How do you stop your mother from being emotionally abusive?
February 8, 2009 10:09 AM   Subscribe

How do you stop your mother from being emotionally abusive?

For my whole life my mom has made me out to be a terrible person and my brother out to be a saint.

I have always been responsible, worked, put myself through college, tried to do the right thing. My brother never graduated high school and has a criminal record.

My brother constantly accuses me of stealing things and my mom always believes him. When I ask her why she said "because you're a liar who steals all the time." She also frequently accuses me of stealing things that are hers, which she has misplaced.

I have never given her any reason to think I steal anything, and obviously I have never done so. There have been MANY times when she has found the things she misplaced that she's accused me of stealing, and when I ask for an apology, she ignores me.

Several years ago I allowed my brother to borrow an old used car of mine since I knew he needed one and I had enough saved up to get a new one for myself. Due to his behavior towards me I made him give it back to me a few weeks ago.

As revenge he told my mother that I had come to his apartment and stolen his Playstation while I was there. I have never even been to his house and didn't even know he had a Playstation.

My mother's reaction was to give my brother an expensive appliance I had given her for a gift, and told him to pawn it, and that that was her way of making me pay him back.

My mother then called me up and screamed at me about what a worthless, low thief and liar I was.

Later I actually got my brother on tape admitting he made the whole thing up because he was angry at me.

When I played it for my mother and asked for her apology, she said "And? What about you taking Mike's car?"

When I told her it wasn't his car, she called me a liar and an Indian giver, and told me I gave it to him to keep. I would have never done such a thing.

I asked again for her to admit that he lied about me stealing his Playstation and she told me she didn't want to talk about it any more. And I was selfish and made everything all about me, and stressed her out even though she was sick. Even though she was well enough to accuse me of these things.

I have told her it really hurts me when she calls me these names and makes me out to be a bad person, and asked her what she gets out of painting me that way. Her response is usually along the lines of, I say those things about you because that's what you are. Rubbing it in more.

I think she gets something out of hurting me this way but I don't know what, and I don't know how to get her to stop. When I was growing up she tried to humiliate me with it- when I would go on school trips, she would give my best friend a camera to take with us, telling my best friend not to let me touch it because I was too untrustworthy (a bizarre fabrication). What would a mother get out of making her own daughter out to be an awful person?

My question is this: how do I get her to snap out of treating me this way and saying these things about me? This actually doesn't come up all the time. At least 75% of the time we can have a functional and normal relationship. But the things she says to me during the other 25% are too much to bear.

I think some people will probably tell me to just cut them off, but despite all of this I love my family very, very much and I'm an extremely family oriented person. The thought of having no family or mom makes me extremely sad.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (49 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like an awful situation but the reality is that you can't change your mom. It sounds to me like she has some log-standing problems that have nothing to do with you and nothing you can do will change them. You just need to decide if you're willing to put up with it by or not. I'm sorry for what you're going through but some people just can't be helped.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:15 AM on February 8, 2009

You can't change her - if she doesn't want to change, then nothing you can do is going to make this happen.

I know several people that have solved this with distance and limited contact. If you absolutely need to have her in your life, then you limit the time you spend with her and only see her on your terms.
posted by SNWidget at 10:20 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Walk away.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:23 AM on February 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

I don't think you can change her, but you can change yourself. Just because these people are related to you by blood doesn't mean you have to treat them like family when they treat you like dirt. From what you describe, it sounds to me like the pair of them are classic loser types whose only power over you, the better person, is to make you feel like shit. You are under no obligation to give them that power.

I know you said that you are a family oriented person and having no mom makes you sad, but it sure sounds to me like having this particular mom is making you miserable already. Do you have friends or neighbors or cousins or a spouse or partner's family that you can treat as your surrogate relatives?
posted by MegoSteve at 10:28 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry.

You can't change her, because this is who she is. You cannot "make her" behave decently all the time. Your love for her and your desire to have a functioning mother-child relationship cannot impel her to be someone she's not, or to just shake off whatever personality disorder she has. You don't have the mother you want -- that is to say, someone who treats you well 100% of the time, rather than 75% -- and this fact is bound to be terribly, terribly painful for you. (I speak from some experience on this score, which I won't go into any detail about here.) I will say that long-term therapy with a really supportive, warm, insightful professional is almost certainly your best hope here -- so that you can learn the best, most useful coping mechanisms for yourself in terms of setting boundaries, etc.
posted by scody at 10:29 AM on February 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

The thing of it is, you can't make your mother do anything. Even if it something which seems like it would be easy for her to do - like recognize that you are a good person, NOT a liar and thief, especially when there is so much evidence and logic on your side. What your mother is saying and doing to you isn't based upon logic, though, and you can't show her enough evidence or point out the flaws in her logic enough times to somehow "force" a revelation upon her. That is why even getting your brother to admit that he made up the story about the PlayStation didn't phase her one bit - the two of you are not fighting the same battle.

