After my column on a mother’s jealousy of her daughter, many readers wrote to say that people shouldn’t have to hide their success from their mother. I agree. Unfortunately, however, some people do have to deal with mothers who act with anger and malice, so my suggestions were addressed to them.
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Many readers wrote with another good suggestion — to point out to your mother her role in your success.
If a parent’s behavior remains truly toxic, however, it is not unreasonable to have less to do with each other.
Here’s a note from the original letter writer:
I appreciate your addressing this topic. This is well-founded advice. I have done exactly what you recommend, to the point of being able to talk only about the weather, but this only elicits a stepping up of my mother’s onslaught of verbal attacks. This has been going on for years.
I have decided to cut off all contact with her as a form of damage control. I have simply had enough. As a mother, I have to protect my own children. Hard as this decision has been, it comes with a sense of relief.
Here are some other letters I received:
I am in the same situation. I feel guilty for succeeding in life because my mother is never happy for me. She stressed education for so long, and now that it has paid off (good job, nice home, etc.), she is envious. When she would say “great job” to me, it seemed forced, like she didn't really mean it. I have learned to stick to neutral topics when talking to my mother. I now know I'm not alone!
It may help to give her mother some credit. Maybe if the question asker expressed gratitude toward her mother for raising her to be successful, the mother would get some satisfaction from that.
Instead of hiding and downplaying her successes around her mother, perhaps it would be better for her to say things like, “Mom, thanks for telling me to go after what I want because I spoke with my boss about a raise today and got one!” That way, her mother can share the success and feel how much of a positive influence she is, instead of feeling like her daughter is rubbing those achievements in her face. Perhaps her mother will begin to see that part of why her daughter is so successful is because of how well she was raised.
Thanks for your advice. I feel my mother is jealous of my accomplishments. I am a gainfully-employed single parent of two. My mother tries to put me down by praising my siblings in front of me. When I was in school, she commented that I was not going to amount to more than a housewife. My mother always helped my sister and even put her through college. She turned out to be the housewife. There is nothing wrong with being a housewife but I think it ticks my mother off that her “prophecy” about me did not come true.
I have learned to keep my conversations with her short so they will not turn negative. I am surrounded by people who are happy for me when I accomplish things.
In certain circumstances, where the resentment is so overbearing and has continued for an extended time without resolve, this advice is useless. The child has been so negatively impacted by the relationship that they feel it is not worth the pain of trying to continue.
What then? This scenario is the relationship my girlfriend has with her mother. It has caused her a lot of emotional distress, and after many failed attempts, she has taken the position of no relationship, waiting for her mother to come around. I know this makes her very sad, but since she has essentially given up on any meaningful relationship with her mother, she has quit biting her fingernails, she is less depressed, and our relationship is better.
Your answer is biased. You're presuming she is contributing to her mother's pain in some way. Her mother made her own choices and the daughter shouldn't feel responsible for them. She can't change her mother or make her happy, so I say enjoy your success and surround yourself with people who are happy for you, not those who make you feel bad about yourself.
Thank you for this article. I recently felt this way about my own mother, and I worried that the natural reactions and stress I felt to what I perceived as envy made me feel like an egomaniac.
I feel like my mother is always comparing mundane chores of hers to my accomplishments. For example, she will compare going through documents to give to an accountant to my own work toward receiving a master’s degree, saying that going through the documents is more difficult than getting the degree and that I can't possibly understand what she is going through.
This is stressful to me because I have worked long hours at an internship and studied hard during exams.
Also, I feel that whenever I practice music, my mother will interrupt me and then deny she is doing so. If I practice piano, which I am proficient at, she will go in another room and blast a stereo at full volume.
I have been living with this for over 15 years. I miss sharing successes with my mom, but this has been impossible for many years. I have often wondered if I took the right approach to deal with the situation. I am happy to hear it is not my fault.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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