Is telling someone “I don’t want to talk about that” abusive?
August 14, 2019 3:50 PM   Subscribe

My Mom has told me that the boundaries I'm asking for are abusive to her, and I'm scared she is right.

There are topics I don’t want to talk about with my Mom. These topics are things she’ll berate me over until I’m upset, at which point she’ll be mad I’m not being open and then she’ll start crying telling me I’m hurting her, all she wants is us to have a close relationship and normal families can talk about this stuff, such as why am I not pregnant yet, not having grandchildren is ruining her life. It’s awful and I don’t want to have these conversations anymore.

But when I told my mother that I want her to respect my boundaries and that when I say “I don’t want to talk about it” she please drop that topic she laid into me. I’m being abusive, selfish, mean, cruel, possibly have borderline personality disorder, and am denying her wants and needs which is much worse then what she does to me when she tries to have a conversation with me. We argued about this for over an hour last night, her telling me she loves me but I’m terrible in many different ways, me saying that I love her, care about her, and still need her to respect what I need even when it’s different from what she needs. It did not go well.

And now, in the light of the morning, I’m worried that I’m wrong about this, that I really do need to be more open and vulnerable and stop hurting my Mom, who is the only parent I have since I cut ties with my abusive father. And I can see her point, having someone say "you can't talk about this with me even though all you want out of this relationship is to have conversations like this" is crushing. I'm looking to get back into therapy but until then I could use some perspective. Is what I'm demanding completely out of line? Is demanding someone fundamentally ignore their wants and needs to be able to talk to me abusive?
posted by lepus to Human Relations (56 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You are not being abusive.
posted by thereemix at 3:53 PM on August 14, 2019 [146 favorites]

You are not being abusive. You don't have to tell your mom any damn thing about any topic, ever.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:54 PM on August 14, 2019 [55 favorites]

You are not being abusive.

And the way your mom responds emotionally to your boundary-setting self-preservation is HER responsibility, not yours. Looking out for your own emotional health and well-being is good SOP and she's not playing fair.
posted by AngerBoy at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2019 [34 favorites]

You're not the abusive one, your mom is! Stand your ground and when she insists on her abusive behavior and demands you let her tell you how awful you are (YOU AREN'T AWFUL!) tell her that since she can not abide by the rules you have set you will be leaving. Then leave.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2019 [73 favorites]

Your mother has no right to the information she wants from you. If she's uncomfortable with that it is her problem to solve, not yours.

You're in a tough situation though. I don't envy you.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is classic DARVO.

"DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrongdoing may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for "Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender." The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of "falsely accused" and attacks the accuser's credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation."
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:59 PM on August 14, 2019 [185 favorites]

You are not being abusive. Your mom is emotionally manipulating you.
posted by 41swans at 3:59 PM on August 14, 2019 [20 favorites]

You do not owe vulnerability to anybody, especially people trying to demand or punish it out of you. She's lashing out at you for not giving her what SHE wants. She's not dependent on you or the information she wants in order to live safely, earn a living, take care of herself, or function in society. You do not owe it to her.

You are not the abusive person in this scenario. You may have to consider establishing a more drastic distance than the one you have now, because you setting boundaries and holding to them doesn't fix her, change her behavior, or force her to respect them. They're just a means for you to decide when to disengage. She crosses the line, you leave. You may decide to simply not give her access to the lines anymore if she cannot handle the responsibility.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:59 PM on August 14, 2019 [17 favorites]

You are not being abusive.

By her own behavior she has lost your trust. You cannot trust her to have these intimate conversations with you. If she wants intimacy maybe your trust will someday be regained (that's totally up to you), but until she has done that to your satisfaction, you are not obliged to put yourself into emotional harm because she has wants. If she feels hurt by you keeping yourself safe, then it is her problem. You do not need to push your needs away in the sake of hers, and if that's what she's asking that is not open or intimate or loving. You aren't awful or abusive.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 4:00 PM on August 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your mother is the one who is abusive here, not you. And she’ll keep trying to stop you from setting and enforcing boundaries. So ignore her tantrums and remove yourself from the conversation if she insists on going down that road. It’s not your job to meet her needs, she isn’t entitled to grandchildren, nobody is. If she insists on bringing up things you don’t want to talk about you leave or end the call. She’ll learn eventually.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:03 PM on August 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Think of your mom calling you abusive for having boundaries as an extension and continuation of her abusing you into needing boundaries. Step 1: attack you into putting up a wall. Step 2: continue attacking the wall until she can destroy the wall. Step 3: continue attacking until you try to put up another wall.

