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Dominating Mother

Question:

I am the youngest of three girls. My mother has been a dominant figure in our family life. My elder sisters are married and live their separate lives. My father passed away 15 years ago. Since birth, I have been under the wing of my mother. Initially as a child, I always tried to please my mother as she worked hard each day. As an adolescent, I was always subject to her emotional black mail. She believes in silence as a tool to make me feel guilty and force me to her way of life. She is extremely disciplined and hard headed and demanding. She uses silence, crying and emotional black mail to get her way. When my father passed away, she ensured that I did not marry the man I loved. I gave in to the family demand and married another man. However, never settled into the marriage and we separated after 8 years.

In reality, I have managed to put most of my sad moments in life behind me and be a happy-go-lucky person. Everyone who comes in contact with me when my Mum is not around says I bring joy and happiness wherever I go. I am extremely popular with colleagues, friends and people around me. I try to smile as much as I can and bring to joy to everyone I come in contact with. I believe there is nothing in this world that is worth being sad about. Life is an experience and we must look at the positives and be grateful for all that we have. I call myself a “people person.”

I would love to devote my life to orphan children. After my separation and during my divorce, my mother ensured that she came to stay with me after having blackmailed everyone about her loneliness.

Now that she is here with me, my life has become a rut. I feel caught in this web of “honor thy mother.” Yet, I want to live my life. I just do what I am told. I can’t express myself, can’t have friends around, and can’t go anywhere without her scrutiny. Each time I try to set boundaries or break away from the rut, I end up being subjected to her silence, crying and nagging behaviour.

I now lead 2 different lives in which I make the people around me happy, and share their joy or sorrow. But, when I enter the house I turn into a different person and just feel trapped.

We live in a studio apartment and it becomes very difficult to ignore her. Life has become so harsh that I don’t wish to live any more at all and just carry on because I don’t want others in my family to suffer my plight. Since I am already 38 years old and she is 75 and in  very good health, I really don’t know how to cope with my life. I cry myself to sleep and sometimes even use alcohol. I know that this is not the solution to my problems.

I Need guidance on how to ignore the guilt I feel about my mother and learn how to have my own life.

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Answer:

As a 38 year old woman you have the right to live your own life, unecumbered by your mother. In fact, you gained that right many years ago but did not find it within you to be able to break free from her manipulations and dependency needs. An educated guess that I am making about your situation is that your mother singled you out as the daughter who would always care for her.

Your story reminds me of a very old movie classic from the 1940’s with the brilliant actress Bette Davis. The movie is called Now Voyager. A young Bette David plays the daughter of a powerful and dominating mother who uses hysterical symptoms to keep her daughter weak, dependent and at home where she can always be company for herself. In fact, the daughter even becomes mentally ill at one point and is required to be in a mental hospital for a period of time. This suits the mother because it keeps the daughter totally helpless and dependent. In the end, the daughter realizes that she must break free of her mother’s dictatorship if she is ever to have a life of her own.

I am sure the movie is for rent and can be viewed.

I realize that your mother is 75 now and her age plays into your sense of guilt. However, you report that she is in good health. Therefore, she can fend for herself. I know many physically healthy elderly people who live alone and have full lives. These individuals would never think of relying on a child and take complete pride in their ability to live for themselves. If your mother were ill, and handicapped, she could live in an assisted living arrangement with other elderly people. The point is that you have a right to your life.

If you cannot summon the strength to break away from your mother then you need to enter psychotherapy where you can learn to gain that strength.

The fact is that you have dreams of your own, including wishing to help children who are orphaned. There is no reason why you cannot and should not pursue your dreams.

In addition, you are a young woman and can marry the man of your choice if that is what you want.

I guess the bottom line of what I am saying to you is that it is time for you to take hold of your life, whether your mother or other family members like it or not, and live that life in all the ways that you want. If that means moving out of your apartment and leaving your mother there, then, do so and as soon as possible. You really have no reason to feel guilt because you have done nothing wrong other than submitting to her will for too long.

What is the ancient saying? Carpe Dieum. It means, “Sieze the Day.”

Best of luck

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