Murder Secret Families
Murder within families happens more often than most people realize. What you are about to read is very personal and extremely difficult to talk about. I don’t even talk to my friends about these details. My childhood left me in emotional pieces. Keeping those pieces together requires a careful balance. Talking about my experiences unsettles my emotional balance.
To maintain my emotional balance, I will not read or respond to any emails about other murder secret families. I will not talk about murder secret families in private conversations.
I need my emotional energy to cope with my own experiences. I do not have the emotional energy to cope with other people’s experiences in murder secret families.
Families become murder secret families when one or both parents kill or attempt to kill one or more of their children. After children are dead or murder attempts have failed, parents must keep their murderous actions secret. Keeping their murder secrets becomes the focus of the entire family, even when other members of the family do not know about the murder or murder attempts. Murderous parents recruit unknowing family members into protecting murder secrets. My mother did so by teaching all of our relatives and neighbors to ignore what I said and discount what I did. They didn’t know they were protecting a criminal at the expense of the victim.
My family became a murder secret family the first time my mother tried to kill me. It took me 42 years to admit to myself that an abundance of physical, mental, and emotional clues meant that my mother had tried to kill me. It too me several more years to admit to myself that my mother had tried to kill me twice.
After I admitted to myself that my mother tried to kill me, all of the physical, mental, and emotional clues disappeared. I didn’t need them anymore. But I did need to learn how to cope with knowing that my mother tried to kill me. I started talking about the murder attempts slowly, to only a few people.
I was in and out of therapy several times, never entering therapy because my mother tried to kill me. The murder secret became unavoidable during a five year stretch of therapy. I had two therapists, each for about two and a half years. I happened to be keeping a journal so I wrote about therapy in my journal. I am turning that journal into a book, though it is taking me far longer than I expected because I am on my own coping with my murder memories and my murder secret family.
Reality & Myth
I decided to add this page to my website after receiving an email response from a man at a pro-life group. Pro-life organizations that work to deny women both birth control and abortion services force children to grow up with parents who do not want them. Having lived with a mother who did not want me, I know that forcing children to grow up with one or both parents who do not want them is not “pro-life”. After my mother’s attempts to kill me physically failed, she spent the rest of my childhood trying to kill me mentally and emotionally.
The therapy I received was inadequate to address my needs. For at least ten years, I have been writing mental health organizations and child abuse researchers and pro-life organizations trying to get them to pay attention to people like me. Most people ignored me. My first response came from a Wisconsin reporter. He had just written an article about abused children. I wrote him and told him my story. I asked him to remember children like me if he ever writes about child abuse again. His response was a respectful acknowledgment.
The response I received from the man connected to the pro-life group was this:
“There are TONS of groups that provide mental health and medical support
services and relatively few that protect life before birth.”
Go to the links below to compare what he wrote to the facts:
The myth is that birth satisfies the right to life. Birth requires breath. Life requires food, nurturing, health care, shelter, and safety. The reality is that children who can breathe do not automatically receive food, nurturing, health care, shelter, or safety. I had little nurturing from my mother and no feelings of safety. My father nurtured me, be he was also a victim of my mother’s emotional abuse. He became an alcoholic because he did not know how to stop the abuse or cope with it. He was a quiet alcoholic, drinking quarts of beer every night as he sat at the dining room table reading. However, his beer could keep his anger in check for only so long. Periodically, my father erupted in rages that could last for days. He was not violent, because I remember him spanking my older sister once. He mostly threw things, but never at us. Those rages meant I could not feel safe with my father even though I knew he loved me. But his loved saved my sanity.
The reality for children who survive neglectful, abusive, and murdering parents can be an adulthood of continuing difficulties. While I was trying to cope with my murder memories, other people looked at me and saw a loser.
Another reality is that murder memories can go back to infancy.
“If you tie a ribbon to your 2-month-old’s ankle and connect it to a mobile, he will not only discover almost
immediately that kicking makes it move in a really cool way. He will also remember the trick a day or two later;
as soon as he is laid in his crib and sees the mobile, he kicks again. Three-month-olds can remember the trick
for a week after learning it, and 6-month-olds for up to two weeks. But the memory seems context-dependent:
if even the crib liner changes, the baby seems to forget the kick trick. Still, such “procedural” memory emerges
early, and seems to be stored in the brain’s cerebellum rather than the more evolved cortex, notes neurobiologist
Lise Eliot of Chicago Medical School.”
If babies can remember the trick of kicking to make something move, they can remember reacting to someone trying to kill them. Being murdered has the added element of being horrifically painful. The context dependence remains in the face and voice of the murderer, especially when the first murder attempt fails and the murderer makes new attempts.
After I ended my relationship with my mother, I did everything I could to avoid hearing my murderer’s voice again. I succeeded. My murderer’s voice ended when my mother died in 2018.
“You Must Remember This … ‘Infantile amnesia’ led scientists to believe that children recall nothing from before the age of 3. Turns out they were wrong.”
Newsweek Special Issue
Fall/Winter 2000, page 26
What Most Research Misses
I disagree with some of the research in those links. Research presented on the National Library of Medicine (NCBI) website list these as several factors:
low level of education and employment
signs of alcoholism, drug abuse or other criminal behavior, etc.
The site also lists other factors, including unwanted pregnancy.
Just by talking about my mother, I have met or talked to 4 other women who remember one or both of their parents trying to kill them. I talked to a 5th woman who remembered her detective father pointing a loaded gun at her when she was 4 years old. My mother did not fit any of the risk factors. From what I know of the other women, most of their parents did not fit the risk factors either. None of us lived in areas of extreme poverty. At least 3 of us come from middle class backgrounds. Psychopathology might have been possible in some of the families. People who look like good parents can easily hide their murder secrets because no one believes they are capable of killing their children.
I finally did find research that the reality of my life:
“The authors of the study themselves have concluded that, contrary to expectations, it is not low social status
or noticeable mental problems that are responsible for these killings in French society, but, rather, it is
“low maternal self-esteem and emotional immaturity” that is responsible. These are factors having to do with
the status of women and their treatment in general, not only in “semi-feudal” countries, but also those of
“Startling facts about infanticide and mothers”
December 15, 2010
My mother had low self-esteem because her mother taught her that women had value only as mothers of sons. My grandmother’s first child was a son who died in infancy. Next came my aunt, then my mother. My grandmother did not want another daughter. She wanted another son. My mother was her last child.
If you are a survivor in a murder secret family and you want to talk to other survivors, pick situations in which you feel safe to say, “My mother/father/parents tried to kill me.” I met those other women just by saying, “My mother tried to kill me.” One of the women became the person I could talk to about my murder memories and later experiences.
The statistics reveal that up to 5 children die everyday at the hands of their parents. I think the true statistic is higher because as many as 2,300 children go missing everyday. We just haven’t found all the bodies. Little bodies are easy to hide. Some of those little bodies have been found in freezers, suitcases, household walls, basements, wardrobes, coolers, gardens, underneath houses, in trash bins, and in a recycling plant. I think rivers have washed away thousands of little bodies. Caylee Anthony’s little body was found accidentally in a wooded area, but people were looking for it. How many little bodies will stay buried in woods because no one is looking or because their bodies are hidden better than Caylee’s was?
I think at least 10 to 15 children survive attempted murder by their parents every day. Some of the murder attempts will be repeats, as in my case. But all of those children are then forced to grow up with the people who tried to murder them. It is a trauma that can spill into other lives. Because my therapy was inadequate, I was unable to cope with a sudden memory of a cruel punishment my mother repeatedly used so she could listen to me sob. After a chance meeting with my mother forced the buried memory to surface, I lost all awareness of where I was and what I was doing while driving with three children in the back seat of my car. I caused an accident. If I almost killed three children because of my inability to cope with overwhelming trauma, other survivors of attempted murder by their parents have killed people accidentally or intentionally because of their inability to cope with overwhelming trauma.
To give you an inside view of my murder secret family, I have selected revealing passages from my journal. Some of it is uncomfortable to read, but you will also read about a happy ending. I never expected any sort of happy ending.
