Toxic Mother Daughter Relationship and Oprah Winfrey’s Mother

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dysfunctional mother daughter relationship
Seeing through New Eyes

This article is based on a page from the unauthorized biography “Oprah a biography by Kitty Kelley

When I grabbed this book off the shelf at Costco, I didn’t realize that it was an unauthorized biography about Oprah Winfrey. I thought that it was the real story. I thought that Oprah had agreed to the publication. I quickly realized that I had picked up something that might be full of lies and conclusions that had no right to be drawn; but since I bought it, I decided to read it anyway. 

One of the most popular subjects here on Emerging from Broken is the subject of dysfunctional and toxic relationships between mothers and daughters.  I think that as humans we are born craving love, community and acceptance from our mothers and when it appears that our mothers hate us, disapprove of us, judge us or generally never seem to love and accept us… it is a mystery that we are attracted to solving.  I want my mother to LOVE me.  I want a relationship with my mother. But I got tired of how the entire burden of that desire was left up to me with zero accountability on the part of my mother.

I came across a part in Kitty Kelley’s book about Oprah Winfrey that bugged me a great deal. I realize that this is an unauthorized biography, but the example that I found about dysfunctional and toxic mother daughter relationship was so good, that I just could not resist writing about it for Emerging from Broken. It shows the way that society views how we SHOULD respect parents no matter what.  It shows that the definition of love is often communicated in a very dysfunctional way.   In my opinion, this part in the book explains the just how toxic mother daughter relationships can be and that society actually views this toxic false definition of love and respect as the right way to view it.

The following is a quote from page 175 of the book Oprah; a biography by Kitty Kelley. This quote is in the context of a conversation that a very close family friend (whom Oprah calls her Aunt Katherine) Mrs. Esters has with the author of the book.

Mrs. Esters says

“Oprah takes very good care of her mother, who now buys five-hundred-dollar hats and has drivers who have drivers and helpers and cooks and all, but the story of Oprah and Vernita is sad and complicated”. said Mrs.Esters. “Oprah does not love her mother at all…She gives her a great deal financially but she does not give her the respect and affection a daughter should, and that bothers me. Vernita did the best she could with Oprah, who was a wilful, runaway child….Her mother has had to bury two of her three children over the years and I can tell you that when a parent loses a child it can you to your knees. I know. I had to bury my son. So Oprah should be more forgiving of her mother…”

This paragraph bothered me. It reminded me of my own life, and the way that I have been blamed for the problems in my relationship with my mother. It irritated me. Notice the word “should”. (…“but she does not give her mother the respect that a daughter should” and “Oprah should be more forgiving…)

Notice that Mrs. Esters brings up two children who have passed away as though that has something to do with the whole thing.  That is what I call a “rabbit trail” The fact that two of Opera’s mothers children died has NOTHING to do with why Oprah should love her mother or with Oprah’s relationship with her mother. See how the lies are told? Does this mean that the definition of love is “feeling sorry” for your mother?

And you “should” respect your mother, because she is your mother? Because she did the best she could? The best according to who? And why does she use the word “forgiving” because that implies that there is indeed something to forgive and it bothers me that the word “should” is in the same sentence as forgiving. There is just something wrong about all this.

These quotes are a reflection of how society is brainwashed to regard parents as Gods.

Mrs Esters also comments that Oprah was “a wilful and runaway child” which puts the all the blame for the behaviour of her mother squarely back on Oprah’s shoulders. And that is the whole problem in the first place. Children are always blamed for whatever the parents do or “have to do”.  Like I said this paragraph is a great example of the way society views “toxic mother daughter relationships” blaming the daughter or blaming the child no matter what age they are, for all the problems.

There is so much “truth leaking” about what really went on in this paragraph but in our society, nobody catches it.  Everyone hears it the way that it is intended to be heard; that Oprah, the child, failed her mother and continues to fail her to this day.

This part of the quote in the statement “Oprah does not love her mother at all…She gives her a great deal financially but she does not give her the respect and affection a daughter should, and that bothers me.” … well that Really bothers ME. Respect and affection? That phrase made me cringe. We are supposed to give our mothers affection? Why? Even if they beat us? Even if they sexually abuse us? Even if they disregard us as human beings and neglect our emotional health? This whole thing implies that being a daughter is a duty; that this “duty” has guidelines that need to be abided by or else you are NOT a good daughter.  And there is no accountability on the part of the mother.   And what about the concept of “RESPECT”? If the childhood history that Oprah endured is actually true, then her mother was not a very loving mother, and her mother didn’t respect Oprah at all, so why “SHOULD” Oprah give her mother respect and affection?

I don’t believe that children learn by being told HOW to be loving daughters.  I believe that we learn by example and the example that my mother set for me is exactly what I learned. My mother was not nurturing or respectful. Her example of “love” was dysfunctional. She taught me things from a very one sided point of view. What applied to me, didn’t apply to her because she is the mother, and society accepts that view. 

I don’t think my mother is very happy with our relationship because we don’t have one, but honestly, whose fault is that? Why does society view it as MY fault? Based on the small parts of the toxic mother daughter relationship I had with my mother and have shared here in Emerging from Broken, it is clear that my mother did a lot of damage to me. I am not going to take the blame for that because my mother and society are more comfortable blaming all relationship difficulties on the kids, no matter what age they are. I think that it’s time that everyone looked at the difficult subject of toxic mother daughter relationships through the eyes of truth. 

