Not everyone is blessed with growing up in a healthy, functional family environment. For those of us who did not have that chance, it can be hard to forgive abusive parents. However, this is why I’ve decided I will not shun my mother, despite our heavy history.

I’ll admit it, I’m a psychology junky. People are endlessly fascinating to me. I’ve spent hundreds, no, thousands of hours learning about every facet from social conditioning to neurology and generational trauma.

The unexpected by-product has been a dramatic increase in empathy. Considering people’s motives and personal limitations makes me slow down or stop judgement altogether.

The one exception to this is my Mom.

Even with all of the benefit of the doubt in the world, how can anyone act how she did? Treat me the way she did? And then go on to assume we should have a best-friends relationship now that I’m older?

If anything, with age I’ve found her words and behavior to be more shocking, hurtful and unacceptable.

Removing my mom from my life

If you’re someone who has a strained relationship with a parent, you know how hard it is. Something about our brains put our own selves at fault way before them.

And even when we do create distance, it’s like amnesia falls over us. So from time to time I find myself having to remind myself:

For her own selfish agenda, my entire childhood she did the following:

  • When I was 5 years-old, she inappropriately told details of her affair, not normal kid stuff
  • She brought her lover home whenever my dad was at work, and all activities involved him
  • She tried to normalize her lover
  • She made sure I had no relationship with my dad (she vilified and alienated him until he turned into an alcoholic)

But it didn’t end there. My mother was also physically and emotionally abusive–at one point, she told me I ruined her life… every day for a year. She pathologically lied about everything and everyone.

Still, for years I tried two different formats of relationships with her–I tried working through the past and then, I tried ignoring the past to see if it would work better.

But her selfishness, manipulation and habit of playing the victim kept showing up. So, eventually it became crystal clear: she was not capable of being in my life without being destructive and hurtful. So, I blocked her number, and then I basked in the calm of life.

The lose-lose game of family politics

Soon enough though, I realized that she lived with my grandparents- the people who took me in when my parents divorced.

The people who (for the first time ever) provided structure and safety to my life. The people who did not have a self-serving agenda behind everything. The people who literally changed the trajectory of my life through consistency and unconditional love.

I tried to dance around her living arrangements. I would see my grandparents only when she wasn’t home- that was until my grandfather got sick. For emergency purposes we opened the lines of communication again.

She tried to use that ‘in’ and violate every boundary. More manipulative messages would come in than those about my grandfather’s illness. She would use every opportunity to tell me how bad of a daughter I am, how I hate her, how unlucky she is.

Fast forward to today and I still struggle with this arrangement. The boundaries are uncomfortably blurred and I feel mentally and physically exhausted in her presence.

Somehow, somewhere, I hold on to hope

Having a biological mother who’s alive and accessible but not capable (or willing?) of being a ‘mother’ in any other sense of the word is truly a set up for internal struggle.

I know what she’s like because she’s shown me at every opportunity for the past three decades. So it’s crazy to hold out hope. But if I’m being totally honest, I do.

There’s a little girl inside of me that wishes she could be close to her mom. That she could call her mom on good days and bad.

And on one hand, it makes every disappointment hurt harder and keeps me in a constant limbo. On the other, I feel relieved that my soul is so resilient.

I recently read that murderers (I know, extreme example- but hear me out), have blatant abnormalities in their brain imaging. It’s a controversial topic among scientists, but so far the results are striking. Neuroscience is discovering that brain structures and grey matter can hinder things like choice-making, fight or flight response, and performance under stress.

So, what does this have to do with my mom? It’s a bit of information that helps me put things into context and open a door to empathy. Maybe she was quite literally incapable of making better decisions.

For now though, I’ve done a lot of self-healing and introspection. I’m in a good place. I recognize the temporary nature of her living arrangements. I don’t have to be in this limbo for much longer.

Given our history, the door is firmly shut, and I have no plans to open it. I won’t, however, prescribe to today’s impulsive ‘cancel culture.’ If one day I recognize that she’s grown to be loving, kind and capable of healthy relationships, I am willing to try.  

After all, I’ve done the work to be well-grounded in who I am and I’ve built up the inner strength to know I can and will stand up for myself if the opportunity ever were to rise. With this steadfast identity and self-assurance, I can be open and vulnerable without fear and without hate.

I share this because I’m very aware of how tricky these types of relationships can be. So, if my personal experience can provide you with validation, acceptance or another point-of-view, I’ll know my job is done.     

Your friend,

Ivy Gill

This post is a part of a series on my life experiences, written to help others who may relate. Find more of my writing here.

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