YourTango: What is the biggest hurdle for believing these affirmations?
Susan Forward: Guilt! You know, the idea of "Honor thy father and mother"? I wish they had said "... if they deserve honoring!" Just a little re-write.
YourTango: We all tend to revert back to old patterns and behaviors when visiting family as adults. What tools can we use to disengage and not "take the bait"?
Susan Forward: There's so much emotional loading in those relationships. Listen, if you can deal with your parents — especially your mother — you can deal with anybody. You need to practice. You need to learn your lines. Standing up to your mother is like opening night on Broadway: You've got to know your lines.
YourTango: So have a response ready to go?
Susan Forward: Exactly. You know the word "repartee"? This is "prepartee"! None of this is mean or malevolent. It's simply telling your emotional truth. That's of course so much what it's all about: Our mothers really rule the roost, even while you're an adult. It's a power struggle: She wants to be in control, and you're now able to stand on your own two feet. You've got to let her know that; she doesn't run the show anymore. It doesn't matter how old you are: the tendrils of that control can still be reaching out for you.
I like people writing a letter asserting their independence and boundaries, and read it out loud. It's very, very healing.
YourTango: Do you have any last words for those struggling with the fallout of a poor mother-child relationship?
Susan Forward: One of the things I hear over and over again is: "I don't want to be like my mother!" I reassure people that they're not. The fact that they're coming into counseling already shows that there's an awareness there. And you are capable of love. You are capable of changing. You don't have to repeat your mother's behavior. You can change. You can grow.