What do I do about all this guilt about my mother?
August 12, 2013 7:20 PM   Subscribe

My mother (depressed, long divorced, estranged from much of her family) feels that I am not there enough for her. Since I started a serious relationship three years ago, the situation has deteriorated greatly. I feel that she depends on me far too much -- and the rest of my life is suffering -- but I'm too consumed by guilt to figure out concrete ways in which to handle this. I would appreciate suggestions for both short- and long-term strategies for building a healthier relationship.

My mother has depended on me emotionally since I was very young. My parents divorced when I was a child. I visited my father during school vacations, but most of the time, it was just my mom and me. We are Europeans living in the US, and we do not speak English together. My mother, "Mary," is extremely well educated, but she is shy, withdrawn and wary of others. I grew up being her linguistic, cultural and social translator.

Six years ago, Mary had a nervous breakdown. She called me in hysterics while I was away for my first professional presentation. I was powerless to do anything except listen to her sob at me and felt awful that I was on the other coast of the US and unable to be with her. But I did what I could: I found a therapist that spoke her native language, I called her every day, I encouraged her to get medication. From then on, her dependence on me as her only emotional support became even more overwhelming.

Mary has always shown scant interest in my life. She asks me no real questions, she avoids the topic of my relationships entirely, and she didn’t want my father’s name or his family mentioned. She also very openly told me, when it became clear that I was gay, that it was a part of me she hated -- all the while needing me so much.

I am now in my late 30s. I have been living with my partner ("Lily") for 2 years and this relationship has been difficult for Mary to accept. Now that I am building my own family, I have had to reduce the time I spend with my parents. This has been a source of constant and very stressful drama -- from my mother's side. (My dad, who lives in Europe, is very supportive and low-key. But as my mother points out, he isn’t “completely alone in the world.”)

I have been trying to set boundaries. I don't answer the phone if I don't want to, I don't call every day, and I have reduced the time I spend with her. Mary has responded to this last boundary very strongly, really laying on the guilt and making me slide back into my old ways more than once.

Lily is not my first relationship, but it is the first time that I have openly talked about a partner to my mother. Our first year together, used to catering to my mom's needs, I put most of my effort into preserving my routine with my mother. Both during Christmas and over the summer, I spent large chunks of time with my mother, away from Lily, despite the fact that both times Lily was hospitalized, once for major surgery. This was difficult for Lily.

Since last Christmas -- the latest visit, to the home that Lily and I share, was rather a disaster -- my relationship to my mother has been punctuated by depressed and sometimes sobbing phone calls during which she states that either 1) Lily doesn't want me to see her and I am under her spell and don't realize it or 2) I don't actually want to see my mother and my attempts to distance myself are yet another form of rejection. Obsessed with being rejected, she has spiraled into limitless depression.

I wasn't originally going to see my mother this summer. Lily is tired of my being away -- between my Europe trip and a job trip, I was gone for almost a third of the summer. But eventually Lily and I agreed for me to go out to visit Mary for her birthday. Though we had a good time, she never missed an opportunity to tell me how short my stay was and how sad it was that it had come to this.

Since I've come home, she's been worse. The people she has talked to about this agree with her. Her friends are all European and have a different idea of what are appropriate parent-child bonds, which complicates my ability to reason with her. Every conversation now is about this. She is devastated by what she sees as the deterioration of our mother-daughter relationship. These conversations leave me anxious for days. My emotions seem to be dictated by my mom’s moods, and this makes Lily feel very unsteady. Though she sympathizes with my mother’s depression and feels sad for her, she also feels angry at her and frustrated that after 2 years this is still an issue in our relationship.

Christmas is coming and the whole drama will start over. If my mom somehow joins us, am I going to be caught up again, making my partner feel like she is alone, while my mother feels rejected? If my mother spends Christmas alone, I honestly do not know how I would handle the guilt. I am becoming less emotionally healthy by the day. I can't get any work done and am spiraling into feeling increasingly powerless and useless. I am in therapy; my therapist suggests that I ask my mother to reflect on how this all makes me feel, to make her take some responsibility. My attempts to set boundaries with Mary haven't paid off: she continues to guilt trip me, I continue to feel guilty, and Lily still feels like the "other woman."

I am looking for suggestions on the following:

1) How should I handle this coming Christmas?

2) How might I talk to my mother about boundaries, such as about length and frequency of visits, to reduce her spiraling into rants about abandonment and rejection?

3) During or after our conversations, how do I stop my own spiraling guilt and anxiety?

If you’d like to respond privately, I’ve set up the Gmail account: razopha@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hrm, I have been-there-done-that, although not with a parent. Anyway, to be short, from my experience, regarding 3), I think you could see a therapist, and/or read some self-help books, and talk/think about your relationship with Mary, her boundary issues, your boundary-setting issues, and also co-dependency on your part in your relationship with Mary, and maybe with others. Mary also has abandonment issues that arise from somewhere. She has depended on you; but you have also provided the support, often against your wishes. I can also possibly see this in your relationship with Lily; you are also feeling guilty about thinking that Lily might feel abandoned because of your relationship with Mary.

btw a good therapist is better than books, as they hold you to account.

2) flows from 3). Once you think about the boundary/co-dependency issues, you can start to reclaim your life and set solid boundaries with Mary without feeling guilty.

1) flows from 2). Once you can set boundaries without feeling guilty, you can deal with Xmas, first by setting reasonable boundaries on Mary, and then also by not feeling guilty about any perception on your part that you are also abandoning Lily (because you are not abandoning Lily).

Caveat - there is no quick fix for this. It will take a lot of heavy lifting ... so good luck!
posted by carter at 7:37 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Christmas is coming and the whole drama will start over. If my mom somehow joins us, am I going to be caught up again, making my partner feel like she is alone, while my mother feels rejected?

Yes, and it could badly, perhaps irreparably, damage your relationship. But I think you know this.

If my mother spends Christmas alone, I honestly do not know how I would handle the guilt it will be because that is what she has chosen for herself.

Fixed that for you. She's an adult. You don't have to be with a blood relation on Christmas day. If she doesn't want to be alone, she can spend time with friends. She can volunteer. Whatever. She can choose something else! If she chooses to be alone, that's on her, not you.

I am becoming less emotionally healthy by the day. I can't get any work done and am spiraling into feeling increasingly powerless and useless.

This is something I want to express as gently as possible, but I am wondering how this is a reflection of the kind of emotional response to feeling out of control that your mom has modeled for you.
posted by liketitanic at 7:45 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, Stop Walking on Eggshells, about dealing with people with borderline personality disorder, might help you set boundaries more firmly. I'm not saying your mom has BPD, but she does seem to have trouble with tolerating distress, which is one of the big drivers of this kind of behavior and is common in folks with BPD.
posted by liketitanic at 7:46 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dance of Anger is a really good book on this topic. It talks about how to set boundaries in close relationships (love, family), and it's specifically geared toward women.
posted by jaguar at 7:51 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, although I am not a therapist, it kind of reminds me of BPD as well. It's probably worth checking out Stop Walking On Eggshells just to see if any of it resonates.
posted by carter at 8:01 PM on August 12, 2013


This kind of thing is one of the reasons why I don't date any more. I have this T-shirt. In several colors.

I think the bottom line is going to boil down to that you HAVE TO PICK ONE OR THE OTHER. One person has to be your priority, and you can't have both. You can't have a mother and a girlfriend and them both be happy at the same time. Your mother wants to be your spouse, your one and only...she wants your soul. She literally has no other options than you...but then again, she's clearly uninterested in finding substitutes either. You constantly have to choose your mother over Lily out of guilt and shame and crying and making your mother miserable because you didn't pick her. Your mother doesn't share well. Lily loses every single freaking time because she's not throwing giant shit fits of guilt at you and punishing you for not choosing her.

