How do I get over my narcissistic parent?
January 17, 2013 9:10 AM   Subscribe

My mother is a narcissist and I need help getting over her; please read?

I have recently come to the understanding that my mother is a narcissist. My father suffers from being self-absorbed and is extremely difficult to relate to, but my mother is much worse on so many levels and I have never understood this, and want to know how to better relate to them as an adult.

My mother works as a part time teaching assistant. She lives rent free in a large house and has at least one car. She has divorced my father on a whim and moved on to seduce various other men, such as the TV repair man, a neighbour, a devout Christian, and finally a successful car salesman. There is evidence to suggest my brother may not be related to me. Some months ago I saw her for the first time after no contact for five years, and she did not seem to notice at all. She has no idea of the devastation she causes and seems to take pleasure wandering into peoples' lives, destroying them and moving onto the next.

I really want to find a way to get over the physical abuse in the home. By the age of 22 I had run away to a halfway house after falling out with my father. I was not allowed to eat much and would be served tiny portions of food - a chicken wing for dinner. Fighting in the house was common. By the time I left I weighed between 35-40kg and was a physical and emotional wreck, and spent the next few years puking up my guts and trying to put on weight. I'm not sure but I think that my body might not have developed properly through starvation and it might have been a deliberate attempt to keep me "at her side".

It seems insane but I cannot relate to my mother as a seperate person unless I re-think her as a very small, selfish and aggressive child. What is more disturbing to me is that I think she cannot feel emotions in the way a normal adult does, and pretends to feel. My father would occasionally beat up our dogs as he liked to pick on those weaker and below him (I wasn't an exception until I stood up to him a few times). Sometimes my mother would watch and just seem curious. When I became upset at seeing it she would seem genuinely surprised. At that stage I thought that perhaps I was wrong to feel upset, and that I should have been tougher.

Looking back I can quite clearly see that my mother was mentally ill and I am furious with her for having to raise myself. All my life skills for instance, everything I know about cooking, cleaning, and taking care of myself, to being employable, having friends, being able to be responsible and think of myself as an adult - I am constantly on edge for yet another "you don't know WHAT??" surprise. I've never had a partner and was actively dissuaded from learning or pursuing one. And it's one of those thorns that stick. I gave my father endless and unquestioning faith, and in return he concluded with our relationship as "you are no longer part of the family." And simultaneously I am "Always welcome". I was also given an ultimatum to "choose" which parent was the best. This kind of sick and selfish behavior doesn't come from mentally healthy adults, but from the outside, they are blameless and perfect, I am the selfish and dysfunctional one.

One of the problems I've developed is that I find it very hard to feel. This may be something learned, but during some very bizarre interactions with my mother, I started to feel as if I didn't exist and was floating outside of my body. Other times I developed the skill of not feeling for recreation or protection. Another symptom I've experienced heavily is recurring nightmares, ones that have left me crying out in my sleep. I've tried talking to doctors about this but it's always a case of "Are you depressed? Y/N" and "fixing the depression".

I can't look at her as a child - after all, she is an adult. I cannot really see her as mentally stable but she never seeks help for her extreme selfishness, and if she does notice the strain she puts on people, she does spectacularly well in leeching onto others. I can not see her as a caregiver because it was the other way round - you care for her. But I can't see her as an abuser because it's too outrageous and self-pitying. And if I cut the cord, what have I been the last several years? Then it truly is all my fault for being stupid, easily bullied and self-absorbed in my life, and I get nothing in return for that kick in the teeth. What can a man do?

One of my fathers' responses to us - me and my siblings - in becoming adults ourselves is to act as childishly and reveal how naive he is, which has been a sickening letdown. My sister, for instance, contacted my father out of concern and love several years ago, and about how desperate her own circumstances were. She received a sympathy card. My father is capable of empathy but he is miserable and has a weak heart, and communicates through letting you down ie. "See what YOU did to ME!!" It's easy to cut contact with someone who communicates by cutting off contact. But I've found it harder to break free of wanting to help in return for being accepted. Then again, I will never be the person he thinks I should be (nor should I be), I cannot be his light and path as was expected, and even then the acceptance would be conditional to his feelings. Learning that the unspoken contract was that I was responsible for his feelings in itself has been hard enough to figure out let alone break.

