May 3, 2017 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I have a long, ongoing feud with my mother. She is a narcissist and a drama queen and everything revolves around her and her needs. I am 47 years old and this has been going on forever. We recently stopped all contact. Last contact I had with her was mid-March when she hung up on me for the second time in as many months. I am disinclined to have any contact. However....

This is the longest we have ever gone with no contact. Honestly, I can't believe I'm getting away with it. Next weekend is Mother's Day and it is also her birthday. If I do send her a generic card, I might get away with continuing not to speak with her (which is perfectly fine with me), but it is me making contact, which I am hesitant to do. If I do not send a card, I risk opening up this giant wound for another round of salt and rubbing (which will involve more screaming on her part, drama, anxiety, etc.) - all things which I wish to avoid.

Children of narcissistic parents. What now?
posted by Sophie1 to Human Relations (41 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
For clarification, not in contact with any other family other than my sister who we (sister and I) have agreed will not get involved.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:34 AM on May 3, 2017

She can't scream and impart drama on to you without you allowing her to do so.

Why can't you just keep up the no contact? If she calls, let it go to voicemail and either ignore it, listen and ignore it or on the off chance it is a rational message, listen and decide if you want to respond.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 9:35 AM on May 3, 2017 [30 favorites]

If budget allows it, I find flowers to be less emotionally taxing than even the most generic of cards. (If you can co-give flowers with your sister, that's even better, since it dilutes the effect.)

"Happy birthday and Mother's Day, from Sophie1"

Flowers protip: call a florist near your mother (just search on yelp or whatever if you're not local), say "I would like to deliver flowers to [address] and spend no more than $X. Whatever is pretty and in season will be just fine." They'll write on the card for you, do the arrangement thinking for you, and it'll be way cheaper than buying something from a website.

This is, of course, if you decide to do anything at all, which--you DO NOT have to. Just for me, the prospect of actually purchasing and writing in and mailing a card is way more difficult than a phone call to a total stranger that just takes care of the whole thing in under 10 minutes. And flowers do a decent job of shutting up narcissistic family members, ask me how I know.
posted by phunniemee at 9:41 AM on May 3, 2017 [38 favorites]

As a fellow adult child of a narcissist, I vote continue no contact. I trust that you chose it for good reason, so stay strong.

PS: do you know about http://reddit.com/r/raisedbynarcissists/? AskMe is great for many things, but the folks over there have a lot more experience in grappling with exactly these sorts of questions in their own lives.
posted by teremala at 9:43 AM on May 3, 2017 [41 favorites]

If you can co-give flowers with your sister, that's even better, since it dilutes the effect.

I do this. I am your age and I have a mother like yours, though she rarely hangs up on me anymore because we basically don't talk on the phone. I do a one-way communication thing where I will email her some chatty low-key information about what I am up to every day or other day. This way we keep in touch. She replies in kind sometimes and not always. If she starts getting in to some sort of drama I ignore it and keep on my "recitation of facts about my life" stuff.

The last time we spoke on the phone (her birthday) I got stuck in a 40 minute recitation of all her cancer anxieties (she has cancer, and has been convinced she is at death's door for the past ten years. You can imagine this is not only exhausting but make everyone think I am a terrible person for holding her at arm's length when she is sick. Tough shit for them) and how she might have to go into hospice (she didn't) and her final wishes (I know them). It's hard, especially as parents age. You will have to ask yourself how you feel about this and try to answer sincerely. Some people are better at turning down their own response to drama, others really need to go no contact. Only you know what you need, but any choice that is what you want is the right choice.
posted by jessamyn at 9:48 AM on May 3, 2017 [13 favorites]

The "no contact" isn't to "teach her a lesson" but to spare you the experience of interacting with her. Therefore, time you spend worrying about what to do, what she might do, what she might think, etc. needs to be diminished as well. If maintaining no contact means you think about her more then just sending a card or whatever, then do it. It's not like going off a diet, or breaking a promise. It's protecting yourself. So do what keeps her the most out of your life.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:49 AM on May 3, 2017 [56 favorites]

Contact, even something as innocuous as a generic card, will be read as capitulation and the cycle will continue.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 9:49 AM on May 3, 2017 [23 favorites]

No cards, no calls, no nothing from you. If you're lucky, she'll get so pissed off that she'll give you the silent treatment.

