My Mother Makes Me Crazy
Most of us have someone in our life that seems to thrive from throwing our lives off balance. They do this in myriad ways--from being controlling, to being chaotic, to being so dependent and needy that they drain us of energy.
While it may seem like they try to hurt us, this is usually not the case. They don’t lay awake and scheme up ways to manipulate us. Their crazymaking behavior comes naturally, and if we get “hooked” by their behavior, we can end up feeling crazy as well.
I received an email recently from a woman whose mother, in particular, was driving her crazy. We’re often the most affected by someone close to us--a mate, mother, brother, sister, employer or employee--someone with whom we have close contact and perhaps even feel trapped by the relationship.
Consider the situation of this grown woman and her relationship to her mother.
I am very close to my mother and see her ruining her life. She lives alone and has been divorced and is now separated from her husband. She reaches out to me for my help, yet won’t really take the counsel I offer her. I don’t understand her. She complains about being depressed, yet won’t do anything to gather friends around her. In fact, she pushes people away by her critical nature. I want to move closer to her to help her but my husband refuses, saying that she would ruin our marriage. I think he might be right.
Shouldn’t grown children take care of their parents? She has separated from my step-father, who was the only one I trusted to take care of my mother when I was gone. I feel like I need to set my needs aside to see if I can fix her, but then she would be the crazymaker in my life. I know I need to live my own life but all I want to do is take care of hersituation. She is unable to put boundaries between her and the people that use her for money. Then they take advantage of her and she calls crying to me. I just sometimes wish I was the daughter in this relationship. I have been praying and trying to talk to her but I don’t know what to do anymore.
This email suggests a very dysfunctional relationship-- one that appears to be hurting yourself, your marriage and possibly even your mother. While we can certainly understand your concern for your mother, and can even applaud the caring you obviously have for her, you must work on stepping back, gaining perspective, and setting boundaries for your own well-being and that of your marriage.
Your mother appears to fit the description of a “Sufferer” as described in my book, Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life. With poor or non-existent boundaries, sufferers have a passive approach to life, allowing others to take advantage of them. While they tend to complain about their problems, they do little actively to solve those same problems. They also tend to rely on others to fix their problems, as appears to be the case in this situation. Though your mother’s life clearly isn’t working, she thwarts others’ efforts to help her. Though lonely, she pushes people away. Clearly she has many self-defeating behaviors with little insight into how she contributes to her problems.
What is your responsibility in the matter? Certainly the Scriptures are clear that you are to honor your parents. (Exodus 20:12) You are to treat them with respect and care for them. But, does that mean you are to set your own needs aside in an attempt to “fix” your mother’s problems? I don’t think so. You have a primary responsibility to yourself, your marriage and to your relationship to God. While you can offer appropriate help, you must be careful not to enable her mother to become overly reliant upon you so as to not take an active role in solving her own problems.
We must also remember that CrazyMakers have many self-defeating behaviors, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get caught in one of her traps. It would be one thing if your mother were to accept your help and make changes in her life. It is something else all together to seek help and then not take it when offered. You must remind yourself of the limits of the help you can legitimately give—we must prayerfully determine the legitimate burdens of others that we can help carry as opposed to the burdens that she is responsible for carrying. As the Serenity Prayer says, we must know what changes we can help make and those we can’t, understanding the difference.
It may also help to guard your expectations of your mother. Is she trying to develop healthier boundaries? If she isn’t in counseling to learn about healthier boundaries, she’s not likely to grow. Watch your feelings of irritation as signals that you may be getting hooked into taking care of your mother in areas that are hers to manage. Listen to your husband as he offers a unique perspective, less affected by the longstanding patterns you’ve had with your mother.
In summary, I suggest that you let your mother know how much you love her, but also set clear boundaries on how involved you’ll get in her life. You may be better off loving her from a distance, allowing her to live her life the way she sees fit.
For more information on this topic, see my book Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life.