I'm Not Mad, I Just Hate You!: A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict with Roni Cohen-Sandler

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Psychologist Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler discusses his views on the unique issues that mothers and daughters face.

Event Date: 06/07/2000.

The opinions expressed by Dr. Cohen-Sandler are hers and hers alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's World Watch and Health News Auditorium. Today we are discussing I'm Not Mad, I Just Hate You! A New Understanding of Mother-Daughter Conflict, with Roni Cohen-Sandler, PhD.

Cohen-Sandler was graduated from Cornell University in 1977, magna cum laude, with a bachelor's degree in English and psychology, and earned a doctorate in clinical psychology in 1982 from The American University in Washington, D.C. She worked as a staff psychologist and coordinator for a satellite mental health center and as a consultant conducting psychological evaluations. Dr. Cohen-Sandler did clinical research on childhood and adolescent depression and self-destructive behaviors, lectured to professional and training organizations, and published numerous articles in journals such as Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychology and Professional Psychology. After relocating to Connecticut in 1985, Dr. Cohen-Sandler began a private practice specializing in working with women and adolescent girls. She is a featured author in Girls' Life magazine who writes about topics such as self-esteem, body image, divorce, assertiveness, and friendship. Dr. Cohen-Sandler also volunteers for various programs facilitating reading and writing skills in the public school, and has had a 15-year apprenticeship raising her own teen-age daughter, Laura.

Dr. Cohen-Sandler, welcome to WebMD Live. Why did you decide to write a book about mother-daughter relationships during the teen years?

Dr. Cohen-Sandler: I had been seeing adolescent girls and their moms in therapy for about 20 years at that point. One of the things that struck me is that teenage girls have a very difficult time acknowledging, much less dealing with their anger and other strong emotions. And, the mother, historically, had a difficult time dealing with the same issue. In this culture, women are socialized not to make waves, speak up, and to swallow their voices in order not to make waves. However, during adolescence, it becomes a problem because girls so often take out their anger and disappointment on their mothers. And mothers feel ill-equipped to manage their daughter's anger.

Moderator: Why do they take their anger out on their mothers?

Dr. Cohen-Sandler: Because their mothers are their safest and most available targets. Because girls know that if they express anger at their teachers or especially at their peers, they will be shunned. But their mothers, who love them unconditionally, will not, for example, tell everyone else in the family, "she's a loser, don't let her sit at the dinner table!" (Laughs!) And so girls know that they can express anger towards their moms. But moms need help to figure out how they can best teach girls to channel their anger constructively. This is important as girls grow up, leave home, and form relationships. Mothers want their daughters to speak up, to protect themselves in relationships and to be able to express anger constructively so that they're also not inciting violence.

Moderator: Do girls get the message that mom will take it?

Dr. Cohen-Sandler: Exactly right. Because moms so often feel that if they deal with the anger, and heaven forbid, they should have some of those same feelings toward their daughter, that they're being 'unmaternal' or not a good mother. I once had a mother, an educator, with two teenage daughters who asked me, "Do you ever get angry at your children?" I fell over and said, "Of course! By the hour!" But she was shocked because in her mind, anger was synonymous with being a bad mother. The important thing for moms to know and to teach their daughters is that anger is a perfectly normal human emotion. And that if you're in a close relationship with someone, it's probably inevitable. But you need to know how to handle the anger so that you can stay connected in the relationship and not harm the relationship or the people in it.

pgwalker_webmd: But aren't girls getting angrier earlier now? Aren't they starting to have adolescent-type crises during their pre-adolescent years?

Dr. Cohen-Sandler: The truth is that girls are experiencing puberty earlier and earlier, so many of the emotional issues that used to start at 11 or 12 are now starting at nine or 10 -- the over-sensitivity, the self-consciousness, irritability, moodiness. Anger is only one of those emotions. And, yes, mothers ARE reporting that their daughters are showing signs of adolescence while many are still in elementary school.

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