Depressed, angry mum

Dear Suzie,

I have some problems with my mother who suffers from depression. She has not had the perfect life and she is always angry and confrontational. We could be doing nothing and she will start to vent and nag at everyone and she brings back events from many years ago and nags about that. I understand it is reasonable to tollerate some nagging for a short amount of time but this has been going on for years and it is increasingly difficult to cope with. She says that her venting helps her feel better but she doesn’t understand the negative effects of her venting does on others. She can vent for 30mins at a time. She did not like my father and says that I have some of his mannerisms so she takes out her anger on me. She thinks this is funny and acceptable.

I don’t know what to do. Being around my mum is like treading on tissue-paper because I fear of upsetting her because she tried to commit suicide once and we don’t want to do anything to trigger such events. We tried to calmly talk to her but she dosn’t take any advice and thinks she is always right and everyone else is wrong and will storm off in the car. Even minor issues will trigger her anger. For example someone stealing a parking space in a car park will make her very angry and confontational and she will storm out of the car and shout at the person who stole her parking space. Please help.

I am sorry to hear what a rough time you’re having. Seems as if your Mum is having a bad time and passing it all on to you. There’s a difference between venting that makes you feel better and venting that actually simply makes it worse. And, of course, there’s the issue of what your venting does to someone else. It’s all very well if you parcel your angers and woes up and get rid of them in the dump. Not so good when all you do is pass the parcel on to someone else to deal with.

It sounds as if your Mum is neither helping herself nor you. Her venting does not relieve he and it makes you feel awful. And holding over you the threat that she may harm herself unless you do what she wants is downright appalling.

I can see she may have very good reasons to feel let down and angry. I’m sure she deserves support and a listening ear that could help her. But YOU should not be part of this. You’re her daughter. You’re neither her therapist, her friend nor her parent yet that’s how she’s treating you. Neither, most important, are you in any way part of her problems. You may be your father’s child but you are not your father so attacking you because you remind her of him is neither funny nor acceptable.

I wasn’t clear from what you said whether you still live at home or not. Part of what I suggest will be easier if you don’t, but it still holds. If I were you I’d choose a time when she is calm. Begin by telling her you love her, and don’t follow that up with a “…but…”. The “I love you” should stand alone and make it clear that your love is unconditional. Then, you tell her that her behaviour is unacceptable and you won’t be taking it any more.

So; “Mum, I love you. I can’t take your angry behaviour anymore. I would really like you to get some support and help about it. I’m not going to listen anymore when you lose your temper. If you want me to help you discuss things calmly I’d be happy to do so. But when you get angry all that happens is you go on being mad, and it makes me feel awful.”

Next time she vents…walk out. And stay out. Avoid her, refuse to engage in it, until she stops. Just leave. If she starts in at you about your Dad, calmly say “My Dad is my Dad and I am me. Take it up with him, not me.” And walk out. And stay out. If she’s nasty to you, say “That’s a very hurtful thing to say.” And walk out. And stay out.

She needs help and talking to a counsellor would be more than useful. She could find one through her GP or via British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. You could do with some help, too. If you’re still in education ask for help from a tutor or counsellor there, or your own GP. If she refuses to get help and you go, she may accept it when she sees how much confidence it will give you. Good luck!

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