Growing up with an emotionally unavailable parent is far from normal

Growing up with an emotionally unavailable parent is far from normal. Yet in order to survive your childhood you will have convinced yourself and others that things were normal. What other choice did you have? Your upbringing may not have been normal, but it was your normal…

You had to pretend you had a real mom and even convinced yourself this was the case. You told other kids that your mom was just fine. All the while you had to live a lie. You had to normalize the image of your mother to others for survival purposes.

Dr. Linda Martinez-Lewi

Coming to Terms With the Abnormality

As adults we may feel like something is wrong in our lives. Maybe we struggle with inexplainable heath issues, maybe we have trouble in relationships or simply cannot get our careers on track. Maybe these struggles will alert you to the fact that things are not as normal as you made them out to be in your mind. Perhaps as an adult you begin to become aware of the effects that growing up with an emotionally unavailable parent has had on you.

Still, many victims of emotional child abuse convince themselves of the normalcy so completely that it is very difficult even to understand that something was wrong.

Looking Back with Adult Eyes

When we look back at the stories of our childhood from our adult perspective, we begin to see how toxic our childhoods were.

“Just the other day, I randomly said I like raisins. And suddenly remembered getting in trouble for “sneaking” into the fridge and eating raisins without permission when I was 9 or 10. I got punished. To be clear (I was told) I was not in trouble for eating raisins. I was in trouble for sneaking and not asking permission for a snack. I was made to stand by a tiny plastic organ while my mother played hymns and sang about not yeilding to temptation for an hour”.

“Once a week a food market is held in front of my parents’ house. This often results in packaging, receipts and what have you being caught by the wind and ending up in the front garden. One of my jobs was to go into the garden and pick up the rubbish. No matter how well I did, I always got complaints that I should do better. One week my mother went into the garden and pulled a  bank note out from under the first plant she got to. “See”, she said with that little smirk around her lips, “if you had done a good job, you would have found that and would have had some money for your piggy bank” and the note disappeared in her pocket. I was so angry, I KNEW I had checked under that plant, and I knew I had done a good job! I was sure she was making it up and I felt so cheated. Ever single time after that when I would need to clean the garden she would say: ‘remember the bank note!’ and smirk at me again”.

“One year, I must have been 12, the choir of the music school performed at the annual recital, and I had been given a solo! Of course my mother did not have time to attend the performance, and I had to get myself to the theater (which was a short walk away). The performance went great, and my solo was a huge success. So much so that I was mentioned by name in the local paper and the photo that adorned the article (on the front page no less) was one of me in the spotlight singing my solo. I was very proud of course, but my mother’s only response was: “I cannot believe you wore that outfit, if I had known I would not have let you out of the house!”

“I saw a video of my 7th birthday party. My mother sent one of my sisters to the kitchen to cut the birthday cake. She will have been 11 then. Also worth mentioning is that she was in the process of transitioning to a special ed school. When my sister brings the cake into the living room, my mother comments: All these pieces are different sizes, can you not do fractions or something!? You can see the impact of those words on my sister’s face”.

Dealing With the Past Heals Your Future

Re-evaluating the experiences of your toxic childhood can be painful, but it is the only way to deal with it and the effects it has on your present and future.

Want to share some of your own stories? Join us on the forum.

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