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Should I just give up?

(25 Posts)
WriterofDreams Mon 11-Jul-11 20:27:15

Things are coming to a head between me and my mother. We've never been very close, she's quite a cold unemotional person who gave me very little warmth growing up. Life was very stable, almost clockwork, and I'm thankful for that as it allowed me to do well at school. We've never had any fights but she can be quite snide. For example, she always wanted us to go to mass (we're catholic) and when I went along with it because I quite enjoyed it she called me a "holy Mary" is a sneering way. Can't figure that out as it was she who wanted me to go to mass. On the whole however her comments have been few and far between. It's just that when she does comment it's quite hurtful. Is this normal for a mother? Should I just let these things go as being typical?

Anyway the main issue is the fact that I was sexually abused by a friend of hers who was staying with us when I was little. I'm not sure if she knew about it at the time but when we went to stay with him a few years after the abuse happened we left suddenly and I've never found out why (I have a vague suspicion he may have hurt one of my sisters but I pray that's not the case). I told her about the abuse when I was 19 and she brushed it off, telling me about something that happened to her when she was little as if to illustrate that it's pretty normal and that there's no point in worrying about it. I really struggled with it at the time and DH helped me through although I didn't really put it to bed. It all hit me again the year before last when I became very depressed and I tried to talk to her about it again, as I believe it was the source of the depression. Again she wouldn't talk about it and said I shouldn't let it ruin my life. I persisted, believing she would see that she needed to help me, but then she complained that I was trying to make her feel guilty and that was the end of conversation. When I was depressed she started out being quite supportive but after a few weeks she decided she'd had enough and basically started to ignore the fact that I was ill. Again I managed without her, leaning mainly on DH and on his mum who was fantastic to me. I moved to another country.

I had DS at the end of last year and she and my dad visited. The visit was fine, as was the visit I made to them at easter. We're civil but not close. However, I feel like she's becoming more and more distant and I wonder if it's time to just cut ties as it's all getting to me too much. I can't let go of the fact that she just wouldn't help me. When DS was first born she rang fairly often but now she never rings and only texts now and again. I've tried to arrange for her to visit and she's said she will but has made no arrangements and time is running out before she goes back to work.

I don't know what to do. I can't tell if she's mucking me about or feeling guilty about what happened and just cutting herself off. She claims to love DS and was very good with him when we visited but she's not making any effort to see him in spite of her claims that she's desperate to see him. To clarify, I can't visit her as I'm moving house soon and have no money. She has plenty of money and tonnes of time off (she's a teacher) so she doesn't really have a valid excuse for not visiting. Any advice? This is really getting me down.

Fairenuff Mon 11-Jul-11 21:58:45

Sorry I don't have much advice to give but will bump your thread.

LesserOfTwoWeevils Mon 11-Jul-11 22:12:27

They don't change, love, sorry.
Chances are you will never get an answer to your question about why she reacted as she did. But it's not likely that any consideration of your feelings came into it. Narcissists don't get anyone's feelings except their own.
Grieve for the mother you should have had, but don't imagine that you can change your actual mother into anyone else.

Fairenuff Mon 11-Jul-11 22:13:16

Well, the bump didn't do much for you there so I will offer you my thoughts.

Your mother's snide comments are not 'normal'. There are threads on emotional abuse and child abuse which have loads of information and advice about toxic mothers, etc. Also there are recommended books and websites but I can't remember them.

Have a read through some of those posts and maybe post there yourself?

Sorry I can't be of more help right now.

Fairenuff Mon 11-Jul-11 22:13:55

Sorry Lesser, x post

WriterofDreams Tue 12-Jul-11 09:59:55

Thing is, I'm not sure she is a narcissist. I think she might just be emotionally immature due to a very tough upbringing (8 siblings, alcoholic father) and a husband who is a lovely guy but very much head in the clouds and not much help practically. I try to be forgiving of her faults as I know she's only human but the way she acted when I was depressed really upsets me. I know it's hard for people to deal with mental illness. I just don't want to tie myself in knots trying to build a relationship with her if this is as far as it goes.

