Trigger Warning: The following content contains themes related sexual violence and abuse.
I'm having a hard time. My mother used to sexually/physically abuse me. I still live at home. I can't afford to live on my own either. I don't have friends to even move in with etc. I confronted my mother a bunch of times over the course of 2 years but she calls me crazy or plays off like she doesn't know what I'm talking about. It went on for over 10 years. Honestly it's ruined me. I'm in my late 20s. But have overcome a lot. But how do I even have a relationship with her? How do I get past certain things? I can't forgive her. But I have to accept what has happened. May be she didn't realize what she did was wrong. Not making her the victim but just trying to understand her. She is a good person. The abuse is difficult to explain so that's why I wrote physical/sexual.
I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this.
The biggest takeaway I want you to have here is this: You are not obligated to maintain a relationship with an abuser--EVER. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they have or haven’t done in the past; someone who abuses you is someone who has bought themselves a one-way, non-refundable ticket out of your life, and they have also forfeited their right to complain about it.
Another major point here is that, unfortunately, Mom is unlikely to admit that she abused you; people like her have some sort of emotional amnesia or selective memory. There’s an old African proverb that says, “The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.” This means that people who regularly harm or abuse others either do not remember it or pretend they don’t because the behavior is just so normalized to them that they do not really think about it. It’s impactful and memorable to youbecause it’s significantly harmful, but for her, it’s just another Tuesday.
People like Mom tend to have a very fragile sense of self; they cannot tolerate any sort of criticism. This is largely because having to admit to doing something wrong means you have to acknowledge that it’s wrong and recognize that you are expected to stop doing it in the future. Usually, what happens with abusers is that they don’t want to change; they want to and feel entitled to using the same maladaptive coping mechanisms that have gotten them through life so far- even if they have negative impacts on others. So Mom could very well have been using you as a metaphorical punching bag or dumping ground for her own problems instead of taking the proper route and seeking professional help. Or perhaps she acts like she doesn’t remember abusing you because that punctures the thin veneer of denial she has over her behavior, and that veneer is the only way she can function.
For clarification of the above, you may want to read the book Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. While this focuses primarily on abusive intimate partner relationships, the author himself says you can use this research to apply to other abusive situations and abusers of all genders.
I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that Mom has been abused by her own parents or someone else she knew. But that absolutely does not excuse her behavior. This would mean she has crossed the line from victim to abuser, which means she is still responsible for her behavior. You may find watching BoJack Horseman--especially season 4--to be cathartic. The main character goes to his family’s old vacation home and starts learning the truth about his mother’s traumatic childhood and starts understanding his own toxic upbringing. He finds that his mother crossed the line from victim to abuser.
The thing is, there are so many possible reasons why she would do something so reprehensible as sexually abusing her own child. At this point, I wouldn’t put my limited time and energy towards understanding Mom’s abusive behavior if I were you; that is something you can grapple with later. Right now, prioritizing getting out would be a much better option. The reason why I say this is that Mom fits the profile of an estranged parent that you would find on an estranged parent forum or an estranged adult-child forum; her behavior is beyond reason, and she insists on staying that way.
For a better explanation of estranged parents, please read this essay called, "The Missing Missing Reasons":
I understand that you are stuck living with her for a while. Escaping is paramount to your health and safety because, even if she has stopped sexually abusing you, she could always move on to other forms of abuse. Even being in that house could be toxic to your health and well-being because it holds those traumatic memories. What I do recommend is slowly getting your ducks in a row, so you can carefully and successfully make your escape.
I have a couple of handy links here to help you plan your escape:
The most important recommendations I can readily offer are:
-Don’t tell Mom anything about your plans. She may want to sabotage them.
-Build a small and trustworthy support network. Only speak with people you know you can trust and will be able to help whether it’s financial support, transporting you to safety, or letting you couch surf.
-Save as much money as you can in a bank account Mom has no access to or knowledge of. If Mom gets wind of you planning to leave, what’s to stop her from financially abusing you?
-Do not rush anything. Patience and careful planning ensures you make a quick, clean escape.
-When the day finally comes, make sure to leave when Mom isn’t home, so she can’t stop you. If that’s impossible, have a police escort (if possible) or trusted friends to help you move out.
Once you have escaped, I highly recommend finding help in the form of a counselor, therapist, or some sort of mental healthcare provider that specializes in sexual abuse, trauma, and familial abuse. This kind of provider will understand what you are dealing with and will be better able to support you.
I have found a bunch of websites that feature plenty of book recommendations, too. Some of them are memoirs of people who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse and some of them are self-help books for people in your situation. They often focus on healing from trauma and understanding the impact that it has on people’s minds and bodies.
Lastly, I highly recommend learning about gaslighting. It’s when someone tries to alter your perception of reality and make you think you’re going crazy. It’s a way of ensuring you doubt yourself so significantly that the other person can control you very easily. It’s a very nasty thing to do because it destroys your confidence and severs your connection to your thoughts and emotions. This Ted Talk explains it:
As does this article:
Ultimately, what I suggest right now is assembling Team You, putting together your escape plan, then focusing on seeking help and healing from the trauma. This is because getting away from Mom and out of that toxic household will allow you the chance to actually begin the healing process; staying around her means that she can undermine your progress. It’s up to you to then to decide if you want a relationship with Mom at all--and if you do, what that will look like. You are allowed to set and maintain boundaries (even with family) because they are forms of protection and self-respect; Mom just has to deal.
I know this is a lot, but I want you to see that you are not alone in any of this and that you deserve so much better than to be abused and gaslit by your own family. If Mom wanted a healthy relationship with you, she should have chosen to treat you properly; she is now reaping the consequences of her bad decisions. You are completely valid for feeling the way you do, and I hope you find your path to healing.