I was visiting my parent's place on the weekend and seeing some relatives from interstate who I don't often get the chance to hang out with. At one point we were all sitting in the lounge room listening to my father describe the apocalyptic nightmares he's been having lately, while my controlling mother kept interrupting, talking over him, "correcting" him and just generally dominating the conversation.
Take Your Mother Off The Power Pedestal
I've always found my mother's domineering behavior annoying, but I used to be far too scared of her to stand up to it. This time though I casually lent towards her, put my hand on her arm and said "Mum, could you be quiet please. I want to hear what my father is saying".
She moved her arm to brush me off dismissively in a way I've always found infuriating. This time though rather than feeling powerless and simply capitulating, I channeled my anger into assertiveness: "Don't just brush me off!", I said, "I want to hear what he's saying."
I grew up in a family where emotions weren't expressed cleanly; especially challenging emotions like anger. Everyone feels angry from time to time, but growing up I got the sense that there was something wrong with this basic human emotion because nobody talked about it. My parents never seemed to say directly that they felt angry; but it was obvious when they were and their anger came out in ways that I found very frightening and destructive.
It's OK To Be Angry With Your Parents
Everyone around me seemed ashamed of their anger. Over time, I learned to feel ashamed of my anger too. I denied, suppressed and internalized it as though I was doing something righteous and noble. But the repressed rage built up inside me until eventually as an adult I developed overwhelming anxiety, panic attacks, depression and even a physical illness.
This forced me to wise up and realize that there was nothing noble about denying my anger. But with poor role models for expressing anger constructively in my family of origin and in society at large, who was I to turn to for help?
My answer came in the form of enlightened therapists who understood that anger is a perfectly normal emotion whose purpose is to motivate us when our needs aren't getting met. A powerful energy that needs to be channeled and expressed constructively; not internalized, denied, suppressed or misdirected.
Many men have mother issues that undermine our self-confidence by stopping us from really growing up and fulfilling our true potential. Unresolved mother issues cause us to remain emotionally and developmentally immature; a boy in a man's body. If we had a critical or controlling mother we're particularly prone to having mother issues. Add in a passive father and a lack of tribal structure with initiation rituals in modern society to force us from the cozy comfort of our mother's breast, and it's easy to slip from childhood into adulthood without ever actually growing up.
Unresolved mother issues can leave you stuck in a permanent state of adolescence.
This leaves us forever unconsciously seeking comfort and reassurance from our mother, and our neediness ends up projected onto any woman we come across; which is a disaster for our relationships with women.
In normal human development, we individuate from our mothers during adolescence as we grow into being our own man with our own set of values different from hers. This is a time of rapid brain rewiring and emotional upheaval as we alternate between feeling emotionally connected with our mother, and separating from her to explore the world and our place in it.
If our mother wasn't emotionally available to connect to, or tried to control our excursions into the world in order to prevent her feeling upset in case we got hurt, then everything can go horribly wrong. Nice Guy Syndrome and the associated approval seeking are classic symptoms of mother issues. Insecurity resulting from unresolved mother issues ends up being unconsciously projected onto everyone and everything around us, having a serious negative impact on our whole life.
Here's how to heal your mother issues: Continue reading
I recently got a question via email from someone who was starting to question her religion, related to my story about How (and Why) I Went From Christian to Atheist, and wanted to know how to overcome her fear of going to hell.
Are you afraid of going to hell?
One of the most frightening aspects for me in deciding to abandon my childhood religion was the potential eternal consequences. After a lengthy examination of what I really believed and what I actually thought was true in the Bible, I concluded that the resurrection accounts weren't as compelling as they had been portrayed to me in church. Most likely Jesus didn't rise from the dead. A lot of Christian teaching is predicated on the idea that this miracle is proof that Jesus was the son of God, so that belief promptly went out the window.
Modern science has reasonable explanations for the origin of the universe and the emergence of life without the need for a creator God. Although there are holes in our scientific knowledge I could see that being more comfortable with not knowing all the answers to life, the universe and everything could actually be more liberating than religiously answering “God did it” to every question I couldn't answer. While there are many modern-day Christians who believe that Darwinian evolution isn't incompatible with Christian teaching, for me the sheer barbarism of the natural selection process rules out an omnipotent compassionate God from coming up with it.
