I want to try and write about something I have experienced at various points in my life, as a childhood sexual abuse survivor, and why the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder has caused me to keep quiet about this experience. I don’t want this diagnosis to still hold so much power over me, and I hope that by sharing my experiences, I might help others who can relate.
I have tweeted in the past about the times where I wish I could have a cuddle from a woman older than me, and how that cuddle would be like a “mummy cuddle” for me. But I have never felt able to expand further on what this is about and what it means for me and my daily life.
This yearning for a mummy cuddle starting when I was about eleven years old, during my first year of secondary school. I would often find myself sitting in a classroom and thinking of various scenarios in my mind where the female teacher might end up giving me a cuddle. I didn’t feel safe at home, and I didn’t feel as though a cuddle from my own mother would be enough to help me feel safe, so a cuddle from a teacher at school felt like the safest way of making me actually *feel* safe, even if it were only for a moment, in the form of a gentle hug. I remember when a family friend died at around this time, and my English teacher gave me such a big cuddle outside of the classroom when she noticed I had tears in my eyes. I told her about his death, and she held me really tight and told me she understood how painful grief can be. I was only eleven years old at the time, but decades later, and I can still remember this hug now, as if it were only yesterday.
I’m not completely sure why I didn’t feel able to get this kind of hug from my own mum. She wasn’t abusive towards me, and she was always affectionate and loving. I remember getting cuddles from her. I remember her affectionately stroking my face if I laid down on the sofa with her. I remember her affection making me feel a certain level of “safe”, but it wasn’t enough. Looking back on this time now, I can see how it wouldn’t have felt enough for me. After all, her husband had sexually abused me when I was younger, and her husband’s friend was also an abuser. Her inability to see her husband for the vile monster that he was, and her inability to listen to me when I tried to tell her that I did not feel comfortable around her husband’s friend, all probably contributed to me searching for a sense of safety elsewhere.
My yearning for mummy cuddles and a sense of “safety” would continue throughout the rest of my time at secondary school. I’ve lost count of the amount of teachers I hoped would help to make me feel safe. I was in so much pain, due to the childhood trauma and the flashbacks I was beginning to have, as well as the confusion surrounding the relationship I shared with the man who abused me when I was younger. I wasn’t sure what happened to me, or who did what to me, but I *was* sure that it happened. And that certainty made me feel frightened. I needed to reach out for help, but not knowing for sure what I actually needed help with, made it very difficult for me to communicate with those who wanted to help me. Several teachers during my time at high school, did their best to reach out to me. And I did my best to reach out to them and accept their support. But it never quite worked out. They gave me ample opportunity to tell them what was happening for me, but I couldn’t express it. Instead, I would resort to fantasising about them helping me. I would imagine them cuddling me and telling me everything was going to be OK.
My failure to express what was going on for me during high school, led to many people thinking I was “attention seeking” or that I was a bit of a weird one. I regularly looked miserable in lessons, and so other classmates around me definitely noticed it. If I’m to be completely honest here, even I would think I was weird if I were an outsider looking at myself during that time. I just wanted some kind of mummy figure to help me, but I couldn’t verbalise what I actually wanted help with. I just knew that they could potentially help me feel a sense of safety that I didn’t remember ever feeling in my life to date.
The yearning for a mummy cuddle is something that has followed me throughout my life. When I left high school to attend a sixth form college, I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, this is it. This is your fresh start. Nobody knows you here. Stop being a weirdo”. I remember feeling relief at making new friends and focusing on the A Levels I had chosen. It was all going quite well for a while, but the yearning for that mummy cuddle came back again. All of my tutors at the college were women, and whilst I was at college, I was also being abused by my mums husband again at home. It wasn’t like the sexual abuse I endured as a child, but because I had just recently been referred to a psychologist after my parents found out I was self harming, it made him ramp things up a notch. I think he was scared of what I might say to others about the past. There was a lot of psychological abuse, and a lot of abuse that would probably be called coercive control, if it happened to me today. But to be truthful, he needn’t have bothered. I still did not have the words to express what was happening.
Just like when I was searching for someone to help me feel safe in high school, I was searching for that same kind of safety again at college. A couple of the tutors noticed things weren’t right with me and I often wished I could tell them what was happening – but again – I didn’t have the words for it? And with hindsight, I think that this is an example of an abusive tactic, and possibly one that isn’t talked about enough? The man who abused me, abused me in such a way, that I would be unable to express it verbally. Because I didn’t understand what was happening at that time, which is exactly like how it was when he sexually abused me as a child.
