Figuring Out My Mother Was an Abuser (Part 3 of 3)

Please read part 1: and Part 2: first! 😉 Content note was on part 1, and all three parts are all tied together. I was originally going to just post them as one long post, but then decided breaking them up would make for easier reading.

Around December of my sophomore year in high school, when I was 15-years-old, I had to go in for surgery. At one point, I happened to be alone, and someone — a nurse, perhaps — casually asked me a question that caught me off guard.

Have you ever been abused?

I’m still, to this day, unsure of what they were going for with this question. It could be that since it was an orthopedic procedure and involved broken bones, maybe they wanted to suss out if someone had broken my bone as an act of physical abuse? Allow me to assure you now: the injury truly was not the result of abuse in any way. It was a freak accident. Anyway, I hesitated. Had I ever been abused? They asked me, point blank, and I specifically remember that I paused before answering. At this point, I already knew the answer was yes. By this point, at age 15, I distinctly recall knowing my mother was abusive.

I don’t know when that happened. I don’t know when I got to the point of knowing so much of what she did was actually abuse — to the point of truly considering it, in my own mind, to be abuse. I just knew, in that moment, that it definitely was. I was so much more sure than that day two years prior when I’d tried to garner up the courage to call the hotline.

However, I answered “No”. No I had never been abused. I lied. Because I didn’t want to have to explain what I meant by abuse. Because it wasn’t the type of abuse that “mattered”, the type that these medical professionals — or potentially a social worker/person from Child Protective Services — could do anything about. Because my mother was the person who had brought me into the hospital and she’d be so angry with me if she found out I considered her to be abusive, and nothing good could possibly come from me calling her abusive in this moment. Because clearly the person asking wasn’t expecting me to say yes, given the throwaway way they asked it, not even making eye contact as far as I know. Because after I considered the question for just a single moment, I knew they must have meant physical abuse, and all my mom had ever done to physically injure me were tiny little scratches. Yeah she’d abused me in some physical ways already at that point, and would continue to do more as the emotional abuse escalated more with time and escalated, as it often does, into things that are more physical (I still had a few more years to endure with her). But… she didn’t seem like a physical abuser to me at that point. She might violently throw or break objects. She might trap me in corners with her body. But the only time she’d ever physically injured me it was “by mistake” in the midst of a largely shouted burst of anger — or rather than burst, really usually it was a seemingly never-ending period of intense rage.

So no, had I ever been physically abused? The answer was no.

That wasn’t the day that I figured out my mother was an abuser. That couldn’t have been. That day was a day when I already knew. Rather, that was the day that I officially realized once and for all that at some point along the way I had stopped doubting that “abuse” was the correct term for the emotional torture she would constantly inflict on me. I remember that day, that moment so clearly. My decision to say “no” was huge for me. No I had never been abused. Because it had felt, so completely, like a lie.

I could talk about so many other things regarding my mother and her abusive nature, or about abuse in general. But I will save those topics for another day — probably another month. For now, I just wanted to get out my story of my complicated journey of figuring out, just short of my 16th birthday, that oh yes, I was actually abused throughout the majority of my childhood.

Thank you for bearing with me and reading the whole long thing. 😉

9 thoughts on “Figuring Out My Mother Was an Abuser (Part 3 of 3)

  1. [TW: discussion of physical abuse, including some specific violent acts, below.]

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I really relate to them. I think it’s such a shame that the way that abuse (of any kind) is portrayed, only the very worst cases apparently “count” according to school education programs and such. My schools had a lot less information about abuse than yours it sounds like—up until high school there was hardly anything about any kind of non-sexual abuse, and then only in a very veiled way. When they finally talked about emotional abuse, it was only in the context of “don’t date controlling people” so it didn’t seem to apply to me. The focus on possessiveness to the exclusion of other factors is really frustrating to me, because that’s not the only way that a person can be emotionally abusive. The focus on injuries when it comes to education about physical abuse is just as narrow.

    I… would say that such physical intimidation tactics as you described, and things like the hair-pulling (that doesn’t sound like an accident to me, even if she might have said so), should definitely count as physical abuse, even if people tend not to account for them. I do understand, btw, about the accidental scratches—I kept very long nails while I was growing up, and sometimes I would accidentally scratch my sister when we got into a minor scuffle, or even when we were just playing, because of flailing around and being clumsy. But I think… even if it doesn’t leave marks, or even if those marks are accidental, even if it seems very minor in comparison to the kind of physical injuries that others have experienced… it should still be considered physical abuse. There were many times where my father never did make contact with me, but he didn’t need to. He was still physically getting violent—punching or kicking the wall (or worse, our pets), or getting out his shotgun and waving it around so that we had to physically cower. The injury that happens first and lasts the longest is the emotional injury. Another thing he did is that he would remove my bedroom door—my bed was right in front of the door, so I took to sleeping in the bottom of my closet—because I had locked him out to protect myself. That could be considered an act of physical intimidation. I think it should count as physical violence even though he wasn’t hitting me throughout that time, because I was deprived of a physical barrier and privacy.

