Black Swan: Revealing Mother-Daughter Abuse

I went to see the movie Black Swan last week. Skip this post if you have not seen the movie and do not want to read about it in advance. Full disclosure: I had previously read Faith Allen’s review at  Blooming Lotus. I wondered if I too would interpret the movie as centering around an underlying theme of mother-daughter sexual abuse. I left wondering how anyone could not see this theme. And yet many do not.

Why might this be? For one thing, our culture continues to overlook child abuse and its impact in general. As I have written before I think of this as our cultural dissociation:

“You are only as sick as your secrets”.  If the oft repeated 12 step slogan is true then our culture is indeed sick.  The refusal to acknowledge the link between childhood trauma (big T and little t) and mental health issues of all sorts in adulthood seems to me to be a kind of cultural dissociation.  We would rather blame the victim, or in family systems terms set up the “sick” one as an identified patient, who has bad brain chemistry or has come by their mental “illness” in any way other than as a result of their childhood experiences.

On top of that, I see our culture having a huge investment in the idea of the “good mother”. That mothers can be neglectful or outright abusive seems hard for many to grasp. That mothers can even be sexually abusive: unthinkable. And yet of course it happens. Survivors of abusive mothers may have even more stigma hurdles to overcome in their own healing path, both in terms of being understood by others and even believing themselves. If a movie like this generates any conversation about abusive mothers (and it is) I am all for it.

Faith Allen and the commenters on her post, Black Swan: Movie about Mother-Daughter Sexual Abuse, are doing a great job exploring and elucidating the not always overt theme of sexual abuse in this movie. So check it out but as always be mindful that this is a potentially triggering topic.

I want to add a few observations of my own about the sexual abuse theme, but mostly elaborate on a topic that is under-discussed: the emotional abuse that often accompanies sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse does not occur in a vacuum. This may be especially true when we are talking about incest, which requires the context of a dependency bond, as Sue Blume writes in Secret Survivors:

incest can be seen as the imposition of sexually inappropriate acts, or acts with sexual overtones, by – or any use of a minor child to meet the sexual or sexual/emotional needs of – one or more persons who derive authority through ongoing emotional bonding with that child. -Blume, 1990, p. 4

When sexual abuse occurs in such a relationship, in this case the mother-daughter relationship, the child’s emotional needs are obviously not being met. Instead, the child is being used to meet the mother’s needs. This type of emotional abuse can also occur without the sexual behavior component. It is sometimes referred to as emotional or covert incest, to underscore how the impact can be very similar. Others in the field object to these terms but that is the subject of an upcoming post. Whatever you call it, I see in addition to the sexual abuse undertones a very particular type of emotional abuse demonstrated by the mother in Black Swan.

Sometimes emotional abuse can take the form of neglect  or verbally abusing the child. While emotional abuse of all types can be hard to pinpoint, it becomes even murkier when it is of the “too close” variant. In psychology speak we call this enmeshment: a relationship characterized by unboundaried bonding, in which the parent uses the child to meet her own needs versus supporting the child in developing into her own, separate self. This enmeshment exists in varying degrees of toxicity. It has been popularized in the term “codependency” and may be spoken of lightly. Have you heard adults referred to as “momma’s boys” or “daddy’s girls” or heard a woman describe her mother as “my best friend”? Certainly not all these relationships are as pathological as the one in Black Swan, but they may suggest something worth looking at. And again indicate the way our culture trivializes traumatic childhood experiences.

In Black Swan, we see extreme emotional enmeshment: the mother is not allowing her daughter to be a separate individual, instead she sees Nina as a reflection of herself (wanting her to pursue same career) and someone who exists to meet the mother’s own needs. Boundaries are violated or rather seem to never have existed (Mother intruding into the bathroom and bedroom, looking at Nina’s self-injury on her back, demanding that she remove her clothes). Nina is both infantilized and sexualized (the crooning of “my sweet girl”, the room full of stuffed animals, Mother tucking her in and turning on the music box at bed time). These are all acts that might seem appropriate, if Nina were a young child and if not delivered in such a sexualized manner.

We also see Nina exhibiting symptoms that are common in survivors of incest. These type of boundary violations whether physical or “only” emotional often result in eating disorder behaviors (we see signs that Nina restricts, for example her seeming fear about eating any cake, and purges), self-injury, social isolation, extreme passivity when faced with authority  and fear of/preoccupation with sexuality. Whether fantasized or real, Nina experiences sexual advances/being sexualized in almost every relationship while at the same time being characterized as frigid and undesirable. I wonder if that is her defense against her fear: attempting to present an asexual image lest she be sexually used by any/everyone…an understandable fear if this has occurred with her early attachment figure.

We see evidence that the mother uses Nina to meet her needs both in her attempt to live vicariously through Nina’s dancing but also in her undermining of Nina becoming too successful (which may translate as independent to the mother). Nina actually excelling in her own right, especially in a role that requires her to claim her own sexual self, to act as an empowered sexual being versus everyone else’s object, threatens the equilibrium of the enmeshment with her mother. Both mother and daughter become more symptomatic, more unstable as the movie progresses. We are left to interpret the final outcome: is death the result of the pathological quest for perfection? Or is death the only imaginable escape from abuse, Nina’s final effort to free herself? What do you think?

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80 Responses to Black Swan: Revealing Mother-Daughter Abuse

  1. onesurvivor says:

    I have not seen the movie. However, I do relate to the struggle to recognize mother/daughter sexual abuse.

    My mother had difficulty recognizing the things her mother would do to her as SA. Things like walking in on her when she was in the bathroom, grabbing her breasts, eyeing her, etc.

    As for me, I already had memories of SA with my father and with men. There was one woman touching me in preparation for a ritual, but my mother? Nope! When a memory came up with her, it was difficult to wrap my mind around it.

    Of course, the SA was only part of the picture. My whole life involved training in keeping my mother sane, in making her happy, in preserving the family “image”. Yeah…I have to agree that it was a form of “incest”, too.

    • Onesurvivor-

      Thank you for your comment. What you describe regarding how you were supposed to relate to your mother makes me think of violations of the psyche in additions to violations of the body…I think it makes sense to consider all of this “incest”, I do agree. And I am of course deeply saddened that you experienced any of this.

  2. Keeping secrets is the cloak that hides and protects sexual abuse. Having public conversations about sexual abuse help to take it out of public secrecy. As long as we are unwilling to talk about sexaul abuse we are giving tacit concent. Break the taboo, break the silence and grow our voice.

    Congrats on the link back from MS Blog to this article. Hurray for giving voice.

  3. Miriam says:

    It is interesting to see how different people with different perspectives interpret the same thing in various ways. I thought that the mother in Black Swan was a portrayal of the old-fashioned Freudian idea of the ‘schizoprhenogenic mother’ – the mother who, because of her frigid, dissonant, punishing and repressive ways creates the schizophrenic child. Nowadays we know that schizophrenia is a genetically based disease linked to issues with dopamine levels, but according to Freud it was caused by poor parenting by the mother figure. From this perspective, the sexually repressed, fragile and delusional Nina is a product of the repressive mother. An antiquated notion played out quite straightforwardly in the movie. This is not a contradiction of the notion of sexual abuse, but it is portrayed in a very Freudian context. Yuck. Has about as much credibility with me as a discussion of Oedipal complexes and penis envy. Didn’t care for the whole Freudian thing in the movie.

    • Hi Miriam-

      It is interesting, the different reaction to this film!

      I did not see Nina as schizophrenic necessarily. Too often I have seen complex trauma survivors being diagnosed as psychotic when they are experiencing dissociative and post traumatic stress symptoms. As a culture we often now focus on the individual and behavior that seems disturbed without addressing the cause in terms of family dynamics or trauma. If in the past it seemed everything was blamed early development now it seems we have swung to the other extreme, attributing many things to “chemical imbalance” alone. The reality is usually much more complicated, some combination of nature and nurture.

      • Miriam says:

        Thanks for your feedback. Lemme make it clear: I was not commenting on abuse per se. Why someone abuses another is a mystery to me (a person with mental health training). I was just commenting on the intent of the person who wrote the script for Black Swan. I am of divided mind as to whether that person clearly meant to portray mother-daughter sexual abuse, or to present a deliberately unclear (and somewhat Freudian) picture of overall family/personal dysfunction.

    • Racheli Gai says:

      Dopamine levels (and much else in the brain) is subject to changes as a result of being abused, especially as a child, but not exclusively so. See, for example, Gabor mate’s book: “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”.

  4. Heather says:

    That mothers can be neglectful or outright abusive seems hard for many to grasp.

    You and I must not be watching the same news shows or hanging out in the same mom groups or reading the same psychology books or living on the same planet. I can think of nary an emotional problem or even deviation from the norm that is not assumed to be a result of a negligent/overbearing/mean/permissive/whatever mother. So, forgive me if I find it a little hard to believe that any evidence of abuse or inappropriate behavior from a mother would pass unnoticed as a rule.

    You’ll also forgive me, I hope, for my saying that you make a rather poor case for Nina being sexually abused.

    Nina is both infantilized and sexualized (the crooning of “my sweet girl”, the room full of stuffed animals, Mother tucking her in and turning on the music box at bed time). These are all acts that might seem appropriate, if Nina were a young child and if not delivered in such a sexualized manner.

    I’ve seen the movie three times and I didn’t see anything sexual in the tucking in scenes. If anything, infantilizing Nina could be interpreted as encouraging a sort of perpetual virginity and perhaps even inappropriately DE-sexualizing her, which actually explains her apparently asexual behavior quite well *without* having to squint your eyes looking for negligibly sexual undertones.

    (Mother intruding into the bathroom and bedroom, looking at Nina’s self-injury on her back, demanding that she remove her clothes)

    I would expect any responsible caregiver to show concern for and take care of their charge’s self-inflicted wounds. Nudity is not always sexual, especially in a mother-daughter caregiving context and putting clothing up as a boundary to caregiving is unnecessarily puritanical and, especially in this case, could end up as a cloak which would hide and foster self-mutilating behavior.

    These type of boundary violations whether physical or “only” emotional often result in eating disorder behaviors

    Professional ballet dancing also results in eating disorder behaviors.

    self-injury, social isolation, extreme passivity when faced with authority and fear of/preoccupation with sexuality

    Nina’s preoccupation with sexuality is negotiable. It seems to have more to do with her instructor’s preoccupation with Nina’s sexuality and Nina’s struggle with accepting her sexual orientation. As for the rest of it, those are more easily explained as either symptoms of an authoritarian upbringing or any number of other influences and body-related anxieties that come as a result of being a professional ballet dancer.