I....suspect that Lily, like my exes, will eventually hit her limit at always losing to your mother. Boy, did I hate the Christmas guilt too.

Everyone tells me that you "have to put your partner FIRST." The chosen family over the born-into one, the person who's only been in your life 3 years versus the person who is the reason that you exist. Those people are probably right, but I haven't been able to stomach the guilt of doing otherwise. So I don't date, because I still haven't been able to get over that feeling. It's better these days because my mom has started to slowly get more of a life, but if I ever dated again, who the hell knows if the behavior would come back. All I know for sure is that my life gets harder if i try to have a guy and my mother in my life and Persephone had the right idea about dividing her time :P Sharing and welcoming is not likely to happen because anyone I dated was stealing her baby away.

I think your mom sounds like she is going to be miserable no matter what. How happy is she when you are single and catering to her every need? Was that an improvement from now? And are you willing to sacrifice Lily to your mom's needs....or vice versa?

I can't really answer your questions specifically because it's going to boil down to your having to deliberately choose to hurt your mother's feelings, and then deal with the crying and guilt and horribleness she'll choose to dish out. You can't really have a reasonable conversation about boundaries and behavior with someone who has no incentive to change it (it's working great for her right now!). At best, you can just lay down the law and then stand there while she sobs and cries for hours and try to show her a stone face while feeling like shit inside and calling your therapist a lot.

I wish it was easier, believe me. I say this as someone who can't pull it off either. But there's no nice, non-horrible way to handle this as far as I can tell.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


You are not responsible for your mother's happiness. Repeat this several times a day.
You cannot fix her depression. She likes to blame you because she gets something out of you believing that her sorrow is somehow through some failing of yours. It's not. You are being manipulated. (Trust me, been there). The only thing you can actually *do* about this is to change your perception and how you deal with this situation. Best of luck to you! You are a very loving, caring daughter. Being your mom's scapegoat isn't doing her any favors.
posted by Neekee at 8:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


Mary has always shown scant interest in my life...She also very openly told me, when it became clear that I was gay, that it was a part of me she hated -- all the while needing me so much.

This dynamic really sounds like BPD; specifically the extreme degree of emotional enmeshment.
posted by tanuki.gao at 8:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am Lily (but not YOUR Lily) and my partner's mother (diagnosed with BPD a decade ago) has used the same guilt/depression/manipulation to nearly destroy our relationship. It sucks, but I actually don't blame her - it is entirely my partner's responsibility to maintain an adult relationship with their parent and the failure to do so is what will eventually destroy our own relationship. My understanding is that BPB is both genetic and environmental in cause. You should be working with a therapist familiar with BPD to proactively learn healthy coping systems and how to make choices that are good for you in case it is BPD that is partly responsible for how your mother is chosing to act. It sounds like your mother, like my MIL, has a hole inside her you will never fill, but she will drain you dry in trying.

Take control of your life. You feel powerless (like your mother feels with her own unregulated emotions) and are currently using the unproductive coping systems your mother taught you. Originally you and Lily had agreed on prioritizing your relationship this summer but then you changed plans (using guilt on Lily?) and visited your mother instead. You left Lily in the hospital, twice, in order to visit your mother, to Lily's distress. You are tolerating your mother repeatedly insulting your partner (and by extension, you). This is not healthy and not sustainable. Your actions in the past have prioritized your mother over your partner; your actions have deliberately and calculatingly hurt your partner, but they have not made your mother feel any better either. Their only purpose has been to make you temporarily feel less guilt and to lessen the risk that your mother will ultimately reject you.

Your mother is giving you a stark choice: her or your own life. By choosing her, you will never be happy, you will never be free from guilt or shame, you will be powerless, and your every emotion will depend on what your mother allows you to feel; your mother's mental health will worsen dramatically as you add to the dysfunctional dynamic (because the last thing she needs is someone with worse mental health than herself being dependent on her). She will never be happy and the hole inside her will never fill because of anything you say or do.

