Complications in relationship with mum

Context: I’m a young working adult in the social service sector living with her parents. My mother has always been controlling, growing up. She would scream at me for not wearing the clothes she picked out, even if I felt they were ugly. Then the next moment, she would shower love, saying she loved me and that I was lucky to have such a “wonderful mother”.

She grew up as the youngest of many children with no father (her mother was the second wife), and I know she has an anxious attachment style, as well as abandonment issues. She also never felt loved by my father, but was always critical of him, and at times emotionally abusive.

Growing up, I tried to tell her how her actions made me feel, but she would always explode at the slightest hint that she was in the wrong. She would never apologize or acknowledge the fact that she had a bad temper, instead levelling accusations such as “how many times do I even scream at you in a week?” and “don’t I have the right to get angry?”

It was disconcerting because I could never truly distance myself from her. She would scream at me for something as small as spilling a piece of food on the table, then say “i love you!” as if nothing happened a few moments later. When I raised this up with her, she would say I needed to stop taking things so seriously

She also suffered from mental health issues and I was often her listening ear when she was down, or when she had a bad relationship with my father.

As a result, I always feel like I am walking on eggshells at home. I know she cares for me in her own way, but I always feel a need to have my guard up at home. I can never truly tell her how I am feeling as I always feel like she might explode at any given moment.

I have been able to hold this peace and pretend everything is fine with her, but lately I can’t even bring myself to talk to her without feeling deeply uncomfortable. I feel that I need to filter everything through the question: “Will this make her explode?”.

I wish I could move out, but that is not financially possible at this moment. My father usually goes along and agrees with everything she says because he knows that she must always win every argument, and it is always better to just “go along” with everything she says.

I have tried to set boundaries, but sometimes the thoughts honestly just stew, and even the sound of her voice or her footsteps can raise alarm bells in my head.

How can I deal with this situation?

Hi @anonymous203 :wave:t4:

I’m so sorry to hear about the difficulties you’re facing at home. It must be incredibly challenging to navigate such a complex dynamic with your mother. It’s clear that her behaviour has had a significant impact on your well-being, and I want to acknowledge your strength in reaching out for support and for doing the best you can in spite of the challenging and painful circumstances.

Living in a situation where you feel like you’re walking on eggshells can be incredibly stressful and emotionally draining. It’s understandable that you would feel uncomfortable and hesitant to express your true feelings, given the unpredictable nature of your interactions with your mother. It’s even harder when the person who is hurting you (even though unintentionally) is a love one. Your feelings of fear, confusion, and helplessness are valid. I hear you! :people_hugging:

It sounds to me that perhaps growing up in a volatile family environment you may have picked up a fawn response as a way of coping and surviving in your home. The “fawn” response is a term used in psychology and trauma literature to describe a specific type of coping mechanism or survival strategy in response to stress, conflict, or threat. The term originates from the “4Fs” model of responses to threat, which includes Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn.

The fawn response can be a survival strategy that develops in response to past experiences of feeling unsafe, threatened, or invalidated. While it may help individuals navigate difficult situations or relationships in the short term, it can also lead to difficulties in setting healthy boundaries, asserting one’s own needs, and maintaining authentic connections with others.

Understanding the fawn response can be helpful, as it allows individuals to recognise patterns of behaviour that may be rooted in past trauma or learned coping mechanisms. I would like to strongly encourage you to get professional counselling support so that you can have:

  1. someone safe to explore your feelings and receive validation
  2. someone to brainstorm with you alternative strategies, i.e setting boundaries, assertiveness skills, self-validation techniques
  3. someone to help you regulate your feelings as you enforce the consequences of the boundary not being respected.
  4. Someone to remind you of your strengths and abilities
  5. Someone to journey with you as you experience discomfort

I’d also like to invite you to consider the possibility of giving yourself the permission to be responsible only for your emotions and actions and not taking responsibility for your mother’s emotions and actions. It’s a series of allowing your mom to experience her discomforts without taking responsibility for it, even if she says otherwise. I acknowledge that it is really tough to do in an Asian context and my hope is that with a counsellor’s support you’ll have help at each step of the way.

Here are some possible strategies for you to try:

  • Practice Detachment: Learn to detach yourself emotionally from your mother’s reactions and behaviours. This doesn’t mean ignoring or disregarding her feelings, but rather recognising that you are not responsible for managing or fixing her emotional state.

  • Reflect and Evaluate: Regularly reflect on your progress and evaluate how well you’re maintaining boundaries and taking responsibility for your own emotions. Celebrate small wins and identify areas for further growth and improvement.

  • Practice Self-Compassion: Remind yourself that it’s okay to prioritise your own well-being and emotional health. Practice self-compassion by acknowledging your feelings, validating your experiences, and being kind to yourself during challenging moments.

  • Mindfulness and Distancing Techniques: Practice mindfulness techniques to stay present in the moment and avoid getting caught up in your mother’s emotional reactions. You can also use distancing techniques, such as imagining placing her emotions in a bubble or visualizing yourself observing the situation from a neutral perspective.

  • Cultivate Emotional Independence: Focus on developing emotional independence and resilience by building a strong support network outside of your relationship with your mother. This can include friendships, hobbies, activities, and self-care practices that nurture your well-being and sense of self.

  • Use Assertive Communication: Use assertive communication techniques to express your needs and boundaries clearly and respectfully. This involves using “I” statements to communicate your thoughts and feelings without blaming or accusing. For instance, “I feel overwhelmed when I’m expected to manage your emotions, and I need to focus on taking care of myself.”

  • Set Boundaries: Clearly define and communicate your boundaries with your mother. This includes expressing what you are and are not responsible for in terms of emotions and actions. For example, you can say, “I understand that you may feel upset, but I can only take responsibility for how I express myself, not for how you feel.” There are many different types and levels of boundary setting. Please do this with professional support so that it can be a more comfortable process.

This process may take time and practice, especially in contexts where expectations around familial responsibilities and emotions can be strong. Please be patient with yourself, keep seeking support and allow yourself the time and space to heal at a pace comfortable to you.

I’m sharing some resources here for your consideration:

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I hope the above is helpful for you. Please take good care of yourself, and know that your feelings are valid and deserving of attention and support. Please reach out again if you need more support, we’re here to listen to you. You matter! :grinning:

before anything else, i really wanna give you love and support, being in such an environment is really hard and from what youve shared, it sounds like you have been and are still doing the best you can for yourself and your family. that takes so much strength :people_hugging:
sometimes parents really are also still kids themselves learning and growing, so their issues spill over to their kids…
how i feel like i will approach the situation, is to find moments where you enjoy your relationship with your family and amplify those moments, so to maintain a happy relationship. and for the other moments, hold firm on your boundaries when necessary, knowing you deserve comfort and rest in your home even if it might not be the best for those around you from time to time. it would be best if this can be done kindly, but if not, sometimes it might just have to be difficult ><
the more we hold on to our beliefs of how we can be better and stronger emotionally and mentally, the more possibly the people arnd us can learn and become better to. so maybe by influence, your mother will learn to take better care of herself as well with you living your good life as example.
i know all these are way easier said than done, and there must be so many nuances in your life that makes my comments probably inapplicable. but hopefully it sparks some ideas for how you can deal with the situation?
:muscle: hope it gets better and better for ya!!