    Whether fantasized or real, Nina experiences sexual advances/being sexualized in almost every relationship while at the same time being characterized as frigid and undesirable.

    She’s GAY. Her boss is sexually harassing her and she’s not responding to men because she’s GAY.

    Shaping and molding everything Erica does to Nina as sexual not only exaggerates the abuse that’s there but excessively and unfairly demonizes codependent or overbearing behavior as having crossed a boundary that it simply did not. Abuse is abuse and all of it is bad but not all types are the same. Erica emotionally abused Nina by sheltering and suffocating her, but she did not physically or sexually abuse Nina and there’s no reason that a mother’s actions should have to be reinterpreted as such to warrant serious consideration of the victim’s situation. Additionally, reinterpreting Erica’s behavior and seeking out teensy particles of sexual abuse seems to have prevented you from appreciating the blatant, obvious themes of sexual liberation, perpetual female childhood, and sexual orientation with which Aronofsky was practically beating you over the head.

    • Hi Heather-

      We see the movie differently. I think that is the mark of a great movie; it generates a lot of thought and conversation!

      I am also using the movie as a jumping off point to talk about a type of dynamic that does exist: mother-daughter abuse. Whether emotional pr physical, survivors of abuse by their mothers often face great shame, stigma and disbelief. Your reactions to my take on this movie actually reminds me of how hard it is for many to “see” this issue and for survivors to be heard. For example, you did not see anything sexual about the tucking in scenes. I see the mother showing up at Nina’s door in a black negligee saying “Are you ready for me?” and Nina attempting to find ways to barricade her door.

      I primarily focused on the emotional abuse theme here. I linked to another post that explores the sexual abuse theme more fully. You may also be interested in Precious Swan by Janell Hobson at Ms. Magazine blog.

      • Anne says:

        Thank you for that reply Dr. Young.

        When I read the first line of the post: “That mothers can be neglectful or outright abusive seems hard for many to grasp.” I thought – this is good – someone who’s going to speak to the larger issues here. But then we got the (what I consider to be) odd post that followed.

        As a survivor of sadistic physical/emotional/perhaps sexual abuse from my mother I found it difficult to read. Not as difficult as I once would have, since this is an all too common reaction – one I’ve encountered ad nauseum over the years that I’ve been (unsuccessfully) looking for any resource to help me put my experiences in perspective and give me a place to speak about it.

        So I very much appreciated your diplomatic and measured response. I also very much appreciated your statement “I am also using the movie as a jumping off point to talk about a type of dynamic that does exist: mother-daughter abuse. “ I sincerely hope that you will go on to explore this topic, since it seems to be a profound blind-spot amongst the mental health professions, social services, justice system, and society at large. Although I would encourage you to consider broadening the scope somewhat to ‘mother-child’ physical and emotional abuse. I believe both boys and girls are equally impacted by female-perpetrated abuse. I have to agree with one of the other posters here who said that this emphasis on SA obscures the horrible harm to children from all the other forms of abuse. At a certain point the distinctions become less relevant than the commonalities.

        Getting back to why I consider the original post ‘odd’. I can fully appreciate that the poster feels that mothers have historically been, thanks to Freudian psychology, sometimes unfairly given the lion’s share of blame for larger societal influences and responsibilities. And I can appreciate that perhaps SHE didn’t see the themes you’ve written about in your blog. What I don’t understand is why she’d feel the need, of all the places she could have reviewed this movie, to leave that comment specifically on a blog about healing trauma, particularly in light of the many previous posts where people have identified that they are indeed dealing – many struggling – with that exact issue.

        “Shut your mouth” indeed.

      • Lisa marie says:

        Thank you so much for this article & everybody for sharing their comments. I came across this article in searching for some sort of understanding of what is really underlying in my relationship with my mom.. Although it’s not as extreme, I see some of the signs of a more mentally/emotionally abusive relationship-that has deteriorated throughout the years and that’s hit a new bottom. I love my mother more than anything, but at times I feel she may harbor certain feelings of resentment, sometimes envy & even hate & its extremely painful to know she would even think about having these feelings towards me. I’m a 32 year old women that has always been successful in all that I do & thought I had my mothers support, even though I supported her thru a bad divorce, taking in my 10 year old brother & her @ the time.. My brother went on to the University & she has stayed here in my home.. This past year I lost my amazing job as a Manager for a large firm after 16 years and I went thru a rough patch-even becoming severly depressed after I lost my dog (I had her 13 years)-I thought my mother was supporting ms emotionally but her banter, and verbal abuse kicked in and thru me deeper into failure mode.. I finally saw the light & have support from pretty amazing people which have fully invested in me to run their company & she has gotten worse with the abuse.. It’s almost like she doesn’t want me to succeed or is envious.. We have never fought the way we have & just this week it got so heated that she lifted her arm (as though she was going to strike me)-but she held back.. She let’s alot build up for years and if she starts yelling like a banchy about something minor it always leads to list of things that are big and happened years ago.. It’s becoming a very toxic situation.. I’m trying to get to the root of the problem-is she mentally Ill, had she always been abusive to me, does she have emotional insets with me.. I don’t know.. But we can’t cont. Like this and the worst part is that she can have blow ups and then act like everything is ok or start ignoring me like I’m wrong or if I was a child.. She demands respect from me (now @ 32) but she yells @ me and doesn’t give me any, @ times she even throws tantrums like a 4 year old when things don’t go her way or I dont do as she says.. I have decided to move out-she can keep my house (she has been paying the mortgage since I lost my job)-but it’s more about my sanity & peace of mind! I have just started to save & find a joke for mr and my other dogs.. But I want to know if this relationship is salvageable because she is my mother and I love her but not like this.. I’m also wondering if I should just sever ties between us for the sake of both of us..
        Thank you in advance for your comments..

      • Thanks for reading and commenting Lisa.

        I would really encourage you to find a therapist you can talk to about these concerns. People make all different kinds of choices about how to manage relationships with abusive and/or challenging family members. It really helps to have a trained professional guide you through your options!

        Best wishes to you in this process.

    • Rita says:

      I completely agree with Heather. Excellent post. Admittedly, everyone is entitled to their own interpretation. I do believe it is a far stretch to find a sexual abuse undertone to this movie, and that one would have to be looking hard to find it. That is likely why not many that have seen this movie came away with that interpretation.

      • Comment One says:

        I just saw the movie, not having read or heard anything about it prior to seeing it. (If you find that hard to believe, I lead a very busy, absorbing life.) In any event, I found the movie’s portrayal of the mother-daughter abuse not only obvious, but deeply disturbing. When I saw the first suggestion of the undertones then presented overtly in a later scene, I contemplated walking out, not sure I wanted to stay for whatever impossibly sad denouement might await. I don’t understand how anyone watching this movie could have seen anything but the incest message.

      • Mother with BPD says:

        As a victim of this kind of abuse, I have to say it was painfully obvious.

    • Shannon says:

      How exactly do you explain the scene where ‘Lily’ is going down on Nina, and when she looks up at Nina, her face changes briefly into Nina’s mother’s face? And how do you explain that when Nina passes out, ‘Lily’ says “My sweet girl,” which is Nina’s mother’s key phrase? And then, the next day, Nina questions Lily about the evening, and Lily makes it very clear she was NEVER there?

      Yeah, thought so.

      • Akhil says:

        I think everyone is viewing the movie in isolation of some the scenes towards the end which are quite revealing about Nina’s actual condition ; Nina is a deluded schizophrenic who is bordering on insanity in a bid to achieve to achieve perfection for her role as the swan queen. She is completely obsessed with the notion and its her alter-ego that comes forth every time she feels the need to awaken her dormant sexually repressed life or mortally threatened by lily’s presence in trying to take over as the swan queen which could be attributed to the emotional trauma that she has had to suffer at the hands of an overbearing nagging claustrophobic mother.

        So i don’t believe Nina was being sexually abused in the movie but it was rather her desperate attempts to awaken that dormant sexually repressed self (otherwise the role was in the offing to lily) which was mainly due to her mothers overindulgent and overprotective nature that caused her to hallucinate her mother in the going down scene . Its her subconscious that rebukes the mother which is an indirect reference to “My little girl” having broken loose from the clutches that held her in complete oblivion of her sexual side.

        In fact i think Nina is “frigid and cold” due to her mother’s claustrophobic hold over her and if anything she would have been in touch with her sexual side even if there was a hint of abuse. Her mother never really let Nina “live” her life which led to rebellion and ultimately to Nina’s schizophrenia , delusion and obsessiveness with perfection

      • Hi Akhil-

        It is actually the entire film that gave me the impression of a mother-daughter dynamic common to sexual and emotional abuse.

        Like I said above, it is a movie so we are all just sharing impressions, but I want to address a few things you say because they are common misunderstandings re mental health and trauma.

        1. Schizophrenia- while it becomes apparent that Nina is having trouble with reality testing, this alone does not necessarily indicate schizophrenia. For one thing, visual hallucinations (such as seeing either Lily or her mother performing a sex act) are not typical in schizophrenia. Auditory hallucinations yes, visual no.

        2. This issue of an “alter ego” coming forth is not a symptom of schizophrenia but rather dissociative identity disorder, which is very often caused by early, repeated abuse such as sexual abuse. The media commonly misrepresents schizophrenia as “split personality”. It just is not so. I don’t read Nina as having alter personalities in this depiction but felt the need to address one of the frequent misconceptions re these disorders.

        3. You say “if anything she would have been in touch with her sexual side even if there was a hint of abuse” and again that is just not so. Many abuse survivors cope by disavowing their sexual selves completely. That Nina seemed fearful of anything sexual is very consistent with the way an incest survivor could present in adulthood.

      • rachel says:

        the mothers face is never there, actually. However, I agree with this sub-plot.

