“Here's what I've noticed: often this weekend when Dad has said something, Mum you have responded in a way which sounds critical and demeaning to me”.

I can sense a rising anger in both my parents. My observation cuts to the heart of what is most destructive about the way they relate, and rather than talking ancient history where I can easily be brushed off for living in the past, I am now bringing it up in the context of the last couple of days which is more difficult for them to avoid.

“Dad, I'd like you to repeat back to me what you've heard me say, to make sure we're all clear what we're talking about”

Before my father can reply, my mother interjects: “Look Graham, I don't see why...”

I feel a rush of anger and adrenaline at my mother derailing the conversation before we've even really begun. My heart is racing as I raise my hand forcefully in a Stop! gesture: “Excuse me Mum”, I say angrily raising my voice over hers, “I've just asked Dad a question and I'd appreciate it if you'd be quiet until he answers”.

She raises her voice even louder: “You have no right to...”


I'm shaking more in anger than in fear now. Finally all that anger-expression therapy I've been doing has paid off and the anger I used to repress is now available now to support me. It won't put up with my mother treating me poorly in an argument any longer.

She backs down, clearly outraged and readying herself for the next round of verbal combat.

“Well I don't remember the exact words”, Dad says, “but basically, every time I say something, she criticises me.”

I can hear the wounded child in my Dad's voice, and I'm grateful for his buy-in so far. “Thank you Dad, the exact words aren't important, that's good enough for me.”

“Now Mum, it's your turn”, I say, “I'd like you to tell me what you've heard me say”

She doesn't respond to my request, but instead heads off on a tangent of screaming criticism I won't even remember later. The argument escalates rapidly as the wounded child in my mother reacts to my observation of her behaviour as a deep criticism, and my father's fear of conflict with his wife displaces his anger towards me instead. He starts pretending that her verbal barbs don't hurt him, and that I'm the one whose behaviour is out of line. Everyone is triggered. Cue the loud shouting.

With the family secret now out on the table, my parents project their shame into attacking me verbally: “You've ruined the weekend!!!”, “Are you acting!?!”, “I'm your Mother!!!” Mum yells, in desperate attempts to avoid the subject. I find it challenging to keep the conversation focused on the issue of her behaviour, his response, and my feelings about it.

“Mum, I get really angry when you criticise and belittle my father in front of me. I don't care how you treat him when I'm not around... well, actually I do because I love you both, but I'm not willing to put up with it any more when I'm around. I'd like both of you to commit to stopping this behaviour in front of me.”

My body shakes as I feel my father's rage turning against me. His teeth glare towards me in anger: “Look, it's just the way we relate, and it's not likely to change. I've grown used to it, and it's time you did too.”

“Well that's fine for you”, I think, “But your behaviour impacts other people too, and I don't like it.”

I am tempted to mention the way it has affected other people, but I know that enlisting other people's support is likely to backfire because everyone else in my family is so afraid of confronting our mother about this issue. And besides, I'm confident enough now to know that when my feelings tell me other people's behaviour isn't safe to be around, that's enough to make me want to take a stand.

My parents both get up and start walking around the room excitedly, as they keep hurling insults and criticism my way to get me to back down so we can get in the car and drive home.

“Sorry, I'm not going anywhere until we all feel that this is sorted out”, I say as I stay seated in the lounge.

“Well you've ruined the weekend for us Graham!!!”, my mother says again, “We're 82 and we can't change now. If you can't stand being around the way we relate, all I can see is that we have nothing to do with you any more.”

I feel angry at the guilt trip and furious at the explicit threat of abandonment.

Graham Stoney

Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.


Darkstar · November 21, 2016 at 3:09 pm

I can relate. My father (passed in 2009) was so hen-pecked it isn't funny. My mother will still nag, correct, and belittle people- especially him- all the time until she gets her way over the most insignificant things. My father's reaction was to try and keep the peace and retreat into his hobby, but there was no escaping it so he was constantly highly-strung and would lose his temper without warning and always had issues sleeping despite his physically-intensive job. The anger just kept building up in him.

Just this weekend, my mother tried to claim that me moving out of home 16 years ago (I was 20) broke my father's heart, despite it being very clear that she was the one upset about it, nagging me to move back home for 10 years until I lost my temper with her one afternoon (she continues to drop hints and tries to get me to stay over to this day). She has a habit of projecting her feelings and failings onto others.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · November 22, 2016 at 9:24 am

    Your mother sounds like a real challenge! I'm wondering what you might be able to do to stand up to her next time she starts nagging you?

