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My Step-aunt Anna


When I was eleven years old, my mother, who had been divorced from my father for a number of years, re-married. My stepfather was a wonderful, kind man and he came from a wonderful, loving family. We lived on the west coast and my stepfather's family was from New York. After the wedding, his relatives came out to the west coast to visit with us one by one. I got along well with my new step relatives. I kept hearing about my Aunt Anna and she sounded absolutely fascinating; I couldn't wait to meet her. We seemed to have a lot in common. I was told she was independent, loved to read like I did, had travelled all over the world as I hoped to, was college educated and sophisticated, just the kind of woman I imagined I wanted to become.

Unfortunately, my mother stepped into the middle of all of this. My mother was emotionally abusive to me (and occasionally physically abusive as well). The abuse had let up somewhat after her new marriage as she did not like for my new stepfather to see her behaving that way. He acted as a buffer between us. One of my mother's abusive tactics had been to isolate me socially from everyone around me; she used various tactics to accomplish this, from telling lies about me, to dressing me differently from the other children at school,  to embarrassing me in front of peers as well as other things she did to make sure no one was ever supportive of me (like moving whenever the neighbors noticed what went on at our house). I have since discovered that this is very typical behavior for all types of abusers; social isolation is a very powerful weapon for keeping people in line. When you think you have no one to turn to, you crumble inside and give up. That's what had happened to me.

When my stepfather came into the picture, I suddenly had a whole new family to turn to and it quickly became clear to both myself and my mother that I was rapidly forming alliances in my new family. I liked them and they liked me. And it seemed equally clear to both my mother and myself that I was quite likely to form a happy relationship with my new Aunt Anna when I met her. Since my Aunt Anna's job involved travel, sometimes to the west coast, she would be the relative I was most likely to see often.

My stepfather decided that the best way for us to get acquainted was to take my mother, me and my Aunt Anna (who was his youngest sister) on a car trip across the country. My new aunt, whom I had not yet met, would ride beside me in the back seat while my mother sat in front next to my stepfather who loved to drive. It would be a two week trip with lots of stops, including a jaunt up into Canada to see the sights. I was really looking forward to all of this, especially because I would be really getting to know my new aunt.

That trip turned into utter disaster for me.

I knew my  new aunt would be flying out from the east coast and arriving any day and then we'd begin our trip. But I thought it a little strange that my mother refused to tell me when Aunt Anna would be arriving in California. She kept saying, "She'll get here when she gets here. Stop asking questions!"  So I waited.

One day, I was reading a book in my room when my mother walked in from the hall and began quietly, but with carefully controlled rage, berating me. There was no warning, no apparent reason for it. She was not scolding me for something I'd done or failed to do; she was just standing in front of me hissing ugly insults at me, cruel words, really ugly things. For no reason! I was stunned, because my mother usually at least thought up some kind of reason for her temper tantrums and this seemed to come out of nowhere and it was really cruel and ugly. I asked her why she was saying these things but she did not pause, she just kept it up with a small sadistic smile on her face.

I began crying as she heaped one ugly word after another, all in a quiet hissing tone. She said I was stupid. She said I was ugly. She said she hated having me for a daughter. She said nobody liked me and no one every would, not as long as I lived. She thought of every cruel thing she could possibly say to me.I begged her to stop and I cried harder. She called me a crybaby and lots of other names, all very softly and quietly but with intense rage and scorn. I kept begging her to stop but she just got meaner and nastier, telling me every single thing she could think of that would make me cry harder. Finally, in emotional agony, sobbing, I began to scream at her, "Stop it! Stop it! I can't stand it!!! PLEASE STOP IT! STOP IT!!!!"  As I did so, she got a flushed triumphant look on her face and quick as a flash, she rushed around the room opening the windows and the door to the adjoining room (a bathroom connected my room to the guestroom) as I screamed and cried. Then my mother turned quickly and strode out of the room, leaving the other door open into the hall.

I heard her footsteps and then I heard her in the adjoining room talking to someone in a low civilized tone. I heard a woman's voice answering her, saying, loudly, "....NEVER heard a girl sound so rude in my life!" I then heard my mother talking softly, pleasantly again.

A minute later my mother came back into my room. I was trying to dry my tears but I was still shaken up by her awful nastiness. My mother looked quite pleased with herself as she announced, "Your Aunt Anna has arrived. She was shocked and upset at your screaming. She says she has never heard anything so rude in her life." I was horrified. I'd, of course, had no idea that my new aunt was in the next room, or even that she'd arrived at all. I begged my mother for permission to apologize to my new aunt, to tell her that I did not usually behave like that (I didn't; most of the time I was too intimidated to scream at my mother). My mother forbid me to speak to my aunt until the next morning when, I was now told, we would begin our cross country trip.

My mother had successfully vaccinated my new aunt against any chance she might have a good impression of me. And my aunt now thoroughly disapproved of me and saw me as a bratty spoiled teenager. I now had to spend two weeks sitting beside her all day long in a car. And, at night, when we checked into a motel, my parents had one room and guess with whom I had to share a room....what a nightmare.

In a sense, the nightmare was partly my own fault. I was so guilt ridden about screaming at my mother that I blamed the situation entirely on myself. It was many years, and some helpful therapy, before I came to realize, in my middle years, that my mother had set me up for a bad relationship with my new aunt and that this kind of thing was typical of the socially isolating strategies my mother used on me, and typical of abusers in general. But at the time, I felt I was entirely to blame, that my aunt was right to look down her nose at me, and that it was up to me to try very hard to make a better impression on her. As I saw it, if I behaved in a perfectly mannerly way, was extremely well behaved, and acted entirely respectful, she would eventually understand that I was not all bad and was perhaps a candidate for her approval.

Not!  It was a terrible trip for me. I made up my mind to behave perfectly in every way. I barely spoke and never without being spoken to. I deferred to my aunt in every way I could think of and never contradicted anything anyone said. I thanked everyone for everything and did not ask for anything. I even read a book on manners as we rode along so I could be sure I did everything right. I was very humble for a young teen. When I think of it now, it was rather amazing....for a sensitive teen.

But my aunt never budged in her disapproval. Nothing I could do seemed to convince her that I was really OK. Nothing. No matter what I said or did, she would make a snotty disparaging remark to me or about it. It was an awful two weeks during which I would take breaks in the evening to go into the bathroom in our motel room and cry and then splash cold water on my face so nobody would think that, on top of everything, I was a "crybaby." My aunt kept her nose in the air the whole time and acted as if she was doing me a favor to allow me to be near her at all. I still wonder why she decided to go along on the trip under the circumstances. Maybe she needed someone to whom she could feel superior.

My aunt and I never became friends. Or even friendly in any way. By the time the trip had concluded, I was very depressed. I blamed myself a lot. And for many, many years, too. Remembering it could still make me cry years later. About two years after that miserable cross country trip, my aunt died. I felt sad because my beloved stepfather was sad. But I felt nothing. And I felt guilty about that!  For many years, until I was well into my middle years, I felt sad, ashamed and guilty whenever I thought of the "bad impression" I had made on my new aunt and how I had not been able to reverse my bad reputation with her in spite of my best efforts.

It's funny, but sometimes I think we have to reach the age of our abusers before we come to realize just exactly how awful they were. As I became a middle aged woman, and after I had worked with kids and young adults as a teacher, it suddenly hit me one day how awful all of this had been and that none of it had been my fault!  As I reached the age my Aunt Anna had been back during our trip, it began to occur to me how quickly and how harshly Aunt Anna had judged me. After all, she had not really heard the whole "argument," had she?  And, furthermore, what had I done that was so terrible? Had I been swearing at my mother, using profanity or obscenities like kids do so often today? All I had really done is cry out in emotional distress and pain and begged my mother to stop tormenting me. Was that really so awful? And, even if I had behaved badly, I was a young teen and emotional scenes with parents at that point in a young life were/are not unusual in families. And what about my perfect behavior for two whole weeks under the stress of constant, day and night, glaring scrutiny from an unsympathetic woman? Didn't that count for her at all?

Yes, it took me until my middle years to really get mad at my Aunt Anna. She did not deserve to be my aunt! And I most certainly did not deserve to have an aunt like her. As I also did not deserve the extreme emotional abuse and social isolation my disturbed mother heaped on me.