    • Lani says:

      Uuuh, one thing you missed in the whole SHE’S GAY tyrade: when Nina sexually fantasized about Lily (or is it Lilly or Lilie or Lillie), there was this one little line that was extremely disturbing and explanatory… ‘my sweet girl’ was whispered to Nina, in her mother’s voice, by the figmented Lily. You still think she wasn’t abused? As for the whole GAY theory you’ve presented, it is thoroughly plausible; but so is the idea that Nina is heterosexual,or bisexual – victims of sexual abuse often struggle with confusion about their sexuality for decades. For more on this topic, you should read the book Our Little Secret, I don’t remember the author’s surname, but his first is Duncan. He was sexually abused by his father for about ten years and couldn’t get a grip on his sexuality for years. Oh, and, believe me; the ‘concern’ Nina’s mother displayed about her scratching was not normal, if real, and certainly wasn’t healthy: it seemed to be an excuse to exercise and test her control over her daughter, whom she fears is beginning to break away. How on earth can you justify such behaviour? Black Swan showed no true sexual liberation, as you put it; indeed, such liberation could be compared to what the Nazis did to homosexual men.

  5. Ethereal Highway says:

    My husband saw the movie. I did not. He came home and told me it is on the ‘do not watch’ list for me because he has a very good feel for what drives me over the edge (and my mother is creepy and disgusting and neither of us can stand her). He did not mention abuse, but he said it was twisted and “deeply disturbing”. It was very interesting to me to read the comments on this post. I like your response to Miriam. Chemical imbalances and genetic defects are a FABULOUS way to protect abusers, the ‘sanctity’ of parenthood and the family. I really think that is the main fuction in society for these ‘diseases’ as far as mental health goes. It might be mostly unconscious, but baby — it sure works on the masses, doesn’t it? What? Trauma, abuse, neglect or deep-seated conflict that goes back to childhood (which is ‘supposed’ to be all about puppies and rainbows)? Nah. That’s too disturbing and says awful things about humanity. It can’t be that. It’s gotta be something else that we can throw pills at.
    :-)

    Yeah, I know I’m a sarcastic A-hole. But I also know I’m mostly right about this.

    • Anne says:

      Wow. Well said. Great insight – brilliantly articulated.

      I hope you don’t mind – I’m going to ‘borrow’ that quote in future: “Chemical imbalances and genetic defects are a FABULOUS way…” Since you’re anonymous here, I’ll give credit to this page, or to your screen name.

      Personally, I don’t see any evidence of “sarcastic A-hole.” I do see plenty of evidence of “mostly right”.

  6. Lydia says:

    I haven’t seen either “Black Swan” or “Precious” The former looked ‘creepy” (implying some sort of “horror” film) in the trailers.”Precious” looked all too REAL given my experieence in a highly dysfunctional/abusive family (doestic violence, child battering, emotional & secual abuse–along with multi-generational alcoholism). Although I am white, had “mixed class” background,depending on my mother’s marital status at any given time we could be working class or middle-class. I guess my comments are more of a ‘personal’ nature re; abuse by mothers.

    That there’s “societal disassociation” re: abuse is totally TRUE. It is still VERY hard to recognize sexual abuse by fathers,stepfathers, boyfriends & other male relatives. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ACKNOWLEDGE that mothers can be sexually abusive. I’m an incest survivor who have been able to do a lot of good work healing sexual abuse by my step-father & various of my mother’s boyfriends. But, it took until I was almost 40 to even admit to a thearapist that my mother had been sexually abusive towards me (as well as my younger borther who has NOT sought any therapy).
    The STIGMA about revealing abuse by mothers is very very real. I am bi-sexual and when I told a female partner (in my early 20s) about being a sexual abuse surivor she was empathetic re: the men who had abused me–but, interpreted my mother’s abuse as “love”! To be honest, I’ve told very few people in the course of my life about my mother’s behavior,, which from the descriptions of the 2 films was very much like PRECIOUS not “Swan”.
    My mother’s abuse in some respects very much felt like an indelible “judgement” about my value as a human being. Maybe because I’d ALREADY experienced sexual abuse by my stepfather & some of her boyfriends, maybe because our mothers have a kind of intimate power that our fathers do not.
    My mother refused to admit that she had been in ANY way abusive almost to the day she died. Instead,i was considered the family’s “crazy person” or just a liar, becaue I got into thereapy and I was sometimes willing to conront the family with truths they did not want to face. No doubt my mother’s alcoholism may have meant she did some things while in a “blackout”—perhaps the sexual abuse was in this context. Her “script” for me was that I was suppoed to exist to serve her needs & to have no life of my own. I left home at 17 & while the emotional tie continued to exist, by my early 20s I never lived in the same state as my mother & the distance between us only grew over the decades. At 42, I cut offf all contact with her—and feel that if we had a lot LESS emphais on “forgiveness” & “keeping families intact” instead of facing how totally TOXIC some people are–I’d have cut off my mother while I was a young woman. Somehow—unlike the abusive men in my life—it was far more difficult to NOT self-blame re:my mother. In the final year of her life as she was dying from cancer, we briefly communicated. She wrote a note to my brother & I (finally) acknowledging that she had been”abusive and nedlcrtful” toward us & asking for forgiveness. (She blamed her behavior on being a teen mother). I was 50 at the time and to be blunt it was WAY TOO LITTLE and very very LATE. My main feeling when she died was relief, knowing she could never hurt me in any way again.
    Finally, I think the trend now to attribute all mental illness/psychological difficulty to brrain chemestry” is incredibly REDUCTIONISTIC towards human beings. I do have PTSD, battled depression, & as a teen/early 20s made suicide attempts. The “brain chemestry” explanation serves 2 purposes: continues society’s DENIAL & lack of intervention in abusive families plus it MAKES A LOT OF MONEY FOR BIG PHARMA.

    THANK YOU FOR BREAKING THE SILENCE on the issue of mother-daughter sexual abuse. You have contirubted to my healing.

    • Thank you Lydia for sharing your experience. I am very moved and grateful if this has in any way helped your healing process. My hope that these words will find those who need them, that is why I blog.

  7. Pingback: Precious Swan – Ms. Magazine | Cultural Granola

  8. Pablo says:

    I dont think sexual abuse is a central topic in the film per se. I think the abusive mother daughter rapport is there anyway and plays a vital role in depriving the protagonist of her sexuality, which in turn plays a major role in her becoming suicidal, destructive and in painfully deep need for freedom and redemption.

    The film didnt blow my mind to be honest. Maybe the trans genre thing wasn’t my cup of tea and the horror bits just sort of deadened the credibily and impac of the story.

    However, I think the crucial issue is well dealt with in the light of her reality; that is, how can you break free? Is taking your own life the only way? And, is taking your own life a attempt of freedom ? Guilt is always there. She swings between the fragile doubtfulness, uneasy and lacking identity, and the darker side, blood thirsty, erotic, stinging with life which is, to her repressed self; sinful. Wanting so desperately to live (as you need to in order to accomplish a master performance of this ballet) involves some degree of this sensual energy. To this respect, let me remind you her mother attempts to boicott her gig by calling in and saying she’s ill. Whether this really happened or not doeant really matter, she experiences it. And, in truth, if the girl succeeds she will inevitably fly away.

    Now that I think of it, I do find in the film a valid metaphor of how your identity is torn between the hope of staying guilt free, hence complying with all abusive demands and surrendering desire, or letting go and fullfilling your adult goals.

    I’m no mental health pundit, but I know what deaing with this two fold nature means. There is no identity without this struggle being finally sorted. As to the inborn, chemical balance thing, I dont belive in any of it. I agree it’s all a great way to shove the dirt under the carpet by victimising a victim and concealing people’s disgraceful behaviour. This passes on from generation after generation. Some, however, die along the way. Those who are depositary of other people’s misery, so when the black sheep dies, everybody will use all previous symptoms (violence, obesity, depression, homosexuality, etc) to justify their unfitness for life.

  9. Louisa says:

    Some aspects stood out to me as inappropriate for a mother-daughter relationship. One, the mother repeatedly took her clothes off while she protests. Two, she was sleeping in the chair in her room. Third, in Nina’s sexual hallucination, Lily says “My sweet girl.”

    I do think she was being abused, but the extent of it is not very clear.

  10. Andrew says:

    I did not think the mother was sleeping in the chair in Nina’s bedroom. I thought of it as part of Nina’s response to her mother’s repression, that she was imagining her mother supervising her even in a private and intimate moment. Nina would surely have been aware if her mother had been present, as she had been lying awake for some time before that intimate moment.

    I did not have the impression that Nina was a victim of sexual abuse, but of a controlling mother who prevented her from becoming a mature adult.

    But I have found Dr Young’s discussion and some of the comments on this blog very thought provoking.

    Generally I thought the film was overrated.

    • Johi says:

      Re: Andrew’s comment “I did not have the impression that Nina was a victim of sexual abuse, but of a controlling mother who prevented her from becoming a mature adult.” That was the interpretation I ultimately came to, after seeing the movie and reading a lot about the MDSA on other other boards (knowing what to expect, on many levels).

      I am a survivor of MD abuse, especially emotional incest. I have never been able to identify exactly the sexual element of the abuse, though another poster helped me put it in context by mentioning leering, walking into bathrooms, grabbing breasts – get this one – not letting me wear a bikini when 10, just bottoms, b/c I was trying to be too womanly!! And, of course, the requisite “back washing” in the tub. This one slays me, to this day. Really?

      In any case, I have definitely had a sexualized association to my mother – and I have never been able to sort out if it is some kind of Freudian/object relations/libido thing (I don’t know these theories or terms at all, I know I am lumping them) to where the closeness generated the sexual feelings and repulsion for her, if actual SA occurred. Honestly, I would just like to KNOW, though I am for all intents and purposes “healed” (ing?)

      My point is that I watched this movie with the goal of confirming my
      suspicious about my own SA, yet in a twist, I am once again forced to examine this and doubt my experience (I read on another board “If you think you were sexually abused, you likely were.”) The scene in the chair – I came to eventually interpret it the same as Andrew did – that the mom was ALWAYS there. I SO.GOT.IT. Been there, suffered guilt for having crushes. The sex scene with Lily – after examining it, I got the same feeling – that Nina was having a sexual fantasy and enjoying it, and the mom’s face pops up in there to ruin it. Ugh. Have had those too.

      Another question – perhaps off topic, but important – would Nina have been abused as a child (SA) or as a teen? I remember distinctly KNOWING at about age 8 or so, when my mom had surgery on her leg and I was getting bigger, that she could not “hurt” me anymore or I’d beat her up, re-break her leg (yes, healthy thoughts for an 8 year old girl to think about her mother). Those scenes of disgust and pure rage that Nina shows towards the end were all too familiar as well.

      But I can’t decipher for myself the degree and/or presence of SA in their obviously enmeshed and dysfunctional/abusive relationship, as well as in my own situation. How much does the role of a mother affect our sexuality, and is the abuse/covert incest the basis for the confusion or is it, in fact, SA? I guess what I am trying to figure out – for the movie, and for myself, is – was there SA? Does it even matter in terms of the consequences.

