Today I worked with a client who shared living space with her daughter. The mother and I were working well. She was tossing lots of papers that were no longer a part of her life.
But then her daughter woke up and came into the room and began making critical comments towards her mother. The daughter asked if I had seen a TV show called "Hoarding". She said it was about people that obsessively collected things they didn't use. She compared her mother to the people on the show. My client began to slow down her pace of tossing. She looked dejected. Her daughter said that her mom's clutter situation was out of control and that she should know better. The mother looked pale and stopped tossing. The mother didn't defend herself.
I said to the daughter, "You're hurting your mom with your words." The daughter said, "No I'm not. She needs to hear this."
I said, "The condemnation doesn't work. When you're critical, she turns pale and loses inspiration. She gives up. You're in the habit of talking to your mom this way, and it's good to know that it's not actually helping. She was overwhelmed when I showed up. That's why she couldn't attend to all these papers and had to call me to come over. When you're critical with her, she retreats inward and shuts down because she's very fragile right now. She needs kindness and encouragement. You could use that with her and she'll actually rise to the occasion."
The daughter was quiet. She was considering what I said. For the daughter, her actions with her mom were clutter. They weren't serving their relationship. They were creating tension.
The daughter looked at her mom with tenderness. She said, "Mom, you're doing really great. You've let go of a lot this morning." The mother beamed. It was like the sun rose in her heart. She said, "Thank you."