How do I get rid of my deepseated anger for my mother?
March 18, 2006 6:37 AM   Subscribe

So I'm still angry at my mother for some things she did during my childhood. I don't want to be anymore. What do I do?

My parents went through a rough time in their relationship when I was ~14, and my mother basically asked me at one point to choose between my happiness (no divorce) or her happiness (divorce). I chose no divorce.

Fast forward nearly 10 years later. I'm a bit more grown up, things have gotten much better between the two of them (Fortunately, they did and do love eachother very much). In my head, I've forgiven her, and understand that she was in a terrible spot in her life and made some mistakes.

However, some part of me is still extremely angry with her. I'm a pretty stable, laid back person, but I can see myself flaring up at her without justification. She's controlling, but not maliciously so, and she's just trying to be my mom, and yet I get angry with her almost every time I see her.

So. Where do I go from here? Do I need private counseling? Do I need to bring both of us to a counselor? How do I bring this up to her? How do I bring this up to her without letting my father know? (He got angry enough at her for the stuff he heard her say to me when I was young. I'd rather not do anything that would set him in any way against her, particularly at a time when her own guilt will probably be difficult enough for her)

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Judging by the "nearly 10 years later" in your post, I'm assuming you're in your mid-twenties. I started therapy when I was your age to deal with some similar issues concerning my own relationship to my parents (I'm 29 now), and it helped immensely.

No two outcomes will be the same, so I'm not going to provide you with any advice on handling your specific situation, but if you feel like you don't have the emotional "tools" to get around this on your own, then therapy can be a great resource. (Metafilter abounds with thoughts on finding the "right" therapist.

A good therapist will help you answer many of the questions you ask above concerning how to handle your own specific situation; who to involve; levels of disclosure; all that stuff. I could provide opinions of my own, of course, but that seems less useful than getting you on a path that empowers you to make those decisions for yourself.

My only piece of direct advice would be to be patient with yourself. These things can take some time to unravel, and even if our emotions want answers yesterday, you have to be kind to yourself in the meantime. Good luck.
posted by mykescipark at 7:22 AM on March 18, 2006

Wait six more years. Sounds flippant, but you're now 24, which is exactly like 14 in terms of life-stages. You're still separating yourself as a person and individual from your mother and learning how to be an adult, this time (presumably) out of the home instead of in it. Yes, you could get counselling and talk it out, but chances are, it's an anger you'll grow out of as you become a more and more autonomous

So if you really feel a need to hash it and rehash it, get a counsellor of your own and leave your parents out of it. Leave them out of it completely, because the desire to drag your mom back into it is just a desire to keep the cycle going. You can't bring it up without letting your father know, anymore than your mother could say hurtful things to you and not let your father know. All that is, is a way to ask him to pick sides while feeling morally superior because you were trying to "protect" him.

You can repeat your childhood by throwing your mother's failures in her face (thus making her choose between her own happiness- not dealing with this, or yours- allowing herself to be punished for past errors,) or you can make your own adulthood. At 34, you will still be occasionally mad about hateful, hurtful stuff your mother said because she's your mom and you're human, but most days it'll be the furthest thing from your mind.
posted by headspace at 7:23 AM on March 18, 2006

You need private counseling. If you were still under 18, you would need joint counseling but the problem is solely yours until you can talk to your mother about your anger without being angry at her.

After some (likely years) of counseling, all will become clear and you will wonder why you even asked this question. Scratch that: you will be glad you asked the right question to set you down a path of inner peace. (Sorry to sound like I'm chanelling something; I've seen the same situation and know that it is a long row to hoe but the enlightenment is real.)
posted by Dick Paris at 7:24 AM on March 18, 2006

First off, I think you have every right to be angry. Your mother asked you to pick either your happiness or her happiness. Thats a big burden for a 14 year old. You responded as I would have.

I can't know the root of your anger, but I don't think it comes from this one incident, although it may be that this is the one that you remember the most. I would say that what you may be experiencing is the compilation of a host of issues, small in themselves, but cumulative.

