Here is an email I received from a young male reader:
Hello. I am an emotional eater and I can trace a lot of this back to my mother.
She Hovers over Me
My mother has always been a hovering type parent, always worried and fussing over me. Despite this we got on okay, but as I’ve grown older it’s caused us problems.
When I was in university I told her I was on some SSRIs for my nerves and she blew up at me, started bawling and told me I was going down a bad road. She apologized afterwards but it hurt our relationship a little as it was clear she didn’t feel comfortable talking about it and I didn’t want to open up and be vulnerable anytime after.
For the past 4 years I’ve been in a long distance relationship with an amazing girl I met during one of my online university courses. I was worried my mother would judge me for this so I waited to tell her until last summer when I moved to a new city and became independent of her financially.
She reacted fine at first but started sending me a number of long emails that she was nervous and stressed about my relationship as she thought it was too early for me to be in a serious one.
After this she “just happened to find” an email while she was visiting one day, that my girlfriend sent me talking about how she hoped to marry me and live here (she lives in a different area than we do.)
My mother told me she was making herself sick with worry and would completely oppose the possibility of me marrying. She made it sound like I was trapped by my GF in the relationship and brought up her mental health issues (anxiety) to try to convince me that we wouldn’t be a solid couple.
At the time I told her we had a long way to go before marriage and that we would take it slow. I don’t know why I decided to tell her that. I guess it gets me all stressed to have my mother be disappointed or not happy with me.
My mother and her demands almost make me feel ill sometimes. I lose sleep knowing I have to talk about my girlfriend with her the next day and it’s wrecking me mentally.
For the past 7 months my girlfriend has stayed with me in my new apartment and we have been happy living together which is a good sign. During this my mother seemed in a good mood – she spoke to her briefly and asked about her schooling and sent her a gift.
But when I mentioned bringing her home for the holidays my mum told me I’d have to act as if we were just friends because she thought telling my father would cause issues.
I stuck to my guns and said we wouldn’t be attending if she insisted on it being that way and she backed down and told my father. He already had guessed and had no problem with it. Exactly as I had suspected. It was a ploy or a way of trying to manipulate me into doing what she wanted.
We had the holiday visit and my dad really liked my new girlfriend, talking with her a lot. My mum on the other hand smiled that fake smile at us, you know the one that character Dolores Umbridge had in the Harry Potter movies?
Yeah, like that and we felt it, so we tried to be with my dad most of the time.
So at this point we are thinking hard about taking the next step, we both really want to. We feel that we’ve lived together, and seen each other enough when we were living separately to take the leap. I love her and I know she’s the one I want to marry and I don’t want to lose any more time just because I’m worried about what my mother will think.
But, she keeps telling me how sick she becomes and how her health is on the decline because of this. It never goes away and it’s driving me crazy.
Warped by her Anxiety
I’ve started to understand that my view of myself has been warped by my mother’s anxieties. I always feel like I’m doing something wrong but also am starting to see that maybe I am pretty much okay and that it’s her emotional issues getting in the way.
In the end I want to marry my sweetheart at the end of the after we have saved up the needed cash. I don’t know how to break the news to my mother or what I should do given a year ago she said she would totally disapprove of it and that I was not old enough.
I don’t want to upset her or make her sick but I don’t understand how me getting married is hurting anyone and I really don’t want to wait for her to decide when I want to take the next step in my life.
I have struggled with very low self esteem and anxiety which I am trying to deal with in many ways, but I still constantly feel like I’m doing something to hurt my parents, that I’m the bad guy and that I’m terrible for wanting to marry her.
I also struggle with eating and while I’m an average weight (for now) I know I use food to cope when I should be treating myself better.
Thanks for reading and any suggestions you may have will be greatly appreciated.
** Edit: Yes of course, it would be fine if you could reply on the blog and post my letter. Just don’t include my real name, I don’t want my mom to read this LOL and have even more problems.
I also attached a picture to use. I went for a walk and took it at a place where I like to go and think. I was thinking about my mom and what do do the whole time.
The Overbearing, Oedipal Mother
Thanks for your email Tom. I am always happy to get people’s stories, feedback and comments, and I would be happy to give my two cents worth.
First of all I’d suggest you have some compassion for yourself. You see how your mother is now and so you can imagine how it was for you growing up as a young boy. Experiencing years and years of this kind of behavior from her so it’s not going to be fun or easy to change the dynamic between you two at this point.
It can be changed though and if you really want to break free of her spell (and it sounds like you do) then there is a process you have to put yourself through.
Breaking Free of the Codependent Mother
You wrote, “I still constantly feel like I’m doing something to hurt my parents, that I’m the bad guy and that I’m terrible for wanting to marry her.”
Those are the words that come out of the mouth of someone stuck with a codependent and Oedipal mother. Worrying that your life and your actions are making her feel badly. It’s so common that I’d say most of us have that to some degree.
