Three short weeks into Solving Your Stress Mini-Series I receive this question. How can I not let stress get to me when my mom lives with me? And I have two very narcissistic controlling siblings that are constantly criticizing and telling me what to do. Wow what a question and a dynamic. So do you feel like you need to take a breath after reading that? I sure do. While they don't mean to, our own family can be the source of some serious stress in our lives. First, to the person who sent this question to me, I think you need to give yourself a pat on the back for being of service to your mom. There are not a lot of people who would step up and do that.
That new dynamic can certainly throw things at us that we least expect which can cause stress. There's a lot that goes into sharing a household with a parent and it certainly makes matters worse when you have family members that are controlling and criticizing from afar.
Have you ever taken a step back and examined whether you are putting yourself into this dynamic of being bullied by your family? Not that you are purposefully allowing it to happen, but what is your role in it? Are you allowing this to go on? Sometimes the hardest thing we have to do is look at what our role is in the dysfunction.
My favorite source of stress minimization for this is:
Detach - Don't stay sucked into the drama. Hang up the phone (politely) or excuse yourself. Cool-off.
Prioritize - Ask yourself. What is the next thing that needs to happen? Maybe the conversation needs to end right there. Maybe an apology...
And execute - Do the thing.
It's causing you stress. It's having an effect on your health. And I'm pretty sure because you live with your mom, that the stress and emotion is flowing over into your relationship causing a reverse effect with your mom feeling stressed out and it's flowing back to you. So what if you just decided to not take it anymore? What if you become the one to call the shots? Don't allow someone else to control you and the situation from afar. It's up to you to put that kind of behavior to rest.
At first it might cause a rift. In fact, expect it. When you decide not to play the game anymore, your family members are going to fight back and try to suck you back in. So at first, expect the stress. You've got to learn to pick your battles. You've got to take responsibility, and you've got to stand up to the people that are creating the stress in your life. Because you are now being responsible and taking ownership, you've got to be the one to step up to have the difficult conversations with your siblings and tell them no more. Offer to have a constructive conversation with positive feedback and suggestions and a willingness to be understanding about the situation. With those boundaries firmly planted you can begin to
move forward in a much less stress filled environment.
I know it sounds like what I just laid out is easy to say, but I've been there and to share something very personal, my father used to be very critical of me. We could't seem to have any kind of conversation that didn't end up in an argument. It seemed like I couldn't even get a kind word and it had a very big effect on me to the point where I had to cut off communications. Now, I didn't know about his mental illness at the time, but that didn't excuse his behavior towards me and towards my family. I eventually decided that I had to have that difficult conversation, and lay down the ground rules for us to have a civil life together. But he was unable to respect those boundaries.
I became estranged from my father for a very long time. We did finally come back together and made amends. Time, or the lack of time is the best teacher. I only got about a year out of our, newly formed relationship because he died of cancer. I do not wish the same for you.
So, you've got to lay down the ground rules, and take care of yourself. It is difficult, but you have to have that conversation and then you have to see whether or not they're going to respect your boundaries. In the end, you will be the one with a lot less stress and it will improve relationships all around.