You need this constant attacking to stop, period.
posted by bleep at 4:07 PM on August 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

My mom did this. It is terrible. It's a classic N-Mom tactic. Lyn Never has the script that works. She can learn to not be awful or she can live without your company. You are setting normal boundaries. She is trampling them.

Grown-ups should not need to force other people to discuss things they don't want to talk about, not family, not friends, no one. If the only terms under which she will continue to have conversations with you is by talking about the things you don't want to talk about, the answer to that is not "OK I guess I swallow my feelings and just do it your way," the answer is "Wow, I'm sorry you feel that way, but that's how it will work" and then refuse to engage and end the conversation when she begins her bullying tactics. Some people learn how to behave better. Some never do. I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by jessamyn at 4:10 PM on August 14, 2019 [35 favorites]

Not abusive at all. Keep your boundaries strong, don't discuss your reasoning over and over, and leave if she doesn't respect your reasonable and healthy behavior. You do not have to have hour-long discussions about this. Keep it short, "I will not discuss this with you. I love you, but I will leave if you don't stop trying to discuss things I've clearly told you I don't want to talk about." Then, leave if she continues. She will likely get worse before she realizes that you will not be changed by her terrible and cruel tantrums.

Getting back into therapy is a great idea.
posted by quince at 4:10 PM on August 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

you are definitely NOT being abusive here. I am sorry to say it does sound like your mother is being abusive to you with this dynamic. if you can return to therapy please do! let the therapist know you want to learn real tools/techniques for 1) communicating and maintaining your boundaries with mom better 2) not falling into the trap of blaming yourself. it sounds like your mom is a bit gas-lighty with blaming. good luck.
posted by supermedusa at 4:13 PM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm not going to pile on, because others have said enough re your fear that you're being abusive, and that your mother is exhibiting controlling behaviour.

Maybe you could write her a letter. Explain (again) that certain conversations always make you sad/upset/depressed/uncomfortable/whatever. Explain that this is affecting your mental well-being, and that if she wants the best for you, she needs to be on your side, and to help you by accepting the boundaries that you need to define for now. That these boundaries won't change if she keeps pushing at them, but that they are not fixed forever and will probably move when you feel ready for that. Let her know that you don't like having to hold things back, but that you want your relationship to get better, and this is what you need to make that happen. You need her to promise to try it your way for now.

Agree that therapy might give you some useful tools.
posted by pipeski at 4:22 PM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

I assume you live separately from your mother? If so, I suggest that when inappropriate questions arise and polite deferral doesn't work, you leave ( Oh dear is that the time - I have to be going, I think I left the iron on, the gas on, didn't lock the door, parking running out, ...). The sillier the better, because the departure is the message. Perhaps add ' that's too bad, I wanted to talk to you about (safe subject)', to reinforce the point you like talking to your mother on subjects that are to your liking.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:24 PM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, no, you are not being abusive. No matter what the subject was that you didn't want to talk about, you have the right to decline talking about it - but the fact that she's specifically harassing you about having kids is just, ugh, good lord no. That's practically a cliche-level "awful thing to do," isn't it? Like, if you were writing a story and wanted to show that a mom was being terrible to her adult daughter, wouldn't "harassing the daughter about having kids" be one of the first things you'd think of to demonstrate this? And it would be so hack that you'd probably reject it as too obvious and heavy handed?? Honestly, it astounds and angers me that people really do that to their kids. You are not in the wrong for not wanting to talk about this to her (and of course you do not owe her grandchildren!).

And in the future please remember that you deserve better than an hour-long battle that ends with you doubting your right to have perfectly reasonable boundaries. Remember that you're not going to convince her to accept what you need by entertaining her arguments - all you're doing is giving her time to make you feel awful, and to chip away at your boundaries. The folks upthread who suggest leaving (or hanging up the phone, etc) when she refuses to accept your boundaries are absolutely right. I'm sure it will be hard, and of course your mom will frame it as a terrible thing to "do" to her, but remember that she is choosing to continue ignoring your boundaries and has the power to - you know - NOT do that.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. I hope reading many, many people on AskMe telling you you're not being abusive is helpful.
posted by DingoMutt at 4:24 PM on August 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

You are definitely are not being abusive.

She lost her privileges due to repeated poor behaviour. If she needs that relationship with you, it's on her to learn to conduct herself in such a manner that is earned and safe for you.

