Disability and Representation

Changing the Cultural Conversation

Peeling Back the Layers of Shame: Talking About My Mother

[Trigger warnings for sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, shunning, shame.]

Shame is not something that most of us want to hear about. Many of us will listen to stories of any other kind of horror: sexual abuse, physical assault, hate crime, genocide. We consider it an act of courage when people talk about these things, and we give honor to the survivors by bearing witness.

But do we speak and bear witness to the debilitating and destructive nature of shame? Rarely. We fear rejection, judgment, social condemnation, isolation, shunning, so we don’t speak. And when we don’t speak, we can’t get a witness.

Truth be told, we often don’t want to hear about anyone else’s shame because it brings up all of our own. So if you’re still reading, thank you, with all of my heart. I know it isn’t easy to have come even this far.

I’m going to start by going straight into the heart of my deepest shame:


Lest you think my mother was a monster, she was not. I will not shame her in that way. Just to show you how very human she was, here is a picture of us, when I was about two years old. See how utterly ordinary we look? We were. We were just like anyone else. Human. Flawed. Fearful. Full of dreams. Trailed by demons. Capable of fucking things up royally.

circa 1960 mom and rachel But here is what I fear in this conversation: When I say that I don’t love my mother, I am afraid that you will think that I am a wholly unnatural and unloving being. That I am a freak. That I am missing some part of my soul.

Out of my fear and my shame, I will rush to tell you that I am, indeed, quite whole – capable of deep love.

Out of my fear and my shame, I will tell you that I still love my father (despite his many abuses) and that I miss him terribly.

Out of my fear and my shame, I will assure you that I love my husband as though he is the other half of my soul.

Out of my fear and my shame, I will protest that I love my kid with everything I am, and would willingly die to protect that kid against any evil that life can bring.

Out of my fear and my shame, I will let you know that I feed people on the street, and that I lie awake at night crying about the pain of the world, and that I am kind to small children.

And all of it is true. Absolutely, utterly true. But telling you that doesn’t push out the shame. It makes the shame worse, because now I’m justifying myself.

I suppose I must have loved my mother once, before everything happened. In fact, I remember very clearly, at some point in my twenties, feeling a momentary rush of love for her, and it nearly knocked me backwards. For a split second, my heart opened toward her, and then it shut right damned down. Loving her was dangerous. Loving her was foolishness. Loving her was an act of self-destruction. Being vulnerable in any way to my mother was dangerous to my ability to feel worthy of life. My openness to her sent me into spirals of self-hatred that terrified me.

I could do a recitation of all the horrors. The beatings by my father that happened only at the provocation of my mother. The hours that she would torture me by telling me what he’d do to me when he got home. The manufactured wrongs. The drama. The ways I tried to bribe her from my piggy bank to please, please, please, mommy, don’t tell. The sexual abuse she countenanced and then denied. The times I shouted for her and she never came. The years that I learned not to shout for her because it was futile. The ongoing mantra in our household that she was always, always, always right, and that everyone else was always, always, always wrong.

I could talk about my 20s and early 30s — about my rage, my despair, my spirals into suicidal thinking after every phone call. I could talk about the night my mother harassed me by telephone for three solid hours – the night my husband took me driving in Tilden Park while I screamed and raged and kicked the dashboard and then went into full-scale denial that anything bad had ever happened and that everything, everything, everything, EVERYTHING was all my fault. The night that my husband looked at me and said, “Sorry, but you’re screaming and raging and kicking the dashboard, and that’s not normal for you, so I’d say something pretty fucking bad happened.” The night that I still love him for, over 10 years after our divorce.

But that recitation is only more self-justification. Look how bad it was! How could I love this woman? It’s not my fault! It doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter.

In this recitation, I’ve left out one thing, and it has little to do with what my mother did and everything to do with what she felt: The woman hated me. I don’t use that word lightly. It wasn’t just dislike, or normal mother-daughter conflict, or not seeing eye to eye. She hated me. She hated who I was. She gave me praise when I erased myself. Otherwise, she treated me with rage, with contempt, with condemnation, with criticism, and with disappointment.

I don’t know why she hated me. I imagine that there was something in her that she needed me to complete and I just didn’t have what it took. (Should I be ashamed of that? No. But I am.)

The hatred in her went very deep. After I told her that I was going to break contact with her for awhile while I did some healing, and that she was not to harass me again without fear of legal repercussions, she took the whole family with her. No one in my family would speak to me again. Not my brother, not my uncles, not my cousins. No one.

