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Can someone talk to me about counselling?

(16 Posts)
YouPutYourRightArmIn Mon 17-Feb-14 11:55:39

I have an up and down relationship with my mother. At the moment everything is fine, but I generally feel that it could go tits up at any point (usually by me offending her in some way) and that for my own sanity it's best to keep her somewhat at arm's length.

I can accept that this is the best way for us to operate but it doesn't stop me from feeling confused about it all.

The DONM website and Stately Homes threads have been great for opening my eyes showing me that there are reasons for all of this, but since I understand it a bit more, I'm now am questioning a lot of my own opinions, thoughts, actions and, perhaps unfairly, blaming my mother for these.

As an example - I've often seen soft, gentle, kind, caring people as somewhat weak and ungenuine, even attention-seeking. It's only recently that I've wondered where the hell I've got that from? Why do I think it's so bad to be nice? And I kind of came to the conclusion that because there didn't feel like there was much kindness in my own household as a child that I'm simply not used to it as I wasn't exposed to it much, and also that my mother sold herself as being strong and feisty and that it was better to be like that, to be like her, than to be pathetic and flimsy. I'm often genuinely surprised that people are just nice sometimes and it's only now (in my mid-30s) that I'm beginning to see that those are virtues in people, not negative traits. I know that being bolshy and aggresive aren't good traits and they aren't ones I've felt I'm actually any good at anyway, but because my mother is, I guess I've naturally thought that these are the only reasonable alternatives to being nice (ie weak).

But what confuses me is that I don't know whether I would've had these kinds of opinions if all had been good with my mother, or whether I would've thought things like that regardless. It is actually because of my mother or is just me?

I guess I'm conscious that so much of me has potentially come from her and I'm now questioning everything I say or think. I'm quite often lazy - is that because I've learnt that from her, or is it because that's just me? I didn't apply myself at school - is that because she didn't show much interest other than to tell me off when I got a bad report, or because I would've been like that anyway?

My main concern now is my own DD. I worry that if she sees me holding my mother at arm's length that she'll want to do the same to me when she's older. I also know that my mother has said things that have stuck in my head that I now feel as an adult are unforgiveable, and she's completely unaware. How do I make sure that I never make my DD feel like that?

So anyway - sorry for the rambling - but I'm wondering whether counselling will help? I don't want to face my mother and tell her how I feel, mainly because I simply don't think it would do much good and in fact probably make things worse. But I do think I might need some help working through some of my feelings to build up my own self-confidence and move forward positively taking responsibility for my own actions and opinions rather than blaming my mother.

However, I'm also pregnant at the moment and not sure how strong I am emotionally. DH is supportive one way or the other but isn't sure I should spend the remainder of this pregnancy getting to grips with some hardcore emotive/stressful stuff. I kind of agree but once DC2 arrives it could be the end of this year before I feel like I've got headspace to even consider it... Though working through this stuff whilst getting ready for mat leave, dealing with a toddler and preparing for a newborn doesn't sound great either!

So will counselling result in me being a wobbly mess? Will I feel weaker? Will it dredge up stuff that at the moment isn't bothering me? Will it make me see things in a new light and I'll never be able to go back?

What kind of counselling would help (if any)?

Any thoughts or experiences to share would be most appreciated.

anyonecangrowspinach Mon 17-Feb-14 13:25:42

Hi there,

Your story sounds very, very familiar. I have very similar issues with my own mother - she's been volatile, self-centred and emotionally abusive most of my life. I attended therapy when I was in my mid-20s, initially because of depression and anxiety, but within a couple of sessions my therapist had dug out the reasons behind this, in my family history. I saw her for about a year. It was hugely, hugely helpful. I can hear in your post the confusion of trying to figure out what's you, and what's been imposed on you - therapy will help with this. I say therapy rather than counselling because I saw a psychotherapist. She was a 'humanistic, integrative and Gestalt' therapist (these are just names of approaches). Personally I'd recommend someone who works from a humanistic or integrative perspective.

