Dear Carolyn: Some readers asked for a follow-up [ to my question yesterday]: I have tried, for years, telling my mom in very different ways exactly how this makes me feel. "You say XYZ and the negativity sends me down an anxiety spiral"; "You are trying to help me and that's amazing and I love you, but this makes me feel like I'm not allowed even a moment to bask in an accomplishment"; "I know you are trying to help, but this is explicitly hurting me, making me feel like I cannot tell anything to you"; "Every conversation feels like a deposition and an indictment of a future that hasn't even happened yet" . . . because she also harps with the same negative "advice" over and over again for future events, and it weirdly turns into her chastising me for not following her advice for events that haven't even happened yet.
She tends to see herself as the victim, hit by out-of-the-blue misfortunes she could not have foreseen or prepared for. She feels 100 percent at risk and under attack, and wants me to feel that way, too, because in her eyes it's the only way to get by in life.
So when I push back because that feels incredibly toxic to me, she patently doesn't hear it because making me on guard is her goal.
— Negative Wormhole again
Negative Wormhole again: Thanks, this is helpful.
It’s time now, gently, to refuse to engage, because all that harping can happen only if you grant her the time to harp. You’ve “tried . . . telling” with words, but your actions — having and re-having this conversation — have said you’re open to discuss this.
So: “Thanks, Mom, for looking out for me. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about besides [topic of the day]?” Or, “So, what’s going on with you?” If she resumes harping, then you gently interrupt and say you have to go. “Bye, talk soon.”
Choosing to “push back” betrays a bad calculation: that it’s your job or place or duty or whatever to correct something you don’t like about someone. You don’t like your mom’s negativity, understandably, but that doesn’t mean every encounter with it confers an obligation to try to fix it.
Mention a preference, sure. But when her response is to show absolutely zero interest in adapting to it? Then you need to adapt if you want anything to be different. Even if you’re technically “right.”
To soften your disengagement, stick to a call schedule. Once a week, twice a week, once a month, whatever. Put answers on an index card for when you go blank with frustration. “I’ll keep that in mind.” “Interesting.” “Okay, new topic.” Best case, you shape these talks to your terms. Worst case, you’ll have to pull back even more.
Again — this sounds like untreated anxiety to your friendly layman here. If you ever see an opening to discuss that, then please step on through.
Re: Negative mom: "You've just made four negative remarks. Now say something positive."
Anonymous: It’s a flat-out glorious New England day and I can’t wait to get outside with my dogs.
Oh. You meant the mom.