She took away my family. An extreme act of hatred. An extreme act of shaming. When I tried to tell my uncle what happened, he shared with me the family message: You had no right to do that to your mother.

Daughters don’t get to tell their mothers to stop. They don’t get to take space to heal. They don’t get to tell them that they will find someone to protect them. They don’t get to be anything other than loving and self-sacrificing.

The loss of my family is so hard to talk about. It feels so shameful. I lost my family. They didn’t want me. Something must be wrong with me.

I began to hate my birthdays. I began to hate myself for being born of my mother. I began to hate myself for trying to survive. And beneath the hatred, there was shame, shame, shame without end.

After 13 years of estrangement had passed, my mother died in June of 2004. I found out in late May of 2005. One day, at my husband’s urging, I went to the computer, scanned the Social Security Death Index, and found that she had died eleven months earlier. That was it.

Did I cry? No. All I felt was relief. For the first time in my life, I felt safe. She couldn’t hurt me anymore. She wasn’t going to pop up when I least expected and tell me that I was unworthy of her love, unworthy of anyone’s love, unworthy of life itself. It was over.

How could I feel that kind of relief? Daughters aren’t supposed to feel relief when their mothers die. They are supposed to wail and keen and miss their mothers and talk with their friends about how hard it is and how nothing will ever be the same.

But I couldn’t do that and I felt ashamed of that. What was wrong with me?

I carry a giant absence inside myself where my mother and her love ought to be. And inside that absence, the shame spills endlessly. How could there be that absence? Why didn’t my mother love me? Why did she take my family away from me? What was wrong with me?

I’m not sure what to do with this shame and this absence. I’m not sure at all. In my rational mind, I know that all of this shame is a crock of shit. I know that my mother’s lack of love was not my fault. I know that she unleashed her demons on me and didn’t care. I know that other people get to fuck up royally every goddamned day of the year, and they’re not punished with condemnation and abuse and the withdrawal of love. I know that I should be allowed to be one of those people, too.

But the shame remains.

Maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe someone is there who, in the silence of their heart says, Yes. This is what I feel too. Maybe this shame will peel off me one day, and I will just be a human being who doesn’t need to protest what a good person I am. Maybe one day, after I’ve written enough and cried enough and spent enough sleepless nights wondering what the hell happened, I will just be a human being who says, I know who I am, and I know that I’m flawed, and I still deserve to be loved and held, no matter what.

This burden of shame is too heavy. I don’t want to carry it anymore.

© 2013 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


  1. 10/11/2013 | 1:09 am Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this. It resonates with me in ways I apparently can’t quite articulate at this hour.

    • 10/12/2013 | 7:57 pm Permalink

      A — How can I say this? I’m sorry that it resonates, because I don’t want anyone else to have these kinds of memories. But I’m also glad it resonates, because I don’t want anyone else to be alone with these feelings. (((hugs)))

  2. 10/11/2013 | 5:25 am Permalink

    This is all I have to say now:
    “Yes. This is what I feel too.”

    Thank you for your words.

  3. 10/11/2013 | 8:08 am Permalink

    My heart goes out to you. I just want you to know you are not alone. I cried as I read your letter…thinking if I wrote a letter it would sound like that. I just came to realize two weeks ago that my Mom has hated me for over 35 years. (Since I stood up to my abusive Father and told my Mother she needed to walk away for everyone’s sake. She divorced him but I don’t think she ever forgave that 15 year old girl)I lost respect for her and she took her what little feelings she had for me away. She has been shaming me in front of my family, making me feel inferior and unworthy since then. I have spent the majority of my adult life at least 1000 miles away from her because it hurts to bad to be near. There was recently an event in which several family members disowned her. She blamed me instead of accepting responsibility for her own actions and now my sisters, who live near her are distancing themselves and shaming me as well. She has yet again hurt me to my core and I have chosen to remove myself and my son from her life. By doing so I lose all my sisters and their family. All my life…all I have ever wanted was to be loved by them. I am broken but I am moving on. I,like you, do not want to carry the burden of shame anymore…. I want to move on. Good luck to you and thank you so much for sharing. May you always be loved….

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:00 pm Permalink

      Oh, Pam, I am so sorry to hear about all of this. I feel it keenly, of course.