    Anyway… I also really relate to how gradually you realized what was going on was abuse. I always knew it was wrong in my case, but I couldn’t tell you when I applied that specific word to it. And… yeah, telling someone? For me, lying was the only option. Nobody believed or cared anyway—and I could probably write more about that sometime, too.

    Thanks again for sharing your story. It’s painful, but it’s really important!


    1. Thank you so much for reading and leaving me a long comment. I was worried maybe what I wrote wouldn’t be understandable to anyone, or maybe I’d be making too big of a deal out of my own story, maybe someone would think what I went through wasn’t really abuse, and idk. It’s hard not to feel self-conscious after sharing something like these blog posts with my followers. 😛 It’s still hard sometimes to feel like my story is valid enough, significant enough, abuse enough. So your words mean a ton to me. They really make me feel better, more sure of myself, etc. 😉

      And you’re absolutely correct that being possessive/controlling is NOT the only way to be emotionally abusive.

      I have absolutely no recollection of my (high) school touching on abuse in romantic/dating relationships, on the other hand, even if we did have relatively good units as early as 1st grade on sexual and extreme physical abuse, and also physical neglect. I think the only time my school system ever mentioned dating was the abstinence-plus sex-ed I had in 9th grade. And I mean, I think the last time abuse was mentioned was 5th grade, most likely. Overall, my school system was amazing though, considering it was a public school, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a better education on abuse than a lot of kids in the USA.

      I know I mentioned the hair pulling and various real physical things she did to me in my post for the Carnival of Aces on touch, but did I mention hair pulling in these 3 posts here? I mean I linked to that post when I wrote:

      …and all my mom had ever done to physically injure me were tiny little scratches. Yeah she’d abused me in some physical ways already at that point, and would continue to do more as the emotional abuse escalated more with time and escalated, as it often does, into things that are more physical (I still had a few more years to endure with her)

      I don’t remember writing anything about the hair-pulling in these 3 posts, though, and I certainly never meant to imply that the hair-pulling thing she’d do on a few occasions was accidental. I didn’t mention them in these three posts because I actually think the instances of hair pulling likely? maybe? started after that surgery when I was 15. It’s hard to remember the exact timing of everything but yeah. Anyway, I truly do appreciate your input and to clarify, I actually do know she certainly was very purposefully physically controlling me and abusing me in a physical way when she’d move my whole head/body by grabbing onto my ponytail. This would be violent enough to knock my eyeglasses off my head and there was nothing accidental about taking a hold of something with your whole fist and grabbing it. It was actually maybe one of the most physically dangerous things she did to me — although my dad would probably prefer the go-to example of her as physically dangerous to me as when he witnessed (in horror) her chasing me around the house when I was still in an orthopedic walking boot, when I was recovering from one of my foot surgeries at age 14 or 15.

      That’s why I tried to say she had abused me in some physical ways but somehow differentiate that from physically injurious abuse, as somehow I feel like if someone is physically abusing you but it doesn’t leave marks, then it’s only emotionally/psychologically scarring? I don’t know.

      Now I do think when she punched a hole in my acoustic guitar? That was something I’d consider an accident, maybe not in every sense of the word, but it was some degree of accidental. I feel like… idk… intentionality is so complicated when it comes to thinking about these things. But that particular incident… She was out of control in a rage, yelling at me, having interrupted me practicing playing my guitar in my bedroom. The guitar was then sitting on my bed next to me. And when it happened… when she likely caused her hand quite a bit of pain and more obviously completely destroyed a $375 musical instrument… I could just see the shock on her face, the “What did I just do?” confusion and she paused, for a few moments, in her abuse, before then continuing whatever was happening. I don’t remember what happened after that, but I remember how much of an “accident” it seemed to be, but how that didn’t make it okay in the slightest. It was one more example of her abuse, and why I hated my mother as a human being, and was terrified of her, all at once.


      1. Ah, I probably confused the posts then, because I also did read your Carnival of Aces post again to refresh my memory. And yeah… intentionality is pretty complicated with this sort of thing. Often there’s this… intent to abuse, but also specifically an intent NOT to leave marks, because that’s evidence and they can’t have that. So when they do leave any kind of evidence, they’ll sometimes say it was accidental and… yeah, maybe that’s true in one specific, narrow way. But not in a truly accidental way.

        I feel like… the physical injuries, the possible scars… are really besides the point. They shouldn’t be emphasized so heavily, because it makes people unable to recognize their own experiences as abuse… but I guess it’s all people can understand, who haven’t been abused themselves? It’s so much more than the physical, and the body heals so much more quickly than the mind anyway. Even when there’s not necessarily a PTSD-level traumatic reaction.

