Mother May Have Emotional Illness

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

Hello,

I have been dealing, as an only child, with a mother who has never known quite how to bond with me, even as a small child, sending me to live with relatives when she was divorced. As a pre-teen and young teen, when I was taken back from my home I had grown used to, to again live with her, she was unable to communicate with a 10 year old in a way that was constructive; I remember many nights of silent treatments, slammed doors, being grabbed by the clothing and shoved into a room, etc. I remember very clearly that I was not a particularly bad child, either. I can remember laying awake, silently crying, listening to her raging under her breath.
We moved at least once a year, with school changes, depending on the whims of her current boyfriend.
As I grew to teenage years, I ran away several times to return to the family members home that I felt safe and comfortable in. Finally at age 17 I was out on my own. My mother and I didnt communicate for several years in any meaningful way, as she had relocated out of state. I married and started a family and we maintained very distant but cordial contact.
I moved close to my mother after my own divorce and trouble soon started again, she brings up events that either were so long ago and not in context with anything happening, also she will completely twist the event so that everyone involved is treacherous and a “liar”. She still accuses me, completely out of the blue, of lying about everything. EVERYTHING, even the most mundane events.
What’s most troubling is that these bouts come on completely out of the blue, when things seem “ok”, seem to be getting on just fine.
I have long suspected bipolar disorder which is ironic, she accuses most everyone in our family of having this disorder, but not herself.
When I was about 13, I remember and incident, when I was taken away from the home I was used to again, and being 13, in no mood to respond to her insults and berating me…I remained silent. We were in the car on a country road. She began screaming at me, then screaming in general and yanked the steering wheel so that we were traveling into the wrong lane, toward oncoming traffic. I shakingly got her to pull over, and walked to a farmhouse with a shaking, hysterical mother, to call my step father who came and got us. I was terrified at that moment but nothing was ever followed up on that I am aware of.
As Im now old enough that I don’t need to take it, I finally snapped and instructed her to never contact me again, but I know that’s not the answer…I just don’t know what is anymore. But I cannot accept this relationship as it is anymore. Help.

A: I’m very sorry to hear of the long, difficult struggles with your mom. But I would honor your instinct on this. You have known since you were a little girl that you mother can’t provide the love that you would’ve liked, and is not likely to get much better in the near future. She doesn’t seem to be seeking treatment and you have become the lightning rod for her discontent.

Your instincts about not wanting to have contact is actually very healthy because you realize that in spite of your help she hasn’t been able to have a relationship with you. The difficulty here is the anger. When we use anger to push ourselves away from other people it creates a turmoil inside of us that causes distress and discomfort with our decision.

This is the time for compassion. Your mom sounds like she has a condition and suffers from much emotional difficulty. The sad part is you may not be able to help very much, and what you need to do is to detach from her with compassion. Compassion is the most important thing. If you do it angrily it’ll make you feel guilty, frustrated, and upset and ultimately pulled back into the situation. Detach with compassion and do what you can do to help, but go live your life. You may also want to try doing loving-kindness meditation. Here’s a link to a sample. It has been shown by research to help with our emotional regulation and well-being.

I’m not suggesting that any of this is easy, but I do believe it is the right path to cultivate.

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

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Feb 2014

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2014). Mother May Have Emotional Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/02/06/mother-may-have-emotional-illness/