Mommie Dearest

The title of this movie keeps popping into my head as I consider the implications of the abuse I experienced with my mother during the early months and years of my life. It isn't easy to consider her a "perpetrator" which is probably what is at the heart of this thread. Even though I'd unpacked the memories of what happened with her when I was young in my first round of therapy, I couldn't accept that those experiences were at the root of terror realm my life remained for decades. When I eventually came upon sexual abuse by neighbors in my second round of therapy, something it took years and exposure to EMDR to come to, I assumed that was the source of all my problems. But they didn't go away and I suffered for another twenty years. It was only upon revisiting my early years and re-examining what had happened with my mother in a third round of therapy that I was able to actually accept what she did traumatized me. It was sexual abuse and she was the person who did it... which makes her a perpetrator.

But obviously, she was more than that. She planted flowers in front of our home and cooked every meal I ate in the three homes we occupied during my childhood and youth. She baked my favorite pie, lemon meringue. Our home was clean and though we were solidly middle class she was a fine homemaker. We attended church every Sunday and she sang in the choir. I mention all of this to say how confusing it all is to know there was abuse, but to not quite be able to demonize the person who did it. In fact, I tried my whole life to make her life easier... even as my own life was inexplicably crazy. I guess those things can go together. She terrified me on one level, the product of the abuse... which made me work extremely hard to avoid her rage which popped to the surface rarely but couldn't be avoided when it did. So I was a very fucked up co-dependent with her and with most women in my life.

How do we balance the pain of trauma with the experience of some form of nurturance... a birthday cake, a graduation card... it is so painful to hold all of this.
 
that is why incest cuts to our core. It is so traumatizing as we are helpless that the person we trust for our care is also providing pain. Our little brains can't process it!
 
That's a good way to put it Kal... cuts to the core. There seems to be NO way to mend that particular wound... the cut remains.
 
This morning I was reading a 12 Step daily reader and the subject was forgiveness, a topic that has been addressed in many threads I've come upon here. I felt myself bristle at the admonition that without forgiveness recovery isn't possible. The person writing the short piece spoke about abuse by her family which suggested that I have no excuse since I too am contending with abuse. Does this mean I need to forgive the perpetrator who lived next door, the one who raped me when I was seven? I don't think so. Does this mean I need to forgive my mother for what she did to me in the first two years of my life? This is the abuse that without doubt took my entire life away from me. Is that forgivable? I don't think so.

At the same time I know that harboring resentments toward either that neighbor or my mother will never lead me to the life I want for myself. I've been able to understand both the family of perpetrators who lived on three sides of the home my family lived in the first seven years of my life and I've come to understand without knowing any of the details the fact of my mother's troubled life. Understanding doesn't relieve them of responsibility for the harm they did, nor diminish the suffering I've experienced for a lifetime. But it seems to be a suitable, effective alternative to forgiveness in my efforts to liberate myself from the pain of the past. Where forgiveness is in order, it really is for myself... for the suffering I created out of the wreckage left by the abuse. I guess it could be argued that at a most fundamental level forgiveness does extend to include the perpetrators in my life, since they too were acting out of the wreckage of their lives. From that perspective we've all been victims of the cruelty of life which is manifest in so many ways. It really breaks my heart... but despite that, all of us must find the means to live this day, in this body, with this history of trauma. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering.
 
Does this mean I need to forgive the perpetrator who lived next door, the one who raped me when I was seven? I don't think so. Does this mean I need to forgive my mother for what she did to me in the first two years of my life? This is the abuse that without doubt took my entire life away from me. Is that forgivable?
There is a recent thread here on MS on Forgiveness where we debate this. Some think no, I am in the group that feels Forgiveness is not for them but for you, to release the hate nad anger against the perps that eats away at YOUR soul like a cancer. Does not mean you need to contact them, does not mean you will forget it, does not mean you have to let them back in your life. does not free them from responsibility. It just releases YOU.
 
I guess it could be argued that at a most fundamental level forgiveness does extend to include the perpetrators in my life, since they too were acting out of the wreckage of their lives.
exactly - it gives perspective. but does not condone.
 
exactly - it gives perspective. but does not condone.
That is why I first speak of understanding as a "suitable, effect alternative to forgiveness." I also agree that however we come to terms with all of this, we're doing so to find release for ourselves. Understanding can relieve us of resentments/anger that will keep us stuck. It doesn't diminish the sadness of it all, the grieving for the life not lived because the burden of the trauma was more than we could bear. Yes, finding compassion for self and understanding for all seems to be essential for healing to happen. I wish us all well.
 