        And… wow, how hard must she have hit that guitar to actually punch a hole in it? Damn. That must’ve been really scary! I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all of that. Being chased around the house while injured, too. I also have the same “hiding in the computer room” experience, although the computer room was not a bedroom in our case but more like a tiny nook by the stairs… and he didn’t usually make himself bleed pounding, he’d give up on that and go for a screwdriver to unlock the door well before that.

        Also, good point about the emotional injury still being physical because there is no brain/body split. I’m so used to people thinking in terms of dualism, it still sneaks into my language when I’m not careful. It’d probably be more accurate to say that the VISIBLE injury is the slightest one, most of the time. But yet only visible injuries get any kind of attention or understanding from those who don’t understand abuse. Self-harm sometimes becomes tempting for me because of that… because I just want SOME sort of tangible proof or evidence of harm, sometimes. Not to show other people, just for myself. (I haven’t done any self-harm for nearly a year now, though, and even before then I never did it that frequently.)

        I’m sure I’ll write about my experiences some more at some point—I really want to write more about our major encounter with the police at some point—but probably not for a little while yet. And btw, I totally understand about feeling so self-conscious when posting these sorts of stories. And worrying people will think it isn’t really abuse, or was “made up” and all of that. Obviously I’ve run into quite a few people who won’t believe me, heh. Any time we talk about this sort of thing… it’s always, always a risk. I really appreciate you being willing to take that risk—thank you!


        1. Often there’s this… intent to abuse, but also specifically an intent NOT to leave marks, because that’s evidence and they can’t have that.

          — YES exactly. I so often love the way you phrase things. You really get to the heart of the issue in an enlightening way. Exactly.

          Also your point about only physical injuries seeming real enough or understandable enough to a non-abused person’s perspective… I think you have hit on something key here. I try to explain the fear, the tears, but how can someone who hasn’t experienced some kind of abuse firsthand really understand that I wasn’t just “overreacting” or whatever? You need so many details, so many words, before it “makes sense”. You need to phrase it the right way.

          The self-harm thing makes sense to me, really. I can understand how you’d start to think these things, your mind would go in that direction. I feel so lucky to have never felt the urge to self harm, personally. But I know it is unfortunately so common, and I am glad you have gone almost a whole year without doing it! Congratulations. I wish you strength and I hope that streak continues for you. 😉

          (And Elizabeth, on a random note I’m so glad you and I can agree on things like the mind/body problem too, btw. It’s surprisingly nice to be able to talk to someone like you who shares largely the same views on atheism and scientific skepticsm etc as me, in addition to both of us having experiences with abuse, and both of us being asexual spectrum. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone else, online or off, who could intimately understand, on a personal level, so many aspects of me at once, if that makes any sense. 😉 )


    2. If you ever decide to write more about your history growing up in an abusive environment, any aspect of it including the whole lying being the only option/nobody believed or cared anyway idea, I’d definitely be very interested in reading it. 😉

      Thank you for sharing some of your personal experiences here and for reminding me:

      The injury that happens first and lasts the longest is the emotional injury.

      You are of course correct, and as the brain is just part of the body, it is kind of a physical injury in a way anyway.

      And those things your dad did were… yeah. Wow. Just such horrible physical intimidation. The shotgun? I mean talk about a threat. Even if it was never quite the same as what so many other people go through, and in many ways not quite as bad, I did experience being physically intimidated by my mother all the time. She wasn’t the worst abuser she could’ve possibly been, but she was certainly physically abusive. You’re right.

      I don’t like to imagine my mother would’ve been capable of hurting an animal, but you know what? We never had pets. So who even knows. It just makes me shudder to think about people’s parents doing such horrific things to pets… but I’ve read multiple people’s stories and now yours and I know it happens.

      I’m really sorry you had to deal with sleeping in your closet out of fear of your father, and the shotgun all of that. I mean… I can’t even imagine.

      My brother and I did get to the point where we’d lock the door to “The computer room” (the spare bedroom in our house where we did our homework on a large shared desk and also had on the other side of the room, the only computer in the house). We’d lock ourselves in that room to hide from her, and she got so angry she’d pound on the door until her fits bled and the wooden door was cracking and streaks of blood stains were visible from the outside. And one time — only once — she woke me up while I was sleeping in my bed by shouting at the top of her lungs a mere inch from my ear. It was extremely terrifying and jarring and I’m not sure why she did it that night. And only that night. She usually didn’t jump into abuse at a random hour, but rather waited for me to do something to “provoke” her anyway, which could’ve been anything but sleeping was never enough to do it. I was lucky enough to feel safe while sleeping, but near the very end of me living with her, around when I was 17, she stopped wanting to afford me even that luxury, I suppose.


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