      Sorry to ramble. I have been pondering this all for a few days and just can’t figure it out. Great discussion, everyone. It is so important that the lid is blown off this jar once and for all, and I’m inspired to help along in my own creative endeavors. Thank you.

  11. Swan Queen says:

    I do see a pattern of emotional abuse by the Mother, which is very similar to the one I went through. But no, I see no signs of sexual abuse by the Mother in the film.
    Our society’s obsession with sexual abuse is starting to get really tireing, everything always HAS to have some childhood sexual violence in it.
    Anything “crazy” has to be explained by that.
    Everyone with an eating disorder/who behaves in a selfdestructive way/harms her/himself physically etc etc…MUST have been sexually abused as a child…snore…
    Is there sexual “trespassing” in the film- yes!! But not by the Mother.
    I find emotional abuse far more dangerous than physical forms of abuse- you seldom find one without the other, but sometimes you do (like in this film).
    And I am aware of the fact that I wrote the word Mother with capital Letters all through my post- I just can’t help it.

    • Anonymous says:

      …because childhood sexual abuse is an epidemic THAT is why you hear of that information. 1 in 3 girls is abused and 1 in 6 boys is abused, the fact that you were one of the lucky ones who was NOT abused doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, and with frequency. My mother, sister, and husband were ALL abused, as well as a brother and sister of my mother, not to mention people I know who are NOT related to me. Maybe if people like you would stop trivializing this issue, it’d get the attention it well deserves so that we can work on prevention and healing.

  12. pearl says:

    I hadn’t thought much about the sexual abuse angle, but I knew some weird stuff was going on. It makes total sense, looking back on it.

    I had a very intense reaction to the film, primarily because of the visuals since I’m more of a visual sort, but it’s been a while since I’ve been unable to just shake a movie off once I left the theater. I think it’s the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, precisely because of all the psychological elements, but I loved every second and I guess I’m one of the few that truly thinks it’s all worth the hype.

    I’m not a victim of sexual abuse, but I’ve known many that were and I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on that theme. This was a very interesting article, thank you for writing it and getting me thinking!

  13. Swan Queen says:

    Well, I AM a victim of sexual abuse, and not by my Mother,
    and I DID NOT pick up on that theme.
    And I still maintain that what my Mother put me through was worse than any sexual abuse or rape, and that what she did to me favored these things to happen.
    Which is one thing that I like about the film: showing how devasting psychological abuse can be and what it can trigger.
    I love Nina’s Rebellion and Revolt, I like how she becomes “one” and emancipates from beeing what her Mother wants her to be: “Mommie’s sweet girl”, a puppet on a string.
    Which is why I find it reductive to scream “sexual abuse by Mom”- it lessens the crime, in a way.
    Though I must admit that I saw the film again yesterday nite and to my surprise I didn’t find the Mother that bad anymore.
    Not compared to my standards at least.
    Still sick, though.

  14. So many comments and different views on this movie! It is of course a movie and open to interpretation; there is no “right” answer here.

    To me, it portrayed dynamics that are unfortunately all too familiar to me from years of listening to my clients: mother-daughter emotional and sexual abuse.

    Naming sexual abuse to me in no way negates or detracts from the seriousness of emotional abuse. I certainly write plenty about the devastating impact of the latter so I hope my view on that is clear.

    I want to emphasize that it is really important that we not engage in comparing traumas. I don’t find it useful or validating to say that one form of abuse is worse than another. It may be worse to you, the individual, compared to other things you have experienced. But everyone’s experience is individual and each persons trauma is the worst thing they have had to endure.

    I did not anticipate this would generate so much activity! Forgive me if I am not able to keep up with and respond to each comment individually. I appreciate all the conversation.

  15. Swan Queen says:

    Dear Dr. Young,

    of course I do not want to engage in comparing Traumas!
    I completely agree with you that it is not useful in anyway to say that one form of abuse is worse than another- I said it was that way FOR ME.
    Or at least that is what I meant, I’m sorry if I gave room for misinterpretation…my english isn’t the best…
    But what I’m so desperatly trying to say is this:
    the “S.A.” theme has been played forward and backwards in loads of films for the past 20 years.
    S.A. has been dicussed in so many ways in films – and in many wrong and clichée ways…
    But psychological abuse?
    Rarely. And rarely without S.A.
    If ever.
    Or am I mistaken?
    I know no film at all about it.

    P.s:(if this post sounds weird it is because I deleted the entire middle part, which I found too triggering- I hope it still does make some sort of sense, though…)

    All the Best,

    S.

    • S-

      Worse for you I certainly understand. Thank you for clarifying.

      Emotional abuse certainly continues to be not well understood. I think that makes it hard for many to “see” it even where it does exist, in movies or real life.

  16. Lothlorien says:

    I agree. How can anyone NOT see it, but like you said, most people don’t even consider mother-daughter sexual abuse. I went to see it with my husband, and I said nothing about this aspect of the movie when I asked him what he thought, and though he did not get the mother-daughter sexual abuse per se, his first reaction was to the odd way her mother related to her. So, maybe some of those who don’t “get it” at least pick up on the inappropriateness of the actions.
    Lothlorien

  17. Lauren says:

    I found this thread, because I came home today after seeing Black Swan and immediately googled “black swan abusive mother.” The one clue I got was a weird moment when Nina was going to bed and her mother asked “Are you waiting for me?”
    Then I realized that a lot of Nina’s behaviors could be explained by a history of abuse by her mother. I also found it strange the way her mother insisted on unhooking her dress straps for her. I think Nina had an almost inability to touch herself or at least focus while doing so, and I think that was because she thinks of sex/sexuality as uncomfortable and wrong because of things her mother has/had done to her.

  18. Julie says:

    Nobody has touched on the fact that these are all intrusive thoughts she is having. None of the violence she is imaging is real. The retired dancer at the hospital, her stabbing the other dancer in her dressing room. They are fears she is having, she is fearing losing control and doing these things.

    And I absolultley do believe there is mother-daugther sexual and emotion abuse portrayed in this film. The scene with the mother in the black lingerie at her door, her daugther was already tucked in bed, lying waiting…for what???? What was she “ready for” so to speak? It could have been a story, a foot massage, but the underlying tone was most definately sexual abuse.

    Dr. Young I am curious about your response to this.

    • Hi Julie-

      Interesting point you bring up about intrusive thoughts/fears of becoming violent. I had not thought about the bit in depth previously, so thanks for something new to ponder! :) One thought I have is about displacement: this has me wondering if the fantasied violence towards other women really belongs directed at the mother but Nina is not yet able to experience her feelings directly.

  19. Misty says:

    Hello Kathleen,

    I felt compelled to weigh in on this issue after reading the comment left by Heather. As a survivor of familial incest, I know precisely what you are talking about in your initial article where you speak about how our culture continues to overlook child abuse. I was 25 years old when I revealed to my Aunt, the mother of my SA that her son had SA abused me (and otherwise for several years when we were children. I have been in counselling for the damage that has done to me. While I certainly had my share of issues, I was never in legal trouble. Her son, is a pathological liar and has been in and out of prison for the last ten years, and constantly in legal trouble long before that.

    You might expect I would be met with sympathy, empathy, or compassion. This woman had been like a second Mother to me most of my life. Instead, she told me something that broke me. I was told that she did not understand why I was bringing this up now. That I was child years ago, and he should not have to be punished now for something that occured then. The family who I was formerly close with seemed to wash their hands of me, I was treated and comments were made that made it seem like I was the bad person here, how could I do something to hurt Him.

    I do not think that reaction is as uncommon as many might think. There is a sexual abuse advocacy group in my area which holds free meetings for parents to teach them how to identify possible signs of abuse and what to do if you learn your child has been abused. Many parents hardly show up to these meetings.

    We do not want to talk about real sexual abuse or admit to it. We want to cover it up and close our eyes, unless it is the theme of the fictional movie on Lifetime this week. We are accepting of SA as a fictional concept played out in movies or a TV series. When it impacts us personally, we do not how to handle it so we shut our eyes, our ears, and our minds off from it. If you look at the light sentences given to most child sexual abusers, provided they even see any jail time at all, you will see for yourself how lightly child sexual abuse is taken even by the legal system. 9 times out of 1O, an adult male who rapes an adult female will get a much more lengthy and severe sentence than an adult male who rapes a young girl.

    Imagine the message we sent to those who have been SA by someone who are children. The damage of sexual abuse, aside from the physical pain incurred is the abuse of trust. In some cases a child is too young to understand a person sexualizing them is misusing the trust and intentionally hurting them. It may not be until the child matures and can reason that a person who they trusted and adored intentionally did something to hurt them, for their own benefit. This is also why many children who are being abused may want to protect their abuser or have a kinship with them.

    This often causes others to doubt the nature or existence of the sexual abuse at all. They reason that a child being sexually abused would be fearful and not want to be near that person. That is not always the case.

  20. I do see the psychological and sexual abuse angle in Black Swan. I agree with Dr Young that two aspects of unhealthy mother-daughter relationships are enmeshment and control. The mother lives out her unrealized dream of being a dancer through her daughter. Also, the mother convinces her daughter that she needs her, that this is all for her own good, and that the outside world is too dangerous to go it alone. I thought the picture of the mother as both nurturing and frightening was right on. Another aspect of the movie not discussed here is anorexia. The Natalie Portman character is rigid, perfectionistic, and self-punishing. Certainly the death at the end is reminiscent of an anorexic not realizing how she is killing herself. Anorexia can be tied to abuse and enmeshment as well.

  21. wilbypark says:

    I wrote an article on Black Swan a little while ago in which I put emphasis upon the sexual relationship between mother and daughter. What surprised me, was following the publication of the piece how many people came up to me and stated that they didn’t believe that this was the case. By then I’d also stumbled upon this article and re-watched the film. At this point I am convinced that this is the true hidden theme of the film. What startled me was the correlation between how certain viewers turned a blind eye to the film’s hidden reality, and how some people when confronted with similar real life situations steer the same course. The theme compelled me so much that I wrote a second article on Black Swan http://bit.ly/BlackSwan2 where I emphasised the abuse angle. I also see the possibility that Nina’s relation with Lily is a possible ‘safe’ outlet for the sexual feelings her mother has forced upon her, as if re-branding the trauma in a safer context in order to gain control of it.

