How can I make my mother see she needs to see a psychologist?
August 31, 2013 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Hi all, I don't live at home anymore, as I studied abroad, but frequently come home during holidays. During such return visit, and the ocassional visit by my family, I always get a good taste of my mother's uglier side. I dont want to diagnose her myself, but can say that her bipolar and control freakish behaviour is affecting the whole family (my father and brother) for as long as I can remember. I would dare to even describe it as abusive; minor problems like a dirty plate forgotten on a kitchen counter can escalate into agressive full blown shout out, and in general there were moments where I really had to remind myself that, whoa, this is my mother.

My father and brother are the ones having to live with this now (I dont plan on returning to my hometown for a while, and even then plan to find my own place), but are usually maintaining the status quo of some days ok, some days terrible. It makes for a really bad family relationship as its a significant strain, and my father agrees she should see a mental health professional. I tried to bring it up several times to her, but usually gets brushed off aggressively; she believes that we are the problem and that "she's not crazy".

I myself had experiences with psychologists, so I tried to describe from personal experience, but it doesnt quite work, and I was wondering what could be a good way to go at least for a consultation? She's a career woman, successful in her job, a workaholic and seems to have an almost masochistic desire to stress herself out, and mentioning psychologists to her is almost always like a blow to her ego; she believes she's amazing, great, a martyr for her family and perfectly healthy.
posted by ahtlast93 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You cannot make anyone see what they don't want to see. You cannot make anyone do anything they don't want to do.
I'm so sorry you and your family are having a difficult time living with your mothers behaviors. I know from experience how terrible it can be. Good luck.
posted by waterisfinite at 6:36 AM on August 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I don't think it's going to work. She doesn't actually have a problem. At least in her mind.

I'd focus more on getting your dad and brother some help. You can't "make" anyone do anything but you might be able to talk to your dad about his options.

Good luck. My mom is a lot like this and I have just accepted it. And I avoid her as much as I can.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:39 AM on August 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

From my experience, you mother will not see that she needs to see a psychologist.

My mother sounds a lot like yours. She actually went to see a psychologist for some time and would come home from each visit with positive things to say about the experience. Then, a few months in, she abruptly stopped going. The rest of the family presumed this was the point at which she was diagnosed with some kind of mental illness/personality disorder and didn't care to hear it. If I remember correctly, when this happened, all of the sudden her psychologist "didn't know what she's talking about."

I think it would be best to focus on what positive things you can do for yourself in your life. You have the advantage of not living in the midst of that family dynamic anymore and that fact might make it just a little easier.

I have moved out too and still struggle with family issues at times. There is no remedy. You can't count on your mother seeing the light, so to speak. It is unlikely that the way your family relates to each other now will ever change in the future. When I was a kid, I always hoped that my parents would get divorced. That my dad would see the way my mom hurts people and would choose to pack up me and my sister and leave. That has never happened and will never happen. It is a sick system.

For a very long time, I refused to think of my mother's behavior as abuse or my dad's lack of behavior as neglectful. It is much easier to mentally gloss over the fact that people who were supposed to care for you willfully hurt you and/or let you be hurt, but you can't accept and recover from things that you deny.

In sum: focus on yourself. You can only improve yourself and your life. If these visits to and from your family make for unpleasant experiences, it might be helpful to see them less, or try and arrange to see your father and brother minus your mom. It can feel like a betrayal, but you owe it to yourself to look out for your own mental health and well-being.

Wishing you the best.
posted by sevenofspades at 6:55 AM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think every child (including adult children) coming from a family with mental health issues, or at least with above moderate dysfunctions, goes through this at some point: a visceral, and seemingly irresistible desire to right the family wrongs.

I’ve been there pretty much since I was a kid, and this last decade I’ve been trying to hammer this bitter lesson into my head: you cannot sort out your parents’ life for them. It’s difficult enough to help people who want help, are proactive about seeking it and helping themselves, and who are your peers. With parents, you will never be successful, and you will tear your own sanity to shreds in the act of trying.

