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“Help! I have a controlling, critical mother!”

Some of us have been unlucky in getting parents who are not well-suited for the job. Either they have learned bad parenting practices from their own upbringing, or they have mental disorders that make it impossible for them to experience compassion, understanding, or respect. Here’s how to deal with them.


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Full transcript (unedited)

This question is about having a manipulative or critical parent, which I know a lot of us are familiar with. So they say my Christian husband, my manipulative mother, she constantly puts me down and scold me even when I’m helping her in phrases such as you’re always very slow, etc. Feel like I’ll never be good enough for her. And I don’t understand why I feel this urge to be good enough in her eyes. The anxiety of her finding out small things that she will not approve of eats me up every day. It sounds like she says a lot of control of her life and watches everything even has my email password might be odd. And um, she has this is the mother has a story of severe depression and anxiety in her parents were pretty much like this as well. So it’s kind of been passed on down. And it seems like she’s trying to prove to herself that she’s better than her children. I’m constantly living with anxiety desperately, if it desperate effort to please her. What do you suggest me to do? This one’s real common, there’s not really is it really is unfortunately, it’s kind of endemic to certain cultures as well. I don’t know which culture this person is in on one note is that she does mention here it’s a she I believe, is 20 years old. Mom should not have your email password at 20 years old. You’re right, so So this, we’re not talking about a teenager here where mom’s trying to protect you against predators or something. This is definitely a situation where two adults should be treating each other as adults. Where would you want to start with this? Dan, I want to start with some compassion first. On a couple of points. One is if you’ve been manipulated severely for years and years, there’s no quick fix to this. And it’s, you’re gonna have other people tell you all sorts of great pieces of advice and everything, but they won’t know what it feels like you are literally brain wired, You’re conditioned to react to patterns of behavior, it’s going to be a serious piece of work to break that. The other thing is, in my experience as a coach, and I’m keen to hear from you, Mike about this as well. When it comes to boundary setting, and it comes to self respect. Everyone can get really strong in every area except family. All my clients, the one area that they struggle the most is family, and particularly parents, it seems like I can, I can help someone become super assertive and self respecting and confident. And they go home and it all falls to pieces. And I think it’s something to do with hardwire the trauma. When you’re built from scratch by this person, it’s very hard to escape the program, you know, the robot can’t get away from his program, that kind of thing. So it’s amazing to me that there’s this kind of Time Warp that exists in the family environment, where no matter what kind of work you do outside of that, you’re likely to take a big step backwards once you get home for Christmas, or whatever. So I just want to start with a bit of compassion, like yeah, this is going to be really hard to deal with. And it’s really common, and everybody I know has this struggles immensely, whether even once they become confident. I absolutely agree that it’s one of the most significant things that people struggle with, even even in their 50s and 60s, if their parents are still around, they still struggle with that parent child dynamic. But the great news is, once you figure out how to confront it, how to establish boundaries, you are free. The guys and girls that I have seen actually take that step where they needed to confront their their parent relationship. Were absolutely transformed. After that experience, the whole world changed their opinion of themselves. Their parents saw them as adults for the first time simply because they stood up and said, Hey, that’s that’s really enough. It was it was amazing to see how much they changed and how much they grew after that. So on the one hand, you feel trapped, and you feel a lot of pain. And it’s been a terrible experience. But I want to just give you hope that on the other side of that is pretty much everything you ever wanted, both for yourself and for your relationship with your mom. Now there’s, there’s a lot of we only control our half of relationships. That’s always one of the biggest challenges here. And any situation can go in any direction. But my experience is, in general, most parents really want their kids to be happy and do well. Their own limiting beliefs get in the way, hugely. Yeah, there are some rare cases where the parent really does want their child to suffer. But most of the time, the cause of suffering, they actually believe they’re helping. And they believe they’re doing it right. And they have actually moderated their own parenting. So their parents were even worse, and you’re getting a an improved version. It’s not improved all the way. But sometimes you gotta give your parents just to relieve some of the hatred, you might build up towards them. You gotta give them credit, like they’re shielding you from what they had to go through, you’re getting a lesser, watered down version. Most of the time, sometimes it goes the other way. I think, Mike, you kind of nailed it, which is, this is confidence building maker. Basically, if you can do it here, you start a new life. And there’s bass, there’s kind of two options for your first step. Now, if you are confident enough to start confronting them, that’s your first step. If not, yet, the first step is to get the fuck away from them. So that you can build up to that real first step. The thing is, it’s from what I’ve seen is essentially, if you don’t yet have the competence to manage your heart for the relationship, to start setting those boundaries, telling them off not tolerating certain behaviors, cutting them