Dear Therapist:

I am a 20 something year old girl struggling with...finding Mr. Right. In the meantime I am living at home with my parents and here lies the problem. My mother doesn't realize but she is singling me out for emotional mistreatment. Nothing I say, think, or wear is good enough. My opinions are too left wing, my clothing is too tight, this outfit doesn't make me look good. All day every day that's all I hear from her. It's come to a point where it's hard to remember the last time she said something positive. I'm not sure how much longer I can cope with it. What does the panel recommend for my sake?



Unfortunately, many of us experience situations similar to yours. People often speak and act unthinkingly, without recognizing the impact that they can have. This is especially so when the person is emotionally involved. Parents are probably more emotionally involved with regard to their children than anyone else within any other relationship. This often leads to speech and behavior that does not necessarily represent their true beliefs.

There are many things that factor into parental behavior when it differs from their behavior toward those who are not their children. Sometimes, parents simply have a strong need to help their children, which overpowers their logical thought process. For instance, despite knowing intellectually that berating someone will lead to rebellion, parents often do so. Their actions are being fed by their emotions rather than by their intellect. Sometimes, parents will acknowledge this after the fact; sometimes, however, they get stuck in their emotional way of thinking—and continue the negative behavior.

Another common issue is a parent’s fear of being judged. Parents often feel that their children’s actions reflect on them (regardless of the child’s age or life circumstances). They feel that they will be negatively judged as based on their children’s actions. Despite the fact that they would never judge someone else for similar reasons, their fear (emotion) overpowers their general understanding (intellect).

I don’t know the reason for your mother’s comments. I don’t know whether she is well-meaning, but simply doesn’t recognize the harm that she is doing. I don’t know whether there are things that bother her on a subliminal level, causing her to act in ways that she wouldn’t with other people.

If you have some sense of the reasons that your mother comments in the way that she does, this can help you in a couple of ways. Firstly, if you clearly recognize that your mother’s actions are caused by her own needs, this may help you to feel less like she looks down at you. For instance, if you realize that your mother is constantly worried that her mother will judge her based on your actions, you may feel better knowing that you are not really viewed negatively in your mother’s eyes.

Secondly, depending on your relationship with your mother, you may be able to discuss the reasons for her comments in a more productive manner. When we feel judged of maligned, we tend to respond in kind. This usually leads to confrontational exchanges, which only serve to perpetuate the negative communication. If you are able to approach the conversation feeling less hurt (and can broach the subject in a way that doesn’t hurt your mother), you may be pleasantly surprised by the direction that the conversation takes.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317