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Adult daughter's outbursts indicative of deeper problem

Daughter's anger goes deeper than vacation outburst

Q: We recently went on a family vacation. My two grown children and a daughter-in-law joined my husband and me.

During our vacation, my daughter made a rude remark to my daughter-in-law. Daughter-in-law reacted; my daughter's response became more heated with a curse word. As my daughter was apologizing later in the day, Son demanded that Daughter be more specific with her apology. That sent Daughter into a screaming, cursing frenzy, sent Brother into anger defending Wife, and made Wife upset. It was all quite ugly.

Daughter did give a quick apology the next morning, but was not the friendliest camper for the rest of the trip. When we returned home, my husband and I asked Daughter to send another apology to her brother and his wife. She refused and began to scream at us.

She has since apologized to us, but only after going into a screaming frenzy about her being the bad guy in the family; how she and Brother have not really spoken in years; that she has a lot of hurt and pain herself, etc. She refuses to explain where all that came from. We were shocked.

Her brother has made more attempts at contacting her than she has him. She doesn't see that. It seems to me that she just did not want to acknowledge her responsibility for her behavior.

We think she owes her brother and wife another apology. After her last explosion, however, I wonder if we should even bring it up again. I have always tried to be sensitive about equal attention, love, etc., to both my children. It is very important to me that they be friends. How can I help?

Distressed Mother

A: The most helpful thing you can do — to achieve your own ends and, more importantly, to help your daughter — is to stop seeing this as a narrow vacation-insult-apology issue. The number and intensity of the outbursts say your daughter has bigger demons inside.

Your comment about equal attention says you've considered that, and looked to the past for ideas. But that's neither enough of a look, nor is it the only place to look. Your daughter may have picked up on subtle biases in your treatment, or suffered for reasons unseen. Or, your "equal attention" may have come in a form that was better suited to her brother than it was to her.

And even if a deep inquiry reveals no "Eureka!" moments of childhood trauma, an adult child holding an unfounded grudge still warrants a parent's attention — perhaps even more than if her pain had an easily traceable cause.

Maybe, too, it's not the past, but her present that's churning things up — stress or trauma she hasn't shared, perhaps. When someone's behavior takes a surprising turn, it's important to consider an underlying medical cause, too, if only as something to rule out. You don't give your daughter's age, but young adulthood is a time when mental illnesses often manifest themselves. These are all possibilities you can't dismiss.

Enough with asking her for bigger and better apologies. This time, just tell her you're worried about her. Tell her you're sorry it took you so long to see her anger. Tell her you're ready to help her now. Be patient, vigilant, kind.

Adult daughter's outbursts indicative of deeper problem 08/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 23, 2010 7:22pm]

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