    • Vero says:

      I see the emotional abuse but not the sexual abuse. And I have to make corrections to two remarks which I find really irritating: It was NOT the face of the mother Nina saw in the sex scene or in the bathroom scene, it is her OWN face she sees. Since I downloaded the film, I went back and checked this several times. I don’t even know how one can seriously see the face of the mother when it is so clearly Nina herself.

      Emotional abuse is also a very serious topic, the sexual abuse is not even “necessary” to explain the movie. Like you said, yes, one of the underlying topics is abuse. But it is emotional abuse. The mother kept Nina from having an own identity, an own development, was over possessive and controlling literally all parts of her life, even the most initmate ones like sexuality. She prevented Nina from having an own sexuality. Nina had no identity, was weak and insecure. All she knew was being controlled and possessed. She never learnt to have an own opinion, to stand up for herself, to BE someone, to live. Her mother did not allow her to live. That is the reason why she was so fragile, had no normal connection with her own sexuality and was confused about this part of her life as well as about every other part of her life. To hear the sentence “sweet child” is a clear sign that her mother did not even leave her alone in her most intimate parts of her life and tried to take every space of Ninas life. Nina could not experience a thing like sexuality, which is strongly connected with freedom and liberation, because that was exactly what her mother tried to make not happen. Nina was not able of normal and healthy relationships with others due to this emotional abuse. She was too fragile and kind of paranoid and afraid of other people because lacking own identity and only knowning personal relationships as invasive ones.
      Her mother was invasive, over-controlling and possessive (which is serious enough), but did not sexually abuse her.

      • wilbypark says:

        Thank you for your comment. Doesn’t a film of ambiguity generate many perspectives? And isn’t one of the chief values of this film, the fact that it has brought a number of these difficult topics to a place of greater public awareness and understanding?
        I agree that emotional abuse is a terrible perpetration for an individual to bear, capable of crushing that person’s vital life source.
        Any grounds to expose and throw reasoned illumination onto this topic are completely validated in my opinion.
        With regards to the article, the reason I stressed sexual rather than emotional abuse was the result of asking myself a question. Why is Nina’s emancipation seen as a negative event? If she is breaking free of her mother’s coda, shouldn’t that be experienced as a positive struggle? Instead the further Nina investigated herself the more terrifying and dislocated her reality became.
        There is room here for a multitude of perspectives. Finally, I feel, the precise content of the fantasy of the story is less important that the fact that, because of its enlarged platform, it can potentially generate a positive echo of a deeper understanding of these issues into society.

  22. Naomi says:

    I saw Black Swan three weeks ago and I was disturbed to recognize myself in the character of Nina and especially in her relationship with her mother. I didn’t get the sexual abuse hidden theme at first. Now that I have read the article and the comments, it makes even more sense to me. My mother was controlling, manipulative and she has abused me emotionally through my childhood and my teenage years. It was even worse after my parents divorced and I was left alone with her most of the time. I must say that she didn’t commit any “inappropriate gesture” as such, but she was intruding in the bathroom and in my bedroom a lot even if I asked her to stop several times. The most destructive thing according to me is that she used to tell me that she didn’t want me to play the role of a partner or to replace my father. Yet she was acting exactly the opposite. She insisted that I spent most of the weekend with her and that I had dinner with her. She was mad at me when I had nothing to say at dinner and when I simply didn’t feel like having a conversation with her. She was making me feel guilty when I asked to stay at a friend’s house or at my father’s house longer than expected. Her anger was sometimes disproportionate and I was truly scared of her sometimes times. It is hard to acknowledge this and yes, people do overlook child abuse. The irony is that my mother was herself a victim of sexual abuse in her childhood. Since she told me five years ago, I have been helping her to find resources to overcome her past. Knowing what my mother went through may help me to forgive her but it doesn’t mean that I have to ignore what happened to me. This article made me realize even more clearly that people must deal with the hurt and the trauma that they have lived in their childhood so they don’t pass it on their own children.
    * English is not my first language so please excuse me for the mistakes that might be in this post.

  23. Murasaki Ana says:

    i just saw the movie, i wanted to know what was the pathology that Nina suffered and got to this very interesting blog. I didn’t see the sexual abuse when i watched it, but emotional abuse definately. It also made me think of myself. The coreographer tells her she is her worst enemy herself, that was my first impression. she was trying to sabotage herself, maybe wanted to runaway so badly from all that pressure and abuse and also cause she wasn’t going to accept anything else but perfection.
    off course that she had paranoia and all those mentioned pathologies, but in a personal level i find that her guilt, her fear and her codependency (because of that sick relationship with her mother) were going to distroy her.
    i see that in me, every day, since im starting to deal with my own demons.
    My mother was abusive, controling me, respecting no limits, putting doubts about my value always, my father too, now that i think about it, they were always making me fragile and useless. they don’t see it, they were only “protecting me”, but i kind of felt uncapable for life, and without a clear identity, i also was afraid of men and unable to defend myself, i tend to get obsessed with things from time to time, wanted to die and fantasized about it many times, and when i was deeply depressed two years ago i felt like some people were doing things to hurt me (very self centered thoughts, not real), this movie reminded me of my insecurities and my self-sabotage through a long time.
    . I’m on my way to freedom from that codependency, though i still can’t deal with the roles that my parents still play sometimes (cause i often see them and work with them). But i think it is vital to see what’s inside and recover because i am a mother of two, a boy and a girl and, God knows i don’t want to be an abusive mother.
    I also have to say that many times when you’ve been abused you don’t remember, maybe for many years, or recognize any signal of abuse, denial is so strong…
    but the anger is there and it controls you, it is very very big and it is covered by faking and denial. I’m not sure about all the things in my past yet, but im dealing with what i’ve been able to remember.
    well, this maybe nothing new but it is for me, since i’m going to counseling and im getting to read and study more about the topic, and i don’t want to blame it on my parents for all life, i just want to be OK and don’t hurt my own children. i’m responsible for that now, right?
    So i can stop being a victim, i just have to learn how…
    wish me luck in the way!
    (forgive my English, it’s not my first language)

  24. JMP says:

    I am a 33 year old man. I was raped by my father from age 6-12. I was sexually abused by my mother.

    The incest in Black Swan was SO obvious to me, I pointed it out to my friend and he saw it too. Controlling mother with BIG boundary issues… sexualization of child… age-inappropriate stuff… aftershocks in all of Nina’s relationships (she has a pattern of ALWAYS getting used)… I think people’s responses here are very telling of society. I see people not wanting upset their family system because they have a lot invested in it. Abuse hurts, and no one wants to admit that a family member is an abuser.

    In my case, I cut contact with my parents. In the process, I lost contact with my sister and her daughter, whom I love very much.

    I can not live in silence and I will not have people projecting their own denial onto me by calling me crazy. Of course, Nina has some issues. The issues she has though are not because she is innately f**ed up, but simply because she is a human being who has experienced some very dark things and doesn’t know how to deal with them. I have had intense flashbacks and they are very disturbing.

    What I said to my friend in the movie was, wow- everyone in this movie needs a good therapist!!! In a family system, it is never just one person that is sick.

  25. Rob SM says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I created a link to your blog in my movie blog (below my own review of “Black Swan”) so that my readers will be informed. Thanks. I hope you don’t mind.

  26. My question is i always have these vauge memories of being touch, and as a teenager i slept with alot of men! so wat does that mean?

    • Hi Katrina-

      The answers to personal questions like that are beyond the scope of a blog. :) Only someone who knows you as an individual over time can help you sort out what that means for you.

      I recommend seeking therapy if these (or any) questions are interfering with your quality of life.

  27. Kan says:

    I really didn’t see anything in regards to Mother-Daughter “sexual” abuse…
    all I saw was a mother who has quite a bit of internal conflict…someone who has been bringing Nina up to finish her unfinished dream, yet doing so in a subdued, restrained, implicit way, often using reverse psychology (cake incident) to avoid being seen as self-serving….she seems to be a character who wants desperately to be seen as a good mother, someone who is also desperate for validation and not someone who is a flagrantly abusive mother. To me, Nina is a repressed child who was most likely brought up/trained to be repressed and to focus her life/passion on nothing but ballet, she was losing her mind as the stakes became too high when she’s within arms length to fulfilling that life long expectation that she knew was so important to her mother and was taught to believe that it was her own expectations as well.

  28. David says:

    Nice viewpoint! its ironic how nowadays in alleged times of personal freedom, remains so much repression to individuality… in fact when nina opened the shower door i was expecting to see her mother`s corpse :O she was the biggest obstacle against success.

  29. maureen says:

    I really had my doubts the mother even existed.
    For a few reasons really. I don’t think her mother was at the theatre at all. And if she had been Nina couldn’t have seen her! Have you ever performed on a stage? The bright lights shining in your eyes? You can’t really see anything but dark in the house!
    When Nina 1st goes into the apartment and sees all those off , childish drawings in “Mommy’s ” room and the one which looks like Barbara Hershey eyes move?
    And suddenly Mommy appears. I think it would be possible Nina lives alone and has kept things as they were when she was a child, her childish drawings in her mother’s room, her childhood furniture and toys, to cucoon herself and stay in a time when she felt safe and loved. I think she is a splintered personality who has an amazing fantasy life which , as her pyschosis deepens, becomes darker and darker.
    I really don’t see the sexual abuse angle with the mother, although I think the old pervert on the train may have been a memory of something rather than the man actually being there. Also, when she sees her mother slumped in the chair “asleep” her position seems awkward, later before Nina leaves we see her slumped in a chair again, looking almost like a disgarded doll.
    I think Nina is horribly isolated , due to the fact that she cannot stand to have her fantasies, like Mom is alive, and nurturing at home, challenged. The reason the “Mother ” treats Nina as a child is because she died, or left, when Nina was an actual child. Her Mother never interacted with her as an adult, so Nina’s fantasy Mom treats her as Nina was when she was last a part of her life. As Nina tries to “grow up” she is challenging her own delusions, because with fantasy Mom she must always be a sweet little ballerina girl. She can’t become a sexual being and have fantasy Mom too. There is also the element of all the mirrors, everywhere, and all the dancers having a similar look, skinny bodies, lollie pop heads, all dressed alike, moving together in sync, I think Nina doesn’t really have a sense of “self”. I dated a male dancer for a time, and being surrounded by mirrors everyday, focusing so entirely on your own body, being encouraged to do ANYTHING to keep your weight down, purging , laxatives ANTHING , makes for some rather unusual and bitchy personalities! When I was working the San Francisco opera house and ABT came ,they readily acknowleged, almost proudly that all the female dancers had eating disorders! Disturbing!

