Breaking up with my mother

Amber Fraley
4 min readAug 18, 2018

I was forty-three when I had my nervous breakdown.

It’s a funny, old-fashioned term, “nervous breakdown,” but as it turns out, it’s pretty apropos. At the time, I wasn’t even aware of what triggered the breakdown. I was already in the midst of a serious mid-life crisis when I finally broke. It was later I realized what pushed me over the edge: My mother moved to town.

The assumption has always been that once my mother reached a certain age, I would be responsible for taking care of her. This was assumed by me, by her and by my mother’s mother, who, before she died said, “You have to figure out a way to work things out with your mother. You just have to. She doesn’t have anyone else.”

Which is true. My mother has no one else to care for her. That’s because, my mother is, in a word, impossible. Now you may be thinking that’s a typical thing for a daughter to say about her mother, and that maybe I’m exaggerating, but I am not the only one who thinks this about her. It’s universal. There is no-one who wants to step up to help her in her “golden” years.

My mother has always been difficult, but as she’s gotten older, it’s gotten worse. I sincerely believe she has a personality disorder that was either brought on by, or exacerbated by, the abuse she endured as a child. There is a succession of physical, mental and emotional abuse passed down on my mother’s side of the family that goes back at least to my great-grandmother, who repeatedly told her child (my grandmother) she was unwanted.

The newest research is revealing that kids aren’t nearly as resilient as people always assumed. Long-term abuse literally wires brains wrong. Abused kids have trouble attaching to and connecting with people later. They have inappropriate reactions of anger and violence to things most people would let slide off their backs. They don’t trust people easily, if ever. Kids of abusers have had to learn to survive a hostile living environment, and as a result, their brains developed to react to the whole world as a threat.

My brother and I have a fair amount of PTSD from our childhood, but thankfully, we’ve managed to be aware what’s happened to us. My mother is too far gone for that. She thinks everyone is out to get her. Most of her interactions…

Amber Fraley

Writing about abortion rights, mental illness, trauma, narcissistic abuse & survival, politics. Journalist, novelist, wife, mom, Kansan, repro rights activist.