Therapy with my first therapist was so bad that I decided to turn my journal into a book to help therapists learn what to do and what not to do in therapy. Several years ago, I asked people to buy a copy of the book. I asked people to pay for it ahead of time so I could have enough money to print it. I made some sales, but not enough to get the book printed. I promised my buyers that I would publish it and give them copies. I thought I was ready to publish the book because I thought I had figured out everything I needed to know about my murder secret family. I was wrong. It took me 42 years to put separate physical, mental, and emotional clues together and admit to myself that my mother tried to kill me. It took me another 20 years to figure out all the details of what surviving my mother’s attempts to murder me meant to the rest of my life. At the end of that 20 years, I discovered the happy ending.
I needed one more step. I needed to feel the happy ending long enough to be able to take some of my emotional pieces apart again. When I was able to do that, I knew how to revise my book to make it effective. I have to take my book apart and put it back together in new ways. I have to put some pieces of my book together for people with families like mine. I have to put other pieces of my book back together for people who do therapy with people like me.
Because I found little help rather than “TONS” of help, some of the people who bought copies of my book have died. On top of having to cope with my mother’s attempts to murder me mostly by myself, I now feel guilt for taking far longer than I expected to finish my book. What I didn’t know when I first wrote my book was that I needed emotional resources to be able to finish my book. To develop those emotional resources, I needed my happy ending. When my book is finished, I will donate copies to libraries in the names of the people who died before I could deliver their copies to them.
I had already started working on some changes after learning about DISC behavior styles and Spranger values. Because my therapists did not understand my behavior style needs and guiding value passions, they both made mistakes. My first therapist repeatedly missed the clues to my mother’s attempts to murder me, my behavior style needs, and my guiding value passions. My second therapist did better, but was too influenced by what my first therapist wrote about me in her notes. I will finish my book for the sake of everyone else who has survived their parents’ attempts to murder them as well as for anyone going to therapy. My therapists made mistakes in therapy, but so did I. I came to the wrong conclusion several times on my way to the truth.
If I couldn’t find the help I needed, I doubt that other survivors are finding the help they need. I hope my book will help other survivors help themselves. I hope my book will be the wake up call mental health professionals need so that survivors can find the professional help they need. I hope pro-life organizations will learn some of the reality for children who grow up with parents who do not want them. I hope other survivors get the help they need so no one dies because survivors did not get help.
What I Don’t Feel Guilty About
I do not feel guilty about coping with my life as best I could. All of my life, people who are free from murder memories expected me to speak and behave as if I had lived their lives, not mine. People who are free from murder memories expected me to be able to learn and work and accomplish everything they accomplished on the same time schedule they accomplished it. Failing to live their lives meant something was wrong with me.
I do not feel guilty about living my own life.
Read through all of the pages on all of my websites and all of my blog posts. You will see what I have been able to accomplish in spite of my murder memories. Every child who grows up as the attempted murder victim in a murder secret family accomplishes whatever they accomplish in spite of their murder memories.
We need to honor current survivors with murder memories for whatever they accomplish. We also need to do whatever we can to prevent parents from murdering the children they do not want.
Children deserve parents who want them.
Who Will Care?
When I wrote to child abuse researchers, mental health professionals, and pro-life groups about my mother’s attempts to kill me, I frequently told the story of almost killing those three children. No one cared that those three children almost died. I hope you care.
I need to finish this book for two reasons. First, because my life has prevented me from doing all kinds of things. This book is not going to be one of them. Second, so no one dies because people who should have listened didn’t listen.
Excerpts from My Journal
1990 to 2013
All of the indented sections are notes explaining something that will help you understand what I wrote in my journal.
January 5, 1990
I’m going to start seeing a counselor next week. I have periods lately where I’m very shaky emotionally, not with any single person, but with my own ability to cope with the world.
April 5, 1990
I asked Penny a question. Instead of answering she said, “Our time is up. I love doing that.”
I left in shock that Penny had treated me that way.
I canceled our next session and wrote Penny a letter
which included this statement:
“I feel cut off from my husband, from my father, by my mother, by one of my brothers, and from a baby I surrendered for adoption when I was 22. Sometimes I feel cut off from my boyfriend and my daughter, sometimes I feel cut off from my friends, for a long time I felt cut off by mainstream society, and for most of my life I have felt cut off from myself. It doesn’t help to have you cut me off, too. ”
My husband and father were dead. In my journal during therapy, I barely mentioned the baby I surrendered when I was 22, but that baby gave me the clearest clue that my mother had tried to kill me. I just couldn’t face that knowledge when I was 22.
When I was 12 year old, a boy in school pulled my chair out from under me. My spine started hurting instantly. I went through 33 years of misdiagnoses before finally getting the correct diagnosis and treatment.
My very first misdiagnosis came from our family doctor. He told my mother that I had scoliosis and would not be able to have a baby because I wouldn’t be able to carry a pregnancy to full term. When I became sexually active, I did not use birth control. I had a number of spontaneous abortions, so the diagnosis seemed accurate. Then I got pregnant and stayed pregnant.
I knew that I was completely unprepared to be a mother and knew that the stress of single parenthood would overwhelm me. For months, I had a clear picture in my mind of attacking my own baby in a crib. I surrendered my baby because I was afraid I would kill him. I was afraid I would kill my baby in a crib because my mother tried to kill me in a crib.
May 22, 1990
Talked to my older sister about Mom, and felt better. We also talked about not being raised to be successful. My sister said, “Face it. We were not raised to be successful.”
September 18, 1990
I don’t like dreaming because I’ve had lots of nightmares all of my life.
September 25, 1990
At the end of the session I began to feel some of the pain I must have been repressing since childhood. Penny made that comment about seeing a lot of pain in my story. Right before I left she asked me if I’d gotten angry at her today, and I said no because all I could think of was the pain and fear. She wants to read the next installment of my story because I said it didn’t end at the trip — but said she wasn’t pressuring me. I said she was, so she said it was only light pressure. I felt disoriented for several hours. I used to talk to Penny and feel better afterwards. I did several more things after therapy, all the while wondering what to do with the pain. I don’t want to go back to therapy anymore — this hurts too much. My hour walk took an hour and a half. I feel like I’m going to explode, going to shatter, going to ——- I don’t want to start crying because I’m afraid I won’t stop. I don’t want to go back to see Penny, I don’t want to feel anything, I don’t want to have goals, I don’t want to have a daughter, or a boyfriend or a house — I just want to float off into a void of oblivion. Why is there no oblivion?
Penny did not warn me that I would probably feel
intense pain. I was completely unprepared for it.
Penny did nothing to help me cope with the pain.
She said she did not know how to get rid of the pain
but accused me of holding onto the pain. Because of the
childhood injury to my spine that was misdiagnosed
for 33 years, I was also in physical pain everyday.
October 6, 1990
I feel trapped because of my life, because I didn’t do anything to deserve this kind of pain, because I can’t figure out a way to disappear into oblivion. Going to see Penny every week is like having an appointment at a torture chamber.
October 7, 1990
Everything looks dangerous now, especially my writing.
October 18, 1990
…I can remember as far back as my father bringing me a bottle in my crib…
October 20, 1990
Penny told me I had to look at myself and figure out what I didn’t like about myself so I could stop holding onto the pain. I looked at myself and thought, But I like myself now.
Woke up at 2:00 a.m., watched To Kill a Mockingbird, cried, and cried, and cried, but the pain didn’t go away.
Early in therapy, Penny decided I was depressed
because I did not like myself. She continually kept
trying to get me to say I didn’t like myself. Would I
have canceled a session after Penny expressed
satisfaction at cutting me off if I didn’t like myself?
When I was 14, I started eating compulsively.
The only time I hated myself was when my compulsive
overeating was at its worst, in my early to mid-twenties.
But during therapy with Penny, she influenced me to
think I didn’t like myself for other reasons. Instead
of using the clues of my life to help me, Penny did
her best to fit me into her favorite theories. I stayed
in therapy with Penny because I was poor,because
I had to go where the county would pay for me to go
and because I was desperate for help.
I eventually discovered that Penny’s solution for my
depression was that I should find a man and get married.
October 23, 1990
I’m afraid of seeing my mother in two months.
December 17, 1990
I sat up until after 2:00 a.m., waiting for fatigue to overcome insomnia. I watched To Kill A Mockingbird, and cried. I don’t want to hurt.
December 27, 1990
My daughter and I traveled by train to another state
for my first brother’s wedding.
