2. Standing Up to Behavior That We Don’t Like
If your mother is behaving in a way that you do not like, then the only way to get that to change is to stand up to it. It’s very unlikely that your mother’s behavior is going to change of its own accord. And even if her behavior stays the same, the important thing is that you start standing up for yourself so that you can set a boundary with you and say, “Look, the way that you’re treating me isn’t acceptable.”
Now, men and women see things differently. So if you and your mother saw eye to eye, I’d be worried about that because she’s a woman and you’re a man, and men and women are biologically different; we’re wired differently; our physiology is different; sexually we’re different. There are a lot of differences between men and women. And when a man comes to me and sees eye to eye with everything that his mother says or does, well, that kind of worries me.
So get used to the fact that there’s likely to be conflict between you and your mother at some points in time. In any long-term relationship, there’s always going to be conflict and you need to stop avoiding the conflict with your mother if you want to stand up to her.
Now, there’s a very, very simple formula for doing this. It’s just the assertiveness formula to use, and it goes like this:
When you X, I feel Y
Where X is any kind of behavior or thing that your mother says or does – and the more specific you can be about that, the better – and Y is the emotion that you feel in response to that. And generally it’s going to be one of the five unpleasant emotions: guilt, shame, anger, sadness or fear.
I’ve got a hunch that for a lot of guys watching this video, the emotion that you probably haven’t expressed to your mother is anger, because that was certainly the case for me.
So a practical example. In my case, the big thing that I was most afraid of saying to my mother and standing up to her was the way that she treated my father. So, applying the assertiveness formula, it went like this:
“When you criticize and belittle my father in front of me, I feel angry.”
Very, very simple and yet I cannot tell you just how frightened I was of actually saying that to my mother the first time. I was overwhelmed with feelings of fear, guilt and shame, like how dare me stand up to my mother and say these things to her, this woman who brought me into the world.
But if you want to cut the emotional umbilical cord and be free to be your own man rather than simply following the pattern and behavior that your mother has conditioned you with all your life, this is how you do it. Stand up to her and you say, “Look, when you do this, this is how I feel about it.”
Do this over and over often enough and eventually either she’ll get the message, she’ll start understanding how you feel more in response to how she’s behaving, or you’ll get to the point where you realize that it’s important not to have contact with this person for a while and to redraw some new boundaries with her.