During the maturing process that each of us goes through, we become more comfortable with ourselves. You are comfortable with yourself away from your mom and dad. When your mother comes into your life, you have that host of memories that come flooding back - and you're that little boy again.

Do you need therapy or counselling? Not for me to say. You seem pretty normal (from a 15 line message) but the fact that you are aware of these feelings tells me that you are at least sensitive to this issue.

I would start by talking to your mom as adult to adult - without emotion, but by asking probing questions in a quiet and sensitve way - maybe over coffee? It may take a lot of work but it will help you to see that the issues are not cut and dried as you remember. As young people, you tend to see things in a B&W world. Us old(er) people begin to see the world in shades of grey.

Understand three things:
1) you can't change your mom. Love or hate her, she still is your mom. Despite her mistakes and misgivings she stuck with your dad to keep your family together. Rightly or wrongly I can't say.
2) You can only control your response to when she "yanks your chain". You are an adult, in full control of your emotions and life. Take charge of your emotions. Sometimes this means to swallow that retort. Consider this good training for when you get married and have kids.
3) There are no instructions for raising kids. Each of us parents our children to the best of our limited ways within the context of our societal and emotional framework.

I still have some anger to my parents as well. These little rules of thumb help keep me together at those family events.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 7:41 AM on March 18, 2006

"Do I need private counseling?"

If you haven't done this already, get a bottle of good booze and a trusted friend together some Friday night.
posted by mischief at 7:57 AM on March 18, 2006

IMHO, a little counseling would be a good thing. Just go yourself. You have every right to harbor resentment. As FTG said, she should never have asked a 14 year old to make such a choice.
posted by bim at 8:03 AM on March 18, 2006

IMHO, a little counseling would be a good thing. Just go yourself.


You have every right to harbor resentment.

anon has the right to do that, but it's not healthy ... it would be better if it was let go
posted by pyramid termite at 8:17 AM on March 18, 2006

I hate my brother but I got sick of actively hating him every day and being filled with anger about it. I came up with a little exercise, everytime I remember one of the awful things he did when we were kids, I make myself recall one good thing about him. It's really helped my outlook on life. Maybe it would do good for you to remember nice things she said. This is not to minimize your feelings or to say that she doesn't deserve your anger...but what good is being mad at her doing you?
posted by nadawi at 8:40 AM on March 18, 2006

What your mother did is inexcusable, and you have every right to be angry.

Do you need counseling? No. Would it be a nice adjunct to your dealing with this? Almost certainly.

There's no need to involve either parent in the counseling process, it would just confuse things. The fact of the matter is that you're wounded, and you need to heal. How you became wounded is a secondary concern.
posted by tkolar at 9:17 AM on March 18, 2006

I also recommend therapy, especially as it sounds like you already have some degree of insight about the problem, which will make therapy a bit easier.

You don't specify your gender, but if you're a woman, you may also want to check out Dance of Anger. A lot of it is about the anger that can arise when dealing with a partner, but there's a long chapter about women dealing with their mothers. (The first customer review on that page is actually a pretty good summation of the book.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:24 AM on March 18, 2006

This is an opportunity for you to grow closer to your mother. It's a unique chance to replace the old bad memories with new good memories. Going to private counseling, especially if it doesn't involve your mother, would be a big waste.

If you can't speak to your mother without being angry at her then write her a letter. In the letter you don't have to forgive her, or convict her, or bring about world peace. The letter is just a chance for you to tell her, once and for all, how you feel about the events of the past. That's it. Don't try to think past the letter, or imagine what it will accomplish; the letter is an end in itself.

Also, you might ask her to write a letter in response which explains how she feels about the past. This is a big risk. You might not be ready for it. But you won't be able to forgive her (if, in fact, you want to forgive her) until you understand things from her perspective. At the end of your letter you might ask her to write a letter back that tries to explain her feelings about the past.

