Part I addressed the problem: Some of us have mothers intent on our emotional destruction, who habitually diminish and criticize us. Part II listed the emotional and spiritual steps for limiting contact with a narcissistic mother, or for severing ties completely.
You have decided to go No-Contact (NC). What next?
Well, first, 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 to believe her tale of woe and victimization, and sent to convince you of your wrongdoing.
A reader, Shannon L., shared, "The further I move away from my mother (literally and figuratively) 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 NC from my mother.
My husband and I had closed on a house on December 24, 2013. We had about four weeks to clean it up, paint it, tear out some ugly counters and put in flooring. So instead of dinner and Mass on Christmas Eve, we decided to get started on the house and have a family meal Christmas day instead.
I invited my mother: “Our new house closes on the 24th, so we will be celebrating Christmas on Christmas Day.”
Amidst 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, 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.”
So, while my husband and I were gutting an empty house, a few blocks away my mother was weeping on the phone to her sister about her fantasy of being excluded from an imaginary family Christmas celebration. 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, despite the fact I’ve done nothing wrong.
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 characteristic of the narcissist’s emissaries is that they do not 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.”
“She won’t be around forever. You’ll be sorry when she’s dead.”
People who had loving mothers, whose sole 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 that 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.”
Once having extracted oneself from regular, persistent emotional abuse, a keen sensitivity to emotional manipulation develops. Not that one needs to go NC 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 choose those people. We stop trying to ingratiate ourselves with people who clearly dislike us.
In addition to counseling or spiritual direction, find activities that help you create a sense of self and grow in confidence. It might be painting, a book club, starting a small business, or taking a trip. Find joy.
For me, it was tennis. Tennis helped me establish a circle of active, 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.
Author Dianne Schwartz, who went NC from her mother, shared, “When I stopped expecting and hoping that my mother would care, I healed.”
An acquaintance, Nicole — not her real name — was more jaded. “Frankly, I don't think I'll ever be ‘healed,’” Nicole 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 will somehow still hurt us is reminiscent of the closing scene of the Stephen King’s “Misery.” Paul Sheldon, now healed, 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 forever looking over our shoulder.
Melissa B. 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.”
Finally, as part of our growing towards wholeness, let us claim the blessings our emotionally abusive mothers have unintentionally bestowed upon us.
Dianne Schwartz posed the question, “Did I ask for this life before I was born? I believe I did, because my mother's selfishness and coldness made me a better person. This isn't to say there was some terrific pain along the way, but I grew from it emotionally and spiritually.”
Take your gift of sensitivity, of reading unexpressed emotions, and use it for others, anticipating their needs and bringing healing to every life you touch.
Be brave and be well.
- Edited by Jody Smith