It took me a surprisingly long time to come to terms with this little episode in my life but, when I did, I gained a lot of strength. As I said, sometimes we have to arrive at the age of our abusers to understand just how awful and wrong their behavior was. Wherever you are, Aunt Anna, I hope you have developed more compassion and more insight. Because you sure needed it.


Brainyblonde Brainyblonde 66-70, F 16 Responses Jun 21, 2010

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I hate to say bad things about anyone's mom, but your mother was evil! I just can't Imagine a mother doing that. One thing I can say I have always to be true is my mom loved me. We got closer after Obama took office and sent Salazar to my neighbourhood to shut down the industry that I was kind enough to employ me, and pay me enough that I never had to look at price tags. Sorry, I have a tendency to breach my attention spans perimeter. But about the same time I lost my job my mom started looking her health. She passed away this January, 10 days after her 78th birthday. I can't explain the pain and loneliness of loosing the one person that always loved me. I however feel I would rather endure this than what you endured. It's amazing you haven't shown up at a playground with a gun and a lot of bullets.

It was very painful for me to read your story.Couldn't your step father who knew you for who you really were have put a word in for you? I guess at your age and with all the guilt piled upon you, the idea would never have come to you to seek his support,we only realise we could have done certain things in certain circumstances years later,when we have developed the insight and the knowledge needed. Your mother was behaving towards you in a diabolical manner,why all that hate? I often ask myself this question having had a father and a sister who took great pleasure in discrediting me to everyone,so much so that I too was isolated from the rest of the family and never came to know some of my cousins,no one whould ever invite me to any family celebrations of to their home as I was considered a "delinquent".I am so sorry for what you have been through.It is so unfair,but as children we are vulnerable and at the mercy of adults.

I appreciate your interest in my short memoir. I did not go to my stepdad over any conflicts with my mother because, as I saw it then, either he, like everyone else back then, would not believe me and it would hurt our good relationship, or, even worse, he would believe me and that might hurt his marriage to my mother. I did not want him to think I was making up horrible stories about my mother, but if he did believe me, it would shock him to know what my mother could be like and then he might leave. As I saw it, I would lose either way. Now, as an older adult, I do know I should have discussed it with him. I now realize he would have believed me and he would not have been shocked nor would he have left. He probably would have talked to my mother about it and drawn some lines regarding her behavior. He loved my mother but he wasn't stupid and he did know she had some problems with bouts of immature behavior. And he knew I wouldn't make up stories about her. Again, thank you for reading my story. Lately, for various reasons, I have been deleting a lot of my stories; I deleted about a dozen last week. I had just been about to delete this one when I saw that you had commented. Glad you had a chance to read it. I may leave it up for a few more days or weeks.

You did what you felt was right at the time and you did not want to see your stepfather leave as he appeared to have been the only mean of support you had then.

Your story was very heartbreaking on so many levels. I didn't have a great childhood either, but it was nothing like what you put up with. To think of what those two women did to you, especially your mother, the woman who gave you life! I can see from the text below that you're also a very forgiving woman. For me that would be very difficult but I suppose that's the mature thing to do. I wouldn't want to be saddled with that kind of anger and resentment for the rest of my life.

It's quite easy too to see where the cycle began, starting with your grandmother, thus spawning the cycle of abuse. That hardly excuses their bad behavior in respect to you, however, nor your grandmother in respect to your mother. Thankfully, you were strong and smart enough to break the cycle and I admire the person you've become since then. My hat is off to you.

After reading this story I just want to shoot ur mom for what she did to u

You are so awesome and your story was inspiring and amazing. Thank you, thank you very much for that I found good advices in your story.

What a terrible, horrible,hateful , pathetic women your mother is!!! And I can't believe it that your step-aunt was such a blind unsympathetic young lady without kindness,forgiveness and any insight.
I even got so angry after reading this story.What your mother have done was beyond cruel. Jesus Christ! You're her daughter ,for god sake!Why she did all these to you?******* insane! If I were you,I might become an aggressive and stubborn person and I may take my revenge back.
Sorry for what you've come through.For all of us,Childhood should be fully filled with fun and happiness.