      There is a certain kind of reflex in some dysfunctional systems in which one person is always blamed, no matter whose fault things really are. That is a pattern that is painfully familiar to me. I am so sorry that you lost your family members over taking care of yourself. It’s a crappy deal to have to make, but ultimately, taking care of yourself and your son is priority one.

  4. 10/11/2013 | 8:18 am Permalink

    I feel that shame, too. And society in general does not support people who are “unnatural” enough to not love their mothers, who have to protect themselves from their mothers.

    You are not alone. And this shame, it is a deep sea that is shared. But facing that down leads you to an incredible well of strength, as well. ((((hugs)))) I hope that strength speaks to you when you need it most. It may be a quiet voice, but it is a true one.

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:01 pm Permalink

      Thank you, Sarah. We should not carry shame for any of what we feel — or don’t feel. Of this, I am certain. But rooting it out — that is difficult. Voices like yours help, more than you know.

  5. 10/11/2013 | 8:44 am Permalink

    Having experienced your experience nearly word for word, except that it was my father and not my mother, the most important thing I can tell you is that it was inevitable. You were erased from the start but when you began to form as your own separate entity your mother made it official. Honestly, it wasn’t you, it was your family and if it wasn’t that incident it would have been something else. Your mother enjoyed victimizing you, she really did and how awful for you but you were NEVER to blame.

    I’m not asking for details but I have to wonder, are you in a stable relationship compared to others in your immediate family (lots of divorces and child custody issues)? Are you able to understand someone else’s pain in ways they can’t? Are they in denial about things that happened to them and do they shame you so that don’t have to feel shame? The hardest part of claiming my autism has been letting go of my previous identity. I’m still in the grieving stage and I think you might be as well.

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:09 pm Permalink

      Hi PJ –

      Those are all good questions. Yes, I’m in a pretty stable situation compared to a number of family members in my own generation, but in my parents’ generation (when divorce was less common), the relationships are pretty stable.

      I could definitely understand other people’s pain in ways that other family members couldn’t. That’s always been the case. I’ve always been the different one, especially when it comes to empathy. Sometimes, that difference was good — like when I got all As or played the piano well or some such — but generally, it was very isolating. I’ve always felt apart from them. And that was the confusing thing — I got a lot of praise as a child for my intelligence and accomplishments. In many ways, as long as I stayed in that role, I had Most Favored Child status and I know how much that hurt my brother. But any time I stepped out of that role and became a person, there was hell to pay.

      And oh, yes, yes, yes, there is a load of denial in my family. If my family could sell denial, they’d all be millionaires. That is really at the core of why they rejected me. I criticized the family system and said that I wasn’t going to play by its rules — that I wasn’t going to pretend that everything was fine when it wasn’t fine, that I wasn’t going to countenance abuse, that I wasn’t going to always be the one who “rose above” everything while everyone else went their merry way being actual human beings. That made me persona non grata.

      I am definitely still grieving, about a great many things. It’s difficult to separate the strands. There have been other traumas apart from my family traumas, and I have been very much changed by them. So there is grief there for the old self, and for much more.

  6. 10/11/2013 | 8:50 am Permalink

    “I know who I am, and I know that I’m flawed, and I still deserve to be loved and held, no matter what. ”

    I love my mother – she isn’t perfect, and probably wasn’t perfect FOR ME. And vice versa.

    I am sorry your mother didn’t manage to mother you.

    When the situation is child/parent, the parent has to be the grownup and do the right things. The child is not to blame.

    You should not be ashamed – I hope you find help somewhere. This should not be allowed to bother you for any more of your life.

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:14 pm Permalink

      Thank you, Alicia. I am working on my healing.

      With regard to my own parents, I am still struggling with the idea that it was their responsibility to step up, because I have no experience of that. I never felt as though I were anyone’s little girl. By the time I was 4, I knew I was on my own.

      With my own kid, though, I am deeply, deeply committed to always being there as a parent, no matter what, and my kid knows that and trusts it implicitly. They always know I’m there, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind about it. West and I have a very mutually trustworthy relationship.

      So I understand that commitment as a parent. It’s obvious and natural to me. I just don’t understand it from the perspective of the child I once was — and from the child who still lives within me.

      • 10/14/2013 | 6:44 pm Permalink

        It isn’t fair that you had to be a good daughter – beyond your capabilities – and now have to be a good mother without the proper training.

        But you have the satisfaction of being a better mother than you were taught, and that is enormous.

