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Getting through Mother’s Day when your Mom was your Abuser

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By: JM Oran

For many years, I would avoid logging into FaceBook on Mother’s Day; avoid it like the plague.

I didn’t want to see the inspirational quotes about mothers or motherhood that my friends posted, or the pictures of them with their mothers having a celebratory brunch date.

As someone who hasn’t spoken to, seen or even lived on the same continent as my verbally and emotionally abusive mother since 2005, you can see why I wasn’t exactly in the holiday spirit of celebrating moms. It wasn’t that I was jealous or resentful of the strong and loving relationships that most of my friends had with their mothers, but because I couldn’t relate, I felt left out.

Many survivors of domestic violence come from dysfunctional families and may have a broken relationship with their mother. She might have been the abuser, or perhaps she was unable to be physically and emotionally present for her children because of addiction or mental health issues or maybe she stood by the side not interfering while another family member abused you in some way. If you have a troubled relationship with your mother, don’t spend Mother’s Day feeling sad and lonely, but instead find another way to celebrate it and not just “get through it.”

1. Realize that You are not Alone

On Mother’s Day, or on other important holidays when you’re expected to spend time with family, it can be easy to think that you are the only person in the world who has a bad relationship with your mother. Don’t believe it for a second.

People who are estranged from a parent usually don’t advertise this fact because some people can be judgmental; however, when I started to be more open about my family dynamic it was surprising how often I saw the light of recognition in other people’s eyes and heard them say with relief “Me, too!” It can be very helpful to have people in your life who also understand the pain of coming from a dysfunctional family, but if none of your friends fit the bill, you can turn to the internet to find support.

A good place to start is Reddit’s “Raised By Narcissists” community. And, of course, don’t forget your Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence brothers and sisters who are always willing to lend a judgment-free ear whenever you need emotional support or some companionship. If you can’t avoid being alone on Mother’s Day, don’t mope at home feeling sorry for yourself. Get out the house and do something fun to take your mind off things – go for a run, buy yourself some ice cream, see a movie, etc.

2. Don’t let Other People’s Opinions or Judgment affect You

People who have a bad relationship with their mother have one very important thing in common.

Sooner or later, we will be criticized or judged for limiting contact with our mother or cutting her out of our lives.

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard somebody pronounce, “But . . . but she’s your mother!” I would be a very rich woman indeed. Worse still, people have used various unflattering adjectives to describe me; selfish, cruel and heartless are just a few. It can be very difficult not to let others’ opinions affect your self esteem or make you doubt the decision you have made.

But guess what? They didn’t grow up in your family, and they don’t know what experiences you had, so their opinions mean nothing. If your gut instinct tells you that you need to protect yourself by not speaking to your mother, or by limiting contact, trust that and honor it. Only you know what is best for yourself.

3. Don’t Suppress your Feelings

If you find yourself feeling angry at your mother on Mother’s Day, don’t feel guilty just because every greeting card and store window says you should be grateful. If your mother abused you or let abuse happen to you, there is no reason for you to feel gratitude, and that doesn’t make you a bad person. Let yourself feel that anger, and don’t suppress it. But there’s a balance. You can’t let those angry feelings consume you and become your every thought and action.

Some people find that forgiving their mother, or developing some compassion for her, helps them process painful past experiences and let go of their anger. In my case, I do get angry occasionally when I think about my mother’s behavior, but I am also aware that she didn’t set out to cause pain. She grew up in an abusive household, so she never learned how to build loving relationships; how to act right. I believe that she did the best she could under the circumstances, and the same is probably true of most “bad mothers.” That being said, if you are not ready to forgive your mother, or you simply don’t want to, don’t force yourself.

4. Find another Female Role Model

If you’re not able to celebrate your mother on Mother’s Day, perhaps there is another female in your life you could pay tribute to instead – a sister, aunt, grandmother, female friend, teacher or spiritual leader. Maybe there was someone in your life throughout the years or even recently who has acted like a mother toward you; who has been there for you and done almost everything moms do.

Maybe you didn’t realize you had someone like that, take time to think if there was a female like this in your life. Then thank her, show her you’re grateful for her role in your life. Even if you can’t spend time with this person, try calling them or writing a thoughtful email or letter. You could also turn Mother’s Day into your own personal celebration of strong and powerful women everywhere: try listening to music by a female artist or reading a book by a female writer whom you find particularly inspirational.

5. Celebrate Yourself!

Let’s face it: it’s not easy going through life without having a loving and supportive mother. No matter how old you are, there will probably always be a time when you wish, even if only for a second, that you had a mother you could turn to for solace or advice. I’m not going to try to pretend that it’s not difficult or painful when this option isn’t available. However, please recognize how incredibly strong, resilient and independent you are to have survived – and thrived – without having a cheerleader mother behind you. If you could do this, then there is no limit to what you can achieve in life.

And if you’ve become a mother yourself, make sure you recognize that you’ve broken the cycle of abuse and pour out love on your babies this day. Show how grateful you are to them for making you a mom and filling your life with sunshine. And help remind them that, as their mom, you deserve to be celebrated a little bit. Even if it is an extra hug or sweet words coming from chubby cheeks.

So, this Mother’s Day, run a hot bubble bath, pour yourself a glass of champagne, lie back and make a toast to yourself! You deserve it.

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