Suggested Friends

Image result for quotes when parents hurt their child

Facebook suggested Pat as a possible friend today; for all the sophistication of that platform, it does not comprehend Complicated or Estranged.

Per the meme above, I have often felt like a refugee from childhood; my childhood was definitely something I had to endure, then overcome.  But until I saw Pat’s picture this morning as Facebook suggested I might Friend her, I hadn’t much considered how she may feel about her own childhood.

I was never close to Pat, so we didn’t discuss her relationship with her parents, and I actually know very little about it.  I know a few facts, for example; her parents wouldn’t speak to her for months after she became pregnant and “had to” marry Ed, whom they despised.  But even as she told me this story, she never indicated how it made it her feel – in retelling she was cold and detached, as though it had happened to someone else.

Looking at it through my now fifty four year old eyes – with the heart and mind of a man who has gently raised three children, not speaking to your daughter because she got pregnant is a cruel, brutal and cold thing to do.  At a time when she needed them more than she ever had before, they turned away.

She HAS to feel something about this – retrospectively, as well as in the moment, but she didn’t express feeling of any kind to me – not anger, betrayal, pain or outrage … nothing. No. Emotion. At. All.

Was she an abused child?  I know Ed was, but was Pat?  My mother’s parents were always good to me, but that doesn’t mean they were always good to their children.  Case in point, I’m told my mother is a good grandmother to my niece – and my aunt tells me her mother was a good grandmother to her children, but Pat was a terrible mother, and my aunt says her mother wasn’t always the best most nurturing mother either.

My mother’s grasp on reality has always been tenuous, my aunt’s has always been razor sharp …

From what I recall, Pat was the dutiful daughter, and she thought highly – at least she behaved as though she thought highly, of her mother.  My supposition is that the relationship – my mother for her mother, may have been based in a form of Stockholm Syndrome …  very much like my sister and Pat.

Something had to be amiss in Pat’s life for her to be able to do to her own children all the cruel and terrible things she did.

  • Abuse is [almost always] generational
  • Abusers aren’t born, they are made

Why Pat is as she is doesn’t matter to me now – it can’t, because I’m in touch with my own why and you can’t ever go back to what made you sick.

But maybe her answers don’t lie only in what she did to me, but in what someone else did to her …

she won’t look, and she’ll never question; she just isn’t built to think critically or in complex ways, so her answers will always elude her;

It’s so much easier to blame than it is to understand.

No Facebook, Pat Shaw and I can never be Friends.



My father did not know that my mother punished her children by abandoning us – sending us to our room and then leaving the house when we’d done something she did not approve of.  This happened while he was at work …

So, when the decision was made to put my oldest sister, Janet, in an institution, and my father thought my youngest sister, Elizabeth, and I should accompany them on the day she was left there, he had no way of knowing that decision would be the worst of his life – that he was, in fact, causing his children irreparable harm and scarring them for life.

So intense was my fear of abandonment by that point – and I could not have been more than five years old, all I could think of was that whatever Janet had done, Ed should just beat her so we could take her back home with us.  I will never, ever forget that day …

My mother used a fear of abandonment, a fear she created and cultivated, to control her children – and by the day we left Janet, Elizabeth and I were already deeply damaged and scarred …

Yes, even without knowing what my mother had done to us, Ed should have known better than to take his young children to a place where he was going to leave their sister for good and all.  It was an ill-considered, stupid decision with dire consequences, but he did not intend to hurt us – I know that now, still … noting has ever scared me more in my life.

Many years later, when I left Pat’s house forever, Elizabeth was in Europe studying – a year abroad.  She came home to a very different home and family than the one she had left.  It would be twenty-seven years until she saw me again – other than a couple of very brief encounters.

At the time I left Pat’s house, I was too busy with my new life to consider what my departure from my sister’s may have caused; her abandonment issues could not have been any less profound than mine were, in fact I think they were far worse.  I know now she was devastated.

She’d lost most of her family by that point – whatever had happened between she and Ed had occurred years earlier, and now I was gone.  I didn’t understand it while we were growing up, but I know now she’d always looked to me for comfort and protection … in a sense, I abandoned her too.