off, so on, then basically, you it’s like kryptonite, when you go near them, you’re gonna lose all your strength, and they’re going to dominate, it’s just a very subtle, Mind Game person that you’re locked into, and you’re not strong enough to break out of yet. And if that’s you, then you need space to build up that strength somewhere else. You know, if I had to put it really practically, I’d say you need a year off from your mum. And you need to go out into the world and learn how to confront and figure out who you are and what your values are, and how to live by them. And then you can come back to mum and repair the relationship. But if you that’s if you can’t confront her now, you know, if you can confront him now, then it begins today. One of the key things, and Mikey kind of inferred this, when we say that they’re trying to help. One of the ways to look at this is the kids take it very personally, when your parents criticize you think it’s very personal. And yeah, it hurts you emotionally. Because you take it seriously. One of the ways to look at it as this is like mental illness. For a parent who loves their child to treat them badly means there’s a screw loose there, the system is not working properly. If she loves you, and then she hurts you, then obviously she doesn’t even know how to function properly. And that’s no different to someone being paranoid schizophrenic or having a borderline personality disorder, which she might actually have. Or being bipolar, something’s not working in the system. And one of the ways that I find that helps me deal with people who treat me very badly, is to understand that they’re so disordered, that that’s the best they can do. They are not functioning well. This isn’t about me, them struggling to function. It’s like if somebody had epilepsy, and their hand flipped out and hit me in the face, I’m not going to be like, Oh my god, he punched me about No, he’s having a fee can’t control his hands. We can think about like this, they can’t control the criticism, they can’t control their words, they can’t control how they express their love for you. It comes out as a punch or a slap, essentially. And put it simply the easiest way for me to deal with these people think they’re actually crazy. This isn’t about me at all. They’re crazy. And I can’t respond to crazy as if it’s serious. I need to respond to crazy as crazy and deal with it as such. You know, it’s very hard for people to conceptualize this with their parents because their parents have always been the authority and being right but I’m here to tell you, you know, here’s the secret you turned 20 You’re allowed to know the secret now. Most adults don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. Most of them are barely the barely got the grip on life. They most people have kids weren’t in any way qualified or trained to do so. And they didn’t do it particularly well. Okay. And I say most and I mean most I mean more than 50% There is no licensing for having kids. There’s no training, there’s no qualification. And most people are bringing the trauma from their childhood company. Lay untouched, and then they’re taking that down their kids. And here’s the secret, you got one of them, you know, and you didn’t do anything wrong. And on top of that parents are panicked about the idea that their kids may not learn from their own mistakes as parents, but the kids are going to repeat the same problems, live the same life have the same miseries. And of course, we are going to because parents are impressing us pressing that on us again, and again. And again. You know, there’s a, there’s a fascinating bit of psychology here that I really like, known as the doorway effect. It’s the concept that our brain organizes our thoughts, our emotions, our beliefs, even our behavior, based on things like how we’re feeling at a particular moment and emotional context, or a location. And it then you brought this up, it just reminded me of so many coaching situations, I’ve found myself in, where someone has moved back home, for whatever reason for even for a short period of time, and suddenly feels like they’re a teenager again, living under their parents rules. They can’t they feel like they can’t confront or challenge anything, they feel like they can’t set boundaries, they feel like they can’t even ask questions, they just do what they’re told, and try to stay out of trouble. And this is the mindset that they experienced when they were teenagers. So walking back into that situation, it’s like flicking a switch. The thing to understand here is that you can control that if you go on an overseas experience and do some traveling, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your thoughts change, your sense of freedom change, your ability to follow your values changes, even your emotional state, we’ll go through a radical change. One of the guys I’m coaching right now, he might be might be online now. Just met him this afternoon, he grew up in the UK, and decided to travel to New Zealand specifically, to get away from his family situation and simply get some perspective on his life, what he wants, where he’s going, what’s next, you know, what’s happening, the thing to understand is that your mom is human too, which means she also all of our parents also are impacted by the doorway effect. That means when you walk in the door of their house, particularly if it’s the house you grew up in, they can’t help but go straight back to that dynamic of, I’m the parent, here’s my child, my job is to protect them from getting killed, to make sure that they behaved that they learned social rules, that they’re working hard at their homework, if they’re going somewhere with their lives. And they instantly feel all this stress of being a parent, that’s hard for them to let go of to as much as it is for you to let go of receiving and attaching to it. So realize that they’re as much a victim of this psychological reality as you are. And creating that space is also as much of a benefit for them. As it is for you mom needs a break to to actually say like, Hey, you know, she’s off in Europe or, or New Zealand exploring the world. And she checks in once a week and she’s still alive. And a she is my little girls more grown up