The problems don’t start with the child. Even if that child was never abused by the parent, the adult child is often angry that said parent didn’t protect them from the abuse that did happen and that is understandable.  Think about that in relation to yourself as a child. I believed most of my life that the problem was me, because I was always told it was me. But does that mean it was the truth? No.

I had a very strong reaction to the way this story about Oprah Winfrey was presented and to the way that her relationship with her mother was viewed by a family friend. It triggered all the memories of how no matter what my parents did, no matter how dysfunctional and toxic they were, no matter how I was regarded and devalued, I was the problem and any lack of acceptance or complaint was regarded as disrespectful and therefore viewed as my failure as a daughter.

Please share your thoughts on this example of toxic mother daughter relationship. I look forward to the discussion in the comments.

Exposing Truth; one snapshot at a time,

Darlene Ouimet

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing

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99 response to "Toxic Mother Daughter Relationship and Oprah Winfrey’s Mother"

  1. By: Anon Girl 2 Posted: 2nd October

    Thank you for this post it meant a lot to me! I am trying really hard to teach myself that I am not the failure my mother makes me feel I am. Although I know my mother loves me, she seems incapable of not constantly criticizing every aspect of me. I never seem to be good enough. She however would never believe the devastating need for affirmation I need from her. Why do we so desperately crave affirmation from our parents even into adulthood? It is ridiculous because I cannot ever remember her giving me any compliment without some hidden criticism. The problem is that no one is perfect and there is and always will be room for improvement and so it is always possible for her to point out some way that I should be improving which just leaves me feeling demotivated and inadequate. I am sure she must have told me she loves me at some point but I actually cannot remember her ever actually saying as much. She says she tells me she loves in my birthday cards but after a card with a badly hidden recommendation on how to be a better person, the final “lots of love Mom and Dad” does not feel like a declaration of affection. I must however also take ownership of the fact that I now unfortunately overreact (not in front of her) whenever she criticizes me and my poor husband has to hear me rant for hours after visiting her. I have tried confronting her about this and she refuses to admit that her constant criticism could possibly be a bad thing or to even acknowledge that her constant ‘advice’ can be taken as criticism. Do you have any advice about how to handle this situation? I still find myself wanting to spend lots of time with her even though I normally feel either terrible about myself or angry after seeing her. I am still the daughter that messages almost every day and calls at least twice a week and do not want to have to be the one that draws away because I am scared that she will not fight for me. How do I know if I will ever be able to fix this relationship because from my perspective as the daughter, I feel like I really am trying? The ironic thing is that she will do absolutely anything for any scrap of affection she can get from her father and my grandmother told me he (my grandfather) was the same with his father. How do I know that I will not be the same to my children? How do I stop myself from desperately for her approval?

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 2nd October

      Hi Anon Girl 2
      First of all, there are lots of articles in this site that will help you figure this out. I would start by reading everything in the mother daughter relationship category.
      You can’t fix the relationship with your mother because relationship is two sided. Something that helped me was to realize that I was expected to do all the work in the relationship and something else that helped me was to think about love as an action word. My mother didn’t ‘act’ like she loved me. She didn’t treat me with love or respect. She did however have a lot of expectations about the way I treated her.. and her rules for me were different than the ones for her. These were all the things that I discovered that helped me to take my life back. My biggest fear was that my mother would not fight for me, but she was killing me so I had to take the risk for me. And the only way that I stopped the cycle of abuse with my own children was to take my life back and see that the relationship I had with my mother was toxic and that I didn’t deserve it. I was able to find the approval I so needed through myself. And that was when I stopped seeking it.
      Hope this gets you started.
      Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Rohit Sharma Posted: 15th August

    Hi,I am form India and I must tell you that situations here are even worst…coz the India society ,because of a lot of influence from movies…considers mother as God..who can never do anything wrong…one who always lover her child.So when a child tries to bring into attention the ordeal he/she is going through bcoz of mother…no one believes it..in fact a child who speak ill aboout his mother is considered as a bad person.No one even like to see the facts you want to show them abt ur mother…coz mother can never be wrong according to them.
    I have been a victim of lots of physical and metnal abuse by my mother…but never received any help from anyone ..coz no one believed me..until one day..i decided to leave home.Today we are in touch(coz m an emotional fool)…but only when she need money..or else she is not bothered even if m dead or alive.But i beleive in God…feel one day we all have to answer God:)
    THANKS

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th August

      Hi Rohit
      There is no abuse worse than any other abuse. This is a global problem we face here. Not being believed is also a global problem for children and adult children of abusive or neglectful parents. I think you will enjoy the conversations in this website! We concentrate of recovering from the damage.
      Hugs, Darlene

  3. By: Anon girl Posted: 13th May

    Hi Darlene

    I am new to this site, I am so glad that I have found this today and I will continue to explore it 🙂 From what I have briefly seen here, it seems like the exact place for me to be and to read all the articles that you have written on healing.

    Thank you. I cannot imagine the amount of love and peace that you are bringing all of us, the children who have been abused my bad parents. Thank you Darlene.

    It is Mothers Day in South Africa today and I am googling ‘Toxic Mothers’ and doing some self healing…

    In short, like you and many of the people who visit your site, I was horifically emotionally abused by my narcisitic, domineering, manipulative mother, who I am sure has official ‘narcisitic sociopathic disorder’.

    Anyway, I have cut myself off from my mother, father, both of my brothers, all of my family, aunts and everyone, and almost everyone from my past, as all of the friendships I had formed were toxic.