My mother, on the other hand, has worked tirelessly to warp the people around her into producing nothing but endless attention. She is seriously mentally ill and I do not want to be responsible for her or visit her again in any stage of my life. This means everything - whether its a marriage, an accident, a death in the family, or so on. She will use any event or strategy to her advantage so that it gets her more attention and nothing hurts more. I am so sick of these people. If they can't grow up how can I.

Thanks for reading this, and please note: I am seeing a therapist about this
posted by inaisa to Human Relations (24 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
It seems insane but I cannot relate to my mother as a seperate person unless I re-think her as a very small, selfish and aggressive child.

That doesn't seem insane, that seems like exactly what you should be thinking. I see that you're trying to convince yourself that you shouldn't think that way "because she's an adult," but - she is an adult with the emotional maturity OF a child, and accepting that about her may help you get over her behavior. (Assuming that "how do I get over her" is your question; we're not entirely sure.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:24 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Agreed with the Empress here. I really only began being able to deal with my father when I realized that between the two of us, I was the grown-up and he was the child. I haven't gone so far as to imagine him physically as a child, but now that I think of it, it couldn't hurt.
posted by kindall at 9:28 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Googling "narcissistic parent" will give you a wealth of resources, but more important, it may convince you that you are not alone, that you have been strong enough to persist for this long despite everything you have been through, and that feeling better and not blaming yourself is a long and ongoing process. So is understanding how "normal" relationships work. Would you consider a support group, whether in person or online? Your therapist might be able to suggest some for you if you are interested in going that route.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:33 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, to confirm what you already suspect, none of what you experienced in your family is normal.

There is no law that says that you must stay in contact with your parents once you are an adult. Certainly not parents who have hurt you and harmed you as yours have.

As to your mother, what exactly would you get out of a relationship with her? How would it benefit you? I'm not seeing an upside to maintaining contact with her.

I think when you've suffered trauma as a child and teen, when you realize as an adult that it was in fact, abuse, that you want your parents to explain why, you want your parents to realize that they were horrible to you and that they owe you an apology, or love or whatever it is you need to feel from them. Unfortuneatly, since both of your parents are very mentally ill, you can't get this from them. You'll never get it from them.

To that end don't make a big deal out of not contacting your parents. Just don't contact them. Tell your siblings that you'd prefer that they not tell your parents your phone number or address.

If one reaches out to you, be non-committal and keep the conversations short.

You'll never win this one. You were dealt a rotten hand and I'm sorry. The best thing you can do with your therapist is to reframe your view of yourself, given that you had very little positive reinforcement in your life. Your goals should be to understand how you are worthy of love, how to go about attracting a healthy love into your life and how to live a wonderful life in spite of your terrible childhood.

Do not focus on your parents, understanding them, relating to them or anything other than forgiving them.

You do not forgive people for them, you do it for yourself. Once you forgive your parents, you will find so much in your life will be easier for you. You'll know when you're ready.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2013 [20 favorites]


inaisa, here's what I know, which isn't much:

The part where you go outside of yourself and/or turn off feelings is called "disassociation". If your therapist hasn't brought this up, yet, you should ask about it directly. It can impact so many facets of your life and prevent real healing, so it's an important layer to investigate.

They can't grow up because they are so unwell or twisted up and do not have the desire to function with more happiness, integrity, stability, and peace. You can grow up because you do see how unwell and twisted up they are and do have the desire to be happy, stable, peaceful, and to live with integrity. Their lack of progress or even interest in it does not and should not prevent you from reaching for the health, safety, and comfort that should be yours in this life.

