What to expect from your NMExpect she will neither like it nor respect it. A narcissist will not respect your boundaries unless they align with what she wants. Each NM is different, but there are several common responses to learning your daughter has gone NC with you: 1) hoovering; 2) shaming; 3) outrage; 4) denial; 5) pathetic self-pity; 6) sour grapes: ignoring you, pretending she initiated (or wanted) the lack of contact. Your NM may have more than one reaction and she may segue from one to another.
A hoovering attack may be combined with denial: she will show up at your door the day before Christmas…or maybe at your holiday party that she found out about from a friend or relative…bursting with good cheer and overflowing with presents. She will act like she had no idea you didn’t want contact with her any more and silently dare you to shut the door in your own mother’s face. She thereby puts you between a rock and a hard place: if you let her in, she knows how to break your NC—show up and silently dare you to rebuff her (especially if she brings a witness like her sister or husband or a niece or nephew); if you shut the door in her face, now you are the bad guy with everybody in the family, most especially if she brought the aforementioned witnesses. What do you do? NC means NC, nobody said it was going to be easy or that it would win you a popularity contest: you say “I told you I wanted nothing more to do with you,” and then you shut and lock the door. And if she won’t leave, if she keeps pounding on the door or ringing your bell, you call the police.
Shaming is usually also combined with denial, only this time she refuses to believe you mean it. “What a terrible mother I must have been to raise a child with so little gratitude and love for her own mother!” She may send cards and letters, emails and texts, and get family and friends to contact you, all with the same message: you should be ashamed of yourself for treating your poor mother like this, you are breaking her heart. What do you do? You don’t answer the phone when she calls, if other people try to intervene, you tell them that this is not their business, thank you for your concern, but kindly butt out. You don’t open mail from her, you delete her emails and texts unread. If she starts pestering your friends, co-workers or employer, you send her a cease and desist letter, preferably from an attorney, threatening legal action if she does not stop.
If she is a malignant type, she will go into outrage mode. How dare you take control of the relationship and end it? She is the mother (meaning she is the superior entity in the relationship) and you are the daughter (meaning you are the subordinate) and you have no right to dictate to her. Actually, you do…but she will not acknowledge that (her denial at work). She may decide to retaliate by badmouthing you or worse. I know of an instance where a narcissist actually impersonated her target and took out a contract to buy a refrigerator and then took delivery of the item and never made any payments on it. The target was shocked to find her credit damaged as the result of a “bad debt” she had never even taken on. I battled with a person who has the same name I have who took out a five-figure loan with a credit union and made no payments, as well as a Macy’s account she did not make payments on. These were, to the best of my knowledge, errors on the part of the creditor but it still damaged my credit…imagine if your NM were to do the same (and some of them will). With a malignant NM, or one who reacts negatively to such acts of autonomy on your part, you have to be on your toes because her revenge could be anything from calling in to cancel your telephone and electricity accounts to sending anonymous letters full of lies to your employer. Be prepared for anything from them. What do you do? You do not break NC, you use the remedies provided by law and hope she does something so illegal that she actually can get arrested for it—and you have her arrested; you keep a journal of her incursions into your peace and try to get a restraining order, otherwise.
What to expect from other people, including your friends
Outside of immediate family and perhaps a few very close family friends, you just don’t tell anybody. Unless they have been victimized by a narcissist, nobody you tell will “get it” because they simply cannot conceive of a mother behaving so badly that you would not forgive her and keep the relationship going. By revealing that you have cut off contact with your mother, you risk people viewing you as somehow emotionally deficient when, in fact, it is they who are lacking in empathy.
If it becomes essential to reveal that you are NC with your mother, the way I handle it is to say something like “You know, the world is full of unpleasant people who just don’t care about anything but themselves…I am sure you have met a few of them. Some of those people reproduce and they are no better to their kids than they are to anyone else. Unfortunately, my mother was one of those people.” Most people will mumble something like “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” and drop the subject. If anyone pries further, you can simply say “I prefer not to dwell on it,” or “I would rather not discuss it.”
Family, on the other hand, may be trickier. Even if they know what your mother is like, you may find yourself pressured to forgive her, to “be the better person,” or to “get over it.” You may find yourself called “bitter” or “childish” or worse. People will implore you to “think about her feelings,” and tell you how much you are hurting her. Don’t fall for it. What all these urgings have in common is that nobody is showing any concern for your feelings at all, it is all about hers! Who is saying “Oh, goodness, Ophelia, how awful that must have been for you, that it was so bad you actually had to cut off contact with your mother…”? Who is supporting you, the victim in all of this? Even after my mother lied to the family and dragged them unknowingly into being participants in stealing my children and keeping them away from me for eight years, my grandmother begged me to “bury the hatchet” with my NM for the sake of “family unity.” This is what I meant when I said, earlier, that you may have to cut off contact with a host of other relatives when you go NC with your NM, because most of them will side with your NM, no matter what she did to you, for the sake of “family unity” and because they do not want to admit she has fooled them for all these years into thinking she was a much nicer person than she really is. And they won’t like your violating that “sacred motherhood” thing, either.
