Dear Dr. Susan,
I am going crazy! My eighty year old mother criticizes me ALL THE TIME! She tells me how to dress, how to spend my money, who to date, and how to raise my kids. I've tried ignoring her, doing what she wants, pleading with her to stop and once I even stopped speaking to her for a whole year! All she does is make me feel bad about myself and hate her. She makes my life miserable. What can I do?
Desperate in Dallas
It sounds like your mother is worried about you. And while that speaks volumes about her, it probably says something about you too. The first question to ask your self is, are any of her criticisms true? Before the thunderous voice of your ego tries to defend you, try to listen to the quieter voice of your undefended self, speaking. It may whisper things like I do drink too much, or my credit cards are always maxed out, or I really don't like the way my kids speak to me, or I really can't trust my boyfriend around other women. Your mother is mirroring to you some part of your life that is out of balance. If she wasn't at least a little bit right, you'd be able to dismiss her as just plain crazy. Criticism with no basis in truth dissolves to nothing.
The second question to ask your self is why is her good opinion of you so important? If you're still worried about pleasing her, you're likely worried about pleasing your kids, your boss, your hair stylist, your accountant, and your ex-husband too. We women in particular often get stuck in the child fantasy that if others approve of us, we'll feel good about our selves. Approval seeking is like binge eating - there is never enough love 'out there' to fill us up.
Your mother is a powerful teacher. Try seeing her and everyone else who irritates you as reflectors of some part of your life that needs your attention and care. Remember the exasperating adage, "What you resist, persists."
Dear Dr. Susan,
My husband just got laid off his tech job at a major software company where he'd worked for five years. They gave him a good severance package but we can't stay in our house for long on just my income. Instead of looking hard for a new job, he mostly sits around watching all the bad economic news on T.V. all day and ranting about how hopeless it is. I've never seen him like this and I'm scared he'll never snap out of it. Got any ideas?
Hopeless in Seattle
There is something pretty devastating about losing your job - after all, your job is not only how you survive financially, it's where you get much of your sense of worth. When psychologists rated the top forty-three most stressful life events, loosing a job was number eight, just a few down from death of a family member. It's big. And it's bigger now because unemployment is up to over 8%. And American television news, whose job it is to alarm (the worse the news, the higher the ratings), is reporting compulsively 24/7 about our economic crisis. It's a little like showing footage of the planes hitting the twin towers over and over and over again on 9/11 - useful up to a point, traumatizing after that.
TURN OFF THE T.V.! If most the information that your husband consumes all day is only about economic disaster, it will increase his trauma and depression. Emotions love themselves - especially anger, fear, and grief. They blot out what's possible in exchange for the safety of hopelessness and helplessness. Remind him that if 8.1% of working Americans are unemployed, 91.9% of them aren't! It's likely that he will be able to find another job if he works at it the same way he'd work at a regular job, 9 - 5. But first, like a lot of us, he probably has to sacrifice his 'addiction' to bad news.
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