My My

Getting Ready for Therapy after a Childhood of Emotional Abuse

two deer in snowy yardMy adoptive mother had lost her father to brain cancer while in adolescence, and developed borderline personality (“between neurosis and psychosis”) due to unresolved loss, being vulnerable to that since both she and her brother suffered from reactive attachment issues (from “pathological caregiving”).

I was a sick baby, prone to projectile vomiting and numerous maladies. My mom was to later tell me (in a calm reflective moment) that she hated me as a baby, and they had tried to take me away from her. My dad was always unflinchingly supportive of her, so he probably talked them out of it.

My first recollection was of the three of us sitting at the kitchen table and me asking why mom was always throwing fits yelling at me and saying ugly things. They both laughed, and my dad told me to ignore her. My second recollection was of her verbally and emotionally abusing me and my adopted brother, and me vandalizing the piano (tic-tac-toe scratch marks on the shiny pristine surface) to punish her.

It seemed like every night I would lie in bed as my mom would yell and scream about me to my dad at the kitchen table. It is not uncommon for someone with a borderline personality diagnosis to label one child as bad, because their attitudes split—something is either all bad or all good. I developed the habit of just sounding her out. It just infuriated her more when I wouldn’t respond to her abuse, but just ignore it.

I manifested cruelty to animals, love of fire, and a fetish for guns. Avoidant reactive attachment disorder symptoms include hostility, passive withdrawal, intense anger, and a lack of empathy. Furthermore, looking back I think I assumed the role of “spoiler,” which means that I got my mom to direct her emotional and verbal abuse on me to protect my two adopted siblings. Of course, they didn’t appreciate me doing them that favor, and they blamed me.

She would constantly ride and deride me. My brother thought my name was Bastard because she used it so frequently. Over time I went further along the avoidance scale to schizoid personality disorder. I became indifferent to criticism or praise, preoccupied with fantasy and introspection, and emotionally cold and detached. I preferred solitary activities, and had very few close friends (and lacked a desire for such).

When I moved out, my mom would call me up to verbally and emotionally abuse me over the phone (it was sort of an addiction). She always claimed that I was to blame for her witchy abusive behavior, so I was the scapegoat of the family. I had to get an answering machine to screen her calls.

My party friends were aware of her behavior, and one asked to record the greeting on my machine when I was stoned and near sleep, and I agreed. He must have channeled me because it was perfect, done in a pirate voice, and very insulting. I woke up to the machine going off again and again, and when I answered I found out my mom had told everyone to call and listen to this horrible message I put on my answering machine. At least she laid off calling for a while after that.

When I started dating my future wife, my mom took a disliking to her. She asked that my girlfriend not accompany me to family gatherings. When we scheduled a date for our wedding, my fiancée called my mom and confronted her while I listened on the other line. My mom said some pretty nasty things, and then told the whole family that it was my fiancée who verbally abused her, resulting in no family members coming to our wedding.

I think after a while my dad lost his sense of identity due to the constant abuse directed at him, because once I was late to a family gathering. I called to warn them, and my dad kicked me out of the family. Great—I didn’t have to deal with that toxic environment any more.

About a year ago, my mom re-established communications. My dad was dying of kidney failure, and she had severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We had a great first meeting at a restaurant, we exchanged some emails (mostly me giving them stories from my life), and I went to a family gathering (my brother had been murdered in TX, so it was just my sister’s family, plus my dad, mom, and uncle) that went well.

The last restaurant meeting with my parents didn’t go so well. It started out nice, but my mom was being verbally and emotionally abusive to my dad. They asked me how my childhood was, and I lied and said it was average, with some good memories and some bad.

She informed me they had decided to disinherit me (which I took very well, since I understood that my sister was much closer to them), and then she started accusing me unjustly of some things, spoiling for a fight. I acted passively, considering her health, and the fact it was a public place. I felt we parted on somewhat reconciled terms.

A week later I got very angry emails from both my father and mother demanding that I thank my mother for all the things she’s done for me. I responded with surprise, and thanked them for the dinner and good conversation. They responded that I knew they meant thanking her for her mothering me. I deferred, asking for a couple of days. When I failed to respond by the deadline, they both wrote again with horrible verbal and emotional abuse. That was when I told them that people ought not to treat each other that way, and that I would have to cut all ties with them.

