I Don't Know How to Handle My Complicated Mother

I'm scared of my mother

Posted Oct 11, 2016

Hi Dr. G.,
My mum and I have a somewhat complex relationship. My father died when I
was 10, and I admit quite freely that I wasn't the best daughter I could have been
— I shaved my legs on my own, had various crushes (no  boyfriends though), wrote
bad stuff about mum in my diary, watched a bit of porn, and I'm very ashamed to say I even stole money from her wallet, once or twice, to spend on food outside. She
always disciplined me swiftly and very harshly (regular beatings, yelling,
suicide threats, etc.) and before I knew how to cope with all of this I tried
to kill myself, but then I finally realized what was wrong, that she was
controlling and there's not much I can really do now.

My problem is that, even though I knew I was a bad child when I was younger,
I realized my mistakes and am now trying to correct myself and be the best
that I can be. I have good grades, my teachers in college like me. I don't
stay out late, I don't keep any secrets from my mum and I always plan my day
and my friends and everything by her. I made the mistake of smoking exactly seven
times and my mum saw me once. She confronted me and I apologized profusely. I
haven't done anything of that sort since then either. But even beyond all the
progress I've made in life and all the attempts I'm making to make up for
being the bad child I was when I was young, my mum is still deathly
suspicious of me. She is always doubting me and my whereabouts, she
periodically accuses me of using drugs and smoking even though I don't do any of
those things. She constantly implies that since I was such a bad child when I
was little, she is merely tolerating me now, and I am completely beholden to
her. She always has a threat lingering that if I do anything against her
wishes, she will lock me up at  home and make me cut contact with my boyfriend.
I'm sick of this. I have very little freedom as compared to other college
kids, and I don't complain about that either. I just want her to respect and
trust me.

I don't want to cut contact with her since I love her very much, and I want
her to trust me and love me as well. I have a boyfriend who is very loving
and once our careers are settled we hope to be married. I wish to do all of
this with my mum's blessing and consent. How do I balance the two without
angering her or alienating her? She is capable of some serious violence and
damage if enraged.

A Very Distressed Daughter,

Dear Daughter,

Thank you so much for reaching out to me. You have struggled with a very difficult set of circumstances including the early loss of your father and living with a very unstable and abusive mother. It is not the norm nor is it acceptable for a mother to beat a child and make suicidal threats in response to any behavior, including defiant or rule-breaking behavior.

You are no longer a child and should be judged by your current behavior not your behavior from the past. Your mother's accusations and suspiciousness seem not only unwarranted but also very damaging to you and your relationship with her. I am very concerned about your mother's controlling and aggressive behavior. It is a tragedy that you have to be afraid of her violence and rage.

I understand that you want your mother's approval but she may not be capable of giving you her blessings and support. I worry that you may be striving for something that is not attainable. It is wonderful that you are in college and getting good grades. It is also impressive that you are in a relationship with a loving partner.

While I do not suggest that you cut off your mother I do suggest that you attempt to get some emotional distance. You are trying, understandably, to get what everyone wants which is a mother's approval. Since this is unlikely to be forthcoming is there any way that you can create some distance between you and your mother? It sounds like you are living at home. Is there any way that you can move into the college dormitories? I am concerned that this intense relationship with your mother will lead you to an episode of depression and self-destructive behaviors.

Is your mother in therapy? Perhaps this can be suggested to her by someone who she trusts. Her mental health and tendency toward violence concern me. Are you in therapy? If not, perhaps you can seek out support at your college counseling center. I would like you to feel good about yourself without the validation of your mother. Also, do you have a safe space to go to if she becomes violent? I know that becoming more emotionally independent from your mother is a lot to ask but this will, I am sure, contribute to better self-esteem and to you feeling better overall.

I know that this is not easy but I am rooting for you. Please get back to me with your thoughts and progress.

Dr. G.

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