I don't know why your mother has set up these roles for you and your brother, why that should satisfy some need to hers. And I can see from the end of your question that you want to be close to your family. My your own estimation, 1 out of 4 interactions with your Mom are crazy-making for you - out of every 4 times you meet with her, you wind up getting called a liar or thief at least once. The mom that you do get along with, the mom you meet the other 3 times - I cannot imagine that she would want you to subject yourself to that kind of abuse that often.

Have you tried not dealing with her when she starts on with her crazy accusations? What would happen if, the next time your mom called up saying that you had stolen Mike's XBox, you just end the conversation: "I don't know anything about Mike's XBox. Please give me a call when you want to talk about something else." And if she calls right back to continue the saga of Mike's XBox, end the convo again, and again and again.

If she does get the message, maybe you can focus upon the 75% of the interaction which you do enjoy. If she does not, and only wants to discuss your theft of the XBox, and whatever other aspersions she can hurl at you, then at least you avoid getting into fruitless arguments which neither of you can ever win.

Whatever your response, you need to figure out boundaries with which you can exist even if your mother does not change. I know that hearing my mother talk to me and about me that way would be very difficult to hear day in and day out. I hope you find a result which brings you some peace.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

You mom is batshitinsane. Stop talking to her, and stop having anything to do with your brother.

Life is too short.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2009 [15 favorites]

Find a partner with a great family and adopt them as your own. You can't change your mother or brother's behaviour, and as long as you keep coming back for abuse, you're implicitly giving them permission to abuse you.
posted by fatbird at 10:30 AM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

You've tried reasoning and it doesn't work. If you're unwilling to get tough with your mother/brother and distance yourself, there's really no reason for them to stop their behavior, is there? You've got absolutely no negotiating power.

I'd suggest seeing a therapist who can help you deal with the possibility that having no family is better than having an abusive one.
posted by David Fleming at 10:31 AM on February 8, 2009

The fact that you're taping conversations with your family to give yourself evidence against them is a huge red warning light that your relationship with them is dysfunctional at its core, and that you have some issues of your own that would be best discussed with a therapist, who can probably guide you to the same thing people here are saying: You can't fix the relationship all by yourself.
posted by fatbird at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

My question is this: how do I get her to snap out of treating me this way and saying these things about me?

You can't do a damn thing. You will not change her. Ever.

Listen, I'm sorry you feel like you have to stay engaged with your family. I'm sorry your mother and brother treat you like this. I'm sorry you have to find ways to deal with and make the situation better. The situation you find yourself in is not your fault. Unfortunately, it does not sound like anyone you are close to, at least within your family, is capable of providing you with the support you need. In fact, it sounds like you are going above and beyond what would reasonably be asked of you, and your mother still treats you like shit. Therefore, and again, this is not your fault, but ultimately, you are going to have to seek help and proactively disengage from this relationship.

Your mother isn't going to change. Your mother is abusing you. You are in an abusive relationship. You need to move out and move on. In addition, your mother's abuse has probably already caused some damage to your emotional well-being, and I wouldn't be surprised if you had unhealthy relationships with other people in your life. It should be said that if that is the case, it is by no means your fault but rather the result of an abusive mother who has warped your notion of family, trust, security, confidence, etc. So I would recommend, strongly, cutting your family off for at least some period of time and going to a therapist or a counselor and discussing these issues with them. In fact, print out this question and take it to your therapist and just hand it to them. A professional can help you deal with the guilt of cutting off your family, but in the long run you need to do it for all kinds of reasons.

I think some people will probably tell me to just cut them off

Well, of course that's what people are going to tell you to do. What do you expect us to say? "Please stay in this incredibly abusive relationship which will never get better. Continue being the subject of your mother's anger and mental illness. Do this until you are beaten down by life and develop the same emotional and mental health issues as your mother, or until you die. Cheers!"

Everybody is going to tell you to cut off your family because that is the only solution to your problem. The only one. There is no other alternative. You will not change them. You must help yourself by getting out of this situation. And though we can be snarky, curt, or insensitive here on AskMe, I genuinely feel like most people post answers because they truly and honestly want to help people, so don't take our criticisms the wrong way. It is good that you reached out here in this forum to get feedback. Now you need to take it one step further and get help. Your mother does not act like a mother. Mothers do not do this to their children. She is abusing you. Just because it's your mother doesn't mean the abuse is any easier to take than if it were a boyfriend, boss, or bully at school. Your family does not have to be your mother. The people who love you are your family.
posted by billysumday at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2009 [10 favorites]

I get that the concept of "family" is very important to you, and that without that you might feel alone and adrift. You need to make friends who will be a new family to you, or volunteer somewhere, maybe with children. Your mother is not going to give you what you need and deserve.

Maybe someday, if you distance yourself from her and your brother, she'll be in some kind of dire straits (needs money, serious illness, brother in jail again, realizes she won't live much longer and feels bad); then she might call you, tearfully explain what the problem is, and ask for your help. No matter what you offer to do, she'll probably find fault with it and eventually insinuate, yet again, that you're dishonest and somehow not as good as your brother.

So, prepare for that, I guess.

I really advocate maybe not cutting her off entirely, but not expecting anything from her. Yes, family is a wonderful thing -- when it's not crazy, and it sounds like your Mom may have clinical issues. It's fair to be envious of those who have a loving, supportive, sane, or at least not actively bad-for-them family; some of us are not so lucky, though. You can either keep busting your head and your heart against a wall, or build what you need, slowly, from the people around you who _can_ love you properly.
posted by amtho at 10:35 AM on February 8, 2009

I'm an extremely family oriented person.

You'd have to be--it's creating a lot of unhealthy activity in your life and that's one positive way to "spin" it so that you can justify your ongoing involvement--that is, not making a choice for yourself and leaving it.

Ask yourself though, Is this the kind of family you want to create when it comes time to start your own family? Is this the behavior (yours and hers) that you would want a spouse and kids to see and replicate? If you consider yourself family oriented, then recognize that the longer you stay in this dynamic, the longer you keep it alive, and the more it defines your concept of family. Implicitly, you give your stamp of approval to this definition by not rejecting it in a more effective way. It looks like the arguing, justifications, etc, aren't working, but are probably habit by now for all of you. Time to try something new.

You can love your family from afar--many people do this in the healthiest of ways given where life takes them for jobs and interests. You have additional reason to step back.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:41 AM on February 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

When my mother was diagnosed (finally) with Borderline Personality Disorder, the book "I Hate You - Don't Leave Me," was recommended to me. Reading it helped me see that her bad behavior hadn't been my fault. I'm not diagnosing your mother, but I do recommend the book.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:43 AM on February 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

You say you would be sad if you didn't have them in your life, but you're sad, dejected, confused, and abused NOW. However, it's not actually a binary situation; there is a third way:

Define your boundaries, or rules about how you will and will not allow yourself to be treated. Make public your boundaries and enforce them like you're the Minutemen on the border between the US and Mexico.

"Mom, I will hang up if you continue to call me a liar. I'll speak to you when you can treat me better." Then hang up.

"Mom, you have an inaccurate understanding of the car ownership situation." Hang up/walk away.

"Bro, you and I both know I didn't steal your playstation." Hang up/walk away.

Don't fool yourself that enforcing your boundaries is training them to behave differently. You cannot ever change their behavior, only your own. The above actions simply keep your boundary uncrossed; assaults on the boundary will likely continue forever, at least in some fashion. And it takes considerable energy to enforce your boundaries--trust me.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:45 AM on February 8, 2009 [12 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you have to deal with this kind of unwarrented treatement towards you. I have/had an emotionally (and when we were younger, physically) abusive father, and probably understand a lot of what you must be feeling. He's called me a horrible person, stupid, selfish, and so on. Many, many times. I've always wanted our family to just be cohesive and happy all of the time - and so badly to have my dad realize just how toxic he can be to family relations, during the volatile 20% of the time.

I hope that you do not take how your mother treats you in a personal way. It seems like you know that her perception of you and how she treats you is twisted - good. Know that her treatment of you, outbursts, lies, etc are wholly about some wiring problems in her mind. She may act out her problems out on you, but they most certainly are not about you. Know this.

And with this, it is important to acknowledge that you cannot change her. You cannot extend the 75% of time when she is "normal" to the other 25%.

I have spoken with my dad about his explosive and abusive behavior many times. Usually, he tells me that I'm misunderstanding, or he simply does not remember it. I've come to terms that he has a number of long-standing problems (as otherworldly glow mentions) that require his dealing with. Listening to his problems does not help. Giving him suggestions does not help. When recommending a professional or specialist to help him deal with his problems, he says: "they should come to me for help, they could learn from me." He (and your mom) must reconcile them on their own.

I know you would really love to have a happy family, but there are things you can do to make your situation better. Starting with doing whatever it is you need to do to make yourself feel content outside of your mom and family. Do you live with/near them? For me, moving out of the house and later, moving 500+ miles away helped immensely. I actually have a *much* better relationship with my father - not a perfectly foofoohappyhappy relationship, but it's cordial. Limiting my time spent with him, talking, and communicating with him allowed us both space to minimize the friction. It's easy to take someone for granted when you're in close proximity to them and see them regularly - one often realizes that they didn't have it so bad. And it's amazing how quickly this fades when you spend regular time with them again. For me, permanent distance has actually been the key to having better family relations. This may not be the case for your situation, but if it is, seriously consider it.

But, echoing others in your post - you cannot change your mom or your family dynamics. Why does the thought of having no mom make you feel bad if she makes you feel like shit? Why, if it hurts you? If this is a long-standing dream and hope, it might do you well to surrender it. Changing your mom or other members of your family is impossible. Putting aside this dream or hope sucks - it's painful, scary, difficult, and very sad. I understand that. But you also have the choice and strength to move beyond this and live a confident, happy existence irrespective of family.

Best of luck, anon. I feel for you.
posted by raztaj at 10:48 AM on February 8, 2009

Well, there is a step between doing nothing and cutting all contact permanently.

When she gives you shit, say "I don't have to put up with that" and hang up without getting involved in the drama.

Talking about it with your brother = getting involved with the drama. Recording your brother admitting things = getting involved with the drama. Instead, just "I don't have to put up with that," and hang up (or get up and leave, or close the door in her face).

If, after you've made it plain that your presence in their lives is conditional on them not being absurdly abusive to you, they still don't get with the program, then cut them off for good.