Needless to say, I never did manage to reach out properly to any of those tutors. I just imagined them giving me a cuddle, and whilst it hurt my heart knowing that it wasn’t a real cuddle, it was better than nothing. I didn’t finish my A Levels at that time, because I was in too much distress and pain, but I went back at a later date, aced my A Levels and headed to University. Again, I was hoping that the fresh start would be a good thing. That I could stop being a weirdo constantly yearning for a mummy cuddle from any woman I meet, and actually try and enjoy myself and make new friends. After all, everyone used to say that the friends you make at university are friends for life. Right?
It didn’t work out. I was in too much pain to maintain friendships. And the same thing was happening again with my tutors. I had chance after chance after chance to reach out for help from them, but I never did. Because I couldn’t. You know the drill by now. Yet again, I was being abused my my mums husband. But again, it was incredibly complicated to speak about because of the ways he chose to abuse me. It was calculated and clever, and I never stood a chance really. He had a hold on me that I couldn’t seem to break free from.
It’s not just in an educational setting where I’ve fantasised about getting a mummy cuddle. It’s often something I did (and occasionally still do) with television programmes. I purposely watched shows that have a really kind, compassionate and empathetic lead character who is older than me and very maternal. For example, I’d watch a storyline where they are helping a child at school who is being abused, and I’d imagine what it would have been like if it was me being helped by that lead character.
There was a time during some of the abuse where I did in fact get a mummy type cuddle. And that came from a counsellor at my university. I was incredibly distressed during one of our appointments, and she asked if she could give me a hug. It was so healing. That one little hug had so much healing power in it, that I cannot really adequately express how it felt for me at that time. It didn’t “get rid” of this yearning that I always carry around with me. I wish it did, but it didn’t. I think I will always yearn for a mummy cuddle from any woman old enough and kind enough.
I managed to cut contact with the man who abused me as a child (and as an adult) several years ago, which consequently meant I also lost contact with my mum. The yearning for a mummy cuddle grew after this happened, but whilst I missed my mum terribly, that yearning was never really aimed towards her direction. I wanted a mummy cuddle, but not from my own mum. And since becoming a mum myself, I wouldn’t even thank my own mum for a hug right now. Because I really struggle to find it in me to understand how she could put her husband first instead of her own child. My children are my life and I would do anything for them. It’s an unconditional love that I don’t think anyone truly understands until they experience it themselves. It is powerful. I would die for my children, without hesitation.
Now here I am, in the present – decades later – with two children of my own. I’m not sure that the yearning for a mummy cuddle will ever leave. It has definitely lessened over the years, and there’s scope for it to lesson some more, but I don’t think I will ever be free of it. It doesn’t affect my life as much, but it occasionally bubbles up to the surface. For example, as recently as last week, I caught myself imagining what it would feel like for one of the staff members at my son’s nursery to just give me a giant hug. It’s obviously not something that will ever happen, but it somehow makes me feel a little better to fantasise about it, even if it also comes with a side order of heart ache. All I know is that my own children are never left short of any affection. I cuddle them tight whenever I can and they will grow up feeling safe and cared for. I often wonder if my yearning for a mummy cuddle, is in part, due to my past experiences of regularly feeling like I was still a little girl trapped in an adult body that I couldn’t recognise. This is something that has virtually gone now that I have children of my own. I am a mummy first and foremost, but I am able to recognise that the experiences I have written about in this blog post are due to the effects of abuse and trauma.
Considering how much of an effect this has had on my life over the years, I have never once felt able to open up about this with mental health professionals, and this has a lot to do with the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Ever since this diagnosis was given to me by a random psychiatrist who barely even knew me, I have become aware of how much of my “behaviour” was pathologised. The times when I self harmed were recorded in my notes as me attempting to “illicit care and support from services”, which is a fancy way of saying that I was attention seeking. The self harm had nothing to do with anyone around me. It wasn’t about them. It was about me finding a way to cope with the enormous amount of distress I was feeling, but it is easy for professionals to spin whatever is going on for a person to suit their own narrative. It’s hardly surprising that my experiences as an abuse survivor would end up being silenced. I was often afraid that my yearning for a mummy cuddle would be seen as confirmation of my disordered personality – that my insistence on seeing female only mental health professionals would be seen as me trying to manipulate the service in to giving me the “care and support” that I “craved”, rather than a fair request, given my trauma history. I never dared to speak openly about how I often felt like a child trapped in an adult’s body, because again, that would be twisted to suit the personality disorder narrative. I was being silenced all over again.
There are a lot of examples I could write about here to explain why this yearning for a mummy cuddle is something I’ve never felt able to share or expand on, but I think the most important thing to focus on here, is the realisation that I do not have to keep quiet. The aftermath of abuse is complicated and is often incredibly different when compared with other people’s experiences of the aftermath. We all struggle with different things, but I think we all can relate to a lot of things that other people share when they feel able to. So here is my contribution to that pool of shares – I have been yearning for a mummy cuddle since I was a child, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a part of who I am, and will likely always be lurking in the background as I continue living my life in the future.