  30. Patrick says:

    I am currently completing an assignment on the family systems theory of Murray Bowen and have to say I have really loved this article on the Black Swan. Having seen the movie and from the outset picked up on the enmeshment of the relationship between the mother and daughter and how the success story of the daughter was papering over the disappointments of life experienced by the mother. I was led astray as the movie developed and went on to view the psychological trauma being experienced by the daughter as a result of her pursuit for perfection. At the end this left me a little confused and not sure of the movie, however, your article has cleared up the lingering confusion I have had in relation to it. I believe that my confusion is stemming from my resorting to, during the movie, an avoidance to face the true impact of the destructive relationship of the mother upon her daughter. Thank you for highlighting this through your article. Your have just made this film a great one and have helped me with a blind spot.

  31. captcliff says:

    I’m a Clinical Psychologist. My gf is the mother of a professional ballet dancer (in training), As a child, my gf experienced alot of trauma and abuse. She has raised her daughter in the unavoidable “pressure cooker” culture of ballet, one which is dominated by controlling stage mothers, autocratic directors, the pursuit of perfection, eating disorders, backstabbing competition, superstition, fear (of injury) and obsessive thinking and behavior. All of the responses to this blog/post are obviously valid and relevent (to them), but might want to also consider taking a therapeutic “step back” to ponder the specific context and culture the film explores. BTW, I’m also a certified sex therapist. To be an autonomous sexual being, one first needs to have a defined “sense of self” or identity. To have a distinct identity (which is more than “just” thinking, “I’m a dancer”, etc., one needs to have their own sense of self, personal space and physical boundaries. Nina’s mother obviously doesnt allow or promote this aspect of body/mind/emotional development, and is busy sending mixed messages to her daughter about success, failure, achievement, and especially maturation. I wont throw myself into the debate about SA. I am only commenting that my background tells me it is more about pathological and enmeshed mother-daughter relationships which are bound to twist and pervert the healthy growth, development and autonomy of the young baby bird seeking to find her authentic mature self and sexuality (regardless of sexual orientation). My gf’s feedback is also valuable because she recognizes the sick, competitive-perfectionistic and obsessive culture which professional ballet represents…..kind of an Uber microcosm of our general culture. She said, after seeing the film with me, “Damn, they really got that right in every way”.

  32. Tanja says:

    As I was growing up, these were the things which I perceived as ‘normal':

    Being given children’s cherry-flavoured penicillin for non-existent illnesses. The result was thrush that my mother would examine as often as possible. I was never allowed to put the cream on myself.

    Agressive genital washing in the bath, with a strong soap. It hurt badly. I cried.

    Being bashed for having the trots and missing the toilet. I wonder what she fed me.

    Dressing me as a go-go girl when she had visitors. Making me play the piano naked.

    Waking up next to other people’s children (whom I had never met) while our Mums and Dads were having orgiastic sex with each other in the living room.

    Porn was prevalent, in print and picture form. Us kids saw it.

    Smacking me whenever I scratched because of the thrush.

    Here’s the sickest stuff: until I cut contact at age 41 (i am 45 now) she would sit on the toilet and talk to me or would open the toilet door while I was sitting on it so she could talk. When I had my period, she would seeth with rage and add salt and fatty ingredients to my food to sabotage my diet. She walked into the bathroom on me as often as possible. Once when I had a boyfriend stay with me at her house, she barged in at 5 am and upended the contents of every cupboard and drawer onto the bed on top of us while we had sex.

    I was always prettier than she was, even as pimply teenager and she hated me for dressing nicely. She would put persishable white foods in my skin care products, such as yoghurt. She would unpick the back of one of my best dresses, laid out for a disco.

    This is just the beginning. The woman hates my guts and my therapist says she is a misogynist.

    After twenty years of promiscuity, I now hate men and sex. I can’t wait for her to die.

  33. Pingback: Links of Great Interest: So. Much. Fail. — The Hathor Legacy

  34. Dear Dr. Young,
    The first thing I want to say is that I haven’t actually watched the movie. I have heard this observation from others, however. I am the daughter of an abusive mother. I am 40 years old and I finally admitted that the abuse had a sexual component. The thing about sexual abuse is that it’s not always about the overt act. I was disturbed by the comments by poster “Heather”. I believe your assertion that mothers are revered. This is evidenced by how we treat fathers in our society, not to mention the way we favor mothers in custody and child support issues.

    It sounds like the mother in the movie did a lot of the same things my mother did and I can attest to reader “Heather” that these things are indeed sexual. Invading someone’s physical privacy by requiring them to be undressed or they themselves being undressed, is sexual. Tucking a grown woman into bed is sexual, there is no other reason for it. For my mom, I was sexual competition from the time I was a little girl. There is a big chunk of my childhood that I simply can’t remember and I just “knew” way too much about sex at a very young age. My mother would accuse her boyfriends of leering at me and she would accuse me of being a slut just because I smiled. She would burst into my bathroom even when I was using it, bath, toilet, it didn’t matter to her. And she not once told me she was proud of me when she was sober. She did, however, tell absolutely every one else how proud she was. It was a means for her to take credit for my accomplishments.

    So, if the movie contains the material you talked about, Dr. Young, you are right on the money. And I will now be watching it. I think understanding the issues related to mother-daughter sexual abuse are extremely important. I am disappointed in the commentators who refuse to see the possibility that it exists.

    Thank you so much for handling this issue with sensitivity and directness. It is greatly appreciated by survivors like me.

  35. Eva says:

    Hello everyone, I am 34 and have only now begun my healing and starting to speak about what happened to me at the hands of my mother. Here is my blog: http://myblogofhealing.blogspot.com/

    Please leave a comment, I would love to be intouch with other survivors.

    Regards
    Eva

  36. Ugly Duckling says:

    There may be some triggers in this blog, but I am new to this, so forgive me.

    I have not seen the movie and I doubt I will. It may trigger some things for me that I am still not ready to face. I agree with several of the posters here that sometimes there is a fine line between emotional and sexual abuse. My mother was a severely repressed, depressed, obsessive-compulsive individual who dominated me (or tried to) my every waking moment.

    Examples: forcing me to sit at the dinner table for hours (often past 10 pm – – I was 3 years old) if I could not finish everything on my plate, sometimes to the point where I would throw up. This also included forcing me to eat items I hated (beets!) until I was sick. Amazingly, I did not become bulimic or anorexic.

    Searching my purse, bedroom, closet, and clothing daily….looking for signs of sexual activity.

    Becoming enraged when I was 18 and told her I had kissed a date goodnight.

    Becoming enraged when I drew, at age 8, a picture of a pregnant neighbor across the street, accusing me of “filthy thoughts” and “sinful behavior”. I was a fairly good artist, good at ink and charcoal drawing……liked to draw people and animals.

    I could go on – – it just gets worse – – but my point is, this type of emotional abuse has strong overtones of sexual abuse. More importantly, as the daughter of this maniacal woman, I was forced to completely subjugate my personality, needs, wants, goals……..I had no life, no sense of self. I sneaked around and lied and did everything humanly possible to escape this woman. I hated her for years. She recently died and I thought at last I would be “free.” Strangely enough, it has gotten worse….all the unresolved issues and trauma have only served to cut me off even further from myself, my husband, and others I love.

    There were also some inappropriate physical behaviors from her that I know have seriously affected my sexuality. This issue needs to be brought out into the open for all survivors, and people should listen without rushing to judgment or dismissal. Mothers can indeed be very disturbed human beings – just because they are “moms” does not mean that these behaviors are just some sort of over-nurturing issue, or indicative of a generational difference in parenting. They are “sick” behaviors. As far as the movie is concerned, at least it seems to be thought-provoking and anything that brings this silent scourge to light has got to be a positive thing.

  37. Karen says:

    I was emotionally and physically abused by my mother which lead into sexual abuse in my early teens.

    I think that the early abuse emotional and physical paved the way for the sexual abuse to happen. I wasn’t a robust teen because I had been left so confused from the early abuse. One minute my mum could be kind and would indentify with my interests the next she would be screaming obscenities at me and slap me. When I was in primary school she pulled my knickers down, put me over her knee and slapped my bum. When I was too old for this she would slap me around the face and make my nose bleed and she would find reasons to do this. This left me confused making me try harder to please and keep her happy so that she wouldn’t find a reason.

    When I was in my early teens she befriended me telling me we were like sisters. I naturally went for this relationship as I think I’d given up on the mother daughter one. She shared with me her secrets. That she had been a prostitute, that she was having an affair and that she was pregnant by another man (not my father). I naturally tried too please her by keeping all her secrets. She with all of her seductive talking manipulated my responses. She put into me how she wanted me to react. She later organised the man she was having an affair with (my brothers father) to sexually abuse me. She would be in the room sometimes watching. At the same time she organised one of her clients abusing me. Then it progressed into her introducing me to a man who was 46 when I was only 15. My mother and father let him move into our house and share my bedroom with me when I was just 16. I ran away with him at 16 and spent 15 years on my life with him in an abusive relationship. For years they all worked together to make me doubt my own reality and experiences and to make me blame myself. They portrayed that I had a choice???

    I read the other posts and don’t want you to second guess yourself in what you observed. You see these types of abuse are subtle and so can go unnoticed. Also people don’t want to notice, no one helped me. There were adults who knew I was being exposed and they did nothing but turn the other cheek. None of my family brother or sister have supported me. Instead they’d rather I’d let sleeping dogs lay.

  38. Stepmom says:

    Wow, this thread has really spoken to me. I suspect that my step-daughter’s enmeshed codependency with her mother is beginning to sexualize (she is now 11), and I am realizing that how her father and I handle this could make all the difference in the world. I love her and want to do right by her… for the last ten years, it has felt like watching a train derail in slow motion. My SD is the “parent” in her relationship with mom, and from an early age has expressed that she feels a sense of responsibility for her mother’s well-being. SD “belongs” to her mom – it is as if her mom believes that SD has only a finite amount of love to give, and if she gives to anyone but her mom… her mom gets less. In the last few months, I have noticed a change in the tone of their relationship. SD sleeps with her mom, even though her mom is remarried. She says that her stepfather sleeps in the spare room while she sleeps with mom (as if mom is choosing her over her husband to share her bed). She has begun to develop seperation anxiety when she is at our home (where she has her own bedroom and bed) – she asks to go home to her mom, because she doesn’t like to sleep apart from her. It wasn’t always this way, but suddenly escalated about the same time her mom mandated that she wear a bra all the time. The problem with this is, SD hasn’t begun to develop breasts. The other thing I have noticed is the way that she and her mother now say goodbye when she drops her off with us. The goodbye is lengthy and affectionate, with several mouth to mouth kisses. The exchange appears almost romantic in nature. I have raised three children of my own, and am an affectionate mom… but this is different, and I can’t put a finger on it.

