Psychoanalysis was her family’s religion—instead of wafers and wine, there were Seconals, Nembutals, and gin. Baptized into the faith at fourteen, Melissa Knox endured her analyst’s praise of her childlike, victimized mother—who leaned too close, ate off Melissa’s plate, and thought “pedophile” meant “silly person.”
Gaslighted with the notions that she’d seduced her father, failed to masturbate, and betrayed her mother, Melissa shouldered the blame. Her story of a family pulled into and torn apart by psychoanalysis exposes the abuse inherent in its authoritarianism as Melissa learns, with a startling sense of humor and admirable chagrin, that divorcing Mom is sometimes the least crazy thing to do.
Melissa Knox, PhD, a New York City native, teaches American literature and culture at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. She endured more than twenty years of psychoanalysis, wrote a psychoanalytic biography of Oscar Wilde titled <i>Oscar Wilde: A Long and Lovely Suicide</i> (Yale University Press, 1996), and has authored numerous personal essays about disturbed family life, often in relation to psychoanalysis.
"’She wanted me slaughtered…I imagined her drooling at the thought.’
“With a hateful, uncaring mother, an alcoholic father, and a drug-addicted brother, it was inevitable that author Knox would end up in therapy. From her early teens through college, she talked regularly to a Freudian psychoanalyst, Dr. Sternbach, a Jew who had narrowly escaped the Holocaust. He rarely offered sympathy. When she became bulimic as a depressed young teen, he ordered her to stop vomiting; he told her repeatedly that she was masochistic and an exhibitionist. He asked her lurid questions about her sexual feelings, indicating a more than professional interest. He divulged her secrets to others while demanding that she say nothing about their sessions. And, possibly because her deranged, narcissistic mother was the one paying his fees, he sided with Mom. Near the end of his life, after she had thoroughly dispelled his influence, Sternbach insulted his former patient’s new husband. Ultimately, Knox was able to ‘divorce’ both her mother and her therapist.
“Knox’s memories present in clear, intelligent prose the disturbing coming-of-age saga of an adolescent girl trying desperately to gain the respect from others that leads to self-respect, generally with no success. Hers is a painful chronicle whose humor is mostly in the form of irony and whose bright moments of respite or hopefulness are rare. The greatest relief comes at the end of the book when she reveals that, with a loving spouse and some tempered insights and advice from close friends and relatives, Knox has grown up and out of the trap of her emotionally scarring youth. Her book is also a studious examination, and rejection, of Freudian psychoanalysis, now discredited and no longer taught. Knox’s audience will include those who have lived with family dysfunction and grown beyond it, and those who, considering therapy, may wish to choose carefully among the varieties now offered.” —RECOMMENDED by the US Review
"Divorcing Mom is a story of horrifying and at times hilarious family dysfunction, compounded by the browbeating Freudian analyst whom Knox’s mother hired to “help” her. The pages seem to turn by themselves in this engrossing and courageous memoir, and we are left marveling at Knox’s strength of character and artistic gifts in tracing her family’s psychic trajectory from one generation to the next. Knox writes with the voice and vision that she was taught to discredit and ignore from an early age, and her book is a remarkable achievement, exploring family secrets and addressing disturbing issues of power differentials—between parent and child, doctor and patient, and men and women. Her intelligence, insight, and refreshing sense of humor are cause for celebration." —Helen Fremont, author of After Long Silence
"Divorcing Mom is fast paced and reads like a detective story about one’s own family and about some rather monstrous psychoanalysts. Childhood sexual abuse and its denial, and the pain that such denial causes, constitute the beating heart of the story, as does the nature of the wounded mother–motherless daughter relationship. However, not all psychoanalysts are monsters; au contraire. But Knox’s narrator’s authoritarian interrogator certainly is. In my view, Freud was not a fraud—but some think so. Not all therapy lasts for ten, twenty, or thirty years, but it has been know to happen. Knox is a writer. I look forward to her next work." —Dr. Phyllis Chesler
"Readers would be hard-pressed to find a mother–daughter narrative as unique and compelling as Melissa Knox’s Divorcing Mom. With imaginative and intelligent prose, Knox probes her life as the daughter of a deeply narcissistic mother and her years with a Freudian therapist gone badly wrong. One asks the question, can anyone survive such damage? Knox does, and her memoir shows us how." — Marcia Butler, author of The Skin Above My Knee
"A superb reminder that the authoritarianism in power, any power, is built into its DNA. Divorcing Mom is a cry in the upside-down, gaslighted, other-reality wilderness we somehow survive that screams, 'Trust your heart; it will lead the way.'" —Charles Monroe-Kane, author of Lithium Jesus: A Memoir and Peabody Award–winning journalist for National Public Radio’s To the Best of Our Knowledge
"A heartrending look into the essence of what it’s like to be raised by a narcissistic mother. As daughters of narcissistic mothers, we struggle to explain to others the pain and madness of the dynamic. It is all so vague, so subtle, so entrenched. But Melissa Knox eloquently shares this dynamic with us—invites us into the madness—beautifully and eloquently." —Danu Morrigan, founder of DaughtersofNarcissisticMothers.com
"An emotionally articulate, honest, thoughtful, and beautifully written memoir, Divorcing Mom is a testimony of resilience. Melissa’s brave voice shines as a bright reminder that our circumstances do not define who we are or dictate the trajectory of our lives. Her fraught relationship with her mother helps her find what we all need in some way—the courage to discover our own unique paths in life. Her ability to illuminate this is a true gift to her readers." —Ruth Wariner, New York Times best-selling author of The Sound of Gravel