Many of my coaching clients grew up with a critical, controlling, domineering mother. They come to me because I've experienced this myself and know how challenging it can be to overcome on your own. Despite the challenge they face, I find my clients often make huge breakthroughs in their lives once they start addressing their mother issues both in Skype sessions with me and by taking assertive action towards their goals in the real world. When they stop living to just please their tyrannical mother and silence the inner critic they internalized as a result of their unhealthy emotional attachment to her, they can finally start living their own lives on their own terms.
In one session recently a client summarized his progress by saying:
“I've feel like I've finally taken my mother off the brake pedal of my life”
I am so inspired by many of my client's rapid progress that I want to share with you some of the specific things that we've all found helpful for taking our mothers off the brake pedal of our lives:
Acknowledge That Your Mother Was The Problem
The first step in solving any problem is to identify what caused it. Some therapists are reluctant to really name the root cause out of fear that “blaming your mother” will become an excuse for why your life isn't working. Instead they'll offer some kind of psychiatric diagnosis that merely describes current symptoms but doesn't get to the root cause of the problem.
Dysfunctional parents program ineffective behavior patterns into otherwise functional children, creating dysfunctional adults. The first step in correcting dysfunctional programming is to recognize who was responsible for it. The seconds step is to take full responsibility for undoing it because while our mother may have been responsible for creating the problem, it's up to us now to fix it.
Read The Drama Of The Gifted Child by Alice Miller
There are a lot of self-help books out there but few of them tackle the root cause of our neuroses head-on. One author that does is Alice Miller, and I highly recommend her books on the kinds of childhood abuse that cause trauma and how you can recover from it. One of my clients specifically recommended The Drama Of The Gifted Child, which you can listen to in audio-book form for free here:
Learn To Express Your Anger
One of the many experiences I share with my clients is our memories of growing up with parents who were uncomfortable expressing anger cleanly. Instead, it came out as passive aggression, rage, violence or terrifying arguments that literally went on for years without ever being resolved. This can lead us to conclude that anger is frightening, bad, evil and wrong; causing us to suppress and internalize our own. We never learn how to deal with anger or conflict in a healthy manner. Deprived of this powerful motivating force, down the track we develop depression, anxiety or some mystery illness without knowing why.
Emotionally healthy people experience anger when their needs aren't met, and use it to motivate themselves towards getting what they want. They deal with conflict in a healthy win-win manner. Unhealthy people go into rage instead because they've got such a huge backlog of unprocessed anger from childhood that gets triggered at the slightest inconvenience. Learning to express anger constructively as an adult is a key step towards working through our backlog of childhood rage.
Study The Meisner Acting Technique
Sanford Meisner was an acting teacher who felt dissatisfied with the performances of students schooled in traditional acting techniques based on Stanislavsky's teachings. He wanted actors to appear more natural on-stage, and concluded that for this to happen they needed to be going through the actual emotions of the character, rather than pretending to be going through them. He called this “Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”, and developed an actor training technique based on repetitious exercises that liberate the student's unconscious emotions while connected with other students.
Taking an acting class is one of the most powerful, effective and practical ways I know to build self-confidence, liberate ourselves from parental conditioning of emotional suppression and release repressed emotions. Meisner's technique is particularly powerful because it deals directly with real feelings. I recommend you work with a therapist at the same time though because while acting training can certainly be therapeutic, acting classes aren't necessarily a good environment for dealing with any trauma that you uncover in the process.
Take A Theatrical Improvisation Class
While Meisner is a great acting technique to study, dealing with real emotions all the time can be challenging and exhausting. Another approach that can also help liberate us in a more playful manner is theatrical improvisation. The golden rule of “Improv” is to always say Yes to offers from other actors while improvising. This can be tremendously healing if you grew up with parents who often reacted negatively to your thoughts, emotions or ideas. It also helps retrain ourselves to start saying Yes to life generally, which starts to unlock a whole new experience of being alive.
Allow Yourself To Enjoy What You Do
If you were punished by your mother or father for doing what you wanted as a child, you may still feel guilty about allowing yourself to do what you want now. If you were punished for poor grades while you were learning or studying for instance, you may feel frightened about studying the topic of your choice at university. When narcissistic parents were the dominant force in our childhood, we can end up with an unconscious belief that the purpose of our adult life is to please them, and feel guilty about enjoying things that we like to do. As an adult, we are free to live the life that we choose; but it's no fun if we don't enjoy it. Allowing ourselves to enjoy pursuing our own interest also helps us let go of negative childhood programming.
Find A Somatic Trauma Therapist
The challenge in implementing all of this lies in dealing with the unpleasant feelings that arise when we step out of our childhood comfort zone and start living life on our own terms. At first this is likely to trigger the latent childhood trauma that we're still carrying from growing up with a controlling or domineering mother and passive father. We often develop a strong inner critic in an attempt to protect us from our parent's relentless criticism, and the tyrannical beliefs of this critic are held in place with a ton of emotion.
Working through these feelings on our own is extremely challenging, and that's why my clients come to me. I empathize with where they're coming from, not just because I'm an empathic person but also because it's where I've come from myself. I also understand that emotions don't just exist in our minds: they reside in our central nervous system and bodies too. Having a trustworthy conscious witness to releasing these emotions accelerates the process tremendously by neutralizing shame. These factor combined are why I'm able to get such rapid results with my clients.
If you're not ready for 1-on-1 sessions yet or prefer to work through a program at your own pace, I recommend The Confident Man Program which also covers many of these ideas in more detail.
If your mother put the brakes on you when you were a child and you'd like to learn how to shift your foot to the accelerator in your adult life, contact me about coaching.