Escaping Your Mother Part I: An Open Letter to Daughters of Narcissists

Fifteen months ago, in my forties, I went “no-contact” from my narcissistic mother. Since I am a memoirist who writes stories about life, hurt, healing and love, I wrote about this.  It is ‘airing dirty laundry’ in the parlance of some — usually those close to my abusive mother, who sometimes leave comments such as get over it and move on.

Readers struggling in the death grip of a narcissistic mother leave another sort of comment entirely:

Reading your blog lit a light bulb about a really toxic relationship. – Anonymous

I can relate to it all… Especially the wobbly, motherless feeling when I leave her presence.       – Paula

Gaslighting! I didn’t know there was an actual name for what she does to me. I thought I was insane, overly paranoid, looking for issues where they don’t exist…oh god, Thank you. THANK YOU.   – RJ

Thank you so much for this. I have been struggling through this and feeling very guilty. I needed this like you would not believe.                                                                                                              – Lulu

Last month, a woman in Europe sent me a long, private Facebook message detailing her struggle to escape her narcissistic mother. She went so far as to move to another country. She wrote about how difficult it was to see grandparents whom she loves manipulated by her mother, and how difficult it was to continue her relationship with them. Sending emissaries to persuade you of your wrongdoing is how narcissists manipulate you from afar.

This woman’s personal note inspired me to write a three part series on Escaping Your Mother, beginning with a paraphrase of my response to her message. In Part II I will list nuts and bolts of how to leave your mother- a relationship seemingly ordained by God and all that is holy. In Part III, I will discuss the fallout-the repercussions and flying monkeys.

Here’s a letter to all of you who, due to emotional and/or physical abuse, question your worth, your significance, your right to the air in your lungs and the soil beneath your feet.

Dear Daughter,

By finally severing contact with my narcissistic mother in my forties, I experienced healing and peace and an unexpected gift: restful, rejuventating holidays without emotional hangovers.

The first Thanksgiving after going “no contact” with my mother, after our guests had left and we had tucked the food away and unearthed the counter, my husband and I made our way to the porch.  We lit a bonfire and relaxed —an unremarkable, but extraordinary denouement for the daughter of a narcissist. 

It was the time we did not spend the convening hours of a holiday recovering from an emotional hangover. Our contentment was the direct result of my mother having not been present to sow seeds of discord and self doubt.

Peace and tranquility should not feel like guilty pleasures.

Not every daughter of a narcissist must cut off contact. A friend of mine, Mary, has the dubious privilege of a narcissitic mother still alive at 98. My friend is able to stay in relationship with her mother. She takes homemade meals to the nursing home a couple times  a week and chats with her mother on the phone. But Mary’s sister is capable of a bit less— one 30 minute chat a week. Her brother is capable of even less than that. He sends his mother a card on her birthday.

I have another friend, Marissa, who is able to see her mother once or twice a year, with her whole family — never alone. Her mother does not know where she lives. Marissa’s father recently died — her parents were long divorced — and she chose not to tell her mother.

Marissa explained, “I didn’t want her at the services. It was hard enough to deal with the death . . . dealing with her would have made it horrific, especially since I could not count on her behavior to be appropriate.”

I embrace Peter Kreeft’s assertion that “love is the highest accuracy.”  And, despite what my mother may have told you, I tried to love my mother for years, inviting her to join my family for Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, year after year after, invitations which cost me much. After every holiday, I found myself sitting across from a counselor or a priest, in intense pain, recounting what my mother had done or said to hurt me. Year after year I was asked, “Why was she there?”

On May 17, 2014 at my housewarming party,  “Why was she there?” finally sunk in. I confronted my mother with what happened. She gaslighted me, meaning she told me my perceptions were incorrect. (Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse used by narcissists to make their victims doubt their own sanity and perceptions.) My mother sneered, “You have a very vivid imagination.”

‘You have a very vivid imagination’  is the Narcissists’ Motto.

I finally went no-contact.

Going no-contact from an abusive mother is a last resort, an act of self-preservation. All of my motherless friends, whatever their ages, myself included, have a vacancy where the love of a mother should be. No one walks away from her mother for trifling reasons.

My answer to people who don’t understand how I could sever ties with my mother is this: the need for a mother’s love is primal. For a person to forego that relationship, to end contact with her mother, indicates something was terribly amiss.

My decision took years of counseling (ten) and spiritual direction (six). Please find someone to help walk you through this. It is a lifelong process of healing. Don’t try to do it alone.

It is the apex of self-care to remove yourself from the presence of a person actively opposed to your happiness. And it is the path to wholeness.

You are worthy of love.


Read Part 2: How a Japanese Folktale Can Help You Heal and Part 3: Prepare for Flying Monkeys and Healing.

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