Slaying The Wicked Bitch of the West: 7 Ways of Dealing With an Abusive Mother on Mother's Day and Beyond

Mother’s Day is here again, and you have that awful dreaded feeling in your stomach. You walk through the card aisle at Target, browsing the Mother’s Day cards, and absolutely none of them describe how you feel about your mom or the type of relationship that you had with her. You scroll through your social media, and feeling awkward, because everyone else is talking about how much they love their mother and how they are celebrating their wonderful Mother’s Day. You wonder how everyone else got so lucky to have such a wonderful loving person in their life. Old memories start to flare up about you and your mother’s relationship, and you are once again reminded of how you were rejected and unloved by your mom. Perhaps, your mother physically abandoned you by walking out the door and never looking back; or she was physically present, but was never emotionally available. Maybe your mother told you that you would never amount to anything, talked badly about you to other people, and only interacted with you when it was beneficial to her. Perhaps your mother was physically, sexually, emotionally, psychologically, financially abusive to you; or maybe you could never count on her for anything. Regardless of how she mistreated you, the bottom line is still the same: you were never good enough for her and you don’t have many good memories of your time together. You feel like a part of you is missing – or has been unfairly stolen. Despite what happened between you and your mom, you spent a long time trying to make a relationship work; whether you were doing everything that she wanted you to do to gain her approval, or internalizing everything and feeling like you were the problem. And Mother’s Day continues to remind you of the relationship that you never had with your mom. Here are some tips to help you cope with you and your mother’s relationship and get through Mother’s Day.

1) Reflect on your relationship with your mom. Take some quiet time to sit and reflect on relationship with your mom. Think about what your relationship with her represented to you, how it contributed to your growth, as well as your pain. Sit with your feelings and allow them to bubble up to the surface. Negative feelings, including anger, sadness, resentment, confusion, guilt, and shame are common emotions of those who have been traumatized or hurt by an individual that we are supposed to trust. Further, these feelings can be complicated by grief of the loss of a relationship that you never had, and one that you always longed for. Thus, it is the equivalent of losing 2 people. Write down your feelings about your mom, and what experiences are bringing up those emotions that you have.  

2) Take your power back. After reflecting on your relationship or lack thereof with your mom, be honest with yourself about the purpose that having your momma in or out of your life serves. Does your mom want a relationship with you? Are you doing most of the work to have a relationship with her? Is she still abusive and manipulative in the relationship? If the relationship is hurting you more than it helps you, continues to be detrimental, or abusive; then you may want to consider severing ties or only dealing with your mom on a limited basis. However, if you want a relationship with your mom, and she is genuine about wanting a relationship with you; then you can be proactive about creating the healthy dynamic that you want. Maybe you need time, space, or you need to have some difficult conversations with your mom about things that happened in the past. Establishing boundaries, and repairing a relationship that was once abusive can be done, but it requires realistic expectations, work, and you may need the help of a therapist to mediate and assist with communication.

4) Talk about your experiences and your memories of your mom with an objective person. When you are in pain, or trying to resolve inner conflict, it is often helpful to talk with someone who will listen, be objective, and be respectful of your feelings and experiences. This could be a close friend, family member, or even another therapist. A therapist can be especially helpful, as they can educate you about relationship with your mother, andhow themes of abandonment, rejection, or abuse issues may be present in other relationships as a result of your relationship with your mom. Further, a therapist can help you work through those issues and learn to establish and nurture healthy loving relationships built on trust.

5) Find a mother-like surrogate. If you have decided to dissolve the relationship with your mom, it helps to have a surrogate mother-like figure. While it is not the same, ideally you would choose someone that has all of the characteristics that a great mother should have. This makes the painful loss of your mother a little less traumatic if you have a mother-like figure who is loving and supportive. While you cannot choose your birth parent, you can make the perfect selection of a surrogate. Look for characteristics of the ideal mom in your friends, their parents, or other maternal figures that you know.

6) Distraction. For holidays that remind you of your mom – a good method to use is distraction. It is often best to plan ahead, and find something to do on the day of, and maybe the days preceding the holiday. Surround yourself with positive people, take a getaway, work, turn off social media, limiting the time you spend listening to peers talking about their special plans with their mom, or spending the day watching movies are a few ways in which you can distract yourself on Mother’s Day.

7. Develop a healing ritual. A ritual can help you to process hurtful feelings and let go of your mom. It is important to have time, where you can continue to expel the wounds and the hurtful feelings surrounding your mom. For example, writing your mom a letter telling her how she hurt you, and how that made you feel can be therapeutic. Even if you choose not to give her the letter, just simply allowing yourself to have an internal dialogue about your pain and feelings can be healing.

While Mother’s Day (and several other days) can be difficult to manage if you didn’t have the ideal relationship with your mom; taking the time to reflect and take steps towards healing can help lessen the pain over time. Allowing yourself time and space to process your feelings around your mom, provides insight into the relationship and starts the healing process.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not a diagnostic tool, nor is it meant to be used in place of treatment with a licensed clinician. This blog is for informational purposes.

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© 2017 Dr. Natalie Jones, LPCC, PsyD. | Clinical Psychologist

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