If not, well, it sounds like you really need to go full no-contact on her: that means you never contact her, by phone, by snail-mail, by email, by birthday card or FTD flowers or anything else. Absolutely no contact whatsoever. And if she does try to contact you? You do not answer her phone calls, you ignore voicemail or emails or smoke signals or anything else from her. You totally, 100% do not respond. Hang up (gently, not slamming down the phone) if she calls, trash emails and texts, throw out cards unopened, either return (unopened) packages or throw them out too.

Just because it's almost Mother's Day doesn't require you to submit to her abuse: go no-contact, completely and absolutely. (And take yourself someplace nice for brunch on Sunday, all by yourself.)
posted by easily confused at 10:09 AM on May 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

Fellow 47 year-old child of a narcissistic, abusive mother here. My most recent period of no contact will be 4 years come August.

You never invited this abuse, but you can do things to help keep it out of your life. One of those things is NO CONTACT. If you send a mother's day card, you are rewarding her for the way she treated you last time. It's dog training 101: She behaves badly. Any contact from you is reinforcement of that behavior. Translation: It encourages her to keep abusing you.

What if instead you just took care of yourself? It feels really good, I promise. I don't even grind my teeth anymore!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:22 AM on May 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

Whatever you decide, on Mother's Day go do something awesome for yourself, preferably with your mom's contact info on mute across all platforms and devices. Take a break and hug yourself in whatever way seems like a good idea to you! Heck, do this every day until you feel relief and freedom, or just do it because you like yourself and you are awesome!!
posted by jbenben at 10:46 AM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I haven't wished my biological excuse for a mother happy birthday or mother's day since I told her that I wanted nothing more to do with her. I've only recently learned that I should tell my father to stop invalidating me(they're still married) when he asks if I'll ever "soften to her", and in the last year had to explain to extended family just why I cut her off: abuse, symbiosis and leaving me with her stepfather when she knew from her own experience that he was a molester.

My brother's gf asked me how I'll feel when she isn't there anymore. Very relieved.
posted by brujita at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

You're not "getting away" with anything, you're an adult who is choosing not to contact her. It is YOUR DECISION, for good or for ill.

Re-center this decision in yourself and reclaim your agency.

Do you want to keep out of contact with her? Then YOU need to make steps to make that happen. You need to take care of yourself; you are not a helpless victim of her actions.

This might sound harsh but I can tell you're still in her framework, given that she's trained you that she is the only real human being, the only one who is allowed to make decisions, and everyone else has to react to her or otherwise center themselves around her. That is not actually the case.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:56 AM on May 3, 2017 [25 favorites]

Make yourself a little mental pie chart with four slices:
1 -- You acknowledge Mothers Day and her birthday, and she gets mad at you for reopening the wound or not putting enough effort into it or whatever.
2 -- You acknowledge Mothers Day and her birthday, and she loves it and realizes that she's been wrong and makes a genuine effort to change her ways.
3 -- You ignore Mothers Day and her birthday, and she realizes that she's been wrong and makes a genuine effort to change her ways, or just also ignores them and stops trying to draw you in with more drama.
4 -- You ignore Mothers Day and her birthday, and she gets mad at you.

Now assign probabilities to each slice. Don't think about it too much, just bam bam bam bam, first impressions.

Done? Okay, now, are 1 and 4 huge compared to 2 and 3? Like, 80 percent or greater? They are, aren't they?

You know what to do.
posted by Etrigan at 11:05 AM on May 3, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think it depends on what you want to do going forward. If you want to keep this no-contact, then keep it no-contact. If you want a one-sided communication stream, then sending a card fits in with this scenario. If you want to test the waters of re-opening communication, you can do that.

The missing part of this, you might think, is what she's going to do. But that part doesn't matter. She will do what she will do, and I feel that a lot of your agony over this is in trying to anticipate what your mother is likely to do in each scenario. You have to figure out what works best for you, and then make those things happen in a way that protects you.
posted by xingcat at 11:21 AM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

If I do not send a card, I risk opening up this giant wound for another round of salt and rubbing (which will involve more screaming on her part, drama, anxiety, etc.)

