I need some advice about my relationship with my mom
December 31, 2011 11:02 PM   Subscribe

I need some advice about my relationship with my mom. I'm moving back close to home soon and I was wondering if you guys had any advice on how to deal with an illogical religious person. Or more specifically, how do I reason with her to foster a better relationship?

Here's some background

I grew up in a super restrictive house. My mom and my dad were immigrants from South East Asia. My mom was a devout roman catholic from a young age and read the bible alot and went to mass, etc... When she went off to nursing school, she converted to Pentecostalism. Then she got married and immigrated. I don't really remember a lot about how she acted when I was 0-6 years old or so, but from what I remember she was extremely religious. She believes in all the charismatic stuff, like speaking in tongues/healing/prophecy. She would force me to "speak in tongues" with her and claimed she could prophesy. A lot of her friends would call her to pray over the phone and stuff. I saw a lot of crap starting to happen in the church we went to so I became really cynical.

My mom would regularly get in fights with my dad. She accused the pastor of being demon-possessed. If me or my Dad tried to reason with her, she would accuse us of being demon-possessed. She would "rebuke" us and would ignore what we were trying to say. Our church had reserved time for members to give a "testimony" or basically talk about whatever they wanted to for a short time in the middle of the service. My mom would use this time to not-so-subtly blame the pastor or talk about an issue that she had fought with me about during the week. When the pastor would speak, she'd interrupt him by "speaking in tongues" and "rebuking" him. Eventually, that pastor was let go because of some trivial issues that were exaggerated into a scandal.

Afterwards, my mom continued to exhibit this illogical behavior in our family. She said stuff like church picnics were not holy, she wouldn't let me see friends. She'd accuse my dad's mom of being a witch and casting a curse on our family. At the same time, she would fast all the time. My dad would get angry because she wouldn't eat anything. She still does this and now she's rail-thin. She'd pray for roughly 6-7 hours a day while running a bible study. Also, she would not cook very often or help us with school. I was raised pretty much by the TV and the microwave since my Dad was always busy with work.

I went away to university (thank god), developed social skills, and eventually got a job elsewhere in the country. I don't talk to her very often, and if I do, I get angry because I can't reason with her. She would prophesy stuff to me about my future, none of it would come true, and it would only add fuel to the fire. I've accused her to her face of being a bad mom and ignoring her children. Her response is, "Oh god will take care of everything" or some trite bs like that. When I was a kid, I guess I didn't realize how bad I had it sometimes since I was isolated. But lately, it's been really pissing me off and I'm starting to hate her even more.

My Dad knows that she has been acting stupid for a long time, but he won't deal with it. His advice is to just accept it and ignore the crazy stuff she spews. This new years, when my dad told her I was moving back, she didn't call me for a week. When I asked her about this, she said she was preparing a speech for her bible study. I got angry because this was a perfect example of her priorities being completely jacked up.

How do I fix this relationship? Does anyone have any experience of dealing with someone like this?
posted by graphitix to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can't "reason" with her. Your dad has one of the only two answers, which is to ignore it. You can tell her that your personal life is not up for comment, and you can try to enforce that, but you can't expect to fix a lifetime of crazy. Trust me on this. You sound young. Very young.

Your other option is to stay on the other end of the country and maintain minimal contact.

I've spent a lifetime struggling with parents who are way more crazy than yours. Trust me, you will not be the one to fix them, and seriously, do you really expect a good result from telling her what a bad mother she is? No matter how true that is, it never goes over like anything but a turd in the punchbowl, and doesn't create giant epiphanies. Do you want an apology? A different childhood? A mother who suddenly becomes like all the white-bread mothers you know? I feel for you, I really do. I want those things all the time. But it isn't ever going to happen. Try to accept what you can't change, and minimize the impact on your own life right now.

1) Don't try to get your dad on your side. Ultimately his loyalty is with your mother. He may say what you want to hear, but he's still with her.

2) Whatever you do, don't talk to her about the past. Talk to your therapist, other abused kids, or your lover. It is ultimately unproductive to talk to your mother.

3) Have "safe" topics. Share an interest in cooking? Photography? Family trees? Find a few things and talk about that when you have to be around each other.

4) Seriously consider, as an adult not moving back to their area. I seriously think that is a mistake. Do whatever you have to do to not be there.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:19 PM on December 31, 2011 [36 favorites]

And in case it wasn't clear, good luck. I wish you all the best.
posted by thelastcamel at 11:20 PM on December 31, 2011

Honestly, I'm all for fostering good relationships with ones family and all that. I love my family. But there are just some people who you shake your head at sadly. It sounds like your mom is one of them. If she wants a mature, adult relationship with you, great. But I think that most contact you have will be painful and emotionally troubling for you. Keep contact to a minimum. Just because you're moving back to the area she lives, it doesn't mean you need to see her.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:27 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks guys...I guess I left out one issue.

When I left for school, my younger brother started to recede emotionally since he had no one to talk to except my insane mother. He would avoid girls because apparently according to the bible he couldn't even "lust" after them or whatever. Eventually, he started to develop OCD-like symptoms, would yell/punch things at home. My mom would pray for it and apparently she thought that would solve the problem. It got really bad, and he eventually saw a therapist who prescribed him medication. He's on that now, and sometimes he acts up. It really hurts me to write this because it sound completely ridiculous to an outside person, but I feel like I need to shield my brother from my mom. He goes to school around home but he lives in his own apartment.
posted by graphitix at 11:35 PM on December 31, 2011

Why are you moving back home? Do you mean literally to your childhood home or just the area you're from? Why not move in with your brother, or move the two of you elsewhere?

Don't talk to her anymore. Ignore her phone calls, ignore all contact. Send her whatever love you can muster mentally and then let the relationship go. There's no reason to keep her in your life if she's an inept parent.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:40 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

To clarify...I won't be living at home, I'll be living in the same city as my brother, about an hour away from home.
posted by graphitix at 11:44 PM on December 31, 2011

IMO, your mother is not religious, she is obsessed. She is addicted to religiosity as surely as any drug. It is unlikely that you are trained to deal with her obsessive behavior. Obviously, she is not open to reasoning.
If you can achieve some kind of emotional distance that would be best for your sanity. It would be helpful for your brother, too. Perhaps you two can form a supportive family for each other.
Best of wishes for you.
P.S. By emotional distance I mean the kind of dispassion medical people must have from patients or the stress would disable them.
posted by Cranberry at 12:13 AM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Religion is the red herring here -- it's not the religiousness that's making her crazy, the crazy is just percolating through a veneer of religion.

(Full disclosure: I am the opposite of religious)

From the tone of what you've written, it sounds like you want to try and "fix" your mom into being rational. That's... not going to happen. You can more or less just limit your exposure and come to terms with the fact that what she does and believes is beyond your control.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 1:40 AM on January 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

Your mother may be religious, but this is mental illness. You can't reason her out of it any more than you can reason your brother out of OCD. You are so close to the situation and have lived with it for so long that that must be hard for you to see clearly.

Your choices are really avoid her, interact with her but ignore it, and interact with her but get angry and fight back. #3 will end with you frustrated and upset and won't change a thing about her. It sucks, but there it is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:49 AM on January 1, 2012 [12 favorites]

The best thing here is to lower your expectations of her. The only way to not get hurt is to have such low expectations that you are npot surprised or disappointed in ANYTHING she does. She clearly is not capable of behaving rationally. I would focus on your brother. Spend time with him. Don't preach (no pun intended) about mom, but rather establish a trusting relationship one on one with him based on things other than your mom. Communicate with your mom through your Dad. Tell him things. He will tell your Mom. It is her reaction that will upset you, so do not expect anything in return.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:27 AM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your idea to be there for your brother is an incredibly good one. You can't do a thing to help your mother, but you could have a huge impact on your brother's life. So maybe it will help if you see this as a rare opportunity to help a family member who would doubtless be much worse off without your love, rather than a re-entry into the land of drama and misery that was life with your mom.

PS As a very religious person, I feel sorry that you have had these experiences with your mother. Please believe that, as other said, religion isn't the cause of this-- she would have gone off her rocker with unreasonable fanaticism related to something else if speaking in tongues hadn't appealed to her so much.

