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KNOWITALL's avatar

Have you ever been abused by a parent, and if so how do you learn to trust others again?

Asked by KNOWITALL (15040 points ) November 30th, 2012

My mom was an alcoholic for years and there was some shoves, etc…a few times. I was in and out of bars seeing and hearing things I shouldn’t from age 12 to age 16, then I moved out when I was 17 to get a fresh start away from my mom.

I still have a hard time getting close to people though, allowing them into my private life (unless it’s somewhere safe like online- lol). Something in me broke when my mom was mean to me, and I just don’t trust people. I’m almost 40 and it gets lonely since I won’t allow people to get very close. I feel like they only want to get close so that once I trust them or love them, they can hurt me.

My niece has also said that her father’s insane temper has made her feel the same way, so I want to help her but I don’t know how since I have the same issue. But she’s only 13 and I don’t want her pushing people away like I do.

Any insights?

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36 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Have you seen a good therapist, someone you feel safe with whose intellect and insights you trust?

I dealt with an issue (a subtle one) of parental abuse in therapy.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I should also mention that I feel a lot more comfortable with men than women, and I hate that as well, but I see women as unstable, moody and dangerous more often than not. The friends I do keep close, or as close as I can allow, are all men.

My work relationships are okay, since I have been at the same place for so long, in a safe environment where I feel in control. I’m also a control freak and a little ocd because of my mom’s lack of control and lack of cleaning abilities due to the drinking. But I manage those two very well.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I tried 2x to see a therapist and since my dad was not in my life, he blamed that and blamed my mom. I know my mom messed up, but I’m more interested in practical solutions, not playing the blame game. My mom quite drinking, has cancer and we are very close now, but she doesn’t remember half the stuff she did when she was drunk. Or half the stuff that happened at the bars when I was younger. My first kiss was the bartender at the local pub who was about 35 years old, I was 12 yrs old, and my mom laughed.

We talked about this the other day and she always apologized and starts to cry due to guilt, but that is not my goal. My goal is to allow people close to me, and frankly, I miss my girlfriends, but I still fear them too much to invite them back in my life.

Seek's avatar

Yes. And I haven’t.

In fact, I generally avoid forming close relationships at all. All of my “friendships” are kept at no closer than arm’s length, and I have become an expert at giving enough information that no one suspects that I’m hiding my real thoughts and feelings.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I’m sorry, it’s such a difficult thing to admit out loud isn’t it? I could only do this online, I’m sure. Are you very lonely? I think you have a slightly tough facade, like I try to, do you think that’s because in reality we are feeling vulnerable?

What’s really sad is that I have old friends who still want to be close to me, and I feel myself hurting them when I make excuses or keep them at that arm’s length that feels safer to me.

newtscamander's avatar

Like I answered in another post, I have also experienced some violent behaviour, mostly originating from my mum. I was the main “output” for her aggression, and my two sisters have rarely experienced the same things, which makes me happy for them but also always made me wonder why so much of her frustration was vented on me. We still have a good relationship though, especially since I moved out, like you, @KNOWITALL , with 17.
I think these experience have made me so desperate for the constant reassurance that I am loved in my relationship. I hate feeling so overly attached and clingy, but luckily I have found someone who seems to need this reassurance just as much, and is also ready to give it.

bookish1's avatar

This one hits close to home. I can’t even share most of my story. Have only really told the full extent of it to a few people, but it would make me very identifiable online.

My problem has been a swing in the other direction. From adolescence, I have been too trusting. Too eager to be in relationships, to find intimacy. Somehow it made me a deeply loyal and passionate lover. Becoming intimate and sharing myself with people is super easy, but it has meant that I have become involved with the wrong people far too many times. That is part of why I am taking a break from dating this year. I’m learning to erect boundaries and take care of myself because I never learned that growing up.