Elizabeth was left with Pat.  God alone knows what lies Pat told her to explain my absence.

I never understood why Elizabeth chose to keep our mother in her life; their relationship has been strained at best, and estranged during the worst times, all of Elizabeth’s life …

I think it goes back to her fear of being abandoned, and a self-destructive need to cling the tightest to the person who loves her least and hurts her most.  And Stockholm Syndrome is very typical of survivors of profound child abuse, as my sister is.

Elizabeth, who’d lost everyone else, and couldn’t fathom life on her own, had no choice, conscious or otherwise, but to keep Pat.

It’s all so sad.

When I had a conversation with my Aunt Bev about Pat’s reprehensible behavior and all it has caused this past weekend, I asked her, “How does Pat sleep at night?”

Her witty reply, “Don’t know.  Not my circus, not my monkey,” made me laugh out loud.

And sometimes, laughter is not only the best medicine …

it’s all you can do..

Maternal Estrangement

She is incapable of feeling love …

Anyone who is able to do to her child the things Pat did to me, as well as condone what Ed did to me, is incapable of feeling or giving love.

The love of a mother for her child is the purest emotion there is – I’ve see the awe in her eyes when my wife looks at our children.  I’ve seen her protect and nurture and cry for their pain.  I’ve seen her fear and panic when she thought their physical safety had been compromised. And I’ve seen her unable to contain her joy and pride in knowing who our children have become.  This is a mother’s love, and the confidence and self-esteem it gives to her child is immeasurable.

I didn’t know anything like this growing up.  Pat was physically abusive – a believer in terrible and humiliating beatings, but even worse; she was emotionally abusive.

In therapy you always get around to blaming your mother – I even pointed out how cliche this felt to the therapist who finally initiated my breakthrough, his response; “it isn’t cliche in your case, in your case it is true.”

You can’t abandon your child in a grocery store parking lot, or leave him home all alone and make him believe you’re never coming back without dire consequences.

You can’t leave him in a crib to scream for hours on end as an infant and expect the mother child pair bond to form.

You can’t allow his father to beat him without mercy and then have him believe you were his protector.

And you can’t control and twist his emotions for your own cruel gain and not have him fear the loss of your approval and love to such a degree he doesn’t become ill later in life.

If my therapist and I had to guess, Pat has Borderline Personality Disorder (this is ONLY a guess) …

She sensationalizes in the extreme – hyper emotional

She creates drama and tries to suck everyone around her in

One minute she loves (what passes for love in her mind) you and the next minute she hates you

She has no control of her emotions- they are intense and change frequently

She misinterprets interaction, falsely assuming insult 

She is given to dark depression

She was (is?) promiscuous

I left her house because she asked me to after issuing an ultimatum:

Pat had a penchant for married men, she’s had numerous affairs – been The Other Woman many times.   One night, my girlfriend (now my wife, Rhonda) was at our house at 2:00am when a very good friend, a very good married friend, of her parents walked through the front door without knocking and went down the hall to my mother’s bedroom. Rhonda isn’t dumb, no explanation for what was going on was needed.

She struggled with this emotionally … but she (Rhonda) decided not to tell anyone what she knew.  Pat even thanked her, through feigned and dramatic tears no less, for remaining quiet- telling her what a good girl she was … This scene made Rhonda sick.

Several weeks later, Pat was sure – had become obsessed with the idea, that Rhonda had told her boyfriend’s wife he was having an affair.  Pat was a mess; ranting and raving at me about the situation caused by my girlfriend. She cried, screamed and would not listen to reason.  I’d never seen her so upset, so dramatic, so ridiculous.

Rhonda, whom Pat had adored days earlier, was now public enemy Number One over something that hadn’t even happened.

Pat told me that if my girlfriend didn’t apologize to her, she would never be welcome in our house again … and then my mother, knowing how she was able to unhinge me emotionally as a child by disappearing and leaving me alone, left me alone for days … I had no idea where she was.

Now, I was twenty-one years old and could take care of myself, but PTSD and severe abandonment issues being what the are, I nearly lost my mind – which is exactly what Pat wanted to happen.