I think your best course of action is to find your own inner balance independent of them, to learn about boundaries and how to reinforce them (from your description, they will have been tested pretty much all of your life, and this will continue into the future) and how to respect them yourselves (some of them will be incredibly uncomfortable – such as this notion that you cannot take on your mother’s, father’s and brother’s burden for them, so you will need self-discipline to not get sucked into the maelstrom), as much as you can make a good life for yourself that brings you peace and joy, and become tolerant of this (and future other) sources of heartache without feeling the compulsion to “do something about it”, for you can’t. Be as supportive as you can towards all those involved without compromising your integrity and your own life.

So sorry, this is a continuous heartache for people like us, seeing the potential in our parents and having to come to the realisation that there is not much you can do to nurse it into life.
posted by miorita at 6:55 AM on August 31, 2013 [13 favorites]

All you can do is enforce your own boundaries. You can tell her what the consequences of bad interactions (with you personally) will be, and then follow through with those consequences. You can talk to your father and brother about their feelings, and about actions they can take to look out for their own well being.

But as others have said, you can't convince your mom to do anything she doesn't want to. I've had to deal with a version of this in my own extended family, and in my experience, people who want to martyr themselves will find ways to do so no matter what you say to them. You can protect yourself, but that's about it.

I'm sorry that you're going through this. It's a tough situation for everyone involved.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:56 AM on August 31, 2013

You mention that you have experience with psychologists so maybe you've tried therapy. My mom is similar and does not recognize that she has a problem, thinks the problem is with everyone else, or that her outbursts are really helping me, the only solution for me has been to get therapy for myself.
posted by fromageball at 9:56 AM on August 31, 2013

You can't, sorry.

I mean, you could try what I've recently done: Wrote my mother a letter cutting off all contact until she gets some counseling for specific issues that are hindering her from living a healthy, happy life and that are alienating her from friends and family.

But I don't expect my mother to actually do that. I wrote the letter as an ultimatum I intend to carry through with. That is my boundary. I wish you luck with creating and defending yours. It's really hard.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:04 AM on August 31, 2013

You can't make your mother do anything, but you can help yourself, father and brother. I highly recommend NAMI's family-to-family course to anyone with a mentally ill family member. It completely changed the way I interact with my (bipolar) mom.
posted by desjardins at 10:29 AM on August 31, 2013

I live 3000 miles away from my mother for a reason. I learned from my own stint in therapy that she likely has a narcissistic personality disorder. There isn't anything I can do to convince her that there's a problem. And even if she accepts psychiatric care, there aren't any medicines that manage personality disorders and it would probably end up just like sevenofspades described above.

You might want to read Alice Walker's The Drama of the Gifted Child. The first half of the book would be particularly relevant to your situation, I think.

About your dad and brother, remember that your dad is an adult and he's chosen to put up with your mother's shit and will probably continue to choose to do so. How old is your brother? Can he start making plans to move away for college yet? Can you help convince dad to consider boarding school if he's still in high school? Or maybe you can convince dad to help your brother find a therapist?

Are you still in therapy? It might help you come to grips with what you can and can't do to help your family.

I'm sorry that you're in this situation. It's really hard. Remember to take care of yourself first.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:44 AM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Narrative Priorities take on it. I think it helps to tell her with love that she gets to decide if acting that way is a priority to her but she doesn't get to decide if you have to put up with it. Saying it with as much love as possible is both kind and it doesn't give her the easy-out of anger.
posted by InkaLomax at 1:38 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

All adults get abuse from their parents when they come back for a visit. You won't be there long. Just tune out, the way you did as an adolescent.

If something seems really wrong, get together with the other family members and say something like "Mom seems really angry. Is she like this all the time, or only when I'm here?"

A Significant Other can help. My wife's mother really laid into her when we visited. I short-circuited it by walking in, wrapping her in my arms and asking "How's my favorite mother-in-law."
posted by KRS at 9:16 PM on August 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

"All adults get abuse from their parents when they come back for a visit."

No, they actually don't. You don't have to put up with it any more than your dad does. And you shouldn't.
posted by disconnect at 11:39 PM on August 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: thanks to all!

I see how everyone agrees on actually working out my own stuff; thats true, because of my family situation in the past I tend to be preoccupied with not only my family's issues, but with other people's as well, to the detriment of my psyche and development.

makes sense; after reading all the answers another episode happened this morning, and I managed to diffuse the situation quite quickly with an approach different from "hey, you need help".

thanks a lot!
posted by ahtlast93 at 12:54 PM on September 1, 2013

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