3 Steps for Reconnecting with Your Mother

3 Steps for Reconnecting with Your Mother

Your relationship with your mother affects your entire life. If yours is challenging, now is the perfect time to transform it into one of love, respect and connection. When you do, it will transform your life.

In a coaching conversation with a young woman about her highly reactive mother, I recommended three steps for transforming their relationship. She graciously gave her permission to share our conversation here with you, edited for clarity and brevity. 

As you will see, her situation was pretty extreme, but whether your mother curses at you like hers did, or just gives you “that look” that has you question yourself, the three steps I suggested for her might make a big difference for you, too.



My mother is the type of person who thinks everything is a big deal. If she can’t find something, she starts cursing and let’s it ruin her day. This means treating those around her none too kindly. If something doesn’t get done on time, the world is going to end.


She gets frustrated and curses at the most minor things, even just getting a phone call while cooking, and I don’t do well with people who are like that. Maybe I wouldn’t react so strongly to it if she hadn’t cursed around me as a kid and directed it at me both when I was a kid and a young adult.


The other thing I don’t appreciate when I visit her is her making me feel like I’m not good enough. I try so hard to remind myself that it’s her issue, not mine. Despite that, I still find myself questioning if I’m doing something wrong.


I broke down this afternoon after returning home due to the stress and how torn up I was feeling by her words. And she honestly never apologizes for it. She left after asking me “What the “f” is wrong with you?” just because I got distracted and threw a banana peel in the trash.


I guess I’m just looking for advice on to how to deal with her. 



How painful that visit was for you! Getting sworn at for accidentally throwing a banana peel in the trash?!! When you heard her, every fiber of your being probably got activated. That’s not how you wanted this visit to be, or your other visits in the future.

That you continue to visit your mother and are asking for advice to help you deal with her outbursts and criticism tells me that maintaining a relationship with her must be very important to you. It sounds like this is the challenge you are facing:

How to have a more adult relationship with your mother where you feel loved and respected by her, and she feels loved and respected by you.

Since your mother’s short fuse has been in place since your childhood, it’s understandable that her swearing would activate you whether it’s directed at you or not. Since her use of the “f” word sounds like it signifies irrational rage, as a child who recognized that, it would have been smart for you to use the “freeze” response and stand down whenever it came up. That’s your survival instinct kicking in.

Now as a young adult, you can more safely question your responses and seek new strategies, which is exactly what you are doing in this correspondence.

There are three strategies that can help you change your relationship with her. You can use them like this:

1.  When she swears at you—set a personal boundary


2.  When she swears at something else—validate her thoughts and feelings


3.  When you want to feel understood—validate your own thoughts and feelings



1. The first strategy is setting personal boundaries.

I don’t know how you respond to her swearing at you now, but I’m guessing that since it tears you up, you do not immediately stand up for yourself by setting a boundary. The parent-child dynamic and your freeze response that was appropriate in childhood may be keeping you from realizing that you can and should set your own boundary.

Effective boundaries are not meant to control other people; they simply tell people where to stop so they can control themselves, and hopefully lead to problem-solving. An easy format is:

  • Say what is or is not OK with you;
  • Say what you want;
  • Say what they want.

When you first try setting boundaries with your mother, be prepared for her to get defensive, because somewhere deep inside she probably doesn’t really want to swear at you and either can’t control it or may not even realize she wants to control it yet. Part of defensive behavior is blaming the other person, but don’t let that derail you.

For example when you threw the banana peel in the trash (instead of compost?), it could sound like this:

Mom: “Hey! What the “f” is wrong with you?!! That’s the trash!”


You: (stand up and meet her with the same energy level) “Whoa! Swearing at me is not OK! (Then calmly) You want it composted, and I want to be reminded gently when I make a mistake. I want you on my side.”


Mom: “Well, you should know better!”


You: “I do, and I forget… Look, I know you hate mistakes, and swearing is what you do when you are mad. It just doesn’t work for me. I don’t like it, and I get scared. When I mess up, I want your help, not your anger. I want us on the same side working together. I think you want that, too.”

Stating a clear boundary then saying what you both want on a higher plane can open up much needed authentic conversations and lead not only to solutions, but to greater connection, less defensiveness, and future apologies about things in the past.

An important part of this for you might be accepting the fact that being sworn at scares you, and simply owning that. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just true. When you set boundaries out of respect for you, she will start to respect them and you, too.

It all starts with you standing up for you in a respectful way.

2. The second strategy is validation of your mother’s thoughts and feelings.

This will be easier to do once you start setting your boundaries, because knowing you can set boundaries will reduce the fear factor for you.

When you are less activated, you will begin to see that her swearing is her release valve for a huge amount of stress, and as unpleasant as it is, swearing probably acts quicker than anything else to help her bring her feelings into check and at least function the rest of the day, even if not very pleasantly.

When you start validating her reactions, you will probably see them reduce in frequency, intensity and duration. In a nutshell, that’s because human’s are designed to communicate until they are heard. We also react appropriately to what we perceive. So not only is your mother communicating her frustration, she is reacting appropriately to her own interpretation of what she sees.

Whether it seems right to you or not, it sounds like on an unconscious level she may perceive mistakes as a threat to her survival, and is reacting to that threat. For example, children raised with angry criticism often do this and are right to be frightened. And since their childhood beliefs tell them they need to be perfect to survive, when they have their own kids, they subconsciously try to pass that survival plan on, and get frustrated when their children don’t seem to get it.

Another thing about human nature is that if no one believes you, you escalate to convince them. When you can’t, your fear and frustration levels get higher and higher, which makes your reactions look even less rational, so on it goes.

It sounds like your mom has been caught in that cycle so long that by now she has a hair trigger. Every little mistake really does set her off, because to her there are no little mistakes. They all represent impending doom. If that’s it, then saying, “You’re over-reacting,” will just upset her more because how can it be over-reacting when your survival is on the line?!!

That’s why validation works like magic for all of us. When your mom hears the phone ring during her meal preparation and perceives it as an interruption that will make her make a mistake or miss a deadline, validating her reaction by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS) would sound like this:

SWYS: “You hate that! You’d have to stop everything to answer now, and you want to focus on your meal, not answer phones!”

Validation is stepping into her perspective without judging or questioning it, and then “making her right” by saying how she sees things and how she feels about them. The point is to see her point of view and demonstrate understanding. To keep from sounding patronizing, your comments have to be authentic, not sarcastic or critical.

After feeling validated and understood a number of times, eventually your mother might not need to swear as much, because she is getting heard, which reverses escalation. Maybe not the first time, but later, if you could bring yourself to add, “The f-word is too kind a word for a moment like that!” and wink, she might even crack a smile, or at least be stunned with a statement of acceptance like that coming from you. Acceptance by others helps us accept ourselves.

Validation is the secret to allowing her reactions to be her issue, not yours.


3. The third strategy is validation of your own thoughts and feelings.

Since your mom’s validation of you was missing for most or all of your life, you can validate yourself by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE to yourself. Just start your sentences with “You” not “I.”

“I” affirms what you think and feel and makes self-critical thoughts seem more real. “You” makes you the loving observer of yourself, gives you perspective, makes self-critical thoughts feel less real, and sets up a much needed internal dialog to get yourself heard, as in:

SWYS: “You are afraid to make mistakes around your mom.”


Yourself: “Yes, I am. I hate it when she swears at me.”


SWYS: “You do! You really hate that! it scares you!” etc.


SWYS internal dialogs always “make you right” for feeling and thinking the way you do.

When your thoughts about yourself are negative or self-critical, you validate those, too, because validation helps shift negative judgments into preferences like:

Yourself: “I’m just stupid to think that she will ever change.”


SWYS: “You think you’re stupid to be optimistic about her when you’re sure she will never change. You wish she would change. You don’t like how she treats you or herself. You like to feel loved and respected. Everybody does…even her. Hmmm. Something must really seem wrong to her for her to act that way.”

That line of thought removes the negative self-judgment (stupid) and turns it into preferences (wishes, wants, likes) which reflect your higher self. When your higher self shows up, you can be more understanding of yourself and others, see that their problems are not really about you, and help you love them (and yourself) just the way they are.

It may not sound like you are doing much when you SAY WHAT YOU SEE to yourself, but shifting internal, self-critical conversations by validating your thoughts and feelings is very powerful and can transform your relationship with your mother and yourself.

Self-validation accelerates personal growth.

If you want a better understanding of how validation works, you can read my book here: SAY WHAT YOU SEE. It’s written for parents, but applies to everyone. It helps you see that you were right about how you wanted to be treated as a child and how you want to treat others in your life now, plus it tells you how. 

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