@KNOWITALL , that is admirable that you want to move past the blame game. It definitely serves no purpose at all. What kind of therapy were you trying? Have you ever tried cognitive behavioral therapy? There are so many different kinds of therapy out there, and you really need to feel confident enough to try out different therapists. Just because you tried it once or a couple times, does not mean that “therapy” in general does not work for you. I have been to 4 therapists over the course of my life for different things (but the abuse was always part of it, whether the focus or not). The one I’m seeing right now is wonderful. One of them in the past was horrific and predatory, and another was just so-so. I urge you to put feelers out and try to find other therapists. Ask them targeted questions before you set up an initial appointment. How good are they at practical advice? What is their philosophy/approach? How much experience do they have working with clients like you?

jordym84's avatar

@KNOWITALL I was never abused by my parents (my mother is a loving soul and has a heart of gold) and my father, even though he was the strict one, was never abusive, just stern when we misbehaved and/or needed to be disciplined; in fact, he’s overprotective of my siblings and I. But I do have the same trust issues you listed above, which makes me wonder if there could be something more to it, something more innate, irrespective of childhood abuse, that makes us feel this way… I’m not saying that your mom’s alcoholism and subsequent abuse has nothing to do with how you feel as it is most likely a major factor for you (and for many others in the same situation), it just makes me wonder if these issues could be attributed to something else? I don’t know…

Come to think of it, we do share a common thread: my dad also drank (and still drinks) a lot on weekends throughout my childhood. However, he is a super mellow drunk. He’s like a totally different person from his usual self when he gets drunk, but he’s never been abusive.

In terms of your niece, I would suggest reassuring her that it’s not her fault, that she hasn’t done anything wrong to deserve what her father is putting her through. Other than her seeing a therapist, I think the best thing you and every adult in her life can do is just be there for her and make up for whatever support, emotional and otherwise, she’s lacking from her father.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@bookish1 Well, you kind of hit the nail on the head with ‘one is predatory’....see, I don’t trust anyone. I don’t trust their judgement and then if I give them all this knowledge of my life, and they have my name and address…I just don’t think I can.

@scuniper At least we got away before more damage was done. Even after I moved out I had to bail my mom out of jail and I was working a full time job then going straight to a part time job, and this was at about 1am when I had to work the next day. sigh I still get pretty angry sometimes that my childhood was so screwed up. Then my mom reminds me of all the good times when we are together and I just want to scream, what about all the bad times mom!? But I really don’t want to hurt her, I just want to feel normal.

@jordym84 Don’t feel like you have to answer, but it would be interesting to me to hear if those of us with problems associate with drinking drink now as adults?
I myself am scared to death of being an alcoholic so I rarely drink unless it’s a social event.

Seek's avatar

I find having a place to hide in plain sight – like Fluther – helps me quite a bit. This is one place where I can be exactly who I am, and believe it or not people actually like me. Not like me anyway (like I’m broken but they’re not holding it against me), but like me because of who I am. I don’t need to apologise for me. And that is really, really nice. I hope to someday meet some of my close online buddies in meatspace, and see how that goes down. If it turns out that people who know the real me both inside and outside can like me, I might be able to stop being so afraid of inadequacy and rejection.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr That’s cool, I hope it works. I think I reject people before they can reject me as part of a defense mechanism. My online life is much much safer than reality for me as well.

jordym84's avatar

@KNOWITALL I’m not scared of alcohol anymore per se, but I rarely ever drink, and if I do it’s strictly sweet white wine; I don’t like the taste of anything else. In college, whenever I went out with my friends, they would get s***-faced drunk and I would stick to Sprite (one time I went to a bar with them and when I asked the bartender for a Sprite, he just gave me a look like “are you kidding me?” and then, as if to show me some pity, said in a very condescending tone “don’t worry, it’s on the house.”). I think it can go one way or the other. I know of people whose parents were alcoholics and they themselves became heavy drinkers, and then there are those who grow up loathing alcohol. I wonder what the deciding factor is that makes people go one way or the other?

newtscamander's avatar

@KNOWITALL Well, like with my mother and me, it seems as though your relationship might have been the wrong way around, with you caring for her most of the time, not her for you.
I always tell myself that the majority of my past experiences with beginning to trust someone have had positive results, this makes it easier to risk being hurt.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I didn’t want to be like my mom at all, so I did the opposite of what she did in life. No kids, late marriage, work my ass off, no drinking. My father was not in my life but my half sibs and my mom said he is an alcoholic still at age 68, so I was terrified their genes would make me fall in love with it. It scared me to death that I would be anything like either of them.