    It is very hard for me, as I am sure it is hard for anyone who is doing this, it is the hardest thing I have ever done, and probably the hardest thing I will ever do, as now I stand alone.

    But I will heal myself. Even if it takes my whole life to do so.

    We were all abused, I was emotionally abused and this is not easy to face, but I will prevail. WE will prevail, together.

    To everyone who visits this site and to Darlene – thank you. We can do this. I will fight every day for happiness.

    * I turn my face towards the sun *

    All my love to all of you,
    Anon girl

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th August

      Hi Anon Girl
      I am sorry that I missed your comment back in May. I was away for 10 days at that time and unable to catch up with comments.
      Glad you are here, I hope you will return.
      Hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Sally Posted: 4th April

    I also have found this aspect very damaging and it is the reason I have dumped my whole extented family together with my mother. It also touches on why I have cut ties with my father too, because I realised there is so much betrayal from him never sticking up for me when the abuse was happening that my relationship with men had been choosing men who will hurt me so I can be a little girl repeating her betrayal. He would be stick up for me when they were having a fight, I rmeember when I was little he would refuse to hit me when she said, hit her, hit her, but when they were back together and she was being mean to me, he would just let it happen so he could have some peace. Maybe because he didn’t want to get it in the neck or maybe because he just couldn’t stand the idea of divorce. These people who blame kids for problems also tend to hold marriage up as something immaculate even when it is destructive because they care more about what other people think and divorce is unacceptable so rather take it out on the kids. I realised over the past years as I got my act together professionally and socially, being able to cope with personalities at work from a postion of strength and accepting it was ok to have a few healthy friendships rather than trying to please everyone, I found myself always coaching my dad on how it get it right himself … but deep down it played into my need to have him be there for me, to show me the way, how to be whole and loving and masterful in life. If he were just a person I wouldn’t give him all the energy and input because I’d know it was futile, and anyway deep down he’s so angry at himself, it I’m around I also get targeted for that. So yeah, seeing through this stuff is essential and the more of us who do the better. I need to be more accepting of myself because that’s the way forward. I am still friends with one girl who is an old family friend and it does make me uncomfortable even tho she is very very kind to me. She asked why I had cut off the family and told her it was when my mom screamed at me, You should hear the things your father says behind your back” a couple of months ago when I was just lying on the couch. And she said, that’s not the woman I know. So it can be really hard when everyone thinks your mother is the bees knees because they don’t see the other side so they judge. I had cut her off a few years back because she said sorry for the first time EVER after she lied to me about disinheriting me. So i let her back in my life, but slowly she started abusing me again, whenever she felt unfomfort rising in her she would take it out on me, and I thought, no, I’ve proved to myself I’m strong enough to be around it and not react, I want a life where I can relax and be safe and loving around the people I choose to be with on my day off, so i cut ’em both off this time. And I don’t care at all. My dad has a very funny side and he revels in the role of everyone’s favourite uncle that the exdended family gives him. But I find those people so destructive and judgmental and shallow for the most part, I find the great ‘love’ and attention and affection they bestow on each other quote baffling to be frank. And so when I make the decision not to be ‘connected’ with my dad either, they will have a fine time railing against me for it.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 5th April

      Hi Sally
      Welcome to EFB
      Thank you for sharing this. It is crazy how we are conditioned to accept some of this stuff and what we go through when we decide enough is enough. I loved what you said when you wrote “I want a life where I can relax and be safe and loving around the people I choose to be with on my day off”
      ~ We all deserve that!
      Thanks for sharing, hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Teresa Posted: 19th March

    I read the book you are discussing, and it was a travesty on many levels. The section you mention concerning Oprah’s mother may be the most objectionable part of the book. – I agree with your analysis completely. Society has such twisted, dysfunctional illusions concerning “holy” mothers, that it is a miracle some women find their way out of that psychological trap at all. – If your mother cut off your limbs, causing you to live your life as a cripple – how much compassion would she deserve? Well, it is just as bad (if not worse) when your mother psychologically cripples you – then expects you to grow up, forgive her, be a good daughter, and go on serving her dysfunctional needs. !!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 19th March

      Hi Teresa
      Exactly! VERY well said! Thank you for adding your insights here!
      Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: Michelle Posted: 6th January

    Darlene, I love this!

    ‘ I can’t understand why my mother can’t be accountable for any of this stuff either. Freedom is not caring anymore if she ever does.’

    And that is why I AM free from her!

  7. By: Diane Knight Posted: 6th January

    Sophie;

    I validate you. At some point, hopefully, Mother wakes up. “With loving kindness, have I drawn thee”. This works for me. I refuse to continue the curse. I broke it thru showing her, regardless of how bad it was, I still Love you. “The children are innocent”; yet the excuse is “I did the best I could”. They know better; this is what it is; an excuse. Thank you for the article. I learned a new word, TOXIC.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 6th January

      Hi Diane K
      Welcome to emerging from broken!
      I broke mine too. The cycle stoped with me. You mentioned the excuse being “I did the best that I could” … I wrote a popular blog post about that here too.
      Thought you might like to read it. It is one of my most viewed posts.
      It is called (click title) “My Parents did the best they Could According to WHO?
      Hugs, Darlene
      Author of Emerging from Broken

  8. By: Brenda B. Posted: 15th December

    yes, Yes, yes!! I wish I could make my brother and all the family members blaming me for my lack of relationship with my mother, read this blog. I was told I did not do enough. My mother actually put in her will that I was left nothing and I know why. When I did not react to that statement, My Brother and My mother’s boyfriend got even madder and meaner. Thank You for reinforcing that I am not at fault. I was the child, forced to grow up way to quickly, and she was the parent. All I can do is be a healthy example to my children. I never want them to go through the pain I have.

