Why Do I have Irrational Anger Over Simple Conversations with my Parent?

QUESTION: My mother sends me e-mails that drive me crazy and the worst part of it is I don’t know why. I see her name in the in box and start getting frustrated. I’m sending you the latest e-mail. Please tell me why I get so upset!

ANSWER: If this communication was from someone you just met and you were this upset, the issue would be yours. But it’s from mom. So we know you have a long history that can supercharge each and every word she writes.  What’s really frustrating about messages like this is how normal they seem to someone who doesn’t know the history. If you show it to a friend, you may hear that you’re over-reacting, or that your mother just seems concerned.

So the first thing is to trust yourself. Even if you can’t verbalize the reason this bothers you so much, accept that there is a reason.  Go look at yourself in the mirror and repeat the following, “I am a sane, intelligent adult. There is a reason I am so upset by this and I am going to find it.”

Now review your history with your mother. What messages did you get about your abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and personality? Sit down with a piece of paper and write this out.  What did she tell you about your future? Can you be successful without her? Were most of her statements to you negative or positive? Actually write this down so you can see it on paper.

Negative statements sound like, “You’re going to get pregnant by the time you’re 16!” “You always make the same mistakes.” If you brought home six A’s and one C, you got punished for the C and were never rewarded for the A’s.

Positive statements sound like, “You are going to make the right decision eventually, I trust you.” “I see you learning from your mistakes and I know you will be a stronger person.” “I am so proud of you for all the A’s you made.”

If you haven’t had positive messages from your mom, then you are naturally adding in all the negatives to what she wrote. So take the original message and write out what you actually hear her saying.

I think it might go something like this. Your mother’s hidden messages are in parenthesis.


Hi Rebecca  (I hope you appreciate that I‘m taking the time to write to you),

Golly (I am either an innocent abroad or being completely sarcastic by using this word) I am so concerned about you  (because you are failing at your marriage and I told you not to get married in the first place),  you are so in my prayers  (because I know only God can help you now since you won‘t listen to your mother & it makes me feel better to bring God on my side. He‘s on MY side you know. He‘s seen everything you‘ve done and He‘s not happy with you either).

The emotional part must be over the top (I told you that you‘re unstable, but will you listen to me and get the kind of help I would approve of? You‘re probably going to break down and expect me to come rescue you),  but even the logistics and keeping your job going during this transition has got to be so hard  (I‘m still amazed you‘ve managed to keep a job and I don‘t really believe you‘re that successful. You must be ready to break down and let all that go finally. You should just admit you can‘t make it on your own and come live with me. I am so much better at taking care of you). I am so relieved your cousin is coming to help you  (At least there will be SOMEONE there who knows what they‘re doing. Not to mention that your cousin will tell me everything so that I can tell you what you did wrong later).

Love to you.  (I won’t actually say that I love you since you don’t appreciate that anyway. I just have to throw love your way and hope that some of it sticks to your ungrateful hide).


Golly, that sounds like something you’d be upset about, now doesn’t it?

Trust yourself. Write out the historical messages. Rewrite the original message to include the hidden messages.  Now you can decide how to respond, without fighting yourself and what the message really means. Happy writing!

You can do these same methods for any seemingly innocent message that drives you to crazy with the radio turned up too loud.  Don’t show the amended message to the person who sent it.  They will deny all of it and start the crazy making messages about how oversensitive you are.  The writing exercise is to help you understand what you are responding to, so you don’t feel overwhelmed when it happens.  Remember, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.  If you’ve never had your feelings validated by this person, that won’t be starting now.  Validate your own feelings and then decide how you want to deal with this person.

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