If you have a Narcissistic Mother, the idea of cutting her out of your life must have crossed your mind a time or two…or three…or three hundred. It is a tempting thought, especially after she has done something egregious or particularly maddening. Yet somehow we always back away from it and wait…but for what?
I think we all intuitively know that there will be some kind of price to pay for going NC (no contact) with our mothers. It may be so painful or frightening to face—or even contemplate—that we cringe away from examining it. Since breaking contact with a family member, especially a parent, is a decision of major import, it is probably a good thing that we don’t do it lightly or in a fit of pique. It is, however, something each of us should give serious consideration to, especially during one of the more “peaceful” periods with our NMs. That way, it can be examined and thought through in the most calm, detached and dispassionate manner we can manage.
Let me start by saying I did it all wrong (at least where my own NM was concerned) and it simply gave her more fuel for her anti-Violet fire. Because I did it wrong and suffered some really ugly, painful consequences, I gained some valuable insights into the issue and can now see what I should have done to minimize the backlash. And the very first thing I should have done was to think about it much more carefully than I did.
For all that NMs are similar, they are also each very individual. What will send yours into manipulative tears of despair would provoke mine into a towering rage, what would motivate mine to play vindictive little tricks could motivate yours to do something entirely different. And while we have absolutely no control over them (if we did, would allow them to be so awful to us??), we do control what we let them know about us. Additionally, we know them very well and can be pretty good at predicting their reactions. And that is all we need to start.
Before you take any steps, you first need to understand exactly what NC is and what it means. LC, or Low Contact, may be a better choice for you, but you won’t know until you thoroughly think through what No Contact may mean for you and your family.
The first rule of No Contact is: No Contact means NO CONTACT! This is a permanent decision on your part, one that you will have to reinforce with your NM and yourself (and possibly other family members and even friends) for the rest of your life. If you don’t think you can or want to, then you should investigate LC (Low Contact) instead.
Why does it have to be permanent? Because narcissists are little children, emotionally, and they are very devious. Like little kids they will test your boundaries (and NC is a boundary) to see if you really mean it. If you break NC, they assume you don’t really mean it, and they become more and more persistent in getting you to talk to them, to interact with them. If you deviate even once, the narcissist presumes you are not serious and redoubles her efforts to get what she wants. And while NC, to you, is a serious matter intended to protect you and your loved ones from the toxic incursions of a narcissistic parent, the N sees it very differently: she sees it as a battle of wills and she will pull out all the stops to get you to capitulate and put her back in the driver’s seat of your life.
So, just to be very clear, if you choose to go NC with your Nparent, the decision has to have permanence and you cannot make exceptions for anything because once you make one exception, the narcissist will dedicate her life to finding more things you will make an exception for until your No Contact just disappears. Once you break NC, consider it irretrievably broken because once your NM knows you will make an exception, you will be inundated with information she considers exception worthy. To work, No Contact must be all or nothing. If you aren’t prepared for that degree of permanence and inflexibility, consider Low Contact—there is nothing preventing you from going No Contact at a later date. No Contact means NO CONTACT.
So, if you still want to go NC, there are some things you need to really think about first.
The first thing to consider is what could be the worst case scenario—because it very well could come to pass. If you were to tell your NM “Do not ever contact me again, directly or indirectly. I am having nothing to do with you from this day forward,” what would her most extreme reaction be to that? Would she ignore your wishes and come pounding on your door, inundate you with mail and email and telephone calls, show up at your office and talk to your boss and co-workers? Would she turn to her family in tears and do the martyr thing, telling them how awful you are to her, what a wonderful mother she has been to you and what a hurtful, ungrateful child you are, milking the situation for all the sympathy she could get? Would she react with hostility and tell you that you had no right to do it and who the fuck do you think you are, telling her what she can and cannot do and she will teach you a lesson you will never forget, you ungrateful bitch?
You really need to sit down and, to the best of your ability, project the absolute worst scene she will stage when you tell her you are going NC with her and forbidding her to contact you or your children. Don’t put any brakes on your imagination except for your NM’s proclivities: my NM, for example, would never stage a tearful, broken-woman scene but would have been more likely to say something nasty to me like “You made your bed, now you have to sleep in it…don’t come running to me to rescue you when things get tough!” and then plot behind my back to make things tough for me. Just what would yours stoop to? How low would she actually go to force you to be in contact with her again?
And don’t think that because yours is an ignoring NM (as opposed to an engulfing one) that she will just shrug and respect your wishes. My NM was an ignoring one (I didn’t exist until she needed or wanted something from me) and she would have taken such an action on my part as an affront, as an attempt to control her, and she would have gone to great lengths to “show me” that I couldn’t do that. And being a malignant narcissist, her lengths were very, very extreme. What will your NM do when you give her the news?