I got a question via email last week about how to tell when therapy is working. Here it is, along with my answer:
I have been in psychoanalysis to treat emotional abuse for 4 years now, and am still in a really bad place. I exploded in anger and stopped talking to my mother, father, family and friends only writing to them to wish them dead in horrible ways. Then I burst into tears a few times realizing my friends do care and love me. But I am still feeling bad despite having been crying a lot in the past year and having a much better relationship with friends and family. I feel confused and lost. I wonder whether I should change therapists as after 4 years I still feel "like shit" and cannot work properly. Many thanks.
Thanks for your question; I'll do my best to give you an answer based just on the little bit that you've told me. I get that at the moment you feel "like shit" as you've had 4 years of psychoanalysis and still cannot work properly, so you're wondering if your therapy is going right or whether you should change therapists.
How do you know if therapy is really working?
The first thing I'd say is it sounds as if you've made a lot of progress over those 4 years: You got in touch with your inner rage when you exploded in anger; then you set a no-contact boundary when you stopped talking to your mother, father and family; then you communicated to them honestly how you felt as best you could; then you released some grief when you burst into tears a few times realizing that your friends do care and love you. You healed more grief about your family too, so you have been crying a lot in the past year. After all of that you have a much better relationship with your friends and family.
I just got this question about dealing with an abusive father from my article about How To Recover From a Critical Parent:
I have a 50 year old father who has always been over-controlling, mean, critical, manipulative, judgmental and border-line abusive. These traits are becoming more pronounced as he ages (except the abusive part) and he has tried to use psychological tactics to separate me from my girlfriend and to make me feel guilty for not spending time with him. I just want to move out but Sydney housing is the most over-inflated in the world at the moment. I'm not sure how much longer I can take it. I think the reason behind his issues is he never knew his father but it's ridiculously unfair to burden your son with this cr@p. He has a girlfriend of 7 years who you can tell isn't compatible with him. They fight all the time and she's depressed. She's cheated before as a form of escapism but he manipulated her to stay with him (probably because he feels lonely). The whole situation is so pathetic. Because of his emotional and physical abuse as a kid, I live with anxiety and depression. Do you have any advice?
Sounds like your father is a real challenge to live with, and you're still carrying the emotional scars from how he treated you as a kid. The really important thing when you have a father who is emotionally and/or physically abusive is good boundaries. That's hard to do while you're still dependent on him for your physical needs such as housing, so the first thing to do is to start working towards getting out of there and into a place where you're living with sane, reasonable people. I get that Sydney is a nightmare housing-wise, which is why I did share accommodation for a long time when I first moved out of home.
I've noticed a consistent pattern among myself and my coaching clients: we all have a history of not standing up for ourselves when other people behave in ways that we don't feel good to us. Most of us had parents who weren't willing or able to teach us how to deal with our emotions, to self-soothe our nervous system when we were in distress, or to stand up for ourselves when our emotional or physical boundaries were being violated. Often the person we most needed to stand up to was one or both of our parents themselves, and that rarely goes well when you're a distressed child trying to stand up to an adult who is being unreasonable because their wounded inner child is running the show.
Turn Your Anger Into Assertiveness
All of this is a recipe for ever-increasing anger, resentment and frustration. We end up overcompensating in a desperate attempt to get our needs met. Internalise that toxic cocktail and it's no wonder we end up anxious, depressed and lacking self-confidence.
Behavior patterns learned as a child tend to stick even if they never really worked well, and coping strategies learned as a child rarely work well in the adult world. If nobody shows us a better way, we tend to continue behaving in ways that increase our internal store of resentment and frustration long into adulthood with no way of releasing the emotional pressure cooker.
After a while we end up bitter and resentful towards a hostile world that just won't seem to give us what we need or want.
American writer Henry David Thoreau is famous for once writing:
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Many people live their entire lives as if they were at the mercy of their life circumstances. Now it's true that there are some things in life that we have no direct control over, like natural disasters and other people's behavior. But it's equally true that we often have more say in how our life goes than we think we do. For instance, we can choose to live on a fault line in an earthquake-prone city or we can choose to live away from hotspots of seismic activity; and some forms of communication are much better at getting a response that we would like from other people than others.
Master Your Own Destiny
We have two choices in life: We can either submit to our life circumstances, give up our power and lead a life of resignation and often-not-so-quiet desperation; or we can choose to be the master of our own destiny.
If the idea of being the captain of your own ship sounds appealing, here's how we can do it: Continue reading