Samantha always dreaded family gatherings. She loved her family but couldn't deal with the emotional tension that seemed just under the surface. Her mother always seemed to take the opportunity to express her displeasure with her clothing choices and excess weight. It was embarrassing and humiliating. She always did her best to shrug it off and was super careful with her diet while she was there. It wasn't until later when she got home, that she found herself binging uncontrollably.
As she reflected on her experience of dreaded family holidays in therapy, she came to a realization, she wasn't upset with her family, she was upset with her mother for bringing these embarrassing issues up in front of the family. She actually got along with everyone individually, even her mother. It was only during those gatherings that the issues emerged. Maybe her mother thought that the pressure of the group would spur her into weight loss. Maybe her mother felt guilty about her daughter being overweight, because after all her mother was a bit overweight herself. She didn't know why she brought up the conversation in the group but that was why she hated family gatherings. She didn't feel like she had the space to have a real conversation about her frustration and she didn't feel comfortable eating what everyone else did. Why go to a family meal if you have to go home and secretly eat again?
Samantha decided that before the next family gathering she would confront her mother about her feelings of bringing up her weight in a group context. She told her mother that she was aware she was overweight. She acknowledged she was unhappy with her weight and was trying to lose weight. She also let her mother know that she never wanted her advice, suggestions, or feedback about her eating or weight. She didn't want her "healthy" recipes, diet tips, or stories of how someone else lost weight. She wanted her mother to back off and let her handle it in her own way and her own time.
The next family gathering was tense. Samantha kept waiting for her mother to blow it and she almost did. Had it not been for Samantha giving her the evil eye, she would have blown it. Over time, family gatherings got better for Samantha as her mother stopped giving her suggestions and passive aggressive feedback. It was only when she was able to relax that she realized, her mother did this to everyone in the family. She told her brother he should wear his hair shorter, her sister that she would never get a man if she kept working such long hours, and even told her father that he watched too much television.
At some point Samantha realized that her mother wasn't trying to be critical, she just was just trying to help. She just went about it in the most aggravating way! So instead of waiting for her mother to try and "help" her, she decided to ask her mom for specific help. Samantha told her mother she wanted to eat a better breakfast . With that specific request, mom swung into action and made her a delicious quiche that she ate every morning. This simple request changed the dynamics of their relationship. Samantha felt her mother's love instead of criticism and her mother felt like she was helping her daughter instead of just passively watching her struggle.