Now you need to ask yourself “Can I deal with this? For how long? Am I willing to also go NC with my father and my siblings, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, nieces and nephews, and long-term family friends? Because in many, many cases, you can’t just divorce NM, you have to walk away from everybody she knows and/or is related to as well.
Why? Because she is going to paint you blacker than sin itself, herself as your bewildered, heartbroken (and unjustly accused) victim, and then she is going to force them to take sides. In her dark, narrow, twisted little mind, if they aren’t for her, they are against her, and she will find a way to penalize them for not taking her side. Given that it is easier to fool someone than to convince them they have been fooled, don’t give a second’s thought to the notion “Yeah, but when they know the truth,(i.e., your side of the story) they will understand…” because it ain’t gonna happen—they won’t…they will side with her because they are unwilling to admit they were conned (unless they already have NM’s true number but, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be very common). And even if they do believe you, it may still not change their allegiance because you are committing one of the major sins of our society: turning your back on your own mother. We aren’t supposed to do that because they are our mothers—and for no other reason—as if giving birth suddenly renders them sainted, no matter how toxic and horrible they are to us.
OK, your NM may take another tactic (she may rage and bully, she may play suicidal, she may decide to pre-empt you and ignore you) but you can be guaranteed she will badmouth you to the rest of the family in an effort to get them to take her side over yours, especially if you haven’t prepared them ahead of time, and she will find ways to punish those who refuse to be taken in by her cries and lies. And even if you have prepared them, you may still lose them over that “sainted mother” tripe.
So, can you take it? Can you take being shunned and ignored, withstand pleadings from other family members to make up with your mother, stalking by phone, internet, even at your home or place of employment? YOU know your mother better than anyone else…based on your knowledge of her previous behaviours and responses to provocation, how is she likely to react? And how is the rest of the family likely to react as well? And can you take it for the rest of your life?
If you have decided that you can withstand the repercussions of going NC, the next step is to figure out how to do it. You have two basic choices: 1) contact her and let her know that you wish to have no further contact with her and 2) just disappear (which can be done abruptly or in a gradual disappearing act, depending on your NM and family). There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Most of us harbour the honourable notion that it would be wrong to just disappear out of our NM’s lives, that at the very least, we should tell her we are leaving her sphere and why. Others of us, fuelled with fury and hurt, want to “tell her off” one last, final time. I suspect few of us want to leave in such a way that feels like slinking away with out tail between our legs and that most of us want to have that last, final word.
It’s not a good idea.
Oh, go ahead and write the letter—write a dozen of them or more if it makes you feel better—but don’t send them. Don’t even keep them around for someone to see and maybe report back to your NM. The very last thing you want to do is give your NM information about you…like you are feeling hurt by her actions or angry at her neglect…because the more she knows, the more ammunition she has to use against you.
How can she do that? Well, for starters, she can send your emotional missive around to family members with a letter from her that contradicts everything you say, then adds in some stuff like “how conveniently she forgets how much I sacrificed so the could have those zither lessons she wanted so badly and that she got to go to Blue Bird Camp only because I used the money I was saving for getting my nose fixed. And that expensive college she went to…how she ignores what I gave up to give her the education of her dreams…” She will brand you selfish, ungrateful, and cold-hearted to her. “And now, just because I suggested that it was time she got rid of that free-loader Josh, who is still in college after eight years, and find a man worthy of marriage, she decides to cut me off like I was nothing to her, after all I have done and sacrificed…” She won’t tell the family that Josh is “still in college” because he is working on his Ph.D. in applied physics and he works part time at the university…or that he loves you and treats you like a princess…no, she will only tell people things that support her point of view, make you look like a heartless monster, and her your poor, beleaguered victim.
She may take a more aggressive approach and make up outright lies: I worked nights in clubs as a cocktail waitress and go-go dancer (yes, it was that long ago) to support my kids and be home with them during the day: my NM’s version of this to the FOO was that I was a “drug-addicted prostitute who stays out 'til all hours, leaving those poor kids with a baby sitter every night.” The bottom line is, anything you tell her or let her know about you, your life, your feelings and your reasons, is grist for her mill. And the more you let her know, especially about how you are feeling, the more she can and will hurt you in retaliation.
