by Christina Enevoldsen
I knew it wasn’t the wisest decision to meet with my mother after seven years of no contact.
The time without her has been the happiest of my life—despite being sued by my parents, four months of being homeless, suffering a miscarriage, the death of my father, all while healing from the wounds of my childhood abuse. I fought to rid myself of the toxic beliefs of my dysfunctional family and was finally thriving.
Logically, it didn’t make sense that I would even be willing to talk with my mom or see her again after everything she and my father did to me. But despite all reason, in my heart, I still longed for a mom.
For a significant portion of my healing from abuse, I didn’t struggle much with wanting her. When my parents walked away from me, I felt a huge sense of relief, not pain.
Then when I started to recognize all the ways they betrayed me, I was aroused to anger. My anger shielded me from the agonizing loss of not having true parents.
I was conscious of the conflict that arose as my anger subsided. My child-self still wanted a mommy, but my adult-self was wise enough to maintain appropriate boundaries.
I dealt with that desire by nurturing myself in the ways my mother never did. When my child-self cried out, my adult-self reminded me, “The mother you have can’t provide the things you long for. It’s right to want to be nurtured and loved by the woman who gave birth to you. But by pursuing the phantom love from her, you’ll sacrifice something you want more—mental and emotional health. You can have the love you want, but you can’t have it from her. I’m providing you with the love you seek.”
For the most part, my internal wrestling between what my child-self wanted and what my adult-self wanted was fairly subdued.
Until my mother interrupted my peace again.
My mom sent my daughter, Bethany, a Facebook friend request. My mother had betrayed Bethany six years ago and since then, they’d been estranged.
Bethany was indignant and hurt by the unexpected invasion to her otherwise happy life. It wasn’t the request itself that was so invalidating—it was that it came alone. No acknowledgment of any responsibility, no apology, no sign of any change of her grandmother’s heart.
As Bethany’s mom, I was outraged that my mother would dare to cause my daughter even more hurt than she already had. But I had another internal response that was completely different: I envied Bethany. I wanted my mom to reach out to me. I wanted her to want to be friends with me.
Facing My Pain
I’ve learned to accept my feelings, whatever I feel, but I was completely discouraged to realize how much I still wanted my mom to love me. Before that moment, I thought I’d settled that. I thought I’d moved on. I knew that I still occasionally grieved her loss, but I’d never come face to face with this level of wanting.
I listened to Adele’s song, “Someone Like You” one day. I silently wept as I related to the tragedy of wanting someone who didn’t want me.
I believed the desire would eventually fade away, as it seemed to be doing. It was too painful to think I’d always want what I could never have. The desire was a constant reminder of my mother’s rejection and betrayal.
I pictured my conflicting emotions like a duel. I wanted the desire for a relationship with my mom to be shot dead and my more rational adult-self, who stands as a guardian to my well-being, to walk away as the only survivor.
In my despair, I shared my feelings with my husband. He provided some perspective that I’d somehow missed. He asked, “Have you considered you might need to accept that your desire might never go away?”
That made so much sense. My healing has enabled me to connect with my true self. I feel on a much deeper level and I’ve awoken healthy desires in place of the ways I’d coped. Why would that desire for a mom go away? That’s a natural, healthy feeling.
The desire for a mom and the desire for safety would have to coexist. I would have to honor the softer side of me who wanted a mom and the stronger side of me who kept me safe from her. That meant facing another layer of pain.
Expressing My Pain
Writing has been a powerful tool I’ve used to help me move through the stages of healing. I decided to write a letter to my mom to express the pain of her rejection. The letter was for my benefit; I didn’t send it.
When I heard that you sent Bethany a friend request, I felt so left out. I don’t know why everyone else is so much more important to you than I am. Nobody has ever caused me as much pain as you have. I didn’t think it was possible for you to hurt me any longer or to cut me any deeper, but you did.
I so badly want to have a mom to feel safe with. I want to be able to talk to you when my world collapses and to be comforted by your sweet words to me. I want to be able to fall into your arms and be wrapped tightly.
I feel so much loss that I can’t have that now and that I never had that. Your tongue is like a razor and your arms like barbed wire. Now is one of those times I wish I had a mom. A real mom would help me through this agony. But you are the one who caused this.
I’m sad that even if I send this to you to give you yet another chance to be there for me, I’d subject myself to more pain. In the past, you’ve responded to my pleas for love by telling me how I failed you or by reminding me that I’m only the daughter. My heart was so tender toward you and you broke it.
I wish you would hear me. I wish you would see me.
If there is any goodness inside of you, that’s the part of you I want to appeal to. Is there any part of a mother’s natural love inside of you that has room for me? You haven’t given me much reason to hope for that, but putting that hope to death seems too painful to face right now. For now, I have to believe that someday you might be capable of truly loving me. I feel like a fool for hoping, but I hope anyway.
Even if you were to reach out to me like you did with Bethany, even if you wrote me the letter that you eventually gave to Bethany, I can’t have a relationship with you like we had before. I don’t think you’re ready for a healthy relationship with me. I don’t know if it’s even possible.
But I want you to want a relationship with me. I want you to want it enough to work at it. I want you to want it enough to develop some courage. I want you to be willing to see the truth of what Dad did to me and what you did to me. I want you to love me enough to admit those things and change. I want you to want me badly enough to risk my rejection.
I pursued a relationship with you all of my life without much reciprocation. Will you pursue me? Will you for once come through for me?
Now that Dad is dead, what is keeping you from seeing the truth? Have you been down this path of denial so long that you need to validate your poor decisions? By insisting that I’m the liar, do you feel excused from facing the lies you’ve told yourself? Do you pretend that I’m a horrible person so you don’t have to acknowledge any of the ways you let me down or betrayed me?
Oh, how I wish to be free of any desire for you! I wish I could so easily dismiss you from my life the way you did with me.
Facing the Truth
When I met with my mom, I laid out the truth of the ways she’d abandoned and betrayed my daughter. The more my mom lied to herself about her role in Bethany’s pain, the further she positioned herself from the relationship she wanted. The truth seemed to break through, at least a little, and my mom gave Bethany what looked like a very heartfelt and sincere apology.
There doesn’t seem to be much hope for reconciliation between my mother and Bethany, but for there to be any chance, it had to start with the truth.
In all my efforts to present the truth to my mother, I didn’t see how I was hiding it from myself. In spite of all the reasons I gave myself for talking with my mom, it wasn’t for my daughter. I met with her to avoid facing my mother’s rejection. Without knowing it, I hoped that a reconciliation would end my pain.
But my meeting didn’t end the pain of abandonment. Through it, I experienced more pain, not only by my mother, but by the way I abandoned myself.
The truth is that I can’t avoid pain by reconciling with my mother. (I don’t even want to think about how much more pain I’d invite into my life through that toxic reunion!) My mother is a broken person who can’t fill my mother-shaped void. Even if she magically became the mother I always wanted, there are significant losses I’ve suffered over a lifetime of her abandonment. I had to continue to face that pain.
Pain that is denied isn’t diminished. It lingers; it lives. Accepting the pain allowed me to nurture myself in those hurting places and to heal my wounds.
I’m doing much better now. I gave myself permission to feel a new level of the pain I uncovered and I worked through a lot of the grief. It may not have been the wisest thing for me to have contact with my mother again, but I made the most of it. My intention was to bring my mother the truth, but I really delivered the truth to myself.
Have you faced the pain of rejection of a mother or other family member? How have you handled it? Please share your experience with me below and remember to subscribe to the comments so you don’t miss any of the discussion. You can post anonymously and emails are never shared publicly.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
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