Escaping Your Mother, Part III: Prepare for Flying Monkeys and Healing

In Part I, I presented the problem in an open letter to daughters of narcissists.

In  Part II, I addressed the interior healing necessary to move on from this abusive relationship.

Now I’d like to let you know what to expect once you go No Contact.

Prepare to be admonished by well-meaning people. Those specializing in recovery from narcissistic abuse use the term “flying monkeys” to describe the emissaries groomed by your mother, those believe her tale of woe and victimization.

A reader, Shannon L., shared, “The further I move away from my mother the angrier she gets.  She starts leaning on her flying monkeys more, and then they get mad at me, too.”

My personal best example of the scheming and manipulation by a narcissist—how they anoint their flying monkeys and the emotional fallout that ensues—happened a few months before I finally went No-Contact from my mother.

My husband and I bought a house that closed on December 24, 2013. We had about 4 weeks to clean it up, paint it, tear out some ugly counters and put in flooring. So instead of dinner and Mass Christmas Eve, we decided to get started on the house and have a family meal Christmas day.

I invited my mother: “Our new house closes on the 24th, so we will be celebrating Christmas on Christmas Day.”

Christmas Eve Day was no silent night. It was a day filled with the scrape and crack of breaking tile, the thunderclap of a dumpster landing in the driveway, list making, hardware store runs and worries about staying within budget.

In the midst of it, I checked my email. There was an urgent message from my sweet auntie who lives several states away. I’ll paraphrase:

“Misty,” she began, “you are such a good Christian, a loving mom to your kids and good wife to your husband. I just don’t understand how you can be so cruel to your mother and not invite her to Christmas dinner.”

While my husband and I were gutting an empty house a few blocks away, my mother was weeping on the phone to her sister, describing an imaginary Christmas Eve celebration from which we excluded her. She told my aunt, “They’ve invited me to a ‘fake Christmas’ on Christmas Day.”

This is emotional manipulation at its finest precisely because it works. That short email set off a debilitating swirl of emotions:

Panic attack: My mother has lied again. My aunt believes her.

Rage: She lied AGAIN!

Shame: I’m a bad person. My aunt thinks I’m a bad person.

Confusion: How do I fix this? Why does my aunt believe her?

Defensiveness: I tap out an email explaining the truth, defending myself when I’ve done nothing wrong.

And all of this takes time and eats up happiness.

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No matter how old one is, one expects one’s mother (noun) to mother (verb). But daughters of narcissists live in a constant state of unmet expectations. The Christmas Eve scenario is not the exception, but a snapshot of the intense, constant, day-in and day-out emotional turmoil and shame a narcissistic mother generates as long as you remain in relationship with her.

A narcissistic mother fabricates a crisis out of whole cloth, spins lies and summons her flying monkeys. The distinguishing characteristics of the narcissist’s emissaries is that they do ask your point of view or empathize with you.

So that you’ll recognize flying monkeys when they land, here are some examples of what they say:

“Your poor mother.”

“How can you treat her that way?”

“But she’s your mother, the only one you’ll ever have.”

(Here I’d like to point out 1 in 25 people are born without a conscience. Some of these become mothers.)

“She won’t be around forever. You’ll be sorry when she’s dead.”

People who had loving mothers, whose archetype of motherhood is lovingkindness, say these things. And well-intentioned people whom your mother manipulates say these things. These statements are veiled criticisms of your judgement and character.

Jen B., a reader who left her narcissistic mother, shared, “…most people expect that it is a phase I will one day overcome, that I never outgrew my teen ‘mom angst.’ Or they just want to say ‘But she’s your mother’ as if the entire experience were somehow a personal shortcoming of mine as a daughter.”

Hopefully you’ve fortified yourself for this decision with counseling and/or spiritual direction, meditation, prayer, and a life built upon solid, empowering friendships.

On hearing you are estranged from your mother, stable, nurturing people who are genuinely concerned for your well-being will say things more like this:

“Tell me more about that.”

“How did you come to that decision?”

“I’m so sorry.”

“You are very brave.”

“What happened?”

To clarify, you may have friends and loved ones who both empathize and think maybe you shouldn’t go no contact. They aren’t flying monkeys. Flying monkeys distinguish themselves by their complete disinterest in how you arrived at your decision, and by their defense of your mother’s cruelty.

34591b29d9cc5fcf38acdd54618ceb5bOnce having extracted oneself from regular, persistent emotional abuse, a keen sensitivity to emotional manipulation develops. Not that one needs to go No Contact from every person who offers a perceived slight. Rather, it’s as if a fog lifts, clarifying relationships. Healthy, loving people become more attractive. We begin to be drawn towards these people.

In addition to counseling or spiritual direction, find activities that help you create a sense of self and grow in confidence. 

For me, it was tennis. Tennis helped me establish a circle of healthy, optimistic friends and increased my strength and confidence. And I found a job—writing—which affirms the validity of my own thoughts and ideas, a much needed dose of affirmation after decades of being gaslighted.

An acquaintance, Nick— not his real name— was more jaded.

“Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘healed,’” Nick told me. “But I would be scared to admit that in public, nor would I want my mother to glory in my damage.”

The lingering fear that our narcissistic mother can somehow still hurt us is reminiscent of the closing scene of the Stephen King’s “Misery”, when Paul Sheldon, now healed from his trauma, has a vision of his abuser, the long dead Annie Wilkes, pushing a dessert cart towards him. Recovering from narcissistic abuse is a lifelong process of healing, one that leaves us looking over our shoulder.

A friend, Melissa told me, “I definitely feel more at peace and calmer not seeing or talking to my mother. But there’s always a feeling that she’s plotting something terrible as retribution.”

It’s been two years since I went No Contact. In the beginning, I was confronted on every side. Friends of my mother’s I hadn’t heard from in years sent me letters compelling me to forgive her/go to confession/attend a healing service. Read about the religious implications of going No Contact here.

Relatives I cared for stopped talking to me. But eventually the flying monkeys stop showing up. Some of them will go on to be abused by the narcissist and have their own moment of clarity. But don’t wait for it. Live life well. Be happy. Strive to be a conduit for the kind of love and appreciation you never received.
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Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

Allow your wounds to fill with light.

Take your gift of sensitivity, of reading unexpressed emotion, and use it to benefit others. Accept their weaknesses, anticipate their needs and be a force for healing in every life you touch.

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