  9. By: AnnaLyzza Posted: 16th November

    Sophia,

    Another thing I’ve observed in my family is that each kid can have a legitimately different experience of the same set of parents. I read a good book last year about ADHD wherein the author talks about the significant influence of trauma (emotional and physical) on the developing brain. He discusses the impact of maternal stress on the developing brain – his mother was a Hollocaust survivor so his thesis is based on examining how her parenting to him was affected by this (he was born and very young just after the war I believe), and vastly different from how she parented his younger brother who was born during a period of safety and stability. (I’m sorry I can’t remember either the title or the author, but I want to give credit where due for these ideas as best I can) Anyway, he talks about how parents can relate to each of their children differently, depending on external pressures they are having at the time, depending on their mental and physical health, depending on how that kid is like them or isn’t, how the kid may push their buttons or not, so out of the same family, you can have one kid who experienced the parents as loving and supportive while another kid was treated terribly or was neglected or abused. As you can imagine, it can be very hard for Kid A to wrap his/her mind around the very different reality expressed by Kid B.

    In my family, my parents relate differently to each one of us kids. My oldest brother has always been close with my Dad – they share the same interests and talents, my brother idolized my Dad and always wanted to be like him and with him, and of course my Dad loved that and rewarded that. My brother has always been an achiever and very righteous and mature for his years so my mother seems to look up to him almost like a father-figure. So my parents tended to relate to him with their best selves and never pulled any of the stuff with him that I had to deal with.

    My younger brother was quiet, reserved, and not outgoing at all – he preferred to be alone or have the company of pets, and he did not care for my Dad’s more showy, outgoing hobbies and activities. Basically with my Dad you either got into what he was into to be with him or you stayed out of his way. My younger brother’s interests always seemed stupid or incomprehensible to my Dad, so you can imagine what sorts of issues he struggles with now – he was invisible and not validated at all, so he struggles with crushingly low self esteem and depression.

    Me, I was funny and happy and a character, I was cute and affectionate and playful, so I was Daddy’s little girl. I was the one who got saddled with what I realize now were the Nurturing Mother responsibilities – my job was to take good care of my parents’ emotional needs. I was to bolster my Father’s self esteem and never challenge it. I’ve talked quite a bit here about how that has affected/is effecting me.

    Since each of us was responded to and interacted with differently by each parent and by the parents as a set, our individual reality of our family IS different. It has made it challenging at times to get validation for my reality from my brothers, because their experiences and mine were not always identical. My younger brother and I were closer in age and home after my oldest brother moved out for college etc., and we lived closer to our parents in adulthood, so we have seen a lot more of the up close and personal dysfunction that oldest brother. But even though we’d mired in the same crap, my first few attempts to talk to my younger brother about family stuff didn’t go so well – he’d get really sad and shut down and be really depressed, so I quit trying and we kind of went our own ways for a while. But once he moved back closer to home and started having Mom and Dad’s stuff in his face all the time, we began to talk about it and support one another. There came a point where he was strong enough to start talking about this stuff, and I guess it got bad enough that he HAD to talk about it or go nuts. It has taken my oldest brother longer to come around to see that what my younger brother and I have experienced was valid. He sees himself as the “Wise Father” after all, so what could we possibly know that he didn’t know already? Thankfully, as the toll of being expected to carry this “Wise Father” responsibility has gotten heavier – as he became aware that my parents were leaning on him for this, he has reached out to us and we’ve all become better supports for each other. It’s not perfect by any means – oldest bro can still be a dismissive ass and I can be a self-help spouting know-it-all and younger bro can still turtle and hide, but this summer when our parents announced that they are getting back together after 17 years of being apart, my brothers and I and our spouses supported each other through the “WTF? Here we go again,” reaction. It felt nice to be a unit, supporting each other as we now face yet another chapter in my parents’ strange, codependent relationship.

    It used to cause me a lot of pain that my brothers weren’t in my corner, and I felt a lot of guilt and responsibility to look out for and “rescue” my younger brother in particular from his pain. It was hard to not have them willingly join me on my road to recovery and healing. But I know now that it took me continuing to speak my truth and do my own growth work and getting myself healthier and personally choosing to agitate for healthier boundaries with my parents, to make it possible for the three of us to be where we’re at now. I blazed a trail for me and have been happy that it has turned out that my whole family has benefited. So, we can only truly heal ourselves, and in so doing I guess we leave a trail that others can follow if they choose to. And we can find ourselves in a better position to support family members when the time comes that they are ready to face their own painful history.

  10. By: AnnaLyzza Posted: 16th November

    Yes Darlene, I’d say you have succeeded! : )

  11. By: Sophia Posted: 16th November

    That’s true of my brother, too, Patricia, He doesn’t want to look at how he was hurt. But I can also see from what others are saying here that it is not necessarily true that another family member will ever validate the reality of abuse for anyone in the family. I feel bad for my brother because I think I can see how he has just been growing numb and depressed over the years from not looking at his OWN pain.

