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First off, I'd like to start by saying I love both my parents very much and I have great respect for them and what they've done for me these last 24 years.

One of my parents is very negative. She gets very personal at times and uses language like "You always mess things up, that's why you're the mess that you are" instead of something like "what you did wasn't right. It caused these problems. Don't do it again." She doesn't realize that her approach doesn't work to influence a person as much as she would like to believe.

Now, let me explain a bit about myself. I'm the kind of person who believes in being great, and reading books that inspire, such as Goals! or Rich Dad Poor Dad, How to Win Friends and Influence People etc., and I feel that I could learn valuable lessons from these books. I have my own style of gleaning knowledge, and a firm belief that what I'm doing is in my interest.
It so happened that I didn't have a great college life. I didn't make use of peer-to-peer bonding and teamwork, and so my grades were lower than they could be. I had a great 2 years in a job after that and I am looking to switch to a new one. My bosses are happy about my performance in the job.

In the parts of the world we live in, society is such that there is a lot of comparison with other people's children. "What's your child doing these days? Which college did he get admission in? What company does your son work in?", etc etc. My parents, are very sensitive to this kind of societal comparison, and it has its toll on me. Also, this has led in them always telling me what to do, what not to do, whether or not(mostly not) it matches with my ideals.

Just once, I feel like clearing the air. I want to say something like "look guys, my life is my life. I don't give a damn what the uncle next door thinks about me, so just stop telling me to get this degree or that certificate or that job, ok? I'll handle things fine on my own."

The problem is that this isn't very good in itself and doesn't help, because of my poor "record". I have the power to change my own life, but no power to influence them. What can I do?

Summary

I have a negative and dominating parent. She feels I'm not doing a good job with my life based on some metrics, so she tries to influence me; but what she's saying isn't of much help. On the other hand, I have a good idea of what I want, but I want to get there on my own. So I just want to tell them to stop offering to "help".

  • 1
    Have you tried sharing the second paragraph of your question with her? Letting her know that using that language isn't well received and asking her to respond more positively would be a good first step. – Becuzz Aug 15 '17 at 19:28
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    Are you currently at all financially dependent on your parents? If not, how long have you been independent? Are you living in their house? – threetimes Aug 15 '17 at 20:17
  • @Becuzz I've tried. It doesn't help. – cst1992 Aug 16 '17 at 8:55
7

You sound like you've examined your past and have made peace with the mistakes you've made. But your mother has not, because she keeps bringing them up. It really is time for 'the conversation'.

Pick a time when there are no external constraints, when things are relatively peaceful, and a neutral place where you can leave if necessary. I suggest you take them out to dinner somewhere nice but on a slow night just to show your appreciation for all they've done. After a small amount of chit chat, you already have the perfect opening:

First off, I'd like to start by saying I love both [of you] very much and I have great respect for [you] and [everything you've] done for me these last 24 years.

Repeat variations on this theme several times and make sure they hear you. A few specifics could help as well ("Remember that time when... and you...? I can't tell you how grateful I was for your love and support then as well as now.") Then start sharing your feelings.

It's hard for people to share their feelings. It makes them vulnerable to hurt, so a lot of people avoid it, arguing "facts" instead. Your mom's "facts" are that you mess up all the time. Your "facts" are that you've learned a lot and you know how best to proceed with achieving your goals. But what seems to be the real issue is that your mom is treating you in a way that hurts you. Facts won't cure that. So discuss feelings.

Tell her that it hurts you personally when she is negative with you. Tell her how that impacts your life (if it causes self doubt, or resentment, or sleepless nights, or whatever.) Tell her how you don't want to feel these things, that it makes you reluctant to discuss your life with her. If she feels defensive (which is likely), she might resort to "appealing to facts" ("but I'm trying to help you!"). Just tell her again and again how it makes you feel. Don't argue facts. Feelings are real; she can't argue that you don't feel that way. She can argue that you shouldn't feel that way, but that doesn't change how you actually feel. If she says things like, well, that's just silly/immature/other, say, "See, mom? When you say that, it hurts me." She'll probably get it eventually. If so, you're almost done. If so, ask her to please, out of respect for your feelings, please stop speaking negatively to you. Don't get caught up arguing her facts or yours. They are not the real issue. Feelings are (her lack of respect - by bring up old failures, labeling you, or comparing you with others - hurts you.)

If you're getting nowhere with the bare truth, then it's time to set boundaries. For that, you have to understand what boundaries are. Read some answers here and other places on the Internet about boundaries and how to set them. To set a reasonable boundary, you'll need to know how far you're willing to go to enforce it. Will you simply change the subject or will you leave if she starts being negative? Will you stop discussing your job(s) with her? What are you willing to do to avoid her treating you hurtfully?

Then do it. She will either learn to respect your boundary or she won't. But it's time to politely demand to be treated in a way that doesn't hurt you.