My dad died shortly after that, and my mom a few months later (I was never invited to a funeral). A couple of weeks before her death she called my work telling everyone there that she was my mom, and that she wished I would return the call. I never did. Her obituary was the shortest I’ve ever read. My sister cleaned out and sold our childhood house within a month.

One final, weird thing: My wife and I were walking our three Dobermans, and when I turned the corner on the way home I saw nine deer standing in our front yard. We live in the city, so this isn’t just unusual, it is paranormal. The deer fled when they saw my dogs going crazy on their leashes, and I made a point of counting them. That was when I knew my mom had died. I immediately went on my computer, and sure enough her funeral was the day before. The number nine in numerology represents mother. What a tortured soul she was.

I gained forty pounds after my parent’s deaths, from an ideal weight. I’ve been obsessed with why everyone behaved the way they did, and discovered the reactive attachment (RAD), bipolar (BPD), and sensory processing (SPD) diagnoses.

Only in the last couple of weeks have I realized the lasting harm verbal and emotional abuse in childhood can have, even if you don’t feel the pain when it is happening. Growing up, everyone said I’d need therapy, and after decades of self-medication I think I am finally ready.

Writing this is the first step.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • pete

    May 5th, 2014 at 3:26 AM

    While it can be devastating to have your childhood ruined by this type of emotional and mental abuse at least you now recognize that this happened and you want to make amends and do things the right way.

    Those people whom I feel sorry for are those who never see that this was done to them, they grow up and go into adulthood thinking that this is normal behavior and then they do this to those that they are close to in their own lives.

    The cycle of abuse has to stop somewhere before anyone in the family can implement real and lasting change but most of the time there has been so much of this in the past lives of everyone that no one seems to know when or how to step in and make the abuse end.

  • Bev

    July 30th, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    Human society has to take control of who has a child and when. The only way we can prevent children from being abused is to put every 13 year old on contraceptives at her 1st pap smear and then educate her about safe relationships. Require all potential parents to take parenting classes and pass parenting tests. Advise women of the potential disadvantages of a child having 2 parents; giving all women the option of using a free sperm bank. Make sure every infant born is followed by social services & education services, keeping records throughout everyone’s childhood. In some instances it appears people are doing more to prevent cruelty to animals than to our fellow humans. If we raise people correctly and all take an active interest in how everyone is feeling and behaving daily, we will eliminate all dishonesty, abuse & wars.

  • jon

    May 5th, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    Man what a crazy scene that had to be growing up!
    I know that you never wabt to have to detach from a family member but I guess in times like that to maintain your own sanity then you have to do it and finally put your foot down and say no more.

  • Pam

    May 6th, 2014 at 3:30 AM

    Sad that there are some families who can never seem to get it together and that there always does seem to be a family member looking for a way to ruin or spoil things, even when everything else is seemingly going well.
    It makes me sad that there are those who are brought up in homes like that becasue I think that everyone should have the right to grow up in a home with love versus anger.
    I suppose that that thought is not reality, but it would be nice right?

  • Louise

    May 6th, 2014 at 6:04 PM

    I feel sorry for people with bad childhood memories. Recovering may not happen right away but moving on at least puts one a step away behind it.

  • Brad A

    May 6th, 2014 at 11:39 PM

    BPD is Borderline Personality Disorder, and SPD is Schizoid Personality Disorder.

  • tipton

    May 7th, 2014 at 3:36 AM

    Therapy has been a lifesaver for me as I too grew up in a home with abusive parents and although the tendency and the cycle was there to repeat that behavior, I knew that this was not something that I wanted to be a part of and I wanted to break free of that. However, even though I wanted that so bad, it was still difficult to break free from all of that bad behavior that I was tauight as a child. And this is coming from someone who knew that I wanted to change my life and go in a different direction from what I had been taught and it was still difficult to break free from those things. It has definitely been a long journey for me and I am not sure that I will ever feel completely free from what was said and done but I know that at least I am doing the right thing by having this kind of support in my life and learning new life lessons for me and my own children.