Mom was nice to me today, and she even asked me questions — how do I stay thin, how far I am in grad school, am I a shopper. She must be feeling good. Went to bed at 11:00, woke up during the night.
My mother was feeling good because her
knight in shining armor was getting married
and she could bask in her image of a “good mother”.
December 28, 1990
My daughter and I spent time with my mother
and siblings the day before the wedding.
…we briefly shopped, then had lots of fun at the Museum of Natural History. While we were walking around in the museum, my daughter said to me, “It seems Grandma is treating you better this time.”
My daughter made this observation the day before
she turned 12 years old.
December 29, 1990
Mom introduced me to someone, haltingly explaining that I’m a grad student in communications.
December 30, 1990
Mom and my third sister left first, then my first brother and the bride. My second brother took us back to the house. My second brother then left with my older sister, my psychologist brother-in-law, my nieces, and my second sister for a two day sightseeing trip to another part of the state. My siblings left my daughter and me alone and went sightseeing without us. What a let down. I cried in the bathroom for a while.
Because my siblings considered me a trespasser in
their lives, they were relieved to hear that I knew
someone in that city to meet for lunch. It meant they
didn’t have to come up with an excuse for excluding
me from their sightseeing plans. They never considered
sightseeing in the area around the city so they could
spend more time with me. They preferred to have fun
January 10, 1991
Telling Penny about my experiences with my
mother at my brother’s wedding:
At the reception, after we finished eating, my mother was standing by the table talking to someone, and I walked up to the table to get something. My mother introduced me to the woman she was talking to, then she said I was a grad student in communication. And the way she said it was like… I don’t know what to compare it to. But it was obviously difficult for her to say. The woman she was introducing me to gave me a wondering look as if she were thinking, “What’s wrong with being a grad student in communication?”
January 17, 1991
Because Penny seldom listened to what I said,
I started writing letters to her. She seldom paid
attention to what I wrote in my letters, but writing
them helped me express what I needed to say.
In one letter I wrote:
“I feel like I’m crumbling into little pieces.”
“I got a B- on my theory final because I had to take it when I felt like I was in pieces.”
January 21, 1991
Penny keeps saying, “You don’t always feel good in therapy.” I’ve never felt good in therapy.
March 8, 1991
I keep getting images of my legs being broken or my face being smashed — what does that mean?
During her second attempt to kill me, my mother
held my legs down with one hand as she pushed
something into my mouth to smother me.
April 14, 1990
Feel like my insides have broken into little pieces that are held together by my skin.
April 16, 1991
Last night when my daughter was crying because I’d said she couldn’t keep a stray cat, I remembered crying so hard as a child that I had trouble breathing. No one ever comforted me.
May 24, 1991
If Mom and other people have treated me badly, why am I the one who has to change? Why am I the one who has to go through the pain?
November 7, 1991
In another letter to Penny:
“If I can’t keep succeeding as a student, my world will collapse and I will shatter into little pieces.”
November 12, 1991
Slept fitfully, had several nightmares about being murdered.
December 26, 1991
Went to sleep okay, but woke up after a nightmare about being attacked in my house.
February 20, 1992
I feel like my insides are in little pieces that are vibrating against each other, and I feel drained at the same time.
March 6, 1992
I had a long intricate dream — if I had started writing as soon as I woke up I wouldn’t have been able to remember it all. This time, I did get to Chicago. My unit manager from a job in the early 1970s took me to see several different places in the city. We walked everywhere, with someone following us and known to both of us in the dream, but awake I don’t know who it was. My manager took me to unusual buildings, which we sometimes reached by going through secret tunnels, and sometimes by walking along twisted and turning streets. She also took me to her house, where she showed me the grave of her dead baby girl in the back yard, where she was hiding it from someone who wanted the baby. The gravestone was a replica in size and form of the dead baby, but instead of looking like stone it looked like a real sleeping baby. I felt like I knew the baby, and told my manager that I would take the baby and hide it for her in a different place.
April 7, 1992
At the end of a therapy session with Penny:
She stood up then, and I made myself stand up, too — she doesn’t understand how hard it can be to put the pieces back together enough to participate in the world.
May 15, 1992
I planned a visit to my sister for a weekend. My mother
later contacted my sister about visiting that same
weekend. I found out only after arriving at my sister’s.
I bought a pink blouse at a rummage sale — when I got it home and tried it on the shoulders were too big for me. I brought it with me to give to my older sister, but she doesn’t wear pink, so she told me to give it to my niece. I was doing that when Mom walked into the room. Mom said she liked pink, and I explained why I was giving the blouse to my niece. I then left to go the bathroom. When I came out I saw Mom wearing the blouse.
May 16, 1992
My mother left to continue her trip elsewhere before
I woke up.
I asked my niece about the pink blouse — she said she had liked it, but Mom just “adopted” it. Mom took a blouse that I had told her I was giving to my niece — I never would have expected her to do something like that. I’ll never give something to another person in front of Mom again..
June 12, 1992
We went to the grocery store to buy food — we had practically nothing at home — and I got distracted by a flamethrower across the street from the grocery store parking lot.
It took time for me to admit to myself that rather than being “distracted” by the flamethrower, I had actually lost all awareness of where I was and what I was doing while looking at the flamethrower.
We had to drive several miles on a state highway to get home. If I had lost all awareness of where I was and what I was doing at 55 miles an hour, I would have killed those three children in the back seat of my car.
August 3, 1992
After class I went to the bank to deposit the money from the weekend. On the way out, I slammed into the plate glass window next to the door instead of going through the door. I left as gracefully as I could, but I didn’t feel embarrassed — I’ve done so much wrong lately and had such trouble remembering things that I’m relieved when I do anything right.
August 5, 1992
My last appointment with Penny before she moved away.
Penny was concerned about my loss of concentration, and asked me what was going on. I said I’ve been shaken ever since I remembered what Mom had done to me, that everything was so hard to do right now. Said I’ve been forgetting so much, and the only way I’m surviving now is that my daughter is at the farm for two weeks — if my daughter were here I’d be screaming at her.
I worked up my courage — she was still dangerous — and told her I had a request. She asked what it was, and I told her I wanted her to read what I’d written in my journal about the experience of being in therapy, and that after I transcribe it I could bring it in to the receptionist to send to her. She said, “Of course. I welcome it. I’m telling all my clients that they can write to me to tell me how they’re doing. I’d be happy to read it.” In response I merely said a quiet okay, but I felt a deep relief.
We talked about my having so little energy and poor concentration. I talked about feeling like I always have too much to cope with, that what I’d like from my life is enough time to finishing coping with one thing before another things happens. New things have always been happening before I was ready, at least up until now, and every time something else happens I have less energy to deal with it. Penny said the poor concentration and lack of energy sounded like depression. I said it looks like a circle to me. Penny asked what I meant. I started out depressed, and the more things happen to me, the more depressed I get and the less energy I have to cope with things. I know at one point she asked me what kind of person I am. After a long pause I said I’m a nice person. She said I’m a nice person who deserves to enjoy life and to have good things happen to me. For some reason she asked, “What does that make you?” I said I feel like a target. “A target for what?” For my mother, for all of her anger and frustration. She took all of it out on me. Penny wondered more than once how I could deal with Mom and break away, not sure about it herself. I said more than once that I didn’t know, though I did say I’d started getting away from Mom by moving away from her. I also said I used to overeat. “Yes, but you got past that.” After something she said about how I’ve been reacting to the memories, I realized what was going on. I must have shaken my head because Penny said, “What, Paula. To protect myself from the memories of what she had done to me, I had constructed an image of her as a mother who could be mean to me, but who still cared about me. Now I realize that she never cared about me at all. I started crying. Penny said that knowing my mother never loved me is a terrible thing to have to face. I stopped crying and just sat quietly, then I began to feel faint, and had to put my head in my hands. Penny said I felt faint because of what we were talking about. I said I’d wasted most of my life trying to please Mom, but nothing I did ever mattered because she didn’t care.
Penny said that my life isn’t over and my foot isn’t in the grave, that I’m lucky I was finding this out now instead of ten or twenty years from now. She said some people never find out, so I’m lucky. I said I wouldn’t have remembered if the pink blouse incident hadn’t happened. I slouched down and put my head on the back of the chair, feeling completely drained. Penny said this is the worst it gets, it doesn’t get any worse than this. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” I could only nod my head.