What Are Boundaries
Having a conversation to assert your boundaries

  • The "facts" part is head-on. That's what's actually causing all this conflict. – cst1992 Aug 16 '17 at 9:02
  • Is it worth mentioning separately that she thinks I live in a delusion or that I'm stupid, just because I think differently than her? I think not, 'cause it's nothing new I think. – cst1992 Aug 16 '17 at 9:04
  • @cst1992 - I would only mention these things in the context of the pain/hurt they cause if examples are needed. – anongoodnurse Aug 16 '17 at 14:29
  • This approach can be quite confrontational, I agree having it out is likely a good idea. You may find it useful to be very aware of your language while having this conversation. For example See, mom?(!) When you say that, it hurts me is very confrontational I'd say, if you can phrase it more of a question and focus on emphasising how it make you feel to illicit a response from the person you may find they engage better, for example Why do you say that mom? <wait for response> I find that hurtful, can you see why that might hurt me? etc. – user28496 Aug 17 '17 at 8:40
  • Your goal should be to engage in a two way conversation where you listen and more importantly she listens to you. If you don't listen to her (or she feels your not listening to her) then (unfortunately) there's no guarantee that she will want to listen to you – user28496 Aug 17 '17 at 8:41
4

Clear the air -- and not just once! It sounds like this has been getting under your skin for a long time; judgmental parents can have that effect on people, and hiding your resentment helps neither you nor them. Making your concerns clear and public, every time your parent starts breathing down your neck with this nonsense, will be enormously helpful for your mental health if nothing else.

I'd suggest changing the way you think about "influence." You used that word several times, both in that your parent's approach isn't "influencing" you the way they hope, and that you can't seem to "influence" them. You're right! No one is influencing anyone in this situation; your parents' attitudes are driven by many factors, and you will probably not defeat their innate personality traits and decades' worth of cultural conditioning in one conversation.

You can't hope to control what your parents think; you can only control the way you react to it (or the way you don't react to it) and what you say in response. Simply tell them that their negative attitude is not welcome in your home, and you won't listen to any more of it. The rest is their responsibility, not yours. If they bring it up again, repeat yourself verbatim.

I'm drawing here from Difficult Conversations, which is a great resource to prepare you for having this uncomfortable talk with your parents the first time. (I'm a very non-confrontational person by nature, and this book helped me enormously in sitting down with my increasingly cantankerous father.)

  • Well it's not my home, but a set conversation should help. – cst1992 Aug 16 '17 at 9:01
2

I think I have now gathered in comments you are living with your mom still. If this is the case, you will have a much harder time getting her to respect that you "want to do it on your own" and that you don't need her input. If you were to move out, much of this would simply dissolve because you could control your contact with them, so that when you do talk, you have things to catch up on and talk about other than her ideas on how to improve your life opportunities.

I am all for setting appropriate boundaries with adult children. I think it's important and helps the relationship strengthen and grow. That said, there is a certain amount of expectation you should have if depending on them for a place to live (and possibly other things) that they will then feel naturally more inclined to be more involved in your situation than you would prefer them to be. My parents were entirely wrapped up in my life until the day I moved out & then suddenly there was a immense shift and it really was never an issue again. I did make very very sure to never ask for anything after though. I may on weird occasion need a ride somewhere, or something minor, but that would be all, otherwise I invited them over for visits, etc and did my very best to not rely on them for anything else, even if it meant eating peanut butter toast for breakfast for a month to afford my bills.

And while I understand it's not at all reasonable for her to place pressure on you based on her own social pressures, that may well be what she feels. If others comment on you living with them to her, she may then inappropriately transfer the negative feedback she got onto you. As a parent there is a lot more pressure than you realize before you are there. When your 3 yr old is acting amuck, you feel the eyes on you. When your 7yr old says something terribly rude to you in the presence of other adults, all eyes on you. And while I absolutely do get that this is hard when your mom is basically saying "Well what are you going to do with your life?", I also know as a mom that hearing "Well what are going to do about your daughter?" is also not a fun topic.

I say that not to say it's okay the way she speaks to you in a way that hurts you. Not at all. I am not there and can only know the little you have shared. I say it because in life I find that understanding what might be the root, often leads me better to being able to remove it from my life. I can pick a weed a thousand times, but if I never find the root, I have to keep pruning it unless I want it to overgrow. If I find the root, I pull it, it's done. Same with relationships. If I don't figure out why we have this issue, I generally can't really solve it, all I can do is manage it, repeatedly.

  • Thank you for the mom's perspective. Yes, it is the situation that she feels the pressure on herself when I do something less than impressive that others are able to observe. I am planning to move to another city as a career move and I have a cousin who lives there, so I could with his help get settled over there. The new arrangement should also help both of us learn to live without each others' presence for a while. – cst1992 Aug 16 '17 at 16:46

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