Psych Central

Should I Rebuild a Relationship with My Mother?

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

I have always had a difficult relationship with my mum. My dad was married to another woman and wasn’t around much. I believe my childhood with my mum was unstable. When we were toddlers she fabricated a story about having cancer, which she upheld for many years until it was outted as a lie. She sent us to live with her ex-husband, but maintained the pretense of caring for us to everybody else including my dad. She told lies and forced us participate, threw rages when confronted with her behavior by my foster dad including threatening total abandonment, or taking us away and denying him access, maintained our loyalty by sabotaging our attachment with him. She made frequent reference to his inappropriate fixation on me, though never did anything about this and used it as leverage. My dad decided to live with us age 11, so she removed us from our foster dad and omitted it from history as though it never happened, we were to uphold the pretense of having lived together indefinitely – denying our history, reality and attachment to our foster dad. If I ever questioned this I was punished. When I developed anorexia nervosa, as well as behavioral problems associated with ADHD in my teens, my mum seized the opportunity to appoint me scapegoat of the family. I was castigated for “airing dirty laundry in public” and was expressly forbidden from discussing the reality of childhood in therapy, though she talked about my problems to others at length, telling exaggerated stories and lies which left me ostracized among family. I left home when I could afford to at 19, though I was forced to return when I lost my job. If it were not for my dad passing away recently and the fact that I see my studies as my ticket to independence, I would not have stayed. To others my mum is sweet and vulnerable, people do not see her other side. I feel like her emotional punch bag, I’m heartbroken when I hear what she tells others about me. She continues to undermine my confidence, relationships and achievements and criticizes me constantly. I qualify as a nurse in January, and I’m looking at houses currently. I’m wondering if and how I can rebuild a relationship with my mum, or if I should take the opportunity to put some distance between us once and for all?

A: Your thoughtful question is heartbreaking. The safest way to proceed is to limit your expectations about the kind of relationship that is possible with your mom. As sad as it is, it is limited and the limitation must be honored. My encouragement is to stay connected to ways in which your vulnerability with your mom is limited and keep evolving in your studies. The goal now is to honor that you can have a limited relationship with her, but a deeper investment in your growth lies elsewhere.

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

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Nov 2012

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2012). Should I Rebuild a Relationship with My Mother?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/11/23/should-i-rebuild-a-relationship-with-my-mother/