      Darkstar · November 24, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      Suggestions would be good! I did have one idea, but decently-priced flamethrowers are hard to find on ebay (jokes ;P )

      I am tired of being infantilized, and my sisters are little help- they feel I am the 'favourite' and appear to resent it. One in particular seems to think I had an easy, care-free upbringing when in fact I was stressed, angry, miserable, and desperate to leave school & home.

      I have looked up many sites on narcissistic, controlling mothers and their effects on sons, and they read like someone took notes on my life. I'm having issues at the moment with a few things and am left wondering what kind of person I'd be and if I'd be better off if I had a more 'normal' environment growing up.

Etta · October 12, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Hi. I found your site by scrolling, and found it very sobering, albeit, biting.
I have a boyfriend that absolutely does not stand up to his mother. She continually belittles him, even in front of me. A couple of times she actually turned on me. She's controlling, manipulative, and narcissistic. One time, via telephone, she tried her best to get personal information from me concerning my boyfriend and I for which he told me it will not be talked about again with anyone. She tried everything, including the age old, I thought had died out "you don't love me." I stood my ground. She angrily hung up. Well, she's now trying to keep us apart, using another age old "it's not right for y'all to be together."
I had enough! Sooo, I called her, and began yelling at her. No it wasn't right, I could have used another approach. My bf, when it comes to her, is not strong. I'm not saying I was at that moment when on the phone, so I have to find a way to be assertive as opposed to being aggressive. Yet, I'm saying that at least now she knows that Im definitely not afraid of her.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · October 14, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Hi Etta. Your boyfriend's mother sounds like quite a challenge! Good on you for standing up to her. I hope your boyfriend learns the skills to break the emotional umbilical cord and stand up to her as a man, too. I'm wondering if you've come across Marshal Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication? I think it could help you both deal more assertively with her. Cheers, Graham

Exotica · February 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm

I know you blame your parents for your lack of assertiveness but parental relationships or just a small part of a child's environment. Have you also considered that those you were around in school or other non-familial social contexts may also have had significant influence on your beliefs and ultimately your behavior? There may have been bullies or other callous assholes that you interacted with that also contributed to some of the fears and ultimately powerlessness that you felt when it comes to confrontation.

And the episode with your parents I think shows something that is endemic in our society: people can't take criticism nor do they take personal responsibility for their actions. If your mom said: you know what you're right and it's wrong of me to treat your dad this way, then there would have been no argument. But instead they stick to their guns and question your authority to categorize their behavior As wrong. Almost as if they're self-righteous and arrogant and can't see that alternative methods of behavior exist. But they aren't alone. Recently the NYPD got criticized for its sometimes overly aggressive behavior and they blew a gasket at the idea that someone dear criticize their behavior.

The real key of being assertive is knowing you are right, and sticking to your guns, even When others fume loudly that you're wrong. If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything. Good job my man, good job. Keep pressing the parents they'll learn eventually.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · February 25, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Hi Exotica. Yes, I think you're totally correct about the parent/family thing being only a part of the environmental problem. With a powerless male role model father and dominating mother, I was conditioned to respond passively in the world; and that's a recipe for becoming a bullying target. I didn't know how to stand up for myself at school, or at church when I was taught negative things about myself that weren't true. Nobody had taught me how to communicate assertively, and I internalized all the fear and anger as these things compounded each other. And yes, you're spot on about my parents taking my expression of how I feel around them as deep-seated criticism. Over time I'm learning that them blowing a gasket doesn't make me wrong about how I feel, nor about my desire to express it to them when their behaviour triggers me. Thanks for the feedback! -Graham

Trevor Stripling · February 20, 2015 at 5:41 am

Hello, Graham. I can relate to your situation because those kind of arguments happen all the time here, If I an assertive, confident, self reliant, or pretty much anything else that someone who will be 18 in 3 months should be I get the insults and verbal abuse. Your program has really helped me a lot and I can see how I've changed for the better in the short time I've used the wisdom and knowledge that you teach and I am forever grateful for that. Honestly, I'm glad I didn't wait until I'm 30 to stand up to my parents, I don't feel the guilt or the shame that they want me to so desperately feel, and that might be different if I was older. It's a shame that those who supposedly love us the most are the ones that show the least love when deeper issues come to the surface.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · February 25, 2015 at 9:15 am

    I'm really glad to hear you're making great progress Trevor; good on you for getting onto this so early in life. It is unfortunate that insecure parents get triggered when their children start being assertive; some respond to the challenge by tackling their inner issues, while others use insults and abuse to shut us down to avoid their pain. We're biologically wired to want our parents love and approval, so it's challenging to stand up to them when their behaviour is destructive but I also believe it's the path to freedom. 🙂

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