11 Ways to Deal With a Critical Mother

"My mother doesn't respect me and I try so hard."

Posted Jun 28, 2016

Dear Dr. G,

I am sure that my mother loves me, but I just don't understand why she doesn't show it in other ways like I see my friend's moms do. I always pushed it out of my mind, but it has gotten to the point where she is the only person in my life that can make me cry so hard and make me feel as
worthless as I do.

Growing up, I was never one of the kids that told their mom everything. I was always so jealous when my friends said they told their moms everything, even about boys. Whenever I did try to talk to her, she would counter me and not comfort me but tear me down. I just never understood because I didn't think she was trying to. Additionally, it always bothered me that I would cry and sob in front of her and she would just ask me angrily why I was crying and why I couldn't stop.

She never really trusted me, and let me go out with friends but not if she didn't know every detail. I have never drank or done drugs. (I'm 16.) I have no intention of getting high or drunk as a high schooler, and my grades are great. I have all As and A-s, and she will tell me "good job!" and sometimes, "I'm proud of you. Keep it up." And then almost always ask how my friends did. And that was IT. But when I got a bad grade, she would be SO disappointed and rant forever. I felt (and feel) worthless even though I try my hardest. But then OCCASIONALLY she would only be slightly upset if she knew I tried my best. But she never ever said, "It's okay" or "I'm still proud of you for trying."

Multiple times, she has told me I need to work out more. Once, it made me so insecure because she told me my thighs were getting too big. I have very low self-esteem already, and struggle with anxiety. I am active, I work out and play sports. I'm 5'2 and 110 pounds, and I would say I'm skinnier than many people I know.

She yells at me probably every other day for something. For little things I've never heard other people's parents get mad about. For not putting my shampoo back in the right spot in the bathtub. For not washing my dish (after eating; a SINGLE dish). For not recycling a container. I've never heard her say, "Thanks for doing the dishes" or even, "You remembered to do the dishes. Good job."

Over the years, I've put up with this. Accepted that I'm luckier than most people. Been grateful that my dad loves me and treats me with respect, and is always proud of me and always wants to talk to me. I love my mother, and I think she loves me but at the same time doesn't care to show it.
Now, what drove me to sobbing uncontrollably for the first time in a few months happened today. She basically told me she didn't think I had morals or was a good person. (I think I'm a moral person. I always apologize first, thank people for the little things, and try to make others smile.) Then she told me MY attitude needs to be fixed. I cried in front of her for the first time in months, hating myself for it. I apologized and said I respect her. She didn't believe me. She accused me of lying, saying there's no point if I have that attitude. I don't know how to deal with this. I can't confront her. Every time I try I end up heartbroken with my self-esteem lower. My dad never knows who to side with, and my brother is never home (college). I just can't understand if she really loves me and if she does why she can't respect me but expects me to respect her.

Thank you,

A Sad Teen

Dear Teen,

I am so very sorry that you are going through this. Your situation sounds very upsetting and you, like everyone else, deserve to have a mother who is the leader of your fan club. Unfortunately, what happens instead is that your mother criticizes and tears you down, leading you to question yourself and, in turn, to poor self-esteem. This happens because we tend to internalize our mother's views of us. True? If your mother says it then we feel it may be true. Also true?

We all internalize what our parents say to and about us but I want you to know that there is another way to think about things. Your mother is a critical and perhaps angry woman and appears to lack the skills to be warm, supportive, and soothing. Consider that your mother may have a lot of unresolved issues. Perhaps she was raised like this. That would be unfortunate. Nonetheless, understanding your mother doesn't necessarily make you feel better.

I have a number of suggestions for you and I hope that you find at least one or two helpful.

1. Please try to focus on the respect and support that you get from your father.

2. Be aware that at 110 pounds and 5'2" you do NOT have a weight issue. I would hate to see you develop an eating disorder because of your mother's inappropriate comments.

3. Keep in mind always that your mother clearly has issues of her own. This does NOT mean that she doesn't love you. It may mean, instead, that she doesn't know how to express her love.

4. When your mother criticizes you try very hard to remind yourself that this says more about her than about you. Perhaps she dislikes herself.

5. It is unlikely that your mother will change and begin to appreciate you. Keep this in mind when you hope for recognition and acceptance.

6. Begin to learn to appreciate yourself. Make a list of your strengths and positive qualities. Also, give yourself permission to make mistakes. This is part of the human experience. We all need to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and get back into the game of life. Disappointment is okay but tearing yourself down is not.

7. Begin to practice tuning out your mother's harsh critiques without letting her know that you are doing this. Develop a mantra that you repeat in your head like, "My mother is way too critical." Perhaps after you have done this for a bit you will not get as upset when she criticizes you.

8. Remind yourself that you will leave the house at some point to live on your own or go to college and that you will no longer have to hear your mother's criticisms so frequently.

9. Perhaps you can "borrow" your friend's mothers or other female role models. Clearly, it would be helpful to have other supportive women in your life. Also, set up a social support network around yourself which can include friends, teachers, etc.

10. Promise yourself that you will not become critical toward others the way your mother has been toward you. Work on being compassionate and supportive toward others. This will not only make you and those around you feel good but what goes around comes around. You may begin to experience the same sort of compassion from others. Keep an eye on your anxiety and mood if you ever feel overwhelmed.

AND ...

11. Keep an eye on your anxiety and mood. If you ever feel overwhelmed by depression and self-hatred, please seek therapy. It can be very helpful.

Good luck and please get back to me.

Dr. G.