The Intertwining of Worth And Shame In Abusive Parenting

One morning my mother’s car was in the shop, and so she wasn’t able to pick up a coworker to carpool for once, it had to be the other way around.  I had much bigger things on my mind and didn’t see this as significant.  Yet after I got out of the car and began the long walk onwards from their office to my college campus, my mother suddenly screamed at my back “Say thank you!”  I kept walking, unwilling to acknowledge such an undignified demand, or allow her to humiliate me as she had many times in the past.  It is incomprehensible to me that my mother would want to make such a scene in front of her coworkers, to undoubtedly not just embarrass me, but herself and everyone else who heard her.  My mother’s self-righteous punitive drive was socially blind, but I could see that no one in the car cared to talk to me or that I was there, and I doubt they kept track of how enthusiastically I seconded each of my mothers ‘thanks.’  But she cared more about them and their feelings then she did about me and mine, and this gesture was to remind me of that.

My mother always prioritized this self-effacing, overblown deference to strangers, acquaintances, and other remote agents over her own children.  Falling all over herself to apologize over the littlest things we did, she felt her responsibility was not to protect her offspring, but people she might see only once in her life.  Mother never apologized to me despite all of her abuse or took responsibility for it, but made me responsible for the feelings of every adult we encountered.  Likewise she had a habit of speaking for me, in refusing my needs, in telling everyone they didn’t need to change anything ever for my sake.  She would give me this look like “oh please!” to silence me, to tell me I wasn’t worth any special consideration.  When of course I was and am, because everyone is.  Being forced to turn down things that would make me happy, comfortable, or healthy led to so much misery.

On our first morning at summer day-camp, my brother and I were approached by another boy.  I blew him off, said I didn’t like him or want to play with him.  And in response my brother pushed me down onto the blacktop, stood on my back, and jumped up and down on me until I was wheezing and crying.  Then, as I struggled to get up, he said to the stunned stranger “Don’t worry, he didn’t mean it.”  How considerate of him!  The phony lessons about ‘being polite’ that we were taught were filled with these double standards, as well as a general intolerance for the way young children naturally are.  I could have been stressed out that day for many reasons, or I might have recognized this boy as someone mean from school who I had a right to express my boundaries with. 

It was none of my brothers business, but I was treated as being so far below him and everyone else at that camp that I could be insulted and assaulted, but had to be 100% sweet and nice in my own behavior.  That was not going to happen.  I was being taught one set of unhealthy standards verbally, and another through nonverbal messages, but neither benefited me, neither matched up with the conditions I developed due to this trauma or my natural personality.    I know we only attended that [obviously not safe or well-supervised] camp over one summer when I was 6.  But I’ve recently remembered one of the other places we were often dropped off at.  In a dingy, barren old house I was made to line up with a row of other naked children and sized up, chosen individually by the pedophiles who decided our worth via their own sick desires.

One morning at 6am before school my mother burst into my room and put a pair of new overalls on the floor, announcing “wear these today!” before leaving.  I hated them, and didn’t want to put them on.  I started crying, until ten minutes later she came back in a rage, screaming “Well, fine!  I saw them on a boy in your class and thought he looked really cute!” before taking them back and slamming her door behind her.  She didn’t think it necessary to comfort the six year old crying and sitting on the cold floor, all that mattered was her feelings, and how they were hurt.  When if she had gently introduced me to the idea of these overalls at a decent hour, I might have been convinced to try them on, though I thought they looked incredibly stupid.  But always the fault, guilt, and obligation were put onto me, and she did not feel responsible for anything.

If I ever expressed an opinion boldly, my mother would apologize to everyone in the room, loudly deny that I really thought that way, and then pretend it never happened.  So indeed, my brother’s “he didn’t mean it” came from her mouth first.  But I did and do have opinions, feelings, and ideas not accounted for in my mother’s delusional, controlling little world.  I don’t care if her circle liked my opinions or not, I still had a right to express them.  One of the things that I really hate about repressive family systems is that the children are pressured into muting who they really are lest grandparents, uncles, cousins might be “offended.”  My mother always harassed me about my hair, about my sexuality, my personal style, [lack of] religious beliefs, my eating disorder, lest her glass box of denial would form a fissure or some extended relative I hardly even knew might disapprove.  That is sick and unacceptable.

If her relatives were such bigots, wholly uninterested in letting people be who they are and connecting on a deeper level, then they shouldn’t have been in our lives in the first place.  Adult children filled with an obligation to their parents over their own kids begin to perpetuate that system very early on, and often never stop.  My mother extended it to practically the whole world.  But she was dead wrong, and passing this poisonous pattern onto me did so much damage. Today I know that I am not less then other people, I am not less worthy of being myself, having my needs met, or telling my story then anyone else.  I don’t care about age, class, or any other status system whereby people place some as being “more worthy” of respect at the expense of others.  I don’t buy into or validate that.  If I had children, I would recognize my first obligation being to them, to protecting and nurturing their feelings and rights, not to perpetuating a social system where they are considered to be nothing.