Whether you send a letter ending the relationship or just fade away, at some point either your NM will try to contact you or someone may try to do it on her behalf. What do you do then?
Snail mail, packages, flowers, etc. Unless you suspect the mail contains something you would want to keep, like your baby pictures or some family heirloom (NMs will sometimes spitefully send all of your pictures and keepsakes back to you, rather like a girl breaking her engagement by throwing her ring in her fiancé’s face), then open the package. DO NOT READ ANYTHING that may be contained therein, like a letter or card. You can open them to make sure there is no old photo or cash inside, but the minute you read something from her, you start the churning going on inside yourself, the churning you wanted to stop with NC. The best situation is to have someone else open the packages/envelopes and give you whatever is in there that might be of interest to you, but in the event that you have to do it yourself, do not give in to the temptation of reading what she wrote to you. Instead, burn it in your fireplace or barbeque. If the contents are gifts of some kind, donate them to Goodwill or some other charity; if she sends flowers, ask the delivery person to take them back or take them to the nearest nursing home. If it’s a check, burn it (she will have proof you received her gift and presumably kept it, based on her getting the cancelled check back), if it is cash, you can either keep it as a small bit of compensation for the years of pain she has visited on you, or you can give it to a charity…preferably some charity she would not like supporting (or to the campaign fund of a politician you like but she doesn’t).
Email, chats, forums, Facebook: If she is on your Facebook or other social media site, unfriend and block her. If there are family members who take her side against you, unfriend and block them, too. They won’t be able to see anything you post. You may want to close all of your online accounts that use your name or a name she would recognize and re-open them in a name she wouldn’t know. My NM was not computer savvy, but if she had been, she would never have figured out Sweet Violet was me—she was too self-absorbed to make the connection (Violet was my paternal grandmother’s name and NM’s mother collected Japanese porcelain in the Sweet Violets pattern). Choose a name your NM and family members won’t figure out. (If you collect dolls, for example, calling yourself “Doll Lady” or “Ms. Jumeau” or using the name of your favourite doll might give you away; but if you are afraid of horses, Quarterhorse Queen would completely throw them off your trail.)
No Contact is just that: NO contact. Do not read her mail or email or texts—delete it, throw it away when you receive it and never, ever respond. If she telephones you, hang up as soon as you know who it is—get caller ID so you can tell by the number that it is her, don’t take calls from her, delete texts unread. If you want to really throw her off the scent, return all mail to her with “Moved—left no forwarding address” written on the envelope in a handwriting she won’t recognize.
If you have children, you have to have them involved as well: NC is pointless if you have a kid sabotaging you because he wants his Christmas and birthday loot from Grandma: and Grandma will exploit him to any extent possible and undermine you at the same time. And your husband or long-term partner has to be on board as well because there is nothing quite so damaging as your NM calling while you aren’t home and getting into cosy little chat with your partner who thinks you are being “a little hard on that sweet old lady.”
How you handle NC with kids can be tricky. If your children are small you can simply say nothing to them and if they ask later on about their grandparents, you can simply say “we do not get along so we don’t see each other.” If your kids are older, or even teens, it is not so simple. Older children will require that you flex some parental muscle: “we are not in contact with them and do not plan to be in the future,” spoken in your best “because I am the Mom and I say so” voice may be all you need. It is really not advisable to go into the gory details of your life with a personality disordered mother if your kids don’t have any experience with that kind of personality—it may cause them to fear that you will do the same kind of thing or it could cause them to simply disbelieve you because the tales seem too far-fetched. Both of those outcomes can lead to behaviours on the part of your kids that you just don’t want to motivate. Teens, on the other hand, are at a totally different place in their lives: they are individuating and learning to make decisions for themselves. I would not bring up the topic of NC with Grandma, but if they bring it up, it is time for the “not a nice person” chat. You may also be able to appeal to them from the standpoint of bullying: they know what bullies are, they may have been bullied, and if you can give an example or two where you were bullied by your own mother, you could elicit some empathy from them. If none of this works with your teen, then some more parental muscle flexing is necessary: “…we do not have contact with them…when you are over 18 and out on your own, if you want to make contact, you are welcome to do so. But this household does not have any contact with them.” It may not work, but it is certainly worth a try.
