My Mom died in November 2020. Ten days later one of my sisters contacted me on FB to inform me of our Mom’s death. The way in which she told me was harsh, accusatory, and dripping with guilt. After I read her message, I blocked my sister. She was the only one in my family that I hadn’t blocked because I didn’t think she was on FB.
At the time, I only told a very few very close friends about my Mom’s death because I didn’t want to deal with all the condolences from people who didn’t know about my family. I didn’t know if I should pretend my Mom and I had a good relationship or say nothing about its badness? How could I explain that I had grieved for years and years over the loss of our relationship and that I was pretty much all grieved out at this point? So I said nothing.
I don’t want to wade into the details of my dysfunctional family–that would take thousands of pages, probably, and still not convey the story. People who have loving families will not comprehend the damaging toxicity of an emotionally abusive family no matter how much a survivor tries to explain. They will assume that all problems are “petty” and that all a person has to do is love and forgive enough and everything will be resolved. (Not true.) People who do understand abuse will understand without being told details. But I will try to write a brief sketch:
I grew up thinking that I had a loving family. I loved them all deeply. I was always very close to my Mom and was always there to help her and Dad. My Mom praised me for being a wonderful daughter. That is, until I got engaged to EJ in my mid-twenties. Suddenly, without warning, my Mom became extremely demanding and critical. When I tried to set healthy boundaries, to explain, to defend myself, she became enraged and began lying about me. She turned the family against me. Overnight I went from a “loving daughter” to “a daughter from Hell–the worst daughter a mother could have” and other such things. It was horrid and I was totally confused. I didn’t understand what was happening–or why.
That was when I began to educate myself about emotional abuse. At first, I had no help except for a few books here and there. I sought counseling from a few mentors/pastors but they always advised me to love my Mom more because she was just wounded. I didn’t “not love” my Mom. I sensed that this wasn’t about love or woundedness but was an intense power battle–that my Mom was trying to make me submit to her control and to place herself as the head of my marriage. Eventually, I found information about abuse on the internet from survivors. I learned about the behavior and tactics of abusers, I learned how they tend to gather around them people who support, enable, and defend them, and I learned about the damage their abuse causes their victims. I learned that emotional abusers are so manipulative that the ONLY way to be free of their abuse is to have no contact. I learned a LOT. My family has all the characteristics and my eyes were finally opened to the covert emotional abuse that had always existed in my family.
I grieved for many years for my family. Not for what we were as much as for what we could have been. I think we had the potential to have been a close loving family. In fact, some of us siblings were once very close friends. However, as abusers commonly do, our Mom covertly manipulated us, stirring up resentment, jealousy, or fear, and turning us against each other. My Mom reminded me of Proverbs 16:28: “A whisperer separates close friends.”
I tried for years and years to reconcile with my Mom without sacrificing my ability to make my own choices as an adult. Finally, when she said that she considered all my efforts to reconcile to be “less than a drop in a teacup” and she would never forgive me (for my lack of submission?), I recognized that there was nothing more that I could do. I accepted her final rejection and I walked away. My Mom, my family, caused so much turmoil that it was hurting me and my own little family. I struggled with PTSD symptoms.
None of my other siblings have freed themselves from the abuse. At one time or another, my Mom cut off relationships with four of her six children, at least for a while. When it first happened to me, I reached out to siblings who had been outcast before me. I thought we could be friends, and I thought we were for a while, but I was the only one who made any effort to maintain a friendship and they never let go of their childhood resentments. They have spent their whole lives trying to gain our Mom’s love and approval, and even though they had suffered rejection, when I walked away, they turned on me and defended our Mom. This, also, is typical behavior of abusive families. The one who tells the truth, the one who doesn’t submit, is vilified and becomes a scapegoat.
When EJ and I (with our son) moved to Northern Michigan, I didn’t notify my family. I saw how toxic, how damaging, my family was and I needed to be free of it. Since we moved north, EJ and I have been working on recovery and healing for ourselves–and we are gradually finding it.
A month or so ago, I found out in a roundabout way that my family was trying to contact me in regards to our Mom’s Will. I didn’t respond because I saw (from my sister’s message about Mom’s death) that they hadn’t changed and I really didn’t want the turmoil of reconnection. Besides, I was absolutely certain that I had been disinherited. If I had been left anything at all, I knew it wouldn’t be loving. Or nice. Either it would be a tiny amount to make me feel unvalued or it would be a nasty letter. I’m uninterested in an inheritance and would rather have peace and joy.
I felt a bit of stress at the thought of being contacted by my family because contact means being dragged back into the abuse so I asked God that if it was legally required that I be contacted regarding the Will to please let me be contacted by a lawyer and let it be over and done with quickly. In today’s mail was a copy of the Will sent to me by a lawyer. I glanced at it briefly, saw in a letter placed on top of the Will that I was indeed “disinherited.” I didn’t read the rest. I won’t read the rest. To me, reading the Will would like letting them all stab me in the heart again.
I felt a trifle punched in the gut by the rejection/lack of love from them all, but not tremendously so and it is quickly fading. Years ago, my parents planned to disinherit one of my sisters. Or, rather, they actually discussed leaving her only one dollar to symbolize how little they valued her. When I considered a few years later that they would probably do the same to me, I asked God, “Do I have so little value to them, so little worth?” The worthlessness that their “disinheritance” symbolized is what bothered me. And then I realized that God loves me so much and places such high value on me that He gave His Son for me. Also, 1 Peter 1:4 says that God has given me “an inheritance that cannot decay, spoil or fade, kept safe for you in heaven.” I am loved, valued, and have an incredible inheritance. Nothing can beat that. I was comforted.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me. (Ps 27:10)
For the record, I do not hate my family. I often pray that God will heal them/us so that the dysfunction does not damage future generations. But our relationships have been so destroyed and there would be so much “baggage” to sort through that I don’t think it’s possible to restore any relationships. I want a good life for them and a good life for me–separately. I actually feel a sense of relief because I’ve received the will, I don’t have to dread contact from my siblings, and I can get on with life.
In closing, I would like to share an incredibly unique poem by Shiva Sai Teja. I have read it several times in the past, and it just recently reappeared in my FB timeline. When you read each line of the poem, as you normally would, from the top to the bottom, it says one thing. When you then read the poem in reverse, reading each line from the bottom to the top, it has a completely different message. I feel the first way–top to bottom–describes how abusers make their victims feel about themselves. Reading in reverse is what a victim must re-learn as she strives for recovery and healing. This poem always, always brings tears to my eyes.
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord. (Ps 45:10-11)