I know you must be worried about whether you've passed on any of the hurt to your daughter. But you're not like your mother. For a start, you know that the way she's treated you has been wrong - and you're on here, talking about it. She couldn't do that, I bet. The problem is when we push this stuff down, out of awareness - that's when it gets passed on. This kind of thing will haunt you, God knows - but you're not her.

Will therapy result in you being a wobbly mess? Hopefully, no. Your therapist or counsellor will not leave you in a bad place at the end of the session. But that's not to say it won't be difficult and bring up some upsetting memories. All I can say is that bringing these things to light and dealing with them will feel necessary and healing - not like the kind of negative thoughts and sadness you might be having now.

Will you feel weaker? Absolutely not. Quite the opposite.

Will it make you see things in a new light? Absolutely. But it won't turn you into someone else. It's not like you leave your old self behind and have to accept a new identity (though if you're anything like me you might fear that's what will happen, because you spent a lot of your childhood having to conform to someone else's needs and demands . . .) You will still be you. You will make the decisions about what, if anything, you'd like to change about your life.

Will you have to confront your mother? Only if you want to. And certainly, certainly not if you don't, or you're not ready to.

Remember, the counsellor or therapist is there to help you - they won't force you to do anything you don't want to!

Personally, I would do it. There is no ideal time to do these things. And if it's all too much with your pregnancy and caring for your toddler, you can just give it a break for a bit. It's all in your hands!

If you're looking for someone local to your area, I recommend this website: It will help you find accredited counsellors and psychotherapists in your area (just click on the 'Find a Therapist' button on the right).

Best of luck and I hope some of that's helpful smile

YouPutYourRightArmIn Mon 17-Feb-14 13:48:53

Wow - many many thanks anyone. You've hit the nail on the head with some of my hesitations about counselling. I'm sorry you've had to go through similar.

My grandmother was definitely narcissitc and I think the fall out of that explains a lot of why my mother is like she is. She's so so self-absorbed and everything is always about her. She's not always unkind or nasty but things are very subtle and I often leave our encounters feeling confused or bewildered, or disappointed or frustrated, which I know is not right.

Ironically she said she heard something on the radio the other day about someone saying how their mother had always criticised them, and this was a revelation to my mother in that someone else was voicing how she'd felt growing up. Then she told me about an example of where her mother criticised something she was wearing one time when she was on her way out and then said to me "I never did that do you did I? I thought I always just told you you were beautiful?". Of course, it was a real question, nor did she really wait for me to answer but it did reinforce that she is completely unaware of how she has made, and still makes, me feel.

The Stately Homes guys have said that I have been very well "trained" by my mother and I think I'm struggling to accept that. I don't know whether to feel brainwashed by my mother or brainwashed by strangers on an internet forum telling me she's awful! I guess I'm not sure what I should be feeling and what's normal because until the last few years, I always thought what we had was normal mother-daughter stuff. So yes, perhaps therapy/counselling will help me work through some of that.

I can't imagine not bursting into tears during my opening sentence though! And also I'm very aware that whilst I know things aren't wonderful with my mother, they are also not that bad and certainly not half as horrid as some of the stories I've read on here, and whilst I know that a counsellor or therapist would never make me feel like I was being precious or dramatic, that that's how I'd come across!

YouPutYourRightArmIn Mon 17-Feb-14 13:49:58

* of course it wasn't a real question...

CailinDana Mon 17-Feb-14 13:55:43

It sounds like mentalky you are in the right place for counselling. But then so am I at the moment yet I know howchard it is to take that leap.

What are your fears about counselling?

FolkGirl Mon 17-Feb-14 14:04:36

I'm a few weeks into my counselling relationship.

I've spent the last 18 months doing CBT type stuff myself but realised that it was only having an intellectual impact, not an emotional one.