If nothing else, something along these lines might help you feel like cutting them off is okay.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:50 AM on February 8, 2009

I think she gets something out of hurting me this way but I don't know what, and I don't know how to get her to stop.

I'd guess she was despised and rejected (or worse) in favor of a brother when she was a child, and is one of those terribly sad cases who can cope with abuse only by visiting it upon the next generation.

Redemption from this purgatory for you would come, in my opinion, from starting your own family and breaking the chain of abuse. I'm sure you'd find it easy to treat a daughter much better than your mother has treated you, but you could find it very challenging not to mistreat a son. Under no circumstances should you allow your mother to have much to do with any children you might ever have.

I think your brother is a probably lost soul, damned by your mother's malignant favoritism. Be grateful you have escaped his fate, and you could consider leaving the door open just a crack for him should he ever awaken to what he has become. Not many children could have maintained their integrity in the face of your mother's blandishments. Honestly, however, I would not take that risk.
posted by jamjam at 11:17 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly, if you're fine 75% of the time, just do the passive-aggressive thing. Simply take anything she gives you.

Just zone out and say "no, you're right, I'm sorry."

Keep doing it. No matter what. Ignore the substance of what she's saying and just keep on with "no, you're right, I'm sorry."

Don't say it sarcastically. Don't say ANYthing else. When she asks what else you have to say, just say, "Nothing. You're right. I'm sorry."


"You're a terrible thief and horrible son and an indian giver and you should be ashamed of yourself!"

"No, you're right, I'm sorry."

"You're sorry? That's supposed to make everything better?"

"I have nothing else to say. I'm sorry."

Lather, rinse, repeat.

She's upset that you're successful and that her other son is a bit of a failure. There's something disproportionate in her mind about how she considers you versus how she considers him. And that's going to suck, but because of this, the logic she uses is utterly irrational. So all you can do is counter by ZONING COMPLETELY OUT--don't dwell on what she's accusing you of. Don't listen to her psychotic rants that you KNOW make no sense. Just counter with, "no, you're right, I'm sorry."

It takes all the wind out of her sails. Say it calmly and don't pepper it with ANYTHING else. She wants a reaction. Give her an apology and a faux mea culpa and that's IT.

Keep talking in all other situations normally, but when she gets like this, apologize for whatever her mind thinks you've done and let her rant.

I'm saying do this with the phone away from your ear. If she does it in person, walk away after you've said you're sorry.

This is entirely passive aggressive, but it sounds like confronting her is worth bullshit since she doesn't see what she's doing, cutting her off isn't an option since you still love your family, and so I present you with the "placate the idiotic beast" route. Take the monster in your life and throw it a carrot. Don't let it damage or frustrate you--it's HER who's irrational and you can't win a battle of logic with an irrational person. They're playing by different rules, so you won't get any satisfaction about trying. Instead, just revert to an apology. Don't be sarcastic about it, but you don't have to really admit (to yourself) that you've done any of these things. Just apologize to her, continue to do so, until she runs out of vitriol.
posted by disillusioned at 11:20 AM on February 8, 2009

She's jealous of you. You should stay away from her. You won't ever get what you want emotionally from her and you shouldn't ruin/waste your life because she's a terrible person to you. No one is worth suffering that kind of pain for.

Listen to Act Three: Yes There Is a Baby from This American Life. I just heard it recently and I felt terrible for the daughter in it, who suffered great emotional abuse.
posted by anniecat at 11:27 AM on February 8, 2009

Oh jeez, no, do *not* do what disillusioned suggests. That's just absolutely awful advice. Right now, you know that her perception and treatment of you is twisted, off-kilter, and wrong. Even if you're playing at being passive aggressive, the simple act of hearing your own voice agree with her effed up statements over and over again could be incredibly damaging in the long run.

I agree with everyone above about the boundaries, though. Believe in your own integrity, and your own value, and walk away when the abuse starts. Tell her you'll engage again when she wants to talk about something else. By refusing to react in a way other than disengaging you'll still take the wind out of her sails, while protecting yourself from experiencing further abuse. It will be hard, but you'll be healthier and happier not even hearing that b.s.
posted by amelioration at 11:29 AM on February 8, 2009 [8 favorites]

Some good advice above. It sounds like your mom and brother are unhealthy, and find comfort in the familiar (even if wrong) roles that they have for themselves and for you.

You do not need to accept the role they would like you to play. You can either 1) avoid them entirely, or 2) deny their accusations when they come and walk away, knowing that their judgment is so impaired that it is pointless to do anything more.

You know you are a good person, you know that they are insane / unhealthy. There's nothing you can do to make them sane, but there is a lot that you can do to keep your own sanity and health.
posted by zippy at 11:31 AM on February 8, 2009

You're trying to use reason with an irrational person. This will never, EVER work. Follow the advice about setting boundaries upthread.
posted by desjardins at 12:03 PM on February 8, 2009

I suspect that what she is doing is making you the family scapegoat. If you google "scapegoating in families" you'll find lots of information.
posted by zinfandel at 12:12 PM on February 8, 2009

I think billysumday put it very well. So, what he said plus this: You don't have a mother, you have an abuser, a broken person, damaged goods... What you need to do is grieve the loss of the mother you deserved. This does not necessarily mean you have to cut this woman off from you forever- but you need time and space to grieve and come to the acceptance that you are motherless. Get yourself some therapy and take care of yourself. You do not have to live this way.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 12:12 PM on February 8, 2009

My question is this: how do I get her to snap out of treating me this way and saying these things about me?

