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My Sister and I Were Abused By My Stepfather, Told My Mom Years Later and She Stayed with Him

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We were abused by my stepfather when we were around 11 & 6. The abuse lasted 2-3 years ,but we didn’t leave my mom until we were 18 & 13 to live with our dad.

We finally told her in our 20s about the abuse. Her response was “What am I supposed to do, you told me 2 kids too late.” She stayed married to him for 25 yrs. She divorced him and left her boys ages 14 & 9 to be with someone else. They eventually got back together and remarried recently. We did not attend the wedding.

Despite all of this we truly love our mother and she has had it tough, but I don’t think I can forgive her. My stepdad asked for forgiveness and showed true regret and I feel like I was able to forgive him. My mom says she’s remorseful but still manages to put others before our feelings, showing me that I don’t matter enough to her. She sweeps things under the rug and pretends nothing is wrong.

My sister and I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder and mine is showing to be treatment resistant. I have been married for 20yrs and have 3 kids. My sister is divorced with a special needs child. It has taken a toll on all our relationships, but my mother says we have to take responsibility for ourselves as adults. Is there a way to have a healthy relationship with my mother? (From the USA)

My Sister and I Were Abused By My Stepfather, Told My Mom Years Later and She Stayed with Him

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A.

You can’t have a healthy relationship with someone who isn’t healthy. Your mom has made systematically bad choices in her life. She has been complicit in the abuse, abandoned her boys, remarried the man who abused her daughters, marginalized your needs and feelings, and continues to negotiate her life using the defense mechanisms of denial and minimization.

Your mom doesn’t have much to offer as a parent. Her actions, decisions and behavior point to someone who act in a ferociously self-absorbed manner. She also doesn’t seem like she has the capacity to take real responsibility for her choices and their impact on you — and it doesn’t seem as if she has sought therapy for healing herself. It isn’t possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has become the product of these very poor choices.

Yet, I do believe there is something you can do on your end of the relationship that may help. I think there are two other features that may be cultivated. First, I’d encourage you to nurture your own self-compassion for growing up with an abusive stepfather and a negligent mother. Compassion for yourself is important in evolving a compassionate stance for your mother, which I believe is what can allow you to have a civil and respectful relationship. Your mom’s way of being required that you cultivate a type of detachment from her rather than engagement. The main tool in this detachment is a compassionate stance toward her, which evolves from a compassionate stance toward yourself.

Being compassionate and nurturing your own well-being is an ongoing process. You are treating yourself in a manner similar to how a best friend would treat you. Love, encouragement and support are the messages you’ll want to give yourself. There are many techniques for developing self-compassion and this link will take you to a brief video on the bottom of the homepage that can guide you through an exercise to enhance and facilitate self-compassion.

Secondly, once you’ve been able to cultivate self-compassion I would encourage you to work on detachment. In 12-step programs, this is often referred to as detaching with love. This practice unhooks you from looking at your mom for comfort, relationship, or improvement. It allows you to acknowledge and accept who she is without trying to change her, but also without you making great efforts to help or develop the relationship. Detachment means that you stop going on the rollercoaster ride of your life is tied to hers in terms of your well-being. By turning your attention to self-compassion and compassion for her circumstance and life, you release yourself from the need to expect more from her than she is capable.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

My Sister and I Were Abused By My Stepfather, Told My Mom Years Later and She Stayed with Him

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Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). My Sister and I Were Abused By My Stepfather, Told My Mom Years Later and She Stayed with Him. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2020/03/19/my-sister-and-i-were-abused-by-my-stepfather-told-my-mom-years-later-and-she-stayed-with-him/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Mar 2020 (Originally: 19 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Mar 2020
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