I avoid parents, mothers, and family as conversation topics with people who aren’t in my immediate circle. I do this for many reasons, but a primary one is the way folks have reacted to the news that I am estranged from my parents. Over the past 9 months I’ve heard these little gems.
Do you think there’s someway you can have some kind of relationship with them?
I think you’d feel better if you could find a way to forgive them. (And for some reason certain people’s idea of forgiveness includes contact with my parents).
Well, that makes me really sad to hear. And partly I’m sad because you don’t want to try to make something work out with them.
I often invite the people who say these things to indulge me with hypotheticals. Let’s say, hypothetically, I had an abusive husband. Let’s say, hypothetically, he hit me so hard my nose bled. Then let’s say, hypothetically, he told me it was my fault my nose was bleeding, because I had flinched, and he’d meant to hit me across the cheek. Let’s just imagine that he then told me I had to stand still, so he could “do it right”. And let’s just propose, for the sake of argument, that I had to stand stock still, trembling, while he hit me again.
Now, let’s say, hypothetically, that my imaginary abusive husband did this kind of thing, along with hurling emotional abuse at me, all the time. And, for the sake of making this hypothetical argument even stronger, let’s say he did this to another close family member, and to our dogs, in front of me. For years. Decades, even.
What would you tell me to do? “Try to make things work out”? “Find a way to have some kind of relationship?” “Find forgiveness and let him back into your life?”
No, of course not! You’d recommend I get the heck out of town while listening to the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl,” or at least Beyonce’s “Sorry”, on repeat, and to not bother looking back once.
So why, why, why would a person not recommend the same about my mother? Because if you take out the word hypothetical from the above paragraphs, replace husband with mother, and he with she, the situation stops being imaginary and is, sadly, completely true.
Perhaps what frustrates me most is that even once I propose this argument to people, even after I share such painful, traumatic details, they wave it all aside. Sometimes it seems like they weren’t even listening to me.
I have a suspicion that they don’t want to hear what I say.
Maybe it’s too hard for people to imagine that parents could be so badly behaved. My story certainly offends society’s prosaic view of the atomic family. It’s especially unsettling to find out a mother did those things. For certain people in my life, who know my mother well, it may be too difficult to accept that you befriended and supported a total monster for years of your life. To these people, I wish them the strength and courage to stand up to monsters and stand up for victims. We victims are awfully alone, and we’re already struggling with shame and fear of rejection.
For a few people, however, I have a hunch that another factor is at play. I think some people don’t want to hear that I’ve liberated myself because they haven’t been able to do the same for themselves (yet). They are still chained to some person in their life, whoever he/she may be (parent, spouse, friend, etc.), who treats them poorly. They cannot accept that I have managed to unchain myself, because the idea that that is possible, and they haven’t taken that step, is upsetting.
I empathize with these people. I don’t criticize them, or look down on them. I have the most patience with them when these painful conversations arise. It took me years to come to a place where I could tell my parents to not ever speak to, touch, look at, or otherwise contact me. It takes time, and support.
For this reason, I am trying to swallow the discomfort and temporary shame I feel when I have these discussions. I am trying to stop doubting myself, and remind myself that not all people will, or can, understand right away. I will tell people what I’ve done, because I have no cause to do anything other than hold my head high. Hopefully, I will inspire a few.
We all deserve to hold our heads high.
If you have your own stories about “coming out” as a survivor of abuse, please leave a comment!