May 11, 2017

My Mother was Abusive: 5 Ways to be more Peaceful this Mother’s Day.

“Happy Mother’s Day. Thank you for showing me the kind of mother I don’t want to be.” 

Do you struggle to find a Mother’s Day card that truthfully depicts your maternal relationship?

When reading Hallmark’s loving mother sentiments, do you experience a sense of longing—and even jealousy—because your experience was so different?

I thought I was alone in those feelings, but turns out there is a community of us who dread Mother’s Day.

Last weekend I attended a two-day yoga therapy trauma and abuse training. As the weekend progressed, I noticed a few of us were not engaging in the discussion and had instinctively put ourselves into protective poses.

One person was in a fetal position wrapped tightly in a blanket and another was sitting in a corner with her back against the wall, purposefully out of the presenter’s view.

The presenter mentioned in passing that abusive patterns repeat themselves. In fact, many times, survivors of abuse marry spouses similar to their abusive parent. A few attendees made comments about their exes being similar to their abusive fathers.

Then, one of the attendees said, “Sometimes that abuser can be your mother—so, you actually end up marrying your mother.”

I looked over at her and our eyes met in recognition; we both had grown up with abusive mothers. But, rather than discuss our experience further, we quickly returned to our protective cocoons.

It is hard to talk openly about abusive mothers—even to someone who has had the same experience. There is a real sense of guilt about child abuse from a mother. It must have been something I did wrong, because all mothers are nurturing and loving by nature, right? It’s in their DNA.

But, as it turns out, not necessarily. I recently googled “child abuse mother” and found the following:

>> A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) study shows that of children abused by one parent between 2001 and 2006, 70.6 percent were abused by their mothers, whereas only 29.4 percent were abused by their fathers.
>> That same study found that when a child is killed by a parent, 70.8 percent are killed by the mother—only 29.2 percent by the father.
>> “TV shows and movies, likewise, hardly ever tell stories of abusive mothers or mothers who kill their children, leaving the viewing public with the misimpression that fathers are a far great danger to their children than mothers.”

I was shocked. And curious.

How many abuse survivors believe their experience to be unique? And are they dreading Mother’s Day too?

At last weekend’s training, I learned that abuse survivors can be comforted by:

>> Finding ways to become more grounded and feel safe.
>> Applying self-care.
>> Trying to integrate the abuse into their life and make sense of it.
>> Continuing to explore personal growth practices (such as meditation, yoga, and spiritual study)

With that in mind, I came up with five ways to be more peaceful this Mother’s Day:

1. Take the money that might have been spent buying Mother’s Day flowers and cards and use it for self-care. Maybe take a grounding visit to a public garden or the beach.

2. List the positive things learned from the abusive parent. My mother always read me the book, “The Little Engine That Could.” The themes in that book helped me overcome my past and provided me with the tenacity to be successful at most things I have attempted.

3. Show love to the people in your life that deserve it. Celebrate the healthy love in your life. You worked hard to get it, so take that victory lap!

4. Do something for another being. This can be a person or an animal. Maybe foster a dog. Survivors of abuse typically do not have a lot of experience with unconditional love, which dogs have in abundance. Also, we can learn a lot from dogs. No matter how badly they are treated, they still have the capacity to survive and love again.

5. Give gratitude to yourself for all your efforts to break the abusive patterns you grew up with. Light a candle to symbolize the light you have brought to the world by making small and large changes in your behavior that reap positive benefits for those around you. Stare at the candle until you have to blink, and then close your eyes and imagine that you can still see the candle. Know that because of all the work you have done to move beyond an abusive childhood, your light will always shine through the darkness.

I don’t know if the actions above will provide me with lasting healing. But I hope by reading this article, others might struggle less in their journey toward peace.

How might creating new traditions help you process your past?


“After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world.” ~ Mary Oliver


Author: Donna Yates Kling
Image: “Sybil,” 2007 
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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