(1)hi!! firstly thanks so much for putting up resources like this. they’re so validating! i do have a question though. i’m a college student who experienced emotional/psychological abuse from my mom when i was younger. i can recognize based on lists that the way she treated me and my sister was abusive. but in practice a lot of the time i feel like a faker. she belittled and mocked me frequently for the things i liked and disliked, and yelled at me at length over very small things (cont)

(2) that would eventually turn into repeated rehashing of my personal flaws. she was terribly controlling when it came to clothes, hair, makeup, and media consumption (music, tv, internet, etc). but the issue is, now that i’m out of her house most of the year and she has significantly less control over my life, she’s calmed down considerably. i still don’t feel comfortable telling her anything about my personal interests or feelings because i know she hasn’t really changed, she just (cont)

(3) doesn’t try to control me anymore because she’s recognized that she can’t really do anything to change me now that i’m an adult. i honestly think most of how she treated me was out of an impulse to try to help me improve as a person, she just lacked (lacks?) the emotional skills to do that in an effective way because her mother was also abusive to her. so now that i’m not under her control, she doesn’t do a lot of the things she used to. she just doesn’t have the platform anymore. (cont)

(4) she’s still horrible to my younger sister, but she’s about to go to college too, so the worst is over. but now that she’s not actively harming me anymore, i have very complicated feelings about how to relate to her now. i don’t want to cut her off completely, cause she’s my mom and i’d feel bad about it (and she would be really upset, which i don’t want to deal with). it also wasn’t that bad. but at the same time i don’t think i’ll ever be close to her. is it healthy to NOT cut her off?

Thank you and I’m going to go through your ask point by point, anon 🙂

I’m glad that you can recognize that what your mother put you through was abusive. It can take a lot of courage and insight to admit to yourself that you experienced abuse. That part of yourself that is making you feel like a ‘faker’ is actually a direct result of your abuse. Abusers make their victims feel like they are worthless and gaslight them into believing that the abuser’s behavior is normal or justified. Please believe yourself, anon, you definitely experienced the abuse, and you are not a faker. Whether others have experienced ‘greater’ abuse or not does not lessen your abuse or your trauma. All the things you listed that your mother did to you are abuse. You are a survivor.

One of the best and simultaneously most emotionally confusing results of finally getting away from abusive parents is that sometimes they do change their behavior, simply because they no longer have the access to abuse you in the ways that they did before.  Your mother may know that if she continues to abuse you the way she had before, that you will simply cut her out of your life.

It may be true that many of your mother’s behaviors resulted from flawed attempts to improve you or help you, but please remember that even if that’s the case, that doesn’t mean that those behaviors weren’t abuse, and weren’t traumatizing. Even if someone doesn’t mean to be abusive, that does not negate the effect on the victim.

I am so glad that you are out of your mother’s home, and that your sister is about to be out too, that is wonderful news.

It is absolutely understandable to be conflicted right now about how much you want to include your mother in your life.

I want you to know right now, that if you decide to block your mother’s phone number, move away and never speak to her again, that is a perfectly valid, healthy, and justified decision. It is in no way selfish to want to cut your abuser out of your life, even if they are no longer directly abusive in the ways they were before. You experienced serious abuse at their hands, and for some people the healthiest thing is to never interact with that person again. Move on, heal. You are not selfish for putting yourself and your mental health first.

The good thing now is that the power is in your hands. If you don’t decide to fully cut your mom off, you get to decide when and how you interact. Take this time, if you want to still interact with your mother, to set and enforce firm boundaries. 

Here are some ideas for those people who are not comfortable fully cutting off their abusive parents, and want to establish good boundaries.

Start with distance contact. Only emails or only texts. If they exhibit abusive or demanding behavior, tell them you will not respond until they apologize.

Do not answer phone calls from them. Only talk to them when you are ready. If they call and you are feeling emotionally ready to talk to them, wait until the phone goes to a message, and then call them back. Make the contact on your terms.

Don’t let them control your meetings. You set the date and time of any physical contact. Do not let them bully you into when you meet.

Do not meet with them in their space. Go out to lunch with them, meet in a public space, or have them over to your space on your terms.

Don’t be alone with them. Bring a chaperone/emotional bodyguard with you when you have physical contact with them.

Don’t go into a physical contact with them where they control when you leave. Always give yourself a way out. if you don’t drive, make sure someone can come pick you up, fast.

And the absolute key

Do not tolerate any abusive behavior, or boundary breaking behavior. The moment they cross a boundary, withdraw your contact, and don’t re-initiate until they apologize or are ready to engage within your boundaries again.

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