Updated: Jul 2
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” - Robin Williams
In this blog post I'm taking a pause between mother wound counseling sessions to give you 5 signs that ending your relationship with your mom could be better than staying and trying to make it work. Ultimately, of course, you'll need to decide what's right for you and your own unique situation.
Remember, you know yourself and how your mom has treated you better than anyone else on this planet. No one gets to make this decision for you. You and you alone are in the driver's seat.
The current reality with your mom
Things haven't been good between you and your mom for a long time. You've tried everything, but things are still bad. Real bad. And if you're being honest with yourself, maybe they've even gotten worse. You're feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, invalidated, disrespected, and frustrated. You're asking yourself questions like:
"Is my relationship with mom supposed to be this hard?"
"How much longer can I put up with this?"
"Would going to therapy together get mom to finally hear me?"
"But my mom's not like the other moms, right?"
You don't know what to do, but you know something needs to change. You've heard several people in the mother wound community over in The Porch and on Instagram talking about having to go no-contact with their abusive moms. "Those are seriously abusive moms" you've told ourself. But now you're starting to wonder. "My mom isn't one of those moms… right?"
Evolution doesn't want us to break up with mom
For over a decade now I've been specializing in parent-infant attachment, mother-child relationships, and the mother wound. What I've learned from
the research and the clients I've had the privilege of working with is that by the time we're considering calling it quits with mom, all hasn't been well in Kansas for a really long time. In other words, you wouldn't be contemplating taking this crappy road if you could've possibly found an excuse not to.
Connection with mother = living to see another day
We humans are quite literally hardwired to maintain our relationship with our primary caregiver(s) as a matter not of sappy Mother's Day tropes but of survival. Our ancestors who survived the saber tooth tigers were the same early humans who clung the most tightly to their mothers. And as for our fellow early humans who could care less about where their mother was, well, let's just say they eventually didn't show up for picture day.
Just the thought of going no-contact with a parent hurts
Fast forward to today. Even though the saber tooth tigers are long gone, our genetic memories are still very much with us. We might know logically that we don't need a relationship with our mom to survive, but our hearts, bodies, and minds are still convinced we do. And that's why even thinking about what you're thinking about with your mom hurts so damn much.
Estranged adult children choose the pain of leaving over the pain of staying
And that's why I get so frustrated when someone suggests adult children who go no-contact with a parent do so as nonchalantly as they pick out breakfast cereal. Clearly, the people who say these things have never sat with real people who find themselves in the terrible position of choosing the pain of leaving one's own
parent in the hope that it will hurt less than staying already has.
You're the expert on how your mom makes you feel
Not me. Not your counselor. Not your mom. Not your sibling. Not this blog post. No one can possibly know better than you do how your mom treats you or if (and when) you need to pull the plug on your relationship with her. Only you can know what's best for you. Trust yourself.
And now as promised, here's 5 signs that going no-contact with your mom might be your best option.
Sign #1: Your Mom Dismisses or Invalidates Your Concerns
Think about the last time you tried to speak with your mom about an issue or problem you had with her.
How did she respond to you? This is super important.
Did she seem open or closed to hearing what you had to say?
Did she genuinely care about your feelings or was she invalidating?
Did you feel heard by her or did you feel dismissed or even ignored?
When a mom is capable of having a healthy relationship with her adult child, she will want to know how her child really thinks and feels about her and her actions towards them even if this knowledge might be uncomfortable for her initially.
Sign #2: Your mom doesn't accept your boundaries
In all healthy mother-adult child relationships both the mom and the adult child each have their own boundaries. These boundaries are accepted and respected by both parties. They help each person communicate what is and isn't acceptable for them, and they prevent resentment from building up in the relationship.
How your mom responds to your boundaries is on her
When it comes to your relationship with your mom you're the one who gets to decide which boundaries you need to have. But something you can't do is decide for your mom to respond to your boundaries in a healthy, relationship-sustaining way. That's on her.
Accepting your boundaries is non-negotiable
Assuming no one is getting hurt, the only healthy response for our mom to have to our boundaries is acceptance. Anything besides this is a red flag. Remember, if you can't have boundaries with your mom, you can't have a healthy relationship with your mom either.
Be on the look out for CAD
In mother-adult child relationships where the mother is entitled, abusive, or otherwise hurtful, something I call CAD is likely to happen when the adult child indicates a boundary. CAD stands for "challenge boundary," "alter boundary," and "disregard boundary." Below I'm giving you examples. As you read through, see if any remind you of your mom.
