Here to help: My mother is constantly criticising me and it’s affecting my self-esteem and confidence. Whether it’s my weight or my life choices, she has a problem with everything. I’m about to turn 30, I run a successful business and household, but my one failure is my relationship with my mum. I feel like an awful person, but I can’t bear to be around her. I really hope that when the time comes for me to look after her when she gets older, the constant belittling and disregard for my personal feelings will be a thing of the past. There is only so many times I can be called ‘a failure’ before I bite back. I consider confronting her about it daily so I am really at the end of my tether.
Jenny, Howth, Co Dublin.
Frances replies: Thank you for your question. Seeing your relationship with your mother as being your “one failure” is an issue that is too big to ignore and a very limiting thought. These are all very difficult feelings to have, I’m sure. I can understand that you would like things to be different and that you are thinking about the future, where you would like to be able to look after her and not feel the weight of her criticisms.
Telling her how you feel can be a challenging yet necessary option. It should be done in a gentle but firm way, rather than in an aggressive manner. Using statements beginning with “I” allows us to express what we are feeling while taking responsibility for them too. Try sentences like: “When you talk in that way about my weight, I feel…”, or “How you speak to me at times can leave me feeling belittled”. People often speak without thinking and aren’t aware of the impact their words have or how they will be perceived by the other person. Bringing her awareness to these feelings may allow her to take responsibility for her part and, even better, open up a way for both of you to explore how you move forward in a more healthy way.
What I am suggesting may be a big step for you and could require a lot of courage on your behalf and on hers, if she decides to listen and hear what you say. Family dynamics and mother-daughter bonds (your unique way of relating), have strong roots so maybe approach it when you feel you are both quite relaxed, perhaps with some forward notice and not rushed for time.