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Monday, June 1, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Healing the Mother-Daughter Relationship Where There Was Role Reversal

In my prior article,  Role Reversal in Mother-Daughter Relationships, I began discussing some of the dynamics related to role reversal in mother-daughter relationships, including the dynamic in the daughter's early childhood and the possible outcomes of the mother-daughter relationship when the daughter is an adult.

Healing the Mother-Daughter Relationship Where There Was Role Reversal

In this article, I've given a fictional vignette, which is made of many different cases of role reversal between mothers and daughters, about how it is possible to heal problematic mother-daughter relationships in mother-daughter therapy (see my article:  Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships).

Jane and Patty
Jane and Patty sought mother-daughter therapy because they were unable to reconcile their relationship on their own.

The daughter, Patty, had been in individual therapy with another therapist to deal with this issue, but she had a strong desire to be able to talk to her mother about their role reversal, especially during the time when Patty was a young child.

In the past, Patty said, whenever Patty attempted to talk to Jane, about it, Jane would dismiss Patty's concerns and change the subject.  Not only was this hurtful, Patty said, but it also left her feeling angry and frustrated.

Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships Where There Was Role Reversal

Even though neither of them would describe their current adult relationship in very negative terms, Jane felt that she was harboring a lot of unexpressed resentment towards Jane for her role as a parentified child when she was younger, cooking, cleaning, taking care of her younger siblings, and being Jane's confidante, especially when Jane was drunk.

During Patty's early childhood and teen years, Jane was an active alcoholic.  She would drink until she passed out leaving Patty and the younger children to fend for themselves.  Since Patty's father had left the household before Patty was born, there were no other adults at home to help.

Patty recalled that when she was six years old, Jane would get drunk and unburden her problems on Patty.

Patty recounted how sad she felt that her mother was so unhappy and she was willing to do whatever her mother wanted because she hoped this would make Jane happy.  But it never did.  And Patty grew up feeling like she failed her mother, which made her try even harder to please her mother and to work even harder at home.

When Patty was a teen, she said, she often had to help her mother walk up the stairs to her bedroom because Jane was too drunk to walk up the stairs by herself.  Then, Patty would put her mother to bed and take care of her younger siblings.

Patty recalled that she often felt lonely and overwhelmed as a child because she had no one to talk to about it.  She also missed out on a lot of social activities because she stayed home to take care of her mother and the other children.

Patty said she was so glad when her mother got sober when Patty was 18.  She was glad for Jane and glad for herself and her siblings.

Jane's sobriety allowed Patty to go to college without feeling guilty that she was leaving Jane and the children.

While Patty spoke, Jane kept her eyes cast down and sat stiffly in the chair.  It was evident that it took a lot for her to sit and listen to how emotionally damaging it was for Patty to function as the mom at home.

After Patty spoke, Jane said she wasn't sure what to say.  She said that she had apologized to Patty many times, but Patty didn't accept her apology.  As she said this, she appeared somewhat emotionally disconnected from their conversation.

Patty responded by saying that even though Jane apologized, Jane also told her that all of this happened a long time ago and Patty should "let it go."  Patty felt that Jane didn't know what Patty went through and she didn't want to know.

The first several sessions were intense and emotional with both mother and daughter becoming upset and angry at various times.

The breakthrough came in their sixth session together when Patty said that she didn't see how they could ever be close if Jane continued to say she was sorry and, at the same time, she was dismissive of Patty's feelings by telling her to "just let it go."

"Mom, if I could 'just let it go,' don't you think I would have done that a long time ago?" Patty said to her mother, "I'm beginning to feel hopeless that you and I could ever have a close relationship."

At that point, hearing her daughter's sense of hopelessness, Jane broke down.  It was the turning point in their therapy.  She said that the thought that they could never heal their relationship was unbearable to her.

Then, she began talking about her own childhood.  She wanted Patty to understand why she wasn't a good mother when Patty was a child.  Until then, Jane was never willing to talk to Patty about her childhood before.

Jane revealed that her mother, whom Patty had never met, was not only emotionally neglectful, she was also physically abusive.  When her mother was drunk, Jane said, she would bring home strange men and, after her mother passed out, they would sexually abuse Jane.

Since her mother would black out when she drank, she never remembered what happened and she didn't believe Jane when she tried to tell her that these men were sexually abusing her.

Jane said that this was the first time that she had ever revealed this to anyone, and she felt deeply ashamed about the sexual abuse and how she neglected Patty when she was a child.

Healing the Mother-Daughter Relationship Where There Was Role Reversal

At that point, Patty took her mother's hand to soothe her, and they sat silently for a few minutes.

Over the next several sessions, Jane and Patty continued to talk about their relationship.  Something shifted between them.  They seemed genuinely close.

Patty said that, for the first time in her life, she felt that her mother understood and she was glad that she wasn't dismissing her feelings.  She also said that, knowing her mother's history, she felt a deep sense of compassion towards her and forgave.

Jane said she felt closer to Patty than she had in a long time, and she wanted to continue developing their relationship.  She also said that she decided to begin her own individual therapy to deal with her traumatic history.

Conclusion
Trying to reconcile the emotional aftermath of a role reversal in a mother-daughter relationship can be challenging for both people.

The fictional vignette above is one variation on many themes between a mother and daughter trying to bring about a reconciliation.

Healing between a mother and daughter is possible if both people are willing.

If they can't accomplish this on their own, mother-daughter therapy is often helpful to heal old wounds.

Getting Help in Therapy
As people become better educated about psychotherapy, more mothers and daughters are participating in mother-daughter therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy

If you're stuck in a mother-daughter dynamic that you want to change, you could benefit from mother-daughter therapy with a licensed mental health professional who can facilitate the emotional healing.

Life is short and by healing your mother-daughter relationship, it's possible for you to have a healthier, more loving relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples, including mothers and adult daughters and fathers and adult sons.

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

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










































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