        You could have passed on the bad parenting – and you CHOSE not to.

        I can’t help – I’m not a therapist – but sometimes I think of it in terms of a jail sentence. If you would get 15 years for murder, for example, surely you can be pardoned by now – after all, you didn’t kill anyone. They let embezzlers who ruin people’s lives out of jail – don’t let your sentence, for a crime you did not commit, be longer.


  7. 10/11/2013 | 12:32 pm Permalink

    Earlier today I asked God how long will I feel this way? How long will I remain alone for simply being me? Your story resonates with me beyond what words can describe. I too suffered the consequence of losing my entire family because I spoke up for myself. I am not certain that this shame will ever go away. Some things you never fully recover from, some things change you forever. My only hope is for an ebb and flow of restoration of my soul.

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:16 pm Permalink

      I am so sorry, Linda. ((((hugs)))) It’s awful. I have faith that the shame will go away. In God’s time, perhaps, but I have faith that it will go. For both of us. <3

  8. 10/11/2013 | 1:18 pm Permalink

    Of course, I’m sorry you feel shame, but I am glad you are able to share this. I do generally agree w/ the 12-step slogan “You are as sick as your secrets.”

    I’ve given the issue of hating one’s parents a lot of thought. My mother died 28 years ago and I was so relieved to have her gone. I always knew it was her vs. me and she would win. . .but she didn’t because of sheer bad luck for her. And my father *is* a monster, actually.

    In spite of this, most people tell me quite openly that the best thing is ALWAYS to forgive and love one’s parents. This seems to trump everything. Y’know, the good Judeo-Christian bibles say it’s so. . .

    I think loving oneself enough to speak the truth trumps everything. Good for you.

    Good for you.

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:19 pm Permalink

      Thanks, Jules. That feeling of believing that your parent will always win, and then realizing that they’re not there to fight that war of attrition anymore, produces such an odd feeling. It’s almost a feeling of disbelief, as in “What? You mean, she DIDN’T win? But she was ALL POWERFUL!” Perhaps that’s part of what the shame is about. Perhaps the shame is about holding on to the belief that I haven’t really won and that the war isn’t really over. I have this terrible fear that when I die, I will meet my parents at the gates of heaven and they’ll start in all over again. PTSD, anyone?

  9. 10/11/2013 | 2:46 pm Permalink

    This is a very powerful post, and I’m really glad you felt able to write and publish it. I am fortunate not to have felt this, but I am close to people who most certainly have.

    In case other people’s stories are any help, there’s loads of posts (with an ocean of comments) on Captain Awkward about adults having to deal with abusive family members after they have upped and moved away. Even though the decision-making stuff is behind you now, reading about other’s shared experiences helped me a very great deal in processing abuse, long after I’d escaped it. Warning: sometimes commenters use clumsy language around mental health and ASD.

    Some posts that come to mind from memory are
    When is it time to cut off communication with an abusive family?, My Mom gives me the silent treatment and Should I move away from my abusive family?

  10. 10/11/2013 | 5:16 pm Permalink

    I felt that shame for years. The shame that there had to be something wrong with me, something lacking in me that made it impossible for my mother to love me. It took me ten years of therapy to finally realize that I wasn’t the one lacking, that there was something lacking in her. When I finally realized that, I was able to cut her out of my life and tell her that I didn’t have to put up with her hatred and abuse of me anymore. I too lost the rest of my family over that, and when I finally had the strength to blog about it, my sister-in-law and her daughter had the nerve to tell me that I had no right to talk about what happened to me, had no right to air the family’s “dirty laundry” in public (despite everything that my mother did to me was common knowledge in the town where I grew up, and no one did a damned thing to stop her). That it was over and done and I needed to “get over it, already”, that my mother was a wonderful woman and I had no right to malign her the way I did.
    When she died 4 years ago, my first thought on hearing the news was “ding dong, the wicked bitch is dead” and feeling a great sense of relief, relief that she would never be able to make me feel “less than” ever again.
    I no longer feel any shame over those feelings, and I sure as hell don’t feel shame anymore that she never loved me. I don’t know what her problem was, she seemed to love my brother, his wife, and their kids, but she hated me and she didn’t have much use for my son or his kids either. But I’m almost 60 years old now, and even though she abused me mentally and emotionally for almost 40 years, and physically for 18 years, I can honestly say I didn’t deserve any of it, and the problem was hers, not mine. I wish I had been able to figure this out when I was much younger, my life would have been a lot happier. But I have a husband now who loves me, my son and I have a great relationship, and I can live without my brother and his family in my life, since they seem to think everything that happened to me was well-deserved. Yep, not accepting that judgment of theirs at all.
    It is possible to get over the shame, but it takes a LOT of work, a LOT of educating oneself, and a LOT of time.

