When abuse never takes physical form, it can be tough to feel sure it ever happened. After all, everybody makes mistakes…
I know there are many people who think this. I know, because I still have these thoughts flash through my mind. Maybe they just made a mistake? After all, no parent is perfect. Right?
Sure, everybody makes mistakes.
Sometimes we say the wrong thing, we make someone feel uncomfortable, insecure or just plain bad. We don’t mean to, be we cannot always predict how others will react. We are not always 100% switched on to our own emotional state, our tone of voice, and the small or big traumas that we suffered… We are after all only human.
There are days when I still think that maybe, just maybe, my parents aren’t so bad… maybe they just made a few mistakes…
When I get to that thought (or when I see it on someone else’s face) I remind myself that:
- Mistakes are occasional and random, not structural and strategic
- Mistakes are just that, and they are not blatant disregard
- Mistakes are made when or wherever, they do not disappear as snow for the sun when there’s an audience
- Mistakes are learning points, not repetitive actions
Mistakes Are Occasional and Random, Not Structural and Strategic
We all forget things occasionally, or misunderstand a situation. We may even embellish on a story without really meaning to, it is just that we may have forgotten or misinterpreted some details.
When I dropped out of university and moved back with my parents, my mother told everyone in the family and community that I had dropped out because of a drug and alcohol dependency issue. I did not know she had until one of my sisters referenced the lie at a party some 10 years later. At my mother’s request no-one had ever mentioned this to me before, since -she had explained to them- it would be too painful for me.
She made sure her lies never reached my ears (well at least she tried to), and in that little fact she gives away the fact that this is not a mistake. It was a calculated lie, something that was both structurally shared and strategically used. Rather than having a daughter move back because she had realized the course was not the right choice for her, she could portray herself as the suffering mother who nursed her wayward child back to health.
Mistakes Are Just That, and They Are Not Blatant Disrespect
When my partner and I were celebrating our birthday (yes, we share the date) my mother decided to bring along a few extra guests. Not that I minded that she took my aunties along, although a heads up would have been nice. However, when they arrived it transpired that my aunts did not know it was not just my, but also my partner’s birthday party they were attending.
Now, she may have forgotten to tell me about my aunts coming, that could have been a mistake.
She could have forgotten to mention to them about attending a birthday party, that would have been a mistake.
That’s not what she did though, she mentioned one birthday and not the other. This isn’t a mistake, this is blatant disregard and disrespect. It is her showing how little respect she has for my partner, for me, and for our relationship.
Mistakes Are Made When Or Wherever, They Do Not Disappear As Snow For The Sun When There’s An Audience
Most people who know my mother think she is good manners and kindness personified. That is because she carefully adjusts her responses to the audience. Everyone gets a little part of the puzzle, but no-one sees the whole picture. Moreover, nobody can oversee the slights, insults and put downs because nobody outside has the whole overview. In fact, even within the family we were all kept in the dark about certain aspects of the others.
It is like my singing. When outside she would praise my voice, and would bask in the glory of compliments paid. However, within the house she would complain about the noise, criticize the outfit I wore at a recital…
Mistakes Are Learning Points, Not Repetitive Actions
When you mention a mistake someone made, or mention that a remark or action hurt your feelings, most people will apologize and make a genuine effort not to make the same mistake again. After all, our mistakes are our best teachers. Toxic people are not like anyone else though. They will neither acknowledge the faux pas or in anyway try to mend their wayward ways. In fact, they will remember your feedback as a indication of their success, their success at triggering you.
My mother’s typical response to feedback of this type was: it must me awful to be my daughter. Immediately taking on the role of victim, and therewith renouncing any responsibility of whatever happened and making it only about the moment of feedback.
That is not a mistake. That is a strategy that was implemented again, and again, and again.