With your own life you can be happy, you can have the power to make choices, to love and be loved, and have a somewhat functional relationship with your mother. You show your mother it is possible to be happy and healthy and be the role model for her she never was for you. She may decide the risk of losing a meaningful relationship with you is worth the hard work of taking responsibility for her own life.

In answer to your specific questions:
1. This Christmas is too soon for you to enforce your own boundaries in a healthy way; if you give an inch you know you will end up giving her the next ten miles. I would recommend not visiting her at all and send a nice Christmas Card. Can you and Lily afford to go away to take your mind off of your "traditional" Christmas? Whatever your mother chooses to do during the holiday is on her.
2. Don't talk about boundaries, you aren't in a healthy place for that. Instead, use your actions to create boundaries. To me, it sounds like you are so enmeshed in an unhealthy dynamic you need a clean break of no (verbal/physical) contact of a few months before you even think of telling her what your boundaries are (notice I said you tell her, not "talk about" or discuss boundaries where she can manipulate the conversation).
3. Conversations need to be short (ideally written conversations, like a letter you send once a month where she can not dominate you and you do not need to react to what she says right away). After any conversation/letter get some deep exercise to burn off the adrenalin and stress. Your monthly letter to her should be about your amazing life, your amazing partner, the healthy things you are choosing to do. If she writes back, pick out any positive (or if none, neutral) statements she makes and respond ONLY to them. Do not respond to anything that makes you feel guilty or manipulated even if it means the only thing you respond to is an off-hand comment about the weather ("I'm glad to hear how much rain you are getting - the flowers will be huge this spring. And not having to worry about sunburn is such a relief since it is always so cloudy!). You should probably read these letters with with someone with healthy expectations (and a sense of humour) because you probably don't recognize all the passive aggressive, guilt-inducing remarks she makes - you just react viscerally to the same triggers.

It took younearly two decades to get to this point, it is going to take years of hard work to reclaim your life and your right to make healthy choices. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 10:13 PM on August 12, 2013 [50 favorites]


Your mother must make a life for herself. Join a book club, a bridge or poker or anything club, volunteer somewhere - any where. Go to a hospital and volunteer to rock the preemies. The world is full of needs and she has nothing to do but lean on you. She cannot continue this dependence. It is unhealthy for her and for you.
posted by Cranberry at 12:53 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your mother has friends who apparently agree with her that you are some kind of terrible, uncaring daughter, which means she is NOT 'completely alone in the world'.
Your mother has apparently chosen not to learn much English or to make English-speaking friends in what sounds like at least 30 years here, choosing instead to stay in her home-culture bubble: NOT your fault.
Gotta agree with Lily: things like your choosing to spend time with Mary over a HOSPITILIZED partner? Yeah, that's frustrating, to say the least.
You say you used to call every single day, but have cut back; how often DO you talk to her? Limit it to no more than once a week or even less.
Try spending this Christmas with just Lily: there is no rule that says we are somehow required to spend holidays with parents/family.

If you let this continue, what's going to happen is that YOU will be the one who is 'completely alone', because neither Lily nor anyone else will put up with it forever. Your mother may or may not have BPD, but there's a point at which you need to separate your life from hers: set those boundaries, and hold firm --- send all Mary's phone calls directly to voicemail, ignore/delete her texts and emails. Don't respond every time she contacts you, don't EXPLAIN over and over that you want/need to cut back on your contact: simply refuse to participate in her drama.
posted by easily confused at 2:45 AM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do you not understand the concept of 'unreasonable'?

Where do you draw the line with other humans?

Mom CHOSE to have you. She CHOSE to raise you. There is no guarantee that you are breeding a slave when you do this, but that was apparently her underlying goal.

So, dance around the issue if you want, but I'll be blunt, as a favor to you:

Stop it. Stop being a child. You and your mother are adults and BOTH of you need to behave like adults. For her, that means not expecting you to be a slave and for you, it means recognizing what adult behavior looks like. You establish appropriate boundaries.