When we grow up and move out of the family home we believe that we have separated ourselves from our parents. We live in our own apartment, earn our own money and make our own decisions. That’s a physical separation alright but it’s not an emotional one.
When we move away most of us take our parents with us psychologically and still have them in our heads.
We think we are making our own decisions when in fact we are making them with our mother or father filters in place. Each time we want to do something important to us like choose a career, or in your case marry who you want the decision goes through our parental filter.
If the decision happens to align with what you want then all is well. If it’s not approved of by your parental filter then the decision causes conflict between your individual self and the parental self you are still attached to.
Most of the time we’re unconscious of the process and so we are not aware we are operating that way. Many of us go our whole lives without ever separating and becoming our own person. Always living in our parents shadow and wondering why we’re having a mid life crisis once we hit our 40s.
We became doctors and lawyers to please our parents and married people we thought our moms would like and wonder how we ended up in the ditch, with a life we are not fulfilled by and a depression as a result.
The first step is always awareness. Learn to tune into your thoughts and feelings when you are around your mother, when you’re thinking of her and when you are making important decisions for yourself.
There’s likely going to be a lot of anxiety and resentment there. Notice how much of your life it takes up and feel the weight of it, how it smothers you and holds you down in life.
Now you might be asking why? Why would anyone choose to still relate to their mothers in that way if it’s so miserable? The first reason was mentioned above; because we’re not aware of it. The main reason though is that as bad as it is, it also feels good.
When we were young our mother’s approval, comfort and smile felt really, really good. Like a drug. It regulated our emotions (which we couldn’t do on our own) and was something we needed to thrive and survive.
If our mothers were somewhat narcissistic, depressed or had any issues of their own (and whose hasn’t) then they may have clung onto us and used us for the same purpose. To validate themselves. Together we grew entangled with our mothers so that we were not so much separate but one.
Whenever we’d try to be independent individuals, our mothers would pull away or get angry and that would feel bad. The anxiety would be too much to handle at our age and so we learned that it’s better to please mum or it will hurt.
So we had no choice when we were young. But now as adults it’s time to regulate that anxiety on our own and cut the cord.
To cut the umbilical cord from our mothers we need to do and say what we want to do and say around her. We need to do them even if it makes her upset and cry. Actually we need to do them especially if she cries.
We don’t do those things in any mean or aggressive way. We do it by living our own life, being who we are and saying what we think with as much honesty as we can.
It will upset her, she will cry, and/or try her best to guilt us and say that her hurt emotions are all our fault.
That is her being a tyrant over us, wanting the relationship to stay the same forever, thinking she should control our life. Fortunately we have the power to choose our own path yet we still accept her in that role. We’re too afraid to lose her approval so we, as adults continue to accept being her prisoner.
Doing and saying what we want in life (escaping the prison ) brings up that old anxiety in us so we cave and do what she wants.
It’s more our problem than hers. We’re the ones who are scared to walk away from her. We’re afraid of feeling that uncomfortable anxiety that comes up when we do confront her because we won’t have her approval (drug) to calm us down.
Our task is to move toward the anxiety voluntarily. To do it 1000 times until we are comfortable with it and don’t need our mothers, food or anything else to help us cope.
Visit her, phone her, text her and tell her how you really feel. Do what you want and set boundaries with her. Make her upset, have her cry and even threaten to disown you. It is tough. It hurts but keep at it. Every time you tell her how you really feel you are making yourself stronger.
You get stronger by using your assertiveness to regulate your anxiety. Not your mother’s approval.
So in your case dear reader, every time your mother says anything about your girlfriend you give her your stance and your opinion in a matter of fact way. Tell her, “Mom, I’m marrying this girl and she will be a part of my life. If that bothers you I’m sorry. If you stop inviting me over for the holidays that is a shame, and I really want to visit but I won’t change myself to please you. ”
You have to talk like that and confront her fully every single time she brings the subject of your girlfriend up. You also have to bring your girlfriend up yourself and not try to steer away from that or any other uncomfortable topic. You are a born again adult and you need to be that new person (or work up to it) in order to break free,
Like I said it is a process and one that takes a few years so I’d recommend you communicate with your mom on a regular schedule. Call her once a week on top of visits, the more contact you have with her the better.
If you cave in and can’t do it at times that’s fine. Take note and try again.
WILL SHE CHANGE?
Your mother may never change because she too is wrapped up in her own world. Perhaps she will to some degree but it doesn’t mater. Your job is not to try to get her to be different, but to relate to her from an independent place.
To be better at standing your ground and asking to be treated with respect regardless of whether she will or not. Eventually you will change and become different and so the relationship with your mother will change too.
This shows that the problem is more one of a codependent son rather than a co-dependent mother, even though she is responsible for making it happen in the first place.
The good news is that you don’t need her to change. You have all of the power to fix this yourself and by changing your relationship with her and growing more assertive, you’re changing how you are with everyone else too.
Good luck on your hero’s journey.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.