I think you're asking the wrong question. It should be "What steps do I need to take to limit my boudaries with my family to minimize the negative effect they have on me?" The answer is therapy and time.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:23 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

This woman is ill, or evil, or both. You cannot do anything to change that.

But you do not need to reinforce or put up with this behavior. When she starts it, leave, hang up, walk away, and stay away for a period of time.

Then please find a surrogate family. You don't have to be related to people to see them as family. There are people out there who will gladly make you part of their healthy world.

But you really, really, cannot allow these people opportunities to treat you this way. Distancing yourself might be an extremely wise thing for you to do.

My husband grew up with a bat**** insane father. He loved his dad but wisdom dictated that it be from a distance.

I'm so sorry.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:51 PM on February 8, 2009

I think some people will probably tell me to just cut them off, but despite all of this I love my family very, very much and I'm an extremely family oriented person.

This is Metafilter. Of course people will tell you to keep away. ;)

The thing is, in this instance, they're kinda right. Completely cutting your mother off over 25% of the time you spend with her, would be overkill. What I think would help you is a way of dealing with her during that 25% of the time.

So, when she's going off on one, just ignore her. Completely and utterly. Don't sigh. Don't roll your eyes. Just get up and leave the room, and don't slam the door. If you're feeling particularly strong, stay in the room, wait until she's finished talking about whatever, and then change the subject. Make no mention of the fact she's called you a thief and a liar. Just let it all float over your head, like Concorde. Her words are flying on little white wings right over your head. They're meaningless. Watch them as they flt away into the ether.

If you're used to listening to your mom, and valuing her opinion, this is probably going to be hard at first. You've probably developed your response to your mother talking as being something worth paying attention to. And 75% of the time, you'd probably be right to do that.

So, try to develop the attitude that when PsychoMom puts in an appearance, she's suddenly not worth listening to. She's ranting and raving. She's a lunatic. She's someone you'd cross the street to avoid. While PsychoMom is with you, NormalMom has gone away for a while. PsychoMom just looks like her. PsychoMom is someone whose advice you don't take, whose rantings you ignore, and who is, in a way, beneath you. Then when NormalMom comes back, you go back to being happy and listening to her.

Developing this skill can take some time, but it's well worth it. I get on much better with my mother now I know that some days, she's a fruitcake who talks nonsense.

For whatever reason, your mother treats you like shit some of the time. But you don't have to internalise that stuff. Watch her acting out, and pity her. Would you hate a child who screams and throws tantrums at you? Of course not. The kid doesn't know any better. Neither does PsychoMom. She's just trying to hurt you. But you don't have to make yourself feel hurt.

You can only be offended by someone's opinion of you if you respect that person's opinion.
posted by Solomon at 12:55 PM on February 8, 2009

I'm an extremely family oriented person. The thought of having no family or mom makes me extremely sad.

Think about the family you want. Maybe in future, that includes a spouse, children, in-laws. You can't bring a healthy family into your life with your mother (and probably your brother) there to poison it. You cannot have the healthy, loving family you deserve until you jettison people who abuse you.

Stay focused on the loving, supportive family you want to create. Ask a therapist for help freeing yourself of your mom's emotional abuse.
posted by 26.2 at 1:10 PM on February 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

If you can't cut off your mom, cut off your brother. Make it clear that you don't want to be part of his life to both your mom and your brother. If he's around, make sure you aren't. She isn't going to be able to accuse you of stealing his stuff if you don't see him.

And listen to the folks telling you to limit contact. Once your family knows that you will remove yourself from their lives if they don't act right, you gain the power. I've seen this work. Take a year off from them. Let them be the ones who approach you later. From that point on, you are dealing with them on your terms and not their terms.
posted by aburd at 1:11 PM on February 8, 2009

This is way more common than is thought. Mothers will denigrate, scream, demean and threaten their children in probably 1 out of 3 families. And this will be considered *normal* behavior. It's the *children's fault* for behaving badly, pissing off the mother, not being understanding enough of the mother's tiredness, lack of time etc. etc. etc.

That said - you have awareness? Get out. Run. Run. Run like the wind. Get safe, get sane and get away. Put as much distance between you as possible and join an ACOA meeting or two or 10. Get context. This is so important so that you can put some emotional distance between you, the emotions and the events by listening to how others lived through it. And in that space you can gain perspective and decide which route you want to you take. Healing seems to be the most common one. Inner child work, spiritual findings, solitude, simplicity, self-parenting and getting as educated as you possibly can on the subject of codependency.

Good luck
posted by watercarrier at 1:12 PM on February 8, 2009

I'm an extremely family oriented person. The thought of having no family or mom makes me extremely sad.

