Ask an Expert: How Can I Detach from My Abusive Addict Mother?

By Rita Milios 12/29/14

Today's question is on how to deal with a controlling but loving mother.


My mother was a meth addict when she was young. Then she did a lot of ecstasy and, for a while, heroin. Now she smokes pot every day. My issue is she is extremely abusive and controlling even if also loving. I know it makes no sense. I have been on my own for years now -  I am 24 and doing well on my job and did very well in college  -  and I find myself having to avoid her because she won't stop the abusiveness and still tries to control me. I am not sure how to handle this as I want a good relationship with her. She did one round of recovery and won't do another, by the way. What do you think I should do?

 -  Glenna

Rita Milios: Glenna: I know it seems like a no-win situation, when you have your mother behaving the way she is and you still desire to have a positive relationship with her. However, there is an aspect of this situation that you have perhaps not considered. A relationship is a two-way street; you cannot create a positive relationship with anyone (relative or otherwise) if they do not do their part. So, as it stands, you have pretty much zero chance of making the mother-daughter relationship you desire happen. And this is not your fault. So please do not become overly sensitive about your mom’s current choices regarding her interactions with you. She is making choices based on her agenda, not yours, and these choices have little to do with your worthiness as a daughter. Perhaps she feels that you are judging her and she is reacting to this. But whatever her reason, it is not about you…it is about her.

The best thing you can do, actually, is what you are doing–avoid her until or unless she behaves more appropriately toward you. If someone does not treat your gift of friendship/companionship with respect and appreciation, you do not have to continue to give that gift. If you do, you are actually contributing to the problem in several ways:

First of all, you teach people how to treat you. In allowing and accepting her abuse, you are teaching your mom that her abuse is something that you are willing to tolerate, and she therefore has no incentive to stop offering it up. 

Secondly, your acceptance further serves your mom’s purpose because it validates this kind of behavior in her eyes (If you accept it, you must agree that you deserve it, so therefore it is okay that she abuses you). 

Finally, because you are, in effect, validating her abusive behavior, you are contributing to your mom’s development of bad character. You are teaching her that being an abuser works for her and serves her agenda (to not accept responsibility for her bad behavior, but to blame it on you). Neither of these attitudes is helpful to your mom. 

So, in the end, only by taking a stand for your own right to be treated well, can you ever hope to achieve your goal of having a positive relationship with your mom. At this time, she likely does not have a positive relationship with herself, so it is highly unlikely that she can maintain one with you. If, however, you teach her that her bad behavior has consequences, and that you will not tolerate abuse, you can possibly help her learn a better way to deal with you and other people in her life. It is not a guarantee, but it is the only thing you can do to help. The rest is up to her; so do not take ownership of it. Even though it is painful, it is often better to remove yourself from a toxic relationship, rather than allow it to poison your life as well as the one who is generating the toxins.

I hope this helps, and that in time, your mom will become whole and healed.


Rita Milios, LCSW,
is a psychotherapist in private practice, author of more than 30 books, and frequent professional lecturer and on-camera expert. She also facilitates workshops and training for clinicians, therapists, writers, holistic practitioners, businesses and associations. She is known as "The Mind Mentor" because of her unique approach to “mind tools training.”    
Full Bio.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix