I think the particular kind of “goodness” that my mother aspired to – that so many of our mothers aspired to – is not actually goodness at all.

Her concept of goodness was a person perpetually sacrificing everything important to her for the comfort of others, even with no acknowledgment or thanks.

The perfect person, to my mother, was gracious in the face of cruelty and had bottomless wells of love to give even if none was given back. Her only joy should be the knowledge that she had given and given and given, her only triumph over those who would hurt her should be a quiet, unspoken sureness that she Had Done Right.

This is not goodness. This is not something a real, living person can safely try to achieve, I think. This is what you attempt to become in order to survive brutality.

This is a recipe for the perfect victim, the victim who has made herself so small and given so much that there is now, finally, no reason to abuse her. This is the image cruel people would have us try endlessly to become, so they can more easily take and violate and control.

They want you to be not just meek, but the kind of person who strives always to be meeker. Someone they no longer have to bully into anticipating their wishes, because you have not just honed this skill but made it your life’s purpose. They want you to see your fury and bitterness and self-pity and desire to escape as faults to be overcome, instead of valid reactions to being hurt and controlled and taken advantage of.

It’s a way to survive what you can’t escape, and in that situation alone it has value. Even in that situation, though? This ideal can never be achieved, even if you somehow destroy every shred of self-respect (anger, desire to escape, etc.) you find in yourself. You can never be the perfect victim. There will always be a “reason” to abuse you, even if you are careful not to provoke, because the reason was never you. Abusers like to abuse.

Trying to be the perfect victim broke my mother, and it’s fucked me up pretty badly too. I wish I could go back in time and warn her. I wish I could tell her:

You cannot give endlessly; no human can, and you shouldn’t have to.  It is not a virtue to suffer endlessly. It is not proof of love to allow someone to destroy you.

You deserve someone who doesn’t expect your suffering as proof of love. You deserve someone who gives back joyously, who feels your pain as part of their own and hates to cause it. You deserve to be surrounded by people who value you and all you think and want and are. You have worth. You deserve respect. It doesn’t have to be like this.