In On Leaving Your Mother, Part I, I addressed the concept of going no-contact from a narcissistic, or psychologically abusive, mother. Part 2 is about taking action.
I do not advocate grievance collecting, exacting revenge or nurturing hatred. None of those preoccupations is healthy or desirable. Rather, I hope to provide a path out of a relationship from someone actively opposed to your well-being.
This guide is not an ultimatum to use against flawed mothers. All mothers — and I am one, and a very flawed one at that — sometimes lose their tempers, occasionally impose their will, and frequently offer unsolicited advice.
In contrast, the narcissistic mother habitually diminishes her children, criticizes or competes with their accomplishments, and demeans them.
In a grotesque parody of motherhood, she unearths her children’s vulnerabilities in order to exploit them for the sole purpose of inflicting pain.
The narcissistic mother tells lies for sport, lashes out at her children in secret to avoid witnesses and consequences. If you dare stand up to her, she challenges your perception of reality.
Mine is a Catholic Christian perspective. As Christians, adult children of narcissists are often wracked with guilt, and stay in abusive situations far too long because of a misapplication of the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
I go into detail on the religious implications of the fourth commandment for Catholics (fifth for Protestants) here.
For religious people, a psychologically abusive parent is a conundrum of epic proportions. If your mother hasn’t already convinced you, you will convince yourself you are breaking commandments and are well down that slippery slope to hell. The guilt is unimaginable.
Carmelite priest and mystic John of the Cross taught, “In the end we shall be judged on love alone.” Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, pray for those who hurt you.” The virtue of love is embedded in this guide.
Some daughters of narcissistic mothers are able to maintain a modicum of contact (see Part I). Certainly that is the most loving path.
My personal decision 15 months ago was to go no-contact. I finally had to surrender my desire to be perfect by trusting in a God who loves me enough and who also wants my emotional health and freedom.
I have attained a previously unknown state of emotional equilibrium and wholeness since going no-contact. If my decision was wrong, I trust God loves me enough in spite of it. To quote Joan of Arc, "If I am not in the state of grace, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me."
The following guide is how I found healing from my narcissistic mother. If you are seeking the same, I recommend printing out the guide, returning to it and reflecting on it frequently. Godspeed.
A 10-Step Guide to Going No-Contact From Your Narcissistic Mother
1) Find a counselor, psychologist or spiritual director.
Make and keep regular appointments.
2) With the help of your counselor, start setting, or reinforcing, boundaries with your abusive mother.
- “Please don’t stop by without calling.”
- “Please call me only once a week.”
- “Please don’t criticize me/my spouse to the children.”
3) Renew your spiritual practice or find a new one.
Prayer, meditation, mindfulness and spiritual reading are nurturing practices to heal you from the inside out.
4) Learn the art of self-care.
Daughters of narcissistic mothers are notoriously bad at self-care. Make a habit of mothering yourself: take a nap when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, keep your water glass full.
Budget for a good haircut. Organize your closet, discarding ill-fitting or worn out clothes. Decide you are worth the time and effort it takes to exercise.
5) Find empathetic people in your life with whom to share your joys and sorrows.
Learn not to share too closely with your mother. She will not empathize with your pain or share in your joy.
Psychology Today blogger, Karyl McBride, wrote, “Narcissists are not in touch with their own feelings. They project those feelings on to others and are not capable of empathy. They cannot put themselves into your shoes and feel or understand how something might affect you. They can only see how it affects them.”
When you address conflict with your mother, if she gaslights you, end the conversation abruptly.
“Gaslighting," according to Dr. Robin Stern, "is the systematic attempt by one person to erode another’s reality, by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so ...”
Do not expend energy trying to persuade her of your point of view. She isn’t interested in your point of view.
7) Continue meeting with your counselor, therapist and/or spiritual director.
Once you have established a working relationship, he or she should be able to help you evaluate whether you can stay in relationship with your mother, and within what parameters.
Mind you, this is not a three-month process. Daughters of narcissists have been raised in a school of self-doubt and self-hatred. We need to be taught what is healthy and what isn’t, what a boundary is, and fair and appropriate boundaries to set.
For me, it took 10 years of counseling and a concurrent six years of spiritual direction to decide to finally sever ties with my mother.
Should you decide to go no-contact:
8) Close the doors.
Block your mother’s email from your accounts, delete her on social media and block her cell phone number. Mark mail “return to sender.”
9) Give yourself permission to take drastic action, if necessary.
If your mother shows up at your door, do not answer. If she persists, seek a restraining order. If ever you feel in physical danger, give yourself permission to call 911.
10) Surround yourself with the women you deserve.
Join book clubs, fitness classes, college courses, professional organizations or prayer groups where you will meet healthy women. Cultivate these friendships, but continue to rely on #3 above.
It is mythology, and one you will hear often, that other women will be the mother you never had. When “The Secret Life of Bees” was published, innumerable women told me, referring to my upbringing, “You have to read this book!”
A houseful of nurturing African American women is not waiting to take you in and heal your wounded places. The book is fiction. Seek healthy, nurturing women to add to your life, but remember they will always have their own obligations, relationships and priorities. It is a temptation to have unrealistic expectations of others.
When you witness mothering that reminds you of what you never had, the practice of prayer or mindfulness will allow you to acknowledge that pain and sit with the discomfort.
In the third and final chapter of “On Leaving Your Mother,” I’ll address what comes next: the healing, and the repercussions, of emancipating yourself from emotional abuse.
I would love to hear your success stories in the comments below.
The Narcissistic Mother. psychologytoday.com. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
Forms of Narcissistic Abuse. DaughtersofNarcissisticMothers.com. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
Reviewed September 22, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith