I was recently talking to two of my friends. Interestingly, all of us have mothers who can, at least in some part, be called “crazy.” By crazy, I mean that my mom is an emotional basketcase; E’s mom is a psychotic b!tch, and M’s mom is a whacko nutjob. Three flavors of crazy, all resulting in confused and sad daughters.
Now, perhaps I’m not objective, but I think all mother-daughter relationships are fraught with some peril. We navigate each other’s mine fields with differing degrees of success and the ambivalence continues until death do us part. But some mothers, and you know if you have one, are just plain crazy.
Through trial and error and a lot of soul-searching, I’ve developed a three-step approach to dealing with your crazy mother.
It took me a while to sort through all my issues, and I’ve by no means conquered them all, at least not all the time. But in the past year, I’ve figured some things out. I wish someone had told me these things when I was 22, when it was just starting to dawn on me that the emotional blackmail and abuse weren’t normal. Therapy helped a lot, because finally I had an objective person to tell me that it was in fact abuse and not just normal mother-daughter stuff. But the bulk of this I’ve figured out on my own, and in the hopes of maybe helping someone else cope, I will pass them along here.
Three Steps to Dealing with Your Crazy Mother
1. Understand you can’t fix her. Accept it. Let go of the idea that you will someday, through your powers of persuasion or desperate cries for help, get through to her somehow. She will probably never apologize, she may never even realize she’s wrong, but you can’t control that, so just let go. Stop the fight.
2. Understand the abuse comes from an emotional place, not a rational one. She may understand on a rational level that what she’s doing is unfair, but that’s not the source of her actions.
Sometimes, for example, when you’re upset, your husband will try to comfort you by reasoning with you or explaining things to you. It doesn’t help, does it? That’s because you’re upset at an emotional level and all the logic in the world isn’t going to help you when you feel like that. Now multiply that time a thousand. That’s your crazy mother.
I understand now that a lot of my mom’s behavior comes from the emotional place of her unresolved abandonment issues. So now when she goes round the pipe on me, I try to respond to her emotional need for reassurance and security, rather than arguing with her that it’s really not fair of her to accuse me of not loving her. The next best option is just zipping it and letting her rail. Because I try to keep in mind that it’s coming from an emotional place, not a rational one, it makes easier to just let go. She doesn’t really hate me, she isn’t intentionally trying to ruin our family gathering, it’s just raw emotion.
3. Find the appropriate time and means of feeling and expressing your anger. It’s OK to feel hurt. It’s OK to be angry. It’s wrong, the things she says to you, and it sucks that she never says she’s sorry. It hurts to be treated so shoddily by the person you’ve needed the most. It’s bad. It’s not fair.
I would often take out my anger on my poor husband. But that’s wrong too, it hurt him awfully, and it made me feel like a horrible person. But since you can’t say anything to the people who are making you hurt, where’s all that anger supposed to go? Especially when you’re a mom–you spend so much of the time putting on a happy face, pretending you’re not tired, pretending to LOVE Thomas the Tank Engine even though playing trains ten times a day can be tedious–your emotions tend to come dead last on the family hierarchy of needs. For me, I found my 35 minute commute was the perfect time to deal with my anger. When she upset me, I spent a whole week driving home with the radio off, just stewing. When I got a couple miles from home, I knew it was time to pull myself together because I was going to get my son from daycare. And I wanted to be fully present for him, not upset, not distracted. My private stewing time was a great release and when it was finished, I felt refreshed and ready to be happy mommy again.
Anyhow, that’s the program. Maybe you’ll identify with this, maybe not, but I consider it a public service announcement.