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Healing from a painful mother and daughter relationship

painful mother daughter relationship

Amid the endless picture parade of smiling mothers hugging loved-looking daughters on Mother’s Day this year, I sighed and scrolled faster than usual, half not looking and half not caring.

I’ve been working hard to accept everything about my life, and this mother and daughter relationship is one of my life’s bigger challenges. This year’s Mother’s Day was tough because it marked the first year I didn’t talk to my mother. We haven’t spoken since the fall. Our relationship has grown increasingly toxic, and I was spending so much time recovering from our interactions that I needed a break.

 

Healing from a painful mother/daughter relationships. Click through to learn how to heal and move on.

 

Note that I said our relationship was toxic. I used to blame her for everything, but as I’ve developed spiritually, I’ve been able to take a step back and realize how we play off of each other. I’ve watched my reactions in her presence, and I’ve also been able to take a wider view into the things she does that hurt me so much.

Recently, I shared thoughts about this on Instagram and the huge response shocked me. So many people said they experienced similar problems, and I realized that once again, no matter how messed up my life has been, other people have experienced the same things. This is the gift of vulnerability.

This also means that many of us are wandering around with bleeding holes in our hearts, searching for a warm, fuzzy nurturing image of mother that will never come to life. Others of you may feel a similar way about your father, or someone else in your life.

Despite the endless Mother’s Day social media display, having a difficult mother and daughter relationship is not uncommon.

In the past, I’ve written about the mother wound, which results in persistent, nagging feelings that you’re not good enough and don’t deserve good things. And this is not at all to cast blame because let’s remember it’s hurt people who hurt people. These are learned patterns passed down from generation to generation.

Fortunately with the light of awareness, we can heal. (Click here to download a free meditation for emotional healing.)

Here are a few things I’ve learned while healing from a painful mother and daughter relationship.

 

1. Accept your mother (or whomever) as she is.

For so, so, so long, I tried to teach my mother how to heal as I taught myself how to heal. This was a big mistake.

First, it perpetuated our relationship’s diseased dynamic of parentification — where the child takes on typically adult roles. This usually happens after one parent dies, as in my case, or perhaps when a parent abuses alcohol or drugs and becomes unable to care for the child.

In this case, my unconscious process of trying to heal my wound perpetuated it. As a result of my childhood, I often feel responsible for other people. While spiritually unaware, I felt responsible for helping my mother heal, for caring for her.

My own healing was limited because the two of us unconsciously played out our dysfunctional roles, again and again. As I became more aware and accepted that each of us is independent and responsible for ourselves, my relationship with my mother deteriorated dramatically.

Another reason efforts to help her heal backfired was likely because I subconsciously hoped that my experience of childhood would change. That will never happen. Moving on requires completely accepting the past and realizing that a sad past doesn’t make me flawed nor does it doom me to eternal suffering.

Believe in your goodness. Believe that healing is possible.
We don’t always need to understand why things happen, but only accept that they did.
 

2. Create distance

This may not be the right step for everyone, but looking back on my life, the times I’ve made the most personal progress on healing my mother and daughter relationship were times when I had that distance.

Even if you don’t create physical distance, create boundaries. Establish rules for how you will and will not be treated, and don’t be afraid to enforce them. Don’t scream and yell and cause more problems, but simply leave the room or let the phone keep ringing, tell your mother or whoever that you will not be treated this way. We teach people how to treat us, and this is one instance where teaching is totally permissible.

 

3. Listen to your heart, not others’ opinions.

The world is full of people who will say, “But it’s family,” and this will make you feel bad for establishing the boundaries that you know in your heart you need to heal.

Here’s the thing. As compassionate as someone can be, nobody will ever understand your pain. We try endlessly to make people understand our pain because we feel this will validate our experience. But we need to validate our own experiences and not worry what other people think because it’s our life.

Trying to explain yourself to people who will never understand only hurts you. It wastes your energy and makes you doubt yourself. By all means be vulnerable, but be smart about it. Engage in radical acts of vulnerability strategically, when it serves you, and not simply to generate compassion or understanding. If that’s your only goal, vulnerability will empty you, not inspire you.

