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Emotionally Abusive Mother

Emotionally Abusive Mother


Dear Rachel,

I am an adult woman who has had a difficult relationship with my mother my entire life. While I was never physically abused, I definitely suffered severe emotional abuse. I have always tried to retain a relationship with her as I actually feel sorry for her more than angry. However, when I am around her I revert to being a hurt child once more and don't feel I can protect myself. I know you are supposed to honor your mother and father, but a part of me feels that it would be best to cut off the relationship. Another part of me wonders if I should pretend to ignore what bothers me and maintain a connection so that she is a part of my life and that of my children. What do you suggest?


Dear Hurt,

I feel sorry for her more than angryI don't think there is a mother-daughter relationship that isn't complicated and difficult in certain respects. However, yours definitely sounds much more extreme than the average. The fact that you are able to recognize what is unhealthy about your relationship is already a huge step in the right direction. The big question that needs to be addressed though is if you can have an ongoing relationship that doesn't cause damage either to yourself or your children.

Right now it sounds like you are extremely hurt and vulnerable. So for the immediate future it would seem to make most sense to keep your distance a bit while you come up with a strategic plan of action. It might sound funny that you need a plan, but whenever there is someone who acts in an abusive way, the only way of dealing with that person is to have a clear plan so that you can remain protected.

You mention that you feel sorry for your mother which leads me to believe that while her behavior and actions have caused you tremendous pain, you perhaps do not feel that she is able to control them, and perhaps she has no malicious intent. Is it possible that your mother has some kind of emotional or mental illness that could be balanced through intensive therapy or even medication? Often if someone is unstable they will behave and respond in ways that are quite hurtful, even though they are not fully aware of what they are doing or able to stop such destructive behavior.

While I can't imagine that your mother will accept a suggestion coming from you that she should get help, perhaps she will accept that suggestion from someone that she respects and listens to? If there is someone like that in her life that you feel comfortable speaking with, let him or her know how you feel and how sad it makes you to watch her be destructive both to herself and to you and your family, and how you would like her to get help but don't feel you can be the one to suggest it. It is not clear that she will ever pursue this option or direction, but it is worth a shot.

At the same time, while you can't control whether she seeks professional help, you can certainly ensure that you receive any support or counseling that you need. You clearly are carrying around a lot of pain and issues that should be worked through, regardless of whether you decide to continue your relationship with your mother.

If you find that breaking off your relationship with your is too extreme, I would suggest that you try to make the time you spend together less frequent. A relationship over the phone or through email and letters is often much less volatile than one in person. And if you are to spend time together, try doing so on your turf. Sometimes she will treat you much better when she is in your home and your guest than when you are under her roof and her control.

When a child is being abused, the law of Honoring Your Mother and Father are suspendedNow, if all the above measures don't work: you can't get your mother to receive the treatment she needs, and limiting your relationship isn't an option (or doesn't offer you the relief you seek), then indeed you have to consider whether to terminate the relationship.

While I do not feel that I have enough information to suggest whether or not you cut off all relations with your mother – for that you need to speak to a therapist or perhaps your rabbi – I do want to clarify one very important point: You mention the importance of Honoring Your Mother and Father, one of the Big Ten of the Ten Commandments. There is no question that honor and respect are valued greatly and a huge focus in Judaism. However, there are limitations to this commandment, and one huge exception is when the relationship is abusive, no matter the form of abuse. When a child is being abused, and it is not healthy for that child to remain around that parent, then the law of Honoring Your Mother and Father are suspended, in those areas where according honor would be harmful for the child. In your case, you shouldn't feel that out of respect for her you need to be around her, if being around her is extremely unhealthy for you.

On the other hand, any communication that you do have with your mother, must at all times be respectful (even if you are informing her that you are terminating the relationship, that, too, must be done with respect).

I hope you are able to find a therapist or professional who can help you work through your past issues with your mother and help you create a plan for whatever kind of relationship you will have with her for the present and the future. May you be blessed with strength and clarity as you work through this painful relationship and may your mother find the help she needs to be a happier and healthier person.