Anyone have experience of this sort of thing - a very immature mother who isn't really parent material?

TheNorthWitch Tue 12-Jul-11 23:41:15

Do you think your mum could be depressed? If she had a very tough upbringing with an alcoholic father she might have underlying depression or emotional problems that have never been resolved (not to excuse her behaviour but might explain things if she has been emotionally stunted).

Do you think she could have been sexually abused herself - and coped with it by being in denial (and must therefore deny your experience)? Previous generations often swept things like that under the carpet or did not realise the seriousness of it.

A male friend of our family behaved very inappropriately with myself/siblings and my parents laughed it off - I think it's a sign of a lack of healthy boundaries in dysfunctional families.

WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 08:43:37

I don't think she's depressed as such but I do think she has emotional problems, yes. It's like she only knows how to deal with emotions at the level of about a 12 year old - she hates when people cry and gets very uncomfortable and hasn't a clue what to say. I remember a few times where I got very upset as a teenager, in particular, and she just looked at me helplessly as though she couldn't understand what was going on.

When I was depressed I felt like she just didn't know what to do. I tried to tell her that I just needed her to be there and to talk to her and she did that for a while but then started cutting herself off. For example I asked her to call down one evening and she said she would but then she turned up with my dad and said she was going for a walk so she wouldn't stay long. She acted like it was a normal flying visit even though she knew that's not what I wanted. I do think I asked a lot of her but at the same time I think she's my mother and I would like to think I would do it for my son.

She told me about an incident that might not be classed as sexual abuse but which has obviously bothered her since it happened. She told me about it when I told her about what happened to me sort of as a way of illustrating how common it is, I think, and how you just have to "get over it." Thing is, she didn't seem to understand that she's clearly not over it if an incident of sexual abuse makes her think of it 50 years later. She's very much of the brush it under the carpet generation.

In a way I feel sorry for her because I think she has cut herself off, perhaps because she can't handle emotion or perhaps to protect herself. It's a very complicated situation because she's my mother and I can't help expecting certain things from her.

Another example springs to mind - we were waiting at the dentist when I was about 11 and another mother was there with her son. I was upset as it was the last day of primary and my mother was ignoring me pretty much. The other mother was reassuring her son, telling him she loved him and cuddling him. When they left she said "Do you want me to tell you (in a mocking voice) I luuuuve yoooo." At the time I thought, yes actually I do but of course I didn't say that. Thing is I think it was her clumsy attempt to figure out what to do. Of course it didn't help that later she turned that incident into a story about how I hate the dentist and how much I bawled my eyes out. It have to remind her every. single. time that it was the last day of primary and that's why I was upset and in fact it's pretty normal for a child to cry when leaving all her friends for the last time.

I feel like it's draining me trying to figure her out. I understand she's had a hard life but I can't help feeling upset and frustrated at how she behaves. I do think sometimes in order to avoid the upset I should just cut her off but then I think that's too harsh and I should just overlook it. Arrgh, mums!

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Wed 13-Jul-11 08:59:34

WriterofDreams I feel for you, although I have no experience of sexual abuse.

As you say, it seems clear that your mother has difficulty with emotions: expressing them, perhaps even feeling them, and certainly she has been incapable of understanding and validating your own emotions. This must be very, very hurtful. (I have a verbally and emotionally abusive mother, and a father who is helpless and dependent on her and so never supported or validated me either).

IMHO I think you need to start getting angry at your mother a little more. Perhaps not directly at her (yet), but for yourself first. Have a read of [[ thread]] if you're not already on it, or books such as [[ one]] and see if they help clarify your feelings about your upbringing.