My mom is kind of like this too. There are many things we don't discuss anymore.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:29 PM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

No. Defining boundaries for your own self is recommended and not abusive. This is manipulative. She sounds like someone who will go all out to get what she wants, she is disrespecting your boundaries, and you.

Leave the conversation, even if you have to hang up. Leave the room. Leave the house. I moved 1,000 miles to enforce boundaries. You've posted about your Mom before. Start labeling her behavior. She says you're hurting her, harasses you about pregnancy, not having grandchildren is ruining her life. Says you are abusive, selfish, mean, cruel, possibly have borderline personality disorder, terrible in many different ways, "Mom, you're calling me names. Stop that. I'm leaving/getting off the phone." And hang up/leave. "Mom, that's disrespectful. Stop it." "Mom, I will not accept this. It's unkind." This takes persistence and time, but it will help. "Mom, the decision about when we have or do not have children is none of your business. I'm getting off the phone now." "Mom, I am not terrible. I love you. I'll talk to you another time." "Mom, I don't think I have a personality disorder, and you have crossed the line. Bye."

It’s awful and I don’t want to have these conversations anymore. Don't. Really, really, don't participate in this horrible mess. She sounds unhappy and needy, and you can't fix that, or her. Behave as if you are in a healthy-ish relationship, and do not tolerate crap.

A useful technique is distraction; it's easier than head-on refusal. "Babies, dunno, maybe. OMG, did you see That hilarious commercial/ Cousin Sal's goofy dog/ Grey's Anatomy?" I got to where I tried to always have a list of topics to get my Mom distracted from some thing she wanted to browbeat me into. Also, Gentle humor. "Not having grandchildren is ruining *your* life? See, I'm saving myself. Next time I'm near a church, I'll light a candle for you." use with caution.

When I changed the rules with my Mom, she would make repeated calls. It's okay to not answer. She would make claims that she was dying, had some terrible illness, but these were manipulations; she lived many years. She'd call my siblings and claim that I was awful to her so they'd call me so I'd have to call her. She tried to manipulate me with money, and it turns out peace of mind is better than money. It took time, but my Mom and I had an okay relationship eventually. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 4:36 PM on August 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

You are NOT being abusive.

Piling on here to drive the message home.
posted by Twinge at 4:38 PM on August 14, 2019

This is classic emotional abuse (on your mother's part). Was she the one who brought up borderline personality disorder? Because her behavior is typically a symptom of it. I presume this isn't the first time she's pulled this on you. With this type of manipulator, words and reasonable discussion will never, never work.

One book that really clarifies this is Stop Walking on Eggshells.

Be strong. Hugs to you.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 4:47 PM on August 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Also piling on to second what DingoMutt said. You don’t have to convince her or persuade her to let you have boundaries/accept your boundaries. YOU set them and YOU stick to them and she learns how to have a healthy relationship with you or she doesn’t. But you don’t need her permission or agreement.
posted by probably not that Karen Blair at 4:48 PM on August 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yup. Total co-sign with all above. This sounds immensely painful. You are truly not being abusive in any way.
posted by jeszac at 4:51 PM on August 14, 2019

You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about, ever.

That may have negative consequences for your intimacy with your mom, or maybe as time passes you’ll want to reevaluate your stance, or maybe your mom can try to negotiate “can we talk about this if I promise not to do/say XYZ?” I would like to think if you were my kid, hearing this wouldn’t make me feel abused but would instead make me think “why doesn’t my kid feel comfortable talking to me about this, what can I do to make my kid feel okay?”
posted by sallybrown at 4:56 PM on August 14, 2019

Piling on. One of the things being raised by and related to an emotionally manipulative parent will do is completely stymie your normal-and-appropriate-meter, and your mother is directly appealing to the gauge she broke (“normal families can talk about this stuff”).

You knew her behavior was off enough to ask this question. I really hope you keep honing that sense.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 4:58 PM on August 14, 2019 [10 favorites]

I literally said oh my god out loud when I read this. Oh my god, no, you are not being abusive. I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by eirias at 5:01 PM on August 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

I had this problem and found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helped me learn to say no and to establish boundaries. She's being abusive, not you. I can recommend CBT for this.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:06 PM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

You are not being abusive, she is. Your reproduction and entire body is no one else's business but YOURS. You owe NO ONE this information or discussion. I highly recommend therapy to everyone, because everyone has stressors. But this is a perfect situation for a therapist to help you draw boundaries.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:07 PM on August 14, 2019

Well, no wonder you don’t want to have kids when this is the parent/child dynamic you’ve been raised with. Your mother is absolutely abusive and people like that don’t learn until there are consequences to their actions. Give her some.
posted by Jubey at 5:08 PM on August 14, 2019 [7 favorites]

Adding to the chorus to say that no, you are definitely not being abusive, and this is classic DARVO, aka cry-bullying.