Mom may blow her brains out. Whose choice would that be? If she does, you'll have to live with it, just like you'll have to live with whatever anyone else on the planet does. Guilt is generated WITHIN you. You are doing it. Stop it. You are not responsible for any life other than your own, and if you persist in thinking you are, doom surely awaits you. There are thousands who will exploit it.

What your mom is doing is evil. Evil as in M. Scott Peck People of the Lie evil. This woman will eat your soul and expect you to cook it for her.

If you can't do this, your future is hopeless. You'll just slave until she dies and then guilt yourself until you do. Save at least one of you.

Mom got to this planet on her own. She manages to eat, sleep, move, manipulate. She's not powerless. It's up to her to find her way and find happiness. It's not up to you.

Good luck. Leaving the nest is what even the lowly bird does. It's the hard part of life. It's also essential to adulthood. You aren't there until you can do it. Now is the time. It's hard. It seems cruel. On some level, it is.
posted by FauxScot at 3:10 AM on August 13, 2013 [20 favorites]


Your mother reminds me of my sister's mother-in-law. It's a similar story, she came over from Europe over 20 years ago, poor English, hates ex, unwilling to make a life for herself, and wants her children to dance like puppets under the guise of being good children. She hates my sister for "taking her son away" from her. The suggestion I made to my brother in law was to encourage her to move back to the old country where she still has family but I think she would rather stay here and actively work to ruin her children's relationships with other people. Don't let your mother succeed in this, you should be able to be happy without her choices (to be alone and miserable) holding you down.
posted by crankylex at 4:03 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


2) You can't control her reaction, and you're not responsible for it. I don't know the trick to internalizing that and stopping your own feelings of guilt and anxiety. But as far as having the difficult conversations, all you can do is plan ahead of time what you need to say, and be honest and kind in saying it. There is no magic way to approach the conversation that will prevent a negative reaction, and even if there was, you still wouldn't be responsible for managing her feelings.

You have to decide for yourself, with your partner and your therapist, what your boundaries are, and just move forward with those boundaries, not try to negotiate them with Mary or talk her into being on board. Cut off conversations when she starts saying things that you know will have a negative effect on your mental health or your relationship, even if, as someone else suggests above, it means you communicate with her by letter for a while.
posted by songs about trains at 7:02 AM on August 13, 2013


You need to get to therapy, early and often.

Your Mom has issues. You need to live your life for yourself, not her. You don't owe her anything.

Invite your mom for Christmas at your house with your family, if you like, it's her choice if she comes or not. If she acts badly have a plan to get her back to her house.

Only interact with your Mom on the terms that you are comfortable with.

Until you can say to your mother, "Mom, I love you and I'm living in a different country with my partner. While I want you in our lives, you have to accept that Lily and I are a couple and we're a family. Just as I wouldn't exclude a husband when I visit you, I won't exclude Lily. I am an adult, it's time I started acting like one," you won't have a moment's peace.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:10 AM on August 13, 2013


If it's any consolation this is a problem that goes back to the start of humanity. Why else would the Bible explicitly have to tell people to cleave to their mate? Respect your parents, but cleavage goes to the mate (sorry, couldn't help it.)
posted by small_ruminant at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


The reacting very strongly to new boundaries is pretty standard. If you want to do some reading, extinction burst is a term that's used. Her behavior will get worse while you are setting boundaries, and it's something you need to be prepared for. I am so sorry. DO set the boundaries that are right for you and your new family. It will get better.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:45 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Six years ago, Mary had a nervous breakdown. She called me in hysterics while I was away for my first professional presentation.

Do you think that this was a coincidence? I really, really doubt it. First it was your job taking you away from her, now it's your partner. Anything besides you being her full-time emotional dump is going to be not enough for her.

1) How should I handle this coming Christmas?

Lily deserves an awesome holiday. Figure out when and how long you are willing to visit your mom, tell her, and stick to it. As always, the classic "that won't be possible" works for any attempted guilting into more time, or Christmas itself.

