Dear Thelma: I can’t tolerate mum’s odd ways after her operation

  • Family
  • Friday, 10 Jul 2020


My mother had surgery a few weeks ago due to her haemorrhoids as well as fissures. It was a minor surgery so it’s not much of a worry for me and my family.

However, the surgery left a “side effect” on her. She has become more sensitive and gets irritated easily when my father and I just ask her something. She raises her voice when she wants to answer us.

We tried asking in the nicest way possible but she replied as if we did something wrong that made her angry.

I can understand that the pain from the surgery lingers which caused her to be irritated so easily, and I have tolerated her behaviour for so long.

It’s difficult, so I have resorted to writing to you for advice.

A Disappointed Teen

I’m sorry your mum has been unwell. You should know that depression and anger are a common reaction after a health issue. This is because there can be a clear link between physical and mental health.

Pain can cause depression and depression can cause pain. It’s well understood that a painful physical issue like backache, toothache, broken bones that carry on over days and weeks can cause depression.

Less well-known is the fact that depression can cause pain too – depression can lead to backache, sore joints, stomach cramps and other issues.

Sometimes pain and depression act on each other in a vicious cycle where the pain causes the depression to deepen and the deepening depression causes a flare-up in pain.

Although it’s not often discussed, anger is a common symptom of depression. It’s also a common reaction to pain. It’s partly rooted in helplessness, frustration and exhaustion.

Dealing with this comes in two parts.

Start with an empathy exercise: imagine yourself being in pain for some months and then going for an operation. What would it feel like to have constant pain? And when you were recovering and all the wounds were healing and aching, how would your mood be?

Of course, while depression and pain are awful, it’s no excuse for bad manners. Generally speaking, I’d give someone a lot of slack for a few weeks afterwards but if it carries on too long, you’ll need to talk it out.

But at this point, you need to do another empathy exercise. You write of “tolerating” your mother. That is neither kind nor loving.

Also, you describe the surgery as worrying for you but, as it’s over, you expect her to just bounce back.

Consider this: she’s your mum, she’s in pain and, as you’re a teenager, she’s not a spring chicken. So stop thinking about yourself as being put upon, and act from a place of love and kindness.

When you have reframed events and come to a better understanding, say something like, “I think you must be in a lot of pain, Mum.”

And let her talk.Then say, “I get that it hurts but when you yell at me, that hurts too.” Then talk nicely together. If she’s still in a lot of pain, have her consult her doctor.

Good luck and I hope your mum recovers soon.

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