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XD's avatar

After you figure out or dissect how your parent(s) sabotaged your success or ruined your life, what's the next step?

Asked by XD (1519points) September 28th, 2011

I think I’ve figured out that one of the sources of my arrested development is that my mother has regularly responded to announcements of my actions or intentions with “Well, you don’t want to do that…” It can be with big or small things—ideas for job pursuits or mundane projects around the house.

For example, today I mentioned in passing that I keep buying things online and I need to stop, and without really evaluating what I meant in terms of severity, she said “Well, you don’t want to do that… that’s what old ladies do.” During another conversation, I mentioned three possible writing gigs, including one for our local alternative weekly, and she said “Well, you don’t want to work there (the weekly)...”

Hopefully, you’re not focusing too much on the fact that I need to cut back on my spending and instead understanding that I think I’ve been hearing this regularly for a long time. I think it has been a factor in preventing me from trying things that I have an impulse to try, and I think it’s for me one of those subliminal tapes that we all have that ultimately dictate our behavior over the long term and especially when we experience stress.

It’s hard to explain, but she makes these statements often without having a clue about the actual circumstances and yet somehow it is so authoritative that it clears the deck of any thought, judgement or evaluation I might have. I get caught on my heels and generally decide it’s not worth the trouble to correct her (in part, because she frequently responds as if she has never experienced anything in the world before, and I have to explain every aspect of every part of whatever process or thing we are discussing—I don’t know why this is, because she isn’t dumb). The problem is that my opinion somehow gets thrown overboard, and somehow I don’t feel compelled to recover it. My experience of it is sort of a kneejerk reaction. “You don’t want to do that…” = “Well, I guess I don’t.” It’s really hard to stay cognizant and negate that message with a conscious and persisent response.

So therapy is out for the time being, but I would like to hear some feedback and/or guidance on what you do once you become cognizant of this kind of thing. I’ve mentioned this to her before, but I don’t know that I can count on her behavior to change much. She goes on this kind of autopilot a lot, and frequently gets emotional and defensive when confronted about her actions.

Have you dealt with this kind of thing successfully? Thanks for your response.

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42 Answers

King_Pariah's avatar

You could say it was successful but I directly confronted my mother on stuff and well, we hardly talk anymore.

Jellie's avatar

Can’t you just let her say whatever she wants to and continue to do whatever it is you were telling her you wanted to do? Maybe she’ll know to trust your judgement more once you do something she tells you that you shouldn’t do, have a positive experience and then tell her about it. She’ll realize you make smart choices.

XD's avatar

@Jellie, Not to discount your thinking, but I’m sure if that worked, I wouldn’t appealing to the fluther. I suppose a brute force approach is an option. I’ll consider it and thanks.

Bellatrix's avatar

Can I ask how old you are @XD?

XD's avatar

Late 30s and late blooming, apparently.

Ellis1919's avatar

What’s the next step? You get over it and take responsibility for you own successes and failures.

Bellatrix's avatar

Okay. Thank you for giving me this information. The reason I asked is because if you were a teenager, I could understand you perhaps blaming your parents for your own failures. In your late 30s though, the time to get away with that has really passed. You are an adult. The fact that your mother says “you don’t want to do that” really should not be influencing you to the point where your life is sabotaged and your development is inhibited. The thing that is sabotaging you is your preference for blaming other people for your own lack of motivation and action. Take ownership of your life and if you think something is right for you… do it.

XD's avatar

@Ellis1919, you need to break down the “get over it” part. Again, if it were that simple to execute, I wouldn’t be here. This is a blind spot.

lillycoyote's avatar

Unless they physically or sexually abused you, unless what they did to you was serious abuse or neglect, and if that is the case, then you can’t put off therapy. Otherwise, and I hate to sound harsh, but if therapy is out, then the next step is to stop blaming your parents and get on with the rest of your life, in my opinion. It’s is your life now. It is up to you to make better now.

Ellis1919's avatar

You can’t change your mother. You know her behavior. So try changing yours. Ask yourself if what you are doing is what you want. Stop second guessing yourself and live on your own terms. Maybe your mother just wants to be involved. Instead of waiting for her to say the same old line, ask her what you should do. If you think it’s good advice take it. If you don’t, listen to yourself.

