My Own Abusive Mother Hated Me And Broke Me Down For My Entire Life

Photo: smolaw / Shutterstock
My Own Abusive Mother Hated Me And Broke Me Down For My Entire Life
Heartbreak

Can words really hurt? Can a carefully crafted insult really hurt a person ... or is there something much more profound going on? Verbal abuse intends to maim, damage, and ruin a person through the use of words, but rarely does the abuser take into consideration what this kind of behavior reveals about their own state of being.

Because, in truth, the words are just words — it's the intention behind those words that is the real insult. Just the idea that someone desires to cause such pain, well, it says so much.

The revelation is this: Verbal abusers hate themselves to the very core of their being and their poison overflows; they can't keep it in. They use words instead of fists because, while they do not possess the physical strength to hurt, they are equipped with the mental prowess required to destroy a person verbally. The real message behind the words is this: I'd kill you with my bare hands if only I could.

And sometimes that kind of hateful intention comes from one's own mother, as it has with mine, for an entire life.

It was 1962, and I was four years old. I was doing the thing I loved most, sitting on my mom's bed, watching TV with her. I loved her so much, I used to just sit there staring at her, thinking she was the most beautiful lady in the world. I never really noticed her moods or her screaming tantrums, I just thought that's what moms do — they scream, throw glass vases, pop pills, call their daughters 'pieces of sh*t' and hate their husbands. It was just another day in my regular little kid's life.

I must have missed the storm that had brewed into a full-blown tsunami inside her, but somehow I had pissed her off. It could have been the way I stared at her lovingly, or it might have been the fact that I didn't want a hamburger for dinner — whatever it was, she started throwing things around and screaming, all out of nowhere. She worried me, and when she jumped off the bed, running, I chased after her, wondering where she was going.

Then I heard the front door slam. Oh my God, she left the house! I ran to the door, afraid to open it, and pressed myself against it, knowing that I was not allowed to open it, but, but, she was on the other side, right? Had she left me? Had she just abandoned me? Why? What did I do to make her leave me? I started to wail, my heart broken — my mommy walked out the door and slammed it on me, because ... she hates me. What did I do to make her hate me so much? I fell to the ground, sobbing hysterically.

The closet door behind me suddenly opened and out walked my mother, who had been hiding there, waiting for me to go through all of the predicted motions: my panic, the chase, my thinking I'd lost my beautiful mommy, my fear of opening the door, and my final emotional breakdown as I realized I'd been deserted. 

She saw me sitting there, completely unable to process this abandonment-prank, and she let loose a howl of laughter so mean and righteous that even I, in my four-year-old mind, knew there was something very wrong with her. Even at that young age, I knew that what she had just done wasn't just mean; it was wrong.

One year later, she gave birth to my brother, and she was able to share the abuse with him as well, though there would always be plenty for me ... enough to last a lifetime.

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With my brother, she tended to be more physical. Overturning plates of spaghetti on his little head, while my father and I watched in horror, or simply dragging him around the house by the feet as his head crashed and cracked into whatever furniture got in the way. 

Sometimes my father would join in and tell him that he was going to be taken to the police station and left there if he wasn't a good boy. He was five.

We would go to restaurants — fancy Japanese ones, and my mother's mood would turn on a dime, which invariably led to her tossing over the dining table, screeching, and running out of the restaurant, leaving the three of us there, horrified and embarrassed beyond words.

At home, she would throw glass bottles on the floor — just because — and demand that I clean the shards up or deal with the fact that our cats were going to walk through them and bloody their paws. I cleaned the glass, on my knees. I cleaned those floors to a spit shine because I loved my cats and wanted to protect them. By then I was about nine.

As we grew, my mother started cheating on my dad, bringing her lovers to the house, making us promise to never tell our father about her actions. We didn't; we were faithful to her. I wanted her to love me, and if I had to lie to my father's face to make her do so, then that was that. It felt like I was carrying an enormous weight, having to keep this secret — it didn't feel right. My father didn't deserve to be lied to, especially because he was doing everything in his power to keep our family alive and thriving.

By the time I became a teenager, the entire dynamic of my mother's abuse changed; now she was jealous of me because I was pretty and had developed into an attractive, shapely female, which meant I was a direct threat to her. Perhaps her boyfriends noticed me. 

RELATED: 20 Clear Signs You're The Child Of Toxic Parents

That's when the insults became completely body-oriented. There were no boundaries anymore, my body existed to be made fun of, demeaned, and ridiculed. It didn't matter if I was talented, or kind, or beautiful, or smart; "I" no longer existed. What existed was my foulness, my disgusting body, my fat, my acne, my foolishness, my hopelessness. I was there to be made fun of, and eventually, she turned the fun into pity — and once she crossed that line, she never returned. 

Soon, she divorced my dad, and my brother fled to Los Angeles, at 14 years old, just to get away from her ... which left me as the recipient of all further abuses.

From then on, I was "poor Dori, so sick, so fat, so stupid." "Poor, pitiful Dori," she'd say, smiling her patronizing, giddy smile. It was as if she took the concept of pity and made it into her ultimate humiliation because she saw how much it bothered me.