PS 2 I have a crazy mother also, though she is not religious. My advice is to do as your father suggested and hope she comes around a little bit in time-- but don't bet on it. Some nutty people mellow with age (my mother did). It's like their venom gets drained or something.
posted by devymetal at 3:03 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Six to seven hours of daily prayer plus fasting to the point of starvation is not mere religious conviction when combined with paranoia and ignoring her kids. She needs medication too, unfortunately. You won't be able to get through to her any more than you would have been able to convince an unmedicated version of your brother to just stop yelling. Since her illness came on decades ago, you'd probably have even less luck. Maybe she will eventually mellow out in her old age, but it won't be on account of anything anybody else says or does. This can just happen for people with certain kinds of mental illness. Schizophrenia, for example. (Not that I have any idea what your mom's actual problem is, just noting that this would be similarly organic and serious and very much out of the ordinary and out of anybody's control.)

Because you can't do anything for her -- even if you could convince your father that this is an urgent mental health issue, there are legal limits to what even he can do about that if she doesn't think it's a problem -- the only thing you can do that will help anyone, if knowing she's ill doesn't magically drain the power from what she says, is to limit your contact with her to whatever you can stand, whether that means living in that city and hardly ever (or never) talking to her or not moving there at all and helping your brother either move out or learn to tune her out. Just make sure to be honest with yourself about what you can handle, and take care of yourself as well as you want to take care of your brother. If you sacrifice yourself to run interference for him, you'll be showing him that she's even more powerful than he thought she was: there's no way to get away from her after all, no way to avoid getting dragged down. Can you help your brother transfer to a school (and a therapist) farther away from her, if that's something he wants to do? If you feel you have to go back (you were probably his de facto mom for a while, right?), is it possible to live there without having any contact at all, at least until you're genuinely able to dismiss everything she says? Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like she'll be any happier or saner whether you call her like a "good" daughter would or not.

Whether you move there or not (but especially if you move there), talking to a therapist yourself for a little while might not be a bad idea. It sounds like you've grown up awfully well, but coming to terms with the fact that your mom couldn't and can't be there for you or anybody else the way she's supposed to (and getting some in-person validation for the fact that she wasn't) might be easier with counseling from somebody who understands both what was going on with your mom and how somebody who grew up under those circumstances might have been affected by it. Not that I don't think you can handle it by yourself, but it can be good, especially from a stress-relief standpoint, to be able to talk through this stuff all the way with somebody who will listen to every seemingly unimportant detail, whose loyalty is not divided, and who knows from both professional experience and as a matter of conviction that what you went through is both important and not unique.
posted by Adventurer at 4:05 AM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your mother is mentally ill. Since you say your brother has OCD, which is hereditary, you mother may have Scrupulosity, a religion-focused type of OCD. But it really doesn't matter exactly what she has. She is crazy.
Now I'm going to say something that sounds really harsh and politically incorrect, but I have a long history of dealing harmoniously with people everyone else find unbearable: Treat her as if she is mentally retarded. She has a severe handicap you will never reason out of her, so just treat her with exaggerated understanding and pay no heed to anything she says. (Obviously this is just a stopgap method. I would not advocate this for someone in treatment, but she seems very unlikely to seek treatment.) Also, don't be an asshole about it, I know the temptation is there, especially with all your anger, but just do a lot of smiling and nodding, and learn to literally walk away as soon as the conversation goes somewhere you find unacceptable. That is important. No trying to reason, just shut it down by removing yourself.