  11. 10/11/2013 | 5:50 pm Permalink

    Oh, how this post speaks to me. I have a post of my own, a first draft, on my own mother issues. I’m so sorry the rest of your family didn’t choose to love you anyway. And relief? It’s what it is – for so many reasons most can never understand. <3

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:22 pm Permalink

      You too, Leigh? I am so sorry. (((Hugs))) Hope you can complete the post, but take care of yourself in the process. This is some heavy stuff.

  12. 10/12/2013 | 8:00 pm Permalink

    This hit really, really close to home for me.

    My mom does not show kindness to me. She didn’t raise me with kindness and she never gave it to me. I tried so, so hard to get it from her figuring I could get it if I ONLY TRIED HARD ENOUGH… but there is never enough, never enough of me to give.

    Just the other day, she broke my boundaries again and all I got for it was sarcasm and the implication I was hurting her when all I was trying to do was protect myself, to save the spoons I so desperately need for myself.

    • 10/12/2013 | 8:26 pm Permalink

      Rebecca, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s unkindness. That resonates with my own experience as well. It’s the lack of kindness that I can’t understand. What’s really amazing is that my mother’s parents were unfailingly kind to me. They truly loved me. But my mother was just plain mean. I don’t understand how she could be so different from her parents, but who knows what happened before I was born? In any case, I don’t think I’ll ever really understand where that kind of unkindness comes from.

  13. 10/19/2013 | 2:16 am Permalink

    I don’t think it’s monstrous to not love a person who harms us like that.

    My mother was not a monster either. She was mentally ill, same as me, never got treatment (maybe a backhanded blessing . . . the treatments for it in her time were terrible), and was trapped in a life that in no way suited her. The end effect of this is that, like a trapped animal becoming dangerous, she did me a great deal of harm.

    I am a fiction writer. I realized some time ago that I have only written ONE THING in which the main characters had a living mother who was involved in the story. I literally cannot conceive of a relationship with a mother that is not full of anger, resentment, and strife. That is how fundamentally damaged our relationship was.

    I found some healing, early on, from Clarissa Estes and Women who Run With Wolves, and her writing about instinct-injury, and the unmothered child. I do recommend her writing for those struggling. But most of the healing only came after my mother died. Unseasonably young, at 61, when I was only 28. It COULD only come after she died.

    I never forgave her. Not really. I was civil to her, I was kind, but there was a coldness there. An estrangement. I know she loved me, but she was, frankly, awful at being a mother. She was abusive. I understand her more now, and I pity her *greatly*, but when the chips were down, she was still a person who treated me horribly in ways that mental illness can neither explain nor excuse, and the worst of it is that it has taken me so long to be able to see and feel that I was not to blame for that. I don’t believe it 100% of the time, but it is now “almost always.” I am pleased I have come so far, but there’s always more work to do. I still uncover things, realize things, understand things in new ways. I am still finding ways in which she damaged me, like coming across random body parts while sowing in a garden.

    So I don’t think you’re monstrous for not loving your mother. I don’t know you well, I haven’t been reading for long, but this is a powerful post, and I feel a great deal of sympathy for the child you were, and a sense of . . . recognition/kinship, I suppose . . . that I, like many other commenters, passed down a road not too dissimilar from yours.

    I can’t offer advice, only a statement: I witness your words, and I do not judge you. I see strength in these words, and pain, and deep humanity. I see a wronged spirit, and I see determination and self-awareness. And I feel hope. That you have come this far speaks worlds.

    May all of us who travel this broken road find our way to a place where we can be unburdened of our shame. We were not set upon this path of our own will. We should not have to carry such a heavy load.

    Peace and strength.

    • 10/20/2013 | 7:20 am Permalink

      Omein v’omein, Naamah! Thank you for your beautiful words.

  14. 10/22/2013 | 9:22 am Permalink

    I don’t love my mother, either. I feel no shame about this — I’m sorry that you do.

    Children WANT to love their parents. When I see the things my kids forgive me for, it takes my breath away.