  • Tillie

    May 10th, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    It has to be hard going from a setting where you can never feel that you are doing anything right to enter into something new like therapy where you have someone letting you know that you are stronger than you may have ever thought, and that you are better than what you have ever been told. That has to be scary, completely changing what you have ever believed to be the truth and coming to terms with a whole new reality for yourself. I know why so many people don’t follow through with therapy because it has to be a little disconcerting to tear everything down to get built back up again, but that is in essence what has to be done. Take away bit by bit what you have always seen and create something shining and new for yourself. That is what it can take to survive.

  • Becky

    June 30th, 2014 at 7:10 AM

    How interesting (and sad) this is. I too was adopted and often wonder why. My mother is a classic narcissist. I’m 46 and dad has been gone 3 years. She has put my brother and I thru hell. I’ve tried to have a relationship with her to no avail. She’s in ESRD now. I’ve often told a therapist friend that I should be past my childhood but the depression, (plus mental illness and addiction run in my biological family)anger, and other issues just seem to be getting worse. I found a good therapist for me, then she left.

  • Ann

    February 23rd, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    I am so sad when I see new-born babies because I pray that their Parents will cherish them and give them the proper guidance to prosper in life. I know that my Mom was abused and her Parents were abused and they all seen too much violence from war. It still hurts being treated badly by your own Mom and Dad and never feeling safe in the world. I can’t go around my Parents and I am 47 years old. I never know when they will start yelling and name calling and saying anything to hurt me. It’s so sad and scary.

  • Lacey

    August 19th, 2016 at 2:31 PM

    I have a prayer for all those on this thread that need it.
    Dear heavenly father
    Please heal all those suffering from the trauma of abuse. Weather it be physical emotional sexual pr any other. Help them to find peace of mind. Help them to move on and become better people.
    I pray this prayer for everyone hear that has suffered from abuse. I have my own story I want to share.
    I only reacently r alized threw the hands of God that I was emotionally abused and mistreated. I want theropy but can’t get it yet. I had only God and my friends to turn to. I stated praying and it’s working . It a slow but it’s working. I had a gut feeling one day from God that I was going to be ok. He made me threw my gut that I was going to be ok and that my future was going to be a happy wonderful future. A future wear people would treat me the rite way and I would be able to stick up for myself.
    There is all ways hope. Even if you don’t know wear to find it.

  • j

    September 1st, 2017 at 8:21 AM

    I am passionate about making sure Emotional Abuse is recognized as a severe form of abuse on its own , without there having to be any sexual or physical abuse. I’m a 54 Adult Women whose childhood would be considered idealic from the perspective of traditional American Standards but for me it was the opposite.

  • Lacey

    August 19th, 2016 at 2:38 PM

    I made some spelling errors because of the phone I’m using. I meant or and realized. I all so forgot to put down some other things. I didn’t know how to be treated and I could barely stick up for myself. I wasn’t sure wear my life was going and I cept thinking about it. Then one night I got the feeling everything was going to be just fine.
    Just simple mistakes we are all human we make them all the time.

  • Antoinette R

    September 28th, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    Am interested in therapy for abuse childhood day and abuse relationship.

  • The Team

    September 28th, 2016 at 12:02 PM

    Hi Antoinette,
    You can search for a therapist near you who specializes in working with people who have experienced abuse or assault on the directory here:

    If you are currently experiencing abuse in any relationship, please know there is help available! It is very important you seek help immediately if you are in any immediate danger. You can dial 911 or your local law enforcement, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) for free confidential support.

    Thank you for reaching out. We are thinking of you and wishing you the very best!

    Kind regards,
    The Team

  • Judy S.

    April 22nd, 2017 at 4:35 PM

    I finally spoke up about my experience of childhood incest by my only male sibling, 6 months ago. I have since decided to cut ties with the family and I feel free. Now I can heal with the knowledge that they do not have an automatic right to know what I’m doing with my life. I have an 8 year old little girl inside me that needs to be allowed to finally grow-up without their input. They didn’t provide a safe, secure, loving childhood so she has no need for them now

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