“If you wanted to break your father, you did.”

I stared at the text from my mother, yet another reminder that my father’s feelings matter more than anyone else’s feelings could ever matter.

Yet another attempt to control me with guilt and shame. 

It didn’t matter that I had nothing to do with the thing she thought would “break” him.

It didn’t matter that it was his own actions that led to someone else calling him out on his behavior. 

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t involved. 

It didn’t matter because for as long as I can remember, my feelings don’t matter.

My needs don’t matter.

My truth doesn’t matter. 

They never did.

They never willnot to them. 

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But somehow, my father’s feelings and reputation are still my responsibility. 

Because when you are raised by a narcissist, the bad stuff is always your fault.

Even after finally finding the courage to close the door on a relationship with my father, he still gets to reach into my life via my mother and try to push those deeply rooted buttons of guilt that were planted there in my childhood.

But as I stared at the text message, I noticed my heart wasn’t racing like it used to when my mother would scold me for my father’s feelings being hurt. 

My face wasn’t red with anxiety like it used to be in a situation like this. 

At that moment, I realized her words no longer filled me with fear or rage. 

Instead, I felt pity.

I felt pity for her that she never found the strength to walk away from his abuse, manipulation, and isolation. 

I felt pity for her that she made a choice I can never imagine making as a motherchoosing my partner over my children. 

I felt pity for her that she never could find the way toward a relationship with me, my sister, or her grandchildren. 

But bigger than the pity is a feeling of hope. 

Yes, hope. 

I’m finding that every time I hold a boundary with my parents, every time I shine the light on their toxic and manipulative behavior, every time I use my voice to shatter the false illusion they so desperately try to build about the reality of living with them as parents, I feel my hope for the future swelling.

I have hope that my children will never experience the kind self-doubt I have experienced because they know my love is unconditional.  

I have hope that my children will never have crippling anxiety stemming from their childhood and not knowing whether their parents are so drunk that they pass out in the middle of a sentence, tear a phone from a wall, or hurl insults at them. 

I have hope that my children will find partners who don’t have to bear witness to the darkest places in lifethe ones that happen when old traumas get triggeredbecause we are raising them in an open, loving, and safe home. 

I have hope that my children will always know I love them, their partners, and their children with all of my heart. 

I have hope that the chains of guilt, shame, and obedience that have tethered me to my parents for all these years will one day be completely broken, and I will be completely free. 

Jenni Brennan

Jenni Brennan, LICSW is an author, podcaster, college professor, therapist, and mother. Her work centers around the topics of grief, health and wellness, relationships, and parenting.