Maternal abuse, narcissistic mothers, and the products of toxic parenting.
I had always hoped that my mother would change. As an adult who was left to sort out all the mess that was caused mainly by the one person who is supposed to love you unconditionally, or that’s what’s portrayed in society. I blamed myself, I felt a lot of shame even though I was the victim of maternal abuse, I wasn’t the abuser. I thought if I worked hard in therapy, which I did, I’d at least be able to approach my mother’s responses to me differently. And in many ways I did.
There were times as an adult, especially while I was pregnant that I really thought she had changed. But she hadn’t.
Before I go any further, I do want to make anyone reading this, aware that physical and psychological abuse will be mentioned. There is also mention of self-harm and suicide attempts.
This is my truth, my version of events.
As far as I’m aware I was planned, my mother wanted to have a baby. I’ve also been told that when I was a baby there wasn’t much of a maternal bond between her and me.
My parents separated when I was two, I think the divorce came through when I was five. I don’t have many memories of that time. And I’ve always felt that it was a good thing that they split. I have a relationship with my dad and have done since I was a teen. But he admitted to me himself that he wasn’t present when I was a child. In fact, he apologized to me. And over the years he has changed.
My mum on the other hand only flirted with change.
Most of my childhood memories are of my mother appearing lovely to others, the house was always clean and I certainly wasn’t neglected in a practical way. Outwardly my mother appeared to many as kind and caring, a Christian and a nurse. I was, for the most part, a very well behaved child, terrified to be anything else. My mother told me she loved me often but her actions told a different story.
Of course, I misbehaved, just like any other child does. But I was terrified of my mother. I knew that losing my gloves or leaving them in my tray at school meant she would calmly beat me with a wooden spoon, those times were calculating. She would order me to go and get the wooden spoon.
Other times she would lose it over other small things. Those weren’t planned, she would grab belts, hangers, hairbrushes and use her hands on my bare skin. I’d be ordered to bend over the bed and pull my trousers and pants down on more occasions than I can count. Or she would slap my face, legs, head. As I got to around 12/13 the bending over a chair or bed stopped.
I recall one incident in particular when I was around 8 years old. I had been struggling with maths at school, so my teacher had given me some extra maths homework. That particular day my mother and I had some kind of argument about it. I don’t remember what was said. But I sat down to eat dinner and I remember her starting to shove meat (cold sandwich meat) into my mouth and down my throat causing me to gag and choke. I can’t remember when or how it stopped. But I will never forget that. My childhood best friend was also abused by my mother, she remembers her stabbing my hand with a fork.
The abuse wasn’t just physical either, she called me fat and many other names relating to my weight and that only stopped in my mid-twenties when she learned I had an eating disorder. She criticized and ridiculed me constantly, no matter what I did to try and please her, and I really did try to please her, it was never, ever good enough. Nothing I did was good enough. She did this to my best friend too.
As I became a teenager, the abuse changed, In fact, it got worse, I was dragged, pushed, kicked, hit, the list goes on and the mental abused continued also.
I confided in a school friend who begged me to report the abuse to social services. At that point, I had bruises on my arm. So she came with me. And I spoke to the Duty social worker and told her what had happened and what had been going on. I was desperate to be taken into care, I had no idea what life was like for children and teens in care but I just wanted to be away from her so badly. I was also terrified because I knew to report the abuse would mean they would have to speak to my mother. All I can really remember happening was that she received a letter for us both to attend a meeting with some social workers. I can’t remember what was said in that meeting. I don’t recall any follow-up, or any social worker coming to check up on me to see if I was ok. I did find out later when she threw me out at sixteen that I had been on the child at risk register.
After reporting the abuse it seemed to give her even more ammunition. She actually drove me to the social work department three times threatening to take me in and leave me there. Each time I hoped she would.
I wasn’t an angel as a teenager, but I was just like the majority of teens. I had a nice group of friends. Most of them were from wealthy families and their parents would allow us to have parties in their houses. Nothing crazy, there was no drugs. We were just normal teenagers.
My mother finally threw me out less than 2 months after I turned 16. I’d been working a Saturday job from the age of fourteen and had taken on another job in a high street newsagent in town. Luckily a family I had grown up with took me in over Christmas until the young single homeless department within the council could house me in temporary accommodation.
Having my bags packed and being screamed at to leave wasn’t a new thing, that had been going on for years. My mother would pack my clothes in plastic bags and tell me to go and live with my Granny (my dads mum) someone who I was very close to. And when I leave and start to walk down the path she would start to shout “please don’t leave, please come back” this happened countless times.
Everything was so unpredictable in my childhood, I never knew where I stood, there was no stability. But I didn’t know this wasn’t normal. This was my normal. I recall my mother apologising a couple of times, saying she would never do it again. But I don’t recall what she was apologising for.
When I confronted her as an adult she firmly denied all of it.
I can only share my story but I wasn’t the only one she abused.
In May 2016 I walked into one of the local police stations and told the woman behind the desk I was there to report historic physical and mental abuse. She asked how long ago the abuse took place and was dismissive saying all children were smacked in the 80’s and 90’s. She made that assumption, but she didn’t know my story. I was told to wait for a police officer to become available to take my statement. Her dismissive tone made me angry and invalidated but it didn’t put me off. I knew what I needed to do that day. After all, I wasn’t the only one who had been abused.
The abuser was my mother, the one person who is supposed to protect you in the world never protected me.
The police officer who took my statement was young, possibly more than 10 years younger than me. But she took me seriously.
