Grown Daughters of Avoidant Mothers: How to Break the Cycle

The bond between mother and daughter is one that cannot be broken–even if it already is.

Many assume that this “bond” is naturally occurring, completely safe from the tumultuous and emotional existence that accompanies being human. But the reality is this: the connection between a daughter and the woman who gave her life can only be as resilient and healthy as each woman herself is.

It has been a fairly recent discovery of mine that my mother struggled with depression, anxiety, and avoidant personality disorder throughout the course of my childhood, teenage years, and even now into my adulthood. Sadly, I lived for many years wondering why I felt such a deep sense of dissatisfaction with the way our relationship operated–I just assumed that since I was one-half of the relationship, I was probably partially to blame.

I wish I could pinpoint specific instances throughout my childhood where I recognized her often emotionally-erratic behavior, but I simply wasn’t able to understand the psychology behind it until I was a little older. However, in my middle school and high school days, it would go like this:

The car radio would be turned up to tune out my abhorrent behavior, her door would be slammed to avoid any semblance of real conversation, a perfectly constructed one-liner would present itself as a kick to my guts before I heard her stomp off. Ninety-nine percent of the time, she’d afterward creep into the living room where I sat, or my bedroom as I pretended to sleep, and kiss me on the head.

Back then, I thought that she just didn’t care enough to talk to me about my feelings; now I understand that it was something much more complex and difficult to grasp than that–something even she couldn’t understand. This was the hardest part of our interactions–wanting so badly to give in, to embrace her, to make her feel better, but also being sad, hurt, and fearful of it all the same.

Thankfully, with the help of therapy and an incalculable amount of time spent in self-reflection, I know that no matter where my mother’s emotional interactions with me stem from, I don’t want to continue the pattern. More importantly, I have clarity on many things: I have realized that while her actions hurt me, they have also shaped me immensely, and I am proud of who I’ve become. I understand that just as our strained relationship was not my fault, it was also not hers–she was battling a disorder, and doing that is harder than anyone can imagine. Ultimately, I know that my mom loves me and I love her, and that will never change.

Here are three affirmations that have helped me cope, heal, and grow as a young woman with a mother who has battled with avoidant personality disorder:

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It is not–I repeat, it is not–your fault.

No matter who you are or what you think you might have done/not done to cause your mother to act in the ways she did, it is not your fault. There is a lot of evidence that suggests an avoidant personality comes from a blend of genetic factors and childhood trauma–neither of which you could have controlled or predicted. While you may feel as though you are the source of your mother’s emotional torrents, you must always tell yourself that it is much more complex than that, and allow yourself to feel everything you feel–positive or negative–because you’re hurting, too.

Ultimately, you are in control of the interactions you have, no one else.

Because you’ve already been through so much as a young girl without the fairytale mother-daughter relationship you wanted, you are incredibly wise. You are strong. You are resilient. You are so capable of being emotionally stable and level-headed. Use all of these traits to your advantage in communications with your mother, and stay true to how you feel while remaining calm. Know that you will not change your mother, but you can change how you react to her.

Your mother does, without a doubt, love you more than you will understand.

This goes without question, and while it may, again, not be what you think, it is the truth. Recognize that the extent to which she can show it has been damaged in some way, that there are a few things missing from the grand puzzle of your relationship, but it doesn’t change the fact that she loves you in the best way she knows how. Understanding and accepting your mother’s disorder is the hardest part, but it will allow you to be much more empathetic toward her in difficult situations. You can then begin to construct interactions with her that will allow you to at least have some of the pieces in place, and might even encourage her to seek treatment or specialized therapy in order to improve her quality of life.

Being the grown daughter of an avoidant mother is no walk in the park–it is a long backroad with many twists, sharp turns, and dead ends. But, if you can find acceptance in yourself and your pain, you will find it much easier to repair and maintain a working relationship with the woman who calls you her own. And, if you can both understand and appreciate the pieces of your relationship that you love, it might make seeking treatment become the prime option for your mother–and make healing that little girl who lives inside you a little easier.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mood, anxiety, or personality disorders, reach out for help. At Bridges to Recovery, our clients receive compassionate and expert care at one of our two comforting and welcoming residential facilities. We also offer family therapy as part of the comprehensive treatment, to help you mend relationships that mental disorders have strained. The road to recovery starts here–contact us today to take that first step.

Lead Image Source: Flickr user Michael Dorokhov