Healing from a Hurtful Mother

QUESTION

I am a mother of three young beautiful children, soon to be four at the end of this week. As I try hard to follow the Lord’s way in raising our children, I am overcome more and more by feelings of inadequacy, guilt and worthlessness. I have found myself reflecting on my own upbringing with a widowed mother (my father died when I was 5) who is very volatile and aggressive. Although she remembers my upbringing very differently, I remember being controlled, criticized and emotionally and sometimes physically abused. The criticism and controlling behavior, with me feeling manipulated, has continued and I am now battling bouts of depression with a fear that it will become worse once our new little one is born. On the occasions where I have managed to overcome what feels like waves of overwhelming worthlessness, I often feel tired and exhausted and full of blame towards my own mother. I keep promising myself that I’m not going to be like her and I feel full of anger towards her. How do I forgive her and not let her actions affect me so? How do I forgive her when the effects of her actions remain ingrained in me and define me, however hard I try to shake them? And how do I nourish our relationship and be able to have a simple conversation with her without hearing loaded statements and feeling hurt and offended and like a little girl again? I am realizing that my hardened heart towards my mother is blocking my ability to fully feel and engage with the Spirit. I can feel that difference of not having the Spirit continuously with me and I need Him so in this important role of motherhood. For the sake of our children, and for my amazing husband, and for me, I need to overcome these feelings of blame and anger. I need to forgive my mom. And I need to let go of the hurt that rears up, seemingly automatically, when my mom uses certain words or statements or tone. I don’t know how to do it! What can I do?

 

ANSWER

What a sad story. I am so sorry for what you’ve been through and for your ongoing struggle. To come right to the point, I think you could really benefit from some counseling support. These problems are—sadly—not all that uncommon but that doesn’t make them easy to deal with. I hope you will consider counseling, but—either way—here are a few thoughts.

  1. You’ve been hurt by painful and abusive parenting. You don’t have to reject your mother but you do need to reject how she parented.
  2. Your sense of self—damaged by your mother’s parenting—has been compromised. Many people struggle to repair such wounds. While not automatic or easy, the simple answer it to take back your mother’s power to define you. The only Ones who should have power to define us are God, the Father, and Jesus Christ (and They’re nicer than we sometimes think They are). It is so tragic that your mother, who had the power to make your younger years painful and unhappy, continues to have the power to inflict pain and unhappiness. If you take back the power that she has to define you, this can end, once and for all. You may need professional help to complete this process.
  3. Depression is generally the result of hurt, anger, and other negative emotions turned inward. It is very possible to reduce and even eliminate depression if we intentionally work through, process, and release our hurt and angry feelings. Writing angry letters that we never send can help with this process. Counseling can also be very valuable to help us heal. (This and the above points are covered in an unpublished manuscript of mine—I’m working on getting it out there!)
  4. Forgiveness is, of course, essential. But good people often make the mistake of trying to forgive before they are safe. The abused wife thinks she is forgiving her husband for hitting her but, until she is safe from further abuse, the battered wife is not really forgiving, she is assenting to her own victimization. For you, forgiveness cannot come in a healthy way until you are no longer vulnerable to your mother’s injurious ways.
  5. So how does one become safe if the offender never stops offending? Those who are being victimized can learn to set and maintain healthy boundaries. These boundaries mean that we, as adults, can learn to take the steps to achieve our own safety, rather than waiting unendingly for an abuser to stop abusing. It is perfectly achievable to become a non-victim Christian. Non-Victim Christians don’t hurt others but don’t allow themselves to be chronically hurt by another. (This will be the subject of my next book.)
  6. Remember that there is a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. We can forgive someone without being close to him or her, again. That is, forgiveness—after we achieve safety of our own volition—is the responsibility of the injured. Reconciliation is the responsibility of the offender, meaning that only if the offender repents (changes), can there be reconciliation. Remember, we can still have a cordial relationship with offenders. We just don’t give them enough power to hurt us, again.
  7. It’s true that it can be difficult to feel the Spirit when we are hurt, angry, and depressed. However, God did not reject Moses for being angry with the Children of Israel, Nephi for being angry at his murderous brothers, or Joseph Smith for being angry at his unlawful imprisonment in the dungeon of Liberty Jail. Our Savior, who descended below all things and took on our burdens know that your feelings are legitimate. As my wise mother told me when I was around twelve years old, “It’s [even] okay to be angry with God, as long as you tell Him about it.” I firmly believe the Spirit can be with you, even in this difficult time of anger and injury. Anger and injury do not make us unworthy of the Spirit or Job, Nephi, Moses, and all the rest would never have successfully completely their mortal journeys. Your desire to please God is evident. He knows your heart and will be with you as you find your way to healing.

I wish you the very best with your beautiful family.

line
footer
©2017 Lili Anderson, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.