How Trying To Please My Mom When I Was Little Completely Destroyed Me As An Adult

Even though I'm an adult with a husband and a kid and a job, I still feel like the scared little child I was growing up with an abusive mother.

Last updated on Jul 22, 2023

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There's a story about my childhood that my (now estranged) mother would share with whoever would listen to her.

"Whenever Liza did something I didn't like, all I had to do was give her 'the look' and she'd stop."

She used "the look" even as an adult up until I broke ties with her.

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It was a look of pure anger and though most of my childhood is a blur, I can still picture how it felt to be on the receiving end of that as a scared little girl.

I wasn't a bad child, but I was sheltered.

I wasn't allowed to go on school trips.

I wasn't allowed to go out even with other family members.

I wasn't allowed to have friends.

I didn't know how to be me; I only knew how to be the child my mother wanted me to be, a child that knew how to avoid "the look."

I'm almost 35 years old, and I only just realized that I still don't know how to be me.

If you are in my life, no matter who you are (this means you, too, whoever is reading this knows me), you are better than me.


In my mind that's been warped from years of emotional abuse by my mother, I don't know what it's like to feel proud or confident.

I feel like my social interactions suffer because of this.

Just this morning, I had the impression that I offended someone. And just that tiny little spark of thought triggered a heaviness in my heart that I'm still carrying hours later, but it also triggered anxiety and depression.

Why can't I just keep my mouth shut?

Why am I so awkward?

Will I be fired?

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I can guarantee that the other person didn't take two seconds to think past our brief conversation, but for me, it completely ruined my day.


I'm sick of feeling like an imposter in my own body.

I can't accept compliments, accolades, or even acknowledge accomplishments without thinking they were only earned because people feel sorry for me.

I can hear the naysayers now:

"You need to get over yourself and seek therapy!"

"You are such a drama queen!"

"I wouldn't want to be your friend."

I wouldn't either.

But I don't blame other people for how I feel. I'm aware enough to know that I'm responsible for my own feelings, so there's that.

And if you saw my social media, you wouldn't know. Because isn't that what Facebook is about? Pretending to have the life you think everyone thinks you should have?


So no one knows how I really feel. I don't put that weight on anyone's shoulders but my own.

I always believed that these feelings would just disappear one day. I'd wake up, the sun would be shining, and I'd feel like an adult.

That hasn't happened yet.

I look at others my age, those a little younger, those a little older, and I can't help but think — where did I go wrong?

How did I allow myself to get to this point where I still feel like a little child, waiting to be scolded for leaving a sharp pencil on the kitchen table?

As big of a girl as I am, I feel small inside; like I'm not worthy of all I have.

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My husband loves me.

My son loves me.

I have a job that I've dreamt of since I was that scared little girl ... and yet, all these things only make me feel worse. 


It's obvious my emotional growth was stunted and never grew past that point and growing up since my father worked two jobs to support his family, my mother was the one I looked to for guidance on how to be an adult.

Except she never acted like one, either.

She craved (and still does) attention, acceptance, and love from whoever will give it to her, even if it was the mailman who only has her route once a week.

And despite how hard I try, I feel like I'm doing the same thing.

I try to be the person I think someone else wants me to be so that they will like me.

And if I do something, like my offense this morning, to jeopardize their feelings toward me, I spiral down a road of anxiety and depression — like an ant fighting for space between marathon runners.


I'm doing my best to be me I want to be, not me I think I need to be.

And if that takes another 35 years, I know I'm worth the wait.

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Liza Walter is a freelance writer who has appeared in HuffPost, BRIDES, Bust Magazine, Ravishly, and more.