginning to feel the same way about myself. Of course sometimes it gets too overwhelming and frustrating and all I want to do is throw the little girl out with her memories :( . However I am aware this is a process. arghhhhhhhhhh ( be over already)

    I was told by friends/people that I am an extrmelty strong empathic person. Which I was shocked to hear as all my life I have just seen a filthy disgusting woman whenever I looked in the mirror. I do know one thing for sure that I will not be keeping any of their filthy disgusting secrets anymore.

    Many Thanks I have received your address. I would like to wish you a Bigger Brighter Happier 2013

    Sanita
    xxxxxxxxx

  50. I can relate to your experience. I’m so sorry that our parents are the way they are. You didn’t and don’t deserve it and nor do I. The biggest problem I’m facing now is that I’m reliant on my abusive mother again and cannot get away, again. I hope you are not also in that situation. Its very dangerous.

    I think all we can do is let it go. They will never change. They will never love us., and its ok to accept that as the truth and move on. It does not make you the scum of the earth even if some people who don’t know abuse pike you and I do don’t get it.

    it might sound odd but they don’t love you but I do. I want you to know that. I care. I believe you. I’m sorry they hurt you. Good luck

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