Abused Kids Get to Look Like Their Bullies

a person with a sad look in their eyes that has the word "stupid" written across their forehead
Image by Laura Lewis / CC BY

“God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

*

On countless mornings, I glimpse my reflection in the mirror and want to punch myself in the face.

Because I look like her at certain angles.

Her chin, strong but not square. Her awkward smile. Deep brown eyes.

I wear my bully’s face every day of my life, like a kind of grotesque mask.

“You look so much like your mother,” other well-meaning people have agreed. “It’s like you’re sisters.”

And yet underneath that mask of her face, I am someone else entirely. I am a person who forever says the wrong things. Who wants to stuff the long tangle of odd words back into my mouth. Brutal truths. Morbid outbursts. A constant spew of embedded clauses. Factoids.

Mom? She follows social scripts. She’s forever performing the same play, reciting lines she knows by heart. It’s comfortable and safe. All my mother wants is to be safe, accepted. Even though staying there usually means attacking anyone who poses the slightest threat. Cutting them down to a size where they can’t hurt her. So they can’t make her feel inadequate. Or challenge her belief system.

I look just like her. But the person I am underneath that mask craves challenge. Wants growth. I get bored if I’m too comfortable for too long. Restless, suspicious.

My mother is a woman who not only follows the rules but also doesn’t hesitate to come after those who don’t.

And me? I’m not quite sure what I am. I’ve never been able to fulfill all of anybody’s criteria. So I drift. Wander. All the while looking like this certain, godly woman.

Or do I? Maybe it’s like Shakespeare said all those years ago: We’re given a face, sure, but by living in it, we change it. And in so doing, we leave what formed us behind.

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