You know you really love your mum. She’s the person who was and maybe still is so central in your life. She brought you up; she was there for you, she tried to do her best by you. She’s been a massive influence in your life at every turn.
But you have this guilty secret. She also drives you crazy. There’s probably no malice in it, it’s usually well meant but she can’t help somehow finding a very big button to press, which makes you feel in turns angry and then desperately ashamed for feeling that way.
Or maybe for you it’s no guilty secret. You feel stuck in constant rage against her, finding it difficult to connect with your love for her.
Your relationship with your mum is probably the most important and profound one you can have. Even thinking ill of her can bring you out in a cold sweat and a barrage of self-criticism or shame. It can’t be right to feel bad about her, she’s your mum right?
She means well but…
When I see clients for counselling, ambivalent feelings for a parent, but particularly mum, can be the most difficult thing to voice. ‘She means well but….’ ‘I know she loves me but…’ ‘I feel so angry with her everytime she speaks to me’.
The criticism of a parent can feel like a deep betrayal. As a child, it’s unfathomable and incredibly hard to either feel or say that your parent is less that perfect. That realisation, for some children, sends them off the rails or down very different life paths, of distancing and family rejection.
Time and again I see people reverse quickly away from any criticism of their parent, as if their world will collapse, mum will come rushing in to the room and all hell will break loose.
Like being in hell
And as a child, that feeling is like being in hell. It’s an equation that you just can’t compute.
One of the biggest healing steps in counselling is that re-evaluation of your relationship with your parents. To allow yourself to move from ‘this can not be spoken’ to ‘I can see the good and the bad’ in mum and others.
The fear, tentativeness but ultimate release, in that is extremely liberating. You can realise that it is possible to love your mum and still find aspects of her behaviour difficult, distancing, infuriating even.
At the heart, this is about creating a healthy separation which may well be what your mum didn’t allow you as a child (and by the way she probably has a whole backstory about that too.)
As an adult, if you can allow yourself the full spectrum of feelings for your parent and know you can survive and they can survive too, you start to build a freer and more healthy base for your relationship.
The good news is that you can start that process by yourself.
This week’s Lifeline: Dark mum, light mum
Sometimes it feels safer to write down what you feel rather than say it. This exercise is about writing what can’t be said to mum, good and bad.
You’re going to write two letters.
Take your writing materials and find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Close your eyes and go to a still place. Allow an image of your mum to come to mind; picture her when you were a child. Just go with whatever age comes up.
The first letter is going to be to ‘Dark mum’ – it’s the place to say all you feel which is difficult about your relationship with your mum. No one will see this; it’s just for you so just go for it. To help you, you can start sentences with
‘Mum, I don’t like it / hate it when…’
When you’ve finished that, set it aside and take a few minutes. There may be some powerful feelings come up from that exercise.
Next write your ‘Light mum’ letter. Here you will write all that you love about your mum: ‘Mum, I love (it when) …
Take a few moments again when you’ve finished. Decide what you are going to do with the letters. If the exercise felt very painful, you might want to set the letters aside. Or maybe you could think of a ritual to destroy the letters as a way of letting go of what’s come up.
Over to you
This is powerful and tricky stuff. It gets to the core of your being. So what do you find the best and the most difficult about your relationship with your mum? I’d love to hear from you if you want to leave a comment below.
Want to improve your relationship with your mum?
Having a tough relationship with your mum? Why not book a first appointment to see how counselling can help you.
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