Psych Central

Want to Help Depressed Mom, but How?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

First of all thank you very much for taking your time in reading my problems…
My mom is the most important person in my life, she is the one that i most admire and adore. The thing is that latley she is being extremley aggresive to me verbally and i am too. She lost my father years ago, and she is in a wheelchair…so i kind of understand why she is so depressed and upset, she has had a rough and hard life. The thing is that we fight ALOT, more than you could imagine. We cant have one simple conversation without getting into a fight. Sometimes its my faul for being a stupid teenager, but sometimes she is really really aggresive. She has said things to me that is hard for me to forget. Whenever she is ill, she blames me for it. She complains ALL day long, she curses a LOT, she is always thinking negativley and blaming me for many things. On the other side, i get very rude too…sometimes when shes nice, i am the one picking up a fight. I can be very rude to her and i am always yelling at her. I dont understand why i do this, i thought that maybe it had to do with me being upset at her for loosing her beautiful attitude she had. I know she is the most amazing woman ever, but still nowadays i dont recognize her or me. I really dont know what to do. Whenever we fight i come back instantly asking for forgivness, but she is NEVER satisfied with my apologies or my attitude when i change, so i go back into doing the same. She has never apologized to me (i ALWAYS have the fault of EVERYTHING)…and this is getting really bad and ugly…most of all very hard. I cant be fine without her, she is the person that i love the most and i dont understand what is going on right now. I think i may hold some things against her that i cant let go, like maybe some of the words she has used when shes upset…or looking at her so depressed made me mad because i know she is better than that. I dont know how to help her overcome her depression either…she doesnt accept help, from anyone. Please PLEASE im begging you for help or advice, this is driving me crazy, i cant spend one more day listening to bad words and complaints and negative things and fights and insults. I just cant…

Thank you and sorry to bother!

A: You are not a bother. Doing what we can to help is what this service is for.

It sounds to me like you’re right. Your mother is suffering from depression. The blaming and criticizing and cursing isn’t really about you. It’s about her frustration and emotional pain. She has reason to be depressed and irritable. She has lost her partner and her health. She is probably more dependent than she ever imagined she would be. After years of maintaining a positive attitude, she’s exhausted. That doesn’t make it okay for her to be critical and rude to you. But maybe it helps you to be reminded that she is tired, not terrible.

At 19, you are in a position to be helpful. Part of moving into adulthood is to see parents as people and to shift from being a needy child to being a supportive adult. Right now, you are the one who can change your relationship. Your mother can’t. She’s too locked into her depression. The first step is to stop trying to change her. You can’t. The only person you can change is you. If you do, it is likely she will eventually start to shift as well.

A person can only be in an argument if the other person argues. It’s time for you to stop. If your mother says something hurtful, just say something like “I’m sorry you feel that way” and excuse yourself. If she blames you, don’t get defensive. Remember it’s not about you. Just say something like, “I know. Things are hard.” Find out what resources are available to provide her with counseling and some practical help and offer her the information. If she pushes it away, just leave the information where she can access it. Don’t insist on it. Don’t be pushy. Just tell her you love her and want better for her.

Do reassure her of your love and admiration regularly. Just don’t get hooked into debates. Bring her water. Offer to do her hair or polish her nails. As soon as she goes negative, say something like “I guess you’re too tired. I’ll come back later when you feel better.” No sarcasm, please. Smile. Give her a kiss and leave. Check back in after an hour or so to try again.

Meanwhile: It’s time for you to get on with your adult life. You didn’t mention whether you have a job. I hope so. If that’s not possible, start volunteering at something meaningful to get you out of the house and to build your resume. Join an activity where there are other young people who share your interests. Your mother can’t offer you a whole lot of support right now so you need friends who can.

Right now, the only “person” who is winning in your home is Mr. Depression. Don’t let that continue. Kick him out the door and resolve to bring back the beautiful attitude your mother once provided. Once there is more love and light in your relationship, your mother may be more willing to accept the help she needs.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Aug 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Want to Help Depressed Mom, but How?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/08/07/i-just-dont-know-how-to-deal-with-my-mom/