One thing to keep in mind is that boundaries are things that you set for yourself, rather than ways of trying to change the other person's behaviour. She doesn't have to understand them or the reasons behind them for them to work.

In dealing with my own mom, I found that the best thing to say when she violated a boundary was "Mom, I love you, but I've told you we're not going to discuss that. If you bring it up again, I'll leave." And then, if she persisted, I would not argue. I would just leave. No further discussion, she knew what was happening.

It was painful, but I only had to do it a few times.
posted by rpfields at 5:29 PM on August 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

It's ok for your mom to wish she had grandchildren. It's NOT OK for her to demand that you provide them for her or to say that your not doing so is harmful to her. It is your body and any issues regarding pregnancy is up to you and not her. You are in the right to ask for that boundary. She is being the abusive person here. I'm sorry you're dealing with this. She can continue to wish for grandchildren in silence. She needs to leave you alone about this.
posted by acidnova at 5:39 PM on August 14, 2019 [6 favorites]

>why am I not pregnant yet, not having grandchildren is ruining her life.

This is bizarre and inexcusable. Nobody gets to use you to have babies because they think it will make them happy. You're not a baby-producing machine for your mom, and if she can't see what's wrong with that idea, I wouldn't discuss the topic with her at all, ever. You are absolutely NOT being abusive; if anything you're on the receiving end of abuse, or at least a level of emotional manipulation that I would call unconscionable.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:10 PM on August 14, 2019 [22 favorites]

I had parents who told me things that I'd rather not hear, such as being a teenager and having them each confide in me about the other, as if I were their marriage counselor, or they wanted me to take sides.

I'm the type of person that co-workers come up to and start conversations, telling me personal things. I don't know if it's my face or what.

However, one thing I really appreciated about my Dad was whenever I called him up with an issue, he would not give any advice, and he was just sort of say, I understand, and tell me a story about how he too hated his job, and he had quit once without a back-up job, but he didn't recommend it. However, "if any job affects your self-esteem, Daughter, it's not worth it."

I have, as a grown mother, dumped on my son that way. Not in asking him when he's getting married or having kids, but just things that would probably be better left telling a female friend about, or journalling, etc. I made a resolution to stop doing that, because that's what my folks did to me when I was younger. He needs to live his life, burden-free of my baggage. Now we get along like gangbusters.

Your Mom has some baggage, as we used to say in the 70's. She's unloading it on you. Of course she's going to put up a fight against you setting boundaries. Don't look at her as mentally ill, just look at her as an older you, who maybe grew up in a time where things were a little bit different. Her self-esteem may hinge on the fact that she sees her peers being mother-of-the-bride, a grandmother, and lavishing gifts on a grand-child, of which you are the only thing standing in the way of her dream.

I have baggage too, but I'm channeling it into my own little creative "babies," like crafts and making my house look nice, etc. Fantasies about puppies, or a new kitten, a middle-aged-woman's cliche, am I. I recognize it, I don't like it, but doing something creative is better than placing a bet on my 26-year-old son suddenly getting married, inviting me to his wedding, and producing a cherub for me to dote upon. I already have a granddaughter, from my 36-year-old daughter, from whom I am estranged, so there's no doting, except for once or twice a year, when we send each other cards and gifts. She's her own person, and I am mine, and I regret missing out on my grand-daughter's life, both physically and mentally, and I guess if she wants to contact me and establish a relationship with me when she's older, she will. I'm just the Nana who sends a card and a gift here and there, tho' I was there when she was born, and have visited her since, if not very often, being 1,200 miles away.

You have to life your own life. You can't live your mother's life. You're not a paper doll that she dresses up, you are a live human being, and you deserve to live your own life and be happy. Take it from me, a Mother of two grown children who are living their lives as they see fit, and that's how it should be. You can be kind to your Mother, but you don't have too put up with her bullshit. My son told me straight and I'm telling you straight: Go Forth and Life Your Life and Never Feel Guilty For Setting Boundaries with Your Mother. My old therapist used to call it doorknob communication: as soon as the Person starts talking about it, leave the room, and shut the door behind you. They will soon get the message and act accordingly.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:23 PM on August 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

You are not being abusive. You have the right to set boundaries! She is gaslighting you by making you think you might be abusing her, and that's what's abusive. I'm so sorry this is happening to you.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:44 PM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since everyone else has made the point that you're not being abusive or manipulative, your mother is - let's look at how to tell the difference between drawing boundaries and being abusive.

