At what point do you say ENOUGH!
Enough abuse, dysfunction, bullying, drama, intrusion, insults, and toxicity for one lifetime. At what point do you decide going “no contact” with your difficult mother is the way to go?
Almost every daughter of a difficult mother I see struggles with where to draw the line, and if to draw a hard line.
Seated on my psychotherapy couch, Sarah is in agony. ” I just can’t take one more discussion of my faults. Nothing is ever good enough for her. No matter what I do… she weighs in with criticism and judgment. I get off the phone in tears feeling terrible about myself. Who needs that? I’d be better off never talking to her again.”
In a later session, Emily says, “Mom’s a black hole. I constantly take care of her and have nothing left for myself. Her neediness is sucking the life out of me. Everything turns into a drama, and whatever happens, it’s always my fault. When will this end?”
Still later, Susan says,” My mother is toxic. She poisons everything she touches. She twists the truth and manipulates constantly to make herself look good instead of owing up to anything. I’ve had it with her lies and manipulations. After what she said to me yesterday, I am never speaking to that woman again!”
In the course of a therapy day, I hear more than one daughter trapped in the role of the “good daughter” of a difficult mother struggle with this one agonizing question. “Should I cut my mother off and go no contact? ” Daughters of difficult mothers can’t imagine taking the abuse indefinitely, and they see only one way out… no contact. This is indeed an option. In fact, sometimes it is the only acceptable option.
However, for most of my clients, it is more complicated than that. After the anger subsides, and the amnesia of time washes over them, this one feeling threatens to challenge their resolve- GUILT! Especially for the daughter, trapped in the role of the “good” daughter, guilt has her in a vise grip. When the guilt sets in, I hear some variation of-“But she’s my MOTHER. She did the best she could. She didn’t let me starve. I’ll give her that. Besides, what would she do without me? I can’t cut my own mother off, can I?”
After 30 years of helping women get to the answer that works for them, I find it boils down to this-
You need to decide what is and is not okay with you, communicate it, and stick to your guns. You only have control over you. You can’t force mom to change, but you can decide how much contact you will have with her. Most daughters say, “my mother won’t go for that.” Of course, she won’t. If, you were to wait for mom to realize the error of her ways you might be waiting a lifetime. Chances are you have always let mom call the shots. That’s just the way it is. Because we are shaking things up a bit this isn’t about your usual stance, submitting to mom, this is about considering yourself.
In this scenario, you aren’t asking her for permission, you are deciding what is okay with you. Big difference. It’s time to take the reins of your own life. Having her in your life, or not, is your choice. You didn’t choose your mother but you can choose how you relate ( or if you relate) to the mother you have.
Now let’s get down to the process that can get you there.
Your 3 step guide
AWARENESS– consider what it costs you when you abdicate your power to mom and let her call the shots. Are you going to live your life for your mother forever?
CONFIDENCE -find your voice and learn what stating your boundaries and limits sounds like, how to say it, and what to say.
RESOLVE– steady yourself for the inevitable pushback you get when you set those boundaries. Did I say pushback? A tsunami of resistance would be more like it. You need to be emotionally prepared.
Sounds good. Will this be easy? Not on your life. In fact, whether you get a minor tremor or a significant earthquake of resistance, it is directly proportional to the level of dysfunction in your relationship. A healthy, balanced relationship involves both parties who consider each other’s interests and compromise. While the resistance is undeniably upsetting, it also holds incredibly valuable information. When your reasonable request touches off explosive resistance, you know you have unearthed a landmine of dysfunction. And, you can’t deal with something you don’t know is there.
How you can prepare?
If you are clear and have internal resolve (admittedly a huge task), the rest will fall into place. Not easily, or smoothly, but developing internal resolve is essential for your own healing whether or not your mother ever changes. By taking the upper hand, you have flipped the dynamics of the relationship. The first part of your life, mom held the power. Now it’s your turn.
Whether you go low contact, no contact or “I’m taking a break for now” contact, if you have communicated your needs and limits, you can let her decide the level of contact by her actions and response. In effect you are saying, ” Mom here is where I stand, you decide how you will show up in my life.” In this way, you take control of your life instead of hoping she will change
*A Bonus- you don’t have to shoulder all of the responsibility of deciding whether or not you and your mother have a relationship or what kind of relationship. With a wake-up call, mom may alter her approach. You don’t know until you try. Then, making the call about how much contact you want is based on real-life data. One thing is for certain, hoping mom will change is not a strategy. Whatever her response, by exercising your power in this way, you build your confidence, and start living life on your own terms. Nothing will ever change unless you do.
To find out if you are trapped in the role of the good daughter go here.