The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Controlling Mom

I wake up crying from my dreams about my abusive controling mom.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)

Dr. Kenner: Here is a question I received about a mother. What do you think of this mom? “Dear Dr. Kenner. I’m 21 years old and I have never gotten along with my mother. She is over protective and she thinks only about herself. She wants me to be the way she is, think the way she thinks, and not have my own life. She is very selfish. I am a loner because I don’t know how to make friends. I was never allowed to have friends or to go out. Since I was 15, I’ve been having dreams in which my mom abuses me emotionally by not allowing me to be an individual. These dreams are so painful because in real life, no matter how much I tell her that it’s hurtful, it’s like talking to a wall. In my dreams, I try to make her see my side, with no success. I end up crying in my dream, so painfully, that it wakes me up only to realize that I’m also crying in real life. I continue to cry and feel the pain. I’ve had these dreams constantly for the past six years and have always told my mother about them. But it doesn’t concern her at all. Why do I keep having these dreams and feeling this way? Thank you in advance for your help. Melissa.”

Melissa, you sound so nice. To even thank me in advance for the help is such a sweet thing to do. Let me talk about the dreams first. Your subconscious, it sounds like you’re struggling to solve an unsolvable problem. You’re trying, you’ve got this fight going on, to get your mother to recognize you as a person in your own right and to stop being controlling. Here is the reason it’s unsolvable: you can’t change your mom. She has her agenda and your best interest is not in her forefront. She is not valuing herself. She is not self-valuing, or what I would call selfish. Otherwise she would value her daughter’s independence. I value my daughter’s independence and in a rational way, that’s selfish on my part. Your mother is not self-valuing, she’s self-destructive, and you want to discover your own self. You are proper to want that. I recommend the book, it’s going to sound odd, but bear with me – The Virtue of Selfishness. It’s on my website,

The first point with your dreams is that you can’t solve the problem. We’ll talk about dreams a little bit more coming up. The second point I want to make is, why the crying? Well, crying is the emotion we feel when we’re dealing with a loss. And what is the loss in your case? The loss is the healthy relationship with your mom. You’ve been trying for years, for six years you’ve been having these bad dreams where she’s been emotionally abusive. You can’t reach her in real life, and the dreams you’re not able to reach her either. So you want to allow yourself to let go of that goal, to grieve the loss of a better relationship that you would have loved with your mother, had she made better choices. You need to recognize the fact of your mom’s character. Listen, you don’t get to pick your mom. You didn’t get to pick yours or you would have picked someone nicer and nurturing. So you need to actually grieve and let go of the goal of reaching her. You’ve been trying to do it for six years. The verdict is in. Listening to you is not something she cares to do, xo it’s time to set a new path for your own happiness.

That’s the third point. You want to start to celebrate the joyous beginning of your own independence from your mom. Fortunately, your mom only has as much control as you give her. She doesn’t need to be the focus of your life so you can let go of the goal of focusing on her, and focus on what brings you happiness in life? And the key areas of your life. Your career, romance, friends, hobbies. You can earn your own self-respect and happiness. It doesn’t have to come from your mother. You can learn how to make friends. There’s a book, The Loneliness Book – I wish they called it the Friendship Book – on how to make friends. But the first gift I would give yourself is to watch the Disney movie Tangled, and I would watch it twice. Then in your waking hours, play with new endings to your dreams. Not that your mother changes, but that she matters less to you and that you start to live a wonderful, wonderful life. And so you can also consider some individual therapy for yourself, if that’s available, and then focus on the value of true friendships. Your mother is not a good model for a friendship, so learn the skills of getting good friends. You can also grasp the importance of psychological independence. I read the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and I found that very, very helpful to me. So, you’ve been living through torture for years. You can start liberating yourself and you want to think yourself out of the prison and start to truly value your life.