Dear Thelma: My mum verbally abuses and body shames me until I resent myself

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Dear Thelma,

People always say that home is where the heart is. But I doubt that. I don’t think that’s true if you are trapped with your abuser who comes in the form of your own family.

Growing up, I remember always being envious of my friends whenever they talk about their good relationships with their parents, particularly their mums. All of my friends say that their mums are their best friends.

But when it comes to me and my relationship with my own mother, I think we are more like strangers than blood-related. We live in the same house, meet every single day but we are distant somehow.

My mum never likes to talk or show compassion to me. She believes that parents should supply only basic necessities for the children but love is out of the equation.

She doesn’t care how I feel; she only cares about her feelings.

Every time I try to tell my mum something casual like what my friends do on their own, I always feel constricted and end up becoming selective about what I can or cannot tell my mum.

My mum never said anything, not even congratulated me when I did my best and got good grades. She would always find fault with me, to the point that I feel she hates me.

But things are different for my younger brother, who is her favourite. My mum would turn a blind eye to everything he does. If he screws up, she scolds me and my sisters instead. He never needs to do any house chores because my mum believes that a boy doesn’t need to help around. It’s always the responsibility of the ladies.

As the years passed by, I thought my mum would at least become more considerate but I am wrong. She has changed into someone I can barely consider as my own mum.

She always verbally abuses me regardless of where we are – it can be in a hypermarket or even at someone’s place. She would bodyshame me, saying I look too fat, and then faceshame me, talking about breakouts and whatever, to the point I resent myself because I think I look ugly and I lose my self-confidence.

My mum badmouths me to other people, saying I never give her any money after I landed my first job after graduation.

Whenever she is mad about something that my brother does, she would lash out at me and chase me out of her house. She would say something like, “You’re already financially independent. Why don’t you just go out and rent your own place?” and then she would go and tell other people how bad I am. So I don't like to go out and meet people because I don’t know which version of me she has told them.

One of my ways of finding freedom while trapped in that house is through music. I especially love the K-pop girl band Blackpink. I collect their merchandise and blast their music in my room as a way of seeking for peace inside.

But my mum loathes me and my new hobby. She makes it a point to criticise it, saying it’s a waste of money. She even tells my relatives about this, so now the whole family knows.

An aunt of mine said to me on WhatsApp, “Honey, why are you wasting your money to buy the merch? Keep the money for something else."

My mum is also against me dating. Recently she said I’m getting older but nobody wants me. I hate it when she brings this matter up. I like being single and I can’t see myself in a relationship. Now she wants to force me to like anyone just because her friend’s son is getting married. I am so stressed.

My relatives say that she is my mum and has the right to do what she does. But I don’t think that one has a right to belittle one's children or play favourites just because they are the parent.


Dear Rosie,

I'm sorry you're having a tough time. But thank you for writing such a clear letter. As you say, your mum doesn't like women, including you and your sisters.

The word for this is misogyny, hatred of women, and it is very common. That kind of unreasoning loathing is very painful at any level, but it is devastating when it happens in families because children want very much to be loved by their parents. When they are rejected, they believe that they must have done something wrong.

A first step to feeling better is to do some thinking. Please know that your mother's prejudice affects you but it's her issue. Her prejudice is not due to something you have done and it's not something you can change.

It may be your mum abuses you because you are female, but there may be other issues at play. As she says parents need only supply basic care, it suggests she has little interest in parenting.

Perhaps she was bullied into having kids by her family? I say this because you describe your relatives as going out of their way to criticise and give unwanted opinions. Also, misogyny is learned, and so your mum may have learned her prejudice from her family.

Perhaps I have misunderstood and they're just chatty and rude but they may equally be toxic, controlling or abusive. It's hard to tell from a short letter.

If your mother didn't really want kids, and she was nagged into it by her family, she may blame you for that too. It's not fair, but people are sometimes very unfair blaming others for their own bad choices.

Also, you don't mention your father. Where is he in all this?

At present you don't like your mother, you write about her with contempt, and she openly dislikes you. Plus, there's a quarrel of money between you as well. One that involves rent and your personal expenses. Whatever the details, this is not a good situation for either of you.

Given the circumstances, I suggest you spend a few sessions with a mental health professional. Pick someone who is trained in dealing with abuse, sexism and dysfunctional families.

Aside from exploring and reframing your experiences, one thing is very clear: Your mum wants you to move out. She has told you this point blank. I think you should do exactly that. You are not happy at home, your mum doesn't want you there, and that's a situation that's unlikely to change.

You have an education and a job. Furthermore, you want to be single. That's perfectly doable! Make a financial plan, find a place of your own, and go build your happy life. Perhaps, when you are out of your unhappy home, you will find some more positive connections with your family too.

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