@scuniper Yeah, after I was 11–12, it starting being role reversal for sure. It sucked but now when I take care of people, I feel like it’s my ‘job’, not a pleasure or something I do because I love someone unfortunately.

wundayatta's avatar

I have found that I can trust certain people. I now know pretty much exactly who those people are and can almost recognize them by how they smell or by their picture. I also know them by their life story. They have had certain kinds of experiences—often they have been abused, but mostly it is depression that characterizes them.

They’ve been where I’ve been, and that allows me to trust them. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that no one who has been to that place would ever deliberately cause anyone else they had let in to suffer. This is because of my own experience. I feel this great sense of empathy, a painful empathy, for people with this set of experiences. It’s just so horrible—not so much the experiences, which are bad, but what it does to you.

I don’t know if it’s experience or it’s genes. I got it through bipolar disorder, which is genetic, but it could also have been the way my parents treated me. The abuse, if it was there, was very subtle. It was in never letting me know I was ok as I am. Always demanding more. Letting me know I could never be good enough. But shit! Both my parents are like that, too. How do you break a cycle like that?

Doesn’t matter. Blame doesn’t help now. That’s all in the past. All I can do is work on myself and try like hell not to visit the same sins on my kids. Which I would say needs improvement. But I may have very high expectations of my kids; I also try really hard to show them I love them no matter what. It’s a delicate balance. And in the meantime, there never seems to be enough love for me to feel safe. Which makes me feel like something is wrong with me. And that starts the cycle off on another round. Sometimes I just want to shoot that part of me and tell it to go fuck itself.

Shippy's avatar

I wish I’d seen this question earlier, and thank you for trusting enough to put it here. I respect that and hope in some way it helps you. I can relate so much to what you say. I was raised by two alcoholic parents. And yes abused. I also left home at 17. It definitely scared me for life. In loads of ways I cannot even go into here. But I also learned from my own illness that both my parents had Bipolar. Untreated or diagnosed of course.

I am too trusting. In the end I always get hurt. But that is a sad way to look at things. Somehow this can’t be true for me. Maybe I just choose the wrong people to befriend, or I expected something different from them I am unsure. Perhaps I also chose them because I am only used to dysfunctional people. In a way though. I have changed and I don’t really choose so badly anymore. As I have made (very few I will admit) precious friends. Which I could only do, if I had opened up. Unlike you, I trusted men less than women.

I was a woman’s girl. Never a mans woman. But lately that has changed also. I find men to be far more superior as friends than females. I know I sound awful in saying that, and I don’t mean to at all. I have just found from literal experience that they are. Plus during these tough years, it is men who have stood by me. I have found women to be insecure, self centered, bitchy, rude, self absorbed and I can do without them. Gosh, I didn’t realize how strongly I felt on that subject! But again, that has been my experience over the last few years.

But to go back to you, I find it interesting that you wrote that you find women to be moody etc., I am not sure if that is a projection or expectation coming from your mom?

But your question is about trust. You can trust, but importantly do you trust yourself? Meaning it’s OK to make mistakes in those you do trust, but it is so lonely and almost like a living death to never allow friends into your life. You are a very precious person this I see in all you post. I am rooting for you that not only do you find wonderful friends you can trust, but friends you might even love. Share intimacy with and become more you. (Not in a sexual way of course). Because that is what makes life richer and fuller.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Ah, thanks, you’re so sweet. I do trust myself, but I don’t make many mistakes. I try to be as perfect as possible in every aspect of my life to appearance, work, home, marriage (not so easy), religion (except I refuse to attend church), etc… I expect the appearance of perfection.

I think it’s because I lived in low-income ugly housing with my mom for so long, then when she got us out of there when I was 14 or so, I felt so happy, but the drinking parties intensified and then she lost the house eventually after I moved out.