Am I the aggressor here or my mom?
Clearly, your mom is here, because she wants something out of you that you are not ready to give. (Children, mainly.) You are not asking anything from her.

How do I know if I'm merely drawing boundaries or being abusive by witholding something?
Your mom wants something from you. You are saying stop, I don't want to talk about it. I can see where you're confused because in another situation, witholding something that the other person wants can seem abusive e.g. in a relationship where a party witholds affection from the other as a punishment or means of getting something that they want from the other party. But here you don't want anything other than for your mom to please stop asking about children, which is something that she wants out of you.

Am I being a hypocrite for wanting a close relationship with my mom but not wanting to talk about this stuff?
What does a healthy, close relationship look like between mother and daughter?
Mom: "Daughter, you know I really love kids and would be over the moon to have grandchildren."
Daughter: "I know Mom, but I don't really want to talk about this."
Mom: "I know. It's hard for me but I love you and want you to be happy. Just please talk to me if you ever want to consider it?"
Daughter: "Aww mom, thanks, I love you <3"
And then it is never spoken of again until Daughter wants to.
Sure, in a close relationship people can talk about this stuff, but in a close relationship people also respect the decisions of the other because they want them to be happy. It's not being hypocritical to expect that.
posted by satoshi at 6:48 PM on August 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

I love my mom and we have a very close relationship, but there are certain things that I find frustrating to discuss with her (particularly career stuff) because she just piles on extra pressure and isn't helpful. I draw lines and tell her all the time, "I don't want to talk about that" or "please don't ask me about that" and she respects that it stresses me out and backs off. Unless there is more going on than what's in your question, your boundary-setting doesn't remotely veer into being "abusive" or "cruel."
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:51 PM on August 14, 2019

You are not abusive. And I too want to give you an example of a healthier version of this. If I say, "Mom, I don't want to talk about this!" or even "I don't want to talk about this with you!" 99% of the time she says "Okay" and drops it and we move on to something else. Sometimes I can totally hear her thinking the unspoken addendum "... but you are being wrong and it is going to rebound on you in bad ways" but she doesn't say it out loud because I am an adult and I am allowed to make my own bad or unhealthy decisions. Occasionally she will say, "That's fine, I just want to make sure you know I'm here for you if you need help with this."

The 1% of the time it's something she actually NEEDS to discuss with me that I would like to avoid discussing and I say "Mom, I don't want to talk about this!" she doesn't berate me; she says something like, "I understand that, but this is a conversation we need to have for $Reason. We don't need to have it right now, but we need to sit down and talk about it, before $Deadline (if it's time-sensitive)." And the only version of that that jumps to mind is when she wanted to go over funeral planning during Christmas dinner because she and my dad had just revised their wills so it was on her mind, and she was being kind-of maudlin about the whole thing and it was very distressing! So we had the conversation a couple days later in a calmer moment when I had had the chance to mentally prepare for it, and it was FINE.

"all she wants is us to have a close relationship and normal families can talk about this stuff, such as why am I not pregnant yet, not having grandchildren is ruining her life."

I have a REALLY close relationship with my mom, and neither of those are topics she would have EVER brought up. EVER. Even though I know she wondered a little while we waited so long before having kids, and even though I know she was looking forward to being a grandmother, she never thought it was her place to comment on my reproductive decisions, because I am an autonomous adult and that's between me and my spouse, unless I asked for her support or advice because I was struggling with something. And even when I DO ask for her support or advice, she's really careful to give it in a way that respects my choices and she's really careful in talking about her own experiences, when I ask, so she doesn't inadvertently suggest I should do things the way she did, because she knows as my mom her words carry extra weight with me. Being a mom who's close with her kids takes a delicate touch! Parenting grown-ass adults is really really different than parenting small children! My mom is always trying to give me a sturdy couch of love and support, but featherlight advice or intrusion(/curiosity/prying). Your mom has you sitting on the floor and is coming at you with a sledgehammer. That's not how you build closeness with your adult children!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:49 PM on August 14, 2019 [16 favorites]

Oh man oh man oh man. Agreed with the vast majority of commenters here that you are not remotely in the wrong here, and I'll add something I picked up in the past decade of counseling to undo the bad patterns I learned from my own mother: you wouldn't put up with such rude and unkind behavior from a stranger or a friend, right? So why put up with it from one of the few people who should be loving and supportive of your entirely reasonable adult choices?
posted by Vervain at 9:23 PM on August 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

I can see her point, having someone say "you can't talk about this with me even though all you want out of this relationship is to have conversations like this" is crushing.