It was hard going into depth about the abuse, not because of the fear I had of my mother right up until the age of 34 but because it was shameful. But still, I felt it was the right thing to do. And I knew that someone else would also be making a statement about the abuse they suffered at the hands of this woman too. I was doing it for her, for my daughter, for the children that can’t remember and for anyone else she may have worked with in her role as a nurse, who didn’t have a voice. She had also harmed my child and there was no going back. She was given a second chance but she blew it big time. I pity her in that sense because she will never know how amazing her grandchild is and she will never know me, she will never know who I’ve become against all the odds.
I was quite surprised at how serious the police were about the case. I had convinced myself many times that it wasn’t that bad and that others had and do go through so much worse.
I also wasn’t prepared for the time that it took from reporting to going to court. In fact, by the end of 2016, I had accepted that it probably wasn’t going to court. I knew it wasn’t because I hadn’t been believed, I just thought there wasn’t enough evidence.
In July 2017 the Procurator Fiscal had asked the police officer in charge of the case if he would go and speak to the other victim in the case. And at that point, we found out that it was likely the case would be going to trial. But again I still didn’t really think it was going to happen.
On a cold and grey November morning in 2017. I was having a rest in bed when a letter came through the letterbox. I opened it and my heart was pounding. There it was in black and white. My citation to attend court as a witness for the prosecution in the case against my mother.
So many emotions were running through me, was this real? What other evidence did the prosecution have? Who is the prosecution?
I learned a lot through the process, you don’t get to know any of the evidence at all, you don’t meet with the prosecution. No one prepares you for the trial.
The trial date was set for February and February seemed like a long way off. So I did everything that I could to try and keep myself as mentally well as possible. I called witness service who made an appointment to show me around a courtroom as I had never been in one. I made appointments with victim support. I tried to make sure I was doing everything I could on my end to stay well.
My mother was given several opportunities to change her plea to guilty but she never did. She decided to put us all through it, right to the very end.
Luckily the judge granted me special measures so that I could give evidence in a separate room in the court building via video. I didn’t have to see her at all. And I didn’t hear anyone else give evidence.
My fiancé was my rock through all of it. We tried to make Christmas as special as we could, and I tried hard not to dwell on what was ahead of me. One of the hardest things was the waiting and the unknown. In fact, the waiting was harder than giving evidence.
I made a pact with myself that this woman would not be allowed to control my behavior again. I never had any thoughts of self-harm or suicide throughout the process, 10-11 years ago that would have been a very different story.
Of course, I was nervous on the day, I was worried the case would get pushed back as court dates often do, I really didn’t want to wait a day longer to give evidence. And I had no idea what to expect.
But the case did go ahead and I was the first to give evidence. I met the prosecution (the solicitor representing me) for 5 mins just before the case began. I knew I was ready, I was quietly confident in a strange way. Relieved that whatever the outcome it would be over finally.
Answering all of those questions was very hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The shame almost engulfed me but I continued to remind myself that it wasn’t my shame to carry.
After I gave my evidence My fiancé met me at reception and we left the court. I was relieved for a couple of hours. But when we got home I had so many mixed emotions. Emotions I didn’t think I would have. I even worried about her (my mother) which sounds completely crazy to someone who has never gone through this type of situation. I reminded myself time and time again that she gave little thought about me over the years. Especially during the dark times in my late teens and twenties when I was alone, self-harming and couldn’t see any future. The countless trips to the hospital after overdosing on medication and cutting my arms. Where was my mother when I needed love, guidance, and comfort? Where was she when I was 16 years old, still at school, living alone with no heating or hot water and no food?
We didn’t get a verdict that day, which I was told was unusual. The case ran on into the next day. Again I was told very little information and was offered no support.
The day we got the verdict I could hardly move off the sofa. I’m usually pretty good at distracting myself when things are difficult. But time seemed to stand still. Finally, around 3.30pm I received the phone call. GUILTY! I couldn’t believe it, cried with relief. I really couldn’t believe we had been believed.
For so many years I had told professionals about my mother and told friends of my mother or people who I knew. And most of them believed me although some of them were fooled when they met her.
I still maintain that not being believed is one of the most soul destroying things anyone who’s been abused can experience. And for so many years British culture has been to brush abuse under the carpet, and to a certain extent, this is still happening. I’ve seen it happen recently when you girls and young women come out and expose abuse and instead of being supported they are shamed.
She was sentenced a month later, the sentencing was very lenient. But she is now liable to a PVG check which means she can’t work with children and/or vulnerable adults. Unfortunately, she wasn’t struck off the NMC register but she is no longer working as a district nurse.
Would I do it again? Definitely! I don’t regret not doing it years ago. I wouldn’t have coped.
It was extremely hard.
The week of sentencing I found a British newspaperwoman ran a story about the case, it wasn’t a tabloid either. The headline made it look like I had spoken to them. The reporter had someone managed to take parts of a Friends-only Facebook status that I wrote the day we got the guilty verdict and used parts of it in the article. The facts were wrong as far as I know. It states she admitted what she did and pleaded guilty.
It wasn’t their story to tell. And because I’ve had previous dealings with the media I wasn’t keen on talking to reporters.
Maternal abuse, narcissistic mothers, and the products of toxic parenting is much more common than people think.
It took me a few months to process the court case and all the emotions that came with that. I’m proud that I managed to keep relatively well mentally. And I’m pleased to say that this last half of 2018 is a happy time.
It’s a time of new beginnings and a time of moving on with my own life and my own little family.
I’ve learned that although my biological mother is and never has been what a mother should be. I’ve been able to mother myself and give myself the things I needed when I was younger.
- By Helen Cruickshank
*in this article we have used stock photos for obvious reasons.