Dr. Schwartz, I’m having a rough time with my family. My mother is, without a doubt, emotionally/mentally abusive towards me and shows no signs whatsoever of stopping. She’s been this way ever since I can remember, and she used to be physically abusive towards my father. My father, who I’ve always considered my safe haven, has recently started to ignore me when I tell him about the things my mother has said to me. I’ve been to a therapist and he’s stated that 90% of my emotional problems/disorders stem from my mother’s actions. People have always told me that it’s "no big deal" or to "just ignore the problem" with my mother, but that doesn’t work. I can’t ignore her, she’s my mother! But I have absolutely no appreciation for her at all, and sometimes I wish she would just disappear from my life forever. She refuses to get a job even though there are plenty out there and we really need the money. She doesn’t even do any housework! What can I do to save both mine and my father’s sanity?
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You cannot do anything to save your father’s sanity for the simple reason that he does not want it saved and may not consider it to be threatened. Your father and mother remain together for reasons of their own even though your mother can be physically abusive towards her husband. It is probably for this reason that you meet silence when you complain to your father about the way you have been treated by your mother. In other words he cannot control your mother and does not want to do anything that might threaten their marriage. I am not writing this to support your father but merely to explain what I believe is going on at home.
There are things that you can do to save your insanity and protect yourself from your mother. However, what you can and cannot do depends a lot on your age and status. I have the impression that you are either an adult or old enough to support yourself. If this impression is correct then you need to move out of your parent’s home and establish your independence.
If you are already living in separately from your parents then the advice your friends are giving you is correct. As long as you have and independent life then there is no reason why you should tolerate the abusive doled out to you by your mother. Your response to your friends is "she’s my mother, I cannot ignore her." My response to that is to ask you why you cannot ignore her? You would not be the first adult child to sever contact with an abusive and unrepentant parent. Small children have little choice in coping with parents because they are extremely dependent. The only exception for children is if abuse is reported to the authorities and they step in. If you are an adult you have free will and free choice to refuse to be the target of your mother’s hostility. If you are adult and living at home with your parents it is time for you to move out and into your place that you can have on your own or by sharing space with roommates. If you are married or living with your boyfriend then it is necessary that you stop subjecting yourself to your mother’s nasty behavior.
For adults who were abused as children the issue of control looms very large. Survivors of abuse want to feel as though they can control the situations in their lives. For this reason it is important for you to take control of your life and do what is necessary to protect your self from your mother. When you were younger your mother’s mean treatment of you accounted for 90% of your problems. However, assuming you are an adult, it is time to make your life better. There is nothing you can do for your mother or father.
Who knows, by backing away from contact with your mother she may get the message and change her behavior towards you. However, that is unlikely and you need to back away from her for your mental health and well-being.
I suggest you read a book by Christine Lawson called Understanding the Borderline Mother. It is available at Barnes and Noble and other book stores, either in the stores or their online web sites. For Barnes and Noble the web site URL is: www.bn.com
Best of Luck