Tag Archives: terrible mother

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Especially With a Dead Toxic Mother

4 Aug

797734b77a8d26ebe0685a1afbf3414aMy toxic mother died in April 2009. By August, I had left a good newspaper job to write Toxic Mom Toolkit, which I published in December of 2013. I have since watched a global support community spring up around my memoir. It has been a continuous learning curve for me. Along the way I shared my experiences including how to go No Contact with a toxic mom. I’ve always warned that it is not a step to be taken lightly and I’ve mostly recommended taking it a day, a week, a month, and a year at a time. There is no formula for going No Contact; no right or wrong way. Because each relationship is so complicated, the process of breaking away is an individual and unique event.

Walking away from a toxic mother can be incredibly painful. But here’s what I’ve learned lately: breaking it off with a deceased toxic mother can be just as difficult.

My multi-decade disconnect from my living Toxic Mother was totally organic. I just felt that I would die (or my soul would die) if I kept in contact with her. I made it up as I went along.  I don’t recommend totally winging it like I did.

Today, when asked, I suggest that people sit down and make some notes, some lists, to pre-plan how to handle typical life events. Ask yourself: If a grandparent dies will you go to the funeral? When a baby is born, will you notify your mother? Family relations are complex and sometimes your fear of your toxic mother is tempered with love for your father, siblings or love for a related community. Some decisions are not absolute. You can grant yourself flexibility. You can allow yourself to keep an open mind. Variables are part of the calculus of No Contact.

While I was writing my memoir, I realized there was still work to do. I needed to stop listening to my deceased toxic mother.

If your deceased mother is still a source of sadness, fear, instability, emotional limitations, phobias, shame, self-loathing, self-medicating, over or under eating, isolation, or grief, consider this: Dead People are only as powerful as you allow them to be.

When it comes to your deceased mother’s voice, I’ve decided the main survival skill is to replace a negative with a positive.

When you hear your mother’s negative voice you can:

  • Take a moment to understand that her voice is nothing more than lingering trauma, which you are working on to overcome.
  • Tell her (out loud) she is wrong and to be quiet. (Don’t worry. Other drivers will think you are on speakerphone.)
  • Write down the words you hear and decide if those words are true or not. Many times, labels from childhood are completely false and meaningless, yet they haunt us.
  • Reach for the Happy List you created, which includes all those things of which you are most proud. For example: If you have a good job, have put your kids through college, volunteer, help your neighbors, or bake great brownies, put it on your list. Keep your list in your purse or on your phone, where it is easy to see. Feel free to include things that simply please you and make you happy in the doing, like: I keep the hummingbird feeders clean and always say a blessing for young mothers pushing strollers. (I also bless men with trucks, checking their tie-downs on the side of the road.) Simply wishing others well probably puts you WAY ahead of your Toxic Mother. Relish what makes you a nice person and refer to it whenever your thoughts turn to your experiences as the adult child of a toxic parent.
  • Call a friend and express positive thoughts, even if it’s just checking in. Develop a habit of being a good listener and be a supportive friend.
  • Turn to a favorite activity, hobby or method of self-care. Instead of listening to negative thoughts, (and granting them power), decide to walk your dog instead, do an art project, clean or organize something, or even take a short nap or bath. Keep something you enjoy, like a special tube of hand lotion nearby to moisturize your hands for a few minutes. Grant yourself a few minutes in a bookstore. Listen to a positive or funny Podcast.

You have worked too hard to build a happy and peaceful life despite all the negativity associated with growing up with a toxic mom. Each time you hear your deceased mother’s voice and substitute a positive experience for old negative thoughts, tell yourself, I deserve to be treated lovingly and with respect.

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Mother’s Day Torture: Intensity & Duration

3 May

d4b8b64207ddace48a30acdf29ba53e8In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the assault begins on tip-toes. You might notice the wall of cards go up at CVS. Suddenly, 1-800-Flowers is emailing you twice a day, hawking Mother’s Day deals. It can be like a mosquito in the room, the hum of nerves that build up around the big day. And whether you have limited contact, no contact, or some contact with lots of boundaries, the approach of Mother’s Day itself can be like an illness creeping into your bones to set up achy shop for a while.

Mother’s Day is a typical American-style holiday, trumped up by card and flower sellers, which relies heavily on manipulating consumers emotions to “remember Mom on her special day.”  But what if your mom wasn’t so special? What if your mother was a terrible mother — abusive, neglectful — and now that you’re an adult, she’s a person who has the power to hurt you with a few carefully chosen words? You may need a strategy to get through this Mother’s Day commercial-filled full-court press; the same way an alcoholic plans trips avoiding hotels with lobby bars.

Mother’s Day can be emotional. So you need to decide ahead of time if it’s going to be a long, sad slog or a few minutes of sadness with a quick recovery. It’s your choice.

Here are a few things you might want to avoid:

Television Commercials: Make the decision now to avoid Hallmark-style commercials about great mothers. There is a flower company video making the rounds that starts with a delivery person handing “mom” an iPad with a message from her soldier son stationed far away. It’s a total tear-jerker for people who have great moms and miss their moms on Mothers Day. But for the adult children of Toxic Moms, it’s doubly emotional and terribly sad to find yourself wiping your nose as the son turns into the driveway holding his mother’s flowers. This year, why not decide ahead of time to avoid these sorts of commercials? Mute or fast-forward and don’t feel guilty about it.

63f4cdda1c34d95d116714817478e606Movies: For me, it’s, I Remember Mamma, a saga about the sacrifices made by an immigrant Scandinavian mother for her children. For you, it might be Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias, or even August: Osage County. There will be a press of mother-themed movies from now until Mother’s Day and avoiding them is probably a good idea.

Facebook: I am really, honestly, happy for my friends who have great mothers and express their affection towards them on social media. But try not to focus on these too much, other than a quick “thumbs up.” It’s a fine line between appreciation and envy.  The moment you start comparing your friend’s great mom to your toxic mom, you are hurting yourself. You can choose not to.

Sunday Brunch: There is a huge social pressure to take your mom to brunch on Mother’s Day and restaurants ramp up with flower giveaways and free mimosas. And, you know, your work friends will be making elaborate plans and asking you about your plans to treat your mother. You are allowed to spend your Sunday any way you like. Decide ahead of time what you want to do like: exploring a hiking trail, volunteering, attending church, or getting started on Spring Cleaning. You can still have a mimosa. In fact, a pitcher of mimosas are a great way to start Spring Cleaning!

Five years into this Toxic Mom Toolkit experience, a great trend has emerged in our community around Mother’s Day and I wanted to be sure to share it with you. Don’t be afraid to express your appreciation and affection for the women (and men) in your life who have nurtured you, as a mother should. You can send mushy, loving, butterfly-covered cards and write notes to the people in your life who love you the way you truly are; who have encouraged you and helped you along the way. You can thank other adults for their ability to make you feel safe and appreciated. And, who knows, maybe one day there will be a Hallmark commercial about those kinds of relationships included in the pantheon of Mother’s Day tear-jerkers.