“I’m Finally Ready to Be Angry About the Childhood Emotional Abuse I Experienced” originally appeared on The Mighty, and was reprinted with permission.
Growing up, I was told my emotions were wrong. If I had normal, age-appropriate emotions that were deemed unacceptable by my mother, I was given names like “ungrateful,” “dramatic” and “hateful child.” When I turned 19, I graduated to “f*cking wh*re.”
In our household, there wasn’t emotional space enough for anyone besides my mother.
When I was 12, I went to a creative writing camp for three weeks. One of the darker short stories I had written involved a mother with a gambling problem who had drained her daughter’s college fund to support her addiction.
Though I had an interest in writing about topics that were perhaps mature for my age, I remember being excited about all I was learning and about having my own writing workshopped in a judgment-free zone.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing was the only place I felt safe exploring emotions — albeit not my own emotions, but those of a character separate from myself. Though my own mother did not have a gambling addiction, the story mimicked my life by focusing on the mother’s perspective, not the child’s.
But at the end of camp, I learned from my mother that my teachers shared what I had written with her and asked if things were OK at home. When she said this, my heart dropped. How could my teachers do this to me? Didn’t they know I was going to get in trouble?
She waited until we were in the car before she exploded. I remember crying as she yelled. How could I write something that would make her look like a bad parent? Didn’t I realize what a bad spot that put her in? Why didn’t I ever stop to think about her?
She didn’t mention that the teachers thought I was a good writer.
I didn’t write anything for years after that.
This was one of the many times my experience was made to be about my mother. One of the many times that reinforced I had to bend my will and suppress my emotions to survive in the emotionally abusive environment I grew up in.
Looking back, the most devastating thing about my upbringing is that I always believed my mother. Never once did I think she erred in her judgment or criticism. Never once did I recognize I was actually being emotionally abused. I internalized what she said and to my core, believed I didn’t deserve to have emotions — because I truly believed they were “wrong.”
But I’m sick of believing my emotions don’t matter and are automatically “wrong” because I experience them.
I’m ready to feel — and what I feel is anger.
I’m angry that the parent who was supposed to protect me, abused me instead.
I’m angry I was made to believe my existence was an inconvenience.
I’m angry my mother was so hot and cold with me that I never knew if I was going to be hugged or hit.
I’m angry that my mother berated me for flinching whenever she walked into the room.
I’m angry she forced me to hug her and say “I love you” the morning after she hit my sister, over and over again.
I’m angry that I continue to hold myself to the impossible standard of having no emotions — because it’s “safer.”
I’m angry that every Mother’s Day I have to hide from social media for my own mental health.
I’m angry my mother still to this day doesn’t respect my boundaries.
I’m angry that when people express sympathy for my past, I shrug and say, “It’s OK,” when it’s clearly not OK.
I’m angry these things were done to me, and now I have to fix it.
I’m angry I won’t get my childhood back.
I’m angry I could never truly heal because I was never allowed to feel.
I don’t suspect I’ll stay angry forever, but it’s time for me to be honest. It’s time for me to really feel, to let my anger bleed out of me instead of repressing it and letting it fester any longer.
I’m angry. I’m not OK with what happened to me. But I will heal from this.
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