I am desperately seeking help for my 28 year old sister-in-law, Des, who is obsessed with having a relationship with her recovering alcoholic/drug addict mother. Her father died of a drug overdose when Des was 2 years old. Current situation is that I am a Hospice worker who is helping her maternal grandmother in the last week of her life. The grandmother basically raised her as her mother, Susan, was never around or when she was - she was strung out on drugs or alcohol.
When Des sees her mother she tries desperately to have a relationship but with no success. The mother is a mean spirited person. She is a typical addictive personality - now that she is not binging on alcohol or drugs, she is addicted to AA, NA and her supposed Christian teachings. My sister-in-law rarely has any contact with her mother since one lives in PA the other in Jersey. Now with the Grandmother in the hospital - they run into each other there. It's the same scenario, my sister-in-law keeps trying to reach out to her mother and the mother keeps shooting her "if looks could kill" stares. Des even told me the other day that there is not a day that goes by that she doesn't think about their relationship and pray about it, but her prayers are not being answered. Des herself is a very devout Christian.
I have suggested that she just try to avoid her outreach and let her mother come to her when she is ready - but she thinks that will never happen and she can't let go of her hopes to have a real relationship. I have offered to talk to the mother, but my brother said it will only make matters worse, that she is not a reasonable, rational person. Even with Susan's mother dying of cancer of the liver, when the Doctor wanted to give Morphine for the pain - there was a fight from Susan who didn't want the drug introduced because of her NA teaching. She also keeps praying for a miracle and is convinced that God will intercede and that "if we all get down on our knees and pray, her mother will get out of the bed and be cured!" We finally got the morphine introduced with the grandfather's permission and when the doctor wanted to increase the meds yesterday, Susan was there again and fought them saying it would kill her!!
My brother and sister-in-law have three small girls of their own, 3.5, 2 and 8 months. My sister-in-law is a wonderful, loving mother to her children, but I also worry for her that she is overcompensating to be the perfect mother to her children because of her need for the mothering relationship herself. I have talked to Des and told her that she has to come to grips with the fact that she cannot change her mother. She can't make her be the mother that she wants and that she herself needs more counseling to deal with these issues. I even told her that the problem isn't necessarily with her mother, it may be that her own expectations of what a mother should be are causing her pain and anxiety. We sometimes need to accept the person or the relationship for what it is, without the expectations. It may be too much pressure for the mother as she has never been one to want or like the responsibility of motherhood. I have searched the internet and am finding it difficult to find any resources for this issue which really needs attention. My sister-in-law did seek some counseling from a Psychologist associated with her church but it didn't seem helpful. I would appreciate any advice or direction you can give me in this matter. Thank you so much!
Kathy (44-year-old woman)
You write a very poignant letter. It is absolutely tragic not to be able to have a natural and healthy love relationship with your parent. It is everyone's birthright, but it is all too common that that birthright is withheld. It can shatter the life of a child and poison them when they become an adult.
You have been giving great advice and you are absolutely right. Your sister-in-law is probably overcompensating by being such a good mother to her children and not really dealing with the loss and grief of her relationship with her mother. Until that really happens she will not truly be able to let go and move on. She is doing amazingly well though not to repeat with her children what her mother did to her. She also doesn't seem to be doing the typical repetition compulsion of finding an unloving husband who can do the same thing that mother did. She is however repeating with her mother over and over again.
You are right as well with the idea that although her mother has a huge problem your sister-in-law also has a problem in that she is expecting more out of her mother than she either cares to give or can give. One of the hard things in life is to allow people that we love and admire to make horrible mistakes and cause them pain and know that there is very little we can do about it.
What often helps me is to take a long and historical view of the problem. Repetition Compulsions are painful and look horrible, but there is another aspect of them. If we repeat long enough it allows all the old pain to come back again. Pain is a wonderful motivator and it allows people to have other chances to work through old issues. Usually this eventually happens successfully. I wish there was an easier way and if she wants it she could really seek help and get it. Have faith though that she will eventually get it and that the pain along the way is probably supposed to happen to make this possible. Also I agree with your brother. Talking with her mother will not change anything and will probably complicate things. It would also be acting in a very co-dependent way. It is usually not helpful to try and take care of something for someone. It is fine to simply assist someone with support and comfort.
You can certainly give this to your sister-in-law and I hope it helps. I have included another e-mail I wrote for a similar question about repeating things from the past. It will explain the process in detail.
Jef Gazley, M.S. www.asktheinternettherapist.com
Human beings learn in numerous ways such as mimicry and observation. One of our most important ways to learn is through the Concept of Mastery.
If we are having a hard time mastering a task we tend to become obsessed with the task until we complete it to our satisfaction. Once it is learned however it ceases to be all that special. Think of a baby trying to pronounce a new word and figure out how to use that word. They become fixated on that word and will use it over and over again until one day they just seem to lose interest. This is Concept of Mastery.
Repetition Compulsion is Concept of Mastery gone awry. The difference is that with a Repetition Compulsion there is a critical bit of misinformation or lack of information that makes it impossible to master the task. When I first learned how to use the web I kept typing in the URL as I was told and kept getting the same result-cannot find page. I repeated my movements exactly over and over again. I became fixated and could not resolve the issue until a friend peered over my shoulder and added a decimal point.
When a child feels unloved or abandoned by a parent, whether or not that parent really acted in this way, a child will take on the shame and blame and become convinced deep inside that they are unworthy, unlovable, and that their needs will never be met. This sets up a dual goal of wanting to finally prove that they are loveable by attaining that love and paradoxically by trying to find a person or situation that will prove they are unworthy. It creates a blind spot and a self-sabotaging system that reinforces our early negative beliefs.
An example is a woman who took emotional care of her father, but felt that the love was not returned. Consciously as an adult she would realize that the fault lay with her father. Subconsciously she would tend to blame herself. Therefore, the tendency would be to go after a man who in one way was unavailable and would disappoint her and yet would look good enough at first where she would be unaware of the similarity with her father. No that does not mean that she really wanted to marry her father. It only means that she had to continue to be disappointed in love and find herself at fault. The tendency would be for her to take care of his needs and neglect her own.
The way out of this dilemma is to fix the blind spot. No child is unworthy, unlovable, or should be unable to get their needs met. Either the situation or the parents were unable to get this point across. As an adult we need to realize this fact consciously. However, this still leaves the old pain and the old subconscious beliefs. I would suggest finding a qualified psychotherapist who is skilled at both NET-Neuro Emotional Techniques and EMDR- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Being an expert in Family of Origin treatment and Hypnosis would also be extremely helpful. These are powerful techniques that can truly make a difference. No one is doomed to the past. Good.
This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.
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