My mother is depressed and suicidal after learning about my sexual abuse

“Dear Ignacio, when I was a teenager my step brother sexually abused me for years. My step brother would threaten me that if I ever told anyone, he would hurt my younger sister. So I never told anyone until three decades later, in therapy. I also decided to tell my mom. But since she heard about it, she has been extremely depressed and suicidal. She is blaming herself for sticking her head in the sand when I was being abused. To be honest, I also #blame her. She was an #alcoholic and ignored all the signs, almost willingly. But I don’t want her to die over this. How do I save her?”

I'm sorry to hear you had to deal with the fear of harm to your sister on top of experiencing harm yourself. Holding that fear must have been extremely difficult. I'm happy you finally found an outlet for processing all of this and a journey to healing.

Telling your mother about the abuse you endured was also a huge step. It's hard to break the silence and speak about the manipulation and trauma suffered. It is truly unfortunate that your mother is so depressed and suicidal after hearing your truth. However, this is not your burden to carry.

I understand that despite blaming her, you may also be carrying much love for your mother. But, it is not your responsibility to save your mother. Not only you cannot control her actions, but also you cannot take on “saving” another human being, without patronizing them and posing potentially detrimental consequences for yourself including being traumatized and burnt out.

I encourage you to instead examine your own need to save her. Sometimes, we can project our need for being saved, or the lost opportunity of not having been saved, onto others. Would it be possible that you want to save her because she did not save you when you were a child?

Your mother is an adult and she decides for herself how she is going to manage her feelings. However, as appropriate, you can offer support by suggesting that she reaches out to other family members besides you for help, speak with counselors and therapists, and consult with suicide hotlines for immediate assistance.

Since you blame her for ignoring the signs, it may also be helpful to think about making amends and an accountability process. An accountability process itself can be empowering for both you and your mother. It may relieve some of the guilt and shame she is feeling, and lighten up some of the burden you are carrying.

Accountability can be an important step in healing. Prepare and empower yourself for the work that this kind of healing takes. I highly recommend that you work with your therapist and other support people in your life to figure this out.

You may possibly decide:

1 - To disengage with your mother until she is able to listen and be present for you and not center her own feelings of guilt, or other emotional needs.

2 - To confront your mother (on your own, in therapy, or in an intervention session) about her indecision and shortcomings and demand ways she can be accountable now.

3 - To continue thinking about what exactly you do and do need from your mother at this time, as well as what you have the capacity to offer her without undermining yourself.

Remember that you get to create and navigate how you proceed with your mother with regards to her role in your abuse. You have the power. Your healing is on your terms.

Finally, I suggest that you check out the book “Boundaries: Where You End And I Begin” for a solid guide on setting strong boundaries as you work on your relationship with your mother.

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