than I thought parents need that. And unfortunately, a lot of parents don’t encourage that these days. But it’s something that you can choose to do for yourself. Absolutely. One thing I will say when I was reading through this one, this did sound like it was more on the extreme end of the spectrum in terms of harm and emotional manipulation. It’s very little information to go on. But trusting my instincts and my experience in this field, I’d say your mother has some sort of disorder. And you know something in the lines of borderline or narcissistic personality or something like that. Now doesn’t actually matter if I’m right or not, because my next piece of advice is the same either way. You have to absolutely let go of the idea of changing her. Absolutely let go of it. Nothing you do is going to change her that’s the best mindset you can have to begin with. You will have no impact. In fact, she may even react counter productively to any change you try to make she may get worse as you try to get better. So let go of her treating you better that that fantasy you have in your head of her being the parent you always want to do to be let it die. She may never ever be that and then given what you’ve written, I’d say there’s a very strong possibility that the way she is now Al is the way she’s going to be for the rest of her life. So this isn’t about managing her. This definitely isn’t about impressing her, you’ll never be good enough. Because she is wired towards criticism, she’s wired towards one upmanship. You could be the best person in the world and she’ll find something wrong with it, you have no chance of pleasing her, which is a relief, hopefully, you can’t win, you don’t need to play. It’s a game, if you’re going to win, you would have done it within 20 years of practice, right? If you do something for 20 years, and you don’t win, stop doing that thing, you suck at it, or it’s not possible. So the focus has to be on you. You can’t change her, but you can change you. And I love Mike’s idea of getting not just leaving the house, leave the country, I’ve got to say traveling is up there with starting a business for self development. You know, you traveled especially if maybe you can’t go on your own, because it sounds like she’s really destroyed your self confidence. But you can find like I went did that camp America thing. There’s overseas, like, there’s businesses that take you overseas and organize everything for you. So you can kind of do a safe version of it. You get around people who don’t know you and have no expectations of you. And you get out of their bubble. And you realize most people aren’t like, most people are kind and encouraging and considerate, or at least not mean. And once you get a lot of evidence, and a lot of people like that you won’t keep seeing her as the queen of the world, you’ll see her as actually a kind of exceptionally negative person. And that will help you detach from taking this personally, instead of trying to please her you realize no, she’s essentially kind of sick. You know, she might need care and support, she may even need to be seen by professionals. But there’s nothing you can do to help her. You know, you’re not going to mean to a broken leg. Don’t try to mend a broken mind. So yeah, I’ve got to say, just reading this, I’m gonna throw, throw a coin and gamble on this one. She’s got something quite disordered about her and for your mental health, you need to get away for now. Yeah, I absolutely agree. And what’s more, you know, truth be told, these situations generally worsen with age. If your mom has been heading down this road for some period of time, in terms of her worldview, her relationship with you her relationship with others, her overly critical and controlling nature. You know, don’t don’t expect it to improve, certainly not overnight. So the best thing you can do is, as Dan said, is, is take full responsibility for yourself, care for yourself, create a situation for yourself, where you can thrive and grow and learn to develop self confidence and self responsibility and self love. And then you actually have something to bring back to your family situation, if you want, and when it’s appropriate, and when it’s needed. At this point, your mom couldn’t accept any appreciation or love from you, even if she tried. So sounds like you know, your your course forward is pretty clearly charted for us create that space and grow and learn and then see what happens. Yeah, absolutely, I would add to that, you probably are going to need professional support. Probably a expert in family crisis and issues a therapist who can help you understand your mum, I’d suggest doing some research on borderline personality, because I’m seeing a lot of the hallmarks of that. I’m not saying you should diagnose her. But just once you understand kind of who she is, you might find it easier to break free. And you know, what? The last point I make is from experience, I know you’ll be scared of her reaction to you going out on your own, you just know that she’s going to explode. If you tried to leave the nest. Given that she’s got your email address, she’s probably not to call with you having freedom. email password, I mean, so what I’d say is this. One thing to keep in mind, no matter what you do, she’s going to be upset with you. So you might as well choose the option that’s good for you because you’re going to get a negative reaction from her. Either way. You stay at home, she’s going to exploit you for something else you leave. She’ll explain to you. The explosions happening. There’s no avoiding of that. You’ve tried for 20 years you can’t so it doesn’t make a difference what you choose in terms of what she’s going to do. So you’re free to choose anything that’s good for you. But you’re gonna need probably therapy, probably medication, I’m guessing you’re kind of fucked up by this. Most people I talked to, with this kind of background, have a lot of trauma. And that kind of, I guess I’m trying to emphasize how serious I think this case is. This isn’t like you’ve got a mean parent who’s not good at communicating. I think you’re in like, what we probably call a toxic environment that is going to destroy you, if you don’t get out of there ASAP. Yeah, that’s