Life Advice


Health & Spirit

My mom's negativity is impacting my mental health -- Part 2

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Some readers asked for a follow up [to my question yesterday]: I have tried, for years, telling my mom in very different ways exactly how this makes me feel. "You say XYZ and the negativity sends me down an anxiety spiral"; "You are trying to help me and that's amazing and I love you, but this makes me feel like I'm not allowed even a moment to bask in an accomplishment"; "I know you are trying to help, but this is explicitly hurting me, making me feel like I cannot tell anything to you"; "Every conversation feels like a deposition and an indictment of a future that hasn't even happened yet" ... because she also harps with the same negative "advice" over and over again for future events, and it weirdly turns into her chastising me for not following her advice for events that haven't even happened yet.

She tends to see herself as the victim, hit by out-of-the-blue misfortunes she could not have foreseen or prepared for. She feels 100% at risk and under attack, and wants me to feel that way too because in her eyes it's the only way to get by in life.

So when I push back because that feels incredibly toxic to me, she patently doesn't hear it because making me on guard is her goal.

-- Negative Wormhole again


Thanks, this is helpful.

It's time now, gently, to refuse to engage, because all that harping can happen only if you grant her the time to harp. You've "tried ... telling" with words, but your actions -- having and re-having this conversation -- have said you're open to discuss this.

So: "Thanks, Mom, for looking out for me. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about besides [topic of the day]?" Or, "So, what's going on with you?" If she resumes harping, then you gently interrupt and say you have to go. "Bye, talk soon."

Choosing to "push back" betrays a bad calculation: that it's your job or place or duty or whatever to correct something you don't like about someone. You don't like your mom's negativity, understandably -- but that doesn't mean every encounter with it confers an obligation to try to fix it.


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