How to Overcome an Abusive Mother/Daughter Relationship

Empathy is required for mother and daughter to overcome an abusive relationship.
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Tension between mothers and daughter is common, particularly when daughters are in the midst of adolescence. This dynamic becomes dysfunctional when signs of abuse emerge. Name-calling and persistent criticism constitute verbal abuse, for instance. Any attempt by either person to manipulate and maintain power and control over the other -- aside from basic discipline -- is abusive as well. While most mothers and daughters are eventually able to work through their conflict and have close relationships, overcoming abuse is much more complex. It requires an immense amount of patience, energy and dedication. If you know someone that has been in this kind of situation, you know how painful and difficult it can be.

1 Establish Safety

Before beginning the process of healing from abuse, it is critical that both mother and daughter feel safe enough to do so -- physically and emotionally. If there are concerns about physical safety, contact may initially be limited to public places or telephone conversations. Emotional safety may be more challenging to establish. Mother and daughter should each have taken the time to nourish their self-esteem, have their own systems of support and have as few other life stressors at play as possible. A sense of security will allow each party to focus on healing from the abuse and repairing the relationship.

2 Healthy Communication

Mother and daughter should communicate openly, honestly and respectfully. This will help prevent them from slipping into abusive patterns. Assertive communication is a necessary characteristic of healthy relationships, according to an informational resource distributed by the University of Texas-Pan American titled, "Healthy Relationships/Effective Communication." This means taking full responsibility for actions, sharing feelings and actively listening to what is being said. It also refers to sincere apologies and taking deliberate steps to remedy damage caused by past actions and behaviors, as well as asking for and considering forgiveness.

3 Set Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are as integral to overcoming abuse as healthy communication, since the disregard for others' personal limits is the essence of abuse. Mother and daughter should tell each other what they feel is and is not acceptable. For example, the mother may refuse to lend her daughter money or tolerate shouting, and the daughter might insist that her mother refrain from criticizing her appearance. Boundary violations should be addressed assertively, with the possibility of consequences in place. The daughter may say to her mother, for instance, "I told you that commenting on my weight is unacceptable. If you do it again, this conversation will be over." In this case, if another violation occurs, the daughter should follow through with the intended ramifications, which will help her avoid further abuse.

4 Seek Counseling

An experienced counselor or therapist can work with mother and daughter individually to establish safety, work on communication skills and practice setting boundaries. When they are prepared to confront their relationship issues, they may engage in family counseling. Here they will utilize their skills to set goals and discuss strategies for improving their relationship, according to information distributed by the CRC Health Group based in Cupertino, California. There is no guarantee that an abusive relationship can fully recover, but a counselor or therapist can still be a helpful guide through the healing process.

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.