I like to think of myself as a pretty empowered person. While I recognize the importance of collective liberation over individual empowerment, I value my empowerment in terms of defying stereotypes about submissive gay Asian men. A few weeks ago, though, I found myself struggling to integrate this idea of an empowered self with another part of my life: the abuse and hurt people have put me through, especially my mother.
My angst reached a crescendo the day after my birthday, as I sat on my couch listening to “Break Free” by Ariana Grande. Something about listening to “Break Free” while reading Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson – a book in which the main character experiences child abuse – made me start to cry, a lot. One moment I probably thought to myself “wow, I love how no man is good enough for me or my friends” and then the next I started sobbing while remembering scenes from my childhood, specific instances of my mother screaming and yelling at me.
I had not consciously thought about my childhood for a long, long time. It felt good to cry about it as Ariana hit all her high notes that brought me more fulfillment than any man I’ve had a crush on made me feel proud of my strength and resilience. Throughout this crying episode, I remember thinking to myself: my mother hurt me. She really really hurt me.
While it felt validating to honor how much my mom actually did hurt me, thinking and writing about it still brings up some feelings of confusion and shame. These emotions may in part come from the lack of weight given to childhood emotional abuse compared to other forms of abuse, even though childhood emotional abuse often causes serious health consequences. Even in therapy later that same week, I asked my therapist multiple times “was what happened to me actually bad?” even though we both knew that yes, my mother treated me horribly, to the point where I still sometimes dissociate when I think about it. To this day, I can’t bring myself to read any of my older blog posts because the memories feel too painful.
Even beyond the silence surrounding childhood emotional abuse comes the stigma of having experienced childhood abuse at all. When I think about someone in my professional life finding this blog’s posts related to my childhood, I feel a strong sense of dread fill my stomach. Because even though I have published research in reputable Psychology journals, even though my clinical supervisors consider me a superb therapist, and even though I receive strong teaching and service evaluations, I feel like by writing about childhood abuse, I am breaking some implicit and explicit code that all parents are at least in some way affectionate, that the heteronormative nuclear family is holy and infallible. I feel like I am dirty, broken, and weak, even when it was my immediate family and our surrounding social structures that failed me.
By naming the abuse and hurt, I restore some of my agency and strength. Yes, my mom hurt me, and other people have hurt me too, like random men who used me for emotional labor then tossed me aside. At the same time, I still practice empowerment: I set strong boundaries, I support myself and my loved ones, I do my best to contribute to social justice causes though I know I have a long way to go. My mother and others hurt me, and I survived. The abuse and the hurt will always be a part of me, co-existing with my love for relationships, my obsession with upbeat pop music, and my weird self-disclosing super queer blog.
When I write blog posts I usually do not have an audience in mind. But I wanted to write this one for people who have also experienced child abuse. I’ve read in various books that sometimes when people are abused as children, they internalize a notion that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, something broken or disgusting or irreparably damaged. It’s a lonely feeling. I wanted to write this post so that you know you’re not alone. I think I’m beautiful. I think you are, too.
Any general reactions to this post? Feelings or reactions about child abuse in society, about writing about traumatic or painful events, or Jeni’s ice cream or books? I recognize the ongoing importance of taking action to support Black Lives Matter, because they do matter, so my comments from this post still stand (and I want to highlight N.K. Jemisin’s recommendation for people in the position to donate as well). Until next post!
