Am I under real psychological stress or do I have intrusive thoughts?
November 2, 2017 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm finally reaching out to see if I can find a therapist. But I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for. Hoping you all can give me some ideas about whether it's CBT I should try or something focused on anxiety or if I have real unresolved emotions that need a lot of talking through?

Basically, I pretty much daily or at least several times a week ruminate on my relationship with my mother, my family of origin relationships, and stuff relating to that that honestly has no bearing on my current day-to-day life. Unresolved issues relate to my father's abuse of me growing up, family adoption issues, and political estrangement from my mother. She voted for Trump which was just the cherry on top of her Fox news-inspired world-view sundae. You wouldn't think differing political views could be so alienating but in this case, I feel this acutely.

The thing is, I barely talk to my mother. I haven't been to her home in probably two years. I could have gone home last Christmas but because of politics and because of other quirks in our interpersonal issues, I realized that I felt an obligation but I was actively dreading it. Visiting her is not without expense (airfare, car rental, etc.) and holidays are only tolerable to me when I spend them with my small family and group of friends. When we do talk, I avoid so many topics. And I've stopped telling her much about my life because she just isn't supportive. I can't complain about anything related to finance because she'll say something along the lines about how my generation spends so much on phones and televisions. (Sure, it has nothing to do with the insane costs of housing, childcare, medical care, student loans, etc..)

She also plans to leave all property and personal effects largely to one of my brothers. It's all a mystery what will happen when she dies someday but when I visit she will say things like, "You know, I just think you should know, that I've promised this [thing] to [preferred son], it just means so much to him." This encompasses pretty much anything of value. Which, hey, do whatever you want, lady, but this wound doesn't really need any more salt in it.

But back to: I barely talk with my mother. She really has no affect on our lives. She isn't planning to leave us an inheritance. We have talked less and less since Trump (maybe she's embarrassed, I don't know) and she's coming out for a visit soon and other than the fact that we can't discuss any current events, I don't think the visit will be unpleasant. It'll be tense for me and not, like, fulfilling but my kid loves her and that will be nice. So why do I think about this relationship several times a week if not daily? Why does it cause me pain? Do I need to talk through this with a therapist in an "let's explore your unresolved issues" way? Do I need to have some kind of heart-to-heart with my mother? Or do I need to treat this as perhaps a general anxiety disorder where the rumination is the problem, not the unresolved issues?

I'm trying to figure out which professional I need to contact and I'd really not like to go down a path of opening deep wounds and making my life more horrible if what I really need is something else. Or medication. If I could take a pill and be rid of this forever I'd do it in a heartbeat. Thoughts? Where do I start?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, therapy. This is what it's for. In my (not dissimilar) situation, we talked a bit about my mother, but focused more on strategies for coping with anxiety in my daily life. It was nice to unpack where the anxiety came from, though. That's helping.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:08 AM on November 2, 2017

It can be the very best decision to avoid talking with a parent about things that cause strife and/or can't be resolved. And it can really help to work on accepting and ignoring that a parent has ridiculous, wrong-headed views (excuse my bias). Both of these things are very hard to do. You could really benefit from support and help from a therapist just on those things, even if you never address unresolved issues, past troubles, etc. You might even learn to believe that your mother is just going to do whatever irrational thing she wants, that you can't stop her, so you might as well think about other things. That's very hard, too, but it can be achieved. Setting boundaries and developing relationship stategies is something that therapy is extremely good for. And it doesn't involve rambling, time-consuming examination of your psyche.
posted by wryly at 10:41 AM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just look for a therapist who specializes in anxiety, relationships and/or FOO (family of origin) issues. You most likely won't be able to solve it without talking about the past, but it won't all be about the past, it'll be about living your life free of this constant stress, as knowyournuts points out. And it makes all the difference to talk about that stuff with someone who has a professional perspective on it, knows how to approach and problem solve, and is supportive of you and on your team and your team alone.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on November 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

So why do I think about this relationship several times a week if not daily? Why does it cause me pain?

You think about it exactly because it is unresolved. It's like having an open wound that never heals. With a therapist, you can kind of get in there and wash it out and put the right stuff on it so that it actually heals instead of just being covered over only to erupt again and again.

Working with a therapist can help uncover the stuff that's holding the healing back. It might feel weird or bad at first but I don't think it'll feel too awful since you have come to terms with not really having much of a relationship with your mom. (I'm in the same boat so I totally get where you're coming from on that.)
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:42 PM on November 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

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