    For a child to cease loving a parent . . . there is some serious shit that goes down. It is not the child’s fault. The inability to love a parent is a sad, sad thing. I would not wish it on anyone.

    I wish I could take your shame away. I wish I could shake the members of your family who turned their backs on you when you most needed them.

    But I’m here to raise my hand and be counted: I don’t love my mother, either. No excuses, no rationalizations, no nothing but solidarity.

    • 11/4/2013 | 2:57 pm Permalink

      Thank you so much, Haddayr. <3 Everything you're saying here helps me IMMENSELY.

  15. 12/23/2013 | 10:28 am Permalink

    I did not suffer the horrors you did. My own mother issues are garden variety emotional neglect, disinterest, and the effects of having a narcissist for a mother. When I have been brave enough to admit my lack of love for her, I get that look. You probably know it. The one that screams, “But you can’t be human and not adore your mother!” It’s painful. The best I can do is pity her and do what I see as my duty to assist her in her later years — without sacrificing too much of my emotional well-being. It’s a balancing act to be sure. I’m so sorry that you had to endure all of that. And I’m glad that you were able to go on to have your own children and give them what you should have had. Have you ever read Motherless Mothers by Hope Edelman? It’s powerful. After reading it, I began to understand just how motherless I really was — along with all the psychological crap that came with it. It does’t make it go away. But I feel like I understand myself a little bit more. Thanks for sharing your story, Rachel. Very brave. :)

    • 12/23/2013 | 10:40 am Permalink

      I know all too well what you’re talking about, Leigh. I am sorry for your pain and loss. Any failure of a mother to love, respect, and accept her children has such a painful, lifelong impact.

      I have never read “Motherless Mothers.” I will check it out! Thanks. <3

  16. 12/23/2013 | 4:22 pm Permalink

    Very brave to have articulated. I also live with the shame of trying to figure out how I feel about a mother who treats me and my family with such utter contempt. It’s the weirdest thing. – while she and her posse (my 52 year old brother who lives with her and my sister) have literally locked arms along with as many extended family they could get, paints herself as the victim. ( even complaining and confusing my children) when undoubtedly they have summarily shunned us. The proverbial having her cake and eating it too. In the next post I’ll lay out a few situations and would love to hear if anyone can tell what is going on.

  17. 12/23/2013 | 4:53 pm Permalink

    I thought I typed a comment but guess I didn’t post it properly. This is such a brave expression of the confusion and dissonance that happens with the mother-daughter relationship that is supposed to be one of our closest relationships and in many cases is one of our worst relationships. Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about my mother, siblings and some extended family. To say incredibly disappointed would be a massive understatement. My mother somehow manages to take self-pity down some strange paths. Growing up, I always thought her inferiority complex was endearing and sweet but it has morphed into a weapon (against me and my family). My mom has always had a way of demonizing people and making herself the victim but not until I was on the receiving end of that did I completely understand what that was about. We add to that dynamic my adult (52 year old) brother who lives with my Mom and my older (twice-divorced single) sister who have an abnormal and absurd relationship. I would love to get some perspective though on some situations in which I see parallels and how they are treated differently – in my next post.

  18. 12/23/2013 | 5:12 pm Permalink

    OK, I’m embarassed, I see my 1st comment DID post. I am called by my mother and siblings (their families) and a few aunts and cousins who buy-in to the family script that I am the crazy, pathetic one. These are verbatim. My very adult married (at the time), soon to be divorced, brother has lived with my Mom almost 2 years now, my older sister has been twice-divorced. I have never commented on or even thrown that in their face, yet they have no compunction to calling me (happily married for 21 years) crazy and pathetic (the last one because I asked them to let me know the next time they take my Mom to the hospital (I could show you that bizarre e-mail exchange).
    Secondly, in my usual scapegoat position – I moved back home (when I was single) when my father was sick (I was in my early twenties). Shortly after my father passed away from cancer my younger brother moved out and my older sister was married leaving me at home with my Mom. She was despondant and extremely grief-stricken for almost 2 years. After she had improved I decided I should move into an apartment with my friends (I was worried about being a “failure to launch” and ending up living there forever). I moved 10 minutes away from my Mom’s house (approx. the same distance as the siblings from my Mom). My sister blindsighted me with an incredibly nasty character assasination letter about me moving out of my Mom’s house with some incredibly below the belt (her favorite type of verbal assaults). I stupidly forgave that letter in the interest of family unity (which I thought was a goal). We fast-forward to now (7 years after I’ve been “shunned” from the family) and now my sister is my Mom’s best friend and can do no wrong. My sister is moving to Texas (much more than 10 minutes away from my Mom’s house in Ohio). She’s not moving for any reason other than she wants to. I am flabberghasted that given a situation like that on a much smaller scale and I was characterized as a selfish miscreant that barely deserved to live and now my sister is leaving her 80-year old mother who considers her a best friend to go several states away.
    Also, my Mom, aunt, cousin and my siblings and 2nd cousins refused to come to my son’s high school graduation party that I invited them to. (this past summer). The very next week my nephew (brother’s son) had his graduation party and my Mom, siblings, cousins, aunts, etc. who didn’t come to my son’s party attended theirs (my son who was snubbed even graciously went and brought a present).

