Did my mamma cast a 12-step hex on me?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on August 2nd, 2009 - Last updated: February 3rd, 2014
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I am writing you in hopes that you can provide some insights.

About six years ago, I had an experience that has negatively impacted me. My mom at the time was in Overeaters Anonymous. She would use tactics to indoctrinate me to the twelve steps: indoctrinate, meaning to recruit me without my awareness that I was being recruited. Once we got into an argument, at which point she yelled: “You can’t relate to others!”

Stanton, I know this sounds crazy, but after that I had a harder time relating to others than ever before. I would hear my mom’s voice pulsating in my head for weeks afterwards, saying: “You can’t relate to others!”

After that day, I would find myself getting angry and scaring people away. I just couldn’t seem to help it. I didn’t have this problem before. I think she used a phobia indoctrination technique, but, I am not sure.

My question is: do you know of 12 step groups using phobia indoctrination techniques?


Dear Colin:

I do have some letters with similar themes at my site. You might take a look at: http://www.lifeprocessprogram.com/12-step-questions/

Of course, people do become so attached to the 12 steps that it serves like a cult, or to create a “true believer,” and nothing will do for them but to have everyone else become 12-step acolytes.

If you’re the child of such a person, and if you have your own sensitivities, this fanaticism can be doubly damaging. Of course, this could be true of other things a mother with her own issues does to a child. Mothers have been known to universalize the problems they have with their kids (that is, if a child is inpatient with his mom, she says, “You don’t have any patience”).

But I am guessing that now (six years later) you are not a kid any more. And the issue becomes, what can you do about it. The first thing is to put out of your mind that she used a “phobia indoctrination” technique, which sounds a little like voodoo. She did insult and possibly abuse you, but there’s nothing magical about that.

As you become more secure in your own identity, you need to judge for yourself what are the main problems you have in relating to others, and address those as best you can. “Getting angry and scaring people” covers a lot of ground. Do you think that anger management is something you need to master? There are, for example, anger management courses, or therapists who deal with what are called “coping skills” for emotional upsets (I would try a behavioral psychologist).

If you are feeling particularly strong, you could even say to your mother (by the way, you don’t mention, how close are you currently with your mother — do you still live with her or live nearby to her and see her regularly?), “I am working on relating to others in my own way. It’s become an important matter for me. I am seeking such-and-such kind of help.” You know, if your mother said this to you and since then it has become true, perhaps she had some kind of insight (as mothers do) into you. But you need to turn this insight around, from something harming you to something that assists you.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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