Jellie's avatar

@XD Why do you need to change the way she thinks though? Let her say whatever she wants and do what you feel like. You’ve obviously figured out what she’s doing wrong. So just don’t listen to her. What exactly is stopping you?

Edit: Stop discussing your plans with her.

XD's avatar

@Bellatrix, agreed. I don’t blame them (in the sense that I’ve known for a long time that I’m responsible for myself), and if you don’t mind me editing on the fly, my language in the question is sort of a starting point. I’m trying to figure out how to get from my kneejerk reaction to something more independent. I can do this with other people, but with her I frequently short circuit.

@Jellie, well, part of it is that I frequently either acquiesce or yell at her. It’s not often that I bring out a finessed response. It’s like a trigger thing. She goes on her autopilot, and I do one or the other. More often than not it’s acquiesce. Sometimes, we have good conversations, but most of the time conversation with my mom is a barrage of prescriptive statements about what I do or don’t want to do and how or her trying to solve problems of mine that aren’t really problems or don’t require her input.

@lillycoyote, no abuse of that sort. Normal childhood other than healthy doses of guilt, I suppose.

Bellatrix's avatar

@XD, then leave her out of the loop. If you don’t feel you can deal with her reactions, don’t ask her for her opinions. Don’t seek her counsel. There are always going to be people who intimidate us and we find it hard to argue with them, so don’t put yourself in that position. Make your own choices. Some of them will not be right. You will learn from those mistakes. Others, and especially if you try to make your decisions carefully, will work out and will lead to you progressing through life. We all make errors, we only fail when we don’t try.

XD's avatar

@Bellatrix, I’ll give that a try. I’m generally an open person, though, so it’s not natural for me to withhold info, but I should probably reevaluate that posture. Thanks.

Ellis1919's avatar

How do you get over it? You stop blaming your mom for whatever you think she’s done. You forgive her. You accept her for who she is. You are the one that is in control of your life. Calmly tell her that you don’t like it when she does x or simply learn to just walk away from the situation.

Bellatrix's avatar

It isn’t about withholding, it is about being an adult. You don’t have to ask your parents for their advice on everything. Ask friends, ask other people you trust. In the end, part of being an adult is about making our own choices. One of those choices might be recognising that your mum, is not the best person to ask for advice. She isn’t you. Her input should only ever be a part of the information you use to make your decisions. Have faith in yourself.

XD's avatar

@Ellis1919, forgive and accept… I’ll work on that. Thanks.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I think this is an excellent question.

Our parents raised us to react to stimuli in a certain way, and they are the best ones at creating stimuli to make us react negatively. I believe another way to say that is our parents installed our buttons, and they know how to push them best.

My mother was very vocal when I moved back to the mainland for a time leaving my children with my ex-wife. She went on and on about how much I’d hurt her by being separate from the kids. One day, she said something to the effect that the distance between her and the grandchildren hurt, and I responded with respectful directness that I thought I was the one hurting more since they were my children. She never brought it up again.

When I came out of the closet, the tears flowed. My parents are rabid, fundamentalist Christians. The same tricks were played. I was hurting her. I had to firmly but gently say that I’d been hurt by years of repression and that I was not going to change. I was going to grow and blossom. I wish I could say my parents accept my sexuality, but they don’t. My point is that I no longer care about what they think.

So, how do you get over it? You’ve done the first part, which is recognizing the problem. The second part is asking for help, which you’re doing now. The next part is that you decide on a course of action you’re going to take in regards to your relationship with your mother. Finally, you instigate that plan.

Best of luck, and let us know how it goes.

Ellis1919's avatar

Good luck! I mean that sincerely too, in case it doesn’t sound that way. (I have issues with my mother too.)

Bellatrix's avatar

@Ellis1919 and @XD I think many of us have issues with one parent or the other :-)

XD's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake, I knew I could count on you, man. Not to split hairs, but it would probably be easier if my conflict was as dramatic or intense as yours have been. (I had a friend who had to move away as part of his coming out process to his fundamentalist parents, so I’ve seen some of that.) And, boy, does my mom have tricks, because naturally she’s always “just trying to make things nice for everybody”—haha! I need a fistful of firm and gentle things to say, because there are plenty of tricks. That can make a big difference, because it’s far beyond acquiescing or yelling as choices.

