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How do I deal with my difficult hurtful mother?

Mothers can hurt us deeply when we just want to feel loved. We can learn to transcend the hurt through understanding.
Mothers can hurt us deeply when we just want to feel loved. We can learn to transcend the hurt through understanding.

My mother and I have always had a difficult relationship. Recently, she was hospitalised nearby but did not contact me. I felt incredibly hurt. How do I love her and yet protect myself from continual hurt?

You do love her. You might have cut yourself off from your feelings of love to protect yourself, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love her. It just means you are not in touch with these feelings at present. What you are in touch with is your hurt and anger. Obviously you don’t feeling loving when you feel hurt and angry. The hurt and anger is important. It helps protect you from further hurt. It keeps you away and wary. But you want to stop hurting and have a relationship with your mother.

All emotional pain comes from the same cause: the gap between what you want and your actual experience.

What do you want?

  • You want your mother to be kind, considerate, approving and loving towards you.
  • You want a mother-daughter relationship similar to the positive relationships some of your friends enjoy with their mothers.

What have you got?

  • A mother who can be judging, self-centred, vulnerable, spiteful or something like this.

You are hurt because she is not the way you would like her to be. To stop the pain you have to accept the way she really is.

‘But,’ I hear you say, ‘I am not sure I want a relationship with someone like that.’

That is fine. It is your choice. Some mothers are so toxic you don’t want to spend time with them. Still I suggest you read on so you can be at peace with this.

If you don’t want to have to have a relationship with your mother, you don’t have to. Understand, though, that you cannot have a relationship with that magical, dream mother you have got in your head. She doesn’t exist. Only the real one is on offer.

Four basic actions are required:

  • One, look at your mother very closely. Think about the experiences you have shared with her and what you know about her history. Who is she? What drives her? What is she afraid of? What is important to her? Dispassionately, observe her as she really is, the positive and the negative.
  • Two, feel and release any disappointment that surfaces as you do this exercise. The feelings are grief, the grief you feel letting go of your dream mother.
  • Three, learn to be at peace with who she is. This takes time. You will find you come to terms with some aspects of her. Then she’ll surprise you with some unexpected negative behaviour. You’ll feel hurt all over again. Each time this happens, go through the same process of grief and acceptance always moving closer to a more complete picture of your mother.
  • Four, adjust your behaviour so you can deal with your mother while also looking after yourself. Some skill development could be required. For example, if she is one of those people who complains but never changes, you might listen empathetically but not offer solutions.

When you fully understand her, you know what you are dealing with. The hurt is gone. You realise that the way she behaves is about her, not you.

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