You cannot reason with crazy. Ever. Don't try.
posted by catatethebird at 5:13 AM on January 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

Yeah, this doesn't sound like religion to me, this sounds like mental illness. I don't know much about this, but I would say that "dealing with it" involves bringing in medical professionals.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:23 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

As eveyone above says, you can't reason with her, and it'll just drive you nuts to even try. The only constructive suggestion I have is, that you keep your home (and work, of course!) totally separate from anything to do with your mother: never invite your parents or even your brother over, only meet them at their house or maybe on neutral ground like a restuarant. This may sound harsh, but you're going to need to have your home be your sanctuary --- plus inviting her to your workplace is only inviting trouble.
posted by easily confused at 6:29 AM on January 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

As many have already said, you can't reason with her. However you can reframe how you look at her or interact with her. The key to having a great relationship with my own mother has been to recalibrate my expectations. For most of my life, I imagined we could talk openly about things, share, all those relationship-y things that people do. However this is not possible with my mother. I have realized that when I am dealing with her, I am dealing with somebody who, for various reasons related to her upbringing, early life situation, generation and personality, is emotionally about 3 years old. Not logical, no empathy, needy, emotional, reactionary. Just like a little kid.

I know it sounds awful, but when I am talking to her about something and I tell myself This person is emotionally 3, it's SO easy. If I expect to get the same response from her as I would from a little kid who is hungry and tired and has a very limited ability to reason or be rational, I am never disappointed. It has also helped me to feel compassion toward her, and her situation, and her life.
posted by lulu68 at 9:51 AM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I understand the part about being terribly angry with a mentally ill parent about your upbringing. If you look closely, you're likely even angrier at your father for not getting your mom help or protecting you and your brother.

Meditation and therapy.
posted by jbenben at 10:06 AM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow. Your mother is very near the extreme end of a central human continuum, and usually an unfortunate convergence of nature and nurture is required to produce a person like her.

I laughed a little when I read that you "went away to university (thank god), [and] developed social skills," because only a tremendous talent for human relationships and the development of great social skill at a tragically early age could have kept you in any kind of relationship with your mother at all that didn't destroy you or lead to capture by her psychosis.

I think the most difficult problem you face here is your brother.

He must have suffered a lot when you left, and is probably quite angry with you at a largely unconscious level, but you can't allow yourself the luxury of guilt about what you left him behind to face alone, because, at the very least, staying would've destroyed you, and then he would really have been alone.

I think you are likely to have to deal with some outbursts from him directed at you, if you haven't already, and if you do choose a therapy route-- which you've done amazingly well without to this point, I'd say-- I recommend seeing a family therapist experienced with issues of intense religiosity and the wreckage it can leave in its wake, in company with your brother.

I'm not at all surprised to read he's developed OCD, because there is a strong connection between OCD and religious mania, and he is his mother's son.

As you are her daughter, of course, and that's something you may need to remind yourself of when looking at the behavior of any children you may eventually have.
posted by jamjam at 10:21 AM on January 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My family is in crazy land too. I grew up with that crazy and although I recognized some of it at the time, it took months of therapy to really begin to understand how it all affected me, both majorly and subtly.

You are definitely going to need resources to deal with the mentally ill people in your family when you move closer. An individual therapist would be great, but you might also consider al-anon. Even though your mother isn't an alcoholic, they teach a lot of coping strategies that involve realizing you can't change people and negotiating boundaries that keep you safe.
posted by zug at 11:40 AM on January 1, 2012

Seconding what's been said above, plus this: The most important thing for you to do is take good care of yourself. Your mother, father, brother, conversations, and relationships are all secondary to that. You need to look out for yourself. Keep working on your own mental health and making friends and building relationships with people who are not mentally ill. Do not let yourself sucked back into the old, harmful family dynamic, now that you recognize it and know what it is. You sound like you're well on the way to building a healthy life for yourself, and I wish you best of luck.
posted by exphysicist345 at 2:44 PM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not just your brother but also your mother appear to have mental problems. What helped me in dealing with a family member who suffers from Schizophrenia was attending NAMI Family to family program where I learned when and how to set limits and boundaries, the ins and outs of specific mental illnesses, how medication works and what it does not accomplish, in summary all that I wished I learned in the first few years of my son's illness, instead of struggling on my own.

I'm so glad you are going back to support your brother. Family involvement is what makes a difference in the outcome. As for your mother, you will learn what behavior is acceptable and tolerable, and what is not. You will learn that logic is not a tool that will help your relationship with a mentally ill person, but you will also learn that there are many other tools available to you.

Good luck to you and your family.
posted by francesca too at 4:18 PM on January 1, 2012

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