Mother and daughter separated by a boundary

In my support group on Facebook we’ve been exploring the importance of boundaries in our relationship with our difficult mother and I’d like to share some of what we discussed with you.

Difficult mothers often see you as an extension of themselves, or as a playing piece in a game. It doesn’t occur to them that you may have your own thoughts and feeling, what matters is you play a part.

Mary for instance has a very critical mother, she can’t do anything right, and nothing is good enough for her mum. For Mary’s mum keeping up appearances is everything, everyone needs to know what a great mum she is, how much she sacrifices and how trying it is to have a daughter like Mary.

Mary has been criticised and belittled so much by her mother that at the age of 32, she often belittles herself, calls herself stupid, fat and an idiot. She is almost pre-empting mum’s cutting remarks and constantly tries to do better.

Mary has learnt that she is never good enough, and that her mum’s love is conditional on her complying with mum’s need to be the best mother ever. Mary has to take on her mother’s belief or risk rejection.

You may question why Mary doesn’t walk away, the truth is rejection is one of the worst and scariest feelings humans can experience. To be ousted from the tribe/family is life threatening. Just because we have evolved and live differently doesn’t mean that fear goes away.

As children we know instinctively that our survival depends on having a parent to depend on to feed and protect us. This is why the human psyche goes to great lengths to maintain damaging and toxic relationships with our parents, even at the expense of our sense of self.

Most people in this situation find it hard to walk away and live in hope that their mum will see how they feel, or acknowledge the pain they have caused. Some are brave enough and have enough support to put in a hard boundary and choose not to see their toxic parent again. For others this is not the right time, or the right choice.

Boundaries may feel daunting, that you will be met with resistance, cause an argument, and where does that leave you? Tired, stressed, worried and hurt. It doesn’t have to be that way.

To begin with it can be enough to register your disagreement you can do this by using a small gesture like raising a finger, or taking a breath. This small step can be hugely significant, as it means you are beginning to see yourself as separate, and that it is ok not to agree with mum.

Take some time for yourself to consider if you believe the same thing as your mother or if your views differ. Can you work out what your beliefs and values are?

Once you’ve done the internal work and want to set boundaries with mum, start small. Think about what you want to say, how you will enforce it and what you will do if she becomes upset or angry.

Let your partner, friends and other trusted family members know so you have support if she does react badly. If you have no one to turn to, join a support group like mine.

Follow through, it may be difficult but it’s the quickest and easiest way. If you cave in the next time you try it may be harder.

If you’d like to dig deeper on how to work with boundaries, why not sign up for my latest webinar. Just click on the image below.

Living With and Without a Difficult Mum
Monday 4th Jan at 7pm GMT