‘Why Me’: A Story of Physical and Mental Abuse in Childhood

Girl in white capEditor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Sarah Burleton’s New York Times bestselling child abuse memoir Why Me. The article contains sensitive detail about physical violence and abuse that some readers may wish to avoid.

My name is Sarah Burleton and I am the spokesperson for Prevent Child Abuse Illinois. Looking at me now, one would never guess that I endured such a horrific childhood—a childhood full of extreme physical beatings and mental abuse at the hands of my own mother. One would never guess that my own mother pushed me into an electric fence and watch me writhe on the ground in agony.

One would never guess that my beloved animals were murdered cruelly at the hands of my mother for her own sick enjoyment. And one would never guess that not once in my life did I hear my mother say the words “I love you” or feel her arms wrapped around me in a loving, warm, motherly embrace.

One would never guess this about me and my life because I made the conscious choice at a very young age not to let my child abuse define me. I refused to walk around like a victim and wear my child abuse as a badge for the world to see and pity me for.

As many of you can relate, the last thing a child abuse victim wants is pity from people who have no idea what we have had to endure. We don’t want anyone to know what we have been through because there is a shame attached to child abuse, a sense of self-blame, as if we deserved to be beaten or called names. Personally, I would bottle my emotions up inside and put on a tough façade to everyone around me, masking my true feelings of pain with sarcasm and aloofness.

When it became too much for me to bottle up my emotions anymore, I opened my laptop and poured out my life story into a Word document, self-published it, and fell over the day I found out my little book had made the New York Times. Being on the list was great; however, the most rewarding part of my job has been traveling and speaking to adult survivors, CPS workers, and foster children.

I realize that there are many of us out there, thousands of us who have been hurt by people who were supposed to love and protect us the most. But I’m here to tell you that we are not victims; we are survivors. We are here today because of our will to survive and our determination to overcome the demons from our childhood.

Each of us has the power to use our horrible pasts as stepping stones to our bright, positive futures and as examples of how not to act. Every story matters and every voice should be heard. I love you all.

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  • Sydney

    May 10th, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    I am so thankful to have grown up in a kind and loving home and I hate ot so much that you were unable to experience that kind of feeling as a child.

    When you are growing up you need to be able to feel that someone will always be there to take care of you and to help you up when you fall. It makes me wonder why that was what I had when so many people have not been so fortunate. So you wonder why those things happeend to you and I too wonder the same things about my own life.

  • Dee

    April 19th, 2015 at 8:33 PM

    I spent years asking why I had my childhood, while other people had more than I could have ever dreamt? All I could conclude was that it’s pot-luck. Profound huh! Some children are born and loved. Some are born and abused. Some are born to loving parents but perhaps they live in a place that does not have clean water so they become ill. Seems to me like it’s all pretty random. All I know is make the best of what you can and try to help others along the way.

  • Ann

    December 9th, 2017 at 12:58 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this story! I have experienced something similar, so it truly speaks to me. And just like you, I have chosen to let the abuse empower me, rather than cripple me.

  • Jill

    May 11th, 2014 at 5:38 AM

    I don’t believe in coincidences, so I know I was meant to read this today on Mother’s Day. I, too, was neglected and abused by my alcoholic mom. I have used many defenses of self protection to try and avoid feeling my feelings. Now with the help of a wonderful
    Therapist I am able to finally start facing some of the things that were done to me. I am a survivor and very strong . I have suppressed my emotions my whole life. I was told not to cry or the punishment would be worse. Then I didn’t want to cry or show emotion and let her know that she had affected me. Now that I am beginning to feel again it is very scary, but worth it. Thank you for your post. It makes me feel not so alone.

  • grace

    May 12th, 2014 at 3:39 AM

    This is such a powerful story that I hope that there are countless others who will have the chnace to read about your amazing resilience and strength within to continue moving forward even during the hardest times in your life.

  • Naomi

    May 12th, 2014 at 3:06 PM

    Will people ever learn that they are not welcome to treat innocent children like this? When will they learn that words hurt just as much as the hits do, and that the hurt sometimes lasts far longer? When will we stop putting up with all of this and make sure that they understand the hurt and the pain, maybe enough that they will think twice about inflicting it upon someone else?

  • robert

    May 14th, 2014 at 7:52 AM

    Unfortunately I think that this lack of parental love is something that more people experience than what we may have previously realized. Even though those of us who love and hold our children dear to us have a hard time understanding this, the fact of the matter is that there are people who just were not meant to procreate and have children and yet they do and they don’t have the capacity to love them the way that you should as a parent.

