“I’ll never be like my mother!” What is counter-dependence?
Communication and manipulation
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Who do you see when you look at your mother?

— A woman who raised you and never misses a chance to remind you of it?

— A woman who never leaves you in peace with her eternal advice? Who butts into your relationship with your husband and into raising your kids? Who criticizes your cooking and even how you shop – without the precious piece of paper with income-expenses all lined up and without taking into account matches you’ll need in case of a cold war emergency :)?

— An unhappy woman who renounced her calling and who now blames the entire world for it and who throws a fit, clutching her heart, every time she sees you?

— A woman who has been sacrificing something all her life and expects you to pay for it? Who is squeezing attention, love and care in any way she can?

— A woman who gave up her ambitions in favor of a family and who cannot forgive either her husband or children for it? And from whom you are ready to run to the ends of the earth as long as you don’t have to listen to her reproaches?

— A woman who has never had a career and is now a nobody? While you stay at work day and night, just so as not to repeat her mistake?

If you have answered yes to at least one of these questions, then more than anything else you are afraid to be like your mother. The phrase “you’re just like your mom” makes you see red. Every time you are angry with her you repeat like a mantra “I’ll never be like you. Just you wait and see!”

Do you think that absence of illusions about your mother and your desire to do everything differently makes you an adult? Do you think that this is the way to separate or break the psychological link between you? Do you believe that a distance of a thousand miles will help you avoid your parents’ influence?

I have to bring you back to earth. These are all excuses. Psychologists call this type of relationship with the parents counter-dependence. In other words, you are still dependent on your parents, but in the opposite way. This neither makes the problem less nor your life more of a success. Relationship with your parents is a structure created in YOUR mind.

Why is counter-dependence on parents dangerous?

Grown-up children often build their life on a model from which they would really do better to steer away. It is called “I’ll do better than you.”

I saw a relative of mine implement that model. When she was 17 she ran away to another city and even to another state. She built her life by contradiction “other than what the parents want,” avoiding any contact with them.

Even while the home of her already elderly parents was being remodeled, she would absolutely not let them stay with her. All complaints met with a harsh “no” for an answer. There was a renouncement of the fact of relationship with her parents or any type of obligations.

 At first glance, such attitude seems to be independent and inspire respect. If you go deeper, however, the motivation for decisions of a counter-dependent person is all wrong.

Supposing, you are choosing a job.

What does a psychologically adult person do? They evaluate the salary, the convenience, whether they like the job, additional benefits, and so on.

What does a counter-dependent person do? The opinion of the “hateful” mom becomes the key factor in making the decision. In other words, it is the desire to spite her, to annoy her or to prove that you are better (smarter/more successful).

Sometimes, counter-dependence makes grown-up children live out their parents’ dreams. For instance, the mother has always dreamt of becoming an actress, but never amounted to anything in that regard. The daughter may build her acting career because she wishes to prove that she is stronger, more talented, more committed, more beautiful, etc.

That, however, is an extreme form of counter-dependence :). Most of us have to deal with less pronounced symptoms.

However, it is counter-dependence that makes grown-up children:

  • React to their parents’ advice aggressively;
  • View their interference as disrespect;
  • See lack of trust or an attempt to humiliate them in their wish to help or give a pointer.

 How the parents nurture their children’s dependence

Naturally, the parents are no Christmas present :). Besides, any type of dependence, presupposes a two-way link. In other words, the parents, on their part, feed your counter-dependence. Most often, it is done by emotional manipulation.

Option 1 — endless complaints. All your conversations quickly turn into an avalanche of complaints with the stones mostly flying towards you and hitting the most painful spots. And mom will not leave off until you fly off the handle and either bang the door shut behind you or burst into tears.

“See, Nora works in a store and you’re always at home! What do you mean telecommuting? Any time I stop by, you’re at home staring at that monitor of yours and drinking coffee! What kind of job is that?”

“Cathy next door got married and she only just turned 20. You’re a disgrace to the family! So what if her husband’s unemployed and did time twice, at least she’s got it right! And her mother has nothing to be ashamed of. And they had a decent wedding. And she’s expecting.”

It doesn’t really matter that you make 7 times more than Cathy does. Nor that the man of your dreams, with whom you have not registered your relationship yet, has a beautiful house in one of the best neighborhoods with the mortgage all paid. 

None of this will convince your parents of your success. Nor will it make them admit that they have underestimated you, that they should have believed in your and not criticized you quite so much for going to the college that they did not choose for you.

All in all, family reunions always end the same way. Your parents are satisfied with themselves because they have done their duty and tried to set you on the right track. You leave with a label of “loser” and the deepest desire to prove otherwise no matter what. Then you waste your life proving it!

Option 2 — insults and reproaches. Mom may not mince words or she may (if she is “nice people”) use no insults at all, but have the same effect.

“You ungrateful wretch! I labored giving you birth and you…!” By the way, anything may follow the ellipsis. Don’t call her every week, didn’t go to medical school, don’t want to have a baby or had a baby too early (God-forbid without getting married first), said no to John the neighborhood plumber (a good man with a stable income) or, on the contrary, married a pop star (and everyone knows they’re all junkies!).

Your life will seem not worth living, your efforts – useless, and your debt to your parents as big as a borrower’s from a bank with draconian interest rates. You will never be able to pay it off and turn out the way they want you to.

It seems that the only purpose of these conversations is to make you feel endlessly guilty for your entire life and even for the fact you were born at all. Even though no one asked your consent to be born.

How can you break counter-dependence?

I am not going to try to convince you that there is a “magic” technique/practice/exercise that will cure and help you break the vicious circle of reprimands at once. There is no such remedy. If your relations with your parents make your life really miserable, it is best to go through good training or to take up individual consultations with an expert.

There is something, however, that I can do for you right now.

  • Step one you have already made by realizing that your dependence on your parents impacts your decisions, self-esteem and way of life;
  • Step two is to become aware that the true reason for your behavior with your mom is unreasonably high demands and fantastic expectations (created back when you were little).

Her words hurt you not because they are true. It is simply that mom, once again, does not come up to your expectations. In other words, you have a picture in your mind of what your mom should be like – like a “guardian angel with wings.”

Meanwhile, she is what she is – not too smart, not too young, not too healthy, with a nasty temper, psychological illiteracy, fears and suppressed anger. Just as she is.

Naturally, she wants to get under your skin, because she feels your expectations and knows absolutely clearly that she will never be able to live up to them. After all, these are childhood fantasies, something about an all-powerful good fairy. And your mom knows for a fact that she is:

а) not all-powerful;

б) not all good;

в) not a fairy.

So how can she possibly stop attacking you, interfering, shaming or making you feel guilty if you can’t grow out of your childish expectations? Do note that not a single real, live mother can live up to them!

You, on the other side of the dependence, keep trying to prove something. Even though deep down you keep hoping that one day, mom will see the light and will magically turn into the proverbial fairy for you :).

Simply accept her as she is. Accept her as ordinary. Just like dozens of older women around you when you go shopping, go out or go for a walk in the park. Then, the fever pitch of your relationship will go down right away.

Date of publication: 26 October 2018
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