You might never let go of the anger. This is okay. Anger is a part of life. Your goal instead should be to use the anger, to control it, to make terms with it. When you see your mother you shouldn't feel anger towards her, but rather towards her actions. All you have to do is separate these two things in your head. Push away the latter, her actions, until they're forgotten, and bring the former, your mother, closer, as close as you can.
posted by nixerman at 9:44 AM on March 18, 2006

I would be careful with letters if you're still actively angry at her. I wrote one like that to my mother, and it's a huge regret in my life. It didn't solve anything, it didn't make me feel better past the first few minutes of "There!", and it certainly didn't change the relationship for the better.

I wouldn't do something like that without first seeing a counselor and getting to a more insightful place, frankly.
posted by occhiblu at 10:07 AM on March 18, 2006

(On the other hand, writing such a letter and *not* sending it might help a great deal.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:07 AM on March 18, 2006

I think you have every right to be pissed-off and resentful (and should certainly find a therapist to talk to), but in terms of finding a way to think about things in a different light, you might focus on the fact that you did apparently make the right choice.

That doesn't excuse the fact that she forced you to make a totally unfair choice, but it does raise the possibility that maybe--maybe--she was asking you to tell her what she already knew. (Or even just asking you if you saw any hope in their relationship.)
posted by LairBob at 10:12 AM on March 18, 2006

People do all sorts of things, and there's usually a reason. Maybe sometime you could talk to her about what she was going through at the time; there may be more than you knew. Understanding might help. What really helped me deal with my family stuff was 1. time, 2. understanding of circumstances, 3. talking to a good therapist and my siblings, 4. Forgiveness.

We're all so imperfect. Forgive her for her imperfections. She's still your Mom, and you have many years left in the relationship. Work hard at making it into the relationship you want now.
posted by theora55 at 10:27 AM on March 18, 2006

You know, I never really understood (or was able to forgive) my mother for some of the ugly crap from my childhood until I had my own child. It sounds like you don't have any children yet (?), so it may be difficult at this stage of your life to get into your mother's head without some outside, impartial, kind and gentle help. (Not to say that understanding why your mother might have said the things she said makes them any less hateful, but it helps with the forgiveness part.)

Get thee to a therapist. Counseling doesn't have to be some long-term headshrinking process. Just find a professional that you feel comfortable talking to casually, and go a few times. If it helps illuminate things enough that you can be on the road to forgiving your mom, great. If not, well, you tried, and you can try again some time in the future.

Good luck! Life's too short and all that...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:33 AM on March 18, 2006

Wow, could you possibly have gotten more conflicting advice from the community?! This just goes to show that family dynamics are all somewhat different, and the personalities in the family will determine the outcome of any action or inaction.

You appear to be self-aware, and in general a therapist should be able to take that and steer your thought in directions that will (hopefully) alleviate some of your strife.

Before you go, ask yourself what you're hoping to get out of the experience. Are you trying to modify your own perceptions, and behaviors within the family dynamic? Are you trying to modify your reactions when anyone pushes your buttons? Are you trying to improve the relationship with your mom? Do you just want to get your frustrations out? How much of this work is focused on yourself? Do any of your objectives absolutely require participation from other people?

Remember that when you invite someone to joint therapy, you're asking them to dig deep into themselves and really bear themselves and their vulnerabilities. The therapy isn't just about you and your problems at that point, it's about her and hers too. Some of which may require change from you.

Ask yourself whether or not your mom is introspective like you, and/or is interested in working on your relationship. Has she been to therapy before, and does she see the experience as successful? How does she view therapy in general? How does she think about her relationships with others in general?

If you know your mom feels the same tension and wants to be closer to you, then perhaps talking to her about the problems might be a fruitful exercise. This doesn't have to be under the supervision of a therapist, and in fact I would suggest starting without one and figuring out together whether or not you want to ask for external help. If you can agree on goals and work together, you can grow closer. If not, it can be hurtful and distructive.

If she's the kind of person who might think to herself "wow, my kid is impatient with me, but clearly I've always acted with their interests in mind, so it must be her/his problem" or "therapy is inherently about blaming someone's mother for their problems" then she's probably not going to try to meet you halfway and you're on your own.