The lovely thing about not being in contact with your mother is that she can scream if she wants, but you still don't have to listen to it any more then than you do now. Why on earth would you send a card to this person indicating that you appreciate a relationship with her that you don't want to have?

I'm not in contact with my mother. I don't celebrate holidays for people who I don't have a current relationship with. I wouldn't send a card to a total stranger, and I'm not sending a card to her. I didn't do anything for her birthday, I'm not doing anything for Mother's Day, she didn't get a Christmas present last year and she won't get one next year and I tossed everything she sent me (after making sure she hadn't sent any family heirlooms or anything). How she feels about that is not at all my problem and is never again going to be my problem, and that's what's totally amazing about it.
posted by Sequence at 11:27 AM on May 3, 2017 [18 favorites]

I just wanted to add that (in my experience) holidays and birthdays never get easier. Despite 5+ decades of evidence, there's some delusional part of myself that believes there could possibly be a relationship there if only I could think of the right thing to say. And understanding that there's a person out there who has lost her son and is incapable of understanding why makes me feel terrible.

When I get tempted to reach out, I take a moment to consider whether this pain is greater or lesser than voluntarily foregoing my identity, agency and real-personhood for someone who doesn't appreciate it anyway, and who has demonstrated that they don't care at all about me as a real person. The answer is always "no-contact is less worse." Unfortunately it doesn't mitigate the guilt and pain, but it's still better than the alternative.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:29 AM on May 3, 2017 [13 favorites]

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you haven't actually gone no contact. *She's just been miffed enough not to contact you in 1,5 months.
So if you don't aknowledge mother's day and her birthday, this will be aclear signal from you that you aregoing no contact. For the first time.

She will go ape-shit. Screaming, guilt trips, setting other family members on you, stalking you - whatever she is capable of, She will ramp it up to the max.

And you will have to stay strong and never, ever react to her. Because if you react to a single antic of hers - if you say a single word to her, you will set back the clock and you'll have to go through it again.

So really think about whether you're currently capable of sustaining a drawn out battle like this. If not, if this is a vulnerable time for you, maybe do send her a card / flowers and if she starts being obnoxious to you again do the "hanging up on the phone" thing that worked for you the last time she crossed your boundaries.

Vice versa, if the thought of contact with her fills you with dread so much that you feel an open battle is preferable, go no contact and stick with it.

Good luck! I'm sorry your mom put you in an awful position .
posted by Omnomnom at 11:42 AM on May 3, 2017 [29 favorites]

Let us also not forget that Mother's Day is for honoring the loving, motherly influences in our lives, not for wasting yet more energy on toxic emotional vampires who treat you like shit.

Any action you take that includes re-establishing contact, or acknowledging her, opens the door again to more toxic bullshit. The only thing keeping you from having to listen to any of her nonsense is when you refuse to pick up the phone. Which you are ENTIRELY within your rights to do.

My mother also pulled some bullshit recently, and I'm going to be busy next weekend. If she doesn't like it, maybe she shouldn't be such an asshole.
posted by Autumnheart at 11:44 AM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

What do you really want to do? My Mom was similar, and the most important thing for me was to establish boundaries. If she was mean, manipulative, etc., I would hang up/ leave the room/ leave the house/ leave town. But she had some good qualities, and she was my Mom. So I always sent a card for Mother's Day, often sent flowers. I never sent the card that said You're the very best Mom, but I sent a card. It took a long time, it took a year of not having a home phone (back in landline days), it took years of never going home for holidays, it took a lot of therapy, and moving 1,000 miles away, but we ended up having a relationship that was better than no relationship.

It's okay if you don't want to send a card. It's okay if you do. It's fine if you send a card and plant because you don't want to deal with blowback.

As others have said, and I can reiterate, it's not up to her. The most important thing is that you get to decide what your relationship to her will be. You can affect her behavior slightly, but you can't control her behavior or feelings. You get to decide what she has to offer you and if you want to put in the very real effort. You deserve better. But people are frequently deeply flawed, so focus on your own health and well-being, and if there's room within that for you to be kind to her, fine. If not, then full no-contact is the way forward.
posted by theora55 at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh my god, you all are the best. All of the tough love. Thank you. You're right. I know you're right.

