‘God forgive you for breaking your mother’s heart like this, I hope your children grow up and treat you the same one day so you know the pain I feel.’

‘You are dead in your soul.’

‘Soon I’ll be dead and you’ll have no one.’

‘No one will love you like I do; not your husband, not your friends, not your children.’

As a barrage of abusive texts rolled in, I handed my phone to my best friend and said, ‘See?’

I’d finally confided in her about the venomous things my mother said to me daily and as she read them, she blanched. 

‘Are these really from your mum?’ she asked. ‘Why is she saying these things to you?’

The reason for her text attack was that I’d been out for the evening with my friend and hadn’t replied to her mundane request for something so banal I can’t even remember what it was. Umpteen missed calls and text messages later, her tirade began.

I was 30, with a mortgage, happily married and a mother. I had a right to autonomy and to ignore my phone for a few hours. But to my mother, being unavailable was worthy of being called a ‘selfish snake’ and a promise from her to never contact me again. 

As always, the punishment didn’t fit the ‘crime’. By now, I was so immune to her outburst from years of similar accusations that I laughed out loud. I told my best friend: ‘Let’s pray she keeps her promise and never texts me again.’

Although I joked about my mother’s behaviour, it was a defence mechanism.

For years, my mother and I had a very difficult relationship. She was controlling, narcissistic, obsessive, demanding and lacking in empathy. 

It was only years later when I learned about ‘gaslighting’ that I started to realise what she’d been doing to me all those years — it was exactly that

Even when I was a young child, whenever she had difficulties with adults around her – and that was often – she’d punish me instead, with explosive screaming and by grounding me: sometimes for six months at a time. I lived walking on eggshells. 

When I was older, age 10, she held me emotionally responsible in the way a person often relies on their partner. The weight of that emotional responsibility was crushing.

I was made to feel guilty for her loneliness, forced to cover up her infidelity and give her comfort over her obsession with her physical wellbeing.  

I didn’t socialise much with friends, but when I rarely had plans two days in a row she’d make me do a bunch of housework before I left — just after I’d finished doing my hair and makeup — to punish me for going out. 

Whenever my elder sisters were due home for a visit, my mum would start such an explosive row with me that I would go out all weekend, missing out on valuable time with my siblings. It was her way of isolating me and making out to the rest of the family I was a problem. 

Sometimes I felt like I was going mad.

I put up with my mother’s behaviour for years in order to have access to my dad — but if I asked my dad for support as a child, I was accused of ganging up on my mum. Decades later, my dad admitted to me privately he should have got me out of there.

Now, I’ve given up on having a relationship with him, even though that’s the thing that pains me the most, because he won’t stand up for me or himself. 

I was always ‘forbidden’ from telling my best friend or my boyfriends anything about my turbulent homelife, which led to me feeling angry and isolated at school.

Later, as an adult, I was never carefree and always felt like the odd one out.

Sometimes, I’d even start to question whether the things she said about me might be right.

It was only years later when I learned about ‘gaslighting’ that I started to realise what she’d been doing to me all those years — it was exactly that.

I was never allowed to verbalise feeling hurt. If I did, I was told to stop being a baby. To top it off, she pushed the narrative of being ‘the best mother in the world’ down my throat daily.

I planned meaningful days out — the theatre, expensive restaurants, sight-seeing around beautiful towns in the UK — but was still criticised at every turn.

The day before my wedding, she threatened not to come because I’d not answered a text quickly enough. I spent my hen night in tears.

She also didn’t spend a minute with me on my wedding day as punishment. I spent the morning alone in the bridal suite with only my photographer for company. 

Later, when I had children, she endlessly messaged her criticisms of my parenting in the middle of the night filling multiple inboxes because, as she put it, ‘I love your son more than I love you.’

It was so regular, I begged her to pause her attacks after 10pm so I could get a little sleep. It was no use.

Over the years, I paid for multiple stints of CBT because maybe I was the problem, not her? But it became clear every time that my mother’s behaviour was not normal. My therapist told me I was a patient, self-aware and caring person.

My excellent counsellor showed me how to take steps to slowly ‘heal, nurture and advocate’ for my inner child: the one who had been repeatedly silenced

Eventually, I reasoned I couldn’t change my mum, nor be more tolerant than I already was. 

But coming to this realisation didn’t happen overnight. It took the best part of 30 years.

Making my husband fully aware of how toxic things were with my mother helped me see things clearly. He metaphorically gave me permission to want what I wanted in my life, without worrying about my mother. I was finally able to move away from her. 

It had a snowball effect, starting with little things like finally dying my hair red to buying a Victorian house. She hated the design, but I loved it.

I realised I wanted to live far away, remove her constant access to me, only talk once a week and most of all say ‘no’ whenever I wanted. 

I begged her to go to therapy together as a last-ditch attempt to salvage our relationship, but she refused.

So, I cut her off and moved away because I was on the verge of a breakdown from her unannounced visits, temper explosions and constant, unreasonable demands. No matter how calmly I spoke to her in front of my children, she shouted at me and slammed doors – scaring them.

I told her I was cutting her off and blocked her number.

I felt like she’d died and grieved as such.

By the time anything changed, we’d been estranged for over a year. Then, I tried person-centred therapy. My excellent counsellor showed me how to take steps to slowly ‘heal, nurture and advocate’ for my inner child: the one who had been repeatedly silenced, verbally abused and bullied from early childhood.

As a family, we’re now back in contact with my parents — my main motivation for this was wanting my children to know their grandparents. The process has been a constant juggling act to get things to a level of contact that I’m comfortable with. 

Learning the concept of an inner child in my counselling sessions brought me so many insightful revelations and as a result, I’ve been able to finally affect positive change in the dynamic with my mother.

I now say ‘no’ regularly to unreasonable demands without guilt or explanation. I have blocked her on instant messaging apps so she can’t send me lengthy voice notes telling me what a s**t person she thinks I am when she doesn’t get her way. 

I ignore or cut off calls when I don’t want to talk. I give myself the right to be unavailable. I don’t bend on how she accesses my children — it has to be on my terms and my turf. If she gets upset, so be it.

When she tells me I’m not ‘allowed’ to feel an emotion, I tell her simply that it’s not up to her to dictate how I feel. I am 40 after all.

More: Parents

I protect my non-negotiable rights to peace, comfort and safety in the same way I fiercely protect my children’s. Instead of yielding to gaslighting techniques for the sake of avoiding an argument, I take space whenever I need it and have learned ‘no’ is a full sentence.

I now consistently apply this same adult power to protect my real-life children and my vulnerable inner child. Because of this, the sad, lonely, angry little girl inside of me is finally healing. 

Working in this therapy model has been transformative and I am now able to have a relationship with my parent that doesn’t cause me harm, and sometimes to my utter surprise, even brings me joy – something I never thought would be possible.

Degrees of Separation

This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.

Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.

If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected] and/or [email protected]


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