On whether you should "just give up": you are the best judge of whether it will work out better for you to accept that she cannot validate your feelings, or whether it will be better for you to confront your mother once you are armed with a better understanding of why you feel the way you do, and why she acted the way she did. I would suggest reading some self-help books or possibly going to therapy if you can first to help you make that decision and come up with a plan of how to handle your parents in the future.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Wed 13-Jul-11 09:01:34

Gah, sorry about messed up links. Shouldn't be so lazy about hitting preview. I'll try again:


WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 09:16:22

That's for those Itsme, I'll definitely give them a look. I agree that I should probably hold off on doing anything as I'm really not clear on how I feel or what I think about the whole situation yet. I have asked a couple of times to be referred for counselling through the NHS but nothing has come of it so either my GP didn't do it or there's a huge waiting list (I'm sure it's the latter).

What kind of freaks me out too is that when I tell DH or my MIL some of the things that happened when I was a child they look shocked whereas I didn't think they were so bad. It's only when they question things that happened or continue to happen that I realise some of it is more fucked up than I thought, which shakes me up a bit.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Wed 13-Jul-11 09:25:55

I empathise, WoD. That's the denial being dismantled thanks to external validation -- and the fact that you are probably now strong enough to shake it. And it is destabilising, yes.

Counselling would be an extremely good thing. Can you chase up your GP, mentioning the childhood sexual abuse explicitly?

WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 09:30:03

I told my GP about the abuse when I asked for the counselling. She was very understanding and I thought she'd get on it pretty fast. I reminded her again about 6 months later when I hadn't heard anything and I think she looked into it again at that stage, but another 6 months later I haven't heard anything. I'm about to move now so I'll have to start the whole process again in my new area. It pisses me off that counselling is almost seen as a luxury and you have to fight for it all the way.

cerealqueen Wed 13-Jul-11 09:35:19

I am sorry that you have to go through all this. I'm not very good at offering advice but was wondering if you had thought about writing to her? Your posts explain very clearly the pain you have been feeling, maybe more so that if you say it to her?
The Dentist story made me want to cry for you, such a simple thing that your mum couldn't grasp, makes me feel a bit sorry for her too, as she seems to have lost out on much of the joys of motherhood.sad

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Wed 13-Jul-11 09:39:38

That's just not ok, is it. I understand you're pissed off.

In the meantime, self-help with good books that target your concerns could help. Do you also have a good, safe RL friend who is good at listening and letting you talk, without seeking to give you advice? Exactly for the same kind of help you hoped your mother could bring: just to listen and be there.

WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 09:44:02

Thanks cerealqueen. I do wonder about writing to her but I'm wary of just hurting her. I have absolutely no desire to hurt her, all I want is for her to open up and for us to have a proper mother-daughter relationship. I think if I wrote her a letter she would see it as an attack (she sees any criticism as an attack) and it would just make things worse. It's frustrating as I just don't know a way forward. Maybe there isn't one.

I totally agree about feeling sorry for her. Now that I have my own DS I feel it even more as I think, while she did all the standard motherly things, fed us clothed us, gave us opportunities, she didn't really throw herself into the loving side of things and that's the best part of it. She did say once that she felt she was too strict with us, which actually I don't agree with, I think she was too strict with herself. Perhaps she came from the "rod for your own back" school of thinking and that held her back, I don't know. I just wish she wouldn't be so defensive and closed off. Although at times I do wonder if that's just the way she is. I mean, she didn't have much reaction to my telling her about the abuse whereas a friend of mine cried when I told him. I was really shocked when he cried and I sort of couldn't believe that someone would be upset for me, which says a lot really doesn't it sad

WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 09:46:33

Itme, my DH is very good for listening, although he's super stressed at the moment so I'd rather not burden him too much for the time being. I think typing it out here actually helps quite a bit as it allows you to ramble more and not worry about getting upset IYSWIM. I did talk a little bit to a new friend of mine about it recently (just superficially) and her mum is actually quite similar so that was a help as having someone who understands is good. I don't know if you've experienced it but I often feel the need to go over the same ground again and again and I find that hard to do in real life as people get a bit sick of it, understandably.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Wed 13-Jul-11 10:06:46

Yes, I understand. Mumsnet is great for that! You can say anything you want to strangers on the internet, and it's even more healing when they understand what you're feeling, like the new friend you've made. I've found one of those in a colleague of mine -- we essentially have the same mother -- and we are just so happy and relieved to be able to talk to someone who understands, and we're both learning new things and finding new coping tools by talking to each other.