She projected her own profound mental illness onto me, and everyone else — it might have been obvious, but it was impossible to argue against. She won every battle, every time because she wore her opponents out. No one has ever been more on fire than my mother. And when she hates you, she hates you with a heat so intense that you feel incinerated and charred to a crisp.

She would groom me for the kill, again and again. By this, I mean that she would set me up by flattering me for a few months, which would let me think she was approving of me; that built my confidence up and let me believe in myself again. When she saw I was feeling good and moving through the world like a brave warrior, alive in my own self-esteem, that's when she would come in for the kill. When she was sure I was feeling secure, she would then begin a new tirade of horrific insults and confidence-ruiners. 

"You're a genius." "You're a mental case who should be locked up." "You're the most beautiful girl in the world." "You are hideous looking — what the hell is wrong with your body?" "You are the most talented artist." "Your art is terrible-looking; you can't possibly think this is any good." "Who wouldn't fall in love with Dori?" "They all think you're a fool."

The body humiliation lasted a lifetime. She would shout across a crowded room, "Look at that fat ass, hey kid, every hear of salad?" I was in my 30s by then. She made sure she mimicked vomiting every time I fell in love, and always brought up my worst attributes to my new boyfriends. Then, to show what a cool mom she was, she'd say, "I'm just joking. This one can never take a joke."

Every female friend of mine that she met was called a c*nt, to their face. Every accolade I ever got was met with her resistance and disbelief. Every adventure I went on, every show I performed in, every artistic endeavor I participated in was considered, "common" "amateur" and "mediocre" in her opinion. If I was happy, there were always ways to take that happiness down, and that was what her life was all about.

RELATED: 12 Signs You Have An Emotionally Abusive Mother

I fell in love and got married. My mother threw a fit and didn't show up at my wedding (which was a NYC blast, SO much fun, so ritzy, so full of amazing friends, food, drinks ... and every person there was grateful that she wasn't.)

I got pregnant, and my mother wished suffering on me, prayed I got cancer, and told me so. By this point, I didn't cry for my mother's abuse. I just listened, went numb, and moved on.

I'd learned early in life not to fight back, as it was always impossible to win with her.

When my daughter was three, I DID get cancer, and had to endure the most horrific treatment. I almost died, but my mother didn't like my attitude, so she tried to conspire with my husband to have me committed. Her intention was to take my daughter away from me. Needless to say, nobody took her seriously. My husband was appalled by her, but then again, so was everyone. Her stunts were predictable, but more so, they were recognizable as something no one actually had to entertain any further.

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I stopped speaking to her.

And then, I started speaking with her again, several years later. She seemed burnt out. Could it be? Could she finally have learned to just shut her trap and let others just live? Had time worn her down? Had she become the little old lady that really didn't want to go to war anymore? Had the war drained out of her; had she learned something? Had she grown tired of isolating herself so much that no friend or family member could stand to be anywhere near her?

When I was very young, I used to laugh and indulge in a fantasy — the fantasy was of my mother, on her deathbed, and what she'd say to me, which was, "Dori, I hate you." It was such an absurd thing because I never really believed anyone would ever be so cruel, not even Cruella herself. 

Oh, how little I'd learned.

A few months ago, my mother took ill and needed hospitalization. Prior to this, my relationship with her had seemed to heal — our conversations were wonderful! I would help her with technology, buy her TV sets, computers, smartphones. I would visit her, fly here and there for her ... it was my pleasure. And when she fell down and hurt herself, I was ready to do whatever was needed.

I was in contact with her doctors and nurses and I wanted to take their advice. I wanted what was best for her, and even though she didn't want what they wanted, I asked her to abide by their suggestions for a little while longer, for the sake of getting better.

Well, that was all it took. One little disagreement. I took the side of the experts and because she didn't, she deemed me the ultimate enemy.

"Ma, I love you. I'm trying to help you."

"Fuck off, Dori. Go to Hell. I never knew why I cared about your love."

That was the last thing my mother ever said to me.

The doctors all said, in horror, "Oh that was the illness speaking," but I knew better. No, that wasn't the illness speaking — that was my mother in full abusive form. The illness couldn't even touch that. She knew exactly what she was saying, and to make sure everyone else knew she was dead serious, she removed me from her contact list, wrote me out of her will, and made sure I had no power of attorney. No hospital could call me, no social worker, no doctor. I was officially on the "do not call" list. All that. So fast.

I never knew why my mother hated me so much, but it's really all I know of her. Was she great? Hell yes. Was she wise and creative? She was the best. I have her to thank for so much of who I am as an artist and an admirer of beauty ... but did she give joy? No. Never. She was an amazing person, but she never gave joy. She was never kind, and she was always, always cruel.

When I try to reach her now, she hangs up the phone on me. She will keep her hate for me burning until the day she dies. The upside? People, like me, who have spent an entire lifetime being abused by a parent often times learn to rise above it and thrive on their own, without the love of their mother. I don't need her death to set me free - I'm already there.

Dori Hartley is primarily a portrait artist. As an essayist and a journalist, she can be read in The Huffington Post, ParentDish, YourTango, The Daily Beast, Psychology Today, More Magazine, XOJane, MyDaily and The Stir. Her art books ‘Beauty’, ‘Antler Velvet’, and 'Mads Mikkelsen: Portraits of the Actor' are all available on Amazon.