 

4. Have compassion.

Take a wider view and understand that the people who hurt us are themselves hurting. Mental illness runs deep in my mother’s family and I’m not sure what her house was like growing up because she never has really shared stories with me.

But looking at her, I see a scared, lonely child. Someone who’s afraid of doing things the wrong way. Someone who’s afraid of her emotions and buries them so deep inside she doesn’t even know what they are. Someone who was essentially told, “feelings are not rational. They’re wrong. You’re bad for feeling them.” Someone whose husband and daughter left way too soon.

Someone who’s suffering.

Her suffering has made me suffer and our mother and daughter relationship is damaged. I’ve often felt bad about that, like it says bad things about who I am. I know I’m not perfect because nobody is. But I know I deserve to be treated a certain way and if someone can’t treat me that way, then I can’t have them around me, no matter who they are.

 

5. Give yourself what you need

So many people feel this maternal void and fill it with things — shopping, television, drugs, food, sex. But what we really need is to show up for ourselves.

We need to nurture ourselves. Take time to do what fills you up. Talk nicely to yourself. Be your biggest cheerleader. Tell yourself, “great job!” Feed yourself wholesome food. Create a beautiful home. Plant flowers, water them and watch them grow. Learn to tell yourself that you’re good enough and it’s okay to take a break.

Learn to tell yourself that you’re still worthy even if you’re not famous and changing the world. You, your heart, your smile, your tears — all of you — is good enough exactly as you are.

As you accept your mother, even from afar, you will accept yourself. Her genes are part of you, hating her is just hating yourself.

You may not be able to rewrite the past, but you can definitely create whatever kind of future your heart desires.

 

How have you navigated your difficult mother and daughter relationship? Share your story in the comments below. 

 

Image by Emery Co Photo via Flickr

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Suzanne

Suzanne Heyn is a spiritual advisor and blogger guiding ambitious free spirits to heal their hearts and realize their full potential. She offers transformational online courses and spiritual mentorship to help high achievers create happiness, meaning and fulfillment on all levels.

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Paula - May 10, 2016 Reply

Beautiful. I am starting to see how the rage I have for my mother is a root of my depression. Trying so hard to please her to get the love I want just hasn’t worked. I’m starting to live in a new way, putting self-approval before trying to win her love. This means I have started to say no to her at times. It is scary and sad, but also incredibly healing.

    Suzanne - May 10, 2016 Reply

    So glad you are putting yourself first! That is awesome to hear! Thank you so much for sharing. You will most definitely transform your life!

    All the best,
    Suzanne

Marie - May 10, 2016 Reply

My mother is a narcissist. I went no contact Nov 10, 2015. At first I was riddled with guilt, but over time the distance started to create clarity about our relationship. This allowed me to see how the constant guilt trips that I allowed her to put on me caused anxiety. It showed me that she’s a great manipulator who lies and dramatizes everything. She’s a person who sucks the air out of a room, which made me understand why I couldn’t show her love easily. I didn’t see that before going no contact, nor could I put my finger on her personality disorder. I was simply too wrapped up in the show. I started therapy and it has been incredibly helpful.

For the first time in my life I feel like I know myself. I can say no and not feel guilty. I don’t feel responsible for her happiness, her care, her emotions or anything. I’m FREE!

    Suzanne - May 10, 2016 Reply

    That’s awesome Marcie! Thanks so much for sharing. It’s so interesting that we each went no contact around the same time. Not to into astrology but I wonder if there was some planetary action around that time triggering these types of evolutionary changes. At any rate, I’m so happy for you that you made that change and have enjoyed clarity about your relationship. Freedom is a great feeling!

Suzannah - May 11, 2016 Reply

This is a great post. This is the first Mother’s Day that I sent a two-line email and nothing else. I have been backing away from my mother and that relationship since September 2015, and it has been pretty awful. I finally started working with a therapist to deal with feelings of unworthiness and just being not enough (for anyone), but it has been very difficult. I don’t need to unpack the story here, but I never felt like enough, and as a 45-year-old grown-ass woman who has done some pretty impressive things in my life, in spite of constantly feeling horrible about myself, I finally decided that I didn’t want to spend the next 45 years feeling that way.

