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My parents divorced when I was eight. My father, therefore, moved out, leaving me to live with my highly unstable and histrionic mother and older (by three years) brother.

Not long after this, my mother began to use me as a kind of ‘counselor’. Indeed, she would sometimes refer to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist.’ I was an extremely sensitive and compassionate child at that time and caring for my mother became central to my existence. I would worry terribly about her whilst at school, and, when, once a year, my father took me on holiday, the first thing I would do on arrival would be to phone her to check she was OK.

Often, I would counsel my mother after school in the evenings. This left my older brother free to get on with a relatively more carefree existence. He would be upstairs listening to music, or out with friends.

Unfortunately, my mother was also prone to outbursts of intense rage. As I grew older and reached about the age of eleven or twelve, I would start to try to verbally defend myself against my mother’s tirades – answering her back. This would incense her to a degree that she would express intense, palpable hatred towards me.

My brother’s tactic was to divert any aggression she might show him by forming an alliance with her and redirecting his resentment of her onto me.

Because I was highly sensitive, my brother referred to me as ‘poof’. Also, at this time, I was self-harming, compulsively picking at my skin so that the wounds could not properly heal. Although I tried to confine this to parts of my body, not on public views, such as my shoulders and upper legs, I did not always accomplish this. This led my brother to also refer to me as ‘Scabby’ or ‘The Scab’. Sometimes my mother would also use these names, or simply laugh sadistically when my brother did.

As relationships between my mother and I deteriorated further, she began to deeply resent me. When I came home from school each afternoon, she would open the front door to me only an inch or two, and make a hasty retreat to the kitchen so that she could avoid greeting, or even looking at, me. If my brother were in, she might shout out loudly to him, ‘Oh Christ, Scabby’s back!’ or something equally cutting. My brother, fancying himself an actor, would groan theatrically.

After one argument at home with my mother, my father arrived shortly afterward in his car to pick me up and drive me to his house to spend the weekend with him and his new wife. When we were just about to leave, I started to argue again with my mother which provoked her to exclaim to my father: ‘Take this fucking little bastard with you now and never bring him back!’

A couple of days later I returned to my mother’s house to pack. As I made my way to the front door, to leave for the last time, my brother got up, opened the front door for me, and, grotesquely, in the voice of a British comedy character (Basil Fawlty – don’t ask me why), and gesticulating wildly (also in the manner of Basil Fawlty) enthused: ‘Right. Out you go, please!! Come along, please!! Out you go!!!’

The front door shut behind me, mercifully preventing me from hearing any more of my mother’s and brother’s mocking, delighted laughter.

PSYCHOLOGICAL COMMENT AND ANALYSIS

The child would have been adversely affected by his parent’s divorce and by living with a mentally ill mother (both of these are classified as Adverse Childhood Experiences as defined by the seminal Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

The child would have been psychologically damaged by having to act as his mother’s ‘personal counselor’ or, as she phrased it, ‘Little Psychiatrist (this phenomenon is often referred to as ‘parentification’ of the child) especially at a time in his life when he himself was acutely in need of emotional support following the divorce of his parents.

The child’s sensitivity would have exacerbated his suffering.

The mother’s name-calling in relation to her son verged on the sadistic. This form of abuse is particularly damaging.

The child was referred to as ‘scabby’ by his older brother and his mother because of his skin-picking, a recognized form of self-harm related to extreme stress and a need to dissociate.

The child (who was to become a gay adult) was referred to as ‘poof’ by his brother and mother. Such name-calling would have been particularly damaging due to his confusion about his developing sexuality and deeply shame-inducing.

Sibling bullying/abuse is known to be potentially extremely psychologically damaging to the child, particularly if that child has little or no emotional support from parents.

The jeering and laughing manner in which he was thrown out of his mother’s house would have been profoundly painful and shame-inducing.

The degree of betrayal the child suffers, betrayal by his own mother whom he had so tenderly cared for, would have deeply emotionally scarred the child for life.

The combined effects of divorce and emotional abuse are particularly damaging.

Such treatment is very likely to lead to the child developing lifelong difficulties trusting others and perpetual, gnawing fears of abandonment.

 

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