Are you local to Southeastern Connecticut? I will be discussing Difficult Mothers, Adult Daughters: A Guide For Separation, Liberation & Inspiration at the Waterford Public Library on Wednesday, October 3. Check it out and I hope to see you there!


Question from a reader:

I believe my mother has Borderline Personality Disorder. I feel sad even typing that because maybe I’m wrong and maybe I contribute to her acting the way she does. She says things I can’t imagine any mother saying. Most recently she said would end our relationship because I finally stood up for myself during a trying time for our family. What mother says those things?

Now I am trying to decide whether I want to travel to my parents’ home for Thanksgiving (she’s barely talking to me at the moment). I second guess both ways: “get the tickets because she will be upset if I don’t” or “no, she needs to know she cannot act that way and expect us to visit.”

Dear you…

When we find ourselves at the breaking point of an either/or scenario it’s agonizing on several levels: we don’t want to have to make the decision, we’re afraid of what will happen (either way), and we’re afraid of what others will think.

We’re stuck in the paralyzing and unsatisfying energy of “maybe”…of having not made a decision.

First, I want to acknowledge that it’s not an easy or fun place to be: feeling that no matter what choice you make, it’s the wrong choice.

Second, let me offer that it doesn’t have to be a painful either/or (and here I am reminded of the song “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by The Clash: “If I go there will be trouble and if I stay it will be double…”)

Third, this isn’t a “should I” or “shouldn’t I” issue. I’m not a fan of the word “should” because it’s rooted in shame. Consider instead that It’s about making a conscious choice based on what you want for yourself and your life.

And finally, make the choice from as clean a place as possible.

What does that mean? It means that you like and respect your reasons – that you’re making the choice from a place of personal power and self-responsibility, versus a place of blame, reaction, defensiveness, or victimhood.

Clean: I can’t manage myself around my mother right now. It’s hard for me to feel good around her and I find myself wanting her to behave differently or change so I can feel good.

Not clean: My mother drives me crazy. She doesn’t respect me and I’m tired of feeling manipulated and taken advantage of. She has left me no choice! She needs to know she cannot act that way and expect us to visit.

When I cut ties with my mother at the end of 2010, I thought it was forever…that’s what I intended at the time.

(“All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last.” ~ Marcel Proust)

But because I was so emotionally enmeshed with her (meaning, I unconsciously believed that she caused my feelings, whether I was in her presence or not), I was tied to her even though we didn’t see or talk to one another.

A few years later, when I was learning many of the skills and tools I now teach, I was excited to put them into practice, believing they would “fix” the situation and that “fixing” the situation would make it “all better.”

What I didn’t realize is that the only thing that could make it better was focusing on me: my thoughts, my emotions, my actions.

I am free not because I stopped talking to her or seeing her, and not because she changed or because of anything she has done or said, but rather because I had let her off the hook for my emotional well-being. When I made her responsible for my peace and freedom it didn’t work!

So consider that it’s not about “going to visit to keep her from being upset” or “not going in order to teach her a lesson,” but rather about how you can cleanly separate yourself from her emotionally, so you can make a decision that comes from honoring your needs, preferences, and boundaries.

If you go, go because you’re consciously choosing to go and take responsibility for making that choice.

Make the choice not to go in the same way. Acknowledge that right now you’re finding it hard to be around her, which is understandable.

Now…get quiet, take a deep breath, unlock your shoulders, soften your eyes, and place your hands over your heart. Forgetting what your mother might do or say, or how she will feel, what do you want to do?

Much, much love,


P.S. What mother says those things? A mother who has been traumatized and deeply wounded emotionally and who is unconscious to her wounding. Which isn’t to say that you should just do as she says, roll over, and let her pass her wounding on to you.

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