I would like to help my mother

Good evening! My problem is as follows. My father is abusive and passively aggressive, and his mood is constantly changing. All my life, my entire family (me, my mother, and my sister) lived in fear of where the bomb will land this time around. Everybody walked on eggshells, trying not to break a single rule.

And while it’s worth talking about my father’s constant displeasures, problems with men, and developing the “good girl” syndrome, I wouldn’t want to talk about myself. I’d like to talk about my mother. All her life, she pleased his whims, didn’t ever go out, suffered endless insults, and tried to fight with his alcohol addiction. Recently, the situation has become very bad; my father completely stopped working. My mother was carrying the whole family on herself. I watched all of this until I got stronger and got on my feet by myself. And I had a chance to stop it all. At one point, with the support of my extended family, I miraculously got her out of that relationship. She assured me that this time it was definitely over, the end, that she couldn’t go on that way anymore. We rented out an apartment for her and everything seemed to be getting better. But then my dad suddenly got himself together, quit drinking (again!), started doing housework, found a job, and started hinting at her again that things would be different now. It’s a trivial, horrible situation. And of course, she wants to believe it.

She says that without him, she can’t see herself with anyone, that we’ll have our own families, and that she doesn’t want to live alone – at least with someone. He is family, after all… I know what she needs to do: get out of this toxic relationship that’s been poisoning our family for so many years, but how do I get her to understand this? I’ve given her tons of books, articles, and scientific papers about the problem. I fought with her, I spoke calmly, and all of this was for nothing.

And I thought: Is there anything I can do at all? Somehow, I feel responsible for all this. Although who suddenly gave me the right to decide things here? Can you tell me what I can reasonably do in this situation? Should I continue to apply moral pressure on her, or should I just let the situation go and let them handle it? It’s just that I’m sure none of this is gonna work out and then I’m gonna have to save her again. I hope I’m lucky and you’ll pick my story for your #debriefing. Respectfully, Hope. Hi, H.

This answer is for you, as well as for the other people who are trying to save their relatives and are worried for them. In our “debriefing”, we also received letters about incredible anxiety for elderly parents, and about people’s difficulties in building their own lives because of worries that something will happen to their relatives. This answer will also be useful to all those who love to take on the duties and responsibilities for someone else’s life. 

I will answer as we go through the letter.

“My problem is as follows. My father is abusive and passively aggressive, and his mood is constantly changing. All my life, my entire family (me, my mother, and my sister) lived in fear of where the bomb will land this time around. Everybody walked on eggshells, trying not to break a single rule.”

I’m very sorry that you grew up in such difficult conditions. It certainly affects your personality, your thoughts, and your habits. You could say that you lived in endless stress and fear. I extend my pity.

And while it’s worth talking about my father’s constant displeasures, problems with men, and developing the “good girl” syndrome, I wouldn’t want to talk about myself. I’d like to talk about my mother.”

Here’s the mistake. It’s worth talking about yourself. Your mother is an adult. Unlike children, a mother can leave her husband if he is not adequate or if for other reasons he is not suitable for her. 

A child has to wait to grow up before leaving such a family.

Your mother is the person who’s okay with it, however weird that sounds. If she couldn’t stand him, she’d have left him already. HER decision to stay or not to stay is HER responsibility.

Every person is responsible for his or her own happiness. Your mother’s life and happiness is in her control, but your life and your happiness are your responsibility. It’s your responsibility to talk about yourself. It’s worth taking care of and solving your own problems.

“All her life, she pleased his whims, didn’t ever go out, suffered endless insults, and tried to fight with his alcohol addiction. Recently, the situation has become very bad; my father completely stopped working. My mother was carrying the whole family on herself.”

This is your mother’s decision. A person makes a decision from a set of different factors and ideas. And if Mom made that decision, then for one reason or another she sees it to be the right one.  You can tell her something, somehow take care of things, but usually, it’s useless.

