One of the best things I've ever done for my own self-confidence and for my relationship with my parents was to go “no-contact” with my narcissistic mother for over a year. Narcissistic parents create a family dynamic which is all about putting their own needs ahead of everyone else. This becomes a real problem when we become adults because we can end up trapped by the unconscious belief that our parent's needs and desires must always come before our own.
Going "No Contact" With A Narcissistic Parent Can Give You Space To Heal.
Because the emotional dynamics of the parent/child relationship is so strong, this will keep us perpetually stuck as an emotional child emotionally even though we are physically adults. Since our unconscious mind projects our experience of our parents onto everyone else and onto the world at large, the limiting impact of being trapped in the role of a child who must always please their parents restricts our whole lives.
Going “no-contact” with a narcissistic parent is one way to grow up emotionally by breaking this unhealthy parental relationship dynamic.
In my case, things came to a head the day I finally stood up to my critical mother. We had been away for an extended-family weekend in the country to celebrate my mother's older sister's 90th birthday, during which I found the way my mother was treating my father extremely triggering. Everything he said or did, she would criticize. It was the very behavior I had found so damaging growing up around, and even in her 80's she was still doing it.
By the end of the weekend I had a migraine headache and knew it was time to finally express my anger in the form of some healthy boundary setting. It went about as well as you would expect at the time, which is to say not very well at all. However it was the start of my liberation from the perpetual need to keep my narcissistic mother happy.
After returning from the weekend, I exchanged a series of phone calls and letters with my mother where I told her exactly how I felt each time she said or did things that I found triggering. This was the first time in my life that I'd really told her how her behavior was impacting me, and it was very frightening. My nervous system went crazy. It didn't go down well with her, and she basically threw a tantrum to try and shut me down again. However, it was important for me to express how I felt and at least give her the opportunity to hear what I had to say.
The outcome of that was that we agreed that we should have no further contact for the time being. It was the most frightening and yet liberating thing that I have ever done. I went through tremendous feelings of fear, guilt and shame for exercising my own will instead of just continuing to cave in to hers. I suspect part of her motivation for suggesting that we have no contact was to punish me for asserting myself; but it actually worked in my favor because having no contact also meant I didn't have to continue to be triggered by her behavior
It was never my intention to cut contact with my father, but the practical implications of them living together and his passivity in not making the effort to contact me individually meant that I had very little contact with him during this time too. While my mother's critical behavior had always been overtly damaging to me, the damage from my father's passive behavior was due to neglect and the failure to stand up to my mother when she was behaving destructively. Having time out from both of them gave me an opportunity to continue my emotional healing using various forms of therapy without having to deal with being triggered by them every time we had contact.
I ultimately reconnected with my parents when I heard that my father had been diagnosed with cancer. At the time I didn't know how much longer he would live, and the only way I could see to be able to support him and spend time with him was to reconnect with them both; albeit on different terms than we had been before.
Although it was tremendously challenging at the time, the eventual outcome from breaking contact with my parents was very positive. I'm no longer so afraid of my mother, and it feels like she now treats me with greater respect. When I call to say “hello” for instance, she sounds grateful for the call; where previously she would sound resentful for all the time that I hadn't called.
I wouldn't say that my parents are totally different from our time apart, but what has changed is that I'm not so triggered by their behavior any more. When I say “Yes” to something my mother suggests, I know (and I suspect she also knows) that I'm now in a position to say “No” if the plan doesn't also suit me. I've gone from an adult/child relationship to an adult/adult relationship and for the most part broken the old emotional umbilical cord between us.
If you're considering going no-contact with your parents, here are a few tips: Continue reading