A mom attempting to challenge her adult child's boundary might sound like:
"What's all this "call before coming over first" crap? I'm your mom. We never did that before you got married."
"What if I'm not okay with not seeing you for the holidays? Does what I want not matter to you anymore?"
"I'm not sure I can follow that unfair rule of yours. This is my grand baby, and if I want to buy them gifts I will."
A mom attempting to alter her adult child's boundary might do so by:
Giving her adult child the silent treatment for days, weeks, or more
Becoming passive-aggressive towards her adult child
Offering unsolicited "compromises": "I can't promise not to make comments about your looks, but I can keep my mouth shut if I have something really negative to say!"
A mom attempting to disregard her adult child's boundary might:
Pretend she didn't know the boundary
Pretend she misunderstood the boundary
Ignore the boundary entirely
A few final thoughts about boundaries
Your mom should be taking your boundaries seriously and doing everything she can to respect them. If your mom is disrespecting your boundaries, she's ultimately disrespecting you. Expecting your mom to respect your boundaries isn't being "demanding." Or "overly sensitive." Or "asking too much." It's standing firm in your worth, which is exactly what you should be doing.
Sign #3: You Feel Like You Owe Your Mom a Relationship With You
No relationship is always rainbows and roses, but some relationships rarely if ever see the rainbows and roses. And when that happens for a long time we can start to think that’s normal or “just how it is.” This is especially true for mother-adult child relationships. It's common for people to find themselves staying connected with their mom not because the relationship is good for them, but because they think they're obligated to be there.
My clients often tell me they felt as if they owed their mom a relationship with them. The truth I share with my clients is this: You don't owe your mom a relationship. If you're spending time with your mom not because you want to but because you feel like you have to, that's not a healthy relationship. Your mom decided to be your parent. That was her choice. You never committed to being her friend for life. You get to make your own choice.
Sign #4: Your Mom Gaslights You
Gaslighting is one of those terms we hear about so often these days that we can sometimes start to forget how serious it really is. We're used to talking about politicians who gaslight, but we're often encouraged to overlook gaslighting when the one's doing it are our very own moms. Gaslighting is a big deal though, and that's the case regardless of who's doing it.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that checks all the boxes for emotional abuse. And like you already know if you’ve been part of our community for any amount of time, emotional abuse is not a “lesser” form of abuse. It’s actually just as problematic as any other kind of abuse. Abuse doesn't need to leave a bruise or cause a visible scar to be abuse. Abuse is abuse. If your mom is gaslighting you, you need to take that seriously. Robin Stern says it so well when she says, "Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their cognition, their emotions, and who they fundamentally are as people."
Here are some examples of moms gaslighting their adult children to deny or undermine their thoughts, feelings or perceptions:
"That never happened."
"I think you're imagining things."
"I'd never say something like that."
"You weren't upset about it."
Sign #5: Your Mom Rejects One or More Aspects of Your Identity
Your identity isn’t everything, but it makes up a heck of lot of what makes you the unique, wonderful, amazing person that you are. Your mom shouldn’t just tolerate your identity. She should cherish you fully for who you are!
If you're gay, your mom should cherish that about you.
If you're black, your mom should cherish that about you.
If you're transgender, your mom should cherish that about you.
If you're short, your mom should cherish that about you.
Ok, I'll stop. You get the idea. But I'm so serious. If your mom can’t cherish all the parts that make you YOU, if she rejects any aspects of your identity, it’s not your job to try to make lemonade out of those lemons she’s handed you. You're fabulous just the way you are.
You Don't Have to Make This Choice Alone
Sometimes a relationship with a difficult mom can be saved. Sometimes you're better off leaving the relationship and healing outside of it. What you're facing right now is hard, and I want you to know you don't have to walk this road alone.
As a mother wound counselor and founder of the Mother Wound Project, I help people make the decision that's right for them everyday. We do this together using my proven strategies that give them the clarity and confidence they need to get unstuck and move forward so they can spend their time on what really matters.
Are you someone who wants to take your mother wound healing journey to the next level? Come join the conversation, learn more about the mother wound, and receive compassionate support in our now 100% free private mother wound healing community over in The Porch. Interested in keeping up with the latest Mother Wound Project news? Follow us on Instagram.