So thank you for this. My mom wasn’t “my best friend” or “the one I could always count on.” I never realized how pervasive the motherhood myth was until I started leaving mine behind.

    Suzanne - May 11, 2016 Reply

    Glad it resonated Suzannah! It’s uncanny — you’re the second person who commented here that they stopped speaking to their mother last fall. It seems like part of the collective evolution! I’m glad you found a therapist you like. You’re an amazing person and you deserve your own unconditional self-love and radical self-acceptance! The motherhood myth is SO pervasive and also often untrue. I know so many women with less than ideal relationships with their mother, and the myth just makes us feel like crap about it. Thanks for commenting! Keep in touch! 🙂

G - May 15, 2016 Reply

Terrific article and very timely. I too didn’t have the mother or father I yearned for and lived most of my middle years being very angry and resentful, especially since my father was an alcoholic … this spilled into every aspect of my being. Fast forward 15 years and suddenly I’m dealing with a child with substance abuse issues…my world shifted and I had a paradigm shift… my family wasn’t as perfect as I thought! Through counselling support but mostly working a 12 step program (Al-Anon) and even the basics 7 habits for highly effective people (both are closely related), I slowly changed my perspective and learned so many, many principles and practices to keep me sane. Detachment with love was huge for me and helped me survive. Being aware of my expectations for everyone and everything (my parents, myself, my spouse, my child, my boss and colleagues) was huge, I was a judgemental perfectionist but didn’t understand how damaging this thinking was to everyone including myself. My anger for my parents and my child dissolved, not that we had/have a perfect relationship but more of a compassionate understanding that we are all individuals doing what we know how, and that we all have different experiences and paradigms we’re operating from, but that most of the time our intentions are positive. Today my parents are gone, my relationship with my child is improving every day, and I try to keep a healthy detachment with my boundaries and thoughts to maintain my sanity.

    Suzanne - May 16, 2016 Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m sorry you’re navigating difficulties with your child, but it’s wonderful you’ve found so much healing. I have faith you will find light in this dark corner, too.

    All the best,
    Suzanne

Nicila - April 22, 2018 Reply

I am going through an awful time. I split from my ex husband through domestic abuse he done every king of abuse. Wr have a beautiful 9 year old little girl witb special needs and his punishment to me is to stop contacting her. She now hates and blaimes me she is angry and agressive. The poor child has had to go through all this and now her school cant meet her needs so are moving her to a specialist speech school which if fabulous but yet another change for her. I had a complete breakdown through all of this and have been diagionised with Gad I lost my job that I loved and now have no money. My car has just broken and legal aid want 1,066 back from me from 2016. I just dont know how much someone can have put on them. I am 43 and leaving at my very mulniplatibe mums house. She hates me and all the problems tgat she has been put into at her age. It is a housing association house and if anything happrns to my Mum I will ha e 28 days to get out- with my soecial needs little girl. I have fought for the past year to get her a place at this special needs school. My Mum uses the house as her weapon its her house and she can kick me out whenever she wants to. I want to support my daughter she is my everything but I have so much guilt about her Dad cutting all contact. I never wanted this life for her she struggles enough with day to day. I know some of it she is pushing boundaires but it hurts me so much when she tells me she hates me and wishes she had never been born. I want to take her pain away and I cant do that it is heart breaking. I love her and tell her everyday how much I love her but sometimes she just doeant care or listen. I am scared social services will come and take her from me. I am just becoming her career and noone understands the pressure my Mum puts on me aswell. We ha e been through hell and still it keeps coming.

Asher Leigh - July 16, 2018 Reply

Hi Suzanne, thank you so much for this article…. Mother-daughter relationships hold SO much creative powerful if we can find the courage to look at them directly and receive their gifts! My mother and I’s relationship used to be very painful in past years, and through a similar path of taking personal responsibility for my own actions, as well as learning to channel my creative energy through art, we have learned how to experience consistent harmony. It’s a miracle, and I offer anyone who is challenged with this hope that with support there is a new, wonderful experience available that fosters self-worth, connection, and genuine love!!! 🙂

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