“Look Graham, I've said what you wanted me to say. Can we please just go now? What more do you want???”, she says in exasperation.

Mum's promise may just be an attempt to placate me, but it's probably the best I'm going to get. Besides, if she says she's sorry and offers to change her behaviour, then it's up to me to forgive now and move on.

“Yes, you have Mum”, I admit, “But now Dad is clearly very angry, and I'm not leaving until we're all at peace with this.”

By this stage Dad is out in the foyer yelling “He's gone berserk!, He's gone berserk!” and asking reception to call a taxi to take them to the train station for the trip home.

I actually laugh. Part of me can see the funny side of this: the three of us going head-to-head in the lounge of a guest-house over an issue that's as old as I am, and my angry, frightened, learned-helplessness father desperately yelling to strangers in the foyer for support.

“Come back Dad”, I ask, “Let's all sit down and sort this out so we call all drive home happily.”

This issue of my mother's criticism of my father in front of me cuts to the core of my wounding as a man. My nervous system has been conditioned to respond with terror to this specific mixture of threats: criticism, conflict, women being upset, men losing control of their anger, and the fear of getting hurt and/or abandoned. All my neuroses wrapped up in this one argument, and although my parents say it's no big deal to them, it's a huge deal for me.

The taxi arrives and my parents pile in for the trip to the train station. At this point, I am most upset that they are leaving before we have the chance to sort things out; which just leaves me hanging with a whole pile of unresolved feelings.

As the taxi is about to pull away, I feel powerless to stop them leaving. It's that same terrible feeling I had around my parent's fights as a kid: I felt powerless to stop them fighting and it seemed that my feelings didn't matter. All I can do is reiterate the most important points for me: “Mum, I'm grateful for your commitment to stop criticising or belittling my father in front of me. Dad, I'm really disappointed that you're running away like this.”

Anger brings out the side of me that wants to hurt the people who have hurt me and I want to goad my father into manning-up and staying to sort out the conflict with me. Instead he mutters “I'm not running away...” as the taxi drives off.

I am very shaken after all of this, and in no state to drive. We haven't reached closure, so I still have a lot of emotion running. From past experience I had no reason to expect that we would reach closure, but I still choose to treat my parents as capable. This has been the most assertive I'd ever been with them and part of me feels extremely energised; I can see now why they find their arguments so exciting.

I'm in no state to drive home, so I go for a long walk to work off the angry energy. On the way I phone a transformational coach friend of mine with a deep insight into the emotional trauma that conflict brings up for me, to debrief.

During the call I express some of the residual anger I feel towards my parents, and am surprised to connect with a strong sense of grief over my father's unwillingness to stand up to my mother. I feel the pain of all the times in the past that he failed to man-up and protect me from my mother's criticism nor to engage her in a way that would resolve their issues; thus exposing me to years of frightening arguments during my childhood.

After a long telephone debrief, my friend asks "Would you like some feedback?"

I panic. "I'm feeling really vulnerable right now.”, I say hesitantly. “This has been the most challenging conversation of my whole life, and I would prefer not to hear any criticism of how I've handled things. "

“I have no criticism for you” he says, and I'm so touched by these words that tears flow freely from my eyes. “It's always clumsy at first when you take these kind of steps”, he continues, “and I honour your courage in being willing to go there.”

Eventually I calm down enough to drive home safely, feeling proud of myself for being assertive and staying centred in the face of my inner child's greatest fears.

Finally standing up to my mother has silenced my inner critic and changed my life, as I'll explain more deeply in a future article. Do you have a critic in your life that it's time for you to stand up to?

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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