It is not outrageous to see your mother as an abuser. It is accurate. It seems as if it is also accurate to see your father in the same light, based on the description here. Sometimes, what happens to us in our lives is outrageous. You have permission to be outraged by what happened to you in your family home. It will probably help you if you own that reality and acknowledge it for what it is. Ask your therapist how this fits into your treatment plan.

Breaking free of the desire to continue connecting with either one of them should be based on what will help you feel most healthy. If contacting your father leads you to repeating harmful internal scripts or needing to struggle back up after being brought down again, then it is likely that you need some guidance from your therapist on how to separate yourself more successfully from this unhealthy input and keep from using up necessary healing energy on the compulsion to expend yourself for people who are only going to use that as another opportunity to hurt you.

You should be proud of yourself for raising yourself up from these circumstances, for giving yourself survival skills, for saving yourself and striving to give yourself the life you deserve and freedom from the unhappy, unhealthy, painful beginning that has so heavily marked you. It's okay to feel some anger about this, too, but it's something to acknowledge and work through, not hold onto and feed. Your therapist probably has some great ideas about how to do this in the most productive way possible.

Your parents did not provide a healthy emotional environment for you. You have things in your heart and head that are going to need a lot of untangling, unplugging, and reframing. You can't hold yourself responsible for their feelings or failings. You can let go of their expectations and demands. Focus on giving yourself the comfort, stability, and health you were denied. Tell your therapist that you need coping skills for these thoughts and feelings, especially if they are getting in the way of being functional or processing the improved understanding you are trying to gain by pursuing help with this heavy load.

Love and peace to you.
posted by batmonkey at 9:42 AM on January 17, 2013 [17 favorites]


Child of two appallingly narcissistic parents here, finally getting my tires on the road at age 34. I understand all too well how incredibly sticky, devouring and obsessive the aftermath of narcissistic family can be. Memail me if you want to talk.
posted by stuck on an island at 9:45 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've dealt with (and in some ways am still dealing with) a parent with narcissistic tendencies (although nothing to the degree that you've experienced). On thing that has actually helped me was to realize and accept that while my parent may never acknowledge or apologize for the things they have done, and as nice as it would be if they did, ultimately I don't need them to. You are an autonomous and capable person, and you can recover from this on your own and with the people who actually love you (I include making the decision to see a therapist as part of recovering on your own).

Also, though it might seem petty, it is good at times to remember that 'living well is the best revenge.'
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:01 AM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Does your therapist know everything that you've shared with us here? If not, it may be helpful for you to just print out your question and have them read it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you have written that you need to be ashamed of sharing. Your parents hurt you and you deserve to be able to tell that story in order to get the help you need.
posted by coupdefoudre at 10:06 AM on January 17, 2013


What batmonkey said so very well.

Also, read this as if you were thinking it about someone else:
Then it truly is all my fault for being stupid, easily bullied and self-absorbed in my life, and I get nothing in return for that kick in the teeth.

From your own description, you were extremely resourceful, survived a great deal of emotional, psychological and even physical neglect, and stood up to your father's physical abuse.

Even if you had been less than ideal, look around you: how many people do you see who are perfect human beings? There are none. There is no justification for abuse (for one, not feeding your child enough food is in fact abuse: neglect). Not "stupidity", not "easily bullied".

You did rescue yourself. You aren't walking away empty-handed. I know it feels that way at first; I grew up with a very self-centered mother who also neglected me in several ways (for instance I was doing the family laundry at age 6 because otherwise I had no clean underwear since my mother refused to do anyone's laundry but her own, and even at that young age, I understood that my mother saying "just borrow my underwear" was eeeew). I too battled with a lot of anger at how much I missed out on in life.

But with therapy, and independence, especially the lack of "you're so worthless" messages from my parents (I'd cut off contact with them), I began to see the true me. The one who finished university on my own, moved to a foreign country on my own, found work in a foreign country through my own network, who lives in an apartment I bought on my own, and who now has no debt, which is nothing short of a miracle given the financial sabotage my parents wreaked on me ("I can take money from your account since you're still a minor", that was fun)... yeah. That's not someone who's worthless, and that's mainly external stuff that our capitalist society sees as "worthy", it's not even the internal qualities I finally learned to recognize in myself.