Women are just untrustworthy to me. My mom is bi-polar and wasn’t diagnosed for a long time, long after the damage was done to me. I don’t know, just the drama and backstabbing from women makes me avoid them. I have one friend who I really love but I don’t trust and can’t be close to because she has an alcoholic abusive husband, who won’t let her out of his sight. She is gentle, smart, loving and I consider her my soul sister, but we just can’t be together much due to the situation. Men seem more stable, less moody, plus I’ve probably got a ‘daddy’ complex since mine wasn’t around, so I crave male attention and approval.

@wundayatta Sometimes I think I just didn’t trust myself enough to have children. I still have some anger, and I was so scared I’d be an alcoholic or get bi-polar like my mom. I just didn’t want to damage anyone, and of course I still try to be careful with others, even when they may deserve it.

ninjacolin's avatar

Sounds like you have a phobia of trust.
Have you tried the classic phobia treatments with a therapist?
I’m thinking of things like water or snake phobias where talk doesn’t really do much compared to simply indulging and learning to physically acquaint yourself with your fears.

I imagine it would involve making some hard decisions to actually go out there and actively take it on yourself to trust some individuals with a lot more than you ever have in the past.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Definately, I just say trust issues. The only people I trusted implicitly were my my gma and gpa, and when I was younger I did until I kept getting burned.

No I haven’t, does that mean I have to let you put a snake on me or something and trust you not to get me killed? Aw, hell no….we can start with something small like someone else driving me around for a week or something….lol

And water is my birth sign and one of my biggest fears…I’ve always thought I’d drown after seeing a movie about it. Keep thinking though, I’ll take suggestions!! :)

Shippy's avatar

Maybe @ninjacolin means speed friending like speed dating loll

KNOWITALL's avatar

I kind of do that at social events, I dress really well so I’m confident then go around the room talking and being outgoing. I’ve been working on it, I promise, it’s when it’s time to invite people to our home or a lady out with me on lunch, those kind of situations where I feel like I lock up sometimes…like I’m scared almost of them seeing the real, vulnerable me.

Unbroken's avatar

Wow, good question. I skimmed through some of the answers truthfully I just want to answer it right now.

I do much the same thing. I push people away or at the very least spread out myself. You probably know what I mean. I have been to a couple counselors trying to deal with these issues, but even though I trust them to an extent mostly feel guilty exploring these issues, let’s move on already etc. Even though I know that the childhood the past is what forms what will lie ahead to an extent.

I think through much reflection I have come to the opinion that if had one person I trusted, looked up to or could share anything with, as we were not allowed to talk about anything that happened inside the home, early on I realized people really weren’t interested any way. I kept on waiting for people to prove themselves to me, but of course that attitude did more to put people off.

I never had a role model. Or anyone who knew any of my thoughts or even how much I was aware of and how much I saw and how I needed to be validated that things weren’t right. If you can give that to her. Be realistic. Tell her you are flawed yourself, don’t put any pressure on yourself to have all the answers. I know you are probably busy, but if you can encourage her to reach out to find things she enjoys. To not live merely for the day when she can get away. To come out her shell a bit. You can maybe help each other.

I understand the not wanting to have children as well. Generational patterns, or the over correction, are such a huge thing. You want every one to have something better then you especially your own potential offspring. That has stopped me as well. Well it hasn’t been the only thing.

The number one thing is that the more I reach out the more people respond well to me. Focusing on reasonable expectations and not expect one person to be my sole point of support though there are always people I prefer or trust, sometimes they just don’t have the time or the energy.

Also I forgave my parents, though when I saw that my dad refused to even acknowledge any problems I cut him completely out. That was immensely freeing. Also I joined a women’s group. We shared stories. Even though my dad was the primary abuser. I blamed my mother as much or more, for failing to protect, for staying for not having energy or time for us or for the crap rolling down hill effect. After hearing mother’s stories, I began to have a better understanding and appreciation for women.

Much luck and love.

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fremen_warrior's avatar

I recently read about “family roles” and dysfunctional families in general and I seem to fall into two categories: the scapegoat and the lost child. How do I deal with parents who quarrelled all their life, destroying my self-esteem in the process, all the while suggesting I was the messed up one? Well I read, learn, and distance myself from the negativity.

