Dear Lynn…

By Lynn Owens

Dear Lynn,
I have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is verbally and emotionally abusive and very manipulative. A couple of days ago my sister called me to tell me that my mother was very upset because I didn’t visit her on Mother’s Day.  Well, there’s about 100 reasons why I don’t want to spend Mother’s Day with my mother, but on this particular Mother’s Day, we were out of town because my husband’s grandmother passed away several days before and we were with my husband’s family. My mother failed to share this information with my sister. My mother often uses my sister to communicate passive aggressive messages to me. I have been dealing with this all my life and I’m just sick of it.
Had Enough


Dear Had Enough,
There is a process of healing that you need to do and that process begins with establishing clear, firm boundaries with your mother – Telling her what you will and what you will not allow in your life. Ex: Tell your mother that verbal abuse (i.e. cursing, yelling, name calling) is unacceptable and if she wants to talk with you or spend time with you, those behaviors are not allowed. When your mother violates this limit, as she most likely will, remind her of the limit and  end the interaction (i.e. hang up the phone, leave the house, etc.)

            You will also need to set limits with your sister, letting her know that you don’t want to hear messages from your mother. If your sister continues to do this, then you need to enforce this limit with her by reminding her that you aren’t willing to listen to what your mother said about you, and asking your sister if she is willing to talk about something else. If she is, then change the subject and continue talking. If she isn’t, then respectfully end the call.

            Dealing with an abusive parent is difficult, but as adults we don’t have to be victims and we have the right and the responsibility to develop healthy boundaries in our relationships.

10 Tips for Dealing with Toxic, Abusive, Manipulative People

  1. Keep phone calls and face to face interactions brief and infrequent. (Don’t have Sunday dinners with these people)
  2. Be respectfully firm about what you will and will not allow in your life, home, etc.
  3. Don’t try to convince them to understand your position. (They won’t)
  4. Don’t try to negotiate or compromise. (It’ll never work in your favor)
  5. Don’t ask for their cooperation in setting limits. (That gives them power over you-the very thing they desire)
  6. Accept that normal relationship rules don’t apply.
  7. Don’t expect them to do good to you because you do good to them. (Doesn’t work that way in their world)
  8. Don’t take it personally when they behave badly. It’s directed at you, but it’s not about you. It’s about them and their unhealed spiritual, mental, or emotional issues.
  9. Pray for them. (This is really hard to do, but an important part of helping you to not become resentful or bitter)
  10. Don’t feel guilty for building and maintaining boundaries. (Boundaries are the invisible fences that help us to keep good in and keep bad out)

Lynn Owens is a Licensed Professional Counselor providing counseling for women, couples, and families at Made to Thrive Counseling, PLLC

Lynn is a Christian, woman, wife, mother, counselor, cat lover (even though she has a dog :), and an advocate for healthy boundaries.

Resources (Books)

  1. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  2. Mothers Who Can’t Love, a Healing Guide for Daughters by Susan Forward
  3. Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody