It's funny how many lessons we learned as children that we like to attribute to mom or dad. The respective holidays for our parents every year tends to make us all reflect a bit on their parenting skills when raising us, and it's nice to look back on thoughtful advice and recipes. You remember those heartfelt talks about life, parenting, education, or morality, and many of us out there treasure them. Some of us end up seeing those moments of advice and conversation as the bread crumbs that lead us to the players in our abusive childhoods that we didn't realize were participating in harming us. This discovery can discolor those childhood life lessons, or sometimes, make the message even stronger and more important to actually utilize.
My own discovery of how much my mother participated in my abuse was not an easy one. She was always the martyr in our household; she would tolerate my father's belligerent, angry outbursts that would end with objects hurled across the house at walls and doors, verbally abusive words being shouted to tear her and I down, and sometimes his disappearing for a night or two. Seeing her constant struggle to keep him appeased gave me the impression that she was a saint. I would give her a pass when she would just lay on the couch all weekend sometimes, obviously depressed, and tell me to please "go outside and play".
I would also give her a pass when she would tell me that my father would deal with me later when he got home from work. Which meant I would get the belt, and who knows what else, when she would recount the day's aggravation I had put her through. Sometimes it was just a threat, sometimes it was a malicious pay back because she understood how frightening this man was to me when angry. She knew how he easily would fly off the handle and rough me up physically beyond the normal standard of a simple swat on the rear end. Countless times she would step in while he was busy hitting me with his belt and screaming at me. "Stop, that's enough", she would say. Sometimes though, she would just stand in silence watching from the doorway to my room. So, she knew my anxiety of dealing with this man losing control while punishing me on her behalf was near torturous.
But I always gave her a pass for this.
I didn't understand that this behavior on her part was emotional abuse. I didn't understand that she was being a participant in the physical abuse I experienced, as well. I figured that people were supposed to lose control and give you both barrels of pain and admonishment for being a "bad" child. No one had ever said it was bad to punish your child. It never occurred to me that while the concept of punishment is okay, it's the method to punish that should be called into question. Instead, I grew up and even utilized her same mindset for a number of years: If you were bad, you got pain. And you deserved every minute of it.
It took me until I was thirty-two years old to fully accept that I was the victim of not only my father's sick idea of structure and correctness, but also that my mother enabled him, not just because of codependency issues, but out of her own vicarious desires for me to be physically hurt, and purposely using him to do it.
Don't get me wrong. Her blatant use of my father as a bully stick to frighten me, inflict retribution, and generally handle all the physical punishment is really just the tip of the iceberg of her terrible parenting moments. Long term, I would say that did the least amount of damage to me overall compared to the way I was programmed to respond to stressful situations and how I was taught to develop relationships. In a nutshell, she made me a rug for people to walk all over so that later I could use my pain as ammo to manipulate others to give me what I wanted. Admittedly, what I wanted from people in relationships was way below a healthy standard anyway as she didn't give me any sense of self worth, but I'm sure you all understand how martyr complexes work:
one takes away the need to be responsible for life by scapegoating others as the reason for disappointment and failure.
The codependency issues transferred to me too, but until the last four or five years, I was still in denial about being a victim of it, instead believing I was in total control of the abusive relationship I was currently in. Surely, I could just walk away and start over no problem. After all, I recognized the flags for codependency, and I was sure that because I was educated on what it was, and how to avoid it, then I could be in a potential situation for it and just walk away without issue.
For those who have a vague idea of what codependency is, let me break it down for you. Essentially, you are in a relationship where one partner either enables or even supports the other partner's failures, immaturity, bad mental health, or even lack of responsibility.
There was absolutely no way that I could ever become codependent.
It couldn't happen to me.
I was in control.
The reality? I was codependent long before I ever left home as a child, and that is in large part thanks to my mother's own example of what a normal relationship should look like: tolerating abuse and only demanding accountability when it suited her needs. This general attitude has never wavered over the years. "If you are wronged in a relationship, you should have the advantage" was something she always demonstrated to me. Sometimes she even nearly said it outright when making statements about her relationship with my father letting me know that she could easily make it without him. I often heard this after he had angered her, was incredibly insensitive to her needs that day, and so on. But she would never since that meant she would tarnish her family image and make her readjust her priorities.
She could have demanded the situation be remedied immediately to avoid future incidents. She could have insisted on a better standard of respect from my father. She could have taken control of her situation and never put herself in a relationship with an abusive partner again. Instead she stayed in for the long haul, and ultimately, I discovered that the reason why was because she wanted to be the more successful than of all her siblings, even if only in appearance. A divorce would fracture that thin veneer of superiority she had created which covered over all the cracks in her marriage.
Ironically, she never instilled that desire for appearing successful in me. I was always a participant in making sure her life had that enviable sparkle, but my own future was never in the discussion. Anything I did was an enhancement for her, which is why I was never free to discuss family business if she weren't around for the conversation. This last bit of selfishness on her part is probably what ultimately saved me from going through my entire adult life being a codependent martyr at the expense of anyone I claimed to care for -- though sadly, I did end up that way for the first half of it.
Her lack of desire to help form my future helped wake me up to the reality that I was doing a lot of the same things she had, but I didn't do it to look perfect to the outside world. I only did it to feel I had control, because if I had control, I had worth. And if someone wasn't willing to fight to keep you, then you weren't worth anything. Guilting my partners in order to keep them with me became a cancer to my relationship style. Even worse, due to my parents going out of their way to alienate family and friends, this guilting on my part served a double purpose: it gave me ammo to dismiss one from my life at the slightest provocation because of all the pain inflicted on me. I still struggle with that last section a lot.
Emotional stress is still very difficult for me to process, so when I am attached to someone emotionally, and I perceive rejection, dissatisfaction, or any other emotional consequence from a relationship, I have an overwhelming desire to cut bait and run, and I try to bury the individual in all the fault of it. It's been a challenge, but I'm winning when it comes to recognizing that my urge to run has little to do with what the other person might be putting me through. I now have the awareness that it is my lack of ability to deal with level of stress that comes with partnerships. And point scoring is weeding out of my day to day life too. It has taken a lot of behavioral therapy to recognize when I am doing this, and I still have times I utterly fail.
With all I've shared so far, it should be noted that I have nothing to do with my either of my parents. My mom took the longest to walk away from though. Like I said at the beginning of this article, it took me a long time to really comprehend the level of damage and general element of toxicity she had injected into my day to day living. Do I regret ever having had her as a mother? I do thanks to the fact that I didn't realize how damaged I was until I had already hurt my own children. So far, my kids have healed from it, but I know at least one of my children deals with codependency and martyr complex issues, and this child is floundering. I've tried to explain to my child that this misery is self-inflicted and unnecessary, that there is help out there, but right now, I can't get through. It's a horrible feeling to see a child behave this way, and I wonder how my mother was okay with seeing me do this and not want to fix it?
It's a simple answer as to why: My mother used me for her own emotional gain.
She might have taught me the basics of sewing, how to use a crock pot, and sang lullabies to me at night, but she also showed me how to manipulate, be unattached in relationships, and use abuse as a means to control a situation to get something I want. I think it would have been easier to Google the first three things she taught me so I would never had learned the latter and passed it on to my own children. I would rather have learned from an early age how to create positive situations where everyone I love benefit and grow, not remain within a repressive rut of failed relationships and alienated family.
Now that I have reprogrammed my way of thinking to focus on bigger picture benefits, and understand that love is unconditional and selfless, I can't imagine demonstrating any other way of living. I try to live by this kind of mindset with my family, friends, and community whenever I can. The biggest benefit I discovered since walking away from my mother and programming has been that selflessness benefits everyone involved and breeds a more positive environment for success. Why would anyone want to continue living in survival mode, trying to subsist on scraps of respect and self worth? And why would one want to perpetuate this horrible cycle of relationship abuse if you know this isn't healthy?
Mothering isn't about being perfect. And it certainly isn't about making that child into someone. Robert Heinlein had once written that “being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation.” (Have Space Suit, Will Travel). This I completely agree with. I firmly believe I didn't have a mother, but a ring master for a personal circus. There are many moms out there who are like this, and if you meet a fellow alienated orphan, give them an extra tight hug today.