There are other qualities you most certainly have as well. Continue seeing your therapist, and learning to value yourself – getting over their influence will come in time. And it's so worth it.
posted by fraula at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


In my own life I have done this -- getting it together at age 42:
1. No contact with family
2. Focusing, with the help of a therapist, on bringing healthy people into my own life -- esssentially building my own family which, fuck, wish i had done this in my twenties, but, better late than never
3. Dealing with the rage: I have vicious thoughts -- sometimes I will hearken to X memory and want to time-travel and rewrite things savagely. I let myself think the most disgusting things, tell my therapist these rage-inspired things to make sure that I am not going off the rails.
4. Dealing with the rage: At some point I realized the family member who is most like yours was unhappy, is unhappy, and will be unhappy for the rest of her life. This family member, yes, is like a child who is striking out at all within reach because of the unhappiness. This family member never learned how to deal with guilt, anger, fear, anxiety, which I think are very huge in her.
5. Dealing with the rage: I am no expert certainly but I can't really conceive of any person who is not very very unhappy -- like, very sick unhappy -- doing things that any sane member of the world would know are actively pernicious.
6. Dealing with the rage: Trying to help others. This can be tricky, though. For me it morphed into I MUST SAVE THE WORLD and I seriously went off the rails in my early thirties. Now I have a helping role in quite a few lives but dear god I am not responsible for their health/housing/income and that is good.

Hugs, hugs, hugs. Memail me, anytime.
posted by angrycat at 10:18 AM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Have you read the go-to literature for children of narcissistic mothers? I think Will I Ever be Good Enough? is the leading title, and you can read it no matter what your gender. There is also a website with a discussion board but I've no idea how credible it is.

But I can't see her as an abuser because it's too outrageous and self-pitying. And if I cut the cord, what have I been the last several years?

Your mother is abusive, and it's not your fault - that's your mother speaking, that's just a variation on "look what you made me do!" Just withdraw contact; you don't owe these people any more of your time. You paid in advance.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:35 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am also not entirely sure what the question is, so I will just try to explain what has worked for me -- cutting all contact with my birth parents. My upbringing was not dissimilar to yours, with heavy physical and psychological abuse throughout; initially, I remedied this situation by getting the hell out of my mother's living space as soon as I was legally able to do so (in this case, at 12:01 AM on my 18th birthday; I was constantly reminded that I would be called in as a runaway if I tried to move out even a moment sooner). As you have been, I was also guilted into maintaining contact for years after I left, albeit for reasons I no longer understand and have moved past even caring about enough to dissect.

The ultimate decision to take my parents out of the equation for good ended up being rather impetuous, all things considered; after the first day, I just kind of rolled with it in a Newton's first law of motion kind of way, but this comment by L'Estrange Fruit was the first thing that made me truly understand that I needed to stay away from them indefinitely (and likely forever) if I was going to have any hope of marching forward with even a trembling vestige of sanity intact.

...if I cut the cord, what have I been the last several years? Then it truly is all my fault for being stupid, easily bullied and self-absorbed in my life, and I get nothing in return for that kick in the teeth.
What have you been for the last several years? A regular human being who is prone to mistakes, as we all are, and who can and will learn from those mistakes, as we all do. Simply put, you wanted something you could not have (a healthy relationship with your parents). It's hardly uncommon, hardly a crime of raw stupidity or simple self-absorption.
So I'm sorry for this, but: You're right. You do not get anything in return for what happened to you. There will be no payoff, no payback, no justice; you will never have the answers you desire and so richly deserve.
Fortunately, there is something you can have, although you have to learn how to give it to yourself, or at least decide to allow yourself access to it: Freedom. Let go! Get away from these poisonous people and their damaging ideas. The weight that will lift from your shoulders will help you to transform your life into something unrecognizable and beautiful. Instead of living in perpetual fear of the idea that one day everything good will be taken away from you, you can rebuild, brick by brick, on top of a solid, self-made foundation of peace and acceptance.