Furthermore, I don't think you should make any plans for Christmas until/unless you make a solid plan to get this under control now, and if your mother can demonstrate any change in the next month or two. Christmas is not an obligation. People like to spend holidays with their family or friends that are loving and supportive. Your mother is not these things to you right now. You're not obligated to spend time with her just because she's family.

2) How might I talk to my mother about boundaries, such as about length and frequency of visits, to reduce her spiraling into rants about abandonment and rejection?

Frankly.. you may not be able to. You explicitly say she doesn't and has never cared about the details of your life. No visit will be long enough, no amount of phone calls will be "enough". I think the best you can do, what you have to do for yourself, is determine what your boundaries are and enforce them yourself. I think it would be totally fair for you to say "Mom, our relationship is emotionally taxing and I can't deal with it right now. I need a break and I'll call you when I'm ready". And then don't answer the phone, texts, anything, for whatever deadline you set for yourself. It will be hard and she will fight. But you're already miserable talking to her, so well, why not try not talking for awhile? For your own health.

3) During or after our conversations, how do I stop my own spiraling guilt and anxiety?

I think you will be surprised at how empowering it will feel to enforce your boundaries. You've been trained to respond to crying and guilt trips as if it were your job to take care of her feelings. But it's not. It will be scary at first. Once you start seeing that you can hang up the phone, you can refuse to answer texts, etc... you will feel more in control of your feelings.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:19 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Your question is quite similar to this one, and my response is similar. Your Mom sounds rather narcissistic. You can develop boundaries that include being a loving and caring child, up to the level you choose, but do not require you to meet all of her needs, all by yourself, which is not possible. When you're on the phone with her, try to be as loving and supportive as possible, and when it's time to get off the phone, I love you so much Mom, but it's time for me to go. and get off the phone.

Be straightforward, even if it seems like she will have a tizzy. Mom, I want you to visit us for Christmas, but you are so negative about Lily that I'm not sure it can work. Do you think you can come to visit, and enjoy a pleasant holiday with us? It hurts me to be pulled between you. I love you both. Lily does not come between us. I wouldn't allow it she tried. I can't allow you to come between Lily and me. With my manipulative and bipolar mother, it was better to have a period of being pretty distant, and enforcing boundaries very rigidly, which resulted in her understanding that the boundaries were real, and I would not be pushed. If you keep pushing the boundaries back, little by little, your Mom is more likely to fight each inch.

Once in a while, send Mom a little gift - this postcard reminded me of blah blah or I thought you might like these delicious dark chocolates with sea salt - as a tangible I love you. Help her with appropriate strategies for being happier and managing her life better. But you can't be responsible for her happiness, even if she believes you can.
posted by theora55 at 2:07 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Every conversation now is about this. She is devastated by what she sees as the deterioration of our mother-daughter relationship. These conversations leave me anxious for days. My emotions seem to be dictated by my mom’s moods, and this makes Lily feel very unsteady. Though she sympathizes with my mother’s depression and feels sad for her, she also feels angry at her and frustrated that after 2 years this is still an issue in our relationship.

I've been in a situation like this. I used to feel desperate and fear it would destroy my relationship. You mention that you have a therapist, but don't say what sort of therapy it is. I tried many sorts of therapy and read piles of self-help books. Nothing worked until I found an extremely good CBT practitioner (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). This allowed me to rationally examine my mother's behaviour and my own anxious thoughts and beliefs in response to it - thus diminishing the anxiety. It was a huge help and the only thing I've ever found that worked. It wasn't an instant fix though.

First I stopped the phone calls and visits because I wasn't capable of setting safe boundaries in real time. I moved to email, taking as much time as was needed to process my answers with my therapist and looking at things rationally. My therapist suggested small steps I could take as exercises to help me test setting boundaries little by little. As was mentioned above, this produced 'extinction burst' behaviour where my mother escalated her threats and guilt trips in order to stop the changes I made. My therapist supported me in dealing with this. Then I was able to move to phone conversations with boundaries - where I was able to hang up when the conversations veered into drama about visiting and guilt tripping. Then my partner and I set safe boundaries for visits - meeting in places where we had a means to cut short a visit or leave at any time if anxiety-causing drama was started.

