Jerry was so frustrated with his mother. “She has an unending ability to make herself a victim. There she is, telling another story about how things went wrong. Doesn’t she ever think of all the blessings she’s had? The good things in life? The joyous occasions? Even if she does, she turns it all around!”
My recent promotion! – “And they’re still not
paying you enough!”
A dream vacation! – “But the weather was cold.”
A great dinner! -“But it cost so much.”
“Yup, mom's a downer. No doubt about it.”
Jerry, however, was mortified when his wife told him that he had some of those same characteristics!!!
“First I denied it. Then I began to see what she meant. She’s right! I rarely think about what makes me happy. Or, what I did right. I’m always focused on the ‘problems’ that need to be fixed. Or, what I still have to do to remedy the situation. God help me!”
Jerry wondered if he had inherited this tendency. He was aware that his mother-in-law, like his wife, experienced life at the other end of the spectrum. An eternal optimist, his mother-in-law finds joy in simple pleasures. Buying a new outfit. Enjoying a walk on the boardwalk. Eating a nice meal.
Jerry reminisced about how differently the two moms reacted to significant events. When he and Annie bought their first home, his mother-in-law was excited about the huge backyard and the “charming” family room. In contrast, his mother was distressed about what our gardener’s bills would be. Then, when Annie became pregnant for the third time, her mom was ecstatic, while his mom only hoped it wasn’t another boy. And didn’t Annie have her hands full already?
Wow, these contrasts made Jerry wonder if his mother’s negativity was genetically determined. And if so, would that mean that he too was doomed to pessimism and misery?
It’s true that many parts of personality, including mood, may be influenced by genetic coding. Yet, it was crucial for Jerry to know that genetic predisposition is different from genetic inevitability. And that he can learn to reflect on events of the day in a more optimistic way. This, of course, does not come easily or naturally. New personality patterns are ungainly, at first.
But Jerry was determined. He didn’t want to become a clone of his mom. So here’s what he began to do:
- Shift his assessment from a sweeping generalization of negativity (What a miserable, stressful day!) to a balanced and optimistic assessment (A stressful day today, but I accomplished a lot).
- Taking deep breaths and deliberately asking himself, “what good things happened today?"
Jerry was on the road to ending the victim role that he saw in his mom. As for his mom, well let’s just say that some people are simply not interested in changing anything about themselves!
Copyright © 2017: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email
or visit her website at PsychWisdom