Looking back I can quite clearly see that my mother was mentally ill and I am furious with her for having to raise myself. All my life skills for instance, everything I know about cooking, cleaning, and taking care of myself, to being employable, having friends, being able to be responsible and think of myself as an adult...
I hope that you will eventually be able to feel pride instead of rage when you think about this -- it is an amazing accomplishment. Congratulations are in order! You did it! It was about a decade after I moved out before I was able to feel anything except horror and disappointment that I would never match the (educational, social, emotional, etc.) maturity of my peers because I had been too busy cooking, cleaning, and feebly attempting to physically and psychologically protect myself and my siblings since I was seven years old. Now, I feel blessed to have been able to grow up so fast. Every single day of actual adulthood is a piece of cake with a cherry on top compared to what life was like before. No matter how hard it gets now, it's a thousand times easier than it was. Better still, I have been assisted in clawing my way out of the depths by the overwhelmingly amazing people I feel are my real family -- friends, co-workers, and fellow travelers alike. You have this, too. It might not feel like it for a long, long time, but I promise: Underneath all of this, there is a gift. You earned it, so take it!

I want to highlight this part of Ruthless Bunny's wonderful comment, because realizing exactly this led to the most transformative experience of my life, which was cutting off all contact with my parents about five years ago:
I think when you've suffered trauma as a child and teen, when you realize as an adult that it was in fact, abuse, that you want your parents to explain why, you want your parents to realize that they were horrible to you and that they owe you an apology, or love or whatever it is you need to feel from them. Unfortuneatly, since both of your parents are very mentally ill, you can't get this from them. You'll never get it from them.
I understand this may be a very painful concept to internalize; it makes you feel as though you have been subject to a wrong that will never be righted. That is the truth, and again, I'm sorry. You know how some people say things like, "My mom is my best friend, I tell her everything!" Well, that's not us. That will never be us -- and that is OK! In fact, it's more than OK! Now we can choose our own mothers, our own fathers, our own teachers. We can write ourselves a new book to replace the one that our parents wrote all wrong. There is an impossibly huge, achingly beautiful, desperately painful world out there to explore. But to get there, you have to let go.

Hang in there! You can do this!
posted by divined by radio at 10:35 AM on January 17, 2013 [22 favorites]


divined by radio's comment, and the comment by Lestrange Fruit divined by radio referenced -- maybe print them out, put them where you can see them every day? Because they are stellarly awesome.
posted by angrycat at 10:48 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


One small thing you can focus on and be thankful for: apparently your parents have made it very easy logistically to cut contact with them, and that's exactly what you need to do. I'm my mother's narcissicistic "source," meaning she sees me as an extension of herself and will just not let go and accept I am not and never will be and do not want to be her twin. While my childhood was okay, it makes me have panic attacks to talk to her now, and she constantly guilt trips me for not communicating more. If I communicate more, I get criticized for not being like her (when she is a mess) and she is condescending and disbelieving when I express anything she feels differently about. She literally tells me I do not think things I think. I have tried to cut contact with her but she makes it very difficult and cries and gives insincere apologies and blames me and projects shit onto me.

Neither of us is ever going to get our moms to admit they've got a personality disorder, or that it's messed up their lives or our lives, and that we are justified in having negative feelings toward them. Narcissists don't work that way. They are one of the personality disorders that rarely end up in therapy because they will never admit they need it. Their lives are not going to change, no matter how much you want it to.

But you have a wonderful opportunity that other people with abusive and crazy parents don't often give their children: they are not standing in your way of cutting contact. You can't believe how envious I was when I read you hadn't seen your mom for five years and your dad had said you weren't part of the family. I know it's hurtful but when crazy people tell you that it is a GIFT. Embrace it. Continue with therapy and run far, far away from any involvement with them. Keep building a life that is your own, free of nasty judgments from people society says ought to care for you but don't. Your parents are fucked, to be blunt, but you are not. You will get better with time and effort and they will still be miserable, selfish, and destructive. Walk away from that wreck and be glad you aren't pinned under it.
posted by Nattie at 11:25 AM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I grew up with an unmedicated bipolar parent and I took a class for family members of mentally ill people that changed my life. It helped me accept the situation - not that her behavior was okay, but that I couldn't change it and that there was a biological basis for it. It also gave me coping skills for how to deal with her in her manic phases. Also also, I met people in the same situation and their support was invaluable. My mom is medicated now but still relatively narcissistic, but I'm much more able to let it roll off my back. I'm in frequent contact with her, but it's on MY terms and that makes me feel safe.

I hope you can find some peace. Do whatever you need to do to feel safe and peaceful, even if it's cutting off contact permanently.
posted by desjardins at 11:50 AM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


And if I cut the cord, what have I been the last several years? Then it truly is all my fault for being stupid, easily bullied and self-absorbed in my life, and I get nothing in return for that kick in the teeth. What can a man do?

The worst thing people do, I find, is continue doing what they are doing, even if it isn't working, because the alternative would be to admit they were wrong, and they want to make future decisions that justify their previous decisions. The best thing you can do in life, always, is say to yourself, "I tried X, and it didn't work. Possibly I should do Y, which will give a better outcome."
posted by deanc at 12:00 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another thing that may help: you may feel a responsibility to keep some sort of contact with your parents simply because they're your parents.

But who instilled that idea into you? Those very parents! Absent some benefit to you of maintaining contact, that feeling of filial duty is just another facet of their self-absorption.

Fear not, no actual punishment awaits if you decide to have nothing further to do with your crazy mother.

That it has taken you years to realize and act on this does not mean that you are stupid, easily bullied, or self-absorbed. It merely means that childhood indoctrination is a very powerful thing and difficult to escape (see: religion). What matters is that you escape, not how long it takes you. Nobody is counting the years except you. Choose to stop.
posted by kindall at 12:06 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is amazing how strong and sane you are - in spite of the terrible conditions of your childhood and youth. Congratulations with that. Now get help to capitalize on that health, think of what kind of a life you want, and with the aïd of a good therapist, go get it.
You are a unique person. Most people would be completely broken by an upbringing like yours. Obviously, there are still things you need to learn, that is why you need help. But you can actually learn them. Lots of people have it much worse.

My mother and stepfather were practically identical to your parents. In my experience, it has been good to let go of the anger and get on with life. For five years, I cut off all contact, after that, they couldn't hurt me anymore, and today, when they are old, I help them. With a distance.
I had great people helping me throughout, without them, I'd literally be dead today. This is why I see you as incredibly strong. My grandparents, friend's parents, teachers helped me. Do you have people who can help you?
posted by mumimor at 12:53 PM on January 17, 2013


->And if I cut the cord, what have I been the last several years?

How about, someone who gave it their absolute best? Someone who, despite it all, made a good faith effort to build a relationship with his parents as an adult? Someone who gave his family members a second chance? And, crucially, someone who recognized that, after he had done all those things, he could do no more.
posted by Ausamor at 1:00 PM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


My parents were physically and emotionally abusive in the way you describe. I've cut them out of my life, and it was one of the best things I've ever done. It was absolutely crucial to my life improving in other ways.

Let me repeat: Cutting them out of my life was ESSENTIAL to the further growth that I've had. Doing it will feel terrible at first (at least it did for me), but after a while, you start to see that they are not adding anything to your life, and that you are happier and stronger, and your life starts to fill up with great things in the space left by their passing.

It was the first step on a long journey of healing, discovery, and generally making my life awesome. You can do it too.

It was about a decade after I moved out before I was able to feel anything except horror and disappointment that I would never match the (educational, social, emotional, etc.) maturity of my peers because I had been too busy cooking, cleaning, and feebly attempting to physically and psychologically protect myself and my siblings since I was seven years old.