    I feel like I’ve been on a long episode of Candid Camera.

  19. 12/26/2013 | 7:20 am Permalink

    Thank you for having the courage to write this. I have a slightly different story but with similar pain. Thank you for helping me understand that I’m not the only one and for validating that the shame is not deserved. You have a new fan!

  20. 12/26/2013 | 2:59 pm Permalink

    Rachel, thank you so much for this. I was linked here from TBINA. So many of the things that I haven’t had the courage to write, laid out so eloquently and bravely right here. I read through the comments (Naamah’s comment! Oh, how much that one resonated.) and I wanted to add a book to the pile of recommendations. It’s called The Drama of the Gifted Child, and it’s helped me some lately, with my search to heal that massive inner rift where mother-love is supposed to go. Thank you, again, for writing this.

    • 12/26/2013 | 4:07 pm Permalink

      Hi S — Thank you so much for all of your kind words. I read “The Drama of the Gifted Child” many years ago, and with every page, all I could think was, “How does this person know so much about my life?” It was one of the first books on abuse I read and it was transformative. So glad you’ve found it, too!

  21. 12/26/2013 | 5:15 pm Permalink

    Right now, thank you is all I can muster.

  22. 12/26/2013 | 10:10 pm Permalink

    I don’t think I could thank you enough for this. Really, I don’t think I can.

    You took everything I’ve felt, and put it so well. Thank you.

  23. 3/3/2014 | 11:36 pm Permalink

    I didn’t love my father. Oh, I used to when I was a child, but that ended sometime in my mid-20s. By the time he died (when I was a little over 40), there wasn’t room left for anything but relief that I would never have to deal with him again.

    There was no physical abuse. He actually did love me, in so far as he was capable of doing so. But he never could figure out that I was not an extension of him, or that I didn’t venerate him as the fount of all wisdom and truth. He had trouble seeing me as competent enough to dress myself in the morning, let alone to have an opinion (or any knowledge) worth paying attention to. It was pretty clear that he didn’t really see ME at all — that all of his interactions were with some fantasy version of me that he kept in his head, and no matter how much I jumped up and down in front of him screaming, “Look, I’m right here!” I was effectively invisible.

    My relationship with my mother was… complex. She at least saw me as I was, but she didn’t like or approve of who I was. I think we might eventually have worked our way to a functional adult-to-adult relationship if she hadn’t died when I was in my early 30s.

    My reason for posting this is to tell you (1) that you are not alone in saying that you don’t love a parent, and (2) that you don’t have to justify it with tales of terrible abuse; it can happen for far less cause. Love is not an inexhaustible resource, no matter what anyone tries to tell you. It requires some kind of reciprocity, or eventually it dries up and goes away like a drained aquifer.

  24. 3/4/2014 | 3:15 am Permalink

    Thank you for writing this.

    For whatever reason, I didn’t connect to my moderately (as such things go) emotionally abusive parents, and I’m dealing with huge amounts of shame. Some of it’s from them, but a huge amount is cultural.

    I either never wanted to please them, or I gave up very early.

  25. 3/4/2014 | 11:27 am Permalink

    Not anything like as severe, but your story is my story. I am lucky, I never bought into the shame, probably because I am a stubborn cuss, and if someone treats me badly, I withhold my love and respect without regret. I wish I could just blow away your shame, like brushing dust off a treasure chest, because you don’t deserve it. I wish I could replace it with pride that you survived, and by all appearances thrived. That you can love the good people in your life says that YOU’RE NOT BROKEN. SHE WAS.

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