Ask Allison: 'I love my mother, but she is so negative I can't bear it'

Q As I get older, I find it increasingly hard to tolerate negativity in others. My mother, in particular, is a very negative woman whose first reaction to anything is mockery or contempt. She was always like this, but now that I am approaching 50 I find it so hard to take.

I love my mother, and deep down she is a lovely person, and I believe the negativity is a bad habit more than a default setting in her personality if that makes sense. I find it so hard to talk to her or be around her and it’s making me feel bad. Why is this happening now and what do you suggest I do?

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Allison replies: I’m really sorry to hear how bad this is making you feel. It’s indicative of the problem you have with your mother, in that, you are the one owning the consequences of her negativity. Whether being negative is part of her personality, character or just a bad habit is irrelevant as it affects you. I won’t add insult to injury by asking you to ignore her behaviour or to think of some vacuous positivity to ‘overcome’ this.

What you are dealing with here, is a lifetime of being on the receiving end of chronic negativity. The implications of which create deep emotional wounds of personal self-doubt as you absorb the toxicity that is contempt and mockery. I imagine you may battle against the negativity in her presence, a truly exhausting experience, but I wonder if you find your mood deflated when you arrive back home? If this is the case then you need to value the relationship with yourself, your time and energy.

Each decade brings a chance of a re-birth, where you question what brings you joy and time helps you clearly see what doesn’t.

A question to ask is ‘does the relationship with my mum bring me joy?’ Of course, I don’t think relationships can or should be joyful all of the time. But, they need to bring joy ‘some’ of the time. When did your mum praise you, wholeheartedly, with no side notes of how ‘it could have been better’? When did you feel fully heard, seen and understood without any contemptuous judgment? When do you feel safe sharing important stories of your day or life with your mum?

I know that these are incredibly hard questions to ask, and the answers may prove more painful. However, staying as you are, is equally if not more painful as the wounds keep coming. Emotional contagion impacts and impacts fast. Think of the last important thing you shared with your mum. Perhaps, beforehand you felt excited to share your news, but then the prickly sour thought crept in, warning you not to tell her ‘you know she will pick at it’ and yet your inner child still looks for that connection to your mum.

That is natural and normal, but ultimately not helpful for you anymore. As you look for that re-assurance and attachment to this pivotal figure in your life. This is why the idea of pulling away is so incredibly painful and scary.

Maybe, this birthday is bringing to light how long you have endured this negativity. Maybe, as you hit the half-way line you want to claim back some mental and emotional space for yourself. Your growing intolerance of being around her is your body’s way of saying ‘enough’.

You have to create, express and maintain your new boundary of what you will and won’t accept. By the way, your mother probably won’t like this one bit, but that’s for you to work on accepting her as she is, and to grieve the loss of the mother you needed and wanted. These are the wounds you need to attend to.

Being an adult is hard, you never grow out of the need for your mother’s love. This is where you have to practice acceptance of how people are and not how you would like them to be.

When you know from hard earned experience how she will respond before you tell her what we have is a pattern. A destructive pattern, but what is helpful, is that you know the response you will get. With this knowledge in mind, grant yourself permission to set-up boundaries. Where you begin and your mum ends.

A few options to choose from:

⬤Express how the negativity affects you.

Sometimes, people don’t see how their words or behaviour impacts others.

(Caveat: sometimes this is not a viable option if you know that this will result in anger/rage).

⬤Accept your mum as she is.

⬤Accept that you can’t change her

⬤Grieve the loss of the mum you would have liked to have had.

⬤Decide on time or topic limits.

⬤Do you find the phone easier?

⬤People can choose to disconnect from a parent. If the relationship is harmful or dysfunctional this is an option you could discuss with a therapist.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at [email protected]

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