“I watched all of this until I got stronger and got on my feet by myself. And I had a chance to stop it all. At one point, with the support of my extended family, I miraculously got her out of that relationship.”

From one person to another, I understand you. “How can I leave my mother in such a difficult situation?” But there’s not much you can do. An emotional dependency exists between parents. You can’t help it. She’ll continue to be dragged back until she HERSELF decides to stop.

“She assured me that this time it was definitely over, the end, that she couldn’t go on that way anymore.”

This isn’t worth believing. When addicted, a person has 2 different opposing opinions. Either they’re sick and tired of drinking, smoking, returning to someone else… or time passes and they run right back.

“We rented out an apartment for her and everything seemed to be getting better. But then my dad suddenly got himself together, quit drinking (again!), started doing housework, found a job, and started hinting at her again that things would be different now. It’s a trivial, horrible situation. And of course, she wants to believe it. She says that without him, she can’t see herself with anyone, that we’ll have our own families, and that she doesn’t want to live alone – at least with someone. He is family, after all…”

Your mother is not showing love.  The concept of “not wanting to live alone, to live with at least someone” is also about using your father for her own purposes. It’s an attempt to muffle her inner needs in a familiar way.

“I know what she needs to do.”

You can’t know what she needs to do. You can know how to do it your way. But what she needs is something that only she knows. From the way you describe her thoughts, she’s already gone back to him in her mind. She sees advantages to her relationship with your father.  

“Get out of this toxic relationship that’s been poisoning our family for so many years.”

It’s useless to leave a toxic relationship if you don’t work with yourself. It’s like changing one toxic relationship for another.

“How do I get her to understand this? I’ve given her tons of books, articles, and scientific papers about the problem. I fought with her, I spoke calmly, and all of this was for nothing. And I thought: Is there anything I can do at all?”

You can’t do anything. Your mother doesn’t want to live any differently. It’s her decision and her right. 

By continuing to fight revolving doors, you:

1. You will waste your strength, your time, your life. 2. This waste will be a completely useless investment, disappointing you time after time.

If, however, she herself decides and understands that she needs to live differently, you can support her as you wish.

“Somehow, I feel responsible for all this.” 

Ask yourself, why do you feel responsible for all this? Who appointed you? Was it you or someone else? You can only take responsibility for your life, your responsibilities, your safety, and your children’s upbringing. But if you feel that you are also responsible for others, it’s an illusion. It only seems that way to you.

“Although who suddenly gave me the right to decide things here?”

That’s the right question. It’s not your life.

“Can you tell me what I can reasonably do in this situation? Should I continue to apply moral pressure on her, or should I just let the situation go and let them handle it? It’s just that I’m sure none of this is gonna work out and then I’m gonna have to save her again.”

1. Understand that you and your mom are suffering from codependency. If possible, treat yours. Psychotherapy, articles, books, our “Loveholism” course… There are free groups for people who are codependent. If you attend these groups, you will see many people with similar qualities, for example:

  • Saving someone, but not being able to see their needs.
  • Worrying about others, getting into their lives, to see what’s best for them.
  • Constant anxiety, etc.


2. Try to understand that your mom has to make her own steps, make her own decisions.


3. Build your life. Your mother is a grown-up. In a healthy world – if she doesn’t help herself, no one else will. She has to grow on her own. And if she goes for help, you should listen to yourself. What are your emotions? Do you want to participate in this whole Santa Barbara for the 20th time?

I hope you’ve received the answers. I would like to say that if you wish, your whole childhood and fears can be worked through. So can your codependency. Regarding Mom, I know it’s hard to leave a loved one in pain. But our help doesn’t always have a positive effect. By saving Mom, you don’t help her become stronger. You just support her addicted state.  

I understand that for a co-dependent person, often the hardest words are: “take care of yourself and stay away from others.” But this is a very important stage in recovery.  I hope that you understand that. Take care of yourself.

Mindspa Counseling psychologist,

Natalia Nikulina