Two words: setting boundaries. Also, doing my best to – consciously, and truthfuly – explore who I am, and who I want to be. A bumpy road, but the only road I’ve ever been down. Good luck following yours.

Blondesjon's avatar

My father drank a lot and liked to tune up on both me and my mother. He even went so far as to make my mother choose between him or me and I suddenly found myself on my own when I was fifteen. I never blamed my mom. She had two other younger children to think about. This never caused me to not trust others. It simply caused me to not trust my father, especially when he was drinking.

I issue my trust on an individual basis.

ninjacolin's avatar

@KNOWITALL said: “I kind of do that at social events, I dress really well so I’m confident then go around the room talking and being outgoing.”

Awesome, either this isn’t the part that you have trouble with or else you’ve already graduated beyond this. Congrats, keep this up.

As for this part:

@KNOWITALL said: “it’s when it’s time to invite people to our home or a lady out with me on lunch, those kind of situations where I feel like I lock up sometimes…like I’m scared almost of them seeing the real, vulnerable me.”

This is where you would seem to need some “deliberate practice.” You’re good at meeting people, but it’s not really possible to “let someone in” on a first meeting. Even the most trusting souls would have difficulty doing that. Letting someone in is a function of time. It takes relationship building skills, sure, but also it takes time so that it happens naturally over many shared experiences. (Which makes me realize, you may even have some inaccurate expectations of what’s involved in being a “normal” trusting person. You don’t have to be blabber mouth, for example!)

Some years ago, when I was noticing that I needed to be more open, I went ahead and posted a bit of my life story publicaly for all my friends to see on FB. I did it through one of those “25 questions about yourself” chain letters that were going around. I kept it lite and fun, of course. Nothing gloomy. But I was decidedly honest and open and I didn’t shy away from any of the questions even the stupid ones, even the personal ones.

@Shippy said: “Maybe @ninjacolin means speed friending like speed dating loll”

I mean indulging in the thing you fear. If you’re scared to have a lady out for lunch, invite a lady out for lunch. If you’re afraid to invite people to your home, invite people to your home.. but talk to a therapist about it though. Or do some reading up on dealing with anxiety. But specifically, what I’m suggesting is that you look into deliberate practice: A matter of developing your skill at being more trusting.

wildpotato's avatar

Yes, I was. It is really hard to let go of the innate suspicion of others. I have to constantly remind myself to not be defensive, that I might be taking things the wrong way, that other people could, and do, approach interacting with me from a baseline of respect and not scorn, and that it’s possible that my opinion matters to others. And yet it remains newly surprising to me each time one of these “people are good” qualities gets proven, even by close friends. I do, nevertheless, manage to have a few close friends. I think this is for two reasons: they happen to be people who are understanding and tolerant of defensiveness, and I have benefited from reading psychoanalytic literature and from going to psychotherapy. Knowitall, I hear where you’re coming from regarding mistrust of therapists – I did, for most of my life – but I would echo @bookish1‘s remark and encourage you to try again with a different therapist. If you are feeling seriously freaked out that a therapist might use their knowledge of you against you somehow, like by tracking you down at your home, I would say that either you must’ve accidentally hit upon a stupendously bad therapist, or that your therapist handled your transference reactions (your thoughts and feelings about the relationship between you and the therapist) extremely poorly. Also, a therapist who just plays the blame game isn’t worth your time – such an explanation is a shallow interpretation, at best. But at any rate, therapy with a good therapist is very helpful in learning to trust people again. Good luck to you.