All the best,


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (170)
July 30, 2015
It pains me to learn that a fellow Jew feels abused. No one should feel the anguish of abuse. I learned in yeshiva of someone who was very a Torah scholar who was highly respected in the community was appointed chief Rabbi of the only synagogue in the area. As the Rabbi was giving his Shabbos sermon, his mother stormed in,,went into the men's section, spit in her sonיs face, tore offf his shirt, and slapped him. He could've verbally told his mother off or shoved her away. All the Rabbi did was ask someone to please escort his mother to a seat in the women's section and he continued his sermon. When asked later why didn't the rabbi kick her out of shul or admonish her behavior, he responded that one must honor their mother and father applies to even then most extreme cases. True the columnist wrote, rightly so,, that she still has to communicate with her mother respectfully. How extreme she should keep the Commandment needs to be addressed by a competent Orthodox Rabbi,
New York
January 15, 2015
don't completely agree
I don't know
I was told in a group setting that one is obligated to honor a parent just for the fact that they were a partner in me coming into the world. HSe said one does not have to love all that a parent does or love the parent - but one MUST HONOR AND RESPECT THEM!!!!!
I think that most parents did the best they could for their childern and somtomes the child even knows what was hard for their parent - like Chas VeShalom sickness, abusive mate, being used by peoples , etc and I wonder if all who have written here are always such angels?????
January 6, 2015
That letter sounds as if it could have been written by me. My mother makes me cringe inside I am sorry to say. She has never admitted to any of her wrongs and she never will, of this I am sure. As for having a relationship over the telephone as Rachel mentioned, I tried that for 5 years. It never got any better. I hope it does for you.
February 13, 2014
How do you cut yourself off?
I am 32 and have emotionally abusive parents. When I was a child, they were both physical and emotionally abusive. Now that I am older it is less harder for them to be physical towards me because they know I will report it to the police so they opt for the emotional abuse. It seems when my brother died before I was born I was born into this narcissistic abusive parenting. I never had a childhood. I was over sheltered, could not play sports I wanted to, or anything I had my heart set out on it was an excuse to not allow me to. They are wealthy so it isn't like they couldn't afford anything. They treat me like parents out of obligation, not wanting any emotional connection. I get named called, threatened, and made up lies about my personality. I black mail them, extortionist -you name it, I've been called it in an ear wrenching screaming tone while they throw and break things- None of which is true about me. I am grateful for their help, but I have to find a way to cut myself off.
February 10, 2014
Be careful of her
I have the exact same kind of mother. She was cold, emotionally and mentally abusive. I never got a touch or a hug from her in my life. Someone mentioned their mother smirking and smiling when dishing out the abuse. Mine did the same. She also can turn her moods on and off like a switch, depending upon who's around. She was and is truly a sociopath. In her 70s, she's still the manipulative, selfish, controlling, person that she always was. It is impossible to have an honest, above-board relationship with her, so I decided that no contact is best for me. I got no love, kindness, or support as a kid, so this is my time to take care of myself. I have a brother and sister who could do no wrong and who got all kinds of support, financial and otherwise from her--so let them return the favor to her and look after her in her old age.
Luckily there are support groups out there for adult children of narcissists and psychopaths. Talking to people who "get it" really helps.
February 9, 2014
my mother emotionally abused me. blamed me for the failure of her marriage. told me i was lazy, spoiled, just like my father, and that i would never amount to anything. i did not have a childhood. i am now 58 years old and feel that it's too late for me to regain my life,or to find out who i am. i screwed up my marriage and was not a good parent to my children. i had no idea how to be in a relationship. i feel so guilty and full of toxic shame. i realize i have carried this around with me all of my life. i was just a little kid!
January 27, 2014
It felt somehow calming in a way to read all these comments to know im not crazy or overly sensitive. I am not Jewish but I believe religion here is not the subject. I am 30 yrs old have a beautiful 3yr old daughter. I moved back home in 2011 when I separated from my ex. My brother shortly died after that in a motorcycle accident. Ever since then things have been going worse. I feel I went from bad to worse. My ex abused me emotionally alot and im getting it at home now as well. My mother manipulates and belittles me when things don't go her way. I get blamed for everything that goes wrong in her life. She constantly says how bad her life is she has no life of her own she doesnt want to live anymore. She has a very sarcastic way of speaking to me and my daughter.She doesnt have a car I do and when I hav things to do and stay away to long then im selfish and disrespectful. Get cinstant namecalling. I know she has made me the badmouthed me to everyone and its all my fault.
South Africa
January 26, 2014
emotionally abusive mother
The hardest thing about having a covert narcissist mother is that no one really gets to see the real her. My mom can switch her mood and personality like a light switch. I can see this extremely mean hateful mother one minute and then my dad or someone else would walk in and bingo, change! She really took a lot of pleasure in hurting me and I could see it on her face with that smile smirk as she caused me pain. There were never physical abuse but she was queen of the emotional abuse. No one would ever believe me and I always knew not to tell anyone how she was or she would totally shut me out and away from my dad who I see now allowed her to treat me so differently from the two older brothers. If he ever hugged me or told me he loved me she would just simmer and I would pay later on believe me. I wish so much that I had sit my dad down away from her and talked to him about my birth etc, and what made her hate me and only me. No contact , best thing now 8 years.
January 6, 2014
cruel mothers
My mother is the same. MY brother and wife are in town to take my mother home with them.this is where I will put a end to my long time abuse from her.NOTHING I ever did in life pleased her.NOW I HAVE TO LIVE.AT LEAST LEARN TO LIVE A NORMAL LIFE.We all have to learn to live again.Thank you for your stories it has helped me so much.GOD BLESS YOU ALL.
January 4, 2014
I understand how you feel. My mum abused me physically and emotionally. And though I'm now 42 and have my own family she stills abuses me with words.

If she is willing to apologise for all she has done to me, I'll be willing to forgive her but the problem is she's a great liar who refuses to admit her wwrongdoings. She can even cook up tales so as not to take responsibility for her wringdoings.

I do sometimes wish something terrible happens to her.
May Lyn
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