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Author Topic: How can I discuss with my girlfriend that her mother may be abusive?
not_a_hobgoblin
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My girlfriend is 19, and living at home when she's not at school. Her mother is still currently contributing some money to her college education (although she has threatened to stop), so she has that financial leash over her.

My question is actually sort of two-part. First, what makes a parent abusive? What's the distinction between just being a rather crappy parent and being emotionally abusive? Is their a checklist like there is for the "Abusive Partner Checklist?" I've tried Googling something like that, but haven't had much luck finding anything.

Second, how can I broach this subject with my girlfriend? I think we both know it, sort of- we talked last night about how horrible their last big fight was, and the whole time I had abusive relationship terminology floating around just under my words. This was the fight in which her mother threatened to stop paying for college, accused her of breaking her heart while simultaneously denying that she was in any way breaking her child's heart with her own actions, and actually slammed the door on my girlfriend's body as she tried to walk out of it- all because my girlfriend wanted to go meet me at a coffee shop and just hang out for about two hours. We both agreed that her mother had crossed a huge line by physically assaulting her- but we didn't talk about what kind of line that was.

My girlfriend will make excuses for her mother's behavior: "She wasn't really trying to hurt me, she was just trying to close the door, and I was trying to get out of it." She'll also say things about how this frightens her not because she's afraid of her mother physically hurting her, but because she's afraid of physically hurting her mother.

I just don't know what to do about this, or what to say. We've known for a long time that her mother was screwed up, and that some of her behavior could be seen as emotionally abusive, but this last fight just makes it all that much more real to me.

--------------------
"Cut her down."
"She is a witch!"
"But she's our witch. Cut her down."

Posts: 174 | From: Indiana, USA | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
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I'm just about to run out the door for a ride, but you're correct that the same kinds of things we look at when it comes to partner abuse are the same kinds of things we look at with abuse from parents.

Here's a good link to get you started: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan.cfm

I'll be back in a few hours if you want to talk with me more about this.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

Posts: 67933 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
not_a_hobgoblin
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Thanks for the link! I'd really like to talk more later- I'm going to leave to babysit soon, but I'll definitely be back online this evening.

--------------------
"Cut her down."
"She is a witch!"
"But she's our witch. Cut her down."

Posts: 174 | From: Indiana, USA | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
not_a_hobgoblin
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All right, so from the link you gave me, it definitely looks like it's mostly emotional abuse, with the one incident of physical abuse. From the "Abusive Partner Checklist," her mother fits these items:

[x] My partner is very jealous, gets jealous easily
[x] My partner follows me around, checks up on me a lot
[x] My partner tries to control how I dress or who I spend time with (friends, family, coworkers)
[rarely] My partner yells, calls me names, puts me down
[x] I hide things that I think would upset or anger my partner (phone numbers, letters, photos)
[x] My partner threatens me, or has threatened me
[x]My partner hits, throws or breaks things when angry
[x] I am afraid to disagree with my partner
[once in recent history] My partner has pushed, slapped, punched or otherwise hurt me
[x]I feel like my partner's anger is my fault

I did some more research on emotional abuse by mothers and found this site http://eqi.org/eam1.htm, which has a list of behaviors under "General Characteristics of Abusive Mothers" - her mother fits the ones listed below to one degree or another.

Making the child/teen feel responsible for the mother's feelings.
Threatening them specifically with rejection or abandonment.
Threatening them with vague, unstated consequences.
Using force upon them.
Invalidating their feelings.
Laying undeserved guilt on them.
Placing undeserved blame on them.
Dominating the conversations.
Refusing to apologize.
Always needing to have the last word.
Judging or rejecting their friends.
Invading their privacy.
Failing to show trust in them.
Labeling them.
Criticizing them.
Giving them the silent treatment.
Failing to give them real explanations.
Giving non-explanations such as "because it is wrong" or "because it is inappropriate" or "because it is a sin"

With this huge amount of evidence, it's really pretty clear that this is not a healthy mother/daughter relationship... and the thing is, we've both known this for a long time. She's been trying to fix things from her end for over a year.

But then there's the part where she got slammed in a doorway.

