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Ask Sahaj: My mom can’t deal with emotions. How do I stop resenting her?

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli, creator of Brown Girl Therapy and a mental health professional, is answering questions about identity, relationships, mental health, work-life balance, family dynamics and more. If you have a question for her, please submit it here.

Dear Sahaj: Once I became a mom, I reflected a lot on how I was raised and what I didn’t want to do with my kids. I want to make sure I always acknowledge/apologize for my mistakes to my kids, take all their emotions seriously and never gaslight them. My mom doesn’t do that. She says pretty horrific things to me when she is angry, because she doesn’t know how to deal with her own emotions and has her own trauma she’s never dealt with.

Recently, I confronted her about one particularly terrible thing. She said she knew it was wrong to say, she didn’t mean it, but she didn’t feel the need to apologize. There are many examples of these patterns, and it’s hard not to be resentful around her. It limits my ability to enjoy time with her or even enjoy the moment. I want a closure I will never get from her (she refuses therapy). How do I learn to push aside that resentment to maintain the relationship?

— Rejecting resentment

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Rejecting resentment: It’s normal to reflect on how your parents have impacted you, especially as you have your own kids with whom you may want to do things differently. Your mom’s failure to acknowledge the impact of her behavior is essentially rejecting the hurt part of you that needs tending to — something especially difficult, because she’s a parent who is supposed to protect and care for you.

As you’ve identified, when someone refuses to apologize, it can indicate their own inability to handle the discomfort of being vulnerable. And other times, they may just not know how to apologize nor understand the importance of it. I wonder if you have communicated to your mom what you explicitly need her to say, and why it’s important to you that she says it. It can feel weird to tell people how to love us, but being in a relationship with another person does require some extent of teaching them how you need to be loved.

While she might be navigating her own feelings of shame, low self-worth or a lack of emotional maturity, you are still left with the fallout of her actions. So what does it look like for you to find peace in the relationship and let go of the resentment that is building up?

Resentment can indicate a lack of acceptance about what has happened and is still happening. Maybe you’re still holding on to expectations that your mom will change, even when she has shown you time and time again she won’t. It may be time to manage your expectations of her and grieve the relationship you did not and won’t have with her.

Also consider what hurt part of you needs to be tended to. How can you tend to it yourself or have it tended to in a different intimate relationship? When your mom doesn’t apologize — denying you the closure you are looking for — you’re left to swallow your anger and pain. It’s important to find ways to release and acknowledge these feelings. While it may not lead you anywhere to do so with your mom, do you have other trusted and supportive people or a professional you can release this anger and pain with so that it’s not bottled inside?

It also sounds like you want to maintain the relationship with your mom, so you may need to set more boundaries around your time with her while also being intentional about what you share and what you expect to get from her.

By deliberately planning what your engagement and time with your mom looks like, you are making space for a different version of a relationship with her — one that recognizes and accepts her limitations while focusing on what is in your control.

Because you’re able to understand where your mom is coming from, and I’d encourage you to double down on your compassion. Focus on the good while managing realistic expectations.

After all, it seems like reflecting on your mom’s behavior has helped you work toward being a more emotionally engaged parent yourself. Through this, you have already begun to reparent yourself while breaking family cycles to provide a better, healthier experience for your children. That is something to hold near and close when things feel hard.