    Of course I cannot say for certain that I know what happens in the privacy of mom’s home, but my intuition tells me something isn’t right. I feel as though my SD is meeting the intimacy needs of her mother that should be met by her husband. They engage in a lot of secrecy, and we have found out that mom keeps SD out of school frequently to stay with her (mom’s husband works on the road during the week, so it’s just the two of them often. They often conspire together to make up stories as to why SD can’t come to our home, and we almost always find out later that it was a lie. I know my SD loves her father, but I see this incredible loyalty conflict and duty to take care of her mother as the motivation for why she aligns with her mom’s controlling behavior. Mom also projects… so if we want to know what she is up to, we only have to wait to hear what she accuses us of doing next. She literally tells on herself through her accusations of others. Her accusations in the last couple of years have involved very vague accusations that “someone” in our home has molested SD – we have opened up our home and family in an effort to be transparent and deal with her allegations, but until recently, it never really dawned on me that perhaps she was projecting about SA, too. Or, maybe as a mother, I would not want to believe that any mother would ever act in that way toward a child, especially their own baby! As accustomed as I have become to dealing with mom’s disturbed behavior, I find myself frightened and uncertain about how to approach this developing awareness of what may be happening between these two. I don’t want to believe it, but I know if I look the other way, I am as wrong as the person inflicting it on a child that I love.

    My question to those of you who have survived SA with your mother is this: If you were 11 again, and I was your stepmom, what would you want me to do in order to help you? When you are that age and in that situation, did you even realize that it was dysfunctional and wrong? All I want is to help my SD escape a lifetime sentence of shame and dysfunction. I want her to be free to be her own person, and have boundaries that she doesn’t feel she must apologize for.

    Thank you for taking the time to hear my story, and I hope that after reading it, you are inclined to give me some feedfback.

    • Stepmom says:

      Wow, there is so much that I didn’t share another large piece to this: my SD was adopted about a year after mom had to have a hysterectomy. Within the last couple of weeks, we have been contacted by friends in the town Mom lives in, telling us that she has announced her PREGNANCY to other people. This last weekend, SD told my daughter that her mom is pregnant, and she can’t wait to become a big sister. She told her about her mom taking several pregnancy tests and having morning sickness, which SD was assisting by taking care of her mom when she has morning sickness. Not only is this indicative of mental illness…but it is another way of controlling my SD into believing that she needs to take care of her mom. I realize that this probably sounds completely crazy – as I put this down in writing, I can’t believe what I am typing – but sharing it is so cathartic!

    • Karen says:

      Hi

      I’ve read your comment and it sounds like you intuitively know that this relationship is abusive and I think your RIGHT.

      To help your SD is not going to be easy. I say that because she has been groomed by her mother now, obviously we don’t know the full extent of that grooming.

      I believed the things my mum told me, she manipulated my thought process. I wanted so much to make her happy and I felt responsible for her happiness. At that age if I’d have had a nice step mum I would have still wanted to protect my mum. I would have put my mum before my own happiness believing although not understanding that being happy centred around making me mum happy. My mum would have had the power to make step mum look bad. To estrange me from SM.

      I think if you talk to SD keep explanations very short and sweet regarding what is wrong and right. Also feelings are very important because as a child in that position you experiences physical feelings of being upset but you can’t and don’t without the help of a strong adualt understand them. If you point them out to her and try to show her where they are coming from, who and why she might be feeling as she does and behaving as she does then you have a chance of beginning to reserve grooming and preventing further grooming.

      Hope this helps

      Karen

    • deb says:

      I was sexually abused by my mother from around the age of 2 (the earliest I can remember) until my teens. When I was around the age of 11, I knew how bad it felt, but couldn’t identify it as dysfunctional and wrong. That’s part of the insidiousness of MDSA, is that because it is your mother, you tend to believe they are “right” and your feelings are “wrong”. I longed for someone to take me away from her; I could not wait to get out of the house for the last time. It is so wonderful that you love her and want to help her. I wish more concerned adults would care enough to intervene for children who are caught (it is like a prison) in an abusive relationship. Just don’t keep the secret; help her to find her voice. I doubt very much that she is “enjoying” this intimacy with her mother, she just doesn’t know where to get help.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Pardon my English, if there are any grammar faults. I am not English, I live in Northern Europe.
    I really recognized myself in the character of Nina, and it saddens me to read some of the comments on this page.
    I left my family when I was 15. Since then I’ve lived in several foster homes, six months in a mental institution for children and an institution under the Child services. To me it was a matter of life or death, either I wound commit suicide or I would break free from a lifetime of sexual and psychological abuse.
    My memories of my early childhood are few, scattered in a chaotic sense. My father is a chapter of its own. Words I associate with him is pedophilia, sick, unstable, scary. He liked to undress me when I was little, mostly as a “bed-time” ritual. He liked to browse the web for pornography with daughter-father sex. He undressed me with his eyes. Once he put himself in front of me with an erection under his shirt, asking me of how my day was in school. He always wanted to “get something” in the bathroom when I was in there. And if I didn’t open the door, he would get very mad and yelling. I had no choice but to obey, he frightened me.
    But the one who frightened me the most, was my mother. Her abuse was so unspecific and hard to define, and to describe with words. When I was little, she could barge into my room, taking of my pajamas because she insisted I was warm. I didn’t feel safe anywhere in the house, I grew up with the need to lock doors and hang a shirt on the door handles to prevent her from peeking in, both when I was in my bedroom and in the bathroom. She was an expert of verbal and psychological abuse. She often yelled at me for no reason at all, calling me mean things, like asocial, friend-less, gay, pathological liar, psychopath and such. Once I complained that I was sore between my legs. I was 14. Suddenly she got angry and grabbed my arm and dragged me to my parents’ bedroom. She ordered me to take of my jeans and panties and lay down on the bed. I refused, but she pushed me down. When I was naked, she spread my legs and put her face closely and started exanimating and touching me. I have never felt more ashamed or filthy.
    My earliest memory from home was when my mother and father abused my together. I was perhaps three or four. As a punishment to that I had worms in my belly, they brought me to their bedroom. The pushed my down on the madras as used my color pencils to dig in my anus. I cried, they laughed at me. I can still feel the physical pain.
    My point is that it is hard to draw a line between sexual and emotional abuse. I can relate to those who don’t see the sexual abuse in the movie, because it might not be as clearly illustrated in the film. But for those who lived through it, it’s really obvious. Either way, the mother-daughter relationship in the movie is a little off. Something is not right.
    That a parent sexualize his or her own child, is to me a form of incest. Denying your children a sexuality is also a form of sexualisation. I red in an article that one in five abusers were women. The society’s unwillingness to acknowledge the issue should be embarrassing. Not only did my mother fail to protect me against my father, she was far worse. I still find myself hanging shirts on the door handles.

  40. anonymous says:

    To the woman who asked what she can do to help her stepdaughter, what an abused child might want from a loving advocate: Although I can only speak for myself, and not for anyone else, I must say that having grown up with a sexually abusive mother, I used to pray daily that the police would come and I would be placed in foster care. Eventually I became an atheist. (ha.) I loved my mom very deeply -was addicted to her, in fact- but somehow deep inside I knew that what she was doing was so wrong. I would have wanted with all of my soul to be taken out of there by legal recourse.

    Now as an adult, I realize that the trauma for a child to be taken from his or her parents for any reason must be overwhelmingly difficult to bear. Nonetheless, I think it would have prevented a whole different set of traumas. A much worse set, really. And to be withdrawn from a harmful situation while young and placed in a loving, supportive one can get help get a head start on the healing process.

    Of note, in helping a survivor of mother-daughter sexual abuse heal, your life – at least for the next ten years if SD is only 11 – is about to get painful and crazy and more than you ever signed on for in marrying her dad.

    But wow. WOW. You sound like an amazing, strong and intelligent woman. Thank you for being so loving and so astute. Your family is very fortunate.

    (BTW: Not an atheist anymore, so to everyone else: no preaching, please.) ;)

    • anonymous says:

      One thing I failed to mention in my post. You asked if, as a survivor, there was any awareness of what was wrong in the situation. In answer to that: no, not really. I prayed for police/foster care because of the physical abuse, which was painful and scary. But I wasn’t able to distinguish sexual affections from normal maternal affections until I was at least 25 and started meeting other women (much like yourself, I imagine), who were loving, sane mothers, and who showed me the difference between right and wrong. They taught by example what real women act like. Only then was I able to look back at my life and say, “Whoa… that woman was really screwed up.” :)

  41. Hamlet's Sister says:

    Escape from the sexual abuse, no doubt. I just saw the movie and I am sure about it. During the movie Nina is trying to end the abuse several times. And the scene when the mother comes into her room waring black night dress and saying: Sweety are you ready for me? is scary. With all types of abuse, I think, the only way for the victim to get free is either to die or to kill. That is what this movie is suggesting, as well as others (compare with Sleeping with the enemy …)

    • Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. As a trauma therapist I need to clarify that it is possible to get free from abuse, current abuse and the effects of past abuse, while living. I help support trauma survivors who are doing this every day. :)

  42. Levi Junk says:

    I was hoping to add (not sure if anyone has yet) that a big giveaway that this is indeed portaging a story of sexual abuse, is the sex scene between Nina and Mila Kunis’s character. After Nina climaxes, Mila’s character says “sweet girl” just like Nina’s mom would call her. Then the next morning we see the wood piece that blocks anyone from entering Nina’s room has been removed. The ONLY way that can happen is if someone went in and then out of the bedroom, and since we know Nina wasn’t actually with Mila’s character, and we know the wood would break if the mother was intruding (just like it does later) than the only logical explanation is that it was Nina and her mom in that room that night. Just thought I’d add that! :)

  43. T.A.B. says:

    I am 45 years old, female, and am struggling with whether my mother also abused me sexually. She abused me NONSTOP physically, verbally and emotionally, and I don’t mean to get all grotesque here, but literally from infancy to this day, she positively WILL NOT stop with her sexual comments, “jokes”, gynecological talks/comments/observations, menstruation comments, observations (always giving me the worst time over choosing to use pads instead of tampons which was positively none of her business; when I was younger and I had to mortify myself and ask for pads, because I was a slave around the house yet did not receive any pocket money whatsoever so I could buy what I needed, she would throw boxes of pads against my head so hard and resume her vicious commentary when the boxes had smacked me) i.e. no boundaries were ever allowed. Absolutely CONSTANT, relentless, nonstop scrutiny and commentary as I developed, demanding to know anything sexual when I finally became sexually active at age 22 * always assuming and badgering me for proof that I was promiscuous at a ridiculously young age when she wouldn’t even allow me to date; again, no boundaries were allowed and only caused me to endure even more bouts of horrendous and painful physical violence and nonstop screaming. EVERYTHING was scrutinized, questioned, subsequently ridiculed; back then, I’d always felt she was some sort of a perverted voyeur; she and my older brother snickered, laughed, egged me on, taunted and tormented me into discussing my private bodily functions and Mom beat me to a pulp when I refused to comply.

