Strategies for Dealing With a Narcissistic Mother That Work

strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother

( For the audio version- go to the end of the post)

 

“I know she’s a narcissist… but I need strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother that work.”

Exhausted, demoralized, and frustrated, if you are a daughter of a narcissistic mother…you are at the end of your rope or will be in the near future.

Maybe you’ve thought about going no contact, telling her off, or simply hoping she will change. All you know for sure is that you’ve had enough pain and drama for one lifetime.

frustrated wom

 You want off the emotional roller coaster ride.

The thing is, you know she is narcissistic (or suspect she is), but that’s only half the battle…

Knowing isn’t enough. What you need is a strategy, a game plan, and fast.

Luckily I’ve been strategizing with psychotherapy clients (who have narcissistic or difficult mothers) for the past 30 years.  Take it from me, I’ve seen up close what doesn’t work.

But, before we get into what strategies will work, we need to examine the strategies that don’t work and why.

I can save you hours, possible years, even decades of time wasted on perfectly reasonable strategies… that don’t work on a narcissistic mother.

strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother

 

Here are the top 5 strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother that don’t work.

1) Insist Mom get into therapy

Why you do it– Worn out, beat up, and exhausted from the endless back and forth, you are desperate for a 3rd party to help you navigate the relationship with Mom. You think, if she won’t listen to you, she will listen to an authority figure. You hope she will open up to a professional whose job it is to help her.

What’s likely to happen The hard-to-handle, defensive Mom will rarely, if ever, enter therapy truly open to getting help.  Her entire MO is deflecting blame and finding fault in other people. Anything less, she experiences as a defeat.  That’s how she has survived so far. So, IF and that’s a big IF she ever darkens the door of a therapist’s office, she will most likely do so with one of 2 objectives, a) to prove she is the victim of your unfair attack b) to prove the therapist wrong,

Mom will come out of the session declaring victory, say the therapist either sided with her or alternatively that the therapist is an idiot/doesn’t know what she is talking about. She will miss the point of therapy entirely. Sadly, she can not enter into the kind of therapeutic relationship with what it takes for her to change- the willingness to be vulnerable, transparent, and reflective.  Nope, not gonna happen in this lifetime.

2) Write her epic letters explaining how she has hurt you

Why you do it-. You think if only she would hear you out, you could explain to her exactly and in detail how she has hurt you. You crave justice so badly you can taste it. Having been treated unfairly for so long now, you are ready to have your say.

What’s likely to happen- Getting it down on paper will probably feel good to you. Laying it all out there will be therapeutic for you. She, on the other hand, is likely to use it as a weapon, cherry-pick a few points to refute your entire argument and point the finger back at you. She will accuse you of false equivalence or demonstrate faux outrage, declaring herself the victim. ” This is my thanks for trying to help you! ”

3) Argue with her, hoping she will see your side-

Why you do it – Not willing to let her bully you any longer, you stick up for yourself and don’t back down. You’ve put up with too much for too long, and you aren’t going to roll over anymore.

What’s likely to happen- Even though it can feel cathartic to let her have it with both barrels after all this time, you rarely get the result you want. Either she fires back with all the ammo she can muster, or she crumbles in a tearful heap– thereby shutting down any effective communication.

4) Try to be good so she’ll be good to you-  

Why you do it- You keep thinking if you can look good for mom, make Mom look good, or make sure mom is good with you; she will return the favor and come through for you.

What’s likely to happen- Sadly, Mom comes to expect it. Her needs take priority and the motto” if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” becomes your mantra. You are programmed from childhood to defer to her needs. You keep waiting for a payoff that never comes.

5) Complain to everyone but Mom

Why you do it- stuck Between a rock and a hard place, you need someone to listen to because it never goes well when you try and talk to Mom. Instead, you chew your husband and/or best friend’s ear off with the same complaints. Troopers that they are, even they get worn out with the same old story time after time, especially when they aren’t the ones that can change things.

What’s likely to happen –They get worn out, and it never really scratches where you itch. The same issues with Mom keep happening, like groundhog day. Depression and anxiety get a foothold in your psyche as hopelessness sets in. 

At this point, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. 

You aren’t doing anything wrong. In fact, you are only doing what comes naturally to you, what would come naturally to any daughter, given what you have to work with. Working for mom’s approval, trying to reason with her, exploding in frustration when you can’t get through to her, and thinking it must be your fault when all of your attempts fail.

But you would be wrong in thinking that there was something wrong with you. You see, your survival brain, trying to keep you alive and well, made some bargains in early childhood and signed contracts with Mom that aren’t healthy for you now. Your evolutionary mandate to make it work with the one God gave you was in full operation.

The problem now is- you don’t know those contracts to put mom’s needs ahead of your own are way past their expiration dates and sorely in need of an upgrade. You may be using an old operating system even though you are a grown adult woman, yet the assumptions mom makes are a product of a time when she had full power over you.

Here’s the problem… and it’s not you!

If Mom is truly narcissistic and has a full-blown personality disorder– she cannot, will not, set her concerns aside and put herself in your place. The defenses that make up a narcissistic personality will prevent her from dropping the shield she uses to defend herself from what she fears is psychological devastation- even for her own child (you).

Unfortunately, all of your approaches are dependent on her willingness to at least meet you halfway. However, that particular chip is missing.

 

 Exactly why these strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother don’t work

A) Working for mom’s approval – if she is narcissistic, she needs to be superior; therefore, you need to be inferior. Ergo, she can’t give you the approval you crave. She would lose her advantage. It isn’t because she is evil; it’s because the defenses she uses to keep her from falling into a cauldron of self-loathing demand she come out on top.

Sadly she needs to defeat everyone, including you.

B) Waiting to get Mom’s permission to take charge of your adult life – Chances are you don’t even know you are doing it. You’ve been trained all of your life to take the subservient position so as not to rock the boat, challenge mom, or upset her. Yet, it is in your vocal tone, the way you ask a question rather than make a statement. You think if you don’t threaten her, she will grant you permission to do what’s best for you.

The truth is, if Mom is narcissistic, she needs to keep you subservient (under her), so she treats your deference as a weakness and refuses to grant you permission.

C) Expecting Mom to empathize with you-  I’ve seen too many daughters, particularly trapped in the role of the good daughter, collect hurts expecting Mom to wake up one day and realize all they have endured for mom and finally give them the love they deserve. Except the only one counting is you. Mom is just being Mom oblivious to the hurt she causes.

The harsh truth is, that narcissism doesn’t allow her the bandwidth to empathize with you. Therefore she can’t see much less face what she has put you through. That would cause her too much shame, the emotion she is working to avoid. Suppose she does register (for a nanosecond) that she is causing you distress. In that case, her defenses quickly come to the rescue (hers, not yours) with a massive rationalization campaign to wipe away any discomfort she may be feeling.

Like an etch-a-sketch… any empathy for you is wiped away.

strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother

Why have I gone so far into the weeds about narcissism and what doesn’t work?

Because this leads to the number one strategy for dealing with a narcissistic mom that will work.

*RESTRAINT*

I know, I know, at first glance, it doesn’t look very sexy, mind-blowing, or transformative. But believe me, it IS.

And, it will be the hardest thing you ever do. Holding back what comes naturally to a normal person is very hard. As a daughter, you keep hoping against hope that one more explanation, one more convincing argument, will make all the difference.

Sadly, it makes no difference. It only exhausts you.

Why is this the number one strategy for dealing with a narcissistic mother?

mouth shut -strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother

 Because a narcissist’s entire game plan is based on defeat, and if she can get and keep you engaged in the arena, she has a fighting chance. Narcissists thrive on gamesmanship. They live to fight, whereas it takes a chunk out of your soul.

You basically are playing two different games. More accurately put, you have two different objectives for relating. Your objective is relational. You want to build a relationship. Most people do. A narcissist’s objective is to wield power over you.

Up until now, you have been speaking the language of mutual respect, kindness, compassion, empathy, and fair play. She has been speaking the language of power, manipulation, intimidation, and of course, one-up-manship.

Strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother have more to do with power than establishing a relationship. Therefore, by keeping your engagement to a minimum, you refuse her the material she needs to put you down.

 

What does restraint look like?

So restraint means -withholding that which she would use to defeat you.

That means you don’t fall for gaslighting, baiting, and love-bombing, all of which are manipulations… disguised as something else- the verbal wolf in sheep’s clothing. These manipulations are designed to throw you off the narcissist’s game, to put you at a disadvantage so she can gain power over you. In a nutshell (pun intended), if something feels off, consider the source.

So now that you are onto the narcissist’s games and less likely to fall for them, you are better prepared to develop some proactive strategies.

Are these strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother easy? NOT ON YOUR LIFE!

Are they possible? ABSOLUTELY!

Are you ready? YES!

 

 Strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother that will work!

Reset expectations with Mom

Whatever your past behavior has led Mom to expect, you can take control and change it up.

For example- When you get an email, phone call, or text, wait for a beat-up (a moment or a day- depending) to respond. Instead of your usual, she says jump, and you say how high, reset her expectation of you. If you’ve always spent the holidays with her, you might stay in a hotel, limit the visit or leave if it becomes uncomfortable.

Lead with intention

Know what is important to you and where you will and will not concede. Take what hasn’t been granted to you.

For example – When mom pushes you to do something you don’t want to do, say, ” Mom, x isn’t as important to me as y. I will be (fill in the blank)ing from now on.

Deflect criticisms from Mom

When Mom criticizes you or weighs in with a bit of unwanted advice, make it clear you have no interest in entertaining her opinions.

For example- “I hear you feel that way, and it’s hurtful to hear. ” / ” I’m not sure why you’d want to say that to me? / “I’ll be deciding (fill in the blank) for myself and will ask you if I need your help ”

Accept that Mom is who she is instead of who you need her to be.

This might seem obvious, yet, children tend to want their parents to be who they need them to be. If Mom has acted in certain ways for years, observed predictable patterns, don’t expect her to change.

For example- Instead of pointing out to her all of the things she does to hurt you, protect yourself accordingly and don’t tie your happiness to her opinion of you.

Own your mistakes and successes instead of serving them up to Mom.

Everyone messes up. It isn’t the end of the world. If you make a mistake, take the lesson and move on. Don’t make too much of the things that don’t work out and create a negative story about yourself.

For example– Instead of explaining what went wrong to Mom, thereby offering up material for her to bash you, process your experience with someone you trust, learn the lesson, and move past it.

Leave your childhood behind.

Accept responsibility for your adult life and claim that life as a grown-up even though your mother may still treat you like a child.

For example – When Mom tries to tell you what to do, tell her you will need to decide for yourself. Make decisions without asking for Mom’s input.

Redefine what it means to be good for yourself.

Good is now independent, self-sufficient, and sovereign. Recalibrate your life to reflect your values instead of hers.

For example -Prioritize yourself. Literally, make sure your needs are taken care of before entertaining taking care of hers. Be prepared that she will test you on this.

Work to disengage any ties of obligation to her.

For It’s hard to negotiate from a position of obligation. If you live under her roof, use her for childcare, and borrow money from her, she will use it as leverage.

Establish your independence even if you have to take it step by step.

The reason all of these strategies for dealing with a narcissistic mother DO work

These strategies are all under your control.

All of your childhood, she held the control. Now that you are grown, you control her access to you and influence over you.

***All that’s left is for you to realize it.***

Once she knows you won’t waver and are solid in your resolve, she knows you are the one with the power.

If you resonate with this article, I have lots more about where this came from- a place where I break it all down and show you the road map. To learn what it took me 30-plus years to figure out that you won’t find anywhere else, go here.

(Here is the audio version of this post)

What strategies have you tried that work or don’t work? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you relate?
If so, here are some ways I can help on your journey from Good Daughter to Empowered Woman:

Do you have The Good Daughter Syndrome? Take the Quiz (It’s Free)

Read the first two chapters of The 4 Good Daughter Traps- Break Free of Your Difficult Mother and Take control of Your Life …for Free- Go here! 

Watch & Learn Video Course Practical Strategies for Dealing with a Narcissistic, Borderline, or Difficult Mother That Work Tips honed from working with daughters of difficult mothers for 30 years, as a psychotherapist.

What Kind of Good Daughter Are You? Conflicted? Independent? Obedient? Take this (Free) Quiz

Consult with Katherine- Private Coaching – When it’s time to tell your story.

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Comments

31 Comments

  1. Korri

    Wow..this all fits my mom to a T…it is going to be the death of me I swear. I am living with my narcissistic mother now and have been for the past 5 years. I am 52 years old and didn’t expect to get a divorce and end up back where it all started. And I’m so completely lost. And confused and tired of dealing with it. I can’t afford to live on my own but am working of course. I pay rent to live with her but it changes nothing. I’m sad and emotionally drained…can you please help me???

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      I”m so sorry you are feeling sad and drained. It is understandable and probably somewhat overwhelming to read an article like this one. Although I can’t know your circumstance exactly, many of my clients feel a sense of hopelessness at first but end up feeling relief when they discover what has been going on with their mothers all along. If this information rings true for you… know that the truth will ultimately set you free. It always does. When the emotional dust settles you can sort through what you can change and what you cannot change. That’s the first step.

      Then be gentle with yourself and gain the clarity and insight which is the gift underneath all the pain.

      From there you have a solid base on which to rebuild your life. If you want help, read around the blog, ask me questions in the comment sections ( I will answer), and sign up for the free offerings here. Where you are isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning if you let it. Best of luck.

      Reply
  2. Sam

    Hi, I am actually a father of 2 a girl 4 months and boy 5 years old. I caught your article on dealing with narcissist moms and how what to do and not do when dealing with them. I do not live with my children but had been trying to fix a broken relationship with there mother who has ptsd and what I suspect as pre-existing NPD. Right now things are really bad cause of the excessive cruel gaslighting , moments of inflated self -recognition, and malicious triangulations narcissism surrounding relationships and mischief behavior that has lead to me questioning if she has been cheating on me. Which I’ve never known her to be that way but might I add that she resides with her well funded support system. Her parents, who I suspect to be community narcissist. I feel as though my children’s mother and I can’t progress in moving out as a family cause of her fears of the bad things that happen in the world. Or her folks maintaining control in a manipulative
    way cause they don’t want to see there grand children move out and be a real family. The support system that was thought to be a much appreciated stepping stone at one time sometimes is used as a weapon towards myself by my kids mom. Where I am not aloud to disagree or have a opinion when it pertains to there well being. Her folks don’t support our children it’s said. her folks support my children and enable her. When trying to set goals to move out. The plans are always deviated from what I suspect as her thinking, there is no incentive to moving her and the children out. How do I deal with her, when I feel as though she tells versions of reality that discredit me and portray her either as a victim or hero or when she makes it seem as though she does not like or want to be with me or want to be with me keeping my children from me as if I am a bad, bad, person.

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Sam,
      If I understand you, you are asking how to support someone being influenced and in the grips of a narcissist. In this case your estranged wife’s parents.

      The best way to handle this is also the hardest.

      Aside from gently encouraging her to read up on the disorder, your best bet is to be a stark contrast. If she is surrounded by judgment and manipulation, you on the other hand can offer support that is non-judgmental, kind, and honest.

      Remember, if your loved one has only known one kind of attachment she will not be likely to let go unless she experiences something different. You can show her that she has a soft place to land if she chooses to go. I’m afraid you can’t force it.

