The more your parents have been using emotional blackmail to get what they want from you the more manipulative and demanding they will be as they are growing old.
OK, that was the bad news!
The good news is if you practice to be a good listener, first to yourself and to what really matters to you, the better.
Then next time they criticise you ask them to expand on their comments: "Mum, you often say that I don’t care for you and that is really unfair. Can you remember of a time I was there for you?"
Note: have in mind some instances as you may need to help her to remember them. But do it in a non-confrontational way. The idea here is not to challenge but to bring to mind your efforts.
Parents have had lots of time to learn how to 'blackmail' children because they were acting from a position of authority, as well as having their own emotional issues and limitations.
"Do as you are told because if you don’t..." "Are you listening to me?" " I don't want to listen to you!"
Invariably as children we learnt to comply even when we didn't really understand what was going on, or else!
Then by the time we are adults we may still feel trapped even when we know all their tricks to get what they want from us.
Yet, avoiding your parents altogether is unlikely to take away the guilt and resentment that you feel, even if they live far away from you or are no longer alive.
This in turn hold you back because it affects your self-confidence, your other relationships and other areas of our lives.
If only we had learnt how to listen to ourselves and really listen to one another we would be living a more harmonious world because everything starts at home.
Now that your parents are visibly growing old and frail but still using their manipulative trick, consider one of steps below to start with.
Put in your own words what you have heard and check to make sure is what has been said. The hard part of it is to avoid jumping into the usual defensive position because that blocks listening and triggers arguments.
Let’s pause for a minute: It may be the case that at some point in your life you had to learn to say no. At first it felt mean, but over time you became good at listening, thinking and deciding - yes or no - without feeling guilty.
You may be even good at offering an alternative solution to a request. For example: "Dad I can’t make it on that day but what about…" or "So sorry, I have a commitment on that day but let's see how we could go about it."
That may surprise them because you would be bringing in to the open the impact of their words have on you.
Pause: when you talk try to be as calm as possible but without an inch of passivity. This is because passivity tends to fuel the power of manipulators and passive-aggressive relationships.
OK, this is easier said than done. But by clearing the emotional roadblocks you will be able to cut through Suzan Forward's FOG (Fear, Obligation and Guilt) and find a clear path leading to the good things ahead of you.
Note: in the end it’s your reaction that gives the power to someone to manipulate you. So act confidently not to push or be pushed around.
As Suzan says in her book: confident people don't need to push others around.
She suggests "disconnect the obligation button" and keep on looking for "new responses for old feelings"
Takeaway: Even small changes in your reaction is a step towards being firm and fair in the way you would like to be treated. This in turn will clear the air and the space you need to get on with your own life.
These are the combined elements with the power to transform your relationship with your parents.
Answers to some frequently asked questions:
My parents were too busy to be around when I was a child. So we don’t really have a close relationship.
It was Ruth elder sister that looked after her as a child as they are 16 years apart. Their mother was busy with housework and commitments with the local church. For Ruth and her other 2 siblings it felt that she didn’t really like children.
Now in her 70s Ruth’s mother wants to play the maternal role and that irritates her. They don’t listen to each other and even small events can escalate into an argument. Ruth doesn’t want her 2 children (in their late teens) to witness so much tension between them as she is also thinking about herself when she will be older.
My suggestion: Ruth needed to strike a balance between looking after her mother and stand on her own ground. As a new comer to the family home there are rules to follow and accommodate without sacrifices. By dealing with the underlaying tension that triggers arguments it’s possible to open up the channel of communication.
When in doubt about a comment or request, pause to think about it and then ask a question for clarification. It’s often the case that we may have misunderstood or the person will rephrase what was said.
Why do I often get frustrated when I talk to my mother?
Anna phones her mother once a week but they don’t have much to talk about. Their conversation goes like this:
Anne: ‘How are things with you, mum?’
Mum: ‘I am fine thanks, and you?’
But then her mother starts talking about her deteriorating health. When Anne asks how she could help, her mother just says she is fine!
Anna puts the phone down and she worries about her mother’s health feeling guilt about not seeing her more often.
In situations where you feel trapped between guilt and frustration with your parents say to them: ‘Let’s find the time to seat down and have a nice conversation.’
Then listen to what they are not saying but without making any assumption.
It’s hard because you know your parents so well. But if you ask questions for clarification you may hear something that you haven’t heard before. In Anne’s case, her mother was feeling neglected and lonely.
What did she do?
Then to cheer her mum up Anne says: ‘mum, what about going to the cinema tomorrow?’
Other surprise treats could be, for example, if your mother slaved herself at the kitchen when you were a child, cook for her or take her out. Even better, ask her: ‘Mum, could you teach me again the secret of your fabulous dish?’ Or even suggested that the children could also learn more about her best simple dish!
I know you can find the recipe online but to value her skills will have in it a pinch of love, that you can’t buy anywhere.
My suggestion is: don’t committee yourself to do it on a regular basis, to leave it at the level of a treat and not an obligation. But make sure you schedule what you would like to do with plenty of time for your parents and yourself to look forward to it.
What can I do to communicate with my mother in a different way?
The first thing is to consider the reason: ‘why now?’ and how much effort you want to put on it. For example, you may have noticed that your parents health is in decline or it’s just because you feel that your relationship with your parents could be much better.
It’s never too late to move on from painful events in our lives and to make amendments that in turn will transform other areas of you live.
How many times have you heard of someone who lost his or her job, a partner, a house, money – all at the same time! Yes, good and bad things can come in bundles!
Let’s take baby steps!
Meaningful relationships can be made of very small things but they all involve mutual efforts. It grows naturally when nurtured consistently. So let’s make the most of the seed of love that you have in you for your parents, despite everything.
This will cost you time that may mean time which we normally don’t have much to spare. But what about expending less time on an autopilot to make the most of what is going around us.
Be realistic on the time you can devote to your parents. Then make it quality time. So share with what you could be doing together, plan and stick to it.
This is a good way to look forward meeting up with someone and spend some quality time together.
Have a meal together and make sure that it’s not your father or mother that are spending hours in the kitchen. I am sure you know how to cook something with confidence and taste!
Go for something simple, which will give more time to relax.
Why your frustration with your parents can still keep you awake at night?
There are families out there that are in such an amazing relationship that they have no trouble to sleep well at night. It looks like they are in harmony all day long!
That wasn’t my case. My relationship with my mother gave me enough worries at night in my adult life because I often had nightmares related to my childhood.
I can’t recall even getting closer to my mother for a cuddle but when I wanted to cuddle my father I would hear from her: ‘Behave yourself, Sonia!’
Most of us have grown out of our lack of affection as a child, and that is great!
But how to go about when our growing old parents want our affection in the form of attention?
I’ve worked with lots of people with mixed feeling, varying between: “OK, they have done their best for me’, or ‘I still react with anger when they talk to me the way they do’, ‘My parents haven’t a clue why I am often on a defensive.’
Suggestion: people don’t change because we want them to do so. But we can change the way they make us feel. It’s not about ignoring it but asking for more clarification.
You will catch your parents automatic words if next time they say: ‘Oh, you are really messy.’
In which you reply, ‘Mum, you often said that to me. This time I want you to tell me just one occasion where you didn’t think I was messy.’
The point here is that: no one can be can be something at all times. So by asking a reversed question they will need to think about what the times you were not what they say you were. (Warning: don’t ask of a list of example of the negative things you’ve done. This may drag you back too far and affect your self-confidence).
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