Dear Dr. Darcy:
Mother’s Day should be a celebratory day, right? Mine is historically (and annually) riddled with stress, criticisms and tension. My mother has no self awareness and is very provocative, to the point where I’m trying to just get through the visit without there being an explosion. Have I mentioned that I’m in my late 20’s? I just find that I’m so angry with her and that every word out of her mouth makes me want to alternately strangle her or cut her out of my life. Is there any hope for a grown adult trying to make peace with her mother?
Yes, there’s hope, but not if you’re fantasizing that your mother’s suddenly (or ever) going to become self-aware and change her behavior. You say you want to make peace with her? Forgiveness is the cure for anger and there are absolutely no shortcuts.
You are angry because humans have a reflexive propensity for retaliating when we are hurt. You’ve decided that you want a relationship with your mother. Consequently, your evolutionary inclination to overtly hurt her or to cut her off is replaced by the compromise of resentment, which is keeping a wall between you and which is giving you the illusion of feeling safe. But resentment is not keeping you safe. It’s acid inside of you that only you can rid yourself of.
Stop looking for your mother to participate in the solution. Forgiveness is something you do independently of her. It’s the ultimate action of independence and control. Your mother does not have to apologize or repent in order for you to forgive. She does not even need to know that you’re embarking on this journey. But you must voluntarily forego your right to resentment and cultivate some compassion for her. And although she has no right to your compassion, it is that compassion that will set you free. So how do you do it?
You have to do 2 things: First, you need to work through the past and forgive her for what she has done. You can do that by embarking on a forgiveness journey. Consider buying a book to take you through the process. I personally have used a book called Forgiveness Is A Choice (linked to here) and I can’t say enough about how helpful and effective it has been in my own process of forgiveness. The second thing you need to do is change your beliefs.
All of your emotions stem from your beliefs, which is to say, the meaning that you attach to the things your mother says and the behaviors she engages in. Let’s say, for example, that your mother is critical of your clothing. The reason why this sets you off is because you believe that you have an inherent right to look the way you want and that she’s violating your rights and intentionally picking a fight with you whenever she criticizes your appearance. Although you might be right, you need to choose a different belief about her criticizing you, otherwise you will have the same emotional response to her. Sure, re-read this. I’m sure it seems as though I’ve lost my mind. I’m telling you that sometimes in life, you have to choose between two mutually-exclusive options: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Choose a belief that makes you feel more peaceful. Maybe you want to decide that she’s just dumb and deserving of your empathy. Maybe you decide that it’s not coming from a mean-spirited place, rather, a chronically ignorant one. The point is, choose a belief that will promote your goal: Peace. Change the meaning that you attach to what she says and what she does and you will change how you feel about your mother. Go ahead, take a chance and forgive your mother. Nothing else has worked, right?
Writer’s Stats: Female, Bi.