So, something I see with your process is that you refocused on what you were feeling or going through. Is that it, basically, or is this something you can articulate further? It sounds like one party is confused about where their boundaries end and the other’s begins, which I think kind of applies in my case. Sometimes, I want to say “how do you know what I want to do?” but I never think to in the moment.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Congratulations! You have figured it out! Now use the info wisely!

I have a game for you to try. Pick the opposite path you want to take and present it to her. When she inevitably replies with the usual “You don’t want to do that….” You say “You’re right I will do XYZ! Thanks.” Then do it. You are an adult.

Here are some examples:.
“I’d like to take the free writing assignment at the childrens shelter.”
“Oh; you don’t want to do that.. ..”
“You’re right! I want the Gig at the alternative weekly. Thanks!” And walk out of the room!

Or, let’s say you want to eat a hamburger.
“I’m thinking of eating a nice veggie salad.”
“Oh you don’t want to eat that….”.
“You’re right! I wan tto heat a hamburger.” Then go make it yourself..

Or Imagine you wan tto go to the beach today
“I think I will stay home and watch TV today.”.
Oh you don’t want to do that….
“You’re right I want to go to the beach.” Then leave!

Good luck to you! You have taken the first step! Now keep it up.
“I’m thinking of remaining a virgin for the rest of my life.”
“Oh you don’t want to do that….”
“You’re right! I’ve lined up a weekend full of hot, wild, 3-way monkey sex. Thanks!” Then do it. :;-)

XD's avatar

@Bellatrix, going back to what you said about advice, I see the distinction and your point. The thing is that usually I’m not asking for advice. I’m just relating what I am doing and/or thinking like people do in everyday conversation. It’s just that her usual response is to start telling you how you want to do it or “what you can do is…” Not to belabor the point, but I generally don’t get the opportunity to say ‘Gee, mom, what do you think?”

@worriedguy, I don’t know why I’ve never thought of that in this situation. Brill!

This is all helpful everyone. It’s breaking the arctic ice sheet, at least.

Bellatrix's avatar

Then don’t tell her @XD. Just don’t tell her. Why do you have to tell her? You know what her response is going to be, so don’t go there. I’m sorry, but for how long do you think your parents should be responsible for the decisions you make? You are responsible for the choices you do or do not make in life. You can choose not to engage with her behaviour.

XD's avatar

Oh, man. This is digging deep. @Bellatrix, I’m sitting here thinking “Of course… why do I have to tell her?” This makes me realize that even if you tell her not to concern herself with something, she will keep asking because she just can’t fucking help herself. It’s that automatic pilot. I remember once my girlfriend and I showed up to something and my girlfriend was upset with me. My mom asked me what was wrong, and I told her not to worry about it and it was like she had alzheimers because she asked me three more times what was wrong (probably because she couldn’t stand not having it all resolved or something). So maybe she can’t tolerate not having things resolved. She is frequently compelled to know what everyone just said even if the conversation has nothing to do with her.

Anyway, of course none of that starts if I keep my mouth shut, which is your point.

Bellatrix's avatar

Nods!! Yes. :-)

ucme's avatar


harple's avatar

Regarding keeping your own motivation, and negating her negativity, I would suggest doing some writing beforehand. If you have an idea of something you are wanting to do, write it down and write down the pros and cons, or what it is about the idea that excites you. That way, when your mother puts it down and you feel de-motivated, you can revisit your notes (when you return home) and see what it was that excited you about the idea in the first place and hopefully re-kindle the motivation.

At the point that you are telling your mother, (and I completely understand how conversations just happen with parents and it’s the most natural thing in the world to tell them what’s going on in your life and what your plans are etc) if she comes out with her usual “Well you don’t want to do that….” simply shrug your shoulders and say okay and either change the subject or say nothing at all. The silence will be palpable, but hard to maintain and may lead to her talking more about her opinion, so it may be better to change the subject if you can. Eventually, (hopefully) she may learn that her comments don’t seem to have any effect, and certainly that her comments don’t lead to more conversation on the topic, which ultimately won’t be fulfilling her need to put you down.

