Ask Deepak: How to Have a Positive Relationship with Your Self-Centered Mother
By Deepak Chopra
March 17, 2010
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: How can I have a more positive, fulfilling relationship with my mother? I am my mother's only child, and I had to move her in with me due to an illness she had six years ago. She is much better, but still here. She dominates my home and my plans. She has always been domineering. She has always been negative toward me when it comes to my choices and preferences. We have never had an adult mother-daughter relationship that is built on respect. I see her as a bully in many areas of my life, and at one time I would stand up to it, but nothing ever changed. I have surrendered and do things out of fear and to keep peace. She may have loved me as a child, but I don't think she has ever loved me as an adult. What can I do, and how do I overcome this?
— Tammy D., Lady Lake, Florida
Don't feel alone with this problem; many readers are walking in your shoes. You have two problems to solve, not one, and the beginning of a solution is to untangle them:
Problem 1: Psychological dependence on your mother
Problem 2: Your mother's narcissism and self-centeredness
These two issues are entangled, which makes them more difficult to deal with, but the second is the easier of the two. Your mother is selfish and self-centered. Insofar as she cares about you, it's only as a reflection of herself. The first thing she thinks about is, "How does this situation make me look?" If you choose a man, a job or a pair of shoes, she doesn't care how it affects you. She cares about her own image and egotistical sense of self.
You cannot solve this issue, because it's not yours to solve. As long as you keep giving in to your mother, she has "solved" her narcissism by keeping it under wraps and denying that it's a problem. If she were the slightest bit unselfish, she would see the bad effect she is having; she would empathize with your feelings. She would thank you for nursing her and quickly move on. She does none of these things. Therefore, you really don't have to consider her feelings when it comes to repairing your own life.
The first problem, your dependency—or to use modern jargon, co-dependency—is more difficult. It's one thing to be a fly caught in a web struggling to break free. It's quite another if you're a dog or cat that claims to be caught in a web—they can easily break free if they want to. So the big question is: Why don't you want to be free of your mother, given that a real desire to be free would immediately lead to action? When you have a rock in your shoe, you don't put up with it unless you happen to either like pain or want to suffer as a martyr.
Dependency is rooted in a child's need for love. A healthy child grows out of dependency and realizes that "I am lovable." A dependent child remains attached and says: "I am only lovable if Mommy gives me love. Otherwise, I am not." Until this root cause is resolved, dependency will spread to other areas: approval, success, the feeling of being safe, personal accomplishment, etc. Become attached to others rather than securely grounded in the self.
I think it would help you to read about dependency (the late psychiatrist David Viscott has written extensively about it in a popular vein). Once you feel that you see yourself realistically, find a group that deals with co-dependency issues. You will need help to extricate yourself. Your mother is a powerful personality. She knows how to keep her hooks in you. Remember, when you break free, you will be able to love her more honestly. That is better than feeling trapped and pretending to love your tormentor.