If, for example, you tell her that your feelings have been hurt all your life because she preferred your sister Suzie over you, she is not going to be sorry for hurting you, she is not going to feel remorse and try to make it up to you. No, she is first going to deny that she treated Suzie any better than you, then she might say “But if I did, it was because Suzie deserved it (or you didn’t deserve it) because Suzie was obedient, trustworthy, loyal, and loving,” implying that you were none of those things. But now she knows that your feelings are hurt when she does or gives more to someone else in the family, and when she wants to punish you, she can now do it even more to punish you…or tell you about things she did for others that you don’t yet know about. I know a woman, Emily*, whose cousin was treated to a trip to Europe by Emily’s NM and Emily didn’t know about it for decades afterwards. It was only when her NM was dying that Emily found out and her NM’s excuse was “you were too busy with your children…” One can argue that the NM had every right to take anyone she wanted on the trip, but to presume Emily couldn’t go because of her children without even giving Emily a chance to accept or decline the offer of the trip was presumptuous and high-handed…and it hurt Emily. If your NM knows such things will hurt you, you can be sure she will not only do them, but that even if you are NC, you will find out about them.
Another reason to not send such a letter is that it can motivate some NMs to mount a campaign to defame you. If you tell her the truth, especially if you fill your letters with examples of ways she has hurt you over the years, she may well perceive your letter as an unwarranted attack and that she has to fight back. You can be guaranteed of two things when an N decides to “fight back”: she will not tell the truth and she will not fight fair.
Ngrandparents have been known to take their adult sons and daughters to court to get not only visitation rights, but unsupervised and even overnight visitation. Your kids have to go whether they want to or not and you have no control over what goes on in visits like that. I made the mistake of leaving my kids with my NM for a couple of weeks while I went out of town on a high-paying temp job. When I came back she had bought them practically a whole toy store full of toys, but kept them all at her house so in order to play with the fabulous toys I could not afford to buy for them, my kids had to go to my NM's house. My kids, ages 3 and 5, clamoured to go live with Grammi because she had bribed them with toys and junk food and promises of having anything they wanted and doing anything they wanted if they lived with her!
NMs have been known to call employers, to damage their adult children’s credit ratings, to interfere in their romantic relationships and friendships…and not everything they tell those employers, creditors or friends and lovers have any truth to them. She will say whatever she thinks will work to create a circumstance that will make you contact her again, whether it is to berate her for her interference or to beg her assistance because her plan to disrupt your life is bearing fruit. It is dangerous to let them know what hurts you, what angers you, what distresses you because once in their hands, the knowledge becomes a weapon they can turn against you.
You can notify your NM that you are planning to go NC with her, but if you do that, I have two pieces of advice:
1) Warn any family members with whom you hope to stay in contact. Your letter to them should have some kind of explanation (but remember that it will doubtless be shown to your NM and she will respond in her typical, invalidating fashion) and a request to please respect your decision and not act as a go-between or attempt to change your mind. A possible letter could be: “After much considering and soul-searching, I have decided to stop all contact between my mother and me. Ours has been a difficult relationship for a very long time and I am no longer willing to continue making a futile effort. I would ask that you please respect my carefully considered decision and neither try to act as a go-between, attempting to broker a reconciliation, nor be drawn into an attempt to defame my character or damage my reputation. I do not do this lightly nor without substantial reason, but for the sake of integrity, they are reasons I cannot in good conscience reveal. I will be informing my mother of my decision within the next 24 hours, but wanted you to know in advance so that you are not caught unaware if she should contact you.”
This benefits you on two fronts: you have made it clear to family members that you do not want them to try to be misguided peacemakers and, by pre-empting your NM and delivering the news first, you have set a tone for the recipients of the news, that you have given this serious consideration, you have tried your best (implying your NM has been difficult), and you are removing yourself from the fray but refuse to indulge in petty gossip. Anything your NM does or says after they receive such a message from you will only cast her in a poor light.
It is therefore very important that, under no circumstances, should you badmouth your NM, no matter how tempted you are, no matter how true your tales of woe. To do so would be very bad for you because it violates the “sainted mother” meme, and could be perceived as an unprovoked attack on your mother which will invariably elicit sympathy for your NM (“Poor Jaundice, I would be soooo embarrassed if my daughter sent out a letter to the family saying such awful things about me…”). It also opens the door for NM to attack you in her own defence. Just don’t say anything except that the relationship is not working and you are now opting out of it. This letter should en route to family members before you make your announcement to your NM.
2) Make your letter to NM as terse as possible, i.e., “From the date of this letter I will no longer be in contact with you and expect you to make no attempts to contact me by any means whatsoever, direct or indirect.”
Your other option is to just disappear from her life and say nothing about it. Move, change your phone numbers and address, get your landline unlisted. If you can change jobs, do so and don’t let anyone who knows your NM know where you went. If you have an ignoring NM like I did, you could have years of peace before she figures out you’re not communicating with her and she goes looking for you!
* Not her real name
Next: The Art of No Contact: Part 2
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.