August 31, 1992
Checkpoint at the university today. One set of lines was divided by the alphabet — I couldn’t figure out which line I belonged in, so I took a guess, and guessed wrong. (At the university library earlier this week, I took the elevator after a moment of indecision about which button to push to go up. When will this end?) Started driving home even though I knew I had to go deposit my check, but only got a few blocks before I remembered.
September 15, 1992
Went to the lake for the grad class — I was the last to arrive.
We ate hot dogs, chips, and s’mores (not me) around a fire, then each of us had to tell a story about ourselves. Later I was sitting with my feet propped up on a wooden swing chair, and was kind of leaning on the back. I thought of something I wanted to do (I can’t remember what now), sat up suddenly and leaned too far over to the other side, falling off the chair on the platform, hitting my head on the metal part of a lawn chair — I had lost awareness of where I was and what I was doing again.
October 7, 1992
The most frightening nightmare of my life recurred frequently when I was in my preteens and early teens. I was walking into a cave next to someone I couldn’t see. I felt it was someone I knew, but didn’t know who. The cave was huge. We saw a stone pedestal in the middle of the cave. A flame burned in the middle of the pedestal, casting shadows throughout the cave. My companion and I walked up to the pedestal to look at the flame. Suddenly, the companion at my side was gone and I could see a skeleton shrinking in the flame. I always woke up at that point and was too terrified to go back to sleep.
Valerie was my second therapist.
Valerie asked me what I expect to happen after Mom dies — the apprehension I have about seeing and talking to her would be gone. When I think about Mom hating me, I can see a flame of hatred burning inside of her. During the session I realized that the flame inside Mom looks like the flame in my childhood nightmare. Mom tried to kill me in a sense, and the flame in the cave killed part of me. One flame was hidden inside Mom and the other was hidden inside the cave. We talked about Mom trying to control everything and everyone, and about the way Mom treats my daughter. Then I realized that if Mom had had the opportunity, if the situation and circumstances had been just right so that Mom thought she could get away with it, she would have killed me or left me to die.
October 14, 1992
I’ve been feeling terrible lately, undoubtedly because I’m coming to terms with knowing my mother wanted to kill me.
The few memories I have from childhood never had any feelings attached to them, but now I feel like a dense fog has lifted from my childhood. Right now I’m aware of two feelings from my childhood.In my very first memory as a child, I was lying in my crib and Daddy was bringing me a bottle — I felt immense relief that it was Daddy who brought me the bottle. Perhaps I decided then that as long as Daddy was around I could survive. The other feeling is more general — a terror of Mom that I felt whenever we were alone together. I had trouble getting to sleep — did I have trouble sleeping as a child for fear of what Mom would do?
I remember telling Penny and other people over the years that even though Mom could be mean to me she still cared about me. But part of me knew the truth. I let my daughter keep that stray cat when she cried — part of me remembered crying when Mom told me I couldn’t have something I wanted.
My mother would tell me I could have or do what I wanted, then change her mind at the last minute. She always decided I had done something wrong so I didn’t deserve to have what she promised me. Sometimes I cried so hard I had trouble breathing.
October 15, 1992
Had less trouble getting to sleep tonight — I think I’ve been afraid of Mom killing me in my sleep, but I told myself she can’t do that to me anymore.
October 16, 1992
I must have convinced myself that Mom can’t get to me anymore, because I slept all right.
October 22, 1992
Penny thought there was nothing worse to figure out than my mother not loving me — even she must rarely encounter a parent who hates her child enough to kill her.
November 3, 1992
Just before my grad seminar, the feminist professor asked me if I would do a presentation on my paper on Thursday — organized and thirty minutes long. I said that was very soon. She thinks I’m more prepared than anyone else because I’ve been watching talk shows for a long time, but she finally got the idea without my coming out and saying it that I didn’t think I could do it. I tried to explain to her a little about how much trouble I’m having thinking and that I’m not trying to get wonderful grades. She said we could get together and brainstorm, and she’ll do whatever she can to help. I went to the grad seminar feeling shaky. I felt like crying, and considered leaving for awhile. I decided to try to stay even though I still felt shaky.
November 4, 1992
I feel like my world has shattered into little pieces. I’m standing in the midst of a pile of little pieces that reaches above my feet. When I walk around or run my hands through the pieces they make tinkling noises, like pieces of glass. I pick up one piece after another, trying to figure out which ones are real. I have the few I’ve collected already, but I don’t know how to put them together. I’m surrounded by emptiness, and I can’t remember what a fitted together world feels like.
November 5, 1992
My daughter was gone for the day and night.
I often wrote in huge paragraphs. It was a symbolic way of holding all of my emotional pieces together.
During the grad meeting the feminist professor was explaining the papers, and I asked several questions. I came close to crying because I knew I couldn’t write the paper — it requires thinking about two different pieces of theory and expanding on them. The feminist professor asked me to stay a few minutes because she said I looked like I was in a lot of pain. I told her about figuring out my mother didn’t love me and hated me and wanted to kill me and how my whole world view has collapsed so that now I don’t know what’s real. She said I could take an incomplete and just do a lit review for now. She said other kinds of papers she would tell me how to do, but this kind of paper she can’t tell me how to do because that would be stealing. I could not have figured that out on my own. She also said that being in this class while I’m going through this could help because knowing about identity groups and values and attitudes and beliefs would help me understand my difficulty now. That hadn’t occurred to me. She asked me if I had a support group and if my therapist was good. Told her that sometimes when I’m sitting in class or walking through campus I’m not always sure I really am sitting in class or walking through campus. Sometimes it’s happened at home, too.
Got home after 4:00. Did a little writing, watched some television, made bread, kept trying to figure out how to make the pieces fit together. The pieces have many colors, some clear, some dirty. When I sort through the pieces they sometimes glint or sparkle. They make a tinkling noise as I sort through them. Cried a lot throughout the afternoon and evening. I needed something to hold the pieces together, but I didn’t know what that could be. I felt like calling Johnna and asking her what keeps the pieces of her life together. I wished I could call Penny and ask her — what was it from my therapy with her that is the core of what’s real? I also thought that I probably need more pieces, so I started making a list of people who I think are real. I couldn’t think of anything to add to therapy and school. Fellowship might be real, but I’d have to go again to be sure, and the next meeting is Sunday while I’m scheduled to work through the bookstore. How can I do any kind of work feeling like this? I couldn’t think of any other pieces to use. I wanted to ask people about that, too. I felt like I was in one of those flotation tanks that cuts you off from all sensation of the outside world — I had one little strand of something connecting me to that core in therapy. I felt that if that little strand snapped I would go crazy. My head felt empty, as if the top of it was gone. The emptiness stretched off into the universe. Then when I was sitting at the dining room table recovering from crying I thought, maybe the core is me — the real me. But that didn’t make seem to make sense — if the core is the real me, what is it that holds the pieces together? Is it me? How would I do that? I wandered around the house, kind of took my walk inside, watched more television, kept trying to figure out how to hold the pieces together. I wished I could call Valerie. I sometimes remembered what the feminist professor said about identity groups. When I was getting ready for bed and looking in the mirror to wash my face I finally understood that I am what holds the pieces together. Some of the pieces I’ve collected immediately fit together and stayed together — I now have a beginning of a worldview, a circle of put together pieces around my feet. I finally figured it out because of what the feminist professor said about identity groups. I couldn’t even put the substance of the class together with my own experience without the feminist professor telling me how to do it. The core of therapy with Penny is the beginning of my integrated self. For some reason I thought about the date — three months ago today was my last appointment with Penny, the day I finally admitted that Mom never loved me, the day of my second birth. I feel very different — now I can’t remember what not having a world view or not being able to put the pieces together felt like. I suddenly felt hungry, and even though it was past 11:00 and I was very tired, I went downstairs to eat. I also started thinking about the research paper for diversity class — I looked through Marilyn Frye’s books and picked out a theory to put together with Lana Rakow’s theory about gender, and I knew how I could fit them together. I can think again. I can write the paper instead of taking an incomplete. The world makes sense again.
