I was wondering if you might be able to help me with my problem. I think others might have this problem too but aren’t honest with themselves as to how much of a problem it is to them.
I have a really toxic relationship with my mum.
She says she loves me, but her actions aren’t those of a parent who loves their child. She doesn’t approve of anything I do or engage in. I’m 26.
I’ve recently started seeing a boy and it’s going generally well. We’ve had a couple of little obstacles to overcome, but we’ve got over them and are on a good track. My mum is sooooo negative about my relationship though. I can’t even talk to her when something annoying does happen because it’ll just fuel her negativity. I haven’t let her meet him because I don’t want her to be able to legitimately judge him. That said, she makes it very clear that the “problems” she sees in our relationship are somehow all my fault.
Another example is how a year ago my flat was broken into whilst I was inside sleeping at night. I still have quite a lot of trauma from waking up hearing someone rummaging around my kitchen and living room, but my mum thinks she’s the victim? She wasn’t even there. But SHE cries to ME about it and how difficult this whole traumatic experience has been for her. She even goes around crying to all of her friends about it. Hello, it was ME who was there…not her! And of course, the burglar’s ability to break into the flat is my fault according to her.
I think the crux of this is that we’re very different people. Sometimes (all the time) I feel she’d be happier with another daughter and I’d be happier with another mother.
If my father wasn’t in the equation, I’d have nothing to do with my mother because there would be no reason for me to have her in my life. But I can’t cut her off because my Dad is my best friend.
I’m never going to like my mum as a person, but how do I stop letting her get to me without cutting her off?
In one’s life, there are people who you choose to be part of your life and people who you choose to part company with. With families this choice isn’t as free. We perceive families as always being there for one another, as taking the rough with the smooth and that although they can drive you crazy that you will always love them.
However, this perception of family relationships does not take into consideration the emotional difficulties you have to endure when your relationship with a father, mother, sibling or other relative is toxic.
The patterns of behaviour you have described such as persistent criticism, passive aggression, disrespect of personal boundaries and manipulation definitely suggest you have a toxic relationship on your hands.
Fortunately the consequences of her manner are not beyond repair and can be due to a breakdown in relationship. In order that you can repair the relationship, your mother needs to know how you are feeling and why you are feeling this way. You know your mother more than anyone and will know how she will react, so you need to plan exactly what you want to say.
Your plan should include revealing to your mother what reaction you were looking for when you told her about the break in to your flat and how the whole experience made you feel. Do not shy away from informing her that you feel she does not love you – this may well be the kind of shocking news she needs to hear to enlighten her to the very grave situation you are both in here. She may feel devastated about how you are feeling, however it will present the opportunity for your mother to truly understand the seriousness of your feelings and hopefully resolve any misunderstandings.
It is important that when you choose to disclose to your mother how you are feeling, make sure that you are both in a relaxed environment, cannot be distracted and are able to have an open conversation. By taking her away from the house, your dad will not have to be involved and play referee. Throughout, you must remain calm but confident whilst you are unveiling your feelings to her. If you feel that her reaction is making you annoyed, then in order to get your point across clearly and precisely, take a deep breath or if that does not help, go to another room and take a small break. This may all sound quite clinical, but it’ll help you take control of the situation.
I also advise that you set some boundaries for your mother going forwards and ask if she would like to add any boundaries of her own – this has to be a dialogue, not a lecture. It may seem unusual to set boundaries with your own mother, but once these limitations are in place and you both learn to respect them, your relationship will undoubtedly improve, which is the whole purpose.
You already know and have identified the kinds of situations where your mother’s behaviour annoys or hurts you. For now, avoid these situations / conversations with her. For example, if you know that your mother is not supportive of your relationship with your boyfriend, then do not disclose as much information to her. If your mother interacts positively when discussing other subjects, then focus on them. This way you are still maintaining a relationship and are keeping control of the situation. This will see the positive parts of your relationship start to outweigh the negatives, at which point you can then stat introducing other topics or discussions which have previously ended in conflict, in the hope that this new positivity will carry through.
Changing other people is nearly impossible and whilst it is frustrating, this is something you must accept. You can however change your reaction to them. My advice in this later is based on the presumption that there are misunderstandings and misconceptions in your relationship which have led to this breakdown. If your mother does not cooperate with your efforts to rebuild the relationship or show willing to respect your newly set boundaries, then all you can do is work on your own reaction to her behaviour. I am really hoping that this won’t be the case and that in actual fact you’ll both take steps to improve your relationship, but if she will not then unfortunately you can only change your own reaction to her or completely let go of your relationship. I can’t tell you which option to choose – you have to do whatever is best for you and your own happiness.
It may sound like I am putting a lot of the responsibility on you in this situation – of course there is a lot of responsibility that your mum must take too. However, if you want to go about changing a situation then sometimes you have to accept that it is on you to take that first leap and to steer the process, or else those improvements just won’t happen. If you begrudge having to shoulder so much of the responsibility, then I would go so far as to suggest that you feel the situation is beyond repair. That is up to you to decide.
On a separate note, I am so sorry to hear of the traumatic experience of the break in. Without you realising, it will have had a major effect on how you are feeling and how well you cope with situations which will only have added to the challenges that you are experiencing with your relationship with your mother. Can I recommend that you seek some specialised support from a therapist to help you through the long-term effects on such a trauma. You may not feel it necessary, but I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Helping yourself to overcome this trauma will undoubtedly help you to have a more positive mindset when taking on life’s challenges, namely your relationship with your mother.
I hope this helps. I send you my best wishes.