      At the very least you can show your children there is another way to love. Don’t underestimate the importance of your example. You have to be in it for the long haul-not an easy thing to do but important none-the-less.
      Best of luck,
      Katherine

      Reply
  3. zuali

    I dont understand how my mother treated me….she was bankrupt and lose her business too…and as I’m the eldest siblings…i pity her so much that i promised myself that when I grow up I’ll definitely help her and make her success ….and then luckily I got a good job and just after that I paid allher loans from the bank and now she’s free…but she never appreciate me…she treated my sister different from me..she back her up in everything and she keep silent on her faults and appreciate in a little good things she did…but me! even if I work whole day and give all my money….she never appreciate me deep inside…and both my mom and sister never respect me..
    I used to tell myself that one fine day they’ll realize how much I love them and theyll treat me well…but..im tired…its been 7 years but they are getting worse…they even try to kick me out of the house…Before I used to say things nicely but even while I’m talking to her she just walk away from me…after 2 years I started to yell but it’s getting worse…
    one other thing is that I told her that I wanted to open a pig farm…at first my mom hesitate and saying that she don’t wanna do farming..but after 2 years of my prayer she started to accept my dreams and then I took a pig loan and we started a pig farm…im a nurse and even when I’m having day off I always plough the field and took care of the pigs…then now we’re about to get success in piggy farm….she stop sharing with me what’s going on in the farm and I feel like she doesn’t welcome me….i feel like she wanted to keep the pig farm as her own and understimate me in all my hard work and the money I’ve spent…i want what makes her feel secure nd happy..thats what my intention is…But how can she treated me like that as if she wanted to cut me out and dont want me to indulge ….
    how can my mom love me and respect me…? please help

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      It feels awful to be slighted by the very person you’ve tried to help, especially when it is your own mother. That’s what I gather is the gist of your situation.
      It might be time to assess your situation and make a determination about whether or not your sacrifice is paying off. As much as you want her approval and love it might not be in the cards. As hard as it is to accept, it might be advisable to begin to look after your own interests rather than chasing something that never comes.
      Take care,
      Katherine

      Reply
  4. Lucretia Valentine

    Terrific site! My strategy? Write an article, about envy and the mother who thinks she’s Princess Margaret to her sisters Queen Elizabeth, from my perspective. Problem? The slightest scratching round the surface of family history is leading into more of a book length strategy. And to murder, commitment , suicide and eventually, fraud.. I would love some thought partners. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Lucretia,
      Thank you! Your writing project sounds fascinating and hopefully very therapeutic. I’m just sorry you had to live it. 🙁
      Take care,
      Katherine

      Reply
  5. lara

    The goal was never exactly a “pay off” per se, but it is debilitating to realize at 60 years old that the life I gave to be a good daughter will end with resentment from my mother, never being “good enough” and constant scapegoating. The problem now is she’s early early dementia and depression and yet not ready for placement. That leaves hired caregivers or me because my siblings all have lives and young children. She will not tolerate strangers in her home and no one will last with her raging outbursts. Meanwhile, I forsook having a family because I couldn’t balance the narc drama or free myself to be the kind of mom I always dreamed of being; and I regret it every day because raising kids may be hard but there is joy and pure love and creating of magical memories. Raising an 80 year old narc who is so filled with venom is void of joy because she’s incapable of being happy. And because i’ve been the one doing this for decades, I am the one to blame (in her eyes) for that unhappiness. It all stinks.

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      I am so sorry – it sounds like a living nightmare.
      I hope by writing your story others learn from it. In my experience there is no pay off for giving up your life ” for your mother”. I hope you have some affirming people in your life to help balance your mothers’s negativity.
      I know nothing will make up for your sacrifices- and I understand you never intended to give so much to an ungrateful mother…. that her demands made you feel like you had no other choice. It is one of the most cruel twits of fate I hear about and I hear it often.
      Thank you for writing. I hope this will help others see that the hard choice is often necessary.

