Tell me something.
How often do you look forward to seeing your mum only to be stroked with the iron splints of her criticism?
“What took you so long? Now I’m late,” she greets you at the door.
You sprint into the kitchen to fill her fridge with homemade goodies you’ve spent hours conjuring up. She waits impatiently in the doorway, her eyes glued to your back.
“Leave it, would you? I must go.”
You swallow the humble pie and help your mother into the car.
On the way to her hairdressers, she clutches her purse, sighs with fright, and complains about your “dangerous” driving. Humiliation and annoyance loom from the bowels of your soul, setting you on fire.
She rushes inside without waiting for you to find a parking space. When you finally enter, she’s already settled in the waiting room.
“I knew I would have to wait,” she throws at you, before diving into a lady’s magazine. Pretending you’re not there.
You land on an empty chair nearby trying to calm your wracked nerves.
“I would treat a servant better—if I had one,” you sigh, feeling incompetent and useless.
Your mother drives you nuts.
Caught in a Narcissistic Net
I used to feel the same.
Sitting in my mother’s kitchen and rapidly losing control. Melting into nothingness. Forgetting who I was—no willpower, no wishes or dreams of my own.
Except for one: to be back on the plane that will take me to the safety of my home.
My visits became shorter, and my phone calls sparse.
She knew me better than I knew myself. All the buttons to push. All the soft spots to infuse the pain. Her attacks were personal, impossible to ignore.
I was desperate to find ways to protect myself from Mum’s moodiness, criticism and anger. A shield to stop the poison arrows from reaching my heart. And words to stop the attacks.
Let me share with you what I learned.
A Beginner’s Guide
Here’s what you can do to make your encounters with Mum more tolerable, less painful.
Changing sick communication patterns is a part of your healing from the maternal narcissistic abuse. An exercise you need to do again and again until you get the desired results:
# 1 Don’t believe everything you hear. It’s only your mother’s opinion. Treat it as such.
#2 Don’t react but RESPOND. Prepare yourself beforehand while you’re in control of your emotions.
#3 Don’t try to fix your mother. It’s not your job. Accept it and move on. Focus on YOU instead.
#4 Make responsible decisions for yourself and stick to them.
#5 Speak about YOURSELF, not your mother.
#6 Give up on your need to control her.
#7 Surrender your desire to be right. Who is right doesn’t matter. What matters is that you feel comfortable in your own skin. Toxic mother or not.
These commandments will help you to keep healthy neutrality when dealing with your mother’s dark side.
Learn them by heart.
Do Your Homework
Write down your mother’s most common critical remarks, unsolicited advice and unacceptable behaviours.
“You’re going on vacation, and what about me?”
“I have nobody to help me. I’m alone.”
“You only think about yourself.”
“Now you’re clever, aren’t you?”
“I don’t understand why you’re so touchy. You shouldn’t feel this way.”
“I just have to tell you that you need to lose a few pounds.”
“You hair looks like a bird’s nest.”
She asks me about my life but never listens.
She makes decisions on my behalf.
She buys me things I don’t want.
Your mother might know you too well but you know her, too. What are her favourite expressions, tricks and twists?
Make a list.
One, Two, Three, I Set Me Free
The next step is to compose your response.
Follow this simple 2-step formula:
1. Validate your mother’s opinion, worries or suggestions. Remember, they’re subjective. It’s up to you to consider them or to ignore.
Tip: If you can’t, simply mirror the essence of her message.
2. Compose a statement built on your authentic feelings, interests or decisions. Say what’s right for you. Don’t excuse or defend yourself. Do not criticise or blame your mother.
Remember to be clear on what’s your problem here (helping your mother with something she can’t do on her own), and what’s not (taking care of her emotional state).
Let’s try it together.
She’s in a bad mood eagerly picking at you:
~“I can hear you’re in a bad mood today, Mum. What can I do for you now?”
She greets you with a judgmental regard,
“I have to tell you that this colour doesn’t suit you. Everybody likes blond hair better.”
~ “I hear you, Mum. Now you’ve said it.”
Disappointed on the phone,
~ “Love you too, mum.”
“You’re always late.”
~ “I know you worry about being late. I’m putting the groceries into the fridge now, then we can go.”
“You’re going on vacation, and what about me?”
~“I know you want me to spend more time with you, Mum. What would you like to do now?”
“You’re getting heavy, stop eating so much.”
~“You might be right that I have gained some weight, but that’s my issue, Mum. Leave it to me.”
Tip: Having trouble with your responses?
Imagine a friend in the same situation asking you for advice.
What would you tell her?
Before You Go
Read your list a couple of times. Say your answers out loud, correct it in places that don’t resonate with you. Say them again until they feel authentic.
Repetition is the Mother of Learning.
In the beginning of my recovery, I used to have two lists—one by the phone (a pre-mobile era, remember?) and another in my handbag. I would re-read my answers on the plane and in the train.
They helped me to feel more calm and confident in Mum’s presence.
When You’re There
- Take a deep breath before you reply.
- Don’t fight, run or play dad. Be in the moment.
- Don’t bring the past in, and don’t let your mother do it.
- State what’s right for you.
- Speak in a neutral or kind tone.
- Refuse any discussion.
If your mother interrupts or tries to change the subject, let her finish and pick up exactly where you left off until you’re through. Or say your statement once more.
Don’t be afraid to sound like a broken record—politicians do it all the time.
Be the adult she can’t be.
Stay Not Leave
When your mother responds with rage, LEAVE. You have the right to protect your emotional wellbeing.
“I don’t want to talk with you when you behave this way,” and be gone.”
Come back later when you are calm. She will cool down too, acting as though nothing happened.Don’t allow her (or anybody else) to abuse you.Click To Tweet
Promise me that.
Enjoy Your Mum
Enjoy her like you enjoy a midsummer bonfire—from a safe distance.
Observe her behaviours and know safety rules. Don’t get too close or become intimate with her.
It will take time but it’s worth the effort.
Keep practising your new skill.
Living YOUR life.
Do you have any questions? Uncertain what to say to your mother? Write a comment or send me an email and I will do what I can to help you. Connect with me here.
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