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Is It Possible To Love An Abusive Mother? Film As Therapy, Part II

We’re back with Gayle Kirschenbaum, award-winning television producer and documentary filmmaker who’s talking with Therapy Soup about her relationship with her mother and her upcoming film, My Nose: The Bigger Version.

Gayle, when you say in the film your mom told you no one would marry you because of your nose, it brought back things my mother said when I was a girl—full-force. My mother, too, was glamorous and beautiful and I was in awe of her.

The scene that really had my adrenaline on full-alert is where you interview bystanders along the Hudson River and one of them proposes. You turn to the camera and say: Mom look, this man would marry me.

But despite your talents, fame, and beauty, you aren’t married. This kind of mother-as-prophet disclosure really hit home with me, frankly. How important is proving her wrong (or proving her right)?

So many people who have seen My Nose have related to it and have shared their own stories with me. My Nose: The Bigger Version will most likely have an even greater impact as I go deep into our relationship.

I’m pretty confident that the reason I am not married has nothing to do with my nose. And most likely about my issues of trust and abandonment and control. That’s another story. I feel that I’m pretty lucky with how I turned out.

What is interesting to note that the three things that my mother does not like about me are: my nose (which one could stereotype as a Jewish nose, my hair (curly, another stereotypical Jewish feature) and my inflection. The first time I was on the Today show my mother called to tell me I sound too Jewish and I needed elocution classes. You should hear her speak.

I actually find this amusing and she is not alone with these thoughts. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood where people were busy changing their looks and anglicizing. To get back to your question, is it important to prove my mother wrong that I’m not married because no man would be interested in me because of my nose? No, because that’s not the case?

The loving, frustrating, fun, and enduring mother-daughter relationship that you give us glimpses of is kind of stereotypical “therapy fodder”. It sounds like you and your mother worked out aspects of your relationship during the filmmaking. Do you feel the making of the film was a kind of therapy process?

Definitely, working on the film together has been therapeutic. In fact, in the film are a couple of therapy sessions. Mom had never been in a therapy session before and I always say that I’ve made guest visits in times of crisis. One session was at the Ackerman Institute for the Family Therapy and Lois Braverman, the president, conducted it.I believe we were all moved by the experience including Lois who is now a Board member of the film.

I think along the way Mom’s attitude towards doing this changed because it will help other people. She even says it in the Kickstarter video. She says the film is like “therapy.” And I say, the film will entertain, enlighten and heal. It’s important that my audience will laugh, will cry and will laugh and walk away with something they didn’t have before, something they can use in their own life.

Gayle, I know I did!

An important turning point in our relationship was the death of my father in 2006. That’s when my mother and I took our first trip together without anyone else. I was with my mom soon after my Dad’s passing when I received an email inviting me to the Avignon Film Festival with my film, A Dog’s Life: A Dogamentary which premiered on HBO ( My mother said she would come with. I gulped and said, okay.

I was the only filmmaker at the festival with her mother. She was the Jewish mother for all the young filmmakers. My entire family was convinced we would come home not speaking with each other and quite the opposite happened. It became the first of several adventures around the world. Our most recent trip was India and we both had a blast and are planning a return trip. Today, she is by far, my travel companion of choice and to think she is in her late 80s and I love to move fast. Pretty amazing, pretty amazing woman. We have a come a long way!

In fact, I remember when I was just about to begin giving one of my seminars on Transforming Difficult Relationships and I received a text from a childhood friend. This girlfriend was my best friend from my childhood for some years. She knew me when I was going through a horrible time with my mother … let’s say the abuse; the criticism was cutting through me. It was so bad that I was physically sick out of fear of my mother.

Anyway, this friend was there for me and I use to go to her house to escape. When the text arrived I hadn’t seen her or been in touch with her for years. She later became a psychologist. She wrote me applauding me knowing how far I had come and shocked I was able to get to where I got. I would say many people in my past who knew my situation and saw it first hand, can’t believe that I even talk to my mother today, never mind love and cherish her. It even amazes me. If I can do it, anyone can do it!!! We have the power to affect change on others.

One more thing, we just launched on Kickstarter, Mom’s Helpful Hints videos. She is a woman who has tremendous life wisdom and I asked her to share it with the public. The first one is up and it’s on Managing Money. Funny. Starts with her keeping various jars where she saved money for different occasions to today when she is a savvy investor doing “puts” and “options.” I have no idea how you do it. In fact, I took my money from a financial planner and gave it to her to manage. You see, we are quite tied in today. I went from not wanting her to have keys to my apartment to trusting her with all my money.

About Gayle: Gayle Kirschenbaum is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker, producer and media personality. In addition to the My Nose short and feature films (and seminar), Kirschenbaum directed the film A Dog’s Life: A Dogamentary, which premiered on HBO. She created and was the executive producer of several “little people” shows for TLC and Discovery Health. She also created and co-hosted the podcast series On the Trail with Gayle. She’s also starring in a production on a food and culture show called Melting Pot, plus lots more. She has been featured in media including The New York Times, NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s Early Show, Fox TV, Oxygen TV, the Ladies Home Journal, Washington Post, O Magazine, Howard Stern, CBC Radio, and BBC radio.

Is It Possible To Love An Abusive Mother? Film As Therapy, Part II

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2011). Is It Possible To Love An Abusive Mother? Film As Therapy, Part II. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2018, from


Last updated: 22 Jul 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Jul 2011
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