  • Josephine

    August 8th, 2014 at 11:03 PM

    My brothers agreed that I received the worst of the physical, psychological, sexual abuse at the hands of my mother. Locked in closets, hands and feet bound with handkerchiefs, forced to eat dog food, beatings with belt buckles to the face. Scars from when I had my first child at 21 the midwife asked me what the marks were on my private area…… And I told her my
    Mother pinched me there when I was little. The look on her face of surprise and bewildered as she clarified again “your mother did this to you”? It was of no surprise before I left the office she and 2 others had me in a room for fear I would abuse my baby too simply because I was abused. So many more stories to tell. Not enough space or time. Where it left me…..I am now 40 and on my second marriage. The first marriage proved to be an even trade from mom to husband. It took 8 years to leave him….. And that happened after his several arrests for domestic violence. Wonderful it is when the cops notice you because of “the big guy”. And yes I kept going back. His adulterous affairs followed by submissive beatings because I had no right to get mad by all means! I loved the old ladies that ran out of the house with bats in their hands and chased h away as I was trying to run from him and he tackled me to the ground. It is a real eye opener when you tell his Christian mother and preacher daddy and their response is, “just pray”! After his friends, co-workers, cousins watched him punch, slap, throw lamps at me and all they would do is sit and say ” hey Lou come on man”! Wow! Man up now guys! When did I leave? When our first born arrived. BTW yes…. He beat me while I was pregnant! But after he was born I saw the light the time he started to beat me while I was holding our newborn infant…. When he realized what he was doing he picked the baby up- laid him on the couch next to me and proceeded with the beating…. As the baby cried he went one step further and placed the baby in thr crib in his room and came out and proceeded with commencing the beatings! It was great…. His after shock the next morning when he would flip out and yell at me to put ice on my face, style my hair to cover the bruises….get dressed let’s go to church. It reminded me of the time my mom beat me in the face before school with the belt buckle of a leather belt- ten lashes to the face. My face was numb and hot from the lashes.. My brothers and I walked to school. On the way out my daddy stopped me and got so angry! What happened? I told him-apparently their was blood dripping from my face and buckle and belt prints embedded in my face….. I couldn’t feel it because my face was numb….. Dad says, “don’t let her hit you in the face”. Initially I thought he said that because I had a pretty face….. But what he was saying is was that people will see. So the excuse for the day was that I was riding my brothers bike and fell off the bike and the ridges on the pedals caused the lacerations! Dad was so proud I thought of such a great lie. Anyhow… I left him…. I couldn’t bear hearing my baby scream so hard in the other room while I was in the other room getting beat. So I left . But I can’t lie…. I am 40 and have huge relationship trust issues & Intimacy issues. I have anxiety, depression, ocd, ADHD. I don’t abuse my two boys. I love them so much and I’m actually probably too leanient! I
    Just want to be normal and happy and I really don’t know what that is.

  • Dee

    April 19th, 2015 at 8:42 PM

    Hi Josephine, I read your post and it made me wish I could give you a big hug. You sound like an amazing mother. It must have taken so much courage for you to leave your husband the way you did. Your children are so lucky to have you. I hope that you find a path to your own happy ending.

  • Tamera

    September 1st, 2014 at 9:50 PM

    My brother and I have struggled all our lives with anxiety, depression and alcohol resulting from the hands of our so called mother. A master manipulator to this day. We lied and kept her secrets for years until she left our father for a wealthier man after 38 years. Then we finally felt safe to tell our father. She physically abused us with a two by four, slaps to face,bruises were blamed on our friends and threats were common. She is 71 and it is finally catching up to relatives that we were telling the truth and who the real narcissistic monster is. She just got a boob job and cares nothing for her children or her grandchildren. She never wanted children and told us daily. I’m very close to my father who had a quadruple heart attack and do e strokes after she left him for his friend. She’s very cruel. I’m praying and searching for help to forgive her and heal instead of self medicating. She’s ruined enough of my life. I want to heal and help others. I loved your article. Are you on Facebook?

  • Susan

    October 9th, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    I was brought up with a father who believed clothes were a mistake. Who made me take showers with him, stay home from school, made me go to work with him. All so he could rape me. Then taught my 3 brothers to do the same. Killed my first dog by hitting him with a baseball bat. Took the whole family out And left me alone on my birthday. Took a nasty naked doll out of the dumpster for a Xmas present. I have tried to stay strong to find EVERY day is a fight. My mom told me she NEVER wanted me. Now to try and explain it to anyone is even more of a stuggle. I just want one day to go right. I haven’t found one person I can talk to. GOD HELP ME!!!