Be aware that keeping your kids from their grandparents and other relatives, while it protects them from the undermining and toxic messages, may make them resent you for depriving them of their grandparents and cousins. Some grandparents will single out a grandchild as the Golden one or another one as a Scapegoat. My MNM had four grandchildren and when she died she not only disinherited me, she disinherited three of her grandchildren (one of whom she had refused repeatedly to even meet!) and left half of her estate to the fourth grandchild. Another DoNM I know has said that her NM sends Christmas cards to her kids with money in them…except for one child, who gets nothing but a card. Your children can learn a lot of nasty stuff from a narcissistic grandparent; your children can also grow up to resent you for keeping them away from that same grandparent. It’s one battle you may not be able to win, so you have to choose the consequence you feel is the least damaging.
Be aware that one of the problems of maintaining NC is you and your all-too-human memory. Our brains tend to soften and wipe away some of the sharp edges of our unpleasant experiences, forgetting the specifics of our hurts, leaving only the more benign images immediately accessible. It is a protective mechanism—imagine living a life in which you could never escape the emotional pain of horrible experiences? If we could clearly remember the pain of childbirth, the agony of the hours, would any of us ever have a second child? No, the body takes the sharp edges away, the mind dulls the pain and that’s where we get fooled: we forget stuff and we start to doubt ourselves.
The NM of a DoNM friend of mine, Ambrosia*, started a hoovering expedition at just about the time Ambrosia fell into that “…maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought…” mindset. The peace NC can bring to your life can actually make you susceptible to that because NM is not there all of the time, doing things to upset and hurt you and thereby keeping you constantly reminded. Ambrosia’s NM actually offered to go to therapy with her, if that would help restore their relationship. Ambrosia accepted her NM’s offer, but with warnings from me and others to be on her guard. Sure enough, NM “graciously” offered to book a session with a “wonderful therapist” who turned out to be an uncredentialled “New Age” practitioner who was wholly unprepared for a narcissist’s games. Ambrosia ended up with the “therapist” faulting her for not listening to her NM and not falling for the woman’s crocodile tears! Then, assuming this one session with the bogus therapist had made everything OK again, the NM invited herself to stay at Ambrosia’s house while she was in town for a wedding and began planning an overseas trip for the two of them (completely ignoring that Ambrosia has a husband, children, and a business!) and just generally started engulfing her all over again. Forcefully reminded of why she went NC in the first place, Ambrosia had to re-establish her boundaries with her NM, uninvite her from staying over during the wedding, and step back from the whole reconciliation thing.
One thing that might help you from getting caught in this forgetfulness trap is journaling. Start now, start today, even if you don’t plan on going NC at this time—there will come a day when an in-the-moment reminder of not only your NM’s behaviour but your feelings about it, is helpful to you, even if only trying to explain to someone close to you—like a fiancé who can’t understand why your mother isn’t invited to the wedding, or a close friend who just can’t seem to “get it” about narcissists. Often times it isn’t just the action she perpetrates, but the sheer volume of incidents, the never-ending, unceasing nature of one little episode piled on another like drops of water wearing away a rock. And when the erosion stops and we begin to heal, sometimes we second-guess ourselves, like Ambrosia did, forgetting what it was really like and thinking maybe we overreacted and were too harsh in cutting off contact completely. Our own empathy and compassion can sometimes be our own worst enemy when it comes to dealing with NMs.
So, if NC is that bad, if it is that tough, why does anybody do it? Because as tough as it can be, it is better than being worn down daily by the actions—or the anticipated actions—of an NM. In the beginning it can be very fraught, people taking issue with your decision and trying to talk you out of it, but eventually, most of them back off—a flying monkey or two may keep at you, like your GC sibling or your Enabling Father—but, for the most part, the pressure dies down and you start getting some peace. If you changed you phone number and got an unlisted one, you stop jumping with anxiety when the phone rings; if you got a new email address, you stop dreading opening your email, you stop waiting for that phone call or text that will ruin your day. You begin to heal, slowly at first, but faster as you being to actually feel your freedom. You stop living in fear, you become less hypervigilant, more open to new ideas, feelings, experiences. You start actually feeling autonomous. You begin to live in peace. As hard as NC can be, I cannot think of any DoNM I have ever met or corresponded with who has gone NC only to regret it.
If you read this whole thing and have decided that NC is perhaps a bit too daunting for you, though, you might want to consider going Low Contact and see if that relieves some of the pressure. You can always go NC at a later time if LC doesn’t work for you. Whatever you decide, I wish you the very best of luck!
* not her real name
Next: Low Contact
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.