The point you're missing there, though, is that it isn't you who is doing the crushing; it's her own failure to manage her expectations around her relationship with you.

If what I want from any other person is X, and that person has made it perfectly clear that X is not something that they are able or willing or both to give me, and there is no generally recognized social obligation for any person to provide X to any other on request, then it's on me to find somebody else to get my X from.

It's not on them to give me X purely because I want or even desperately need it, and this remains true regardless of what kind of relationship we have or have had. This is the bedrock principle underlying basic personal freedom and autonomy, and it's what makes boundaries a thing.

Substituting "a million dollars" for X makes this general principle pretty easy to grasp.

There is no generally recognized social obligation to participate, on request, in conversation that causes emotional pain.

There is a generally recognized social obligation to provide privacy on request.
posted by flabdablet at 9:50 PM on August 14, 2019 [9 favorites]

When I read that question I immediately thought of the ring theory of kvetching.

This is not a perfect analogy of course but I think maybe a reason you are questioning yourself here is that you have empathy for your mom who might legitimately need to process and grieve her dreams of becoming a grandmother

And this need of hers is real, and the pain of feeling pushed away is also real


She can and should process these feelings with someone else than you. Because these conversations are hurting you and also because she does not have the skills to handle these conversations without attacking you even if you tried to have one.

So I think you might be questioning yourself because you are an empathetic human being who can sorta put yourself in her place while she cannot put herself in yours.

If you want to be firm and gentle at the same time I would explain to her (once)

Mom, I understand why you want to have these conversations. I really do. But these conversations are hurting me and not bringing us closer. I want to hear about your life and your feelings on things that happen in your life but not this. If you need to vent about this maybe you can talk to someone? A clergy person / counselor?
posted by M. at 10:01 PM on August 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Another voice to say you're not abusive, this is DARVO, etc.

As some of the other commenters have noted, when I had to set boundaries with my mother I had to physically enforce the boundary. I could not verbally state the boundary and then have her abide by it, she would just steamroller it. The behaviour in her case was constantly complaining to me about my other parent. I could ask her to stop until the cows came home; she wouldn't. The only thing that worked was consistently leaving the room or hanging up the phone when she did it.
posted by terretu at 5:11 AM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

She thinks you have BPD? Okay well, let me introduce you to r/raisedbynarcissists, which I think you may find enlightening.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:02 AM on August 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

Captain Awkward is the Queen of helping people establish boundaries. She has answered many many questions about situations such as yours, OP. In response to a somewhat similar situation, she wrote:

If you wanted to, you could write her a letter: “Hey Mom, I’m hearing you on your wish to be closer, and I want you to know that sometimes I too look at TV shows where moms and daughters are close or look at my friends who are close to their moms and it feels like everyone is speaking an alien language. I know what it looks like when I see it, but I don’t know how to get there, and I don’t know how to get there with you. It makes me feel really sad and lonely when I think about it, and I too wish we could figure this out someday.

However, so far all of your suggestions for how we could be closer so far are either outright criticisms of me or involve me changing something about my behavior or my boundaries, and that makes me feel both angry and very nervous. Like, I’d be curious to know why you think we’re not close, and what you think your contribution was to the distance between us, and what do you think you could do to bring us closer together?

In some ways your situation reminds me of when I broke up with a man and his response was, "But what about my feelings? I don't want to break up." But that is not how life works. Both parties have to agree for the relationship to work well. As a former therapist once pointed out, any relationship has to work for both parties and if it doesn't, then the relationship isn't working even if the other person hasn't noticed that.

We argued about this for over an hour last night, her telling me she loves me but I’m terrible in many different ways, me saying that I love her, care about her, and still need her to respect what I need even when it’s different from what she needs.

Yeah, no. The arguments are over. I trained my elderly, dry-drunk dad to stop talking trash about my younger sisters to me. I also put a stop to making any calls for him involving buying, selling, or returning any vehicles and no longer give him rides to places so he can yell at professionals who have disappointed him in some way. I am proud of this because this guy basically bullied me, my sisters, and two of his three wives our entire lives until I found Al-Anon, which taught me that boundaries are, like, a thing.

I see the guy exactly twice a year but I was able to train him by 1. Stating my boundaries clearly, as the issue came up. 2. Reminding him if he persisted. 3. Leaving the room or the house and going for a walk, hitting up the library, getting coffee, whatever until I was calmer. When I returned, he had nearly always moved on to a different topic. If not, it was time for another break!