Using the word “need” in that last sentence sounds very strong, but it is certainly true that in family situations, we learn our role within the unit, and even though we grow up, leave home, lead our own lives and make our own decisions etc, we all to easily slip into our specific role when we return to the family unit (even though only visiting). Your mother’s role seems to be to say her stock phrase. Your role seems to be to allow it to affect you. Changing our role within the family unit is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. You’ve had (guessing) 18 years of conditioning when you were growing up, and how hard is that to try and break?! But your awareness of the situation is the first step. Unfortunately, it’s the first step on a hard road, but ulitmately will, I believe, be worth it.

(Personally, I am about where you are on my own road – I have recognised what my role is within the unit, and am slowly starting to try and change it to better reflect the person I have grown up to be, so I don’t have all the answers by any means!)

augustlan's avatar

I would definitely start keeping her out of the loop. Be vague when she asks how you are or what you’re up to these days, then shift the conversation. “Doing great, mom! How are you?” “Things are going great, mom! How was your day?”

FWIW, she sounds a little passive aggressive to me. Do not engage!

JilltheTooth's avatar

The non-abusive manipulator can be really difficult to deal with with, but in this case, @Bellatrix absolutely has the right of it. Just don’t tell her. I know it’s not that simple, I’m outgoing as well, I like to tell what I’m doing, but my mom would comment, criticize, diminish etc what I was doing Every. Single. Time. I had to learn not to tell her anything. My conversations with her now are mind numbingly boring and shallow, but certainly don’t get my blood pressure to rise, anymore! I can’t find if you said you live at home…if you don’t, spend less time there if possible. If you do, practice(when you’re alone) how to not react. It helps to have rehearsed the noncommittal conversations.
Good luck with this. The subtle stuff is sometimes very difficult to pinpoint and correct.

XD's avatar

@JilltheTooth, no, not at home, thank goodness. Just the same hometown.

@harple, great suggestions. Thanks!

@augustlan, yeah, that makes sense too. Thanks!

@ucme, if only it could be done on a temporary basis. ;-)

ucme's avatar

@XD Ah yes, Mrs. Bates XD…..<<<<< nice symmetry!

GabrielsLamb's avatar

I feel for you *Although I don’t understand the problem exactly???

But my parents have inadvertantly and intentionally at times sabotaged my entire life.

They were nuts seperately and absolutely insane when together and they convieniently enough created 5 lives through which to vent their own personal f*cked-up Bull$hit… .

prioritymail's avatar

I am in a similar situation. My approach was to 1) stop sharing things that would trigger unhelpful responses from my family, 2) take everything they say with 5 grains of salt, 3) limit the time I spend around them. It’s tough, and doesn’t happen overnight. I think everyone seeks approval from others, especially parents, to some degree, and even when you consciously acknowledge that their opinion shouldn’t really matter, it does. I’d like to try therapy one day. She probably doesn’t even realize that she’s affecting you like this, and if she does, she probably can’t help it. You can’t change her, you can only change yourself.

bookish1's avatar

Jumping in here a little late, but yes, I must confess, when I read the title of the post, I assumed the OP was probably a teenager. I would have written something similar when I was that age. (Full disclosure: I’m now 23 and just recently took steps to cut ties with both of my parents, who were physically and emotionally abusive, manipulative and controlling in a panoply of ways through my childhood and adolescence.)

Reading your story through my aforementioned filter, it sounds like your mother might have had some great disappointments/obstacles in her life, and now she is bitter and just wants to derive some “I told you so” kind of satisfaction by shooting down all of your ideas and plans.

Couldn’t resist, it seems appropriate.

So I’m not the best person to give advice on how to have a healthy relationship with your parents, because that was not a possibility for me. But @prioritymail‘s response sounds real good. It sounds difficult, but you can indeed start to reprogram yourself so that you and you alone are in charge of how you react to situations.

Best of luck.