  • Dee

    April 19th, 2015 at 8:22 PM

    Hello Susan, I read your comment on this post and it made me feel so sad that you were treated so badly as a child. You deserved better, so much better. You should have been treasured as a precious gift and loved. I am so sorry you endured such pain. I wish you peace and a brighter future. I hope that you can find a therapist to talk to and begin to heal. My therapist is so kind and has helped me to move forward from pain in my own childhood. Sending love to you Susan. Take care

  • bradley T

    April 19th, 2015 at 10:28 PM

    I have endured a horrific childhood myself. ..i know you don’t kno me but i am writing a book and although fiction i am including the longterm effects that physical and emotional anguish can have on a child that can last a lifetime. …my goal of writing this book is for the people that read it to cringe at the thought of what some children have to go through and possibly get a rally to stricken child abuse and sexual crime punishments. Take care

  • Loren

    April 19th, 2015 at 11:07 PM

    Are you there Susan? I am so sorry for what you went through.

  • Anonymous

    July 30th, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    Susan, I know exactly how you feel…I have lived it too. I am 40 now and just finally for one last time seeking counseling. At this point I am ruining my relationship with my fiance because I cannot control my emotions any longer and everything annoys me. Faith…all we have is faith the pain will stop somehow.

  • Michelle

    August 4th, 2017 at 6:41 PM

    Have you found help yet? I promise you. There IS a different way to feel. I am living proof of it. I am not just a survivor of extreme abuse and torture, I am a WARRIOR. I didn’t just fight it and won, I triumphed. I did not do it alone. I did it with GOD, good therapy, and the strength and courage God gave me when I prayed for it. Be xarefuk of who you go to in the mental health community. Do your homework and due dilligence on finding the best, orederably NOT a counselor social worker. You need a licensed psychologist trained in psychotherapy specializing in your type of abuse, with experience and reputable. You also need a support group. You CAN heal, for I am proof. I AM HAPPY AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE I WOULD RATHER BE. Pray for character traits and virtues from God or whatever you believe in. They WILL be given, but you need to USE what is given to you. This WILL be you someday, telling someone else exactly what I just said. And you WILL be happy, so much so that you don’t even think of the past.

  • love me

    January 11th, 2015 at 3:29 PM

    hello i feel this story a lot beiong that i lost my mother at the age of 10 my brother and myself founf our mother not breathing in our home in her room she took her own life i still deal with that day i see as if it were yesterday and here iam 35 now ..sometimes i ask was being selfish to take her own life and leave us or was she in that much pain to want to take her life so she didnt have to hurt again im not sure but with prayer and my good friends im learning to let go of that past but very present pain ..

  • Sue

    March 19th, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    Hi Susan.

    Your story saddens me very much. I can’t begin to imagine the pain you must be going through not having anyone to talk to about it. You are in my thoughts. I sincerely wish and hope you do find someone to talk to soon.


  • olamide

    September 20th, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    Parents needs to show love to their kids, enough of abuses by them, it saddens me a lot and I’m sorry for those who has gone through this terrible thing. The lord be with youu x

  • kissybaby69

    October 11th, 2015 at 2:53 PM

    I understand u cuz when i was 5 years old i was sexually abuse ,mentally , physically. By the time i was 16 i try to kill myself i feel proud of u even thou i dnt know u just cuz u was strong i wasnt.I still can forgive ir forget.

  • kissybaby69

    October 11th, 2015 at 2:59 PM

    My mom use to Beat me wit a booster cable naked i also hada daughter from a rape .

  • Lynn

    April 16th, 2017 at 5:56 PM

    At the age of 48, I finally, for the first time, voiced my pain and shame to a counselor over what happened to me as a child. I’ve been in counseling for two years. I am now going to start the EMDR process. I thank you for sharing with us part of your story. It’s nice to know that we are not alone.

  • Jenny

    May 15th, 2017 at 12:53 PM

    I’m also a victim of domestic violence and what hurt me most is keeping to myself and not having anyone to confide in or help you.But the good thing is that I came out of it stronger and I had the will to never let anyone victimize me either physically or emotionally and I am also able to stand up for myself.

  • Andrew

    April 22nd, 2018 at 1:52 PM

    I was in a very abusive childhood. Name calling, humilation, physical abuse. My father is a narisstic parnoid abusive monster. He to this day will makes remarks of “maybe i will have to take him upnorth” Flashbacks of the two dogs that went upnorth and never returned, remembering the day that he said i was going upnorth with him… the fear the anxiety. Ultimately a car accident saved me from what was I was sure was going to be a fight for my life….. My brother is the good son, who repressed all he abusive memories.

