Hi. My mum is 58 and has lived a very unhealthy life. She had my brother at 16 and my father used to beat her — they would fight almost every day but he didn’t hit her every time. I’ve witnessed him burn her clothes etc. Later in life, she spiraled into a bad gambling addiction and as long as I’ve known her, she has had severe anxiety. We’ve never been able to get on due to her manipulating me into thinking she was always the innocent victim and would have me lie for her to cover up her gambling (I was young and didn’t understand the consequences). As I grew older, my dad also matured and he no longer hits her. But, she is excessively anxious and moody. An example is, if I am at a lecture and she can’t reach my phone for 2 hours, she gets relatives to call up the uni and report me as “missing”. Or if I am at work and she cannot reach me I will have 10 missed called and each with a voicemail of her telling me off for “doing this to her”. She is a loving mother; she’ll do anything for her family. But she is also manipulative and the slightest criticism makes her accuse me of being her enemy. She now lives overseas, which has made matters worse. I recently moved interstate for work and she hysterically started crying over the phone asking why I’m doing this to her (as I moved to a country town with my partner and have no family here).
I know you can’t give a diagnosis. But we can’t get her to see someone either and I wish I knew what it might be that she could be suffering from. I can’t take much any more. It’s come to a point where I avoid speaking to her but it kills me knowing if something happens to her, I’m going to be filled with regret and guilt. Yet, we cannot speak to one another without it ending in a fight. With all this, my tolerance for her has decreased which means I am no longer easy for her to talk to either. What do you think this might be? Any suggestions may help me understand where to look for help. Thanks for your time. (From Australia)
There may be many reasons for your mother’s behavior. A term that is often used to describe it is “enmeshment.” Your mother’s need to be in touch with you is outside the norm, which puts an excessive burden on you. This kind of over-dependency is emotional suffocation and too much pressure.
You’re not in a position to help your mom without losing yourself. I would encourage you to set a limit, not respond to the excessive emails and calls, and not be apologetic for setting these limits.
This is not easy. I recommend you get individual therapy as support during this time.
Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.
APA Reference Tomasulo, D. (2018). Concerned about My Mother. Psych Central.
Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2015/03/28/concerned-about-my-mother/
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 28 Mar 2015) Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018 Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.