Of course it does. Your crazy mom raised you, and she made you that way! It ensures that you can't leave her orbit. As long as you think of yourself this way, you will be trapped and unhappy.

As others have pointed out, you cannot change your mother. So you have two choices. You can go on banging your head against a brick wall, or you can stop and marvel at how good it feels.
posted by kindall at 1:55 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

There probably and usually are a lot more factors involved such as age, personal experience and well... family dynamic. It really sounds like you are living with or are part of a dysfunctional family. It sounds like you already know or have realised that family is a very important part of life, and should be cherished while it lasts.

My advice to you would be to well... to be aware of what's actually going on (truth) and don't fall into "Learnered Helplesness". Good Luck
posted by jakubsnm at 2:00 PM on February 8, 2009

You cannot have the healthy, loving family you deserve until you jettison people who abuse you.

Quoted for truth. You deserve to be treated decently and fairly by your family. Hopefully you either have or will find surrogate "relatives" who can love and support you in ways your mother and brother have failed to do. You may even have people you can rely on while still being in contact with your mother and brother. However, an emotionally healthy future partner will not (or at least, should not) put up with you putting up with abuse from your blood relatives.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:23 PM on February 8, 2009

It's advice like jakubsnm's above that keeps people trapped in abusive family dynamics. Sometimes, families DO need to break apart.

OP, please, please do something on your own behalf to protect yourself from the ongoing damage these people will do. They are clearly never going to show up for you since they are trapped in their own abused/abusive/fucked up mindsets.

One of the best things I have learned in life (as a survivor of an emotionally abusive mother) is that, thank the gods, every person can create their own family. Family isn't necessarily the people who pushed you out or paid for your clothing when you were a kid. You can and should create the kind of family YOU need for making wonderful friendships, by reaching out to teachers and mentors, by sticking to what you know is right.

Please feel free to MeMail me if you need to talk. My thoughts are with you.
posted by mynameisluka at 2:32 PM on February 8, 2009

There is no way to change your mom for the better. She will only change if she wants to.

You, on the other hand, can leave your mom and brother to keep each other company and then look for others who will see you as the person you really are.
posted by reenum at 2:50 PM on February 8, 2009

This doesn't sound like BPD but like a textbook case of the sort of torture experienced by the children of parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Your brother is the golden child- and as the sole (I assume) daughter in the family, you bear the brunt of your mother's intense envy of you. You're successful and she has a disordered perspective that allows her to see only her failure when she looks at you- in this case, among probably other things, the fact that her son is a low-life. HE on the other hand isn't threatening at all, because he only validates her as "better."

This pattern is true of too many families with N parents. You'll be better off without her and you'll realize that, some day.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:34 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am an expert at dealing with this problem. My issue was suicide threats. My aunt (my mom's sister) is a psychologist. She advised me to do the following: the next time she called I was to nicely and calmly explain to my mom that the suicide threats were too much for me and that therefore, if she started making those threats, I would get off the phone. I did that. My mom took about 2 minutes before launching into the threats. I calmly said I couldn't talk because of the threats and that I was getting off the phone. I politely said goodbye and got off the phone. A week later she tried the same thing. I did the same thing. That was 1992. She has never once since then made such a threat. Plus she stopped being cruel and suddenly my mom was really nice all of the time and would do anything to stay in my good graces.

If you do the same, I'd expect similar results. You must, must, must stick to your guns, though. If you have questions, MeFi mail me.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:55 PM on February 8, 2009

It is possible to change your mother's behavior toward you, but only if you are willing to walk away. Like Ironmouth and others have said - you have to enforce your boundaries -every time, and over and over again. I have done this with my mother, but I have to warn you that having her switch from bitch to ass-kisser isn't going to improve your relationship with her. Neither is sincere, and both are an attempt to manipulate.

Am I sad that I can't have a "real" relationship with my mother (and younger brother, who has acquired all of her negative traits)? Sure, sometimes - but it's far better to be sad on your own terms than miserable on theirs. Get some distance - take some time off from them and then decide what to do. You'll be surprised at how much better you feel away from that negative crap.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:49 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get some support online through a Toxic Families forum - google Toxic Families, adn you'll get lots of options.
posted by lottie at 6:06 PM on February 8, 2009

The Light Fantastic really knows what she's talking about.

I'd just add that you should give yourself room to mourn the healthy, nurturing family bonds you wish you could have. It's not your fault that your family's broken. You didn't break it, and you can't fix it all on your own.

Realize also that cutting your family off doesn't have to be a hateful, angry act. Some people are easiest to love when held at arm's length.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:44 PM on February 8, 2009

Here is something to consider: Any person with a well developed self-esteem and sense of self would have ditched your mother a long time ago. She sounds like an absolute neurotic bitch who we can thank for not just making your life miserably but being dysfunctional enough to raise a felon! Way to go mom!

Ditch her. From your post you said you'd never even -been- to your brother's apartment. What kind of relationship do you have with your family that you can't trust your own mother and you've never even been to your brother's place?

