Question from a reader:
Three years ago I requested a break from my mother as my health was bad and stress aggravated it. I am coming to a place where I might want to have a relationship with her again. I am very nervous about this. Even though I’ve changed, it’s likely that she hasn’t. My biggest concern is that I will fall back into old patterns with her. I don’t like who I become when I deal with her. What do you recommend to daughters who want to reconnect with their mothers after being “no contact”?
Dear Adult Daughter…
I so get this one. And it’s why I love the Superwoman/Kryptonite analogy: we are powerful and sovereign beings on our own, but in our mother’s presence, it’s like we become helpless and powerless…and feel like little girls with no agency over ourselves.
[This, by the way, is normal.]
As you have probably experienced in the three years since you went no contact, taking a break from the relationship gave you an opportunity to get to know yourself better. You may find that you respect and trust yourself more because you’ve learned about who you are separate from her. You are more grounded in what you value.
And yet, as you said, you fear not being able to remain grounded in her presence…or liking who you are when you deal with her.
Here’s what I recommend:
#1 Know why you want to reinitiate contact.
What are your hopes for doing so? Do you like and respect your reasons? There are no right or wrong answers here but it’s helpful to understand your goals (the future-focused results* you are looking for), motivations (how you feel about what you’re going to do), and intentions (the energy you put into achieving the goal and your willingness to do it).
*It’s important to mention that goals and results are about YOU, not her. It’s the difference between “my mother respects me” and “I respect myself in my mother’s presence.” The second one is something you can achieve whether she participates or not.
#2 Know your “triggers” and how you react when you’re triggered (aka your patterns).
What is the threat you (and your body) perceive in her presence? What are you fearful of? And how do you tend to react to that perceived threat? Do you want to stay and fight or run away? Do you shrink and become helpless? Do you people-please in order to appease her? Simply understanding your threat responses can go a long way towards having more compassion for yourself, which translates to liking who you are when you are with her.
The basic prescription is:
If you notice yourself stuck in a loop of being irritated, annoyed, frustrated, angry, and raging, your body is asking you to “settle the energy.” Breath work is a great way to settle energy.
If you notice yourself stuck in a loop of being confused, disorientated, fearful, hopeless/helpless, and overwhelm, your body is asking you to “move the energy.” EFT/Tapping is a great way to move the energy. Here is another.
You can also work on slowly expanding the capacity of your nervous system so you can be more regulated in her presence. For this I recommend the somatic practices in the “Tend” chapter of The Difficult Mother-Daughter Relationship Journal (you can also download them here). Click here to watch me do one of them.
#3 Know what boundaries you need to have in place prior to initiating contact.
Do you trust yourself to honor your boundaries? If no, what needs to happen in order for you to be able to honor your boundaries? I have written extensively on boundaries and recommend the “Separate” and “Limit” chapters of The Difficult Mother-Daughter Relationship Journal to really dig in.
Basically, your boundaries are clarity about what’s okay and what’s not okay, and when things are not okay, taking care of yourself. A good example: if your mother likes to smoke and you don’t like being around smokers, you can excuse yourself. Another example: if there are certain subjects you don’t want to talk about with her, you can let her know that those subjects are off limits. If she brings them up, you can end the visit.
Most of all, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect, linear process. It’s normal for it to feel awkward and nerve-wracking.
Nothing has gone wrong.
Related: Why Rehashing The Past Doesn’t Work
Much, much love,
P.S. Here’s what I know: you ARE powerful and sovereign. That is your natural state. It’s already done. You simply forget (because that’s the nature of the human brain). Your only job is to remember who you are. I know this because this is my job, as well. Always.
Here’s a link to my calendar. Let’s chat about what you want to remember.