November 6, 1992
Today I figured out that my thoughts, feelings, and experiences are what hold the pieces of my life together. I think I went right to the edge of insanity.
November 8, 1992
I called my mother to ask her for a loan. She agreed to send me $500. She lent me money at times because she felt that proved she was a “good mother”.
She did not ask about me. We did not talk long. While she was talking about her back I thought, this woman wanted to kill me. Throughout the entire conversation I was bright and friendly and interested in what she had to say — I put on a completely different Paula, the one who’s been talking to Mom for the last several years. I keep this other Paula stuffed away most of the time because her only purpose is to protect me from Mom.
November 9, 1992
I think the ten minute phone call to Mom showed me that everything I’ve figured out about her is true. No wonder I’m anxious to please people and fearful of displeasing them — I had to please Mom enough that she wouldn’t kill me. When I first started hurting and told Penny I didn’t want to hurt, Penny said the pain would be intense for awhile then would subside. That’s not true. This pain is like waves of water — sometimes the waves are choppy, sometimes they’re ripples, sometimes the water is still, sometimes the waves are tidal. The intensity of the pain varies as the waves vary.
November 10, 1992
I think I’m still afraid of Mom, and I’m depressed that talking to her for ten minutes means at least two days of recovery. How do I get through talking to her or being with her in the future? At least now I know to be very careful about communicating with her directly. The more I think about it the more I’m sure she thought about killing me only for the first two or three years of my life — as I got older she had to do more to convince herself that she was a good mother. She thought about killing me long enough to imprint it deeply in my soul, however.
November 11, 1992
Except for my grad seminar yesterday, I’ve been quieter in my classes — I’m still recovering from Mom’s call. I’m still having trouble putting ideas together, but not as much. My world is still only partially put together — the new structure is below my knees.
November 12 1992
Slept fitfully, had several nightmares about being murdered.
November 19, 1992
Earlier today I figured out that my feelings were dangerous not only because acknowledging them would mean acknowledging that my mother wanted to kill me — they were also dangerous because acknowledging my feelings would mean facing this fragmentation.
December 6, 1992
I started transcribing my journal both to send to Penny and to publish as a book. I wanted Penny to understand what she had completely missed so she could learn how to do therapy better.
I transcribed one day when I talked about how I was afraid of my plays being successful — a day when Mom had called me. Now I know why — as long as Mom sees me as threatening to her image, anything I do that’s public is especially threatening to her.
February 7, 1993
Slept all right, but had a dream about people being hostile to me because I was doing something they didn’t like.
February 28, 1993
Got to sleep okay, but woke up in terror because of a nightmare. My car was parked at Fleet Farm, which was across the street from where it actually is, in the Jung store location. My car seemed to be not working. Even though it was late at night and the area was deserted, I walked there to get my purse from the car. But as I walked away a man viciously attacked me. I tried to get him off of me, but couldn’t. That’s when I woke up. I lay in bed in terror, trying to figure out why. That dream could never come true, so why couldn’t I shake the terror? I was terrified that the attacker would kill me. Is it possible that Mom actually did try to kill me? If she did, it had to be the day Daddy brought me the bottle. As I wondered if my mother had tried to kill me and thought about the memory of my father, the terror eased. Relief came quickly, and I went back to sleep.
March 1, 1993
I woke up too early, went back to sleep thinking that Mom did try to kill me.
Worked on my journal for Penny. I kept telling her feelings were dangerous — of course feelings are dangerous if your mother tried to kill you. I kept wondering why I should deal with my emotions — if I couldn’t deal with knowing that Mom wanted to kill me, how could I possibly deal with my emotions? I watched a movie about a couple of brothers who had their parents killed. I watch most of the movies on television about people who kill members of their families. When a victim survives, I always wonder how they cope with knowing that a close relative tried to kill them.
March 4, 1993
Told Valerie about my dream and figuring out that Mom did try to kill me. I told her that I hoped that figuring out how to cope with knowing that Mom wanted to kill me was the last thing to figure out, so I asked her if she thought that figuring out that Mom actually tried to kill me was the last thing, and she thought it was. She said I’m much different today than she’s ever seen me.
We were both wrong. I had many more things to figure out.
March 18, 1993
I responded to a letter in the newspaper.
In my letter to the newspaper I wrote about the story from my childhood that frightened me the most — the Biblical story of Abraham being willing to kill Isaac to please God. No wonder I was afraid of it — I was afraid my mother would kill me.
April 10, 1993
Since figuring out that Mom did try to kill me, my memory of Daddy coming into the room with a bottle has changed — now it has color, and Daddy has a smile on his face. He’s wearing a blue shirt, the room has yellow in it, and through the door is red. Mom stopped killing me because of a noise, maybe a telephone or doorbell. I’m not sure what type of noise, but I remember a loud persistent noise.
May 19, 1993
I felt a variety of physical pains besides the pain in my spine from the injury. I especially felt pain in my legs. For a period of months, I had trouble walking because of pain and weakness in my legs.
I’ve also been thinking about all those physical pains I used to have before I knew what Mom did to me. Physical pain is more acceptable, more easily talked about, and evokes less hostility than emotional pain. So I was feeling the pain all the time, I was just expressing it differently.
June 1, 1993, Tuesday
My first brother and his wife decided to visit us.
At 6:00 my first brother called to tell me they’ll be here tomorrow — he had originally said they’d be here Friday. Now he tells me he originally told me the wrong day. This means we won’t be ready, and I have a meeting tomorrow night, and my daughter is babysitting tomorrow afternoon. I got very depressed, I suppose because I had been led to believe one thing, but something else is happening — the story of my childhood.
June 2, 1993
While I was taking a shower about 5:00, my first brother and his wife arrived. We took a walk around my village, then went to the city. My daughter took them to a park while I went to a meeting. I had told my first brother to bring sleeping bags, but he either didn’t hear me or forgot. I had to wash sheets for him to use over our sleeping bags (cat hair).
June 3, 1993
We needed a new well, so the water flow to the shower wasn’t good.
…my first brother asked me what were the plans for the day. I made a few suggestions, and he said they’re thinking about leaving today instead of tomorrow. I felt rejected immediately. I know this was my first brother’s idea, not his wife’s. I think my first brother wants a bed and a good shower and warmth more than he wants to see me. He can’t take two nights of some discomfort. We drove through two area villages, then went to the Coop.
Went for coffee at the mall. My brother’s wife started a discussion about our family, and we had the best talk we had this visit. My brother said his relationship with Daddy changed when we moved to Mom’s dream house. He thinks Daddy took on too much financial pressure with that house. I asked my first brother if he knew why we moved into that house, and he didn’t — because it was Mom’s dream house. We drove past that house every Sunday to and from church, and she watched it being built. When she saw the for sale sign, she decided she had to have it. When Mom and Dad bought that house, they were in the middle of remodeling the attic in the house we were living in — they were not planning to move. My brother’s wife said, “Then your father must have loved your mother very much.” We also talked about the time when I was twelve when Daddy and Mom almost divorced. My first brother doesn’t remember it, but for a week Mom and Dad barely talked. I can remember Daddy sitting on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. I knew my life was on the edge of a major catastrophe. I told them about the way Mom treated Daddy at the end of his life. He was in his late sixties and semi-retired. He still did odd jobs for a little money and to see the people he liked working for. Mom was working full time at the insurance company. Mom wanted Daddy to keep paying all the bills for the house so she could save all of her money for European vacations. And one day she said to me in front of Daddy, “Don’t get married again for ten years, Paula, because it’s not worth it.”
This was when my daughter and I were living with my parents after my husband died. My mother had thrown a big retirement party for my father years before, then forced him to work as much as possible so he could keep paying all the household bills.
Made an appointment with my daughter to talk. I’ve spent so much time dealing with my childhood that I’ve missed most of hers. I want to enjoy the rest of it as much as I can. I asked her what she thought of my first brother and his wife’s visit. She knows that their leaving early was a rejection, (“It was kind of insulting”), she knows my brother’s wife would have stayed longer…
June 12, 1993
Retaped To Kill A Mockingbird. I already had it taped, but I accidentally taped over part of it. I need a copy of this movie. I identify with Boo Radley, but I want to be Scout. Besides, the mother is dead.