That's why I'm also looking forward to group therapy which starts in September. Do you know if there are any non-NHS organisations near you that would organise group therapy for survivors of sexual or emotional abuse?

WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 10:25:43

I'm not sure about the group therapy as I'm moving soon so I don't know the new area very well, but I think I should probably look into it. I've suffered from depression and I'm very keen to avoid another bout of it (naturally!) I think it comes on when I start stressing about the abuse and my mother so I want to take steps to avoid that if at all possible. My sister is like an amplified version of my mum (she's a total and utter bitch to be honest) so she doesn't help! I've just decided to avoid her altogether though.

ItsMeAndMyPuppyNow Wed 13-Jul-11 10:32:39

Are you worried that delving into your past through some form of therapy will trigger another bout of depression?

MizzyTizzy Wed 13-Jul-11 10:49:29

Personally I think 'cutting ties' ie no contact is perhaps more viable and easily done when the problem parent is actually in your life creating grief. I think anger at their interference is a valuable tool for allowing you to act on your convictions.

I'm not sure how I would have coped going no contact without my anger energy.

Maybe a better course in your situation OP is just to lower your expectations ie come to accept your Mother as being distant and enjoy each others company however infrequent on a superficial level...transfer her from your Mother to an acquaintance level in you affections.

turquoisetumble Wed 13-Jul-11 11:22:44


I can really empathise with you. My Mum never once said anything 'nice' to me in my whole life - never complimented me on achievements or looks (I just mean - oh, you look nice in that dress sort of thing, not over the top stuff), but could always find time for a little dig or mocking comment. I didn't realise how 'wrong' that was until I had my own children, especially my daughter. Not a day goes by when I don't tell them I love them and I think they are both beautiful. When I see them at the end of school, it makes me happy and my eyes light up. I honestly don't think that my Mum felt that for me - and whilst that's obviously sad for me and the little girl I used to be, it's sadder still for her - because for me, my children bring me so much happiness and she couldn't experience that.

Like you I don't believe my mum was a 'narcissist' - I think it's easy to throw labels around, but she was damaged by her own tragedies as a child, and the way a certain generation was told to just get on with it and not dwell on any problems. I think she probably was depressed for most of her life, but dealt with it by withdrawing and putting up a front. It sounds like this may have happened to your mum too.

She died last year - and whilst in some ways having the children brought us closer later in life - she was a fantastic grandmother - I have hardly mourned her. In fact, it's brought me a sense of freedom, I have finally gotten rid of a nagging sense of doubt and guilt that what I do won't be the right thing or is 'silly' - her favourite word for almost everything I did.

I can't tell you what to do WoD, but I think it's important that you put yourself first. If there is anyway you can afford counselling or force your way up a waiting list, it will probably be very beneficial (but hard, especially as you start digging around in stuff you've buried). Personally, I wouldn't recommend CBT for this sort of thing. The most important thing to remember is that you count and what you want is important, not something to be dismissed, if your life will be better without your mother, then that is something you need to consider, because you only get one life (and frankly her dismissing your sexual abuse is perfectly adequate grounds for cutting ties).

Sorry if I've waffled on. One more question. What about your father in all this? My only concern is that your mother is getting the blame for everything. What about his responsibility for your happiness and well being?

WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 11:48:06

Thanks for all your replies everyone, I really appreciate it. Itsme, I don't think delving into it will necessarily trigger depression as I think it's going to come up for me anyway so it's better to deal with it in whatever way possible. I think it's not delving into it that will trigger the depression as that's what definitely did it the first time. When my mum said to basically get over it that's what I tried to do and it backfired spectacularly.