In the past few weeks I've already changed my mindset about my mother. And I can see the point of forgiveness, which is about saying, "I understand that you did what you did because you lacked the capacity to behave better" without saying, "I understand why you did it" or "so it's ok that you did it". It just means I will be able to stop getting caught on the treadmill of, "but my mother..." and instead start to unpick some of the beliefs that she left me with.

I feel terribly self indulgent when I go because I'm not talking about my dad hitting me, or my EA abusive relationship with my husband, or the fact that I don't respect myself enough to protect myself... I'm talking about the fact that my mother didn't love me and was quite open about the fact.

But I'm starting to realise that all of my other problems stem from that simple basic fact.

It's fascinating. And I'm intrigued, as much as anything, about the process, a postive outcome is something I've yet to believe will happen.

anyonecangrowspinach Mon 17-Feb-14 14:14:56

Hi RightArm, I'm glad what I said was useful smile.

Undoubtedly your own mum was treated pretty horribly by her own mum. People aren't born messed up or unhappy; it's done to them in their turn. The difference is that you are aware of what's happened and is happening, and you're breaking the chain.

Things sound 'that bad' with your mum, if you're leaving your encounters with her feeling confused, bewildered, disappointed and frustrated. Half the problem with childhoods like ours are that our sufferings were minimised and ridiculed by our parent(s), and we took that and learned to do it to ourselves. Even now I find it very hard to know what I'm really feeling, because I spent so much time being told I wasn't feeling that, or I shouldn't, or hiding my feelings because my mum's were always bigger, more dramatic, more important. You deserve better. You deserve looking after.

Even just from what you've written here, I can tell you that a counsellor will not tell you your feelings are dramatic or precious. And if you don't mind me hazarding a guess (apologies if I'm overstepping the mark here) I'm guessing that's the kind of thing you got a lot of from your mum . . .

Oh, and about the crying . . . every therapy room has multiple boxes of man-size snotrags smile they've seen it all before!

anyonecangrowspinach Mon 17-Feb-14 14:20:37

Folkgirl, I agree re CBT. I did CBT for a while, and I found it just addressed symptom control rather than healing the underlying issues. I was not allowed to talk about 'the past' during sessions! I feel similarly about NLP. If I were to go back into therapy I would avoid both.

I'm sorry to hear about the sadness in your past. I hope you get your positive outcome.

YouPutYourRightArmIn Mon 17-Feb-14 14:20:59

Thank you all again.

I guess I'm worried about this all becoming more real and bigger than it currently is and having the emotional headspace to deal with that whilst functioning as wife, mother and, well - me.

I don't want to be thinking of the counselling conversations every time I see or speak to my mother. I don't want to feel I'm "bad-mouthing" her and then having to look her in the eye and pretend all is normal.

Also, seeing someone won't change her. So I suppose I'm wondering that if it won't change anything, why not just park it, get on with it, rather than put myself on the emotional treadmill.

I suppose I don't know what I actually want out of counselling.

FolkGirl Mon 17-Feb-14 14:33:03

anyone that's interesting. I did it myself - I didn't go to sessions. I know what it involved so I just did it myself. It's good to hear that if you have it done 'properly' it still has the same level of impact.

RightArm I still feel guilty about 'bad mouthing' my mother and I'm NC with her! She's a vile woman. My counsellor said it was helpful to think about talking about her, what she has done/said and how I feel about it as understanding the cause, rather than attributing blame.

That does help.

CailinDana Mon 17-Feb-14 15:58:46

I'm pretty much in exactly the same boat then rightarm, apart from the imminent baby.

Meerka Mon 17-Feb-14 16:27:59

It wont change her but a good therapist can help you change how you feel and how you handle her.

it's worth finding a good one - BACP have a list of accreddited counsellors, as spinach said.

I think the point about being pregnant may not be the best time, but it may also be the time you have the most availability is a good one. On balance, you sound reasonably self -aware so it may be an idea to use the time you have while you have it. Post birth you probably won't have energy / time, asyou know. And you can always start and then take a break if you have to.