How much of her behavior impacted your own self esteem when you were growing up? Eventually, you grew to have an enjoyable relationship with her. But her behavior was very hard on you as a young girl. Back then, you didn't have the emotional resources to shield yourself against her attacks or her abuses. Even if you felt there was nothing to "forgive" you should be honest about the effect her actions had on you growing up. So many times we suppress what someone has done to us, it does not negate it's impact. Only acknowledging the damage done in excruciating honesty to yourself and letting it go, will.

I have had some good therapy some years ago and it helped. I am fully aware that, at the age of 18, when I left home, I had absolutely NO self-esteem. I wound up with an abusive boyfriend and remained with him for two awful years. Believe me, I have not forgotten or ignored my unhappy memories. I believe they have helped me to become more empathetic.

My mother did what she did because she had some deep personal problems. She was traumatized by the sudden death of her father, my grandfather, back in 1920 (he was a famous union organizer and his death may or may not have been an accident); she was in the car when he died. Her mother blamed her for the death for a while....even though my grandma very well knew it was not my mother's fault. My grandmother had had a tragic life with several sudden and violent losses of people she loved and she cracked up when her husband died (shortly after she had lost a 5 year old child to diptheria). It was an awful situation, with my grandmother withdrawing from life; grandma did not speak English well nor did she want to, she could not use a telephone or do very much, was afraid to ride in a car let alone drive one etc.) So my mother became the adult of the family at the age of 11. My mother learned to act like an adult and she put on a pretty good front by acting very sophisticated and mature....but inside my mother was still an 11 year old girl. I do not believe my mother ever got past that age emotionally or socially but she faked being an adult so well no one but those who really knew her knew this.



In my mother's old age, when she was in a home, the psychiatrist there diagnosed her with, among other things, dissociative personality disorder (what used to be called a "multiple personality"). This diagnosis seemed absolutely correct to me; her personality could turn on a dime when we were alone although she had several different "adult" personalities she used with different crowds of people. Once she was diagnosed, at the age of 84, she was given several medications which made a huge difference for her--and for me. She died at the age of 94 and during those ten years we had a wonderful relationship. I really looked forward to going out to the home to visit her every week (and sometimes more often). For the first time since my mother cracked up when I was about 5 years old (they used to call it a "nervous breakdown" although I was not told this at the time), we had a good relationship free of her rage and abuse. I treasured that time.



So....there was never any reason to "forgive" my mother. I think I always knew she was sick. She acted so crazy that there was little doubt in my mind that she had some very serious mental and emotional issues. The problem for me as a kid was that, since my mother worked as a school director and a child parenting "expert" who gave seminars on how to raise children gently and empathetically....NO ONE ever believed me. Her cousins knew about her rage and some of her behavior but most people had no idea that my mother had any personal problems at all, since she was known as a parenting "guru" and no one could ever believe that she would be anything but gentle and patient with her own child. It was hard being so alone with this knowledge, with the fear of what would happen next, with the loneliness.



Frankly, I don't think I have a lot of problems due to my unhappy childhood. I always knew my mother was mentally disturbed. Now I am older and I have seen her for years as a semi-normal person and I have had a relationship with her that was enjoyable. Sometimes meds are the answer to some mental problems. Although she certainly put me through a lot and wounded my feelings and my social life many, many times when I was younger, I have always loved her and I do not hold any kind of a grudge.

I greatly admire you,I could not have forgiven,there are things I find unforgivable and betrayal is one of them.

My mother did what she did because she had some deep personal problems. She was traumatized by the sudden death of her father, my grandfather, back in 1920 (he was a famous union organizer and his death may or may not have been an accident); she was in the car when he died. Her mother blamed her for the death for a while....even though my grandma very well knew it was not my mother's fault. My grandmother had had a tragic life with several sudden and violent losses of people she loved and she cracked up when her husband died (shortly after she had lost a 5 year old child to diptheria). It was an awful situation, with my grandmother withdrawing from life; grandma did not speak English well nor did she want to, she could not use a telephone or do very much, was afraid to ride in a car let alone drive one etc.) So my mother became the adult of the family at the age of 11. My mother learned to act like an adult and she put on a pretty good front by acting very sophisticated and mature....but inside my mother was still an 11 year old girl. I do not believe my mother ever got past that age emotionally or socially but she faked being an adult so well no one but those who really knew her knew this.



