One woman’s mom resents her success. Dr. Gail Saltz advises.
By Dr. Gail Saltz
Q. I believe my mother is jealous of me. My life is better than hers (relationships, material goods, job, friends, etc.) and I really think she resents me for it. She gets nasty when I reach a goal, make a significant purchase, am honored by friends, etc. She harbors this resentment to throw back in my face at a later date. I simply cannot imagine not wanting the best for my children. Is it possible for a parent to be jealous of a child?
A. Yes, it is. All human beings are prone to feelings of jealousy, envy and resentment. It isn’t uncommon for parents to have twinges of negative feelings toward their children, though these are usually overshadowed by positive and loving feelings.
Feeling envy, however, and acting upon it are two different things. It sounds as though your mother is making her resentment all too clear.
Unfortunately, as life goes on, people can feel great regret for opportunities forgone, goals unreached and paths untaken. Parents, feeling bad about how their own lives are turning out, can target their grown or growing children. The children, a generation younger, still have choices and possibilities up ahead, or may have had success of their own. Of course, many parents do want the best for their children. Their children are partly products of their love and nurturing, so they take pride in having helped create such successful lives.
At the same time, however, parents can feel pangs of regret. They wish they were still young, with the world ahead of them. This is especially true if they themselves don’t feel effective, or if they lack satisfaction in their own lives.
It is painful to have your mother acting with nastiness and spite toward you. This might make you question your loveability from someone who should love you unconditionally, your mother. But this isn’t about you. It is about your mother and her own feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness.
She might well be too self-absorbed and too mired in her own misery to understand the impact her negativity is having on you. Rather than engaging in arguments with her, I suggest you defuse things by pointing out that her reactions make you feel she wants you to fail.Maybe there are ways you can help her feel more successful or active on her own — encourage her to get a job, do volunteer work, take craft lessons, meet more regularly with friends.
You should also be more cautious when sharing your successes with her. Its possible you come off as crowing or gloating, or are setting up subtle comparisons with your mother. Try to avoid saying things like, “I can afford this nice coat because my job pays more than yours ever did,” or “My husband treats me better than dad treats you.”
If your mother is truly unable to be happy for you, you will be better served if you don’t share too many positive details of your life with her. Downplay your success. Rather than continuing this cycle, you should find others who can be supportive. Stick to neutral topics when you interact with your mother. While it’s unfortunate to relate to your mother in a limited way, it is less damaging than the way you are currently relating to her.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Parents can have mixed feelings toward their childrens’ success, with pride and envy co-existing. If there is too much negativity, look for support elsewhere.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist 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