I get what you're saying about the anger MizzyTizzy. When I'm away from her so much it's easy to convince myself that everything's normal and to feel like I have nothing to be annoyed or angry about. It's only when I think back on things or actually see her for a period of time that it comes back to me.

Ditto on the not saying anything nice turquoise. My mum deliberately booked a holiday abroad when I was due to get my final year exams results at school. I got the top anyone could possibly get and was in the newspapers and all I got from her was a "well done" over the phone from Spain or wherever she was. She didn't say one kind word to me on my wedding day - in fact she made it far more stressful by kicking up a fuss at the hairdressers and nearly making me late. She gave me a heap of money for the wedding, which was helpful, but a "you look lovely" would have meant a lot more.

I agree that CBT wouldn't help as I don't obsess about this at all, in fact I think I've laid it quite straight in my head as much as I can it's more the next step that I'm not sure about, in terms of my future relationship with her. I will look into counselling more thoroughly when I move I think.

Good question about my dad. I do think mums carry a lot of blame in these situations. He doesn't know about the abuse - in fact one of the first things my mum said to me when I told her about it was "don't tell your dad." He's always been far more loving than my mum - he fusses madly over you if you're ill, and was the only one to hug me (in fact ambushed me with a hug!) when I was feeling really bad. He struggles to show his emotions but does try. I had a very good talk to him when I was depressed as he was getting frustrated and it was very good, he really listened. Our relationship is miles better than it ever was. TBH I think emotionally he's taken his cues from my mum and now he sees that wasn't right. When we chatted he said he feels he could have been closer to us and was very honest about how he felt. I feel we cleared the air hugely and I do feel a great connection to him now. I don't think I could ever tell him about the abuse, well at least not at the moment anyway as it would be too hard for me sad Of course my mum makes sneery comments on the phone about how long our chats are - it's always been the accepted family story that dad is distant and not interested in what's going on. In fact I see that down the years mum has ridiculed a lot of his interests (which to be fair are quite out there) and he has closed off due to that. Now that he sees I show genuine interest in what he has to say he returns that interest in spades. I do regret that that hasn't happened earlier but I am happy about it. So that's something positive smile

turquoisetumble Wed 13-Jul-11 11:59:31

Funny about the wedding day - my Mum did exactly the same. When one of her friends said that I looked beautiful (fairly traditional thing to say to the bride), she did her sneery laugh and said 'so she should with all the make-up she's put on'. She didn't tell me she liked the dress or anything - oh, she complained that I was a little bit taller than DH in my shoes and veil - said it looked 'silly'.

I'm glad you have a positive relationship with your Dad. In light of that, I agree with MizzyTizzy, that downgrading your expectation might be the way to go (and counselling can help with that too). If there is some way you can think of your mum as a stepmum. Your Dad's new partner who's a bit annoying, but still comes as part of the package.

Bloody tough this family stuff, but you've done really well to get through it so far.

WriterofDreams Wed 13-Jul-11 19:31:25

Thanks smile Sorry to hear your mum is the same turquoise sad It's so sad, isn't it? I'd love to sit her down and try to make her see what she's missing but I know it would be pointless. I do feel very very sorry for her because things she's said down through the years suggest that she's very bitter and that she has a lot of anger that she doesn't let show very much, she just holds onto it and it blocks her off from truly loving anyone. I do think she tried when we were younger to be softer and more cuddly but she just didn't feel comfortable with it. My younger sister used to plague me for hugs and I only realised when I was older that it was because she never got any from mum. Such a simple thing but so important.

Last year I made a point of telling her I love her. She pretty much ignored it until I sent a few texts (after I'd moved away) saying it and eventually she texted it back. It's sad to think that she can't even say something seemingly so simple and natural to her own daughter.

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