I can’t forgive my abusive mother, but feel guilty about resenting her

Dear Troubleshooter:

I am a female university student in my 20s. I have terrible memories of what my mother did to me when I was in junior high school, and I still can’t shake them.

At the time, my mother was suffering from a mental illness and to distract herself, she would abuse or ignore me and my siblings. During class, I was constantly worried, wondering even if my mother had killed a family member or if someone in my family had committed suicide.

My father turned a blind eye, which was better than him adding to the abuse.

My mother calmed down a few years later, but our family doesn’t talk about what happened during those years.

I now live alone and will only occasionally speak to my mother, so I feel like it’s going fairly well. However, my heart will suddenly start pounding out of the blue and the germophobia I developed back then still hasn’t gone away.

Currently, my other family members seem to really get along with her. I feel so pathetic because it seems like I am the only one who can’t put the past behind me. I’m worried that the hate I have for my mother is detrimental to the rest of my family.

Is it abnormal to resent my mother just because there were a few years of hardships? Am I being childish for still being afraid of her?

—S, Fukuoka Prefecture

Dear Ms. S:

You have managed to live on your own while enduring such a difficult family situation. First of all, you should be proud of yourself for becoming independent.

When it comes to human memory, there is nothing more complex than past family relationships. Even if the hardships lasted only a few years, it often has long-term effects on a person. Even if they were good to you in the past, some parents can’t be forgiven. So, you are not being childish for being afraid of your mother, and it is completely normal to still resent her.

I don’t think it is necessary to force yourself to forget the past. When you recall what happened to you, you resent your mother, then you feel guilty because you remember she was also kind to you at some point. This pattern will probably repeat again in the future. However, the past is in the past.

When feelings of resentment or guilt cross your mind, just let them be without rejecting them as “bad feelings.”

Maybe try telling yourself that your past will not affect your present. I think, given time, your situation will improve.

—Masahiro Yamada, university professor