Patients come to me for many different reasons: difficulty parenting tweens; feeling triggered by a supervisor at work; working through infidelity in a marriage. In many cases we unpack these immediate problems only to find painful, unresolved relationships underneath – grief over the early loss of a mother through death or divorce, or ambivalence that arises from a difficult home life.

Coming to terms with your relationship with your mother or your daughter requires exploring your unmet needs and the expectations you have of yourself. The therapeutic conversation can help you gently bring some air into long held beliefs about these bonds. The very traits you miss about your mother or grandmother you now see shining in your daughter’s eyes.

Mother daughter relationships can feel intense, emeshed, or downright toxic when you first enter therapy. It is hard work to explore the similar life transitions that you share with your daughter, precisely because you are frantic to have her avoid the same mistakes you made in your twenties. You may be aware that the traits you share with your mother – a sharp wit and analytical mind – are currently perceived by your spouse as critical and harsh.

Developing compassion for yourself and your mother or daughter puts to rest the pain of the past and separates it from daily challenges we face at work and home. You may not be able to talk to these women any longer; you may be, and choose to remain, estranged from your adult daughter. But working through these primal connections helps you feel lighter and be more present to the people in your life.

Psychotherapy is a form of work on yourself that helps us live more fully. Over time, your therapeutic work leads to greater self acceptance. You begin to see yourself, and the people around you, complete with glorious imperfections. Surprisingly these imperfections will no longer trigger you, but may delight you.

Next week: fathers and sons

Kate Lawton is a clinical Social Worker/Therapist in downtown Toronto specializing in parent child relationships, major life transitions and issues facing older adults. Contact me for more information or to book an appointment.

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