I can relate to this. It is VERY hard to raise yourself -- that's why being a parent is such a hard job.
I'm really sorry you have this feeling, but please know that it gets better over time. People told me that and I didn't believe them. But it really, really does.
posted by 3491again at 5:46 PM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I cut contact with my mother about two years ago. I wish I had done so earlier, but it took her horrible behaviour to my children to make me take that final step, and even then I waited too long. I kept thinking she would change, or I would change and somehow it would get better. What helped was to see how she was actively trying to hurt me in order to keep her "winning", and you can't mend a relationship when the other person prefers it broken.

The numb feeling thing is totally normal for kids with crazy parents. I find odd bruises because I just don't notice hurting myself, and often get very sick because I haven't realised I was mildly ill. I basically have to trust my husband to tell me when to rest and eat if I'm stressed, because I had been trained to ignore any physical discomfort by my parents. I had a tree-saw accident as a child with blood everywhere and was made to sit and wait quietly until my mother had her breakfast in bed, a shower and decided she would take me to the hospital, plus the story she used to tell as a hilariously funny joke about my broken arm that was only noticed when I wouldn't put my school uniform on properly the next week. Until I had my own kids and reacted normally to their illnesses - doctors and tucking them in and so on - I thought I was a hugely whiny and clumsy child.

I cannot tell you enough how healthy it is to talk about this. Not in a tell random strangers you hate your mother way, but when people genuinely ask about your family or the issues, to say the truth: No, I'm not in contact with her because of her abuse. Your mother is counting on your silence, and you don't owe it to her. Saying it aloud means she doesn't control your speech and your identity in her image of the good mother.

If she was ill and no-one else would do it, I would arrange for healthcare for her and find her a nursing home. I would not let her back into my life or my children's lives without real evidence of massive change. That's the deal I have made to handle my guilt over not being the filial daughter - and despite having four siblings, it is quite likely at some point I will be the only one willing to make arrangements for her because she is cruel to all of us.

Talk to your therapist about cutting off contact. I couldn't sever with no way back - part of me still hopes. So I told her that if she wanted to resume contact, she had to write me a letter acknowledging several events in my childhood and she needed to be in therapy herself - two things that I am 99.99% sure she will never be healed enough to do. I don't take her calls or emails, forwarding them to either my husband or a colleague who replies for me. My older kids are allowed to contact her if they want, and most of them don't. My youngest is not and will not be in contact with her.

The initial reaction was a lot of guilt tripping. I got bizarre random gifts mailed to us, sentimental cards, mutual acquaintances asked to convey messages to me, and the siblings currently in favour cut me off or also guilt-tripped me (I just ignored their emails and told the acquaintences we were estranged because she is abusive and changed the subject.). She now tells people she's praying that my heart will soften and we can reconcile. There is a decreasing trend as I don't respond.

Memail me if you want to talk. There should be an Awful, No Not Self-Deprecatingly But Truly Awful Mothers club where we could park them and they can one-up each other on how ungrateful their children are while we run away to freedom. Freedom and cake.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:26 PM on January 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


You might want to read (and maybe participate in) some of the "dysfunctional families" threads at Making Light. It's people sharing, and supporting others sharing, stories which can be quite similar to yours. The latest thread (with links to previous ones) is here.
posted by zeri at 7:29 PM on January 17, 2013


But I can't see her as an abuser because it's too outrageous and self-pitying.

She was an abuser. Her behaviour was outrageous. That's not your fault. And you don't have to pity yourself or ask anyone else to do so.

And if I cut the cord, what have I been the last several years?

You've been making progress towards this point in your life; getting strong enough to cut the cord.

Then it truly is all my fault for being stupid, easily bullied and self-absorbed in my life

No.
posted by lollusc at 12:55 AM on January 18, 2013


I am very grateful for everyones' answers, thank you for taking the time to write them.
posted by inaisa at 6:38 AM on February 2, 2013


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