Worn down by her mom's low self-esteem

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Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: My mother went through an extremely painful and difficult divorce 15 years ago. She was cheated on multiple times, physically and mentally abused, and lied to by my father. My siblings and I are grown now, and I have moved on and am doing very well. However, my mother continues to express how she has no self-worth and that my dad stole the light from her. I am only 22, and I find myself constantly trying to prop up and motivate my mother to actively change her view. She is remarried now and has a strong husband, but she continues to live the same pattern. She has gone to counseling, taken medication, read countless self-help books, had countless deep discussions, but she's never been able to change. It has pushed my other siblings away because her weakness hurts them. I won't give up on her, but I am growing tired of repeating the same motivational speeches when she should be perfectly capable of realizing she is worth so much more. What more can I do? She won't do anything to help herself.

--Frustrated

DEAR FRUSTRATED: You have been such a good child; this next lesson is for you alone -- and it is tough.

It is called "loving detachment."

Your loyalty, your attention and your motivational speeches are replaying a tape she wants to hear. The way she gets you to play the tape is to remind you of how low she feels and how your father victimized her.

Don't abandon your mother, but change the tape.

She already has the answers (professional therapy, self-motivation, etc.). If she asks explicitly for feedback, you can say, "I'm sorry, but you'll have to figure it out for yourself, Mom."

You must also face the very real possibility that she will not change. This is the "loving" part of the detachment. Then the question becomes: Can you accept her as she is?