And since I’m not less worthy, I don’t act like my mother.  She could go far out of her way to pick someone else up for eight months, but was in such nervous worry about the “imposition” of having the favor returned for one day that she made an insane scene in a parking lot, desperately drawing attention to how ‘grateful’ she was by attacking me.  That shows she saw herself as less worthy, and of course me as even less, since I wasn’t allowed to voicelessly nod the way her coworkers did to me, but was expected to grovel.  I believe in equal, mutual respect, and taking care of myself does come first.  I’m not going to have anyone standing over my shoulder dictating what I ‘should’ say or do, or deciding my worth for me.


About proudlysensitive

Gay male survivor of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
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14 Responses to The Intertwining of Worth And Shame In Abusive Parenting

  1. Charity says:

    Wow Caden, wow! I am sorry that everyone around you expected you to be this darling little gentleman with good manners. All the while, they were the worst behaved people you had ever known.

    I finally cut things off with my mom and dad. They always pushed (and continue to) my sisters and I to be moral, godly and well mannered while they hurt, humiliated and barked orders at all of us.

    Today my mother sent me an email that she had already sent me FIVE AND A HALF YEARS ago all about Joyce Meyer and what she says about forgiveness. I responded today with a break-up email to my mom for her and dad. I also noted that Joyce Meyer needs psychological help. Any woman who is raped by her own dad several times a week, week after week for years, should NOT house and make provisions for her dad and mom for years. I told my mom that I understand why she would use Joyce Meyer as an example because she and dad are sadists.

    Caden, I am so glad that you had the courage to stand up, protect, provide and care for you. You matter and you had a conscience, even as a young child. Instead of following suit of the example before you, you grew. I’m proud of you and I appreciate your heart and help. Thank you for encouraging me. Right now I am seeking help from Recovering from Religion. It’s looks as though they don’t have anything within three hours from me. I’m going to continue to seek for some serious, healthy secular help.

    Thank you Caden.

    • Thank you Charity. Living under someone else’s intrusive double standards is terrible. I’m so glad you will be free of the poisonous, judgmental presence of your parents from now on! Good job. Joyce Meyer doesn’t sound like a good example to follow–betraying your body and ignoring your boundaries to issue a blanket forgiveness and embrace abusers can cause life-threatening diseases for some people. Anyway, my mother would also do things like that–send me new replies to emails I had written years before, etc. It’s insane behavior. I hope this will be a great step for you.

      take care,

  2. Jodi says:

    I am so glad to read here in your post that you see their garbage for what it’s worth…*theirs*. And glad you realize they never should have placed it on you. It sounds like you have come a very long and hard way in doing your recovery work.

  3. thank you. I could relate.

  4. Ms. Tyler says:

    your mother sounds like mine, a damn narcissist, your brother sound likes my sister, a narcissists just like my mother. i know exactly how you feel. i was the scapegoat for 20 years until i made the decision to divorce my family. i will never ever go back to them. i miss the thought of actually having a real family, a real mother who will comfort me when im crying but the reality is that it will never happen and that’s something that i’ve learned to accept. ive become a mother to my own inner child. youre doing an amazing job of letting it out, dont let them hurt you, believe me youre much better than them

    • Hi Ms. Tyler. I also grieve at times the idea of a healthy loving family–but my family of origin will never be that, so I’m also thrilled to have them out of my life for good. I’m sorry you were also scapegoated by a sick family. I know they might still scapegoat me today, but they do it on their time, not mine, and none of it reaches me anymore. Great points!

      thanks and take care,

  5. Hi Caden!
    My fav line of your post is the final line where you say “I’m not going to have anyone standing over my shoulder dictating what I ‘should’ say or do, or deciding my worth for me.” I am going to post it on EFB FB today!
    This is a great post! I like how you use such typical examples of the ways that parents define children through their actions and responses. Most of society accepts this kind of treatment as reasonable! It makes me sick.
    Hugs, Darlene

    • Hi Darlene, it’s great to hear from you. You’re right, so many do see these ways of (mis)treating children as reasonable and ‘normal.’ That’s why it’s such a big task to beak through to the truth, but so rewarding. Thanks for sharing, I wasn’t sure anyone would relate to what I said here, so it’s a pleasant surprise that I’m not alone. .

      thanks take care,

  6. Wow! This really touched me. I can relate to it a lot. Thank you for sharing your story and journey.

  7. Karen says:

    Wow! This rang true on so many counts for me. So glad you found your strength, Caden. It is an incredibly tough journey to get to a good place and have it stick. In it alone is pure insanity. Thanks for sharing how your own power triumphed over all evil.

    • Thanks Karen! It is difficult to get to a permanent good place, but with achieving longer and deeper periods of well-being things eventually start to even out. I’m still on that journey now but definitely making a lot of progress!

      take care,

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