Waiting to exhale - Toxic behaviours we learnt from our abusive mothersMonday, March 01, 2021
IDEALLY, mothers are supposed to be kind, loving, nurturing, selfless women dedicated to guiding their children as they prepare to navigate the tumultuous terrain of the world, all while helping them to grow into the best version of themselves.
But regrettably, too many mothers have done more harm than good, and the adult victims of maternal abuse often struggle to unlearn toxic behaviours that they inherited from their mother-daughter interactions.
A 2008 Australian study found that bad mothering had a worse effect on children than bad fathering, and mothers who exhibit “toxic” behaviours – from being cold and indifferent to being abusive, manipulative or over-controlling – were far more likely to warp their children's outlook on life than fathers with similar behaviour.
The study, by Wayne Warburton et al at Macquarie University, which polled 441 university students, found that mothers had a really powerful effect on the way their kids viewed the world and themselves – probably because kids spend more time with their mothers, especially in the crucial early years – and that toxic mothers outnumbered toxic fathers, even in two-parent families.
“The mother is the first teacher,” says counsellor David Anderson. “So the child will feed off her energy, and if that energy is damaging, destructive, pestilential, injurious… that's what the child will be immersed in.”
This is is the kind of hold that Charlene S is trying to detach from when it comes to her mother, who is now in a nursing home, cursing her children for putting her there.
“But she was never there for any of us, never showed us love, never supported us, never cared,” Charlene said.
“She was basically an incubator for the seven of us, and after she pushed us out, she thrust us on whoever would take us, then when we got older and excelled in spite of her, she started laying claim to what we had.”
Charlene said while she was spared much of the trauma her siblings experienced, like her sisters she dealt with sexual abuse as a minor, physical abuse in relationships, teenage pregnancy, and other hardships that she believes would not have happened if her mother had been involved.
“But she preferred her parties, her men, being praised by these men because of her beauty, then has the audacity to now expect that we will care for her.”
Did you grow up with an abusive or toxic mom? What were some toxic behaviours you had to unlearn as a result of your abuse?
A few All Woman readers share their experiences.
Gia, 44, nurse:
Generally, my mother was an angry woman. Don't get me wrong, she had a good heart. She would feed the whole community and house everybody, but she had a temper that meant many unwarranted beatings for my siblings and I. I grew up hitting my smaller siblings too because that is the standard of discipline that I was accustomed to, until I learned other things in school. But it was a habit and so I had to practice great restraint even as I started to have children. I won't say I have never slapped my children, but it's always the last resort; and never more than once. For a long time, I also struggled with insecurity and self-esteem issues, and it was because of her. I would throw myself at anybody who would show me a little love and attention. I got hurt many times until I sobered up and realised that I was made for more and I was better than I was putting myself through.
Sherida, 29, bartender:
My mother always had man problems and as soon as the man beat her, she would beat us and when he gave her bun, she would beat us. In the mornings if she didn't have cigarettes or money to buy them, she would take out all that anger on us. I started smoking at age eight and would be quick to get into fights at school. As a young mother, (18 years) I remember a policeman had to take me off my son who was three-year-old at the time. I was mad that the baby threw away his one pair of shoes, [and started beating him]. The cop gave me a chance because he saw the stress on me. I never hit my son from that day, because that is not love or discipline like the policeman said. I don't even smoke anymore now, and I also keep my son away from my mother because I don't want him to know the abuse that I faced.
Katherine, 38, financial advisor:
My mother made me feel unworthy and useless. On top of that, she would beat me around the clock. It was so normal, I tensed my muscles every time she got close to me. As an adult, I remember feeling like I was always wrong, even at work, and in my relationship I was constantly apologising even if I wasn't at fault because she made me feel that I was never right about anything. So why would it be different now? I remember how I would usually avoid responding, or tell people “stop saying that, it's not true” when they would tell me I was pretty or I looked nice or commented on my skills. My mother made me feel ugly and she made it clear that I was just taking up space on the earth. It took plenty of years and a very supportive network of friends and my partner for me to truly see that I am none of the things that my mother said I was.
My mother was more of the verbally abusive type. She hit us at times but most times she would curse us. Every next word was an expletive. My mother would compare us to some things I am sure does not even exist. Sometimes we never even had to do anything. Our presence just made her upset and she would throw something at us and tell us, “Come out a mi sight oonu sick mi stomach”. I would compare my kids to others their age, their siblings and cousins and children of friends, and even though they didn't like it, I justified it. It wasn't fair and my children would stop telling me things because they didn't want me to tell them who was doing better. Now I am an “I'm proud of you kid” mom.... “let's see how we can improve this” mom. I didn't hit my children much but now I avoid it altogether.
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