The following question was sent to me this past week, and the issue raised is so universal that participants in my Take Back Your Life program are always glad we deal with it in depth, so they learn how to handle it better. Since it is such a common challenge, I thought I’d share some of my TBYL concepts here so others can perhaps find more ease as well. I hope it’s helpful to you, and that you’ll share it with anyone you know who’s in a similar situation.
Here’s the Reader’s Question:
I’ve been caring for my mother for several years now, and using many of the methods you teach for handling challenging situations, which have been very helpful. But I have to admit that I feel terrible that I still get so angry with my mother for the things she says and does, and how she talks to me!
I think to myself that, “she doesn’t mean it,” but I still feel angry, and feel like I can’t say anything to her. I hear all my excuses – “she’s old, she’s in pain, she’s lonely, etc.” – but she’s taking it all out on me. How do I let go of my anger so I can still feel some loving feelings toward my mother? It’s getting harder and harder.
~ Tired of Being Angry
…and here’s My Response:
The issue you raise is one that many family caregivers experience, so thank you for your question.
When we lose sight of ourselves as we care for our parents (or children, or spouse), anger and resentment can build up. They build up even more when the person we’re caring for appears unappreciative, and even seems deliberately hurtful.
Here is my recommendation: You can feel compassion for your mother, but NOT at your own expense. It’s important that you communicate to your mother that lashing out at you doesn’t help the situation at all. Even if she doesn’t listen, or make any adjustment in her behavior, it’s something you are doing for you, that honors your right to your boundaries and to be treated with respect.
Having a “game plan” such as this when you know you are going to speak with your mother or visit with her can be very helpful. Since you cannot control what she will say or how she’ll behave, it’s important that you take time in advance to decide how you want to take care of yourself in the face of her anger, frustration, despair…and even just plain dumping.
Map out your game plan in steps, so you’ll remember all the elements for a successful outcome:
- And We Breathe… yes, this is always the first step. It helps you to get centered as you check in with how you’re feeling. It’s the step you need to ensure that you are ready to handle the challenges that you are about to face.
- Validate your mother’s feelings. When your mother starts in with her complaints, tirades and criticisms, acknowledge that you hear how she feels – upset, angry, frustrated, etc. Focus only on her feelings, not her words in this moment.
- State Your Boundaries. As you have validated your mother’s feelings, you now can state something along the lines of:“Even though you are feeling ________, please do not speak to me that way. When you talk to me disrespectfully, I will end our conversation, so we can both have a time-out and start again. Thank you, and I’d appreciate it if we could just breathe and relax for a moment.”
- Follow through. It is imperative that you follow through and maintain your newly stated boundary. Following through is the only way you communicate that you’re serious and mean what you say about being treated with respect.
I realize that you may initially feel uncomfortable with this new strategy, but keep in mind that you already know how uncomfortable you feel when you allow the same behaviors and patterns to continue as they have. Why not try on this somewhat different discomfort for a while, if it could mean that eventually your interactions with your mom are less upsetting?
The bottom line is, in order to bring back loving feelings and ease in your interactions with your mother, you need to initiate a change. While it sounds simple broken down in the steps above, that doesn’t mean it’s easy when you first try it. It will take courage to take that first step, and then it will require practice, plus patience and perseverance.
Don’t give up, because your needs and feelings matter.
For further guidance, support, and encouragement, be sure to use my complimentary Caregiver’s Step By Step Guide, and then reach out for a complimentary consultation with me. You do not have to do this alone.
And we breathe, Loren