1. I haven't gone "no contact", you're right, she has deigned to leave me alone for 1.5 months.
2. I don't actually "have" to talk to her (though this is a relatively new realization for me)
3. I have been trying to figure out what she is going to do, which, of course, is very old habit.
4. I am certainly still in her framework - it's not harsh, it's true and it bears mentioning, thank you.

Wow. I needed the perspective. Really, thank you all. I appreciate it so, so much.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2017 [33 favorites]

We're all rooting for you!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2017 [20 favorites]

I'm going through something similar and your #2 is still really, really hard for me. I did not acknowledge my father's birthday and I feel a ton of guilt about that, but I have to realize that the line had already been drawn by him, it was just not a clear demarcation. It's like a slow fade in a friendship - you almost want them to say "I don't want to be friends with you" so you can have closure. You do not have closure, and it's up to you whether to attempt it. As narcissistic as you say your mom is, you won't get it from her; this will drag on endlessly because she enjoys the drama. It's up to you to draw the clear line, and stay on your side of it.

I'm sorry. It's very hard to learn to protect yourself when you've had a lifetime of allowing someone to traumatize you.
posted by AFABulous at 12:14 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Would reading material help?
the world of estranged parent forums is a pretty good overview of how narcissists think and how they react when their children stop talking to them.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:26 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Block her number. Good luck.
posted by gregr at 12:43 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel for you so much! I'm currently at 4 years of very low contact (VLC) with my narcissistic/borderline mom. It happened the same way as you - she gives me the silent treatment over an imagined slight. For years, I came crawling back to her after a few months of silence. This time I decided I was done. For my own sanity. Time for therapy for me, time to stop the panic attacks. I do send her birthday cards and mother's day cards (that's the VLC part), and I can attest that she is extremely pissed off whether I ignore a holiday or under-acknowlege it. Makes no difference. So you do what is right for you, not for your relationship with her. Sending flowers may be seen as a conciliatory gesture on your part, admitting you were wrong for whatever she hung up on you for. That's fine. She will never think you are right no matter what anyway. Then the cycle starts again. Or you can choose right now, this time, no contact/VLC and send a card, which will elicit almost the same anger from her as not sending a card. I am sorry you are in this position! Just know that there are those of us here who understand.
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:50 PM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Maybe listening to this awesome Dear Sugar podcast will help too, regarding estrangement. From them I learned that estrangement is a process.
posted by foxjacket at 2:19 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think everyone has already given great advice, but I want to weigh in on one little side note.

You mention that you've talked about this with your sister and have both agreed not to let her get dragged into any drama. Not sending a card or acknowledgement is sure to set your mother off, and while you don't have to listen to her screaming, crying, guilt tripping or whatever, it seems highly likely that your mom might call your sister up and subject her to screaming, crying, guilt tripping, bad-mouthing, etc..

For the sake of your sister and your relationship with your sister, you might give her a heads up. You could just let her know that you aren't planning on acknowledging your mom's birthday in any way, that you won't be responding to any calls or texts, or emails or carrier pigeons that your mom sends you. And that your sister should be prepared to respond to your mom dumping crap on her with a pat answer like, "I can't speak for Sophie1. I'm not going to get involved in any issues you two have. You need to find someone else to talk to about this."

That seems like a nice thing to do for your sister.
posted by brookeb at 2:26 PM on May 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

Your needn't have guilt going no contact, but sometimes it comes up anyways. One way of self care around this might be to visit a senior in a nursing facility who would actually appreciate a card/flowers. It can be helpful in moving forward.
posted by Vaike at 2:27 PM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

My husband has been completely no-contact with his mom/parents for almost a decade. There are no cards sent, even one way. As he last left it, his dad told him that such gestures (1) will not be received well and (2) will cause problems in their household for days or weeks. Husband's summation is, even if I get some sort of warm feeling from genuine but unreturned gestures of goodwill I know that the silence I get in return doesn't mean that the seas are calm on the receiving end.