June 13, 1993
I woke up hurting. I can still feel overwhelmed by the pain — this hasn’t changed either. I think I hurt this morning because I watched part of To Kill A Mockingbird last night.
I now know I hurt that morning because I was afraid I couldn’t be Scout. Explained below.
June 15, 1993
Sometimes I still wonder to myself — did Mom really try to kill me? But too much is changing for me to doubt it. I have more energy to do things with my daughter. My physical ailments are dramatically reduced, I’m sleeping much better, I’ve had no nightmares about being murdered lately, and I’m not afraid of being with people anymore. Mom did try to kill me.
June 20, 1993
I’m not afraid of seeing Mom in July — the first time I can remember not being afraid of seeing her.
July 1, 1993
In some of my nightmares of being attacked, I tried to call for help on a telephone. The telephone never worked.
Had nightmares about being in danger, but this time the telephone worked and I managed to call for help.
July 11, 1993
My mother got married again in the state where she was living at the time, then held a reception for friends and relatives in the Chicago area. My family sat with relatives from my father’s side of the family.
My psychologist brother-in-law did say I should tell my second sister’s boyfriend about our family, that there is my older sister and the boys. The boyfriend asked what he meant. I said, My older sister is the firstborn so she is okay. I am a girl instead of a boy so I’m not okay. My first brother is okay because he is the first boy (my psychologist brother-in-law interjected that my first brother is “a god”). My second sister isn’t okay because she is a girl and she is supposed to be a boy. My second brother is okay because he is a boy. My third sister is okay because she is the last child.
July 12, 1993
During the trip for the wedding reception, my daughter and I stayed at my sister’s house. My mother and her second husband came to visit.
A little while later Mom and her husband had a discussion right next to me in the television room about his consulting. They had driven from their home three states away to Chicago. He wanted to make a detour on the way back to stop in Michigan for a consulting job so he would not have to drive all the way home three states away and then drive right back to Michigan. She didn’t want to make the stop. He finally persuaded her by saying that all of the money she earns from her singing (at weddings and such, I think) can be hers, and all of the money he makes can be theirs together. She happily agreed. It took her husband less than two months of marriage to figure out that money is more important to Mom than anything else.
August 6, 1993
The noise that stopped Mom from killing me was a loud continuing noise — not a phone or a doorbell or a knock on the door. Maybe it was a siren of some sort. If it was a siren, maybe Mom thought someone had seen her trying to kill me and called the police. That would have stopped her. Thought about my therapy sessions with Penny, the ones in which I got very quiet — I was disappearing in a way. No wonder I went into stupors — it was a way of protecting myself from that memory of being murdered by my mother.
August 19, 1993
Mom tried to kill me when I was crying. She stuffed whatever it was into my open, crying mouth. She wanted to kill me because I was a crying baby whom she saw as a threat. But she made me a threat. If she had loved me, I would have mostly good things to remember. Because she tried to kill me, she made me dangerous to everything else about her life. I’ve been quiet all my life because making noise was dangerous.
Still, it wasn’t my crying that made her want to kill me that day — something else must have happened that made her worried for herself, worried for her own image as a woman. I’ll never know what that was.
September 12, 1993
On February 28th I had the nightmare that finally convinced me that Mom tried to kill me. In the dream Fleet Farm was on the opposite corner from where it really is — it wasn’t where it should be. Mom wasn’t the mother she should be. I was walking late at night from the city to my car to get my purse — intending to get something I wanted in my childhood was dangerous. I couldn’t get the man who tried to kill me off of me — I couldn’t get Mom away from me when she tried to kill me.
September 18, 1993
…the story that scared me the most as a child was the one about Abraham and Isaac. I probably went to school one day and heard my teacher telling me about how God wanted Abraham to kill Isaac — if I had ever been thinking about telling someone that Mom tried to kill me, that story would have stopped me because Abraham had God’s permission and all the adults in my world accepted Abraham’s obedience to God as a good thing.
September 26, 1993
About my first memory of my father coming in to the room where I was in a crib, bringing me a bottle:
That memory is in the background of my mind now — it used to be right up in front where I couldn’t ignore it.
October 18, 1993
I’m afraid of Mom’s attempt to murder me. How can I trust anyone if I can’t trust my mother?
Before Mom tried to kill me, I was a baby who just cried when I got hungry or was tired or hurt. After Mom tried to kill me I’m sure I was careful about making any kind of sound — all my life people have told me I was quiet, and people have often not heard me talking when I’m right next to them. I know I was quiet when Daddy brought that bottle to me — I wasn’t crying because it might bring Mom back into the room.
The tone of my life was set that bright summer day when I was less than six months old, and I still haven’t gotten away from it — no wonder I’ve been having trouble breathing. Even the setting for the attempted murder complicates matters — my mother tried to kill her baby on a bright sunny day. Mothers are not supposed to kill their babies, and murder is not a bright and sunny action. My experience is the opposite of what it’s supposed to be
…the woman who tried to kill me when I was a baby is seen by most people as a productive member of society who is also a good mother. I — the baby who was nearly murdered — am seen by many as a drain on the economy and a troublemaker who is threatening to society.
June 25, 1994
Thought about the dream in which my face felt smashed and my legs felt broken. I don’t remember the actual moments of the murder attempt — I’ve gotten close to it only in my dreams.
June 26, 1994
I realized that the dreams about Mom’s attempt to murder me separated the physical events from my feelings. The dream about my face and legs represented the physical events. The dreams about the man breaking into my childhood house or my house now and trying to kill me represented my feelings — I felt terror and despair in those dreams.
October 23, 1994
I called my older sister and asked if my daughter and I could come for Christmas.
My older sister wasn’t sure because last year they had my psychologist brother-in-law’s sister and her family stay, and it was crowded. They invited that family again this year. After we hung up I felt like I have often felt when dealing with my family — that something else is always more important than me. In this case, space is more important than my daughter and me being lonely on Christmas. My siblings tend not to be helpful when I need help. My second sister did buy Tupperware from me when I was very poor and trying to make a go of that, but there were times when my older sister and my second brother and “the god” have known I was in trouble and either did nothing or as little as possible to help. They’re doing what they learned from Mom — they make other things more important than me.
November 13, 1993
Figured out that the noise that stopped Mom was probably a siren — I think we lived near a hospital. An ambulance siren probably saved my life — I wonder if the person in the ambulance lived.
December 20, 1994
My daughter and I received social security survivors benefits because my husband died. My benefits were ending because my daughter was about to become 16 years old. Ronald Reagan had changed Social Security, so at that time benefits ended when the youngest child turned 16.
Because I had such trouble earning money, my daughter started buying food and paying bills when she got her first babysitting job at 10 years old. Without the social security money, we were facing homelessness. I called my second sister to explain the situation and asked her to lend me money to get through the next month. My second sister had always had good jobs and had no children.
A little while after we got home my second sister called. She told me she would take my daughter for two or three months so I could improve my financial condition. She told me she “can’t” lend me money because she wants to help me with “long term solutions.” She told me that going to school was harder on my back than a job could be, so her implication was that I was merely being lazy and irresponsible.
I wrote a letter to my second sister and told her I no longer want any kind of relationship with her. I can’t pretend any more. I can’t convince myself that staying in touch with all of my family members does me any good. I tried to think of what used to make going to family functions worth the pretense, and after awhile I figured it out — it gave me an identity. I had no identity inside myself because I was broken up into little pieces. Well, I’m putting the pieces back together so I no longer need or want that identity.
This is an example of how my siblings treated me. Because my mother taught them to ignore what I said, they seldom asked questions about my life. My second sister did not ask me a single question about my experience of going to college. She only made assumptions. She based her decision about lending me money on her assumptions. To read what my second sister did not know about how my back affected my experience in college, see this blog post at blog.speakingfromtriumph.com:
“It’s All Right to Say You’re Disabled as Long as
You Don’t Act Disabled”
After my daughter’s birthday, she noticed that a fast food restaurant was hiring and that employees could be as young as 16. I drove her there for an interview and she got the job. We were able to keep our house because my daughter worked the maximum number of hours. I made up the difference of what we needed by charging bills to my credit card. Years later, I had to declare bankruptcy.
My family never cared that my daughter had to earn money to buy food and pay bills starting at 10 years old.
February 18, 1995
After figuring out that my mother tried to kill me, I stayed in touch with her so I could maintain my relationships with my siblings. I finally understood that those relationships were never worth my effort. Because I needed money and my birthday was approaching, I decided to wait until after my birthday to tell my mother I no longer wanted any relationship with her.
…my birthday is tomorrow and I still have all that fear of Mom.
I slept fitfully, feeling all that fear of making Mom so angry at me that she would try to kill me again.
February 23, 1995
Told Valerie I plan to write letters to “the god”, my older sister and Mom, telling them that I’m cutting off my relationships with Mom, my second sister and my second brother. (Actually, my second brother has already cut off his relationship with me — I’m just finally accepting it.)
After 9:00, I got a call from my third sister — she was at Mom’s house. She has been in the United States for six weeks, and is going back to China tomorrow. They tried calling on my birthday, but the line was busy (thanks be to my daughter for talking so much!) My third sister only talked about herself, didn’t ask about me. Mom didn’t come to the phone either, she just told my third sister to tell me that she’ll be sending another box soon.
I spent three-quarters of my phone call with my third sister in terror that Mom would get on. I don’t want to hear her voice ever again. This is a prime example of how I’m left out — nobody told me that my third sister was coming back to the States, let alone that she’s been here for six weeks.
March 2, 1995
Went home and found the box from Mom. She included a short note saying that my second brother’s girlfriend was visiting for the weekend. I cried for all the wasted years of trying to be a member of this family.
Music means emotion to me, and emotions were dangerous for so long that I had to eliminate music from my private time at home. Now I can put it back into my life.
My mother never came to where I lived to visit me, and she never asked me to visit her by myself. We once took a trip together to visit my father’s relatives and my brother at his college. I had trouble sleeping in the same motel room with her.
March 6, 1995
Took the letters to “the god” and my third sister and Mom to the post office and mailed them — a very long walk. Felt depressed the rest of the day. Got through things I had to do today all right, though I had to work a few times at repressing anger.
I was depressed the rest of the night. I went to bed early. It doesn’t matter if my older sister and “the god” and my third sister reject me in favor of Mom — I’ve done what I needed to do.
My other siblings ignored everything I wrote them, so I ended my relationships with them as well, though it took longer.
I tried to establish a relationship with one cousin and his wife on my father’s side of the family. Having learned their lessons from my mother, they ignored what I said. They decided I must really want to reconcile with my mother and siblings, and tried to figure out ways to get us back together. I finally cut them off, too. Now I have no contact with any relative from my childhood.
After I ended my relationship with my mother, her only sister sent me Christmas cards until her death. My aunt gave me the only feeling of belonging I had felt since my father’s death.
September 15, 2004
…I am listening to To Kill a Mockingbird.
September 21, 2004
Walked in the yard listening to To Kill a Mockingbird.
September 22, 2004
I finished To Kill a Mockingbird.
June 30, 2007
For decades, I had difficulty going to sleep at night if I had to get up early in the morning. I would feel panic at times. I avoided taking jobs that started early in the morning just so I could sleep at night.
On April 7, 1992, I told Penny about Little Paula. Little Paula was the part of me that I kept hidden from my mother. She was little because I had to start hiding her when I was very young myself.
Tried to figure out why something to do at 8:00 in the morning would cause panic… And Little Paula said, “She tried to kill me twice. “At first, that didn’t make sense. Then I decided it must be true because the panic went away. I don’t physically remember the first attempt, so my mother must have been hesitant. If it was right away in the morning, then Daddy and my older sister must have been home. I’ve always thought both Daddy and my older sister were gone for the second murder attempt. My mother must have been sure no one would walk in on her.
July 1, 2007
I went to bed at midnight, reminding myself that even though I had an 8:00 job and a long day, I was in control of my morning and my mother could not get to me.
September 7, 2007
I was figuring out my checking account balance when my supervisor called to say I forgot to sign my time sheets. I drove to the new office, anxious to the point of not breathing as I have often been when in a hurry. I realized that the anxiety came from the fear that someone would tell my mother I had done something wrong and should kill me. The scariest story from my childhood was the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. God told Abraham to kill Isaac and Abraham started doing what he was told to do. I found the office, signed the timesheets, then drove home without the radio on so I could think about this.
Every adult in my life was a threat to me until they proved to me that they would not tell my mother to kill me. I don’t know how I survived. I did have Daddy, but I was afraid of him, too, because of his sudden rages that went on for hours or days. I can think of only five adults whom I trusted to never tell KKL to kill me — the parents next door who invited me to the beach, my school principal in grade school and the principal before her, and an English teacher at Regina.
When I told Penny about being teacher’s pet to two principals in grade school, she responded that she could see me seeking their approval. Another thing Penny was wrong about. I wasn’t seeking their approval, I was savoring their safety.
September 14, 2007
I’ve been thinking about the principals at grade school. The first one who treated me well was principal from 1960 to 1962. She wasn’t there until I started fourth grade. Before that, I started second grade with a lay teacher who got married in the middle of the year and left. I remember being heartbroken that she was leaving. She was an important person to me. She made me feel she would never tell my mother to kill me. If I was heartbroken when she left, the first principal of my elementary school years was not a beacon of safety for me. My second grade teacher was the first adult in my life who made me feel completely safe. I still think about her several times a year.
August 28, 2009
I bought myself a few things — a blue travel mug…, a puzzle, and Pyrex containers and felt anxiety. I’ve long thought the anxiety was about spending any money at all when bills need to be paid. I often have my bills covered. On the way to…a meeting, I realized the anxiety was fear that my mother would find out I got myself something I wanted and kill me for it. For years when I bought something I wanted, I would “accidentally” scratch it or stain it the first or second time I used it. If it were damaged, my mother would be less likely to kill me.
September 19, 2009
I ate some almonds that might have been old, knowing — as I always know when I eat food that is old — that it could give me gas pains that kept me awake. I finally understood why. I was punishing myself so that my mother wouldn’t punish me. An expected punishment I choose is far better than an unexpected punishment of she chooses.
October 30, 2009
I went to another state to speak at a conference.
Arrived at the hotel at 5:45. Unpacked. Worked my puzzle. Walked in the room. Went to bed at 10:00. Slept terribly, continually waking up to make sure no one was coming into my room to kill me. Took my shower sometime in there. In the shower I told myself that the hotel people wanted me to succeed because they would fail if someone killed me. Also told myself that the conference people wanted me to succeed because they want their conference to be a success. The adrenaline took awhile to drain, but I was able to think about other things while waiting for sleep.
December 21, 2009
I’ve come to realize that I frequently hold my breath when I write. I asked myself, “What would happen if I let myself breathe?” The answer was, “I might write something that could get me killed.” I keep thinking I’m finished, but something else comes up. Maybe this is the last.
January 5, 2010
On the way home, I realized that waking up early for someone else feels like waking up early because my mother is killing me. I had hoped I had figured out everything. Maybe this is the end.
April 10, 2010
Worked on apology letters to three women for watching them and probably making them feel uncomfortable.
I did not always record what I was thinking while I was thinking it. I seem not to have recorded my realization that I watched women in authority to make sure they were not unhappy about something I did. If they were unhappy with me, they might kill me.
July 7, 2012
I’ve had a problem saying thank you every time I should. Inside I tell myself I should say thank you but the words do not come out of my mouth. I finally figured out why. If I say thank you, people might recognize an opportunity to take what I want away from me. I’m still haunted by my childhood.
March 14, 2013
A coworker brought someone to my work area to introduce to me. I was not initially friendly, as I often am not in work situations meeting new coworkers or supervisors. It dawned on me that I am afraid that this new person might kill me. Is this that last thing I need to know?
March 29, 2013
My orchestral playlist is a list of emotions. I just added the Main and End themes for To Kill a Mockingbird. I listen to that music and think about Daddy. I played it three times tonight and cried.
April 2, 2013
I listen to Mockingbird every night now.
April 6, 2013
Bed at 11:51, listening to the Mockingbird main and end titles. I need both of them. I listen to them every night because the music reminds me that Daddy loved me and allows me to go to sleep feeling safe. I feel his presence while I’m listening to the music. It took me decades, but I finally know how to feel safe from being murdered.