10 responses to “She Hurt Me”
I relate to this post so, so deeply. I feel a lot of frustration with myself for being so hurt by my childhood/current relationship with my mother (like I’m the one that’s at fault for being hurt) and I especially relate to the recurring question of “what is actually that bad? or am I over-exaggerating?” (the answer is no, you were affected and your emotions are valid!! and your/my mother was the adult in the situation and we were/are their children) I was actually reading through one of my older blogs yesterday and felt so sad and triggered because I know the things I felt then still aren’t resolved today (but they are better)
Something that I’m currently thinking about/working on is that I know that because of my childhood, I have a tendency to be hyper-vigilant and empathetic, especially when I spot the warning signs that I recognize from my experience (but that no one noticed for me). In one of our recent sessions, my therapist remarked how lucky my mother is that I extend this same empathy and grace towards my mother whenever I talk about her (where I recognize the trauma that may have caused her behavior, her lack of self-awareness, etc), but R focused on this: no matter the reasons, my mother still blamed a child. She still hurt a child. And a child should never have to explain away their abuser’s behavior. There are still parts of me that want to argue against this (I could have made things easier for her! I could have not been born! I could have not been depressed!) but I’m trying to slowly internalize that I can’t be responsible for how my mother acted, and that I was hurt because of it.
Also I stan your friend and am deeply envious of your Jeni’s!!!! So happy for you and your iconic relationships with your close friends. We love to see healthy and supportibe relationships!!!
Awwww thank you for sharing how much you relate to this post, it helps to feel understood. Ugh yeah the self-minimization of if our experiences were bad is rough, but I do think the more I write about this (and even just noticing that as I write this comment) I’m internalizing more like, yes, it was that bad, it was. I’m proud of us for having the courage to explore how these experiences have affected us in a healing and affirming way even when it feels difficult.
I’m glad you’re in the process of internalizing that you can’t be responsible for how your mother acted. I feel like no matter what you did in that situation your mother still acted how she acted and that’s on her – though I imagine it’s easier to hear that than to internalize it. It’s interesting; for me I’m able to firmly recognize that my mom is/was a monster yet because I tend to compartmentalize I’m still working on being like, hm, yes, the way she behaved was pretty rough. And you naming empathy is nuanced too because I wonder how much of my own empathy stems from having to be careful around my mother and how much I had to monitor her emotions, or how much it came from being in relation to my grandmother. I recognize that perhaps I/we will never know exactly and that’s okay.
Thank you for your vulnerability and affirming presence on this blog and I’m sending you and those you care about a lot of warmth and strength. ❤ ❤ ❤
You have wonderful friends. I’ve always admired and respected your strength. You’ve gone through so much in your young life. Thank you for sharing this so that others will have strength and knowledge.
I mentioned in my last comment that I read an old blog entry. I worry that sparked this rush of memories. I’m sorry if it did.
p.s. is that a picture of your fridge? It’s just those boxes of ice cream? Wow… (not judging, just impressed).
Sending you lots of hugs and positive energy.
Thank you Matt for affirming my strength and my friendships and bearing witness to my journey! No worries about mentioning that you read an old entry – you writing that helped me reflect on the underlying reasons for why I do not also revisit those entries, which was overall helpful for my self-reflection. Also, hahahaha no that’s a picture of my freezer which is on top of my fridge, I have a bit more stuff in my fridge. (: Sending positive energy your way too!
I was thinking about this post over this weekend. And I feel very close to this topic because I had terrible relationship with my mom and my childhood was not a happy one either.
The emotions and wounds used to hit me on any day and at any time. I think my teenage years and my 20s were the hardest for me. I could barely cope with it. Now looking back, I think it did cost me a lot of times, energies and oppotunities. I am pretty sure i was depressed but I didn’t even know it. I’m so grateful that my amazing and kind therapist helped me. It was hard to talked about it. I’m glad that now I know what it is and how to deal with this issue.
I am sure about two things. One is that as time goes by, you will find a way that make the past hurt you less and less. And second is that mothers or parents won’t change (I don’t believe people will foundamentally change. we are who we are), but we will figure out ways to live with the past and feel better and much better.
I can also relate to the feeling of lonely. Though I can protect myself now, from any family member or anyone from hurting me, I sometimes have this sorrow. that thinking of “wow, it’s sad I can’t get close to my mother. i can’t tell her this or that because she would say very hurtful things”…. But on my reasonable thinking, I’m grateful I have a couple friends to whom i can tell my true feelings and I feel enough. And I am lucky because I still have people I can trust.
