Monday, July 25, 2016

In Grief: Coping with Mom’s Toxic Behavior

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We can say what we need to say. We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind. We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming or cruel when we speak our truths.  ~ Melody Beattie

A reader writes: I'm having a hard time with my mom. My parents have been divorced for 20 years and frankly, my mom couldn’t stand my dad and often said so. She got a new boyfriend right when my dad died. In fact she introduced me to him while I was throwing up in her bathroom from the grief of my dad’s death two days earlier. She told me the day before the funeral that my dad was in hell. She rolls her eyes if I cry in front of her. I tried to talk to her about how much I needed her and she said I was an adult with my own kids, and I don’t need her. 

I told her an amazing story that had happened to me while I was at work as a waitress. I just so happened to wait on a nice lady and her husband. Come to find out, she was a mortician. I asked for what funeral home (never saying a word about my dad just passing) and she named the funeral home where my dad's funeral had just been held. I told her that, and then she asked his name. When I told her she cried, hugged me, and whispered in my ear that she "did" my father and treated him with love and respect, just as she would a member of her own family, and that he was in good hands. I cried, and it was very moving to me. I told my mom about it, and said maybe it was Dad's way of telling me he was okay. 

She said, "He isn’t doing anything for you. He is dead and gone forever. Dead!" 

She was angry and it hurt me. I'm really mad at her. I have never seen anyone act so selfish. Please tell me how to deal with her. I want to love her, but I feel so disgusted with her, like she is toxic to me. There is so much more that she has done or said that hurt me. That's just a little example of it. It's really bothering me. And I am looking into counseling, I know it will help me. I'm a talker! 

My response: My dear, I’m so sorry that your mother’s behavior is so hurtful toward you, but I think in your heart you probably already know how best to deal with this person who for some time has been (in your own words) so toxic to you. It’s tragic that your mother cannot separate her negative and hateful feelings toward this man from the fact that he is your father – but that is your reality, and for your own mental health and well being, you need to protect yourself from such insensitive behavior on her part.

You have no control over how your mother feels and behaves, but you certainly do have control over if, when, and how often you choose to expose yourself to her.

Basically you have three choices here: When your mother makes disparaging remarks about your dad, you can grin and bear it, all the while making the enormous effort of ignoring what she’s saying and reminding yourself that here she goes again, and these are her opinions, not your own. Or you can set firm limits on her by pointing out to her that this is your father she is talking about, that you love him, that as his daughter you have every right to mourn the loss of him, and if you are to continue to have a relationship with your mother, you must insist that she stop making these hurtful and angry remarks about your father in your presence. Or you can decide that, given your mother’s negative attitude and refusal to abide by your wishes, you will limit or completely eliminate any further contact with her, and look elsewhere for the support and understanding you need and deserve.

You know your mother and yourself far better than I do, and only you can know which of these options are worth the energy, time and effort you’re willing and able to spend on them.

Whatever you decide to do, I’m very pleased to learn that you’re seriously considering some counseling for yourself, as I think it will help you gain the strength and confidence you need to better manage your relationship with your mother.

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