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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mother-Daughter Relationships: Letting Go of Resentments

As I've written in prior blog posts, the mother-daughter relationship is a complex dynamic.   As a psychotherapist in NYC, I hear from many daughters and mothers about longstanding resentments that never get resolved.  Over the course of a lifetime, resentments can build up, especially if they're not resolved when they occur.  It's not unusual for mothers and daughters to continue arguing the same old arguments over and over again, adding more confusion and anger as time goes on.

Mother-Daughter Relationships:  Letting Go of Resentments

Often, mothers and daughters have unrealistic expectations of each other:

Daughters' Idealization of Mothers' Role:
As a society, we tend to idealize the mother's role:  she should always be nurturing, understanding, a good listener and a shoulder to cry on.  When your mother falls short of this idealization, you might feel cheated and deprived and resentment builds up.

Mother-Daughter Relationships:  Letting Go of Resentments

But no one can live up to this standard all the time, especially since mothers in most households now must work as well as being mothers and wives.  As a daughter, assuming that you had a reasonably healthy childhood, you need to let go of this idealization and realize that your mother is human with flaws, like anyone else.

Mothers' Unrealistic Expectations of Daughters:
There are many mother-daughter relationships that are close and happy when the daughter is younger and then become conflictual as the daughter gets older and needs more independence.  It's not easy watching a daughter move away from you during her teenage years, when friends often become more important than mothers.  Sometimes, it seems like it happens over night.

But it's a normal part of your daughter's development as an individual to mature and seek out other relationships.  As a mother, it's best not to get into power struggles with your daughter about this.  You can't be your daughter's best friend.  She needs you to be her mother.  And if you can negotiate this challenging period with your daughter, you're more likely to have a better relationship with your daughter over time.

Mothers and Daughters Arguing the Same Arguments Over and Over Again:
Rather than getting into power struggles, sometimes it's best to just agree to disagree and let go of old arguments and resentments.  Rehashing the same old arguments does nothing but deepen resentment.  Over time, mothers and daughters can become emotionally distant from each other.  The longer this goes on, the harder it is to repair.  It's often better to choose your battles and recognize when you might be arguing to win a power struggle.  No one wins under these circumstances.  Often, both people lose.

Letting Go of Resentments and Forgiving:
I've said this many times to clients, "Forgiving is for the person doing the forgiving."  It doesn't mean that whatever the other person did was okay.  It's not necessarily about reconciliation with the other person.

There are times when relationships can't be reconciled for a variety of reasons.  For instance, there are times when maintaining a relationship is either so emotionally or physically abusive that it would be too damaging to remain in contact.  Self preservation is crucial.

Whether you choose to reconcile directly with your mother or daughter or not, it's important to work through resentments so that they don't remain emotionally toxic within you.  Many clients ask me, "But how do I do this?"  It's a process that can be worked through in therapy with a skilled clinician.

It's Possible to Change an Unhealthy Mother-Daughter Relationship:
Some mothers and daughters are stuck in a rut in their relationships together.  It might be that both of them see the unhealthy dynamic and want to change it, but they don't know how.

For some mothers and daughters, attempts at talking about it only lead to more conflict and arguments.  Sometimes, the best way to change a dynamic is to change yourself rather than waiting for the other person to change.  For instance, if you want your mother or daughter to be a better listener, be a better listener yourself when you talk to her.

Be in the Present  Moment:
When resentments have built up over time, it's often hard to be in the present moment with the other person.  This is especially true when mothers and daughters have longstanding resentments.  

When you're constantly focused on old resentments, you might miss out on moments of closeness when there's no conflict.  It's possible that there can be moments when you enjoy each other's company.

Mother-Daughter Relationships:  Letting Go of Resentments

Part of letting go of old resentments is being open to the possibility that the dynamic in your mother-daughter relationship might change.  For this to happen, both people must be willing and able.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.  I have helped many mothers and daughters to let go of resentments in their relationships.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

Also see my articles:
Life Stages in Mother-Daughter Relationships

Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships

Ambivalence and Codependence in Mother-Daughter Relationships


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