Navigating Life, One Step At A Time

Normally, I like to write about fun, light topics such as animals or makeup; two things I love and am passionate about.  Today, I have decided to talk about something a bit more serious.  I’ve gone over this in my mind about a million times, all week long, during my commute to and from work, before I go to sleep at night, and I’ve decided anything I’m thinking about THAT much, needs to be talked about.  I also realized that other people “talking about it” is what has helped me to grow, learn and heal, so if my words help even one other person, than it’s worth it.

I’m talking about verbal and emotional abuse.  It’s real, it happens to a lot more people than you may realize and it’s something I’ve dealt with my entire life.  I never knew it until about six months ago, when one day a light bulb went off in my head and I thought ‘hold on a second…this is wrong.’  All of my life I thought it was me.  I thought I was wrong, I was being oversensitive, I was to blame.  Once I started to really think about it, go to therapy for it, research it and read everything I could get my hands on about it, that’s when I finally figured it out.

I’ve never had the ideal relationship with my mother.  The one where she’s my best friend, my favorite person and my confidante.  I always wanted that, and sometimes I think I pretended to have that, but it wasn’t reality.  We had a pretty good relationship when I was a little kid, but as I got older, things got increasingly difficult.  I’ve learned that my mom shows some very strong signs of someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Some of the characteristics associated with that particular personality disorder are:

– The inability to to empathize with others’ feelings or needs

– Irrational behavior

– Lack of boundaries and respect towards others

– Sense of entitlement

– Difficulty accepting responsibility and admitting when one is wrong

In addition to those characteristics, Wikipedia has a pretty solid description of how a Narcissist behaves:

“To the extent that people are pathologically narcissistic, they can be controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant of others’ views, unaware of others’ needs and of the effects of their behavior on others, and insistent that others see them as they wish to be seen. Narcissistic individuals use various strategies to protect the self at the expense of others. They tend to devalue, derogate, insult, blame others and they often respond to threatening feedback with anger and hostility. Since the fragile ego of individuals with NPD is hypersensitive to perceived criticism or defeat, they are prone to feelings of shame, humiliation and worthlessness over minor or even imagined incidents. They usually mask these feelings from others with feigned humility, isolating socially or they may react with outbursts of rage, defiance, or by seeking revenge.”

I never understood why my mom behaved the way she did, so I always described her to others as “difficult”.  I had heard the term ‘narcissist’ before, but I had never heard of it as a personality disorder.  Now that I know, part of me feels bad for her, but part of me is relieved to learn that I’m actually not the abusive, mean, terrible person she always told me I was.  I now know where my self-confidence issues stemmed from, where my body image issues came from and where my life-long anxiety started.  Finally, I can start to heal and grow from all of these issues.

I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember.  My earliest life memories are from when I was about 5 years old.  I was an extremely nervous, shy child.  I grew to be an anxious nervous teenager, young woman and adult.  I never knew what it was that I was feeling until I was in my 20’s.  I thought everyone walked around in life with a gigantic knot in their stomach on a regular basis.  No, my anxiety came from growing up in a hostile environment where I walked on eggshells every day of my life, knowing that at any moment, my mom would explode in anger over anything, usually something very minor.  It came from knowing that at any time my mom could be rummaging through my room while I was at school, looking for and reading my diary.   It came from coming home from work as a teenager and seeing that she had gone through my room and thrown things away because she ‘felt like it’, regardless of what those things meant to me.  If I dared to ask her why she would read my diary, the response was that she ‘needed to keep tabs on me to make sure I wasn’t getting into trouble.’  (For the record, I was a goodie-two-shoes as a child.  I was terrified of getting in trouble.)  Eventually, I gave up asking her why, because it made things much worse, so I just learned to give in and accept everything.  It wasn’t until recently that I understood those things to be wrong, but that was the only life I knew.  I thought that was how everyone’s mom behaved.  I thought that was how everyone grew up.

My relationship with my mom worsened as time went on.  As I got older and moved out on my own, I had to put distance between us.  She didn’t understand why I was doing that, and would flip out if I ever tried to explain it to her, so I stopped trying.  That’s when she makes herself the victim and tells me that I’m a mean, abusive daughter, when the reality of it is, she’s the one who is mean and abusive.  It’s difficult to say those things about her, she’s my mother and I love her, and I wish things were different.  In the past, I have limited contact with her to phone calls, emails and seeing her on holidays and birthdays.  I find that bringing my husband along with me is a huge help, he acts as a ‘buffer’ between us.

I’ve learned so much about myself over the past few months and realized that I was constantly seeking approval from my mom and I was never getting it.  Whether it was something as small as ‘What should I name my dog?’ to something as big as ‘Do you like the person I am choosing to spend the rest of my life with?’  She never likes anything I do, and is always trying to “fix” me.  Whether it’s my hair color, the makeup I choose to wear, how much I weight, what I eat, it’s never to her liking.  I have asked her why she’s never happy with me and she says she’s ‘just looking out for me because she wants me to be happy.’ I believed that for a long time, even though her ‘just looking out for me’ criticisms were always hurtful.  I don’t believe that anymore.  What I know now is that my mom views me as an ‘extension’ of herself, so when I do things that are not what she would do, she’s disappointed and shows it.  She also doesn’t realize that I’m a grown adult.  She still expects me to do as she says, even though I’m now 35 years old.  I always ‘did as she said’ in the past for two reasons.  One, it was WAY easier than the alternative and two, I was afraid.  This all changed a few months ago.

This past January I was on the phone with her, and after one guilt trip too many, I’d had enough.  For one of the first times in my life, I decided I was going to stand up for myself and I asked her to please stop putting me on a guilt trip for spending time with other people that I care about.  She flipped out on me, an overreaction for sure, and I told her I needed to go and I ended the call.  She didn’t speak to me for 6 months because of this.  I have thought about her every single day, even though I am angry with so many things she’s done and how she’s treated me.  I do miss the good times we’ve had and I think about the nice things she’s done for me as well.   I have realized what we had is a toxic relationship and I can’t continue with it any longer.  She doesn’t understand that it’s her, and she probably never will.  It’s difficult for me to understand and accept that, but I’m trying.  Right now, the best I can do is try to learn who I am, what my needs are, and take care of myself.  It’s something I don’t think I’ve ever done until now.  Part of me still thinks I’m wrong, or that I’m the problem, or that none of this is a big deal.  Am I making it into something more than it is?  I question myself constantly.  It’s difficult to change the way I think about myself after all of these years, but I’m still trying.

If you are dealing with a toxic person in your life, whether it’s a parent, a partner or a friend, you have to distance yourself to keep your sanity.  It’s not fair to you.  If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else is going to.  Sometimes it takes hearing it from someone else to realize it’s happening to you, it’s difficult to see and even harder to accept.  Something that has helped me tremendously is talking about it.  I talk to a few trusted friends, a wonderful therapist and a few people who have been through the same thing as me.  I truly feel for anyone who has gone through or is currently going through, any type of abuse, physical, mental, emotional or verbal.  Just in case you need to hear it like I did,  you ARE worth it.  You ARE enough.  You ARE loved and you deserve better.  Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.  If you need to talk, I am here to listen.


About Loren Petisce

Loren Petisce is the Midday Host on 99.9 The Q and Afternoon Host on Cape Country 104.
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
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