In my mother's old age, when she was in a home, the psychiatrist there diagnosed her with, among other things, dissociative personality disorder (what used to be called a "multiple personality"). This diagnosis seemed absolutely correct to me; her personality could turn on a dime when we were alone although she had several different "adult" personalities she used with different crowds of people. Once she was diagnosed, at the age of 84, she was given several medications which made a huge difference for her--and for me. She died at the age of 94 and during those ten years we had a wonderful relationship. I really looked forward to going out to the home to visit her every week (and sometimes more often). For the first time since my mother cracked up when I was about 5 years old (they used to call it a "nervous breakdown" although I was not told this at the time), we had a good relationship free of her rage and abuse. I treasured that time.



So....there was never any reason to "forgive" my mother. I think I always knew she was sick. She acted so crazy that there was little doubt in my mind that she had some very serious mental and emotional issues. The problem for me as a kid was that, since my mother worked as a school director and a child parenting "expert" who gave seminars on how to raise children gently and empathetically....NO ONE ever believed me. Her cousins knew about her rage and some of her behavior but most people had no idea that my mother had any personal problems at all, since she was known as a parenting "guru" and no one could ever believe that she would be anything but gentle and patient with her own child. It was hard being so alone with this knowledge, with the fear of what would happen next, with the loneliness.



Frankly, I don't think I have a lot of problems due to my unhappy childhood. I always knew my mother was mentally disturbed. Now I am older and I have seen her for years as a semi-normal person and I have had a relationship with her that was enjoyable. Sometimes meds are the answer to some mental problems. Although she certainly put me through a lot and wounded my feelings and my social life many, many times when I was younger, I have always loved her and I do not hold any kind of a grudge.

I was just taken aback by your story and what your mother did to you. It was a mean, vindictive and downright cruel thing to do to a teenager. I don't know what made your mother behave that way. Perhaps someone did that to her too when she was younger. Yes, you did not deserve that...all of it, the way your mum set you up and the way Aunt Anna treated you. They are both gone now, I presume your mum has passed on? But the scars they left must have taken years to heal. The legacy of cruelty...can only be absolved with forgiveness on your part towards them. If you can't forgive your abusers, it would be hard to be kind to yourself otherwise. Forgiving them, is not for them, it is so that your memories would be easier to live with and the sting would be taken out of them. Forgiving them is about freeing yourself up to love and accept yourself for who you are.

Thank you. I believe that bad experiences can make us stronger and more empathetic. I am glad that this story was something you can relate to. Your comments make me feel less alone with my unhappy memories.

This kind of emotional abuse is sicking! My sister is an emotionally and verbally abusive person and also manipulative. She is like poison!! She was like that since high school and my parents allowed her to behave in this manner! I have to agree with you that it often takes many years to realize how horrible an emotionally abusive person can be ! My own parents also tried to keep me socially isolated especially in my teen years by making me feel uncomfortable bringing friends home and trying to control how I dressed and looked.That was especially true of my mother. It sucked!! I'm sorry you had to go through such abuse, I feel bad for any kid who had to put up with such maltreatment because, although you can forgive, you carry these memories for life!!

Thank you for your kind comments. Salaam to you, too!

Salaam,



I really feel so sorry for what you have gone trough. I mean NO disrespect at all, but ... your mother seems a true manipulator to me; she really planned everything! Unbelievable! unbelievable! i am so angry when i read how she treated you. Thank you soo much for all your effort in writing beautifully all your emotions and the scenes in detail!

Yes typical for abused persons is to find excuses for the abuser! God ... what a world really, some people are really bad, unbelievable. I have been a victim sooo many times, but I ma happy NOT to be an abusing person!!! If they were only two camps , beleive eme better a victim than the abused one.

I am sooo happy you had a nice stepfather, can you imagine: having a abusive step father on top!!!!!! Thank god he was opposite!



Take care,



Salaam

Thank you for your kind comment. It really does help.

I'm sorry. Emotional abuse is devastating to all of us but especially to a vulnerable kid. Wish it had been so very different for you.