How do you figure out how to be in her presence—have a relationship with her—while not allowing yourself to be sucked into the vortex of her emotions?
A word for many that brings with it memories of being tenderly tucked into bed. Getting advice when you fall in love the first time. Watching her committed to work, family, friends, church or community. But also to you, her child. Knowing that she is there for you.
For others, “Mom” is as far away from that scenario as can be.
Your life as a child was fraught with ridicule. Disdain. Screaming. Distortions. Or eerily quiet hostility.
You could not get out of the line of fire. Or you seemed completely invisible to her.
Everything was your fault.
And might still be.
Christine Ann Lawson, in her book “Understanding The Borderline Mother,” highlights ten common thoughts of children who live with mothers on the border between rationality and irrationality. What diagnostically is termed Borderline Personality Disorder, a way of relating to self and others that is intense and unpredictable, often filled with severe mood swings and actions that match.
Yet to others, not involved with her on an intimate level, she can look quite normal and highly productive. (Men can be borderline as well, but it occurs less often.)
“I never know what to expect.” “I don’t trust her.”
“She says it didn’t happen.” “She makes me feel terrible.”
“Everyone else thinks she’s great.” “It’s all or nothing.”
“She’s so negative.” “She flips out.”
“Sometimes I can’t stand her.” “She drives me crazy.”
It’s also possible that this abuse is accompanied by a confusing sense of being loved. A bond is formed, however complex.
Many have seen the movie “Mommie Dearest,” which portrayed just such a relationship between mother and daugher. Joan Crawford and her adopted daughter, Christina. Incredible volatility, constant criticism. Beatings with a wire hanger because one was found in Christina’s closet, a terrifying scene in the movie.
Not all abuse is as dramatic as that. Some of it is manipulation. Neediness. Guilt trips.
Not all abusive moms have BPD. Sally Field’s mother in the TV mini-series“Sybil,” identified as having paranoid schizophrenia, was highly abusive. Susan Heitler, Ph.D. notes that borderline personality and narcissism can be intertwined, narcissism being the tendency to make everything about yourself. A lack of empathy or understanding.
How do you figure out how to be in her presence – have a relationship with her – while not allowing yourself to be sucked into the vortex of her emotions?
Here are some ideas.
1) Read books that provide strategies.
For borderline personality, “Understanding The Borderline Mother” is a wonderful resource, as is, “Stop Walking On Eggshells” and “Lost In The Mirror.” “Disarming The Narcissist” and “Trapped In The Mirror,” great books for understanding narcissism.
After all, she is your mother. And often, you desire a relationship with her. You want her to know your own children. But not to influence them negatively. You have to figure out how to be in the relationship as an adult, not as a child with no power over how the relationship is shaped.
2) Get some therapy.
Work with a therapist can be very helpful – to bounce off what your automatic reactions are to what she says and does. Change them into less reactive ones. Work on how you want to have a relationship with her now. What you can expect. And how to handle it.
3) Recognize that she may not have the capacity to change.
She may be living a miserable life. But not know or have the insight to change her belief system. Or understand the impact of her behavior on you and others.
She’s just not likely to get it.
You have to step out of the pattern you may have with her. Out of the guilt or threatening she may hand out like candy.
4) Have compassion for yourself.
Both as a child of someone with significant mental problems. And as an adult who may still be trying to give her the chance to love you well. It’s not what should have happened. You can’t “make up” for it necessarily. You can find other relationships, however, that can be healing.
And see if she has the capacity to honor potential new boundaries that you establish.
5) Look at what you learned from her. Both positive and negative.
We can all be heavily influenced by what our parents tell us. How they act. She may have taught you some good things. Which you can truly appreciate.
However, you may have picked up some of her distorted and overly emotional reactions.
This is hard to do, and requires you taking a objective look at yourself. Taking responsibility, and not blaming her for what you say or do today? That takes maturity.
6) Realize you may have significant anger.
You can’t go through something like that without anger. And those feelings are likely getting worked out in your other relationships. Especially in your primary partnership. Perhaps in a healthy way. Perhaps not.
There are many ways to express anger in a way that moves you through it.
And allows you to let it go.
7) Know that her significant other probably has problems as well.
Whether it’s your biological father, stepfather or someone she has been living with, he is most likely not very healthy either. They may both be in denial of the dynamics in their relationship that keep things chaotic around them.
You can figure out what emotions belong to who. Your mother. Your father.
You can read more of Dr. Margaret on her website. Subscribe and you will receive a free copy of her new eBook, “Seven Commandments Of Good Therapy”, a basic guide on how to choose a potential therapist or how to evaluate the therapy you are currently receiving. You can also email her with comments: [email protected].
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