Give or take the law of averages, you get the same number of years as everyone else. Why piss them away dealing with your entire family emotionally abusing you? I'd completely ditch my family for a fraction of the bullshit they've dealt you. I'd suggest you do the same. If they want a relationship with you -they- can change. If you're not willing to cut them off completely... then you need to condition them like you would a dog with errant behavior. As has been said above, tolerate -nothing- from them. Walk right out the door the second they act like assholes and -never- back down.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 6:39 AM on February 9, 2009

I dunno. My mom gets called the emotionally abusive one in my family by my sisters. And sadly, from where I'm standing, my sisters are the really sick ones.

I would have never done such a thing.

That raises red flags for me. It doesn't say, "I told him he could use it until he got his own car." It doesn't say, "We had an agreement, the specific terms of which he violated." To me, it says, "I rewrite the past to suit my needs and then claim immutable characteristics in order to nullify any complaints." I know that personality type, and it isn't healthy.

This isn't to say that your mother and your brother aren't crazy.

There are a lot of ways to get distance from your family when you need to. And cutting them off totally is NOT the only option. Moving is a great option which can limit your exposure to them. I know this from experience.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:08 AM on February 9, 2009

Listen, I'm family-oriented, too, as is all of my family. But we have a rule in my family that makes the closeness of our relationships work for us.

Three simple words: Family. Deserves. Better.

That means that because family is willing to go out on a limb for you, they deserve the best you can give them. Because a cousin loaned you his car when yours was in the shop, she deserves to get it back with a full tank of gas and at the very least an offer of reimbursment for wear and tear. Because your dad let you stay with him for six months while you got your finances together after your divorce, he deserves for you to at least kick in on groceries and help with the housekeeping. Because your grandmother let your son stay with her every night and got him ready for school in the morning while you worked an overnight job when times were tough, she deserves to have you run some errands for her when you get off work in the morning. You can always count on them because they're family, and in return you do NOT abuse that support, because there's no place else on earth you can get it.

In my clan, when a family member abuses that support, he stops being family in regards to that support. Yeah, he gets a Christmas card every year and invites to all the family functions; we're always glad to see him when he's in town, that sort of thing. But stealing from your mother is unacceptable, and you should'nt have to ask why when she suddenly isn't available to spend a lot of time with you, or tells you she can't help you with a down payment on a new house.

You love your family, but it's clear they neither love you nor support you. They want you to support them (cf the incident with the car loan), but they are also taking advantage of your love and goodwill. The only solution, then, is to restrict their access to you.

Is it painful? Hell, yeah. But it's not like what you're dealing with now isn't also painful. And the pain will only continue unless you reduce contact with your family.

Time, therapy, and distance--that's how you get them to stop treating you like a baby treats a diaper.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:45 AM on February 9, 2009

I had the same kind upbringing as you describe. What you've described is tragic, and profoundly wrong.

It feels a bit counter-intuitive to launch into what I've done, what I'd suggest... You deserve acknowledgement, and empathy. And I'm really pissed off. You don't deserve that treatment, and your generosity should not wither on the vine. So: I get what you're going through, and others in this discussion do, too.

But you're choosing not to turn away from your family, and that's good. To stay oriented towards your family requires some tools, and it's good that you're looking for them. With that, and with humility, I hope this might help, and add to the thoughts others have shared.

Piece by piece, I've been healing some of the pain that I've been living with that were seeded in my upbringing. I've been building a life that represents me, and not my environment, and fundamentally, it's been possible because of the ideas that have been talked about by others in this discussion.

As Light Fantastic suggests, the focus on boundaries makes for a good framework for the steps you take to control your situation. About three years ago, I started on the process of articulating my boundaries for myself, and then for my mother (and father, and a sibling). I've learned a few things in doing that.

To set up my boundaries and my "ground rules", I first needed to distinguish between my values and the reality around me. It was really about defining those two things, and took a lot of energy. Life was harder and more painful during that process. I actually can't say I really chose to do it, I think I just came to that place that you're coming to. In retrospect though, it gave me a lot of clarity, and it was important to really orient myself towards it. (As has been said, flipping through books and websites about narcissistic personality, and borderline personality, was helpful.)

So, in retrospect, what I gave myself was a profound acknowledgement of myself, my experiences, and my rights. I found myself ready to think about what to actually do, because my emoting no longer displaced my thinking, if you see what I mean. On the one hand, I could say and know, "Here's what I'm entitled to." And on the other, I was able to start putting together some clues to what to do to have that: "Those who are willing to give me that, are welcome into my life. Meanwhile, I have a picture of what I want to work towards."

A key for me to setting up boundaries with people who were far, far from those boundaries at the time, was to not see it as an all or nothing situation: as my parents (and one sibling) lived by those rules, they were invited in. Dammit, those two facts were going to be in lock-step.

For you, they might be indistinct, and if you live at home, and still rely on your mother, might be very intertwined with your life. But consider framing, as much as possible, your boundaries and ground rules in actionable terms. Given where you find yourself today, you can't assume that what you're envisioning on an emotional, interpersonal level is a language that your mother understands, right? For example, your need for a fundamental respect might be expressed not as this: "Mom, I wish you'd be more respectful of me. I deserve that, and I think that's your obligation.", but this: "Mom, when we get together on Sunday, Let's not talk about issues that have been stressing us out, let's focus on positive stuff."