    Darlene, thank you for clarifying about Alice Miller and the enlightened witness. I also have a very close friend who is in the position of never having actually seen my parents in action, but supports me in my healing journey. She has actually met my parents socially, when they are on their “best” behavior, and is still able to see that they have another side. That’s been really helpful to me.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th November

      YES
      Here is a summary about this whole thing for me; I had someone that helped me see where I had been discounted and devalued by affirming my suspicions and listening to me recount events out loud so that I myself could hear them. (writing this works too) This person validated me and my pain until I could validate my self and my own pain. (and I had to get to the point of validating my own pain and my own truth but for me someone had to hear me first. Someone had to listen, and agree and validate me, that was just how it worked) That is an enlightened witness. This was SO powerful for me and my own personal healing that it is the whole reason I started this website emerging from broken. I want to be that person in others lives and that is what I strive to do even in my blog posts. I dare say that I am succeeding! LOL
      Hugs, Darlene

  12. By: AnnaLyzza Posted: 16th November

    Darlene, I’m sorry that no one else in your family is able to validate your reality. When I was a younger teen and tried to talk to my brothers about our parents’ toxic marriage, my older brother rebuffed such talk as disrespectful and was very dismissive of “psychobabble” – he considered it anti-Christian and dangerous. My younger brother, I realize now, was too wounded himself to be able to handle the stuff I was wrestling with and wanted to talk about, so he would just shut down and not want to talk about it. I remember feeling terribly alone then, and struggling to figure out if I was “wrong” in my feelings because no one around me who could confirm, would confirm. Thankfully I found various people along the way who would be exactly what you describe – healing witnesses who believed me. I have been so blessed to find these people as I seem to need them! And I feel very blessed to have found this site, Darlene! Thank you. I’m also thankful that my younger brother came to a point where he was ready to face stuff and we could talk to each other – and he has a wicked, skewering sense of humour so we cope a lot through basically laughing at the absurdity of our family. It’s probably a mask to avoid the actual pain of some of this nonsense, but it is a good stress reliever to laugh instead of cry. What I realize this morning, while processing the feedback you gave me re my post to Kelly, is that I have room to improve in how I support my brother now. He is struggling with depression and is quite angry and unhappy, but since I figured I was “over” a lot of this stuff with our parents, I don’t think I’ve been as supportive to him in his process as he needs. So, thanks for helping me realize that I’m not quite as “over” this as I thought, and for learning ways I can improve how I support others – including my own family.

  13. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 16th November

    Sophia, you are very welcome. I am glad that I can share from my own experiences.

    AnnaLyzza, My sister supports me in my healing process even though she has her own unresolved issues with incest that she doesn’t even want to look at. Thank you for your comment about my daughter having my strength to lean on. That is so important to me because I never had anyone to lean on early in my life until my husband came along. His acceptance continues to give me strength. Even through the most confusing part of my journey, my husband has been there to support me. Now I can pass that support on to my daughter. I will also be there for my sister if she ever decides that she wants to work on her own issues.

  14. By: AnnaLyzza Posted: 16th November

    That’s true, Sophia. My younger brother and I have been each other’s allies in that regard as well. Between that and a very supportive husband, I’ve been very fortunate to have witnesses who validate my feelings.

  15. By: Sophia Posted: 15th November

    This post reminds me of what Alice Miller wrote about why it is so important to have a “witness” who will confirm and validate the knowledge that one was abused. With so many people ready to deny it and blame you and conspire to whitewash everything, you can really come to believe you are the one who is wrong. I am so grateful that my brother continues to tell me, “Yes, I was there and I know how you were treated and it wasn’t right.”

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th November

      AnnaLyzza
      I am so glad that you had a profound understanding from what I said! Some of these things are so logical yet they are not clear when we live in the fog of abuse etc.
      Hugs! (and thank you for sharing so much! we can all gather insight from these kinds of shares!)
      Darlene

      I just want to add to what Sophia said in her comment about Alice Miller. For those of us who didn’t have an actual “witness” Alice miller is talking about a healing witness or an enlightened witness which is someone who believes you even if they didn’t see it. Someone who supports you on your journey and will understand you and never question your truth.
      I do not have anyone in my life (that I know of) who witnessed the events of my childhood and is willing to validate them. My youngest brother told on my oldest brother twice and doesn’t remember ever seeing any abuse at all NOR does he remember telling our mother about it.

      Sophia,
      It is wonderful that your brother validates your memories like that! That is such a gift!
      Hugs, Darlene

  16. By: AnnaLyzza Posted: 15th November

    Darlene: “After I faced the real truth, I was able to remember good times or positive parenting times without using those good times as the reason I should not be upset or hurt” Wow. That almost brought on tears – which is pretty much like sobbing for me! That is so simple yet so profoundly true and SO significant!!! This totally nails my pinball reaction that I was trying to describe in the latest blog post discussion about panic attacks – clearly I believe that I don’t deserve to feel my anger and hurt because that means I don’t appreciate all the good things I got from my parents/upbringing. Being angry and allowing myself to feel that and to feel hurt = being ungrateful and for some reason that is very bad. My parents weren’t ogres, they were childish, infantile, needy people, so if ever I expressed anger at them they reacted like wounded children and made ME feel like the abusive parent! So I have grown up feeling bigger than them and that it was my responsibility to protect them from me! How turned around is that??? But like Sophia, I have happy memories too – my parents could and still can be really great in some ways. When they are, I feel like such a class A jerk for ever having been mad at them for their failings. Because clearly I have not believed that I could love them AND be angry at them/hurt by them at the same time! And the reason I have felt that way is because THEY responded to me that way! If I was upset with them, they reacted as though I had fundamentally rejected them and were so hurt that I felt like a heel, or my mom would counter attack me with all my faults that were “just as bad”, basically calling me a hypocrite. It was just not okay to be mad at them, and that message was conveyed in so many ways. It was only okay to love them – to be a nurturing, supportive, fawning, caring mother to them. I was NOT supposed to ever be a disapproving, critical mother – that was not allowed!