  • Andrew

    April 22nd, 2018 at 1:59 PM

    I remember being beaten with a golf club at the driving range filled with people. Nobody would help me, my brother told my mom after I didnt come out of my room for days she has battered woman syndrome and tolerates his cheatin, rapes, and abuse to this day. I was even hit infront of my fifth grade teacher, she just smiled and continued parent teacher conference. Im an adult now and my father still belittles and degrades my character to others. I dont want to lose my family but inevitably I going to get cut out of the will and be alone regardless……

  • Michelle

    April 22nd, 2018 at 8:49 PM

    Andrew, please find a good therapist. The least of your worrirs should be being cut out of the will. If they can’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated, then they don’t deserve to be around you, and you must cut ties.

  • Ellen

    March 10th, 2019 at 5:54 AM

    I am not a native English speaker, i am from east. I also experienced that being abused, verbally emotionally and i have many attempts and isolation or evacuation i made and also my father’s decision to let me leave this house and esp the treatment of my mother. I cried a lot ever since especially when i was teenager 15 years old until right now turning 30. You know, you must seek justice righteousness in your hearts and soul, and there Jesus will open the way to his heart. You needed him. i cannot just explain well here and as you know it’s not my native language i’m just trying to express it. You know what Jesus said in one of his loveletters on the Youtube channel, loveletters from Jesus, i was like being led there and until now. You know god said, you are more that conquerors, the pain inflicted by the abusers will never be forgotten and never leave unpunished, remember that. You must press in to the lord, he loves you. I will share my story maybe tomorrow here on this website. I remember he said, “Souls are wounded many time beyond recognition”. that’s what he said on one of his loveletters. Jesus loves you like a little child, you only have to trust him but you know, i cannot sometimes endure this any longer because i was just being always attacked by my mother unfairly outrageously. You know why people do that? Because they are Godless. They will never know what is good or when they are good or in mood, it is God who give you relief that he controls them or led to their reaction unknown for them to rout out their manipulative attitude. i was led to study also zodiac signs all criteria or almost all of them and i started when i was 16 when i read the book of sydney omarr, and until i got many information not only there but also through internet. It depends how you analyze that thing, i realize my experience there in every angle how people react and make or view or relate with their propensities. There are really people we do not belong to or opposite or contradict or incompatible to us. But i said, it depends. i also have discerned their colors and also what i have read on a text message sent to me about zodiac studied by readers digest, i don’t have that now, because my mother forcefully burn it all and with her verbal attack or defending the bent or bad things as you know because if you discern the repetitive instances or mechanics, you wonder why, because they are the children of the devil. I want to advice this to my fellow human being especially those experienced abused, there are many ministry formed now on Youtube, and they are the prophet messengers of God. These are now the last days, so offer your good works your pain your sufferings to God and you will by no means left and without rewards in heaven. And another i remember Jesus, said, “Parents pass curses to their children without repair”. that’s what i remember but i have all almost or many of his letters. That is his love for us. the suffering you have is no match to the rewards that the Father Jehovah have in store for you. So what i only advice is that you seek always God, Jesus. He will someday reveal himself to you. do not pass on the bitter experiences you have had but to pass the otherwise can helpful and remarkble goods to others that they may see you as more than a conqueror.

  • mark

    December 28th, 2019 at 1:58 AM

    its so sad to look at the messages that have been written I will never understand why some people can live with knowing with what they have done me and my sister suffered so much and our mother watched it go on I am now 56 year old and my life as gone down hill since then with so many difficult story to tell I wish I could write it down in a story so my grand children and son could understand what went on and why today I struggle with life but have got to keep going as were bringing our 2 beautifull great grand children up who are 3 nexted week

  • John

    May 14th, 2023 at 10:15 AM

    I was physically, mentally, sexually, religiously abused. I had my pet served for supper and attempted to kill myself most nights. I was taught to hate myself. I may have survived but I quite frankly have a hard time believing all these happily ever after fairy tales. Does no one else who has really been gaslighted not wake up every morning wondering:
    Do I actually exist? Does anyone but my spouse really
    care? Why do people mix fiction and reality and why are lies easier to believe than the truth?
    You cannot take items from a person or a an object that are critical and then put the item back together and say “see, good as new”. No.., just looks good but does not mean it is good. Just appearance is good.

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