Rhonda calmed me down, but she rightfully refused to apologize to my morally devoid mother for something she didn’t do.

When Pat came home, she refused to speak to me civilly – she was cruel and cold, catty and biting, and finally she told me to choose – “Rhonda or me.”

I chose Rhonda, and Pat told me to leave her house.

I can only imagine what a shock my choice had to have been for Pat, abandoning me and then freezing me out, withholding even polite interaction, had always worked in the past.  Not being able to manipulate me was definitely new for her …

I knew when I left I’d never go back – it was a vague  feeling, but it was absolute.  Within weeks, I felt better than I ever had before – being away from my mother was like having the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders.  I could breathe, for the first time ever, I could breathe.

I didn’t have to walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting Pat.  I didn’t have to worry about her passive aggressive behavior, or her calling me a prude for my silent disapproval of her having sex with married men, most of whom were wealthy, prominent citizens in our community- their money and position being what she prized above all.

And I didn’t have to spend all my energy trying in vain to get her to love me.  I finally accepted that she never had, and never would love anyone other than herself.

I don’t even think she knows what the word love means.

The one thing I’m sorry for is not staying in touch with my mother’s sister.  I have missed her …

But when I left home, it was all or nothing — I couldn’t risk being pulled back into Pat’s nightmare.

Thoughts on Pat’s Brand of Abuse

Pat was emotionally unavailable to her children.  She did not nurture. She did not comfort.  She did not soothe. She did not protect.  She did not concern herself with our feelings, our happiness, our emotional well being, or our futures. I don’t know if I have ever known a woman less suited to motherhood in my life.

She was punitive – pants down beatings with a wooden spoon were common; sometimes multiple times a day.  If she felt we had insulted her, she threw a glass of water in our face.  She had no qualms about slapping us or pinching us.

She screamed at us.   She would take us to our room, and then she would leave the house.  I remember being terrified when she did this – fearful that she would never come back.  We were really young, far too young to have been left alone — and the trauma of being abandoned was overwhelming.  I recall thinking I was so bad I made my mother leave me.

Other times I hid from her, or tried to, under my bed so she couldn’t hurt me.

She was emotionally extreme; if she liked you, and you were in her good graces, you were a saint in her book.  If she didn’t like you, or if you had done something – even something minor – that caused her to be upset, you were lower than pond scum.  I did everything I could not to upset her … ever.

She let Ed beat us, actually – she condoned it.  Our kitchen, dining room and living room were connected – she once did dishes not twenty-five feet from where my father beat me with a tree branch so violently I lost control of my bowels.  My screaming did not bother her in the least; she was unmoved.  I could hardly walk for days, and had bruises for two weeks following this incident.

I don’t know exactly what conclusions to draw about a woman who is incapable of feeling the pain of her own child.

She was cruel, cold and distant.

She was also:

Passive aggressive



Which made relating to her impossible.

When I was an adult, I simply did not like being around her.

As a child, I feared her wrath – but I also feared her abandoning me to a degree I am not sure there are words to describe.  There is no doubt I suffered from Stockholm Syndrome in connection to Pat.

Still, letting go of an idealized notion of her was challenging for me.  She had made me believe that she deserved to be happy – no matter who got hurt in the process. She played a very convincing victim, and I saw her life as she wanted me to see it: tragic.  She was unbelievably dramatic. And she controlled my feelings and emotions because I was so afraid of what she would do if I questioned or contradicted her …

I believed her when she told me I was bad.

I believed her when she told me my father had to beat the hell out of me – this was the only thing that could make me behave, the only thing I understood.  In therapy recalling this particular conversation was chilling.  She had meant to instill fear and cause emotional trauma.  She thought this was right.  She thought child abuse was OK.  She wanted him to hurt me …

And that was when I finally saw her for who she really is; a more vile, repugnant creature I could not imagine.

Today, I paint her in a very dark light … darker even than I do Ed.  Ed hit harder physically, and he was sexually depraved, but he wasn’t in her league when it came to emotional abuse.

The day I left her house, I knew I could never go back …

And as it turns out, that was a very wise decision on my part; you don’t go back to what made you sick.