    Sophia, I so understand your confusion and guilt about trying to process abuse trauma you’ve received from your “good” or at least not terrible parents. It can be hard to reconcile the disparity between their “good” attributes or moments and the awful ones. My Mom almost has two distinct personalities – one is loving but childlike and the other is angry, mean, controlling, critical and sneaky. She is totally in denial of the latter personality. And it was terribly confusing to me for years because I did not quite see the pattern and had a nice mother one minute and an unpleasant one the next. I’d get angry at the one but always it was the childlike, “good” Mother who reacted to my anger and was wounded, hurt, devestated, blindsided. It’s so crazy – no wonder I feel old and responsible for everything! I’ve been the Mom all these years!

    Anyway, sorry. I’m taking in a lot today and it’s all good but it’s a LOT of insight all at once. Darlene, THANK YOU SO MUCH for providing this space to vent/talk/process and for providing your very wise, incredibly insightful perspective. Wow. I’m blown away.

  17. By: Sophia Posted: 15th November

    I go back and forth between my knowledge that there were ways I was damaged and the many times that my parents did good things for me, too. Reading Anna Lyzza’s post reminded me of the time I was hospitalized when I was 4 with a bad infection. My father came and stayed with me every night so that I wouldn’t feel alone. Yet this is the same man who later allowed his wife to abuse me and made excuses for her. I also remember the times when my stepmother and I shared interests and worked on projects together and she often respected my opinions. When I was in art school many classmates envied me for having parents who were knowledgeable about art and supported my interest. I just have to remember that there was trauma, too, and that I was disabled for many years, and that allowing myself to feel my emotions and explore my false beliefs is the ONLY thing that has worked to help me heal. In fact, when the memories of the “good” times surface, my anxiety actually seems to increase, possibly because deep down I know that my most primal needs were neglected and truly honest communication was discouraged.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 15th November

      Sophia
      This is all part of how we learn survival as children. We adapt by comforting ourselves with excuses etc. And it is so much easier to blame ourselves or to figure out ways to cope and to “do better”. So we excuse that trauma and we feel bad when we try to focus on the pain of it because we have tried to ignore it all along.
      After I faced the real truth, I was able to remember good times or positive parenting times without using those good times as the reason I “should not” be upset or hurt. The good times don’t cancel out the bad times. I had to see them each for what they were in order to heal AND even to appreciate the good things.
      Hugs, Darlene

  18. By: AnnaLyzza Posted: 15th November

    My mother abandoned me when I was about 17 months old – my brother, who was 4 months, and I had come down with croup and we both had to be hospitalized. My Mom, who now realizes she had post-partum depression at the time, couldn’t cope and left us in the hospital and in the care of friends from church and traveled 800 miles to stay with her parents – I don’t know for how long she was gone. I don’t remember this consciously, but I know in my heart and have discovered in therapy that this was a very traumatizing experience for me. I believe that I stopped trusting my mother and shut myself down to her at that time.

    Having had five children of my own – two very close together – and having suffered through post partum depression myself, I have a small degree of empathy for my Mom, I guess. My Dad was an insensitive jerk so my mother had no emotional support and probably very little practical support caring for two sick babies. So, maybe she really couldn’t cope. She didn’t have her own family close by and my Dad’s family were loving but tough, self-reliant farm folk so maybe my Mom didn’t have anyone she could lean on. That being said, I can not imagine leaving my sick babies in the hospital and heading off to hide out with my mommy and daddy. I would pull my shit together for my babies and get in there and do what needed to be done. I have felt a lot of contempt for my mother that she was so weak. When she told me about this, she felt very sorry for herself and felt very bad about leaving my baby brother, but interestingly she said nothing about regretting how this might have affected me. I guess she considers me too strong to be upset by anything, even at the tender age of 17 months. She expressed a lot of compassion for herself now that she understands what post partum depression is, and she expressed that she was doing the best she could under the circumstances. I can’t judge of course because I am not her, but I struggle to believe that this was the best she could do. Maybe she was feeling crazy and would have harmed us, I don’t know.

    And I guess regardless of whether she could have coped better or should have, whatever. It doesn’t matter, does it? The damage was done to me and that has never been acknowledged. I don’t hold it against her that she had her issues – It just bothers me that she doesn’t seem capable of understanding the impact that this may have had on me. She never seems to get that part. With this, or the nervous breakdown hospitalization when I was 7, to the years of us worrying and fretting and fussing over her undiagnosable seizure disorder (watching helpless while your mother has seizures then sobs and sobs afterward is not a fun experience) – I too made a conscious decision to take care of her. I felt certain that if I left her alone, she would die. I told her that a couple of years ago and she admitted that her anxiety was so bad, she was convinced she would die if she was left alone, so I guess I was picking up the vibe she was putting out. She feels bad for herself that she was in such a bad way, and seemed touched that I cared so much about her and was looking out for her. And again, she feels she was doing pretty well to keep herself together as well as she thinks she did. It’s like she has no idea how much her pain/anxiety/distress spilled out and seeped into me and the rest of our family. And even when I expressed how worried I was about her as a little kid, No apology that I had to carry that burden and that fear.