My mother hasn't entirely accepted this, but it's made a huge difference to my life. The anxiety about phone calls is almost gone. I now feel able to say no and have been able to offer more visits. A curious thing happened - when I offered more visits and time spent with her in a way my partner and I had found was safe and manageable for my anxiety and our relationship, my mother suddenly shifted the goalposts. After having asked for years for me to do more of this, suddenly she rejected it, and started turning down lunch dates which were on nearby neutral territory. It turned out that it wasn't just about seeing me after all - but seemed to be all about seeing me on her terms. I've felt a lot less guilt since I realised that.

So my specific answers from my experience are:

Christmas - it may be too soon to do a face-to-face christmas visit. If you want to do a Christmas visit, start now with therapy that works and plan for a limited Christmas visit -say a couple of hours for lunch, a short period of time where you set the ground rules in advance ( I will leave if X happens... eg. rant about visiting/partner) and leave if X happens. You should do this even if you have to go a long way across country for only an hour or two. Have a hotel for you and your partner to retreat to and a car to get you there and back so you are not dependent on lifts, public transport etc. Don't stay in the same house. Make sure you can put distance between you and her if need be.

Anxiety attacks are no joke and it's not reasonable for people to expect you to suffer repeated destructive anxiety attacks or to endanger your relationship to your partner as part of your relationship with your mother. Expecting you to carry out the sort of normal happy family Christmas which is possible for people who are not in your situation is like people telling an agoraphobic person to go stand in the middle of a vast desert. What is possible for people who don't have your problems is not likely to be possible or safe for you. At least probably not without a lot of very hard work in therapy.


2) How might I talk to my mother about boundaries, such as about length and frequency of visits, to reduce her spiraling into rants about abandonment and rejection?


You make it a condition of contact that if the rant starts, you stop - you leave or hang up the phone, or a pending visit is cancelled. You need a therapist to support you with getting to this place. Contact should be by email or letter until you are able to set these kind of boundaries.

3) During or after our conversations, how do I stop my own spiraling guilt and anxiety?

This is what CBT did for me - it allowed me to examine how likely my mother's scenarios of catastrophe and doom were and how reasonable or not her requests actually were. Going over her emails with my therapist asking these questions helped me to gain the skills to do it for myself and thus diminished my anxiety. It took me about a year in therapy to get to the point where I could handle her attempts at manipulation and set boundaries I could cope with. It's still a work in progress, but I'm able to manage without a therapist now. As I get better with my boundaries I'll probably be able to see her more. Hope this helps.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:34 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


MeTa
posted by mlis at 9:22 PM on August 13, 2013


I am not sure how i am posting this, as I am not kittenofthenight, may be my son's id, but feel compelled to respond. Razopha, I am a mother, an introvert and dependent on others for emotional support, much like your mother. But, despite all that, it is clear to me, that I should not rely on my son for emotional support. He is not responsible for my emotional well being. You are not responsible for your mother's emotional well being. Not only that, but it is essential that you take care of and nurture yourself so that you have the emotional strength to support others in your life. You did not choose to be born, it was a choice made by your parents, they need to take care of themselves and provide you with all the help and support they can, you owe them love and respect, but the greatest gift you can give them is to take care of yourself, be happy and be a positive force in the world. Let your mother take care of herself, that is her reponsibility, not yours. If it is difficult to be with her on hoiidays, or spend time with her with other people, arrange to be with her at other times, alone or with people who understand and support you. Always remember that the best gift you can give your mother is to be happy in your life, and if that means spending less time with her, so be it. From a mother.
posted by kittensofthenight at 10:30 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also: do not cater to demands of the unreasonable.
posted by Neekee at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2013


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