      Reply
  6. Wendy

    I moved across the country from my family many years ago and I find that I am in a better position to enforce boundaries with my narc mother. She now knows that I will hang up on her if she chooses to be overly critical or engages in name-calling. And she knows I won’t call back and apologize. She knows I won’t answer the phone every time she calls so she actually stopped calling me (!). That is intended to make me feel guilty for not giving in immediately to her whim, but actually it allows me to only have contact with her on my terms and when the timing is right for me. She takes every opportunity to try and make me feel guilty about this but I just ignore it (no point in arguing!). Another one of her tactics is to ignore any long emails that I send her (I find that writing is a safer way to communicate with her). At first I was confused by this but then I realized that she answered brief emails, just not longer ones (and she knows how to type/not just hunt and peck, so it’s not about being a difficult thing for her to do). She thinks that if I don’t hear back from her then I will call her to find out if she got the email. So as soon as I realized that was the strategy, I stopped taking the bait and now I just let my emails sit unanswered, knowing that she absolutely did see them and is just being witchy. I have learned not to be vulnerable around her (in one of her long ago tirades, she got mad at me because I “never act upset” about anything–ha! That’s because she is only allowed to see the superficial me). Basically we keep our conversations centered around the few topics we agree on and I tell her what my kids have been up to and that’s pretty much it. It’s a sad thing to feel unknown and unloved by your own mother but it is what it is and I have accepted that I can’t change her. Some days I do better with it than others (what I would give to have a mother who just listens to what I have to say and offers solace instead of judgment and orders!). I have endeavored to be the opposite of my mother to my children and I hope that I have stopped that cycle at least. I have learned to feel pity for my mother because she is a miserable person with no friends and that’s how she’ll spend her remaining days and that’s how she will die. Alone and self-centered and clueless.

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Thank you for your well thought out and articulated comments and strategies. I imagine those have been after many tears and much frustration. I know your words and generosity in sharing will help others.

      I do hear and am sorry for the pain you are still left with but appreciate that you have been able to break the cycle with your own children. That is no small thing IMO.
      Take care,
      Katherine

      Reply
    • Christy D Powell

      Ditto… Your story and mine are the same. It took me almost 50 years to realize it. It really is sad, but in hindsight, it made me a great Mother and Grandmother and my kids love me and tell me all the time. She just wrap her head around how much my children love me and wonders why her children (besides me) have nothing to do with her. So, if nothing else, I’m grateful for that!

      Reply
  7. Lori

    This is what works – you cut ties. Plain and simple. After a lifetime of doing all the things that don’t work, and naturally moving toward what you suggest – even that was too costly. Cutting ties has saved.my.life.

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Lori,
      Only you can know what is best for you and it sounds like it was the only choice. I have certainly seen that in some circumstances this to be the case. Thank you for writing and best of luck to you.
      Katherine

      Reply
    • SS

      I did the same thing–cut off all ties going on about 18 years ago. Best move I ever made. Blessings to you.

      I really enjoyed this article and its suggestions–but when the situation is so toxic, sometimes walking away is all that’s left.

      Reply
  8. Madeleine

    When I suddenly understood (age 55) that I was the ‘good daughter’ of a narc mother, I took time away from her to get therapy and begin my healing from the life of pain. 4 years on, I can be myself at last and while I haven’t gone non contact (it would cause more problems for my sibling) I’m keeping her at an emotional distance and visit with her on my own terms. The most effective strategy with her is zero tolerance. When she behaves badly I walk away. It’s pointless getting into any kind of criticism or discussion, she doesn’t get it and just becomes defensive and histrionic. Walking away disarms her so she can’t win.

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Dear Madeline,
      Congradulations on your success! There is some great advice here. I hope others will benefit from your example.
      Thank you for sharing,
      Katherine

      Reply
  9. Bethany A Heinesh

    Wow! Thank you for creating this website and sharing these tips and trips for dealing with a narcissistic mother. I am truly grateful for you!