    It just does not seem to occur to her to express any sorrow or regret to me over anything she’s said, done or not done over the years. She was doing the best she could, after all. In her mind she was an excellent mother. And she certainly was a good mother in many ways, or at least she wasn’t a terrible mother. She could have been worse, that’s for sure. But she did not insulate her children from the trauma of her trauma, as much as she seems to think she did.

    I don’t feel any pain over this anymore really, it doesn’t hurt to talk about it. I don’t feel angry at her over it anymore. But it is still kind of baffling how she lacks the ability – or willingness – to let herself consider how her behaviour and choices have affected her kids. It’s like we’re really not allowed to be affected by it, because that would be more than she could cope with – we would be heaping pain on her when she is already hurting, by confronting her with our pain. That’s the lesson in my childhood – both my anger and my pain were too much for my parents to cope with, they needed me to cope with my own stuff myself so I could be available to support them emotionally. A family friend went to my Dad when I was a teenager (and suicidal, and cutting myself, and anorexic) and told my Dad that she was concerned about me and suggested he arrange for some counselling support for me. He told me about this later, and his reason for not going ahead and getting me help was that he knew I was tough and I’d be okay. I was floored when I found this out, that even when the evidence of my distress was plainly revealed to him, he was able to deny to himself that i was in so much pain. And too wrapped up in himself to reach out to me in any way. (He also never sat me down to talk to me to find out if I was okay – I didn’t learn about this until years later.)

    Sorry if I’m repeating myself from posts I’ve already made before – seems like I’ve mentioned some of this stuff before but I can’t quite remember in what post.

    Anyway, Patricia, I admire you for allowing your daughter to be angry with you and express her pain to you, even though it is painful for you as well. I don’t need to rail at my mother for her failings, but it would be really nice to be able to say, “This was hurtful to me” and have her say she’s sorry without falling apart and letting my feelings trigger a huge guilt/self pity response from her. The conversation quickly would go from being about me and my feelings to me comforting her while she falls apart. I quit needing to lean on my mother for emotional comfort/support/validation a long time ago – thankfully I have found other outlets from which to get that kind of support. But I am glad Patricia that your daughter has your strength to lean on now while she is processing her pain. I am trying to offer that same opportunity to my oldest son – to let him be safely angry at me and to bring his hurts to me so I can share his burden with him, if that’s what he wants.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 15th November

      AnnaLyzza
      Please don’t worry about repeating yourself.. that is how we work things out.
      I am so sorry that you had all this happen to you as a child! My goodness; think abut the beliefs that you formed as a result of it. Totally understandable from my perspective.

      One thing that I want to say again (and not just to you but to all) is that I have empathy for my mother ~ but remember that isn’t the point. I had to heal from the damage that was caused to me. Every time I made an excuse for my mother, it interfered with the self validation that I had never had and never learned to have. I always returned to the excuses; my poor mother and then when I had that thought I went straight to beating myself up for my selfish wishes… I am not suggesting that you stop going through the process with all it’s back and forth. I just want to encourage you to remember (as you have done in this post) that regardless of what was going on with her, you are trying to heal from the damage. This is not about loyalty or disloyalty. It isn’t about love or hate either. Just about healing. 🙂

      I can’t understand why my mother can’t be accountable for any of this stuff either. Freedom is not caring anymore if she ever does.
      You are doing some deep processing and really great work!
      Hugs, Darlene

      Hi Sophia
      Great comments! Yay for self care and grieving! and I LOVE the connections you made ~ thank you for sharing them here!
      Hugs, Darlene

  19. By: Sophia Posted: 14th November

    Good. I gave time to myself to grieve today, then I went to a quiet natural spot to just walk and soak in the beauty for a while, then I came home and made myself a healthy delicious dinner. Self-care day! I just re-read the original post here, and I am thinking about the judgemental description of a willful runaway child. That certainly described me as a teenager as I became desperate to get away from a very unhappy home. I did run away and come back several times before I left for good at 18. I was always blamed. I was sent to psychiatrists to find out what was “wrong” with me. One doctor who could see the big picture told my parents that he thought we should do family therapy so that we could learn to communicate with each other. My parents were so insulted that they stormed out of his office. Didn’t he realize that there was nothing wrong with them?! SIGH. “Willful runaway.” Why is it so wrong for a person to have a will of their own and to want to leave a toxic situation?

  20. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 14th November

    Sophie, “to curl up and grieve” is a very good thing. That is how you get it out. I know it doesn’t feel good at the time but it is what you need.

    The recognition that you have abandoned yourself is big. I didn’t start to heal from my abandonment issues until I realized that I had abandoned myself. When we believe what others say negatively about us, we abandon our own selves as worthless and damaged. Because of abandonment, we don’t take care of our needs or health.

    That is why I say over and over again that learning to love ourselves is the most important part of healing that we can do. When we love ourselves, we no longer abandon ourselves. We recognise that we have needs and wants and we take care of them.

    Allow yourself to grieve and to be angry at your mother. She understands why you feel the way that you do and what anyone else thinks isn’t that important.

    Part of my grieving including getting furious at God because I thought he had abandoned me too. He didn’t but I thought He had. Not everyone understands how I could allow myself to express my anger at God. I was careful who I shared that anger with. When I am vulnerable I don’t want to be condemned by someone who doesn’t understand that God is okay with my anger. I see God as having very wide shoulders to carry all the anger and grief of the world when it is shared with Him. I don’t ask or expect anyone else to believe as I do about God. I don’t like it when someone preaches God at me. My views of God are very personal and I only share when I think it might help someone else.

