If you ever wonder whether people’s lives are really ruined by altruistic appeasement of the whims of others, just read “Dear Abby.” For example, consider this woman:
DEAR ABBY: My problem is that my mother is a control freak. I was raised to respect my parents, but I have just about had it with her controlling ways. She wants to dictate my hair length, color and style, my weight, my love life, what car I drive, what job I have and where I live.
My mother wants me to date only doctors. She has even threatened to cut me out of her will if I “settle” (her word) for someone who doesn’t have a medical degree. I was interested in a man who owned his own business, but she made me so miserable that I simply stopped dating.
I want to respect her because she is my mother, and I know she loves me. Can you help me figure out how to get her to back off and let me live my life my way? By the way, I am 41. — PEACEFUL REBEL IN OHIO
DEAR PEACEFUL REBEL: I’ll try. Start by talking with a licensed mental health professional, preferably one who specializes in helping young adults to “individuate” from controlling parents. Once you have a firm grasp of who you are, and what your proper boundaries are, you will be able to confront your mother. After that, you may want to consider relocation, because your mother is off the charts, and she’s not likely to change.
The problem is not that the mother is an irrational control freak — not really. The daughter could cut off relations with her, or even just walk away when her mother becomes overbearing. (For examples of that, even if far too late, see this sad column.) More likely than not, the daughter doesn’t do that because she doesn’t have a real self — and so she lacks the moral strength required to do battle with her mother, even though she’s fighting for her very life. Instead, she capitulates, asking Abby only how she might change the irrational mother she’s so sure really loves her. (That’s why I like Abby’s recommendation of therapy.)
Even a moderate egoist, I think, would be incapable of such psychopathology. It is altruism, with its ideal of sacrificing your own values for the sake of others, no matter how undeserving, that sucks people into these lives not worth living.