Mom’s Leaving Me with Hurt, Guilt, Resentment, and Anger

I am 21 years old and a senior in college, yet I feel that I have been taking care of my mom for the past 11 months. In January, my sister left home and never returned and refuses to speak to my mom. My mom, obviously upset, started leaning on me for support, which I was happy to give because she's my mom and I believed she would do the same for me. However, she became increasingly depressed and paranoid, threatening to commit suicide, not answering my calls for days at a time with no explanation, and believes that I will abandon her one day in the future too. I reassured her time and time again that I would never leave her, but it seems to be a constant source of worry. Eventually, this took a toll on our own relationship, and I started to feel resentment toward her—how dare she accuse me of such an act after I woke up in the middle of the night multiple times to console her while she cries, or helped to track my sister down when my mom needed to know her whereabouts! She has told me numerous times that she feels like she lost a daughter, and that her efforts to make a "perfect family" have failed miserably. Eventually, my mom started nitpicking on my own life and decisions since I was the only one she felt attached to (my dad is very distant from all this). She reads all of my bank statements and will not let me spend any of the money I earn from my own jobs. Obviously, this has become yet another source of conflict between us, and I eventually started withholding information from her and sometimes lying because I found that I have neither the time nor the energy to inform her of my every move and deal with her reactions. However, as predicted, the truth always comes out, and that is exactly what happened recently. After a stint of silence from my mom, she emailed me and said she is leaving the family and does not want to see anyone, and that "good people who care about others never lie" and that I would never change my "lying ways." She had apparently been thinking about leaving for a while but didn't know "when the best time would be to tell me." I feel hurt, helpless, confused, and guilty. I am hurt because I feel like all of the time and energy I have put into helping her cope these past 11 months has been a waste, since she was planning on leaving anyway. I feel guilty because I feel that my lies have driven her to abandon the family. However, these feelings war with the resentment and fury I feel toward her. I am furious with her for accusing me of not caring about her when, ESPECIALLY these past 11 months, I have put my own life on hold to help her whenever she needed me. I am also so upset at the fact I spend all my time reassuring her that I will never leave, when in reality she is the one walking out on me. Please help me to accept the fact she is leaving and help me to move on with my life. I still have school and two jobs, and I don't understand how I'm going to be able to handle these three things. Thank you! —Guilty and Alone
Dear Guilty and Alone,

First, I want to tell you that you are absolutely entitled to all of your feelings—even the ones that seem to contradict each other. Relationships are very complex; there is room for many different emotions. You may be able to achieve a little bit of peace if you give yourself permission to end the war between hurt, helplessness, confusion, guilt, resentment, and fury. You don’t have to choose; you can have them all.

From what you have written about your mother, it seems like she is in considerable pain and struggling with a lot of her own issues. It is very possible that her intensely protective behavior toward you is indicative of her own deep wounds. She may be trying to protect you from sustaining the wounds that she has experienced in her own life. In other words, her behavior is not about you, but rather her own suffering. Sometimes realizing this, and constantly reminding yourself of it, can go a long way toward not taking her behavior personally.

Her behavior is clearly taking a toll on her, you, your relationship with her, and probably many other relationships in her life—remember, this is about her, not you, so it certainly impacts her relationships with others. It sounds like she could really benefit from being in therapy, if she isn’t already. You may wish to encourage her to pursue this. That said, at the end of the day, your mom has to make her own choice about whether to get help. While you can suggest it, encourage it, and even offer to help her find it, you can’t make her do it.

In fact, the only thing you do have control over is your behavior. It sounds like your mom is behaving in some pretty self-destructive ways and she is really hurting you. While it can be tempting to try to find ways to control her—to make her get help, to make her see that you have sacrificed so much to be there for her, to make her know that she is loved—you simply cannot. Your mom is the only person in the world who can control what she does. Likewise, you can control what you do. So, it is probably time to shift the focus to yourself. Partnering with your own therapist to work through the hurt and pain, which likely lurks beneath the fury, can help you stop personalizing your mom’s behavior and develop more productive ways of coping.

In addition to therapy, I would suggest being compassionate and patient with yourself, and doing all that you can to make yourself as comfortable as possible. It can be very painful to have a parent like this. Everyone deserves to have a consistently loving, nurturing mom who makes them feel safe. While your mom was unable to provide this for you, maybe part of your healing will be learning how to provide it for yourself. Try to take good care of yourself—eat well, exercise, and get a good amount of sleep. Seek out friends and family members who you trust and feel safe with to support you. You’ve been so focused on your mom for so long, it’s time to keep the focus on you and your needs.

Kind regards,

Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Owen

    February 20th, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    Sadly this all sounds so toxic. You were only doing what you felt like you had to do to protect yourself.

  • nellie

    February 21st, 2015 at 9:31 AM

    It could be that she is doing all of this for attention, even if it is negative attention, because that is the only way that she thinks that you will be around her anymore.
    If you don’t think that she is in any danger then I think it would probably be for the best to give her some space right now, see if she is willing to hold up her end of the stick.
    If I had to put money on it I would say that eventually she will come back and will try to reestablish a relationship again, and at that point you will have to decide if that is what would be in your best interest

  • Noel

    February 23rd, 2015 at 4:21 PM

    It’s almost as if the two of you have now flip flopped with the feelings

  • al

    February 25th, 2015 at 11:33 AM

    Why all of the self blame? Don’t you see that she had a big role in this too? It just isn’t healthy for you to now be claiming all of this blame for yourself.

  • D.b.D.

    February 27th, 2015 at 12:16 AM

    I admit that I skimmed some of this after realizing that because your mother is clearly suffering some psychological issues Beyond your ability to cope with, that are causing her to behave and think irrationally and destructively it’s not helpful to blame her, or try to understand her actions, or to take them personally, or try to work things out with her while she is in this state. It simply won’t work, and because she is thinking in confused and unrealistic ways you can’t reason with her or really even blame her for anything other than not getting help for herself which IS her responsibility. You deserve all the credit and respect in the world for what you’ve done for her and sometimes you just have to know that you deserve it and let the satisfaction of knowing that you did something really good be enough to make you happy, because credit doesn’t always come from outside like it should. Also the things that you’re going through and that she is doing that are hurting you and causing you unhappiness are all unacceptable and irrational behavioral choices and you have a right to not have to have that happen. She needs psychological help and you need to give yourself permission to demand respect and good treatment that you deserve as well as insist that she get help for herself as she has no right to let her issues impact the lives of anyone else negatively because she simply fails to do what she is perfectly capable of doing, which is get help. Or she can not have people in her life if she wants to indulge in bad behavior at the expense of others. I’m sensitive to why she is like this but she has to help her self for you and everyone else or expect people to stay far away and that is just life. In a nutshell I believe this is your situation and I hope that that’s a starting point for you.

  • D.b.D.

    February 27th, 2015 at 12:23 AM

    I feel I should say that the reason why she is like this or whether she suffered, and in a sad turn of events that inspire sympathy this is result, well that is ultimately completely irrelevant and not your job to figure out. On the same note, and I do this a lot, considering that other people are dealing with hard things when they mistreat you and having some sympathy is always good but not if it reaches the point where you’re making excuses for someone who is treating you poorly. Supporting her while she helps herself is something that would be healthy under the right circumstances, and kind to do, as long as you set healthy boundaries to protect yourself and those boundaries are being respected and you are feeling okay and like the situation is something you can manage. As long as you’re taking care of yourself and respecting your right to happiness and peace as well anything else you do in life should be okay.

  • Patricia P.

    March 5th, 2015 at 10:09 AM

    Dear guilty and alone. First and foremost let me offer my sincere empathy for what you have gone through and for any residual difficulties that have come about for you because of this. It is my hope that you were able to follow some of the points offered by Sarah and the others. It is difficult to manage chaos both externally and internally when it comes to experiencing pain with a family member. As a mom and a therapist I can’t imagine the kind of pain you have been put through and for it to be perpetrated by your mom. But if I may offer some thoughts on your mom and the description you provided of her behaviors, I would concur with the idea that there sounds as though there are some unresolved psychological challenges with her and although that may or may not give you some solace, it can definitely offer you some leverage in letting go. Often we believe because we are taught to maintain relationships, take care of and be there for our parents and family, we neglect to see that it is completely healthy and sometimes necessary to allow ourselves to set boundaries and say “enough is enough.” Now, that doesn’t mean that it gets easier because truth be told when we set healthy boundaries, as I see you have on many levels, the resistance can get ugly. Unfortunately many times, no matter what we do or say is ever enough to change the mindset or perception of the person receiving the help especially with the types of mental and emotional health barriers you’ve experienced with your mom. If you can, take solace for all of the wonderful ways you tried to be there for her, use this experience to build upon the boundaries you have set, nurture the goodness of your heart and spirit and be proud of the man you are. Resentment, anger and guilt are hostage keepers. As normal as those emotions can be and certainly earned by her from you, they can hold you hostage and overshadow the strong, caring and responsible young man that you are. Allow yourself the time to mourn your loss, be gentle and courageous with yourself and know that you are a good and wholesome individual who will overcome this and will be even stronger- for it and in spite of it. Be kind and diligent in your journey of recovery, taking care of yourself and getting positive support that will help you carry this, let go of the things you have no control over and leave it where it belongs, wherever that may be. Good luck and I wish you the best in life!

  • mm

    November 24th, 2017 at 5:34 PM

    Dear Guilty and Alone,
    I am so sorry you’ve had to experience this but you are not alone. My mother has demonstrated similar behaviors, though i’m an only child. It can only be described as toxic, but I know that it makes us question whether or not we have been “good daughters”. It sounds like you’ve done everything you can, but her choices/behaviors/unresolved issues will not allow her to be in a healthy relationship with you, or other family members. I hope that you are able to let go of her hurtful – and likely toxic – actions and focus on yourself, your school and your future. I’ve been in a similar situation with my own mom, and it does make one question how can this happen (i too called every day, visited, ran errands, listened and tried my best to help her, but she needs therapy and I can not force her to, but I can help myself!) but I hope that you are able to move on and enjoy your senior year in college, which you deserve. Good luck and as others have said, take care of yourself and be good to you :)

  • W

    January 17th, 2023 at 11:12 PM

    Hi I have a question of whether my feelings are valid or not. My mom moved in with me almost a year ago after I just bought my home. She was living on her own and she had a situation not a health situation one where she just didn’t feel like taking care of herself so I ended up feeling guilty and told her she can move in with me and I’ve been not the same sense. I’m now miserable angry resentful and can’t stand her being here I feel like hurting the mom she should have taken my feelings and my life into consideration and let me live on my own and set up instead of her coming to live with me I feel like I’m living back at home again and I’m very angry and resentful towards her. It feels like she makes every situation about her. I was upset about a friend who had cancer and I was telling her that he went for a cat scan and they found out that it was a miracle that he didn’t have cancer anymore and before I could say anything more right away she yelled up and said oh my God I prayed for him I was praying for him I just prayed for him this morning and instead of saying thank you like I probably should have said I just got very angry at her and didn’t even want to talk anymore because I felt like she took that situation and made it about her and there was more to the story than I wanted to tell her that was upsetting me but after she made this situation even about Her I didn’t even want to talk to her anymore is this normal to feel this way I feel horrible feeling this way towards her but I just don’t even want to be around or talk to her too much right now because I feel like she just takes everything away or makes it about her and I can’t stand it anymore.

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