Therapist Forward (Toxic In-Laws: Loving Strategies for Protecting Your Marriage, 2001, etc.) explains how recognizing the reality of an abusive mother-daughter relationship is a necessary first step in dealing with psychological problems.
The author dismisses the assertion that “giving birth makes [women] inherently capable of nurturing.” Using anecdotal material, she illustrates different types of toxic mothering: a narcissistic, self-absorbed mother who insists on being the center of attention, deflates her daughter's accomplishments and is supercritical; or an “engulfing mother” who is “desperate, clinging and restrictive.” Too often, a daughter cannot face the possibility that her mother does not love her and instead internalizes her mother's message that it is her shortcomings that are poisoning the relationship. “The smiles and good opinion of her all-powerful mother mean everything to the dependent daughter,” she writes. Taking examples from her 35-year clinical practice, Forward shows different techniques for handling these toxic relationships when they persist into adulthood. Among these are confidence-building techniques to help daughters develop insight based on journaling—e.g., compiling one list that contains her mother's false assertions and comparing it to a counter list stating the truth, burning the first list and attaching the second to a balloon. The final step in the healing process is for the daughter to confront her mother directly with nonnegotiable demands about how their relationship must change and to be prepared to sever it if these are not met. A crucial part of the process is confronting grief and anger as it arises. Professional help may or may not be necessary, depending on the circumstances.
A useful challenge to accepted wisdom about the normally taboo subject of mother love, with helpful tips on how to jump-start the healing process.