Why My Therapist Told Me To Be Angry At My Mother

People say anger is poison, but denial is far more potent.

Woman screaming holding her head, anger and sadness ArtistGNDphotography | Canva

Growing up with a sexually abusive stepfather and a mother who refused to acknowledge it was like living in an alternate universe, a place where I swallowed pain whole but never digested it. 

For many years, I fantasized about telling my mother. About how she’d react when she heard what he did when she was asleep or away. I imagined her mama bear rage, how she’d lash out to defend and protect me. Wouldn’t the pain make her fierce enough to face the shame of admitting she’d married a monster? I held hope in my chest, the flutter of excitement at being set free, at waking up without the weight of secrets on my shoulders and the agony of his looming presence. 


In fifth grade, my friend’s mother phoned the school and involved the authorities. My mother sat in the counseling sessions, hollow and unfeeling as she listened to the things her husband had done to me, and to various friends during sleepovers. But she chose to stay married to him, and her game of pretending became the slow burn of a deeper form of abuse. It would take me decades to see it for what it was and to fully understand her culpability.

The anger I wasn’t allowed to feel would become a festering wound — the mother wound. 



As children, we learn not to question our parents, and the dysfunction that may be obvious to outsiders is somehow lost on us. Or maybe we see it but have no power to do anything other than survive it. If I called my abuser “Dad,” thanked him for oiling my bike chain or driving me to the skating rink, I was a good daughter. If I pretended it didn’t make my stomach turn when he sat beside me on the sofa while we watched 90s sitcoms, I was worthy of my mother’s regard. 


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I’ve struggled to understand her paradoxical behavior, how a mother could be vigilant to warn her kids about strangers while setting the table for their real-life abuser. 

As the years passed, I tread further away from the truth of our toxic dynamic and the fragility of our relationship. I leaned into my pretend self; I talked about my mother the way I wanted to see her. I even told someone she was my best friend, always a phone call away. But I didn’t just say it; I believed it. 

In the lonely years during my divorce from a cheating spouse, she was the person I called to rant about the struggles of single motherhood and the stress of raising an ADHD-diagnosed son. When I shopped for new curtains, I sent her photos and awaited her opinion. When I needed advice about how to handle a lying coworker, how to find the best rates on an auto loan, and which dress to wear to a Christmas party, she was the voice on the line. 


On the rare occasions when I attempted to get answers about the past, my mother threw tantrums and used manipulation to shut me up. I spent the whole day helping you paint your bathroom, and this is how you treat me? 

I was torn between my need for a mother and my need for healing and validation — and my desire to maintain a relationship with her always triumphed.

We were alike in so many ways, always drawn to the same obscure hobbies, driven by the same creative impulses. We could spot a broken table and see its potential or turn the contents of any junk drawer into household treasures. We seemed to view the world with the same set of eyes. But being her daughter and her best friend required me to wear blinders, ignore my screaming internal voice, and forget my suffering. 

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I’m not sure if there was a single moment or event that sparked the change. Perhaps it was a culmination of things: my mother’s refusal to attend my wedding without her uninvited husband (my abuser), the sudden death of my real father and the reality that I never got to know him, the global pandemic that came like a sci-fi movie, jolting me out of my comfort zone.

Suddenly, I felt as though I had fallen into a strange abyss. Life was happening in technicolor, but it all felt black and white. I stopped wanting to write, to eat my favorite foods, and to plan weekends with my new husband. What was it like to be happy? It seemed I’d forgotten it was possible. 

I sought counseling for the first time in many years, but I was frustrated with myself for needing help. Was I a self-indulgent whiner, an ungrateful woman, incapable of counting my blessings? I told the therapist how I felt, and as I spoke the anger came out as if from an uncapped bottle. 



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How odd to hear my voice and not know where it was coming from, or what I might say next. But I kept talking, pouring it out, and watching it gush. Toward the end of our session, I sat expectantly awaiting her advice. Surely she would tell me how to make amends with Mom, how to understand her better. What she said, however, shocked me. 

My therapist told me to limit contact with my mother and to let go if I could.

She said, “Embrace how you feel. Be angry until you get to a place of healing.” It was the first time anyone had said anger was okay. So often women are treated like gun-toting lunatics when they’re angry or emotional. When we raise our voices, we’re told to calm down, accused of hysterics. 

I’d been urged throughout my life to focus on forgiveness and compassion, to love the mother I had because I would never get another. But this woman said anger was the right I’d been denied. It was a necessary part of the journey I needed to take. Anger was what I wanted my mother to feel for me, and I waited on the sidelines for her to rise and shield me with it. But it was time to shift the balance of power in our relationship. 


As I allowed my grief to ebb and flow, I wrote my second memoir as an act of self-possession. It helped me to draw the boundary lines and to become the woman who finally saved me. Feelings don’t disappear when we’re told not to feel them. When we ignore pain, we only prolong our suffering or find alternative ways to self-medicate, depriving ourselves of the medicine we truly need to heal. 

Being a child doesn’t have to hurt.

Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States. According to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 28.3 percent of adults report being physically abused as a child, and 10.6 percent of adults report being emotionally abused as a child. Physical abuse of a child is when a parent or caregiver causes any non-accidental physical injury to a child, including striking, kicking, burning, biting, hair pulling, choking, throwing, shoving, whipping, or any other action that injures a child. Even if the caregiver didn’t mean to cause injury, when the child is injured it is abuse. When a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development or causes severe emotional harm, it is considered emotional abuse. While a single incident may be abuse, most often emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that causes damage over time.


There are many physical and behavioral signs of child abuse in both the child and the parent or caretaker. To learn more about these signs, visit the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline’s website. If you suspect a child you know is being abused physically or emotionally, contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline for more resources at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

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Rica Ramos-Keenum is a journalist and the author of Nobody's Daughter: A Memoir of Healing the Mother Wound, and Petals Of Rain. Her stories detail her journey through family dysfunction, a spouse's infidelity, single motherhood, and other important topics for women.