The role of a mother in her son’s life

We’re all aware of how deeply our parents affect us. All of us are shaped by our childhood, and carry some part of it with us until we die. It is my personal belief that most of our behavioural patterns, traits and flaws can be traced to something or the other in our childhoods. An authoritative environment will yield traits like low self-esteem and shyness for years to come, while an overly casual environment will yield over-confidence, narcissism and recklessness.

This is the reason why parenting is a tougher task than waging war on an entire country with the help of nukes. Every little thing matters, and adds up to what will eventually turn out to be the child’s personality. Trying to be too perfect as parents will make the child wary of ever making a mistake, while being completely irresponsible will mess up the child’s life in numerous ways. Both the father and the mother have to be equal participants in the process of parenting. This article, however, focuses on the unique relationship between that of a mother and her son. It has always been pointed that a man looks at other women the way he looks at his mother. Consequently, he expects the women in his life to live up to the same standard. This is very much true, even when he may not be aware of it consciously. A mother’s influence over her son is so subconsciously ingrained, that it affects the smallest of decisions without either of them even knowing. For example, a son may not like bright colors because he never saw his mother wearing them during his childhood, He may be inclined to follow a particular religious ritual (without knowing why) because he saw his mother doing the same, He may not understand why smoking is proclaimed to be a ‘bad habit’ by everyone else, because his mother smoked too.

A mother also has a deep impact on whether her son grows up to be inherently strong or weak. If a son is brought up by a weak mother, he will tend to be weak, even if he becomes successful career wise. He will always view his mother and consequently himself as a victim. His consistent lack of being decisive, confrontational and courageous will make him identify even more with his mother, and instead of fostering a healthy relationship, it will breed a co-dependent, toxic relationship. On the other hand, if a son if brought up by a strong mother, who knows how and when to set limits to her affection and spoon-feeding, he will grow up to be an independent individual himself.

In the Indian society, men are known to be more inclined to follow their father’s footsteps, mirror his opinions, beliefs and thoughts about world, religion, politics and life. A son born into a businessman’s house will continue the business, a son born to an engineer father will become an engineer, a son born to a father who supports BJP will support the same party. So on and so forth. This may be true, but these are choices that a son is conditioned to make by the family and society in general. A father always wants his son to be 10 times the man he was when his son grows up. It’s natural progression and evolution. However, these are not subconscious decisions. Like mentioned above, a mother’s influence affects the smallest of things in a son’s life.

Specifically in India, where mothers treat their sons like kings and hold them dearer than their own lives, and fathers are not as deeply involved in the day-to-day upbringing, sons tend to mirror their mother’s likes, dislikes and choices much more. This is the reason why an adult son may get caught up between his wife and mother. I have observed that Indian mothers find it hard to let go and accept the fact that their now adult sons are capable of leading separate lives. They cling onto them, because their sons were their only mission and accomplishment. To let go would be to let go of all meaning behind their lives. The consequent effect of this coddling is that the adult son finds it hard to view any relationship in his life objectively. Every relationship in his life gets coloured by his mother’s opinion in some way or the other, just like his relationship with his wife. He might be deeply in love with her and respect her choices, but if his mother’s opinion of her isn’t as good, then he will doubt his own feelings. He needs validation from his mother for everything.

And as heinous as it may sound, most of India’s mistreatment of women (rape, molestation, violence, domestic abuse, eave teasing etc) can be attributed to the women themselves. A mother can be a role model for her son on how he will grow up to treat other women. If she herself lets herself be treated badly in her marriage, then the son may think it’s ‘norm’ for women to be treated second class, and that they encourage it. If the mother doesn’t use negative reinforcement when the son commits a mistake or crosses a boundary, then she ‘enables’ him to think that it’s okay to behave in that way. All these factors and behavioural missteps combine to encourage a man to commit violence against women, and even more alarming, to think that it’s alright.

In conclusion, our mothers are a vital part in our lives. It doesn’t matter whether you share a healthy relationship with her or an unhealthy one, whether you are in touch with her or not, she will continue to affect and impact you in a multitude of ways for a very long time.