April 14, 2013
Decided to listen to Mockingbird when I do something stressful on the computer. Listened to Mockingbird about five times before I could go to sleep.
April 15, 2013
Sat in the parlor in the dark, listening to Mockingbird. When I first started listening to Mockingbird to ease my anxiety, I worked to shape Daddy as the reason why. It’s much more basic than that. The movie (which is my favorite) is about a young girl who is saved from murder. I was a baby girl who was saved from murder. Scout was able to feel safe after she was saved. I feel safe when I listen to Mockingbird. If I listen to Mockingbird often enough, maybe someday I can feel safe all the time. For the first time in my life, feeling safe all the time is a possibility. I wrote this down so I could remember my thought process, then sat at my desk and sobbed.
Went to bed listening to Mockingbird.
Do I think I have post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD? Yes, I do.
Over the course of my life, a number of people have insisted that my mother must have really loved me. Their mothers loved them even if they sometimes did some strange things, so my mother must have loved me, too. I lived with my mother for almost 23 years. That means I lived with the woman who tried to murder me for almost 23 years. Think about that for a moment. I moved out when I was 20, then had to move back after a misdiagnosed case of mononucleosis almost became hepatitis. I moved back again after my husband died.
At least three people have told me I should just change the way I think about my mother. Two of them were mental health therapists. Being murdered is not a mental experience. Being murdered is a physical and emotional experience. I needed a physical and emotional experience of safety to erase the physical and emotional experience of my murder memories. I finally have it. The physical experience is the music, especially when I hear it inside my ear from an earphone. The emotional experience is my identification with the character Scout. Scout was saved from murder. I was saved from murder. Scout felt safe again. I could feel safe.
Because “TONS” of help is NOT available, I have been completely on my own learning how to cope with and recover from my mother’s attempts to murder me. I did not know I should be looking for my physical and emotional safety experience. I could have identified it decades ago if I had only known what to look for.
The first time I told Penny I was afraid of my mother she should have asked me, “What would make you feel safe?” Several times during therapy I came to the wrong conclusion before I could get to the conclusion that explained what needed to be explained. If Penny had asked me that question, I probably would not have instantly answered, “Listening to the music from To Kill a Mockingbird.” But I would have figured it out in something less than two decades.
I wrote about To Kill a Mockingbird in my journal seven months after I started therapy. It was already important to me before I started therapy. Knowing that I had to see my mother for my brother’s wedding at the end of December 1990, I watched To Kill a Mockingbird on October 20th and December 17th, 1990. On June 12, 1993, I wrote: “…I want to be Scout.” I wanted to be Scout because Scout felt safe and I wanted to feel safe. If Penny had focused on helping me identify my safety experience, I would have been better able to cope with everything related to my childhood.
I would not have come close to killing three children.
So, do you care about all the children growing up with the parents who tried to murder them?
Do you care about the all the adults who are living with murder memories?
If you do, take any opportunity to bring us to the attention of mental health professionals, law enforcement, and pro-life groups. Maybe then everyone like me will have a chance of getting the help they need — before they do damage to someone else’s life.
I am reading my journal again to finally finish the book, but I have to do it slowly. That part of my life was extraordinarily painful. I can go back to that pain only in small doses.
In the meantime, you can direct people who should be concerned about murder secret families to this page. They should also download the PDF file below. When I went through therapy with Penny, I had not yet learned about DISC behavior styles and Spranger guiding values. Now I know that Penny worked against my behavior style needs and guiding value passions. Both clients and mental health therapists should download the files below and learn how to satisfy behavior style needs and guiding value passions. Also, Penny kept telling me I needed to talk about the pain for it to go away. She was wrong. I talked about the pain only once to an audience for a talk I did. I never talked about the pain to Penny. Over time, I erased the pain by repeatedly satisfying one particular behavior style need.
Valerie shared at least one behavior style with me, so she was a much better therapist for me than Penny was. Valerie listened to the difficulties of my life. She did not try to fit me into any theories. Her major mistake was to believe what Penny wrote in my file about not liking myself when I never said anything to suggest I didn’t like myself. Overall, though, Valerie was the best therapist I ever had.
You could also direct the people who should be concerned about murder secret families to my “Was I a Loser?” post at blog.speakingfromtriumph.com. They will learn how being a victim in a murder secret family affected my ability to fit into and function within society.
For the Record
If I feel safe during a conversation and if it is appropriate to the topic of the conversation, I am now able to talk about the generalities of my murder secret family. I can tell people that my mother tried to kill me, that I have lived with PTSD all of my life, and that listening to Mockingbird is my safety experience. However, I will not talk about details and I will not answer questions about details. I will not say anything if someone else brings up the topic first. The ability to decide when and with whom I talk about my murder secret family is an essential element of feeling safe.
To Kill a Mockingbird
For two decades, I wondered if I would finally feel safe after my mother died. Her mother lived into her late 80s. My mother lives in self-indulgent comfort (you can read about how my mother took money from all of her children at the bottom of the Grief page) and has excellent health care. She could live into her late 90s or early 100s. Feeling safe didn’t look possible.
It is ironic that the word “kill” is in the title of the music that makes me feel safe from being killed. I listen to the music from To Kill a Mockingbird everyday now. I’ve gone from listening to Mockingbird both morning and night to listening just at night. When I’m writing something about my mother or my murder memories that causes anxiety, I listen to Mockingbird for as long as I’m writing. I listen to Mockingbird as I reread my journal to revise my book. In the beginning I sometimes had to listen to Mockingbird for hours. I no longer have to go to sleep listening to Mockingbird.
I am more relaxed at night now. I don’t have to put up an emotional guard anymore. I still get anxious that other people might kill me, but listening to Mockingbird washes the anxiety away.
Sometimes I reread portions of this page. Sometimes I cry when I read my own words. I cried again when I read this page on July 10, 2015. Always I feel grateful. I have the happy ending I never expected. I know how to feel safe.
I know how to feel safe.
If you have PTSD, this download may help you find your safety experience.
I still listen to Mockingbird every night. I still need to listen every night, but my emotional life is better. I seldom feel anxiety, and the anxiety I feel is no longer about someone killing me. Now my anxiety is usually about not getting something I want. After a childhood of my mother taking most of what I wanted away from me, I’m not sure the anxiety will ever disappear completely. However, I have not felt outright terror in several months at least. I also have more energy than I’ve had for most of my life. I still feel safe. I still cry because I know how to feel safe.2018 Update
I know how to feel safe.
When I walked away from my relationship with my mother, I decided I would take active measures to never hear her voice again. I did stay in contact with a number of siblings and a number of my father’s relatives for a few years afterwards. I was careful to say nothing about my goal of never hearing my mother’s voice again. I gave up on those siblings and relatives, too, since they insisted on ignoring what I said about myself.
I also never wrote about my goal online. My mother spent my childhood taking what I wanted away from me. I was afraid that someone would tell her of my determination to never hear her voice again. She was capable of taking what I wanted away from me yet again by leaving me a voicemail. I couldn’t always afford caller ID, so I would have been vulnerable for decades.
Finally, my daughter learned through relatives that my mother had died. I felt relief instantly. Less than two hours later, I felt as if I were collapsing inside and had to go to bed. Even though I had not been tired when I heard the news of my mother’s death, I slept for more than two and a half hours. I woke up feeling I had finished a marathon that I’d been running for decades.
It is one of the triumphs of my life that I never heard my mother’s voice again. I have complete freedom now. I never have to hear the voice of the woman who tried to murder me ever again for the rest of my life. Freedom. This kind of freedom is sweet joy after the terrors my mother forced on me.
Remember my joy when you hear discussions about abortion. Birth requires breath. Life requires everything necessary to maintain breath.
Instead of talking about abortion, talk about strategies for making sure babies are born to parents who want them. The strategies I recommend include:
Ending gender stereotypes, all gender stereotypes.
Creating opportunities for all girls and women to use at least some of their talents
Satisfying all the basic human needs breathing babies require to survive and thrive.
My mother tried to stop my ability to breathe twice because she didn’t have everything she needed to thrive.
Children deserve parents who want them.
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!
© Paula M. Kramer, 2010
All rights reserved.
Last updated April 5, 2019
Originally published on Memorial Day 2013 in honor of all the children who die at the hands of their parents.