Hi Visitor,
This morning I was reading a 12 Step daily reader and the subject was forgiveness,
I've had some recent insights in this department that I thought I'd share with you. One thing I've learned is that a childhood history of trauma tends to disconnect us from parts of ourselves. Healing involves reconnecting and finding ways to harmonize the rejected parts with the rest of me. Recently this has been my anger at my sister and my strength to take care of myself in the face of a strong, aggressive yet well meaning woman. It has roots in rejecting the bodily sensations I have in my gut (discomfort and pain are frequent visitors) and its associated emotions (anger seems to dominate recently). Forgiveness seems to be mostly about forgiving the little boy I was who decided innocently that there must be something wrong with me if my needs weren't welcome in the family in which I lived, so I'd better hide those needs away and pretend they don't exist. It was a survival tactic in my youth which has become a survival threat today. I'm learning to forgive myself for failing to adjust to new circumstances (I left my family physically many years ago) and falling prey to the family cultural conditioning or "hypnosis" and doing some major damage to my body in the process. I've been a slave to internalized family dynamics for a long time. Allowing myself to see and function outside this automatic pattern of thinking/feeling/acting gives me the freedom to welcome those sensations and feelings back into my life, see their positive purpose and become a healthier me (at least internally if not physically though I can always hope for physical recovery too! :) ). It's scary because I'm challenging cultural norms that were considered the cost of membership (and hence survival) in my birth family (and to some degree still are today).

Just thought I'd share.

Cheers,

Garth
 
Thanks Garth. I've followed your dealings with your sister and mother of late and have deep respect for the work you're doing there. I appreciate the importance of "learning to forgive myself..." as you put it. Doubtless, the trauma we experienced when young was completely destabilizing, especially so with regard to our relationship with our bodies and our sexuality. That we ended up struggling with both is not surprising. I've certainly caused a great deal of suffering for others in my life and have lived with intense shame over some of my behaviors. For most of my life I've seen the roots of all of my problems in my own defectiveness, which is clearly a half-truth since my struggles are deeply rooted in sexual trauma. So forgiving myself, finding compassion for myself has proved critical to healing, to find a healthier me as you put it. I believe we're all doing this kind of work, untangling ourselves from the residue of trauma. It is slightly different work since we each experienced our own constellation of experiences with family and in the form of abuse we lived through. We're reconnecting with ourselves, but in a way with our self as we've never know ourselves to be. We really never had the opportunity to inhabit our bodies, to develop our capacities, to learn how to be boys, then teens, then young men. Instead we reacted to life and did the best we could to not be hurt again. Safety was more important than anything else. But finally we're creating enough space for ourselves that we can begin to experiment with being grown-up men, capable of caring for ourselves AND the people whom we love. I wish us all well on our healing journeys.
 
Thanks Garth. I've followed your dealings with your sister and mother of late and have deep respect for the work you're doing there.
Thanks Visitor, This seems to be a major piece of my puzzle. I'm reversing a dynamic set before I was 4. Thanks for the kudos. I've recently gained the support of a very talented MALE therapist trained in trauma therapy (Somatic Experiencing, Compassionate Inquiry, and Upleger's Somato-Emotional release). I've been searching for this kind of support for many many years. Female therapists abound but I go into freeze mode or romantic mode in their presence. This new guy is great for me! OUF! Relief!

My struggles are deeply rooted in sexual trauma.
I watched a talk today by Veronica Mead in Avaiya's Healing Childhood Trauma Series. She points to many sources of childhood trauma that can lead to illness later on in life. She mentioned Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Adverse Babyhood Experiences (ABEs), and attachment disruptions. I see all three in myself only one of which is sexual abuse. The stigma around the sexual abuse is probably strongest of all particularly since it comes primarily through my mother, but I'm also seeing that the others had a profound impact on my immune system, nervous system, and digestion. They kind of set me up to be vulnerable to the sexual abuse. Veronica confirmed that my approach to healing is a good one and gave me a source of resources that are helping me argue in support of it. It's been essential for me to feel confident of myself in the face of my sister. Just thought I'd share some recent tid-bits of support I received recently in the hopes that they might be useful to you too! :)

Cheers,

Garth
 
Thanks Garth - My most recent work in therapy has been with a man whom I found on this website's therapist referral list when it was still available. He is a trainer for Weekends of Recovery in Utah and Washington. He is fully trained in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and took training with Peter Levine in Somatic Experiencing while I was seeing him. I'm pleased you found such a person with whom to work. The first encounter I had with CSA was with a man who used EMDR. That was 25 years ago before the deep understanding of how trauma affects development was fully appreciated. Even EMDR was a bit of a blunt instrument in the first years it was being used. The three years of work I did back then were useful but I really needed to take a different approach this time around... all of it grounded in a somatic work. Bessel van der Kolk, Janine Fisher, Richard Schwartz allowed me to completely reframe my healing journey. Janine Fisher worked with Pat Ogden during the years in which she developed Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.