Why some people need to make others feel guilty to feel better themselves

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(That’s my work of art^) Ugly. I know.

We all have different ways of and responses to handling stress. Some of us shout, scream and throw tantrums, others like to recede quietly into their shell and cut themselves off everyone, some start hyperventilating, some blame themselves and/or others. There are different defense mechanisms all of us adopt to adapt to stressful situations (You may recall Frued’s unconscious defense mechanisms at this point) The key aspect of these defense mechanisms is that they’re unconscious reactions to stress and anxiety. An individual does not plan these reactions. They occur based on the individual’s past experiences, environment and upbringing.

One of the personality types that I find highly interesting is the one that I like to call the ‘guilty me-guilty you’ personality type. This is someone who needs to shoulder responsibility in order to feel worthwhile or validated and feels guilty about not doing or contributing anything. But when things get overwhelming and extremely stressful, tends to make someone else feel guilty for not doing as much as he/she is. Their response to stress is transferring the guilt, because they can justify blaming someone else for the stress by telling themselves that they shoulder too much responsibility. It makes them feel both a victim and superior to everyone else. “What is my life about?”, “Why me?”, “My whole life is about handling responsibility. I have no life” and “He/She doesn’t do as much as I do. They are selfish and greedy. I’m the one getting ground in the machine here” It escalates pretty quickly. The fact that the individual had chosen to take up responsibility themselves is lost somewhere in the process of constructing a defense for the ego.

In family structures, this might happen with the breadwinner. It can be the father, mother or their children who work. Families who manage their finances on a monthly basis and pretty much anticipate a heart attack on the 1st of every month are sure to have a member who behaves this way.

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The fact that they have devoted their lives to taking care of their families validates all sorts of behaviors for them. This is most commonly seen in patriarchal Indian families where the father justifies his absence from household matters and disinterest in his children’s lives by dangling the paycheck in front of his wife’s eyes, and that if he were to become more homely they would lose all the comforts that his money has bought. His typical reaction to stress would be to make his wife feel guilty for watching a television serial or taking a nap in the afternoon because after all he cannot afford those luxuries. This sort of emotional abuse can cause a lot of harm, which the abuser may not realize.

This guilt tripping can cause a major dent in the self-esteem of the abused (in this case the wife) They constantly keep trying to please the abuser in order to assuage their own guilt. They try to make their abuser happy by attempting to help out wherever they can or making themselves better in any which way. They ignore their own lives and focus only on making their abuser’s better. They are led to believe that somehow, they can make things better. Their emotional state depends on the emotional state of the abuser. If the abuser is happy, they are happy. This applies to all emotions. But the truth is they cannot help, no one can. This is a never ending road that leads to nowhere except a deeper pool of guilt.

What does one lose in this journey? Self esteem, self worth, confidence and courage.

On the other hand, if the husband were to suddenly find himself devoid of any responsibility, he may start feeling guilty himself for not doing anything, and start looking for excessive responsibility. Basically, people like him thrive on stress and burden. They need it to survive and feel worthwhile, but at the same time project their guilt upon others when things get out of hand. It’s a never ending cycle that is harmful towards all the people involved. An interesting by-product of this personality type is that such people feel they are entitled to whatever they wish to have. Perhaps this response stems from the belief that “I work my ass off and take care of so many people. I go through so much stress everyday. How could I be wrong for demanding this?” In the example mentioned above, the husband might feel that he is entitled to his wife’s attention and time even when she’s busy, because he’s the “important” one in the equation, or that he is entitled to enforce his opinion on his children because he has “experienced so much more”.

Maybe the root cause of this behavior is to feel a sense of entitlement or a sense of worthiness, or maybe both – the end result is destructive for everyone involved. It’s not being pleasant on either side of equation and causes distress and dysfunction at every level.

I personally believe that such people need appropriate therapy so that they and their family members can lead a healthier life. Or just shove a couple of SSRIs or Benzos down their throat to make life even simpler. Works for me.