    IS THIS SEXUAL ABUSE on top of what I was already withstanding, 24/7/365 in terms of physical, verbal and mental abuse? I don’t find too much on this topic but no matter how many MILLIONS of times I have asked her to stop asking me about these things and demanding to know specifics about my monthly cycles, making NONSTOP gynecological comments and forcing me to endure her nonstop gynecological lectures, trying RELENTLESSLY to physically force me to undergo gynecological exams from age eleven onward, which I have always refused to do since it’s not a law and I have no symptoms to warrant me going to a gynecologist (again, none of her business), so I’ve endured her nonsense over that, endured listening to her making absolutely NONSTOP sexual commentary, (I have been celibate for countless years and never was an active sexual participant; very few times did I “do” it and only with a guy, long ago, I was madly in love with but he did not feel the same way about me) sexual “jokes” and “comments” and “observations” whether outright and/or in terms of innuendos. Her masturbating in full view of me and her refusal and subsequent, violent beatings when I politely asked her to do that behind a closed door. Forcing me to listen to her having sex with countless men and forcing me to listen to her endless sagas over the STDs she’d contracted because the men apparently never wore condoms. Parading around naked or in flimsy underwear, expecting me to comment, positively, on her puny breasts which she always shoved directly in my face; remember, I am female, so why would I want to see my own mother’s breasts? I would always instinctively recoil in revulsion and horror and my gut reactions were always met with more terrifying and painful, physical violence, screaming, hair pulling, knocking around and vicious commentary. To this day I wince if I even ever see her, which is never my choice. I am sick to death of being her punching bag and it’s a wonder I haven’t killed myself from decades of abuse; especially the vicious memories I am forced to recall. I’ve been typing my memoirs for over four years and am positively disgusted that, at 400+ pages in the teeniest font imaginable, I am STILL hammering away on this keyboard, trying to finish the memoirs. I have an elephant’s memory and recall incidents of both of my parents’ vicious hatred of me and abuse back to age ONE; my earliest recollection was of my father dumping a metal cup of milk over my head when I’d refused to drink it; sad to know that not only have I always hated the TASTE of milk; it took two decades before I finally was diagnosed as lactose intolerant.

    It has bothered me to be her bug on a microscope slide my entire life and every time I tried to assert myself against her terror and tyranny, I was beaten, slammed to the floor, hurled against walls, my chest was smashed (because she is flat as a board, she was outraged when I developed to a 36DD by age twelve and has FOREVER made “nursing mother” and “udders” comments to me over how I look), my hair was pulled, my jaw was crushed, my hands were crushed; I endured this awful combination of abuse every day and night of my life, had witnesses and nobody intervened. But on top of the heinous, “regular” abuse I was withstanding was the equally grotesque and never-ending gynecological/menstrual/sexual ENDLESS questioning, badgering and commentary * this is just too brutal to put into words. I’d appreciate your input. Thanks for your gently written website where I’ve just found you.

    Sincerely,
    T.A.B.

    P.S. Thank you. Please take my name off of my original post; I didn’t think it would post my full name.

    • Hi T.A.B.-

      Sexual abuse exists on a continuum and includes things other than actual sexual behavior or physical contact. Some in the trauma field refer to these other experiences as covert or emotional incest. When I work with clients I encourage them to define their own experiences; if something has felt abusive or violating to you that is what matters more than how anyone else defines your experience!

      If you are not already, I so very much encourage you to find a trauma-informed therapist who can help you heal from all that you have endured.

      • T.A.B. says:

        Dear Dr. Young, THANK YOU for such a compassionate reply and for your insights. I guess I was so accustomed to abuse on all levels, the added, constant sexual commentary, scrutiny and undertones only added to how offended I was. My brother is only 2-1/2 years older and he was treated like GOLD. Thank you for being so kind to all of us. I really liked your input on the Black Swan movie.

  44. bfli1 says:

    She made me her scapegoat. I had to keep her fulfilled-emotionally. I had no privacy. No room to breathe. I had to answer the phone each and every time she’d call home. If not-that was head on a platter. Living in that house was like walking on a landmine; never knowing just where to step in order to avoid setting off an explosion. I am affected to this day.

  45. Pingback: 2013 in review | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

  46. LeAnn says:

    I began reading many of the answer posts here because of the first one listed where the woman is 32 and the more successful she becomes, the more abusive her mother seems. Myself and my sister realized many years ago that our mother sabotaged my sister’s weight and tried to do so to me as well, we thought there might be some competition or jealousy angle. I tried to move from my parent’s house first when I was 11y/o, the oldest, my brother, had been molesting me and allowing his friends to do so at least since I was 6. He and my sister were close, he molested her also, but not many times and it seemed more reciprocal. He also tried to drown me or strand me with water moccasins on several occasions. My sister most often tried to protect me, or come find me if she thought violence was being used, but seemed more participatory when no violence was used. I tried to speak to my mother about it many times, even writing on my childhood chalk board around age 7 that no one understood me etc. and asking if she would talk to me about it….when she finally came in to talk she asked me what was so important, yes, with the tone you would imagine. At around age 8 mother caught my brother with a knife to my side making me strip for a neighbor boy. She asked him if it had ever happened before, he said no. When I tried to speak she said “I don’t need to hear from you, he never lies to me.” We were then all told not to tell dad and mother was constantly saying how in my brother’s early development my father’s attitude towards him was too aloof and harsh etc. I was told far too much by her as a child about how my father did not show enough love for my brother and anything bad said would tear apart the family and how she was neglected by her own mother and used as bait by her sister . So, I protected my father and the family relationships by taking the abuse, but trying to manage at least when it happened. I forgave my mother time and again, as well as my brother. I knew from early on that any person that did that to another was mentally and spiritually weaker, and a parent would be even more heartbroken if they realized one of their children was raping the other let alone encouraging their friends to do the same. So, I carried the burden, but at 14 I told my older stronger brother, who also liked to tell me to stay still so he could hit me (rubbish, I dodged and ran!), that it would not happen any more, It only took a few months of ignoring his calling me whore and slut in front of his friends, who were most often appalled (not friends he had successfully held me down for), especially as I was conversely known around the neighborhood as the ice queen, for it to finally stop and us to settle into a masquerade of my pretending to have abuse amnesia. By college he tried so many times, without words to show that he was sorry and to apologize, but, when I brought it out to the whole family in order for the secrecy not to continue with my neice…he did not apologize, he admitted, but he has never apologized. I have never been monetarily or otherwise dependent upon my parents as an adult, and very little as a child (mother borrowed from me all the time), my brother is living for free on my sister’s property, and both my sister and brother and now adult neice are manipulated and cannot function as adults to work and pay their own bills without regular assistance (well my father is manipulated as well, he made his choice to stay with her long ago so tries to just keep her crazy toned down). I never considered family holiday events crazy, to me they were pretty happy and not too stressful, until the last christmas I was home and as usual was plain spoken when needed. I was asked to get my niece to open up to talk and succeed. I watched mother, brother, sister (my niece’s own mother) and even my father accuse my niece, who was on anti-anxiety meds provided for her by medicaid,.of failings and poor behaviors exhibited by mother or themselves. I also found out she had been raped years before while in my brother’s care, after I had many times offered to have her with me in a more stable, structured, and safe environment..and i was never told. I was accused of taking sides by showing her how to clean a bathroom or balance a checkbook, or set goals. My gloves came off, Trying to hurt me is one thing, but the way they treated my niece was abhorrent! I have not spoken to anyone except my father and niece since i left, It is only since then that I realized among the three children she had, she never forgot to pick up my brother from school or a camp, he never had to pay for his own school clothes, uniforms etc., or work with her to clean houses on holidays, and my older brother and sister never had chores until I was old enough to do them as well at 4…oh, and he did not have to wait more than 7 hours to then decide to drive four hours to an emergency room that was much cheaper, rather than ten minutes to the nearest one with any obvious bone injury. Even with driving, he had wrecked a car and was allowed to drive the family van, I had a spotless record and was not, not even allowed by my dad…the only reason I am probably sane is hearing dad stand up for me when he found out she made me wait for emergency care, and physically take on my brother anytime dad caught him trying to hit me. I realize now how mother would sacrifice anything for her boy, even, and especially the females in the family. She is also a hoarder and things have more value than people, even than her granddaughter….though her grandson….any failings are blamed everywhere else but her. I have at times wondered if perhaps mother and and my brother had a sexual undertone to their relationship. It doesn’t seem that weirdly close, but, she has always seemed to love my brother more than my father and mother and brother’s relationship is the closest to unconditional and without judgement that you would see anywhere in my immediate family. I get that forgiveness is for the one doing the forgiving, and many think if you aren’t speaking you have not forgiven.

    You can understand, without being understanding, you can forgive without forgetting, or speaking:). I didn’t just stop communicating, i have done that to people if they are verbally combative, I told the family that when mother earnestly seeks help for the causes of her manipulation and hoarding, I would speak with her, until then, I am freer than I have ever been. If I had any regret of it, it would be that I no longer have connection to my extended aunts and uncles, some of whom are wonderful! Strangest thing…in “attachment” evaluations, I score safely within the secure realm!! I never gave Freud much creedance as I felt that each of us, even as children, can make choices on how we are affected, but, maybe he does have some point of since two out of three children raised by my mother are not self sufficient or in stable loving romantic relationships.

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