I really just want to tell her, "Get out NOW," because I know (and I've been reading) that that's what you're supposed to do in an abuse situation. But I know she doesn't think that's practical; I know she doesn't really think it's as bad as I'm seeing it. And even if she did decide, now or when things escalate, that she needed to get out, she'd have not only her education to worry about, but the two younger siblings left at home. [Confused]

She'll be moving out in less than a month for fall semester anyway. But if things keep getting worse like they have, I want to be ready to have this kind of conversation during/before breaks. I just don't know how to do this with the proper respect. I don't know how to explain it with the proper amount of urgency, but without going into unnecessary panic mode. Some advice and support would be useful.

(And I don't know how much I'll be online steadily tonight after all, as I may have family events to go to, but I'll do my best to check up before I go to bed.)

[ 07-25-2009, 05:59 PM: Message edited by: not_a_hobgoblin ]

--------------------
"Cut her down."
"She is a witch!"
"But she's our witch. Cut her down."

Posts: 174 | From: Indiana, USA | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
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Well, you always have to bear in mind that when anyone grows up in abuse -- like when anyone doesn't -- the way they're used to is their normal. So, one can become immune to it in a way, and also not see the impact it has, especially without having lived differently.

Might you be able to show her some of these links and lists, so she can perhaps formulate her own ideas?

As well, one thing you can voice is just that you're concerned for her. You can point out that being slammed in a door way could cause real injuries, and that living in that climate emotionally also can do her harm, and that you want her to be safe, in every regard. You can also point out that someone being abused -- rather than the person doing the abusing - can't "fix" an abusive situation. Certainly, when we're being abused, we can learn some ways to work with abuse cycles and stave off the explosive parts of those cycles to some degree, but there's really no satisfying an abuser. They'll always up the ante eventually, and make up new "rules" the abused has broken, if you know what I mean.

You might also be able to support her in starting to look into other ways to finance her education?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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not_a_hobgoblin
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Thank you so much for your response.

We've talked about a lot of this before as a couple- how she's internalized what we classified as her mother's "weird" behavior as normal, that I'm concerned for her, that her mother probably won't change, and even alternate ways to pay for college. We've just never used the term abuse, and as I started thinking about it in those terms, the whole situation took on a much more frightening cast.

I think particularly that she won't want to believe it because of several reasons:
1) she's remained a very strong individual with a very strong sense of self-worth despite this environment, and to accept that she's submitting to this would be humiliating.
2) the abuse was much, much milder in her childhood- it's increased dramatically over the past year, so it seems less like a relationship and more like a relatively temporary problem. I'm just afraid of it continuing to get worse.

I really do think it will help if she can see the lists and come to those conclusions on her own. I think I will print those out for her tomorrow, and just see how it goes.

(BTW, thanks for providing this space. I think it's helped me a lot just to externalize all of this in text.)

--------------------
"Cut her down."
"She is a witch!"
"But she's our witch. Cut her down."

Posts: 174 | From: Indiana, USA | Registered: Jun 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
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If I can speak a bit first-person as someone who survived several kinds of abuses, including in my family, I can suggest a different way of looking at the #1 on your list of two.

Being abused isn't really about submitting, especially when we're talking about abuse in families. It's about being part of a dynamic which for a long time, you don't often have any choice in. And what you do, until you either have a choice or feel able to make a choice when you have one, is you learn to cope and to survive. That means things like doing all you can to try and avoid and stave off abuse, including humoring the abuser as best you can and also not walking around with your abuse in the front of your mind all the time: you'd lose your mind if you did.

Different people internalize abuse in different ways. Personally, I tend to be a very defiant personality, so my feeling has been that I lucked out in having a nature that made it easier for me to get out, even very early, when it meant suffering in other ways to do so, and to also sort out what was abuse and what wasn't at a fairly early age. I also didn't always have abuse in my family, it came later, so I had a context to compare with.

But for sure, if you frame it as submission, and miss all the kinds of context like that, it's not going to feel very empowering to identify and address.

Per your #2, abuse increasing over time is the norm. In other words, it typically does start with none or with "milder" abuses and escalate. And if and when the abuser starts to lose more and more control -- such as when a child becomes an adult -- they are going to tend to get more abusive. That's one reason why the times children, partners or spouses leave abusers tend to be the most risky, when abusers are most likely to become the most violent.

[ 07-26-2009, 11:22 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

Posts: 67933 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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