People most frequently respond to behavior rather than words. You are having these arguments with your mom because you want her to understand that you love her but instead, she is just enjoying an opportunity to emotionally upchuck all over you. It is not your responsibility to manage her feels however much she wants to hand you that icky job. That is her job, and if she wants to enjoy your company, make your company dependent on her good behavior. Go poke around on the Captain Awkward website for more morale-boosting advice.

Also, giving your mom what she says she wants is actually a disservice to her as well as to yourself. Loving, kind, and thoughtful humans do not treat their loved ones the way she is treating you. Maybe she doesn't realize she is being an asshole, but that does not give her a free pass to continue being verbally abusive. Please don't put up with it. If she wants a decent relationship with you then she can damn well grow up–at least in your presence.

My visits to my dad are a thousand times more pleasant now that he knows what the boundaries are. If he slips, I leave. And because of those boundaries, which actually protect both of us, I can tolerate being in regular contact with my dad while my two siblings refuse to see or talk to him.

If your mother truly wants to have a closer relationship with you, then she can prove it by respecting your boundaries. OP, no kidding, you are not the abuser here. Keep fighting for your boundaries. Don't be surprised when your mom puts up a ferocious fight initially. She will be dismayed but convinced that she can wear you down. But don't let her. Stay strong and most likely she will come around.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:11 AM on August 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

You are not being abusive, and frankly this behavior by your mother seems to me to be waiving her right to have any kind of conversation with you at all.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:03 AM on August 15, 2019

This reads like the early stages of how a person ends up as an estranged parent. I recommend reading the work of issendai on estranged parents. She has a ton of articles, but here is one on estranged parents and boundaries.

Telling someone their reasonable boundary is abusive and that they have mental illness is abuse itself.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:39 AM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

why am I not pregnant yet, not having grandchildren is ruining her life.

So - there is a thing that happened about a generation or so back, where women were expected to sacrifice their entire life, forever, for their children, and the “reward” at the long, miserable end of it, was grandchildren, who they could love uncomplicatedly and spoil and feel they had at last accomplished something with their misery.

This has - unfortunately for them - coincided, generationally, with their children’s generation having less children for a variety of reasons. So many of them have suffered misery - stayed in abusive relationships with terrible men, sacrificed every one of their dreams - and now they’re probably not going to get the payoff at the end. All their misery will have been for nothing.

That’s a lot to come to terms with. I see a lot of women in late-life crisis mode about this.

And the truly tragic thing is - one of the things these women often sacrificed on the altar of “getting to grand babies” while being in these abusive relationships with men is the friends who could have helped mitigated these crises, as the abusive men made their lives smaller and smaller and smaller.

So - your mom is inappropriately processing her real and true feelings with you, the person she is probably closest to, (and wants to be closer) but also the person she should in no way be venting to. She’s not a terrible person, she’s just...damaged. Deeply damaged, and that harm is splashing on you.

You are not wrong to want to set boundaries about it. You are right - boundaries need to be set. But sometimes, boundaries need to be set even when the feelings of the other person are totally understandable. You need to focus on your own mental health, not your mom’s.
posted by corb at 7:46 AM on August 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

not having grandchildren is ruining her life

Allow me to pile on... If I had a nickel for every time my narcissist mother said her children had ruined her life....

This is abusive. Doesn't matter what the child has done, or even how old the child is, this is abuse.

Looks to me like you're on the right track. Set your boundaries, and stick to them. With my own mother, I've learned that the only response to that particular comment is no response. Not an "I love you, mom, but I'm hanging up now." No, this is a situation where I say nothing and hang up.

Other hurtful comments may call for re-stating boundaries. Ruined her life? Tell her once that you will not tolerate it. After that, if she says it again, just hang up. This is not mean, cruel, or whatever she's gonna say it is. This is self protection.
posted by MuChao at 8:01 AM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

The advice here is good; maybe a specific example on the grandchild issue might be helpful? My mother was handmade by God to be a grandmother, and God also knows she's had to put up with enough awfulness in her life that she deserves grandkids. But none of her kids have had kids of their own (though she does have one step-grandchild). I know what she wants; she doesn't even have to tell me. But that's just it--she doesn't tell me. She knows I don't want kids and what she wants more than anything for me is for me to live my life in a way that (within moral limits) makes me happy. Because she knows it's my life. She doesn't even, like, hint or sigh passive-aggressively about it. That's what a healthy boundary on this issue looks like.
posted by praemunire at 8:28 AM on August 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

She is projecting onto you. She thinks you think she's abusive & that's why you're setting boundaries so she's throwing the term onto you first.