(There had been a fundamental challenge for me in that: a primary negative energy in my life was the feeling of being... not so much angry, but... vexed by the injustice, maybe? I'm entitled to have these people understand the former message, am I not!?. The latter message just doesn't say it. Well, I'm not sure how I've become de-invested from that, but I have. I gradually stopped needing to right that wrong. A "sneak peak at my present frame of mind would have very much surprised me just a few years ago. Come to think of it, I wish I could go back and give myself that! Maybe you can bolt on a bit of trust in that future onto your outlook... Turns out, the "colour" of your world, and your future, can change!

Anyway, to set up boundaries and rules, I had to be ready to walk away. And I did several times. I'd open the door a little, to avoid a permanent, intractable detachment, and start the process again. I was less and less affected by those cycles. Not as much by insulating and protecting myself, rather, my commitment to my rules (that I'd come to understand were fundamental rights) helped me be very passionate about what I was working towards, and less "passionate", so to speak, about the process itself. Does that make sense?

With no illusion whatsoever, I acknowledged and even honoured the things that were being done, and not done, that I needed and deserved. In a "cordial" way, shall I say, and without anger (which seems to be, strangely, a reinforcer for some people!), the process was basically a behavioural, carrot and stick.

Well, to make a long story a bit less long, the result of this has not been a connection that represents my values, what I'm capable of giving, and what I wish to receive. It has given me an actualization and constant reminder of the work, care, and feeding of *my own* rights, by yours truly. And it has made me free and clear to create a reality based on my values.

But some things have been gained in my (previous? inherited?) family. The generosity and respect that can occur, does. The underlying toxicity has been reduced almost to zero – in the dramatic fashion of Ironmouth's story. There is a shortfall in respect and connection that I would wish for. But: I'm much more free and clear to make up that shortfall myself. I hope for you that you find as much love and respect from your family that you deserve. However far your family can go, you're right to go down that road as far as you can, since that's a core value of yours. It's not true for all families (and it's a bit of both for mine), but you may find that you can work to elevate your family without taking away from your work of doing so in your life as a whole.

Your process may be different than what's worked for me. But you can know that others have made it through one way or another! And you've conveyed a lot in your post beyond your story: you clearly have the tools to get there, too.

As well as those things I did about my "past" life, I also developed some clarity about my "future" life. (It doesn't feel right to call it "the rest of my life"). Look forward to building your own family! (And "families" – not only the biological ones!) Know that your insight alone into the way you've been treated is a clue to the foundation you have. Personally, as I've raised my kids, it's been gratifying to know that I do so according to my values. It turns out that you can be the master of your own ship – even in guiding profound, underlying values. (Truth be told, much of this gain for me was not the result of my own fortitude, by more a readiness for it. My kids and my wife, whether they know it or not, have given me a new context in which my values can exist. But if your current family doesn't give you that, it doesn't mean it's not there.)

It's gratifying to read your post, and responses to it. This is the club you're in! In the big picture, and in retrospect, there's a thought that encapsulates what I've I managed to do, and will continue to do. And it seems that you're seeing your life in this way, too: You know you've truly given yourself a goal not when it affect the future, but when it affects the present!

Good luck to you, and thanks so much for your sharing your story.
posted by huron at 9:02 AM on February 9, 2009

Like other people have said, you can't stop her, but you also shouldn't put up with it.
I recommend a book called Toxic Parents.
posted by wintersweet at 3:46 PM on February 9, 2009

You mom is batshitinsane. Stop talking to her, and stop having anything to do with your brother.

Life is too short.

This. Definitely. I haven't spoken to my mother in 11 years. Yup, it's hard. Yes, it sucks. But nobody pulls this shit on me and gets away with all of my energy. Just because I came out of her vagina does not make her a saint.

Saying no to people is hard. Asking for the things you need and want is hard. I'm not saying that you should ditch your mom so that nobody will say mean things to you ever again, because that's not true. I'm not saying that after you cut off communication with your mom and brother all of your other relationships will be rosy and easy. Sticking up for yourself will still be hard. But it's work that we all have to do, some folks just make it look so goddamned easy.

My email is in my profile, feel free to send me a note if you want some more insight into my situation.
posted by bilabial at 8:00 AM on February 11, 2009

Oh, also. There is a new-ish book out by Deborah Tannen about the ways mothers and daughters communicate. I think it would shed some light on your situation.

A book that has helped me a lot is My Mother Myself by Nancy Friday. Also, see Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman. I'd offer to send you my copies, but I still read them every now and then.

True, our mothers are alive, but they aren't there for us. I'm often very jealous of my friends whose mothers are dead because (I feel that) they don't have to hold out hope that someday their moms will get it together and be loving. In my mind, Death is closure. But this is sooooo a case of the grass is greener. They are jealous of me, because even though she probably won't fix things, she could, theoretically, she could. But I'm stuck with the feeling that there is something that I need to do to make that happen. So, I make a space in my heart to hold her gently. And that's where my mother is, in my heart.
posted by bilabial at 8:05 AM on February 11, 2009

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