Denial is a river that ravaged my soul. Denial punished me by keeping me from owning the truth and experiencing the freedom that truth brings. The truth I needed to own was that I needed my mother, but she chose to abandon and abuse me instead of loving me.
For a long time, I drank deeply from those waters of denial in an attempt to numb the pain and to avoid the consequences of what others had done to me. But that river turned increasingly bitterer the longer I lingered in it. Denial only served me for a season, then the reason for staying dissipated. Yet I remained in that bitter place. Until one day, I had an epiphany of how this denial was keeping me from the very freedom that I craved and ached for. Denial was a brutally punishing taskmaster.
The root of the word punitive is found in the word punish. Thus, punitive damages are damages awarded by a court to punish the defendant. Denial carries with it damages that are punishing because anyone in denial is punishing themselves by not acknowledging the truth and not allowing themselves to receive the freedom that truth brings with it.
In my defense, I had no idea that my denial was punishing me. Initially, denial was a coping skill that protected me from greater harm while my mother was abusing me. But once I got free from her, I needed to let go of denial so I could heal. I didn’t realize that until recently. So, I kept denying the truth because I thought my denial was punishing her, not me. Before I left her, she told me that she could care less and was unaffected by anything I did or said. For many years, I didn’t want to accept what she said, so I continued to deny the truth that she hurt me, that I needed her and that I love her because she’s my mother even though she hurt me.
But a recent attack on my dignity brought to light the punitive damages of my denial. I painfully began to let go of the choke-hold I had on denial. I let myself experience the pain and grief of having a mother who is abusive. That was no easy or simple thing to do. Partly because early in my life, she reversed our roles so that I was her mother and she was my daughter. My earliest memories are of her using me as her therapist by pouring out her emotional pain and devastation on me. The belief that I am the mother and she is the daughter is deeply rooted in my psyche. That wrong thinking needed to be removed, but it needed to be done gently so as not to cause more devastation.
The truth is that I needed my mother, that I am the daughter and that she is the mother. Denying these truths kept me in a prison that I had no business being in. It suffocated my need for attention and affection which prevented me from receiving the very things my soul so desperately needed. It deceived me into believing that I was responsible for her abusive conduct and for not knowing how to protect myself from her. My denial protected her from being held accountable for what she did. It kept me from acknowledging the harm that she did to me which in turn kept me from being able to fully forgive her.
If I couldn’t admit that she had harmed me, then what was there to forgive?
But she did harm me. The effects of her abuse devastated my soul and fractured my mind. I’m going through the process of acknowledging the specific effects of her harm because it helps me to process, release and forgive. It’s time consuming, painful and wrecking me with grief. But it’s necessary for me to get free and find peace.
Now that I’m getting free from denial and its punitive damages, I’m able to own some stronghold-shattering truths such as:
It’s not bad for me to need my mother. This is a God-given need that is intended to bless us both and meet each of our needs for strong bonded relationship.
It’s not bad for me to be her daughter. What my mother does and who she is does not define me. My identity is in Christ, not in my mother.
It’s not bad for her to be my mother. (Same truth as above.)
It’s not bad for me to have learned from my mother, even though what she chose to teach me is bad. Daughters are wired to learn from their mothers. That design is good even when mothers misuse that design to harm their children.
Here’s what I’ve been able to assimilate thus far: I didn’t do anything bad simply by being her daughter. I’m not bad because she’s my mother. I am a daughter whose mother chose to abuse, neglect and reject her. What my mother did to me doesn’t make me bad. Her bad choices don’t stain me, limit me or define me. I am who I am – separate and set apart from her. I am a fully unique human being, valuable as a daughter and treasured by the Lord.
I am a daughter of the King of Heaven. I am wholly and fully loved and accepted by God just as I am today. I am delighted in and rejoiced over by my Father in Heaven every second of every day of my life. He longs to hear my voice and see my face gazing up at Him. He is ever-present in my life, deeply interested in everything I do and everything that happens to me, fully focused on my every word, fascinated by my heart and eternally in love with me. That is who I am and Whose daughter I am.