Stand Up For Yourself

Moms (and Dads) have their ways.  They can be pretty powerful in good ways and in not so good ways. Much guidance and direction are needed when we are young, but when we find we’re still being directed, manipulated or controlled (often in our own minds) by our parents  as adults, how do we stand up for ourselves?

Patterns of parental control are often not even recognized when we’re adults because we’re so used to them. Once identified, the solution is breaking the pattern.

(And by the way—we also need to break certain patterns with our partners. First we individuate from our parents, and then we individuate from our partners.)

Someone recently wrote to us wanting help with individuating from her mother. She described her mother as the kind of person who always needs to be right.

She said that there were many times when she tried to assert herself, but her mother would either “crumple or get very righteous”, and the conversation would go nowhere. She consistently felt judged by her “very judgmental mother”.

This was a pattern set up long ago, the daughter trying to assert herself, the mother being emotionally controlling and manipulating, and the daughter never feeling heard.

Individuating From My Mom

Years ago, when getting therapy around this very issue,  I was given the assignment to, once again, go confront my mother. However, this time, I was to notice how she would try to manipulate our conversation.

My therapist told me, “watch what she does.”  He predicted: “She will get angry, and if anger doesn’t work, she will go to tears, and when tears don’t work she will return to anger and when that does not work she’ll return to tears.”

That’s just what happened! I was amazed. I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed this before. Here’s how it went.

I arrived at my mother’s house and asked if we could talk for a few minutes. We sat down at the kitchen table. After my first two sentences she bristled and before I could pause for my next thought she was angrily lashing out at me.

I calmly thought, “Okay, here’s the anger.” She paused to notice that I was not flaring up, and then she burst into tears. She was the victim, and I was the perpetrator. I said to myself, “stay calm and stand up for yourself—here are the tears.”

When she noticed the tears did not phase me, she really got angry!  “There’s anger again.”  And shortly thereafter she flipped to tears.

Oddly enough, I even pointed out what she was doing, but she could not stop herself from acting out the same pattern over and over. This is how she had handled (perceived) threats all of her life, she did not know how to behave otherwise.

Between her anger and tears, I’m not sure how much she heard of what I had to say that day. But that wasn’t what was important to me.

What was important was that I was able to observe my mother’s—mostly unconscious—behavior; yet this time I didn’t allow myself to be manipulated or controlled. I was able to remain an observer, stay calm and clear and make my point.

It did not matter so much if I was heard. What mattered more is that I could say what I needed to say and stay calm.

Breaking Through Patterns

There was a pattern that was broken that day—I did not buy into her manipulation. I did not react when she moved from one tactic to the other. I did not engage in the pattern at all. She could no longer control me. And after I broke the pattern, I was no longer affected by it.

From that day on, my sense of myself was quite different. I had taken my power back. I did distance myself from her for a period of time, as I got more solid on my individuated feet. But once I returned to relate with her again, I never slipped back into that old dynamic.

And because I changed, she changed. Actually, I believe she ended up respecting me more because I was finally becoming my own authority. That was a giant step in individuation.

Observing The Pattern Without Breaking The Pattern

So, why didn’t this work for the woman who wrote to us about individuating from her mom? The woman clearly saw the pattern between herself and her mom. This woman would “try to assert” herself and her mother would “crumple or get very righteous.”

The step she had not taken was to stop playing her part in the pattern. She did try to stand her ground but she did not express “an unshakeable sense” of herself when around her mom. It was “too easy to get lost.”  Try as she might to resist, she still allowed herself to be sucked into the pattern.

Had she said to herself, “Oh there is my mom crumpling—and there she is being righteous,” and had she been able to stay the observer in a non-reactive way, more quickly than you might imagine the pattern would break.

If we change our part in the pattern, the pattern has to change.

Live Conscious and Perception Language Help

One more piece that I might add is that my process with my own mother happened more or less 25 years ago, before I knew Perception Language. If I’d had some Live Conscious tools in my toolbox, the conversation would have been easier for my mother.

If I had been using Perception Language, it would have been easier for my mother to realize that I was not telling her about her, because I was only talking about myself, my experience, and our process could have been much more gentle.

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10 Responses to Stand Up For Yourself

  1. Metta August 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Thank you Hannah. I will keep your experience in mind next time I talk to my folks!

    • Hannah Eagle August 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Thank you Metta, I would love to hear how that goes!
      🙂 Hannah

  2. Bruce Taylor August 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Hannah, reading your essay, I reminded myself of a thought that occurred to me just the other evening. As a result of finally dealing with a storage unit far across the country in Maine (What do I suppose that is about? Hmmm.) I have been sent several boxes of old family photographs. Some are images of my family that I haven’t seen in a half century. Many are ones of my parents before my existence. And I “Re-Mind” myself that my parents were people with very full lives before there was a “me”. The patterns of my relationship with my parents (and sibling brothers) had taken on the a reality to me; as if they were the “truth”. Indeed, I could see nothing else. And then I look at these WWII era images of my parents as young beautiful people in love, and I realized that my story of my parents was just my story. It had nothing to do with who they actually were; it was simply a made-up view I had given myself. Seeing these old pictures brought tears to my eyes, not because I miss my parents, but because I never got to “know” them — only the learned pattern of “them in me.” I now — after staring for hours at these photographs — have a new-found appreciation of them and their lives, lives that weren’t about me.

