I Have A Critical Mum

I have become depressed, anxious and guarded. I literally live in my bedroom

Dear Sahar,

I am a 36-year-old Arab woman, with a very westernised outlook. I still live with my parents and am not married. Since I lost my job a while ago, I have noticed that my mother has been critical of me. Whether it is comments about my weight/clothes/food/where I go/how often I go out/how much money I spend…she is always having a go.

I have also noticed that during this time I have become depressed, anxious and guarded. I literally live in my bedroom and work all the time – because it honestly makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong – I love my mother tremendously and I do a lot to make my parents happy but I guess I could do better in life, even though I try my best in whatever it is that I do. Nevertheless I feel that I am a complete disappointment to my parents and I can never meet their expectations – especially my mum’s.

When I am pushed to the corner by her I have outbursts of “please leave me alone” and/or I break down. I have tried talking to her. She shows me her love in amazing ways. But I feel she still does not get me. Maybe it’s her age…or maybe I am right and my weight is a huge issue for her. I have tried losing weight for years now – I haven’t succeeded and I know that it is a huge issue for her.

~ Anonymous Deflated Daughter

Dear Deflated Daughter,

I can completely understand what you are going through, I can even write about what is happening on so many levels; and I think I will- hopefully it will help you to see things form a different point of view and that’s a good start!

It could not have been easy for you, being an “almost” individuated adult who is in her mid-thirties, has had her own job, financially independent; and then suddenly just because of one change in her life, namely the loss of your job, you find yourself back as a daughter, a child, who is dependent on her parents. It must be like going through a warm hole, backwards in time! I chose not say back to square one, because you have not mentioned how your relationship with your mother was prior to losing your job. My guess is there must have been a little bit of the usual mother-daughter tension between you. However, being away from home during job hours had probably diffused that tension and “postponed” the inevitable conflict which is about your complete individuation and adulthood. Effectively, that’s exactly what has happened. Your mother has slipped back into a previous role of “mothering” you as she used to; accordingly, and unknowingly, you have responded by slipping back into the daughter that you were, or was expected you to be prior to having a job. If you reflect dispassionately on what has been going on, you will observe that several things have been building up for you to confront and deal with:

  • Earlier, I mentioned that you are an “almost” individuated adult, because, although you describe yourself as having “very westernised outlook” you still have never really managed to cut off the proverbial “umbilical cord”. Not only you did not move out when you had a job (although I appreciate the so-called eastern traditions which “frowns upon” a female who’s allowed to do that and would deem it unacceptable; however, need I remind you that we are in the twenty-first century and that things are different? Women, including Arab women, have achieved so much in their own right. In the words of a wise male cousin of mine, who spurred my own independence when I was in my mid-twenties: “Freedom is seized, never bestowed”.
  • Presumably you have had a western education at some point and most probably would have spent university years abroad); however, you have also made yourself vulnerable by losing the one foot that you were standing on and therefore recovering has neither been easy nor quick. This leads me to the next point.
  • You must have felt or believed that having a job was sufficient in order to claim your independence and your parent’s approval of you. As such, losing your job, in your eyes, made you feel that you are “a complete disappointment” to your parents”. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Feeling “victimised” by your circumstance, and then becoming one. You are a grown person, who happens to be a woman and one who is responsible for her own welfare and development; married or not. Your parents, I am sure as with most, have always done what they felt is best for you and your mother acts in a way she feels, rightly or wrongly, that is in your best interest. However, only you can live your own life and have the responsibility for you own decisions. The only person whose approval you need is one you see in the mirror. If you are not happy with that, then stop winging and change it!
  • If your mother is having a go at you, she must have been tapping into and reflecting issues within you which you are vulnerable to – otherwise the “frequency” that links the two happenings together would not have been there in the first place. Every relationship with the “other” is really about the “self”. As the two interact, it reflects back to the “self” aspects which they need to address- it’s part of an individual’s self-development, otherwise there would be no progress if you think about it. It would be your making as a worthy partner and mother; at the right time, if that is also what you desire.
  • More than that, psychiatrist Eric Berne described beautifully the dynamic that goes on between two people in his renowned best-selling book Games people Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships. He describes three roles or ego states, known as the Parent, the Adult, and the Child, and hypothesises that many negative behaviours can be traced to switching or confusion of these roles. As examples, he cites “a series of “mind games” in which people interact through “a patterned and predictable series of “transactions” which are superficially plausible (that is, they may appear normal to bystanders or even to the people involved), but which actually conceal motivations, include private significance to the parties involved, and lead to a well-defined predictable outcome, usually counterproductive. In reality, the “winner” of a mind game is the person that returns to the Adult ego-state first”. Please read it! So long as you react as a child, she will continue to play the role of the parent.