Its hard to see any down side of at least trying a few sessions. I often leave our encounters feeling confused or bewildered, or disappointed or frustrated, which I know is not right. Yes, indeed, if you find yourself feeling like that then some clarity would help a lot.

good luck, and grats on the pregnancy smile

YouPutYourRightArmIn Mon 17-Feb-14 17:43:47

MN is pretty good therapy it would seem smile. It does help to talk about things here so it would make sense that talking to a professional (no disrespect!!) would also help. DH also offers a good ear as do a few close friends so I do have other outlets.

anyone what you say about your mother having bigger reactions/emotions than you is so apt for my mother too.

cailin I'm sorry you are going through similar. Sad to think there are lots of damaged people out there.

folkgirl sorry, I didn't reply to you earlier... I do understand why she is like she is (as I mentioned - her mother) and I think I can accept that part (ie her behaviour towards me) and I feel like I can detach a little from that. But I suppose I'm struggling with the fact that perhaps a lot of who I am is derived from her. And if she's someone I don't always like it's quite hard writing that about your own mother it stands to reason that there will be lots of things about me that I don't like.

meerka I will do some investigating into a counsellor/therapist locally. How do you know which one suits? Not sure I can commit to actually going mind! And that's good advice about stopping and starting again - I'll think of it like one of those hop on hop off buses!!

anyonecangrowspinach Mon 17-Feb-14 17:58:44

Hi rightarm - not to steal the question from meerka smile but lots of therapists offer free initial appointments to have a chat and see if you fancy working together. It's perfectly OK to decide not to see someone after that; I've done it before, when I didn't click with one lady.

Hope you find the right person for you.

metoo22 Tue 18-Feb-14 12:56:34

Hi everyone
I am a serial lurker on MN, going through some difficult stuff right now and having more time than usual to browse, as I'm not working. Rightarm I can identify with lots of what you re saying and would echo what the others say, and recommend that you do give therapy a try. I have just started a few months ago, at 50, having known all my adult life that there as something not right about my relationship with my mother, but being afraid of opening the can of worms. On the outside, to others it seems fine. She is an OK person, has given me and my dcs financial support and in many ways is welcoming and interested. She had a very strange childhood and almost no warmth from her parents. My dad too, boarding school and distant parents.I think they wanted to create something different for us but just didn't know how.

It's only recently, through starting therapy, then having a complete collapse following a horrible event, and at last realising I needed to see my GP, so now on anti depressants and off work, that I am beginning to see that I have been depressed and anxious on and off throughout my life, and that probably stems from how things were for me as a child.

I have only just realised that thinking 'but it wasn't that bad, we had a nice house, food, clothes, camping holidays (and a few stately homes), and my parents are certainly not bad people', does not mean that I did not have a hard time. Nothing really terrible happened to me but I don't think I was listened to, and my concerns and worries were ignored.

I think therapy can help with working this stuff out. I have not been 100% sure it is worth the time energy and cost but feel like maybe I am starting to get somewhere.

I looked on the BACP website, found a couple of local therapists who both saw me for free and I chose one of them. Its £45 per week which I really cant afford, but I am in crisis and I do need to understand. So if you can, do it while you are quite young, don't wait till you are my age.

metoo22 Wed 19-Feb-14 13:37:05

Rightarm I just reread what you wrote above and have exactly the same feeling about "if she's someone I don't always like -it's quite hard writing that about your own mother- it stands to reason that there will be lots of things about me that I don't like".
I spend so much time worrying that I am like her (I do look like her) and when a counsellor asked me to list what I liked about her I couldn't think of anything... Um clever, good at gardening and writing... Nothing like kind, funny, warm, all the characteristics I would like in a person. It was a terrible shock to find that I couldn't say anything I liked about her. Yet we have on the surface an Ok relationship and my kids are fond of her.

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