I grew up mostly with my Mom and she was my hero. I owe her pretty much for everything I’m good at. But she was always criticizing my Dad and the guys she dated and now I’m doing it too. I’m too judgmental of men. I can’t have a relationship because I’m always disappointed and I’m always watching for problems or “signs” and I hear myself saying exact negative things I remember my mom saying. These last two times were with guys I really liked. If I’m not going to accept someone like that then I’ll be alone all of my life. So now Mother’s Day is coming up and I don’t know what to do. I’m grateful for all she did for me and at the same time I hate her for ruining my future. I’m sorry I don’t even know what I’m asking you.
Single and Alone
I hope you’ll excuse the fact that I waited until after Mother’s Day to post this part of your email as your question. It does have some downer aspects to it so I didn’t want to present it on the actual Mother’s Day and possibly smudge some reader’s experience that day. The good news is that there’s some real positives we can draw out of the experiences you’ve been having. Please don’t see your relationships as failures. They are at worst like experiments and at best they are deeply meaningful even though they’ve ended. How long they last isn’t necessarily an indication of how worthwhile they are.
So let’s look at how you’re seeing Mom, and then we’ll look at how you’re seeing yourself. Despite your frustrations you can still see clearly enough to recognize that your mother gave you most of her/your strengths. That clarity is helpful in our process—thank you. But how did you get those qualities? The same way we learn almost everything a human does—you copied it. You mimicked someone, in these cases: your Mom. So your qualities will always have been copied from someone profoundly meaningful in your environment. But as you’re copying those you’re also copying their less appealing traits. Successful people will often also be aggressive. Beautiful can also be associated with vanity. And so you would have picked up your Mother’s strengths and her less productive identities too. So now let’s look at the context of the person you were destined by circumstances to mimic:
Your story makes perfect sense. Your mother was a single mother of at least one child. I continue to say that in the Western World this is one of the most challenging roles in our society. There’s no CEO on Earth that would hold a candle to what a single mother has to do, not to mention one who may have a special needs child. So plain and simple, to even leave your Dad—let alone raise you—your mother simply had to be incredibly strong, resourceful and capable. And she would have been much younger than she is now. She would be doing everything without much life experience. And if she was early 20’s or younger, the part of her brain that would be most valuable in making good decisions wouldn’t even be built yet. So I’m not saying there wasn’t an underbelly to what happened, but overall you’re fortunate that you got to see an excellent example set for you. Because we don’t control that. And yet it is the single most important factor in your life.
I’ve written about it before—I have predicted for some time that there will be an epidemiologically detectable impact on male-female partnerships and these will primarily hinge around the exact sort of comments you’re talking about. It doesn’t matter whether your mother bashed men in general or whether she unconsciously but heavily wired men into some extremely negative frameworks, what’s important is that she unwittingly forgot you were listening and building your concept of the world. So just like you learned English because that’s what your Mom spoke, you’ve learned man judging because that’s also a language that was spoken in your house.
So you have to see your Mom’s innocence. She’s a young woman, likely not being treated well enough if not very p0orly, and she’s taken the huge and terrifying step of actually leaving or she’s been left without warning and is completely adrift. Either way, she’s in the midst of one of the most vulnerable times of her entire life and she has you to worry about too. For life experiences this kind of thing is very likely top five, all time, and routinely #1. So don’t expect ideal behaviour from someone at the literal nadir of their life. You don’t want to be held to those standards either. I’m sure your Mom would love for you to have had a better childhood. But it’s not like the one you got prevents you from having a full and deeply enriching life experience. You just have to know how. Which is where we get away from your Mom and on to You.
You’re the one thinking these wanting judgmental thoughts about your Mom’s past, present and potential future. That’s not her fault. Yes, she inadvertently wired men into a pretty negative part of the brain but she didn’t mean to. And she can’t rewrite your brain. You are going to have to notice and actively meditate on the qualities of men. You have to literally re-wire your brain to see men in a different light. This isn’t hard or crazy nor does it take long. You’d be amazed at how many cells you build in a day. Your body will put them wherever you need them. If you’re building new pathways in your brain, trust me that your body will cooperate.
So how do you do this? It’s this easy: watch men and watch for nice things they do. Hold doors, let someone into traffic, give directions etc. Watch them be caring, dedicated fathers, and look at the helpful people who work at the places you visit each day—many are men. Like Firemen or Sewer Crews, many of the invisible people you count on are men. So if you catch yourself in a negative rant just shift it by recalling one of the past qualities you had witnessed and admired. Replace the angry divisive thought with the compassionate loving one. Do that every chance you get, and know that you’ll always get tons of chances.
It’s important to remember that when a guy acts like any human being will, and he doesn’t do what you wanted him to, you can’t disregard all the positive things you’ve recognized. If you do that you’ll permanently switch back to those old judgmental pathways. That’ll be like what you’re doing now, only more drawn-out.
When you go through this journey you have to know—you have to remind yourself—that you are experiencing a predictable aspect of changing. You’ll bunny hop (like the dance, not a rabbit) to success. Just because you occasionally fire some energy down old pathways-of-habit (and react predictably), that does not mean that you haven’t successfully built healthier architectures for your thinking. So if you occasionally think uncharitable thoughts about men and you phrase it just like your Mom did, then fine. But don’t turn that into the idea that men are bad. As soon as you catch yourself focusing on uncharitable judgments, switch back to watching for things about men to appreciate. Do it with women too while you’re at it.
Look for the best in people and you’ll both see it and motivate more of it. You just can’t expect that 100% of the time. Move gracefully through the times where life is steeper or when you’re more judgmental and you’ll get better and better at staying in a state of appreciation. And if you’re good at appreciating then a relationship with almost any guy can work no matter what your history was.
You’ve been wise. You know you’re not a man-hater but you know you’ve been thinking like one. There’s no need to panic. Just quiet those thoughts as much as possible and shift to appreciation as often as possible and the rest takes care of itself.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.