Ever since I can remember, my mother has been my toughest critic: “I will never praise you for things that you should do," she used to tell me.
I know a lot of parents who live by this rule, which is fine — to a point. It was only when I started therapy as an adult that I was finally able to see just how damaging her words have been.
I’ve recently been seeing a therapist for several different issues, one being an overall lack of confidence. I've learned a lot about myself while sitting in that chair every month, probed with the doctor's questions, with my biggest "aha" moment arriving as I realized that my mother's constant criticism was impacting my love life in a bad, bad way.
That's not to say that I'm not a factor in my own failed relationships, but I'm definitely not the biggest one.
Here's the thing: My mother is very loving and I know she means well, but I don’t think she has the ability to give a compliment or praise. If she sends me to the store with a list of 100 items, for instance, it doesn’t matter if I get 99 of them correct; if I come back with the wrong brand of mayo, I’m a terrible person.
There was this one time when I joined a gym after deciding to embrace a healthier lifestyle. When the gym's membership package arrived in the mail, my mom said to me, "HA. Like you're actually gonna go."
That's just one of the many shady and underhanded comments she's made to me over the course of my life, and it took a professional therapist to help me realize that growing up with such a critical parent made me feel as if I had to be perfect all the time; if I fell short of that unattainable standard, in crept the feelings of inadequacy.
When I finally met a nice guy that I could see myself with in the long run, then — a guy who didn't cheat, didn't criticize me, and loved me for who I was — I was completely lost. I started to do things to push him away from me because I assumed there was no way he actually wanted to be with me, a screw-up. All my insecurities came pouring out.
There was one day when I made spaghetti for my significant other even though I wasn't feeling well. It wasn't good at all, and I apologized profusely for it. My partner said it was OK, that it wasn't a big deal. He couldn't believe the immense amount of guilt I felt by something so minor.
Going to therapy helped me realize that I have to relearn how to make mistakes; that it's fine and totally normal to not be perfect; that it's unfair to pressure myself to fulfill my mother's unrealistic demands; that I shouldn't think I'm unworthy because of my imperfections.
I've spent time wanting to be perfect for my mother. Now I need to spend time wanting to just be me.