Question from a reader:

Could you please share some advice for daughters who have a trust fund (or are financially dependent on mom) and feel obligated to have contact with an emotionally abusive mother? The common dilemma is “I need to set boundaries, but then, there’s the money…”

Dear you…

For the sake of this column, I am going to make some assumptions. You’re talking about an adult daughter who:

:: is mostly capable of taking care of herself financially and was not abused to the point of not being able to take care of herself at all (i.e., not allowed to go to school, isolated at home for years, etc.)

:: is perhaps working and making some of her own money, or

:: is getting some of her financial needs met in other ways (and the trust fund or other financial help fills gaps), and

:: if it weren’t for the trust fund or other financial help, would have little to no contact with her mother, but

:: is willing to meet some minimal requirement in regards to contact with her mother, and understands that she’s choosing to engage in a “quid pro quo” arrangement, and

:: would like to establish some basic boundaries with her mother

“Boundaries are your values in action.” ~ Randi Buckley, Creator of the Healthy Boundaries for Kind People program, of which I am a certified facilitator

A boundary delineates where one thing ends and another thing starts.

Like, for example, a property boundary. An undefined property boundary leads to trespassing, confusion, misunderstandings, and so on.

When it comes to people (especially mothers and daughters), personal/emotional boundaries are often undefined and permeable, and like unclear property boundaries, this can lead to trespassing, confusion, and misunderstandings.

You might think – “I need to set boundaries” – means not having any contact with your mother. And you worry that if you do that, she will no longer support you financially.

Let’s take a deeper look at how your boundaries might serve the both of you.

Awareness. Take a look at what boundaries might already be in place. Are they clearly defined and consistently communicated? Or are they unclear and inconsistent? Are there no boundaries?

“Know thyself.” Get clear about your value, preferences, needs, and desires. The clearer you are on who you are, what you desire, what you want more of in your life (and conversely what you want less of), the easier it will be to have well-defined boundaries.

Take an inventory of your values. Make a list and pick your top three. Then ask yourself: How can I put these values into action with my mother? 

It helps to understand that boundaries are more about what you want to cultivate and bring into your life, rather than being about what you want to keep out.

So say, for example, that “respect” is one of your top three values.

What would “respect” do on your behalf? (I am not talking about “respecting your mother” in the traditional ways our culture thinks of that).

What would it take for you to like and respect yourself before, during, and after an interaction with your mother?

What can you do to inject respect into the situation?

Simply practice and notice what happens. Be fascinated and curious when you interact with your mother. Rather than reacting to or engaging with everything she does and says, simply observe.

This is an important step because disengaging is one of the most powerful energetic boundaries you can have. When you disengage from her abusive behavior you are teaching her how to be with you.

Consistently honor yourself and your boundaries (and do not expect your mother to do so).

And finally, understand that this is never one-and-done, it’s an on-going and flexible practice of understanding yourself, advocating for yourself, and communicating your values. The clearer you are, the easier it will be for you and your mother to meet each other’s needs in your quid pro quo arrangement.

Much, much love,

Karen

Related: “But she manipulates me into not having – or ignoring – my boundaries”