It’s a phrase on Page 1 of the secret handbook for defending toxic mothers— “You’ll be sorry when she’s dead.” But it just isn’t true.
On a Saturday morning last fall, my neighbor Jane and I drove up Ashdown Road on our way to an antique fair at a nearby farm. Jane and I had only recently met, when I moved into the barn that formerly belonged to the farmhouse she lives in next door.
As the car rolled quietly up the shade dappled road, Jane uttered the dreaded phrase, “I’ve been reading your blog.”
A self-conscious person who paradoxically posts much of my inner life online, I am regularly surprised that people actually read this stuff, and when this blog and real life intersect, I am suddenly divested of the discretion I have worked so hard to learn. (Daughters of narcissists are notoriously bad at setting boundaries.)
I want followers. In fact, please follow my blog now — click “Follow”in the right margin. It’s just that I cringe when followers turn out to be real human beings.
“And I relate very much to your experience with your mother,” Jane said. Deep breath, and we arrived at the farm.
Of all the anecdotes Jane told me that morning, one story was all I needed to know about Jane.
Years before, Jane received a call from England informing her that her mother had died. Jane hung up the phone, told her husband the woman was dead, and continued with her day.
“Well!” her husband remarked, himself no great fan of Jane’s mother. “I do hope you’ll cry when the dog dies!”
And when their dear Labrador died, Jane did cry. And when her father died, Jane cried, because Jane is a perfectly normal person. Love your enemies, et al, but the demise of impossibly cruel mothers does not make their tortured daughters cry.
So, no, creating parameters in your life ensuring your well being will not fill you with an eternity of grief and regret when your mother goes to the great beyond, although many people will tell you differently. Daughters of narcissists start grieving their living mothers in earliest childhood. They go No Contact as a means to heal that grief.
I write about making the decision to go No Contact here, here and here. It’s not for everyone, and for some people it’s temporary. Below I offer the nuts and bolts of it, constructed from the search terms my readers use to find my blog.
Q & A on Locking your Narcissistic Mother out of your Life.
When do I do it?
Severing ties with your mother is not a passive aggressive ruse or a dose of the silent treatment. The decision usually arises not in the heat of anger, but after a long, slow boil of lifelong, emotional abuse.
“Toxic parents lie, manipulate, ignore, judge, abuse, shame, humiliate and criticise. Nothing is ever good enough,” Karen Young writes on her blog, Hey Sigmund. “They oversee childhoods with no warmth, security or connection. ”
And that cold, toxic stew of disapproval, unpredictability and loneliness marinates long after childhood. Weddings, baptisms, new babies and holidays all have a dark cloud: the crazy your mother brought to the occasion.
Write a letter?
Well, a brief note, actually. “I am choosing to sever our relationship. Please do not contact me.”
To write a letter explaining how your mother hurt you leaves you vulnerable. All your powers of persuasion and attempts to conjure compassion will be as effective as fairy dust. You will write hoping your mother will finally understand your woundedness, will finally be sorry. Again, vulnerability gives her power and puts you in the snare of expectations.
“Maybe now she’ll understand” or “Maybe she’ll be sorry.” I promise, she won’t.
How do I get away?
Block her number on your cell phone and block her email. Sever all ties on social media. Check your privacy settings.
If she literally arrives at your doorstep, don’t open the door. If she refuses to leave, call the police. If it happens continually, file a restraining order.
Mark unopened mail “Return to Sender”.
When do I re-establish contact?
Moving? Having a baby? Diagnosed with a terminal illness? Nope, nope and nope.
Don’t let a life event significant to you cloud your judgment. Your milestones and your adversities will be propagandized for her own ends, to raise her perceived status or to earn sympathy from her friends.
Celebrate the births of babies, job promotions and new homes with people who are psychologically capable of sharing your joy.
Likewise in times of trial, physical, emotional or financial, remember: your distress gives your narcissistic mother twisted pleasure.
When she wasn’t given a front row pew at my daughter’s baptism, my mother stormed out of the church.
When I said something disagreeable during Thanksgiving dinner, she reached her arm behind her chair and latched onto the frame of an antique hunt print that had belonged to her and my father when they were married. While glaring at me, she pulled the picture out from the wall, the picture wire taut, the nail straining in the drywall. I was speechless. The threat was clear. If I did not behave as she wished, she would take back the painting, or at least let it shatter on the dining room floor.
When my father entered his final illness, I asked my mother to watch my children so I could be at his side in the ICU. She said, “But I’m saving my vacation days for his funeral.” At that funeral, she complained vociferously, “Nobody allows the ex-wife to grieve!” When I was overcome with grief for my father, she told me, “You need help!”
If you ever decide to reestablish contact for whatever reason, do it from a place of strength. Never attempt to reconnect until you are healed, distant, objective, and prepared.
Prepared for what? Disappointment.
Jane and I spent an hour or two walking through tables laden with dusty, charming “fine dustables” as a friend calls them. I had in my possession a trio of felted, pale yellow chicks— fuzzy, useless charm— and a set of sterling silver salt and pepper shakers—utilitarian. Seriously.
Jane had acquired a little brass moose. “I think I’ll take it to camp,” she said. In upstate New York, “camp” is a second home, sometimes as modest as a tool shed, sometimes as grand as the Kennedy Compound, that New Yorkers escape to in the summer.
Anita Diamant wrote, “If you want to understand any woman, you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully.”
Emphasis on carefully.