I've been unpacking this material for 35 years and have been as serious a student of the psychological and spiritual dimensions of childhood experience as you clearly are. It seems when we're trapped in confusion over our experience, our behaviors, we become profoundly motivated to do such work. I certainly have come to understand that my pain is not mine alone, that all of life lived by parents, friends, neighbors, family poured through me into that pain. I understood that first reading a poem over thirty years ago... these lines in particular.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.


TS Eliot, Four Quartets

I understood the larger dimension before I truly understood how profoundly all of that affected me. That is where van der Kolk's book had its profound impact. I simply thought there was something wrong with me, that I was defective and that is why I did the shameful things I did along the way. This has been the year in which all of that has become clear and I've been embarked on this healing journey grounded in self-compassion and moment to moment work in self-care as the adult in the room. I understand we're each doing this work and that, of course, is the reason I'm so pleased to be part of this community. This is sacred work... claiming our aliveness after a lifetime of running away from the pain of trauma. I wish us all well Garth.
 
Wow! Visitor. Great post! Great poem!
This is sacred work... claiming our aliveness after a lifetime of running away from the pain of trauma. I wish us all well Garth.
Thanks so much. I agree. It's good to be in the company of people sharing a similar path and who recognize its sacred nature. Thanks for this reminder. I wish you well too. :) Sincerely, Garth
 
Hi Visitor,
The title of this movie (Mommie Dearest) keeps popping into my head as I consider the implications of the abuse I experienced with my mother during the early months and years of my life. It isn't easy to consider her a "perpetrator" which is probably what is at the heart of this thread.
This is a big problem for me too. My connection with my mother has been rooted in failing to see how hurtful she can be (so that I can access the limited support she was providing in my youth and the increased support she provides today) and doing what I need to do to protect myself from the aspects of her that aren't helpful to me. Respecting my emotional world (i.e. sometimes I don't feel like connecting with her or supporting her) has been extremely challenging. She comes across as a first class saint and a solid victim. Accusing her of sexual abuse hasn't been a picnic. No wonder I skirt death before facing my pain. Sigh!

Cheers,

Garth
 
Kal says it perfect above when he says this form of abuse "cuts to the core." My mother was not a monster but out of her woundedness she did things to me that no mother should do with a child. The efforts I made when she was still alive to unpack these early events which were coming to me during my first round of therapy... six years worth... were fruitless. She didn't remember. Granted, I did not confront her with specifics that were coming to me is scattered bits and pieces. She always said I was a "difficult child." I took that to mean I was too curious for this depressed woman to cope with but I'm beginning to believe it was because I kept crying... perhaps out the terror I was experiencing as a by-product of the things she was doing to my genitals in the crib.

I certainly don't envy you navigating these matters with your mother and sister as adults, especially so since you continue to receive some financial support from your mother (if I understand what you've said correctly.) I really needed to cut off contact with my mother for some time... during which time she had two heart attacks... as though she was challenging me to stay away. I did call her after the second episode but only after a call from my older brother who lived close to her. He was bewildered by my withdrawal. I told him just a bit and promised to call to make his life easier. After that call I had no contact for another nine or ten months. I was in graduate school and I needed to have her pulling on me off my agenda so I could focus on my studies in psychology.

These patterns and the pain associated go very deep. Working through them is a monumental task, one we've avoided largely because the pain has been so great, the shame so profound. But we ARE doing the work now with other men who know this territory. Thirty years ago when I first encountered this material I was totally alone. What a difference it makes to have companions on the path. All the best Garth.
 
Thanks Visitor,
Kal says it perfect above when he says this form of abuse "cuts to the core." ... What a difference it makes to have companions on the path.
Yes. It makes a big difference to know people who understand this path and are supportive of our healing. It's a rarity in my life. Thanks for being there and writing my friend.

Cheers,

Garth
 

MACH123

Registrant
Yes, what do you do when it's all mixed in together? I don't remember what happened? It could have been a boundary thing? Her abuse could've caused her to have intimate boundaries with me instead of appropriate parent boundaries? I was her only male child. I'm having trouble spitting this out somehow? What it left me with is a little kids appetite for sex, I'm still like this. I don't mind lol. Everyone else objects and thinks I should "focus my energies on more productive things," lol. It's better to know about it. It's hard to imagine the mess it made me.
 
...It's hard to imagine the mess it made me.
Agree with that phrase for sure, but I've learned there is nothing to be gained by beating myself up over the suffering I caused, all of which is residue of early trauma. This seems to be the way the world works... we're broken, then out of our brokenness we hurt those around us... until we're able to break the cycle. How the cycle is broken is a mystery... a serious disease, being arrested, a failed suicide attempt... anything that leads us to consider we might need to find a different way. All of the men who've come here are looking for a different way and that can mean gazing back toward where the pain began... for some of us it was mommie dearest. I wish us all well on our healing journey...
 
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