what what else can I say? I mean, that’s the first step, nothing else can happen till you get out of there and get support. And, and depending on your own family situation, one of the things you might consider is, once you’re out, once you’re out, talking to other family members to see where they stand and how they might be able to help. There’s absolutely no doubt they’ve seen this situation for years. If they see it clearly and see the harm it’s caused, they may be able to help or at least provide perspective and emotional support for you. So that you don’t feel like you’re, you know, you’ve disconnected from the family and just buy and abandon the mall, which is going to be very difficult for you to do. Understanding that your mother is someone who needs help, is the starting point there. And having the family support in recognizing that and getting her the help she needs is really the only way she’s going to be able to grow and benefit and become a better person. Yeah, I mean, it’d be great if you can find some people. Quite a few of my clients who have this issue. Once they bring it up with other family members, they find out oh, everybody’s dealing with this, they nobody’s talking about it, everyone’s aware of it. Other times, want to make sure that we cover this in case it comes up. You’re the only one. If your parent has narcissistic personality or is a psychopath, there’s a good chance they’ll choose one person to target all their misery towards and everybody else gets nice treatment. And it creates a situation where the victim seems to be the crazy one. Because everyone’s like, How could How could you be complaining about him, he’s so great, or she’s just so awesome. She’s so lovely. she bakes pies for the church every Sunday. Because they they become obsessed about one particular target, and everybody else is manipulated to protect their domination of the target. So they create this lie world where everybody’s on their side, and the target looks crazy. You see, child sex offenders do this a lot. They make the child look crazy, because everyone in the community thinks the offender is this, you know, high authority, Doctor priest, or some person who’s nice to everyone can’t see him as the monster. So there might be a chance that your mum has created a situation where you’re the only one who sees a dark side. Given the small amount of information you’ve given us, we can’t really tell, but it actually sounds like probably she can’t help herself. So I’m guessing other people have seen this too. Doesn’t really matter if nobody believes you, you can come back and repair that and deal with that later, she will be revealed over time anyway, narcissists. Eventually, their universe unravels, and everybody sees them for what they are usually long after the damage has been done. But all that matters is you get yourself sorted. As Mike says it’s responsibility time, you need to protect you. First and foremost, anything else like a relationship with her is de prioritized until that should have sorted? You know? Absolutely. Yeah, and one one very final note is part of your progression is part of pulling away and creating a safe space for yourself, you will probably want to create a new email account. And you will probably want to start connecting with other people in a similar situation. You can find a lot of groups online around the world, people who even travel specifically to discuss and deal with family issues, you can get a lot of support there. And most importantly, you’ll see that you’re not alone. In this kind of problem. That’s probably the biggest most traumatic aspect of it is when you feel trapped. And you know, solitary brojo is always here for you. So definitely share your progress and new challenges that you encounter. We absolutely recognize, as we said at the beginning, that that parent child relationship is one of the most significant things in each of our lives. We spend a lot of attention on that. And it is one of the most transformative experiences getting that right. It’s one of the The most transformative experiences you will ever have in your life. So good luck. Yeah, that’s about it. And, of course, anybody else watching this with the same issue, we’re here to support you, you’re gonna need support, you’ll feel like you’re alone, you’ll feel like you’re crazy, you feel like you’re in, you’re the only one that you’re actually surrounded by tons of people secretly harboring the same issue. And once you people get talking to each other, and you start to see you’ve got a lot of things in common. You start to see, you know, it’s funny, how the responsibility is recognizing when you are a victim of something. It’s recognizing, hey, you know, I’m not the bad person in this scenario. I’m not the one who’s done this. It’s been done to me. And now that I know that I have to do something about it. But it really helps to just go you know what, I am not the bad kid. I’m not the poor performer. I’ve got, you know, an unfit parent. And that’s just bad luck. Just bad luck. You don’t get to choose your parents. You just got born into it. But you’re 20 you’ve just begun life, essentially, it can be turned around here. And even if you’re watching this, and you’re 60, your last 25 years can still be good. You know, you can still heal this. I think the most important point was the one you made. Mike, as you’ve seen, when people deal with this one, their life transforms, there’s really nothing more important to deal with. If you have disharmony with your parents, because it’s kind of it’s at the core of everything. They were there from the beginning. They molded you they influenced the very formation of your brain. They are the slave driver. If he can run away and free yourself from that slavery, then you’re free forever. It’s rather like a superhero sorting out your origin story. That was the beginning here. Yeah, yeah. This is kryptonite. It’s awesome. Thanks so much, guys for your questions. We really, really enjoyed them. And we’re really looking forward to all these questions coming in. We get quite excited about answering these each week. So we look forward to seeing you next week. Absolutely. See you guys soon. Cheers.

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