  21. By: Sophia Posted: 14th November

    Another part of the process of cementing my false belief system came when my father remarried when I was eleven. My stepmother began attacking me, but called it trying to help me. My hair was wrong, I was forced to cut it. My clothes were wrong, I had to wear what she liked. My ambitions for my life were naive, I should want to be like her. My budding sexuality scared the daylights out of her. Rather than providing wise guidance through the maze of boy-girl relationships, she tried to impose rigid beliefs about never being “bad” or “wild.” What was hardest was that my father, who I should have been able to count on to defend me, didn’t. I suppose that is another form of abandonment, another message that I wasn’t worthy of respect. If you were to hear my stepmother tell it, she would say that after all she did for me and tried to help me, I am an ungrateful viper who bit her in return. She is fond of comparing me to reptiles. If you had asked my father, he would just look sad and bewildered and say that what “happened to me” was tragic. He won’t have been able to admit just what “happened.” I can’t write more now, I’m getting very enotional. I know that good, but I’ve got to curl up and grieve.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 14th November

      Hi Sophia,
      Very good work. There is so much to it too, so many things that contributed to the whole picture and I am sure there is more. I have very similar feelings about my fathers lack of regard for me. He did not defend me either and this was a huge part of my self image and belief system about myself. I believed that I was not worth fighting for. I learned to abandon myself from those who had abandoned me and taught me my lack of worth.
      Great share!
      Hugs, Darlene

      Patricia,
      Thank you for adding your voice and comfort here as well.

  22. By: Sophia Posted: 14th November

    I am also seeing how this false belief in my inherent unworthiness has led ME to reject and abandon and judge myself harshly. I have neglected my health, my well-being, my physical appearance, etc. so I am subtly telling others not to value me either. Wow! Self-fulfilling expectations.

  23. By: Sophia Posted: 14th November

    Thank you, Darlene and Patricia. As I continue on this healing process, new layers emerge. It’s like archaeology! When I started, I thought all my anger was at my stepmother. Then when I read Alice Miller I realized how angry I was at my father for bringing her into my life and refusing to see how toxic she was. Then I uncovered my feelings about being born into a family to begin with that wasn’t conscious about a baby’s true needs. These were all emotions that I saw as “legitimate” since they resulted from actions and choices that these adults could have done differently. Now I’m struggling with guilt over the anger and grief I feel at my mother for dying. The whole story is that she found out she had cancer while she was pregnant with my brother. The doctors wanted her to have an abortion based on medical necessity so that they could begin chemotherapy. She could not bear to have an abortion, so treatment did not start until my brother was born, but she died less than a year later. This story is so sad that I feel terrible for having anger and resentment come up in me about it. This is one of the very few places I can talk about it because we know how most people would be shocked that I would on any level blame my mother for anything. But all I know is that I’ve spent most of my life believing that sooner or later people would see that I was somehow really “wrong” and they would abandon me. I have panic attacks whenever anyone is late for a meeting or date with me. I have a belief that people really don’t see me as acceptable and that I will be rejected or ignored as a matter of course. Is it really true that this is a false belief? Will I ever get to the point of believing in my inherent worth? And is this process really dependent on acknowledging my anger and grief at that whole tragic episode which precipitated me into years of misery? I know the answer to these questions is “yes,” but getting there is a struggle.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 14th November

      Hi Tamara
      Yes, this is exactly what I am talking about Tamara. Thank you for sharing this example. Having excuses for the WHY we were neglected or whatever our story is, is one of the biggest stick points for many many of us. I can’t say enough that it is the DAMAGE we are healing from, regardless of why or how it was caused or if the other people were sick, grief stricken or just plain mean. The damage is there and needs to heal regardless.
      Hugs, Darlene

      Sophia
      What a tragic story. Thank you for sharing. I believe that your belief IS false that people are going to reject you as a matter of course and that you have also found some of the root of where it came from. How I went from there was to look at the things that “back up” the belief. What other things happened in your childhood that added to that belief ~ things that supported it and cemented it?
      Hugs, Darlene

  24. By: Tamara Posted: 14th November

    What you said, Darlene, about “getting SO stuck on why my mother was not at fault” has been one of my biggest stumbling blocks the last few years. One of my siblings died from SIDS before I was born and my Mom never did show any joy for any reason after that. I thought she was sad and let her get away with saying and doing or NOT doing anything and everything. I have an older brother that was blamed for the death although it was never said outright. She was always depressed and at work or out buying things. She had five children that did live and all of us tried to please our unpleasable parents. I have chosen the path of “no contact” after so many emotionally draining, painful and cruel years of trying to communicate with them. My parents have been together 60 years. I am glad to be living 400 miles away as I am coming to terms with my bitterSWEET”grieving” process. Thanks for this website!

  25. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 13th November

    Sophie, abandonment has always been a big issue for me. I believe the earlier that we are abandoned, the worse the effects can be on us. Even though your mother didn’t mean to abandon you, she did by dying. I am sure that my mother didn’t want to abandon me either when I was so sick but she did. As Darlene said, the reasons for the abandonment aren’t really that important. Our feelings about the abandonment are what is so important. What we feel is more than okay. What we feel is what we feel, no matter what anyone else thinks about it. Our feelings are important.

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