Guilt over Unhealthy Relationship with Mother

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

My Mother and I have had a rocky history, mostly as a result of a childhood divorce (my mother cheated on my father, who I have always been extremely close to, and re-married immediately to a younger man) and her alcohol addiction. Subsequently over the years, she received treatment and changed her life, and so we re-established a relationship and have grown close.

In the last two years or so, it has become very obvious that my mother is miserable with her life, yet she appears to be incapable or unwilling to do anything to change it. She hates her marriage, her job, where she lives, etc, and has begun to abuse alcohol and prescription drugs. In the last 6 months it has gone from bad to worse. I know for a fact she drinks while at work, in the car, has shown up to lunch dates intoxicated, and also exhibits withdrawal symptoms (shaking hands, confusion, anxiety, etc). She is seeing a therapist, but has been seeing this therapist off and on for the last 25 years, and I feel their relationship is more person (friends) than professional.

I have found myself wanting less and less communication with her. I don’t want to talk to her, see her, or have much to do with her. She reaches out to be for support, and while I do my best to give her gentle advice and be an ear, I feel it is all wasted time as she will take none of my advice, and will not change her behavior. I feel my mother is on the brink of a serious crisis, but whenever I consider trying to seriously intervene, I just feel exhausted and unmotivated. This reaction has brought up major feelings of guilt in me – like I am a bad daughter, a bad loved one, that I should be doing more – yet I can’t lessen my resistance to maintaining a strong relationship with her. I keep remembering how awful my early teenage years were when she was out of control with her addiction, and how angry I was, and wonder if those old feelings/memories are being triggered and preventing me from showing any compassion now.

Are my feelings normal? What should I do?

A: Yes your feelings are normal. These characteristics — feeling helpless, withdrawing from contact, feelings of guilt, having advice ignored, wishing you could do more, and struggling to find compassion — are all part of being an adult child of an alcoholic. I would strongly suggest you go to an Al-Anon meeting to get advice and support for yourself. Being with others who struggle with family members who lives are affected by alcohol is very important. Here is the link to Al-Anon for information in your area.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Apr 2011

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2011). Guilt over Unhealthy Relationship with Mother. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/04/14/guilt-over-unhealthy-relationship-with-mother/