Yes, we are beautiful. Our issues with mothers are a kinda big loss in life, but we are not alone. And reading this, I need to remind myself, whenever I feel lonely I would face this feeling and use it to do something nice to myself, or build on something meaningful. If the child who has been hurt is still part of me, then I am in charge now so I would treat her the best, with my compassion, and motivations to seek things she wants, and lately I often tell myself,”we’ve made it this far, and we can do this!! We got this :))))
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and vulnerable comment, Xin. First, I want to say it’s so iconic and wonderful that you did go to therapy and sought sources of healing, as I know people I’ve met in my life who don’t take the time to address how traumatic experiences have affected them. Yay for you for doing that even if it felt difficult at times.
One thing that stood out to me from your comment is this idea that “I don’t believe people will foundamentally change. we are who we are.” One of my peers in my graduate program recently said this and I find this idea so interesting. As a therapist and as a hopeful human in general I have this notion that we are all capable of change and growth, though I also see the merit in your statement that there may be limits surrounding how much we each do grow, or if people are willing to grow in the first place. I appreciate you raising this point.
I’m glad that you have these friends who you feel close to and can be true with! I can see how you’d form these friendships given you seem like a really kind and empathetic person from our exchanges both on this site and off it. I’m pretty confident these friends are lucky to have you too, and I’m glad you’ve taken the time to be supportive in this space as well.
I love how one of your main takeaways from this post is to treat yourself well and to be compassionate toward yourself. I really love that. There are times that I think if we can survive our childhoods we can survive anything. We do go this!
Thank you for your wonderful reply Thomas. Yes this “weather people will change” is really an interesting and tough debate in life. No matter we believe if people will or not, there are positive things to looking for here. I personally think people like my mother, or people who are in their retirement years, with their very fixed way of thinking, will not change at all. But growing up, I always have hoped those people would be nicer, be kinder, be more open-minded. Later I’ve realized that kind of change won’t happen easily, especially for people who have are deeply unhappy and unkind. But on the other hand, I believe that good influence can educate young people and that’s where I see hope and comfort. Also i want to say it’s great so many people in the world are taking actions on black lives matter. Let’s hope there will be more good changes. At the same time stay safe:)
Thank you for this follow up comment Xin! Yeah that’s so interesting – I wonder if it may be more of a trend than an overall pattern, like perhaps older people may be less likely to change if they are set in their ways, though I do know at least a few older people both in real life and online who have taken steps to combat white supremacy. I agree that change isn’t always easy for people with trauma or who do not want to change even if it is possible, and at the same time prevention is so important too. Also yes love the action and energy surrounding Black Lives Matter as well. Hope you are staying safe and as content as possible!
I hear you. And I am glad of your honesty – it DOES feel shameful sometimes, doesn’t it, like we were “problem children” who deserved it. But we’re not. We came into the lives of probably damaged people who then damaged us. But WE DO NOT DAMAGE OTHERS. We have NOT passed that on. That’s truly amazing and beautiful.
I think some of this has come up for me during the crisis, to be honest – people missing their parents, caring for them from a distance, not able to see them – I literally have no idea if mine are alive or dead, living with Covid, completely well. That’s a price we’ve had to pay for their awfulness and it does feel unfair. Hell, it is unfair.
Lots of love. You are amazing.
Awwwww thank you so much for your vulnerability and empathy Liz! Yes, I love that we do not damage others (unlike some of the men I’ve been interested in, lol) and that we have sought resources for healing and self-improvement. Go us! Aw, I appreciate you sharing about how it’s come up for you during the crisis, and I’m glad for your ability to validate the feeling and experience of it being unfair. Ideally we wouldn’t have been born into families/situations with people who hurt us and that can be important to honor. For myself the Coronavirus situation has brought up similar feelings of being “trapped” as I was when I was younger, so I’ve been making space to process and let myself feel those feelings too.
Sending love your way too and I think you’re amazing as well. ❤ ❤ ❤