Finally, you need to a moving-forward plan. Your goals need not materialise overnight, however, at the very least, learn from this valuable experience and take charge of your life as an adult. Having defined goals, which can always vary and change, on a piece of paper that you can see will help focus your mind and achieve them. Here are possible goals:

  • Get to know yourself better. Keep a daily journal of your thoughts and feelings to help you how you change as you read it every now and then.
  • Design the Pattern of Your Life, (an extract from my upcoming book). Consider other aspects of your life that you need developing as described below. Hiding in your room (and waiting until you get married) is not really a solution.
  • Start a new job search. Find out if you’d like to continue working in your previous field, need a course to help you switch you careers; or move in a new direction altogether and continue with higher education.
  • Sign up with an employments agency.
  • Find out what your financial responsibilities would be if you were to live on your own, and don’t take a job for granted. Where would you live? How much would you need to earn and save? etc.; and
  • Take the leap when you are ready! Moving out, would help you to find out who are you are and start building a life of you own.
  • Find a hobby. Do you have any interests or talents? That could develop into an additional means for earning money. Financial independence, particularly for woman of your background, can be, if not equal to, emotional independence.


Designing The Pattern of Life Tool


As an exercise I suggest that you sit quietly with a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and that you draw a circle to represent important aspects in your life, copying the diagram below.

  • From the centre of the circle, draw eight lines representing spokes of wheel at right angles to each other.
  • Now mark 9 equal segments along each line, so that the 10th mark is actually the circumference of the circle.
  • Label the end of each spoke, or thread, with the important elements in your life. For example: family & friends, job/career, health/fitness, personal development (interests and talents), money/finances, happiness/joy; creativity; and love.
  • There are eight examples here, but you can add others or use fewer examples, the important thing is to realise that the pattern of your life is made up from a number of threads.
  • Make several photo copies of this drawing, put the date down on the one you are about to complete now, before you go on to the next step.
  • Take the centre of the circle to represent zero (totally dissatisfied), and the outer edge represent 10 (totally satisfied).
  • Along each thread, or spoke, mark a cross (x) according to the current level of satisfaction in that area of your life.
  • Finally, draw a line joining all the crosses together, and see how balanced is the ‘shape’ of your life. This will give you a clear picture as to what thread needs to be strengthened and to where to focus your energies.
  • Underneath the areas that need to be strengthened, write three suggestions or possible courses of action that you could take to improve your score.
  • Finally, list those suggestions on a piece of paper, which will form your List of Actions.
  • Without putting any pressure on yourself, look at that list at least three times a day. There will come a time, when your brain registers and can “see a way forward. You will then find yourself effortlessly desiring to take action in order to improve your situation.
  • The action you take now can be as simple as making a telephone call to inquire about more details, say of a course, or penciling a date in your diary to see family or friends.
  • Simply ask yourself each day: “Have I done my best today under the current circumstances?” if not, then tomorrow do a little bit more about taking further action.

You can also vary the different aspects of the circle to represent a specific area of concern at any time. For example, if you are considering your current job, the various aspects that form the work related pattern can be: professional appearance, communication skills, organisation, relationship with other colleagues, technical knowledge, training, relationship with clients, asking for assistance, ability to delegate etc. Using the Pattern of Life at Work, or the Pattern of My Romantic relationships, etc., in this way allows you to focus on the different aspects that make up the whole of that world, and will lead to generating possible courses of actions and eventually to prioritising those actions according to how important you view them to be. Having something physical to look at, such a Pattern of (whatever aspect area of life you are considering), will help you brain to focus on steps to moving forward, and possible actions, rather on useless paralysing analysis.



About Sahar Huneidi-Palmer
Author, Columnist, Holistic Therapist & Personal Mentor; helping my clients achieve the life they are meant to live since 1992. I am passionate about demystifying the abstract, podcasting & and love Turkish coffee!

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