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Family Relations/Broken relationship with my mother

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QUESTION: Hi,

I have a very unhealthy relationship with my mom and I'm not sure what to do. We've had a very rocky relationship once I was I my teens to now (I'm 28). She's a very difficult person to be around for the reason being she always seems to be ready for a fight. what I mean, she always has her guard up and believe everyone is out to hurt her. Most of the time when I talk to her she's either depressed or angry.
in the last year  her and my father have separated and starting the divorce process. I've tried to remain as neutral as possible which has been so difficult since both side have been bringing me into the middle. Now I've harbored a lot of resentment towards my mom steaming from the last 15 years. from her trying to break up my relationship (When I was dating my husband), that resulted in me becoming depressed and failing college (she would yell at me to leave my boyfriend while I was trying to study for a exam). To coming to my house and telling me how horrible my dad is, taking over my wedding plans, and even calling my first child "her baby" (I lost my child in a early miscarriage).
Its just been a toxic relationship and i'm starting to feel like I should step away, but I feel horrible for abandoning her. She lost my dad and my brother (he stopped talking to her) I don't want her to be alone. shes lost her whole family and I feel guilty for not speaking to her. But I can't deal with her anymore... she stresses me out and I cant focus on my own life with my husband.. what do I do? do I try and salvage a relationship with her or do I cut ties off?

what's worst is with mothers day coming up, I don't know if I should call her.. oh and shes using the fight I had with her last week against my dad in the divorce saying he turned me against her.

please help..

ANSWER: Hi, Stacy, thanks for your questions. You've asked a few, and I will try to respond as best I can.

"I have a very unhealthy relationship with my mom"
--- Stacy, one of the first skills we need to acquire as a mature adult, is the ability to let other people act in whatever way they want, and not have that dictate our responses. It is likely the most difficult with our parents, but it can be the most satisfying, once you've learned how to do that. IOW, instead of 'harboring a lot of resentment', or "becoming depressed and failing college" or 'getting stressed out and not focusing on your own life', go ahead and live your life the way you want to. And, doing so means giving other people the freedom to be as miserable as they want to be. Plus, when other people notice that they are no longer able to drag you down with them, that has the miraculous effect of effecting change IN THEM! It's really hard to be miserable around a happy person!

"I don't want her to be alone"
"I feel horrible for abandoning her"
----- you know, this may come as a shock to you, but you are not responsible for other people's happiness! You are only responsible for yours. Whether or not someone is happy is up to them.... think about it - is someone other than you responsible for your happiness? Many people think things like 'other people make me happy' or 'people make me mad', but that's a fallacy that people tell each other. We know from cognitive psychology that there is no physical mechanism that 'forces' people to feel any particular way.

"do I try and salvage a relationship with her"
----- I'm not completely sure about what you mean with this question, because no matter how your relationship goes, you will always have a relationship with her. The nature of it depends on the kinds of things the both of you do. This will be true even if you "cut ties off" - then your relationship will consist of you refusing to be in communication with her. Or, a bit more accurately, your communication will be 'I won't communicate with you'. I always advise people to act independently, proactively - don't let other people control your actions.

So, whether or not you stop communicating with your mother, IMO that's just a choice .... AND, it's a choice that we make all the time - for example when you hang up the phone. no big deal. What IS a big deal is getting the maturity that comes from living your own life, making your own choices - it's kinda rare in the world, so it really is a big deal, once you have mastered it. Once there, you have achieved something that's as big as Bhudda, or confucious - not to go all regiousy on you, but just pointing out how monumental a step it is

Consider reading some books on cognitive therapy, or even therapy. It can make a world of difference


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for getting back to me so quickly! you've given me a lot to think about and I agree on having to focus on my own happiness other than how others act.

what books do you recommend? I think reading on cognitive therapy would help me in so many matters.

Thank you so much!

Answer
Hi Stacy - Aaron Beck and Albert Lewis really founded the field of cognitive therapy. They wrote many books appropriate for regular people, which are still good today. But there are likely many such books on the market. The key is to learn the kinds of 'stinking thinking' that we humans are subject to, then begin challenging your own thinking. Perhaps start with wikipedia, and, every time you think something, ask yourself - 'is that REALLY true?' A common example is "I can't take it any more" - which is obviously  false, because you are continuing to 'take it' during the time you were thinking that thought! And, just what the heck does 'take it' mean? I know I have no idea. Consider going to the library, or searching Amazon for used books - probably can get them for $1, and they come right to your house. Plus, many of them you can peruse the book to see if you like it.... so, there you go!

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Bruce Borkosky, Psy.D.

Expertise

questions framed similarly to 'what are some ways to respond when someone does/says X' are best. Questions posed in the form of 'why does my father do/say Y', or 'how would you diagnose my mother when she does/says Z' are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. I will probably reframe your question to fit the first question (what do I do). Nay question regarding any family member is fair game. Some of the most difficult are in the area of step-parenting and divorcing families.

Experience

I've been a licensed psychologist in Florida since 1994. I've evaluated and/or treated thousands of patients.

Organizations
American Psychological Association Florida Psychological association National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology

Publications
www.bruceborkosky.blogger.com

Education/Credentials
Psy.D., Miami Institute of Psychology, 1993 M.CS., U. of Dayton, 1984 B.A., Ohio Wesleyan U., 1978

Awards and Honors
Award for Years of Dedicated Service, Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society, 1999

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