jordym84's avatar

@wildpotato “It is really hard to let go of the innate suspicion of others. I have to constantly remind myself to not be defensive, that I might be taking things the wrong way, that other people could, and do, approach interacting with me from a baseline of respect and not scorn, and that it’s possible that my opinion matters to others. And yet it remains newly surprising to me each time one of these “people are good” qualities gets proven, even by close friends. I do, nevertheless, manage to have a few close friends.” this really resonated with me! Even though I wasn’t a victim of abuse as I stated above, I do have a lot of trouble trusting people. I find myself constantly doubting people and their intentions and I’m always testing them in my mind – I don’t know how to explain this in a way that would make sense, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m always looking for “signs of trouble” as to why I shouldn’t trust certain people. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some truly amazing people be a part of my life (save for a few very rotten apples that are no longer a part of it but who, unfortunately, managed to exacerbate my mistrust of others) and yet I’m always worried that they’re going to eventually abandon me. I’m terrified of getting into a romantic relationship, of allowing myself to open up to someone else and giving them the power to potentially break my heart. The one good thing I’ve gotten out of my fear of trusting others is that I’m one of the most reliable people I know. If I give someone my word, it is as good, if not better, than a legally binding contract. Maybe I’m overcompensating for something that’s missing in my life? Like stability and consistency, perhaps? I suppose that’s because I’m trying to be for others the kind of person I would want them to be for me…does that make some kind of sense? lol

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SadieMartinPaul's avatar

This is painful to discuss, isn’t it?

My mother was extremely abusive. She wasn’t mentally ill. She was just entirely self-absorbed and couldn’t bear it when I was the focus of people’s attention, or when I had an independent thought and didn’t serve as her “yes-person,” or when I dared to be happy (my own happiness was a calculated threat to her, of course). She’d lash out at me by being extraordinarily cruel.

Everything finally exploded, and I turned my back on her. She was dead to me for about 18 years—no visits, no phone calls, no letters…nothing. I just couldn’t keep all that poison in my life.

But, something remarkable happened over time. It became very painful to think of her growing old and helpless, all alone and with no help or support from anyone. Every time I saw a frail old lady, I’d feel a pang of remorse. I started to regret the estrangement every day. I reached out to her and reconnected.

I’m not a spiritual or religious person, but I learned—much to my amazement—that forgiveness can be easy. All I needed to do was let go of all my old pain, anger, and resentment, and I instantly started to heal.

After I’d forgiven Mom, I’d thought that forgetting would be the difficult part. It wasn’t! Once I stopped dwelling on bad memories, they slipped away; they just weren’t important anymore.

Now, Mom’s an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. She’s in the mid-stages of the disease, which means that she’s lost most of her cognitive abilities and both short-term and long-term memory. Her illness transformed her into a sweet, kind person, and she loves me unconditionally. She’s a joy to be with, and I finally have the mother I’d always wanted. I’m SO glad that I was able to forgive and forget.

Six months ago, I moved her to a terrific facility in my own town. I see her every day and take care of her every need and want.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@bookish1 Your story hits a sensitive chord with me. Like you, I was made too trusting by my abusive upbringing. I’d been conditioned by mean-spirited treatment, and I knew how to get my back up and fight at the first sign of nastiness. But, I was such a sucker for kindness! If someone were nice to me, I’d be like putty in that person’s hands.

Fortunately, most people aren’t sociopaths—if they behave kindly, it usually means that they’re good at heart—so I didn’t suffer much harm for having been so accepting.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Thanks all, I appreciate the answers and the personal stories, it is hard for me to talk about and hardly anyone in my life knows. My husband tells me to get over a bad childhood, due to my father and my mother, but it’s hard….in the end, I need to do just that and not let my fears hold me back from my authentic life. peace

tranquilsea's avatar

Therapy helped me understand (more than intellectually) that many people really are trustworthy. Thankfully, this therapy happened in conjunction with having very trustworthy people in my life. Through time they have shown me the good side of people instead of the bad.

BUT to get to that point you need to open yourself up and be ok with the idea of being hurt. This the point that is extremely hard to deal with.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Yeah, I’m not sure I can do that at this point, but I’m going to try to take some risks. Thanks!

bookish1's avatar

As I said earlier, I never had a problem trusting other people.
But I think I’ve always had a problem trusting myself, and it’s only gotten more pronounced as I’ve gotten older. My defense mechanisms growing up in that household were always to minimize myself and tell myself that nothing I felt mattered. It’s still a very tempting narrative.
ffffuuuuuuuu….........

wundayatta's avatar

I tend to feel comfortable around people who have been hurt. They often share my sense of loneliness in an existential way. The problem is that while they may be willing to open up to me at first, they seem to often draw back as quickly as they opened up, leaving me hurt and wondering what happened.

It would be nice to know how to avoid this problem in the future.

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