Featuring Kirk Chisholm LMSW, CASAC, RevCore’s Clinical Director
Q: I am a 29-year-old woman, and I am having a problem with my mother that has been going on for years. Every time I talk to her, I feel like I am walking on eggshells. She criticizes everything I do and constantly tells me what I should be doing instead. Even when I try to have a simple conversation with her, she always finds a way to turn it into a lecture.
I feel like I can never live up to her expectations and it’s starting to affect my self-esteem. I have tried talking to her about how I feel, but she always dismisses my concerns and tells me that she’s just trying to help.
I don’t want to cut her out of my life because I do love her, but I also can’t continue to live like this. How can I deal with my mother’s constant criticism and find a way to have a healthy relationship with her?
A: Dealing with criticism from a parent — especially a mother — can be incredibly challenging and painful. The fact that you love your mother and want to maintain a relationship with her speaks to your character and resilience.
Here are some practical tips that I hope will help you navigate this situation with compassion towards both yourself and your mother, while also prioritizing your own mental well-being.
1. Empathy and Understanding
It’s important to try to understand where your mother’s criticism is coming from. While it may be hard to see things from her perspective, it can help to recognize that her behavior may be driven by her own anxieties, fears, or past experiences. Try to approach her with empathy and compassion, even when it’s difficult. Ask about her perspective and respond with phrases like “It sounds like…” and “It seems like…” to validate her emotions (whether or not you agree) and make her feel heard and understood. This can help create a more open and understanding interaction.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries is a crucial step in dealing with a critical parent. This means being clear about what you will and won’t tolerate when it comes to their behavior. Let your mother know that you appreciate her input, but that her constant negativity is affecting your mental health. Be firm but kind, and try to avoid getting defensive or confrontational. Remember that setting boundaries is about protecting your own well-being, not about trying to change your mother’s behavior.
3. Take Breaks
When your mother’s criticism starts to escalate, taking breaks can be helpful. This gives you time to step away from the situation and process your emotions. Let your mother know that you need some time to regroup and that you’ll talk later when you’re feeling calmer. This can help diffuse the tension and give you space to prioritize your own well-being.
4. Seek Support
Working with a therapist or counselor can be an effective way to cope with the stress and anxiety that come with a critical parent. They can provide you with tools and strategies to manage your emotions, set healthy boundaries, and communicate more effectively with your mother. Additionally, therapy can help you process any underlying issues or traumas that may be contributing to the dynamic with your mother.
5. Be Kind to Yourself
Remember that dealing with a critical parent is challenging, and it’s important to be kind to yourself. Recognize that you are worthy of love and respect, regardless of your mother’s expectations or criticisms. Prioritize your own well-being and set boundaries that allow you to feel safe and comfortable. With patience and practice, you can find a way to have a healthier relationship with your mother.
May your path ahead be filled with fewer eggshells to tread on!