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Editor’s note: Ask Alice is a feature for our online readers. Alice is a certified therapuetic massage professional with an extensive background in relationship psychology. You can Ask Alice your questions at DearAskAlice@gmail.com.
My mom and dad got divorced several years ago, when I was 23 years old. This needed to happen. Dad was seriously emotionally abusive and possibly mentally ill, and their relationship was just not healthy. There's a lot I can say about that, but what I want to ask you about is mom's new love interest. She has this man, let's call him Joe, who I think is a serious nightmare. He picks fights with mom, is generally combative, doesn't appear to listen to much of anything. He goes silent half the time if things aren't to his liking, and doesn't appear to treat my mom well in any real way. Obviously my brother and I would like to see her dump him immediately and never look back. Mom however sees that Joe isn't the best partner for her but fears being alone and doesn't feel like she can find another partner! Help! This guy really needs to go. Is there any advice for a daughter who desperately wants healthy love for her mom?
Operation: Find Mom Good Love
Wow. What a giant huge, horrible, ugly, tangled web your mom is in. She really has herself in a pickle, hmm?
Feeling like she can't find better love, and feeling like the love she has is better than no love, has her quite stuck.
I can see you are watching this in horror. No one wants to see any loved one live with a narcissist, but that's exactly what is sounds like is happening here. Joe displays classic signs of a narcissist: lack of empathy, inflated sense of self-importance, deflating your mom's self-esteem in order to keep her tied to him. Yikes. NO ONE likes a narcissist. These kind of people are what Alice calls "Crazymakers,” the kind of people that keep others on their tiptoes, guessing and fearing what will happen next. They generally also have mood or behavioral problems that coincide with the narcissism, like abandonment issues or depression or anxiety, etc.
Here's the deal: Joe has issues. Lots of 'em. Your mom is currently tangled in them. Has she considered therapy? You said your dad was also emotionally abusive; what happened to your mom in their relationship?
Probably, she took a fat sucker punch directly to her self-esteem, as emotional abuse can do. Mom feels like she can't do better in terms of a partner, which red flags significant self-worth issues. If mom is willing, she should seek out a counselor and talk about her relationship with your dad, and then her relationship with Joe. I bet what unfolds is an awareness on your mom's part that she really can do better than Joe, and people like him. Of course, a bit of internal work has to be done on your mom's part in order to have realizations like this.
Give your mom a hug. Tell her she's wonderful and loveable and loving and deserves better. Let her cry if needed. Have your brother do the same thing. Getting away from and past abusive partners is a hell of a lot of work, but it's so worth it. Suggest counseling as a way to move past abusive people and the damage they do, and if she's resistant, offer to go with her. Family therapy can be awesomely helpful too. How are you and your brother post-dad? Have you had therapy before? Maybe all three of you going to a counselor and talking about Joe initially, then your dad, could help all three of you.
Alice hearts counseling, big time. What a great way to find peace and joy and amends with people and situations and uncomfortable feelings. It helps us understand ourselves better, ultimately, and what is good and what is terrible for us. People like Joe have no room to maneuver when people like your mom tell 'em where to stick it. Period. Telling Joe where to stick it comes from a healthy place of boundaries and self-love, which your lovely mama can develop. Dear heart, read this column to your mom and be willing to help her get out of this Joe web.