Q. I’m 36, divorced with two sons. I was single for 4 years after I separated from my husband. Every week when my mother called she asked if I’d found a man. She’d give me a lecture about why I needed a man, how it doesn’t look respectable for a woman of my age with children to be on her own, etc. I prefer being alone than being in a bad relationship. I have a good job, a career and I’m happy alone with my sons. A year ago I met a really nice man and when my mother met him, she took an instant dislike to him. She would rant about all the reasons he wasn’t right for me and that I should end the relationship. She keeps telling she’s the best mother ever and only has my interests at heart. My partner and I have now moved in together and plan to buy a house. Now she’s targeting him, telling him what a terrible person I am, how he’s worthy of someone much better and should run while he can. She started messaging him on Facebook, calling him and sending him lengthy emails about all the things that make me a bad person. She did the same with my friends as I was growing up, only then we didn’t have email and social media. Any friendships I developed she would find a way of destroying. As a child I believed what she told me and didn’t see how controlling she was. If this new relationship is going to work I can’t have my mother in my life, but I’m her only surviving relative, she has nobody else.
A. Your mother is clearly very controlling, manipulative and dictatorial. She treats you as a possession to be ordered about and dictated to as she pleases with the expectation you will obey as you did when you were a child. She claims she’s a good mother and has your interests at heart when in fact she’s thinking only of herself.
Her behaviour comes from a fear of being left alone and isolated. You being happy in a relationship or friendships could mean you see her less often or stop seeing her altogether. You don’t mention her background but I suspect she’s carrying a deep wound of rejection and abandonment. Did one of her parents leave or die when she was young? Her fears drive her behaviour to control you and keep you close, which has the opposite effect of what she really wants.
In an ideal world a mother is kind and considerate, doesn’t torment you about who you date, would embrace your choices and be there if it goes wrong.
I suspect that behind the seemingly narcissistic behaviour is a very frightened and wounded little girl. You could ask her about her childhood and if there’s a history of abandonment you could encourage her to seek therapy.
Tell her you need to live your own life and explain how her behaviour is driving you away. Most importantly, explore what you want from your relationship with your mother – how and when do you want contact. Establish boundaries and then explain to her that from now on this is how it’s going to be between you. Reinforce good behaviour when she sticks to your boundaries – eg. call her when she’s not expecting, send her a card or flowers, invite her for a coffee or lunch, and if she starts to overstep your rules, cancel a visit, and let her know why.
Watch out for GUILT, it’s a gremlin that squats in your mind rent-free! Guilt will keep you trapped in your mother’s game and destroy your relationship and your life. Get a little notebook and write down about your relationship with guilt – how you allow it to control you, what impact does it have on your life and what would you like instead. If you still struggle it may be worth you seeking therapy to support you through these early changes.
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