    • Hannah Eagle August 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Thank you Bruce, A lovely insight into the stories we make in our minds about our families. They are people who we can never really completely know. Nice that you could see them as people with lives of their own—that had nothing to do with you.

      And there are things that we must say sometimes to these people, regardless of how “real” our stories are. There are things that we fear to say— but need to say to break the power that we still give them in our own minds. Once we do this, we can free ourselves up to live our adult lives without needing our parents approval. And as a result we begin to stop being overly concerned about what anyone thinks.

      Grateful for your thoughts,

  3. lars August 17, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

    I help myself with this post by reminding myself of the times I have used this practice to break patterns. Most significantly with an ex-stepfather who abused me when I was 8yrs old. I related to him as an adult, discussing what had happened when I was I child. I told him what I did to myself as an 8yr old as result of his actions, and how I see myself and him now as an adult. The key for me, as you point out, was remaining in an adult observer orientation, not allowing myself to slip into any pattern. I release a tremendous amount of grief I didn’t know I was carrying, and energized myself greatly.

    I appreciate myself for reminding myself of my experience.

    I also inspire myself that my daughters will one day, soon I hope, use this technique with me and their mom.



    • Hannah Eagle August 18, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Settling,

      I excite myself to see the healing received by parents in this practice spilling over to benefit their children—because these parents have become more open and receptive and more conscious.

      Appreciating your work and your contribution,

  4. Crystal August 18, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    I think this article is great. I really like how you were talking about being honest with your mother and staying as conscious as possible in yourself, as well as what methods your mom were accustomed to using as defense mechanisms. One thing that stands out for me, and also as you mentioned for this woman your speaking about; How can you possibly stay, over a long period of time, detached from the feelings of someone you spent decades in the company of? (Especially one who you spent your early and most impressionable years with.) I understand it’s important to stay conscious in these moments, but how can you stay focused on your emotions and that precious consciousness when there is deep emotional/unconscious pressure from your parent for you not to evaluate them in a less-than-flattering light? In this way, how is this not putting the emphasis back on this woman (and me for that matter) for not “rising above” the historical cues of early childhood, by saying that staying conscious and viewing these manipulations is how you can break that pattern? For me it seems there are two parties involved in breaking the pattern, and it has to be a collaborative effort on both parts to regain trust and intimacy. Maybe that is not what you’re saying, and if not, please elaborate.
    I know when I do wrong in a conversation and I need to apologize for things I said and sometimes the way I say them. Is it not also incumbent upon parents to acknowledge manipulation or wrong-doing they’ve enacted upon you? And if it’s not, and I excuse it due to history, and the length of time they have dealt with others/me in this particular manner, how is it I can be safe to go forward with a relationship with them, and have any expectation of introspection or acknowledgement of wrong treatment from them? For me, it’s a basic agreement, and I think respectful to both parties; an expectation of a reciprocity and agreement upon values (such as honesty, and obviously non-aggression) that allows any relationship to be viable and productive.
    I’d love to hear what you think! Thanks for the great, thought-provoking articles.

    • Hannah Eagle August 18, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

      Thank you for your comments, Crystal, you ask some important questions.

      My experience is that when the pattern is broken by one person, the dynamic can no longer be played out. Metaphorically, if no one is catching the ball being thrown, the game is over.

      I went into the conversation that day wanting an apology from my mother and I didn’t get it. But once I witnessed her manipulation, she no longer held the power in the relationship, I did.

      An apology was really no longer important to me. Even being understood wasn’t important. I realized I would never get what I wanted from her. Nor, could I have the kind of relationship with her that I can have with other people, where the parties are equally responsible and have expectations of reciprocity. I saw clearly that this would never happen.

      I gave up needing anything from her, stopped victimizing myself with her. I realized how fragile she was and how psychologically unsophisticated she was. She couldn’t give me what I wanted. But I had myself back.

      As I said, I pulled away for a while, so that I could work on myself. But when I returned, I no longer cared what she did or said. I got out of the blame game. I had myself back and no longer triggered myself with anything she said. How I felt about myself no longer had anything to do with her.

      However, she changed too. Though she wasn’t psychologically sophisticated, she was smart. She learned quickly that those tactics did not work with me.

      In Reology we learn that what others say is not about us, but about them. I found I could relate with my mother without expectations. She was who she was. I wasn’t going to change her, but I wasn’t going to engage in any battles either. What she thought of me no longer mattered.

      One of the precepts of Reology is No Praise No Blame. I hope you will get Jake’s book, available online from Amazon. “ReRight Your Life” will explain this very different and much healthier paradigm.

  5. tony (Stay!) August 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    Hannah, I have this be an important perspective that you’ve shared with me and others. I’m studying a topic that goes by the term “emotional contagion.” I think it correlates well with your point of view expressed in your posting. Essentially, emotional contagion is about my taking on the emotion of the person with whom. I’m interacting, be that a happy emotion or a sad one. There is good data which validates this notion. Furthermore, it makes intuitive sense to me. Knowing about his phenomenon and not getting sucked into another’s emotional state will enable me to do me in a more complete way.

    • Hannah Eagle August 19, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

      Yes, thanks for sharing this, Tony. Seems very relevant.

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