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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 (190)
May 7, 2016
Mother's Day. This year I'm not going to dread it
To all the women out there that have suffered from a toxic mother, Mother's Day shouldn't hurt but it may. I'm one of those women and I find this day to be rough even though I am the mother of 3 amazing young men. I am also married to an incredible man who has supported me from day 1 in my battle, struggle and then no contact. This year I am vowing to enjoy Mother's Day for ME. I'm not looking back or going to think about my "egg donor" and instead I will celebrate and enjoy my beautiful family. I hope this will inspire some of you who may have similar feelings to free yourself tomorrow on Mother's Day and not let any demons from your past into your life this year.
Liz Edelstein
May 5, 2016
I grew up in an abusive family. Physical and verbal violence were the norm and my brother molested me. For decades I tried to be loving, hoping it would influence or rub off but it never did. My mother is an abusive bully who tells me I am just making a fuss over nothing. This is what abusers do. They abuse and then discredit you. If I were not a spiritual person with G-d in my life, I would not have survived. I have separated for good now. It is the only way to protect my self esteem and live a healthy loving life.
April 4, 2016
I believe you are doing the right thing to stay away from her and I know it is hard to be on the outside and treated like the blacksheep but maybe you are truly the lucky one because you were strong enough to walk away from her. I always had such a envy of seeing my female friends mothers love and treat them well and love them unconditionally and just always question as to why God gave me to a woman like this. But again maybe it ended with me because I would never ever hurt my daughter and ever treat her meanly and I definitely would not sit there and take pleasure in it. Good luck in the future and I so admire your strength. Just hang in there and try to Mother yourself.
April 4, 2016
abusive mother
I have Judaism n my distant background but not immediate. I grew up as a child n a fiercely religious home. My mother was/is like n predator over making sure her children followed all tenets of our religion even tho she did not. She maintained a fascade of perfection in public & was able 2 coerse 7 children 2 follow her n public deceptions! It was madness! I, being the oldest, always fell short of her ridiculous requirements, whether/not I was guilty of any wrong-doing! I have been beaten which drew blod, left scars, fractures and other permanent damage, but was able 2 stifle our silence. I became n adult more 40+ yrs ago & am the black sheep for doing so & probably 4 other things as well. I cut off all connections with her when I came 2 believe her involvement in a number of deaths n the family! I cannot trust her tho I love her & worry about my father with dementia, but cannot trust myself 2 b safecwith her.
March 29, 2016
5 against 1:
I have posted here many times but your story hits home. I too had exactly the same situation. I left that toxic family when I was 46 and am now 53 and finally living a happy life-MY LIFE. You too can get your life back, but no contact was the only option for me, I tried everything else before I resorted to this drastic and untraditional decision. My family of 3 boys and a loving and supportive husband are my life and my world. I wish you the best and I hope you will one day be happy and be pain free in your heart. Liz Edelstein, Baltimore
Liz Edelstein
Baltimore, Maryland
March 28, 2016
The sooner you go the better
If I had it all to do over again, I should have left when I went away to college & never come back. I was happy then, but because I wanted to figure out how to finally please my mother & siblings, before I could figure out the rest of life, I went back. What a wasted life. I didn't even start my own family or marry, only kept trying to get some satisfaction from my family first. I was 55 years old before getting counseling at my church, which made me realize that I simply was not loved by my mother or siblings. Only my Dad loved me- I thought I was just a daddy's girl. He was the only love I had in my home & my mother would get mad at him for being nice to me. I would tell him how they ganged up on me and bullied me about everything I said or did, but my mother normalized it/lied & told him that 'brothers & sisters always fuss and fight'. They used me all my life, never appreciated a thing I did for them, though I tried all my life to please them before myself. Impossible! UgottaGO!
5 against 1
March 27, 2016
I am experiencing the same thing right now. I have already thought of options that I could choose from: 1.) commit suicide (which I couldn't do because I still know that God loves me), 2.) Move out of our house w/o anybody knowing where I will go, and 3). Stay here and get insane.

I have been suffering from my own mother in my entire life, but now that I am an adult she is getting worse. Much worse. I know I have immeasurable pain within me but I still cope with this misery by remembering that the Lord knows and sees me. My father who's in overseas seems to care less, for whenever I tell him about this issue, she is always on the side of my abusive mother. Sometimes I ask myself if my parents love me or not.
March 22, 2016
I'm sorry for all who have been abused by their mothers. It's very sad. All people deserve love, acceptance and respect. The abuse is never the fault of the child. Thanks for sharing.
February 22, 2016
My mother and i always have a fight.she shouts without reasons.she thinks she is right.she do not know how to talk to others.i am always in tension because of her behaviour.when i try to make her understand she starts shouting and abusing me.she tries to humiliate me.i do a lot for her so that she is happy but she is unsatisfied.i cant understand what she wants.when she starts shouting she is uncontrollable.i get disturbed for hours and even for days.plz help me i am mentally disturbed because of her and this is taking me into depression.
February 1, 2016
Personality Disorder
I recently researched my mother's (and subsequently my brother's too) behavior. Over the years it has bothered me a great deal, and naturally, like I presume many people here, were blamed for virtually everything their mother (or even father) did. In late 2013 I learned that my mother's (and brother's) behavior problem was all passive aggressive behavior...this perpetual and insidious, covert, behind the back sabotaging of one's life, all the while they're just sitting there with this glowing halo over their head blaming you for everything that may have happened. But that was just the took me another 3 years to discover the personality problem.

What many of you may want to explore when researching parental behavior issues with you is any possible personality disorders. I researched many but none would explain what I had experienced in life...UNTIL I researched narcissism. I had no idea...but now EVERYTHING makes sense. I encourage everyone hear to research this.