Sayd_Whater's avatar

As some of the guys here, I can also relate to you, but I think the topic is unfair, everyone should be grateful for having parents to ask opinions!
I know Parents often prevent us from trying new stuff out, and it probably works pretty fine when we’re kids (or not) but once we’re adults no one can stop us anymore, except ourselves, of course.
My parents are a little like that but I guess I forgave them a long time ago.
I always try whatever I want to do and although I’ve faced some failures… Yes, I’ve heard many times “I told you so!” But that’s it, that’s not so bad! If I fail it’s my time, my money I deal with it… Besides nothing can take the joy of the sucess, specially when you’re trying out alone, and then… I’m telling you there’s nothing better than to impress parents… Specially with ideas they didn’t think that were so good from the begining.. They start to respect more your decisions!
Whenever they say no to another of my ideas I ask a lot of questions and If I’m still sure of the great idea I’ve got I’ll go for it!
In my opinion if you cannot pass the idea through them you’ll probably won’t pass it anyone else… I’m just saying…
Parents are the first step, it’s just like training, facing the world is the real deal, a lot harder to convince and it’s a great thing that you actually got to practise the reasons before with them, they are the only ones in the world that will care for you and protect you even when you’re getting older and even if that means they have to play the devil’s attorney part in the end they force you to think more about it just by yourself =)
The worst part is that they won’t be around forever we must be independent as soon as we can…

bookish1's avatar

@Sayd_Whater : The real world is easy compared to what I experienced growing up. I wish I could have been out in it earlier.

Parents are supposed to care for you and protect you, yes. Not all do this.

augustlan's avatar

@bookish1 Agreed. Some of has had horrific experiences. I’m not even in contact with my mother, and am far better off for it.

noraasnave's avatar

I have experience with parents that are jealous of my accomplishments, intelligence, income, freedom, relationships. Primarily my mother is where these issues come from. I have traced this problem back a bit into two areas: Why she says what she says and why I listen.

Why she says what she says? She is controlled by her basest emotions: fear, jealousy, anger. I used to tell her everything…talk about the new car I bought, the Christmas presents for the kids, my soul mate, you know…life.

I used to tell her everything…definitely seeking some small validation…thinking that taking pride in me would mean that she gets some pride to keep for herself too. Perhaps I would get some helpful advice to help better adjust my plans. Nope.

She would instantly be upset, disapproving and cold. So I found that I had to set my boundaries differently, keeping information that might make her jealous close to my chest. The deep mystery concerning why my mother acts the way she does is a matter of history that I have no knowledge of and no way to find out. I have talked to her sister, her brother, her mother and still have open dialogue with them about her…they have no idea.

What I found out about why I listen to her was deeply insightful. I give some credit to the book: All The Good Ones Aren’t Taken which I haphazardly picked up off of a ‘free book’ table while deployed to Iraq.

To make an already long story a bit shorter. I ended up asking my Mom about my young childhood <5 years old because I don’t remember a thing. She told me that I was her helper…that when dad left, there was no money, and no one to talk to that I was her confidant that I listened to her. Dad came back eventually and stayed back so this imbalance was just acted out for about a month. Based on what I read in the book which I already mentioned, this set off all kinds of alarms; many of my odd behaviors as far as relationships go made more sense.

She switched the roles when I was 4 years old. I became the adult, she became the child. She should have been the adult, in control of her emotions and her life, able to listen and help me identify my feelings, encourage me, get behind me in my life. It is heady stuff being treated as an adult when one is 4 years old.

So, back to my answer: I have my parents off in a corner somewhere as far as my boundaries go. I have figured out in a few short years exactly how much I can trust them, and how ‘valuable’ their opinion of my life is…not. I allow my children to talk with them from time to time and give factual, brief updates on my life from time to time as well.

It sounds so sweet, simple, quick, and wrapped in a nice package with a bow here, but years of pain, confusion, conflict, and chaos have gradually led me to this place of peace. it all happened here in my 30’s.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
Inspired_2write's avatar

She is not the problem here, after all she remains her self.
Of course she is going to continue to answer like that..that is how she thinks.
Did you think that you could change her?
Its you and your own response that has to change.
Deep down you feel that knowing that she will give that response, you are giving her permission to talk you out of somthing that you yourself unconsciously have doubts about.
And because she is a convenient reason to put the blame on making your own decisions wrong, you avoid responsibility in your choices.
In short it get YOU off the hook to make decisions, that you ultimatley decide anyway.
Its you who decides to go with or against a decision not her.

josie's avatar

Who better to blame for being a loser than your parents.
Plus, In my case it would be a free ride, since they are both dead.

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