Be aware that counselors may steer your introspection in ways that seem to have more catastrophic implications (at the time) than the original issue you came in to resolve. There's literally always something about you to "work on" if you want to. Luckily you've got your whole life to keep at it. Good luck!
posted by nadise at 10:51 AM on March 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could really and truly accept that she did the best she could. Parents (like us) are human and make mistakes. And she stayed married for you.

While this might all sound very harsh of me to be so uncompassionate, my mother and I lived alone together through her menopause and my puberty (horrors!), and she spent it doing charming things like telling me how my father raped her on her wedding night, spent most of their marriage drunk and left her with two eggs to feed 3 children etc ad infinitum so I know what it's like to hate your mother for doing unparent things.

It sounds to me like she (your mother) did the best she could with what she had and her intentions were good. Practise compassion.
posted by b33j at 3:26 PM on March 18, 2006

Consider the book Get out of your mind and into Your Life by Steven Hayes. It can be used as an adjunct to one-on-one therapy with a professional therapist.
posted by rinkjustice at 3:50 PM on March 18, 2006

First, let me say that I sympathize with you, anon... I'm 36 and I STILL can't spend more than a few hours with my mother without getting angry at her for something she says, either about me or about things in general. I can't say if you need professional counseling about this or not, that's a decision that you should make and not some stranger on an internet forum, but I can tell you one thing, you're not the only one who feels (in my case, "felt." I've gotten a handle on my emotion, I think) a deep resentment towards something your mother did to you a long time ago.

My parents are still together, though they have had their share of rough spots in their marriage (they had an arranged marriage, which is very normal for a Japanese couple their age, and were never really "lovey dovey," so to speak. I know this is probably hard for the majority of people here to understand, but suffice it to say that they have been married for 37 years and maintain a relationship with each other that works for them). Neither she nor my father ever abused me, per se, but as a child I remember I was always afraid to cross her because she would shout at me or threaten to smack me whenever I did anything she didn't like. And the one thing that she did that I still have great difficulty forgiving is the way she used to ALWAYS comment on my appearance, especially about my weight. She still does. And looking back, I see now that I didn't even HAVE a weight problem, not to the point of it having any effect on my health. I just thought I did because of her, and I grappled with major self-confidence issues in my teens and twenties because of this and I really, really resented her for it. Oh, BTW, my brother's relationship with my mother hit a rough spot a few years back too, for different reasons, and I had to mediate between them before it became unsalvageable. So my mother apparently didn't do a perfect job with either of us, but when I was acting as go-between for my brother and mother, I sincerely wanted them to be on speaking terms again, an urge that I thought was kind of ironic because at one point, I totally hated her myself. Families are funny that way, I guess.

It took me a long, long time (and admittedly the birth of my own child, though I'm NOT saying that people should have kids to understand what their parents went through, blah blah... this is just my personal experience) to realize that that my mother, who was only in her twenties when she was raising me and my brother, was just doing the best she could. Now that I'm at this age, with a child of my own, I can step back and think, my mother and I are different people and we just don't get along. There are certain types of people you just can't get along with, and for me my mother is one of them. It's unfortunate, but it's just that: unfortunate, but no big deal. Sure it'd be great if you were really close to your parents and really got along with them and all, but sometimes things don't work out that way. I know it's hard to come to terms with, but give it time. Everybody has a different relationship with his or her mother, and there is no right answer, I think.

Oh, and I went on a 6-day vacation to Vietnam with my mother and son last summer, and while she occasionally rubbed me the wrong way, on the whole we had a great time together, and are talking about doing it again this year. So yes, it's possible to get over that feeling, and to construct a working relationship with your mom, anon. Give it time. Good luck.
posted by misozaki at 6:09 PM on March 18, 2006

I just wanted to add that although your Mom asked you to make this decision for her it's extremely likely she did what she would have done anyway. Don't beat yourself up over any consequences of that decision.
posted by fshgrl at 11:22 PM on March 18, 2006

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