What do you do when your mother is the cause of your anxiety?  My mother was always unhappy and abusive to us as kids. My siblings have all but cut her off and moved far away. They tell me to do the same. In fact, everyone in her life has abandoned her because she is so difficult. Even my husband can't stand to be with her. So I am the only person she has left, and I can't bring myself to abandon her. But when I am with her, she gives me so much anxiety. She never acknowledges how much effort I make to see her and all she does is complain and push me to spend even more time with her. What can I do? Please help!

First of all, we want you to know how many women we know (so so many) who share your story—the mother-daughter relationship is a complicated one, and anxiety often seems to be a consequence. We have suggested on more than one occasion that mothers are anxiety carriers. So, you are definitely not alone in your struggle.

Despite a difficult and abusive childhood, you still feel some connection and obligation to your mother—this comes from a strong sense of compassion and loyalty—something for which you should be quite proud. It is usually easier to walk away from an anxiety trigger. Your persistence says a lot about your strength of character. Please take some time to reflect on that and appreciate what you are able to do, especially when it takes such an emotional toll on you.

Even if you don’t receive the gratitude and recognition you deserve from your mother, you can learn to provide some of that for yourself. Keep reminding yourself that you are a kind and caring daughter and that having the ability to spend time with a difficult mother is a Superpower.

We wish we had a way to make visits with your mother anxiety-free. But you are dealing with both her current behavior and the aftermath of the abuse that you faced as a child. If this doesn’t cause anxiety, nothing will! When she is difficult, the current adult You and the vulnerable, frightened child that you were both need to cope with her behavior. It is really important that you acknowledge to yourself how her behavior feels to the part of you that is still that abused child. It may even be helpful to let that child know that you are now, as an adult, able to protect her and keep her safe. This means that you will no longer tolerate your mother becoming abusive, even if it means walking out in the middle of a visit. This does not mean that you have to cut your mother off, but it does mean that you have to set very clear boundaries for yourself when her behavior moves toward abuse.

Keep reminding yourself that your mother’s abuse was not and is not your fault. Moreover, even if you are the most responsive daughter in the world, she is not going to change. You were never the problem and you cannot be the solution. It may start to feel less anxiety-provoking when you can fully accept (and reasonably anticipate) both your mother’s pattern of behavior and how you choose to react to it. When you recognize that you do have the power to change your reactions, a lot of the anxiety will likely dissipate.

Having said all of this, we are not experts on the mother-daughter relationship. Luckily, one of our Anxiety Sisters, Karen C. L. Anderson is! We highly recommend her new book, Difficult Mothers, Adult Daughters as a resource in your journey.

If you have not already received help from a therapist regarding the abuse you suffered as a child, we also recommend that, if it is an option for you.

We know all of this is very painful to deal with—we are here to support you in any way we can.

Much love,

Abs & Mags

2 thoughts on “Difficult Mothers

  1. If there was ever an article written about the relationship between my Mom, my sister’s and myself — this is it. Hit the anxiety riddled nail on the head. Thanks!

  2. Let’s not forget that the anxiety can flow both ways in the mother /daughter relationship. It used to be the case that if people cut a relative out of their lives, it was because s/he was a real scoundrel. Today, when young people can have 1000 new ‘friends’ online with the tap of a few buttons, they may decide to cut off parents for voting for the wrong political party. Mothers are only human; we worry about grown children, we feel hurt if they ignore us on holidays. If we’re prone to anxiety, we may ruminate endlessly about what we did wrong when the answer might not have much to do with us at all.

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