Hold firm & stay calm in the face of the attacks. She's trying to get you to "fight" back so she can cross the boundary. Don't engage. No hour long "discussions" she's getting what she wants if you do that. Just a I'd rather not talk about it, then disengage & walk away if possible.
posted by wwax at 8:54 AM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. Having this chorus of support means more then I can express, I've been so sad and scared and confused. Reading what everyone has to say is like being caught as I'm falling. I keep coming into this thread, reading a few responses, and then crying with relief. I've read every word now, and I think I will again and again as I move forward.
posted by lepus at 10:05 AM on August 15, 2019 [36 favorites]

n+1 all the above. Think about checking out a Codependents' Anonymous group in your area if there is one. They are all about healthy boundaries and supporting one another in maintaining them.
posted by cross_impact at 10:48 AM on August 15, 2019

Echoing: not abusive.

In fact ... the doubts you've expressed and the way in which you frame them sound to me like you are many, many feet deep into gaslighting - ie, you truly believe that the (very wrong, and indeed abusive-sounding) things she is telling you are correct, and you can't see or think your way out of it. This could come from a few sources (narcissist Mom whose needs eclipse anything else, or codependence). Please, please seek counseling to firm up your own beliefs and boundaries.
posted by Dashy at 11:24 AM on August 15, 2019

"I can see her point, having someone say 'you can't talk about this with me even though all you want out of this relationship is to have conversations like this' is crushing."

If all she wants out of the relationship is to get you to say, "Okay, Mom, I will have a baby!" and then have a baby, then it sounds like rather than a relationship with another grown person, she wants one with a minor child who is in her care? Failing that, I don't know what, a fish tank? A moss garden? A dog? To become a dungeonmaster?

I mean, I can see her point, too: I wish I could control the people in my life, too. It would be awesome if I could convince my addicted friends to stop being addicted, my friend who's obsessed with an asshole who is mean to her to stop being obsessed with him, my boyfriend who likes to drag me to Marvel movies to instead like to be dragged to outfit movies (which he wrongly calls furniture movies), my mother to let me hire somebody to clean out her house before it burns down or she falls and breaks a hip, and on and on and on. I don't get crushed by my friends' and family's disinclination to talk endlessly with me about their failure to do what I would rather they do, though, because I have no history of being able to control their choices. It's very fortunate I never had any kids. If I had, I might be exactly like your mother and assume that just because for years I made all the decisions for them, that would be my role in their lives forevermore. Your mother had best figure out how not to be crushed. Sadly, you can't learn it for her. Until she does learn it, I agree with everybody above who said the kindest thing for you to do is to gently but firmly disengage: the sooner she figures this out the sooner she can begin learning how to make herself happy instead of thinking her happiness is someone else's responsibility. Continuing to act as her sounding board while she endlessly argues for what will never happen only prolongs her struggle and her pain.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:15 PM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

My adult kid very often says "I don't want to talk about that, Mom," and I say, "Okay" and keep my opinions to myself. The fact that the things they don't want to talk about are things that I tend to obsess about makes it a tetch difficult for me, but I keep my bitching to myself because that's the right thing to do. They did tell me about some pretty important news, but asked me not to tell my husband, their father, for a little while, and I didn't tell.

That doesn't mean I don't sometimes forget, but they just repeat, "I don't want to talk about that, Mom," and I shut up.

That's what the conversations should be like. You don't owe your mother anything.
posted by Peach at 3:46 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

If it were me, and my mother told me I was ruining her life, I'd probably say, "Yup, that's the plan," and let her stew in it... But I can be kind of heartless sometimes...
posted by AJaffe at 10:43 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

To people who have been abused, healthy boundaries can feel like abuse. Your mom is likely accustomed to a codependent relationship dynamic (a vestige of being in relationship with your abusive father), and you setting a boundary means you are cutting her off from that dynamic. She likely does not know how to experience intimacy with the people she loves unless they NEED her. You are demonstrating you don't need her, and that is so healthy! But it feels terrible to her. (Honestly, it's a miracle you even know how to set boundaries this well if this is the environment you grew up in. You should give yourself a lot of credit!)

Side note: your mom probably needs a lot of therapy and could benefit from reading Codependent No More. I don't know if she's able to hear that, considering your recent tift, but it might be something to bring up later. This is so tough. Good luck.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:06 PM on August 16, 2019

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