It's totally fine to stick with no contact. It involves the fewest assumptions about impacts and repercussions for all parties.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:30 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Brookeb - yes. We have always given each other a heads up when we do something we think will set her off. Thank you.
posted by Sophie1 at 3:10 PM on May 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

I had a boyfriend with a mother like this. He finally made a rule. If she hung up on him, he wouldn't call her back. She had to be the one to call him back. Once they went for two years without speaking before she finally called him back. And when she did, she was much more civil - for a while. The point is, he got to where he refused to let her drag him to her level. And she noticed.
posted by Crystal Fox at 3:12 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I can attest that she is extremely pissed off whether I ignore a holiday or under-acknowlege it. Makes no difference. So you do what is right for you, not for your relationship with her. Sending flowers may be seen as a conciliatory gesture on your part, admitting you were wrong for whatever she hung up on you for. That's fine. She will never think you are right no matter what anyway.

There is so much truth here! If you can give up the idea that you control the drama through your actions, I think that will help you find your own way here.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have not spoken to my mother since January. It's not our first estrangement, but it will our last, because I finally see that I and my family are not real people in her eyes. We exist only to suit her, and if we're not pretty enough to meet her standard of perfect daughters, she will force us into unwanted cosmetic surgery to if that's what it takes. My only regret is not calling the police.

I blocked her on every medium I could. It's actually a relief knowing she can't contact me. I'm at peace. I hope you can find the same.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:57 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been no contact with my mother for about 2 years now and...actually I forget it's mother's day and her birthday and I'm pretty happy not having to bother with her. Even the "I wish I had a mother" sting is gone now. I might be an outlier, but I can't miss what I never had, and she always treated me more like a burden or someone that should be her best friend or even her caretaker than her daughter so it was easy to frame the relationship to one outside of familial that I could let go of easily.
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:05 PM on May 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I went through this last year, which was my first Mothers Day since I went NO CONTACT with my parents. It felt weird and I definitely thought about it a lot, but decided that no contact was no contact. I am so glad I held firm! A new family issue has arisen, just as I was starting to feel weird about Mother's Day coming up again, and I am so glad I am not in contact with them at all. They are narcissists and just the worst.
posted by loveyhowell at 6:05 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

So I just spent the last 1.5 hours going over each of your answers with the husband. You all were incredibly helpful for both of us in understanding where we're at with this. I'm going no contact for now, with the husband's unwavering support. Thank you again.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:48 PM on May 3, 2017 [19 favorites]

posted by AugustWest at 9:03 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best wishes going no contact. Whatever she does - know that you can walk away, hang up the phone, block the email, lock the doors, call the police, etc. You don't have to talk to anyone or respond to anyone. Make a plan for it so that if it happens you aren't flustered.

I'm 27, I haven't spoken to my mother in 10 years. You can do this.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:45 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm the child of a narcissist. We had long periods of estrangement. My narcissistic parent is now dead and has been for ten years. Even that parent's medical power of attorney and will were manipulative, destructive, and narcissistic. I remain very glad that my parent is dead and do not miss them. I now have some compassion for the abuse they must have suffered to become such a monster, but I have more compassion for LittleTaff who had no safe haven for many years.

I'm a parent myself, so I understand how much pain it could cause. But narcissists have different pain interpretations and you've got to put your own oxygen mask on.

It's completely ok to cut off contact with someone that does you nothing but harm, even if they can't do any different. Rabid dogs get euthanised. There is no such luxury with narcissistic parents. Run, just run. And know that your fellow survivors understand. Others may not, but we do. Oh god, how we understand. Hugs. Big ones.
posted by taff at 12:39 AM on May 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

I shut both of my parents off, for multiple years, at different times. The "reset" was the best thing I could have done. Once enough time passed, and the wounds healed, we've managed to rebuild our respective relationships. I know the redemption couldn't have happened without the years of estrangement.

The only caveat, try to patch things up before she's gone. I don't know if I could live with the regert if either of them had died before we made up.

But everyone's situation is different, so...do your best. Good luck.
posted by karst at 8:20 AM on May 8, 2017

Final update from the OP:
I have been no contact for a year. The people in this thread, every single one of you, were instrumental to the best decision I have ever made. Thank you for participating in this site. Thank you for responding to me. You have made a difference. I am happier and healthier than I can ever remember and I am so grateful for your support.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:24 AM on May 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

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