When the truth is stranger than fiction.
Awareness of psychopathy and other antisocial personality disorders like narcissism have become more prevalent in western culture. From documentaries featuring the murderous yet charming serial killer, Ted Bundy to Freddie Highmore’s role in Bates Motel, it seems pop culture is drawn to the psychopathic personality.
But what is like to be raised by one?
Psychopaths are incapable of loving anyone, including their children. How can you survive in an isolated environment- devoid of parental love, yet full of crazy-making, and manipulation without any support? How do you cope when the person who is supposed to love you unconditionally is trying to sabotage your life?
I finally cut off contact with my mother, Tammy, two years ago. I’d spent so much of my life feeling worthless, invisible, and afraid. It wasn’t until I actually broke contact in 2018 that I could finally see the effect her behavior had had on me and our family.
There were so many times she had put me in dangerous situations while I was growing up that I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal.
When I was eight, my mother had offered a bed in the basement of our town-home to a male friend, Tim, who needed to get back onto his feet. That evening she asked me to go downstairs and lay with him. I expressed my discomfort with the idea but she insisted, and I reluctantly did as I was told. While lying next to Tim, he cuddled me, gently rubbing my arm, slowly moving to my hips, and then he pressed himself against me and put his hands down my pants. I ran upstairs in tears and was confused when my mother sat on the sofa, smirking. The look on her face is burned into my memory.
I never knew what would set her off—it could be the smallest thing. I remember one occasion when my mother dragged me by the hair into my bedroom and repeatedly punched me in the head screaming, “You little bitch, you’re nothing but a fucking whore” because I had spilled some coffee while carrying it to her from the kitchen. I was ten, I hadn't a sniff of an idea as to what a whore was.
“That evening she asked me to go downstairs and lay with him. I expressed my discomfort with the idea but she insisted, and I reluctantly did as I was told".
Tammy is a beautiful woman; she is charming, generous with her money and seemingly the epitome of a warm and loving person to the outside world. She’s a respected nurse, and her connections while working in the health district have afforded her the opportunity to go undiagnosed.
Of the 7 characteristics of the modern psychopath, my mother ranks highly in all categories, including pathological lying and manipulation, gaslighting and psychological bullying, lack of empathy, morality, and narcissism. In the same way that the handsome but deadly psychopath, Ted Bundy is able to construct a convincing mask of a well-articulated, polished gentleman, Tammy too, is able to maintain the illusion of sanity.
Psychopathic individuals don’t see their children as separate human beings but as extensions of themselves. This powerful desire for control over others means that letting go is nearly impossible for psychopaths, and anytime I showed signs of autonomy and growing independence, my mother would try to destroy my life.
I was 25, a new mom and had started a job with a Customs Brokerage. It was my first “real job” since waitressing was all I had known until then. I began setting boundaries between her and my new family but she couldn’t bear not having me under her control and started sending me abusive and degrading emails. When I didn’t respond, she began emailing my boss, telling her I was a terrible person who lied on her resume and stole from my previous employers. I was mortified.
A portion of the email to my boss reads:
“I have attempted to show her that lying, playing the pity trip and using and stealing from people is not the way to get yourself ahead. Yes it is a family dispute, but it is also involving you, her employer. Skipping work to go shopping, stealing from and lying to your employer is not right. I will be contacting the other businesses she is lying to and letting them know what she is doing, I am already not allowed to see my grandson and there comes a time where she needs to be held accountable for what she is doing and accept the consequences of her actions. I challenge you to contact her past employers and speak with them on why they fired her, as you should do."
In their desire for more control, psychopaths will make up and say anything in order to achieve their goal. Blatant lying, and blaming the victim empower them to advance their agenda. This was the second time my mother had attempted to destroy my life. But it certainly wasn’t the last.
It took years for me stumble upon what was wrong with my mother. I didn’t know anything about personality disorders until I began piecing it together while working for a non-profit organization that offered both mental health care and support for victims of domestic violence in my community. I was hired as Director of Communications, and essentially stumbled upon personality disorders while writing a blog piece for their website. It wasn’t until reading about Psychopathy that I realized all of the traits had described my mother.
“This was the second time my mother had attempted to destroy my life. But it certainly wasn’t the last."
The three stages in any psychopathic relationship: Idealize, devalue, and discard.
My mother would sometimes spend hundreds of dollars on me during shopping trips and would want to hang out with me and my friends, often footing the bill. But, she’d start pushing boundaries, and slowly destroying my self-worth. This cycle lasted for years.
Though I’ve finally broken all contact with her, I’m still subjected to relentless campaigns of abuse. At first, I continued to receive texts, and emails flip-flopping between veiled threats and attempts to manipulate me.
In one email titled “Let’s be Clear” she writes:
The accusations were blatant lies and I immediately blocked her phone number and email address. I was tired of defending myself and playing into her hand with a response. Unable to control me, she started private messaging my friends, and our family, using the email she sent to me to "prove" I was this kind of person, and discredit me.
That wasn’t all. Tammy followed through on her email threat and attempted to separate me from my son. She contacted Child Protective Services. When that was promptly absolved by their department, and still did not elicit a response from me; she contacted the city police and made claims of being sexually abused by my grandparents. My grandparents have always been a strong support to me; they do not have a relationship with their daughter, my mother. It was another attempt to portray herself as the victim of those she's victimized, and remove my only sense of security to ensure I had to rely on her.
On the advice of colleagues, I am keeping track of everything that happens in an effort for a peace bond, though I don’t foresee that stopping her either.
Even if my mother were to be officially diagnosed, I’d never forgive her. I’m not the only one she targets; she’s destroyed the light in many people that have tried to love her. Psychopathy doesn’t affect your judgment or cause psychosis; what she continues to do is unnaturally cruel and unforgivable.
I’m proud of myself for becoming alcohol-free considering my upbringing and what my family has, and continues to endure. Like my mother, alcohol can no longer control me, and every day is a reminder that I have, and will survive this.