    After tolerating years of outrageous behavior from my mother and the abusive treatment we all know so well, I went no contact five months ago. It started off just needing space, but her antics just pushed me further away.

    Interestingly, I feel I have been thrust into this gut-wrenching introspective evaluation of abuse inflicted by my mother that started from the time I could walk. Her sickness and unwillingness to get well has negatively impacted me to the core of my being in ways I am just now realizing. I am not only furious, but deeply hurt and overwhelmed with sadness.

    My mom is 80 years old and has some health difficulties, but she can take care of herself for the most part. But, she lives in my apartment complex and for the past four years I have been helping her and have nursed her through multiple surgeries. I was doing SO MUCH for her.

    Alas, I just walked away from it all because I just couldn’t take it anymore! I have two older siblings, but they gave up on our mother years ago. My mom has no family or friends. Even though walking away has been awesome for me, I feel terribly guilty for “abandoning her.”

    So here is my question:

    What advice can you give to us good daughters who have abusive narcissistic mothers who are elderly or in ill health? How can we take care of ourselves and show restraint without out carrying the burden of guilt for leaving them, even when leaving is absolutely necessary for our sanity?

    Sincere Thanks,
    Bethany

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Bethany- I have worked with several clients on this very issue. The solution is different for everyone – however, there are some themes and patterns that emerge.
      1) A pattern of bullying. When Mom has used the pattern of intimidation to get her way- you have to stop rewarding that behavior. Make it clear you will not reinforce her negative/cruel behavior with more compliance… and of course follow through.
      2) Carrying an unfair load. When mom relies on one child more than the others and just “expects” her good daughter to come through for her, you can let her and your siblings know you won’t be continuing solo in the role. Reset expectations.
      3) Instead of being at her “beck and call” determine her needs (not only what she says they are) and hire help if you can or get compensation from your siblings ( if there are the resources).
      4) Set limits around what you are willing to do for her. For example, one client I worked with told her mother she would only visit her twice a week and answer texts and emails on a regular schedule that she set. Her mother was so abusive she would only agree to meet her in the dining room- knowing her mother would feel social pressure to rein in the abuse) when she was in public.

      I’ve seen all of the above work wonders. Of course, you have asked what if you need to have no involvement. That is a perfectly acceptable stance in my book. Also if you are clear that you can walk away completely, you are in a great bargaining position if you want to step in at all.

      Overall, I’d say you have more power than you know.

      To those who say “what do I owe my mother? I say… more importantly, what do you owe yourself? ”
      Take care and keep writing in.
      Warmly,
      Katherine

      Reply
  10. Aprilaurie Whitley

    I can relate to every comment on here. My mother turns 81 today, and I have had no contact with her for over 2 years. I feel huge, huge guilt, but I also feel free. It is, honestly, the worst state to be in. I am terribly conflicted, but when I think I should contact her again, everything from the past bubbles up, and I feel as though my life will be I terrible turmoil again. I really don’t need to hear all that criticism again. I don’t think I am ready to handle it. I don’t know if I will ever be able to handle it again. Ugh. How the heck did I wind up with a mother like this? Why was I never good enough? Why cant I ever be good enough? It just tiring.

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Thanks for writing Aprilaurie- I totally hear you. The feelings of relief and guilt seem to go together, initially, that is. I’m actually in the process of writing a book on how to set boundaries without feeling guilty ….so stay tuned.

      In it, I show how the guilt you feel is rooted in very old unconscious agreements your survival brain made to bond with a very flawed person. Not because you are flawed but because you are biologically primed to do whatever it takes to bond with your “given” caretaker.

      You took on the burden of bonding with a mother who needed to put you down (never good enough) because she needed to be superior or relevant or just needed to be needed. I posit that you can have outsized feelings of guilt that are disproportionate to your actions. You were never meant to take care of her emotions even though your evolutionary brain says you are/were.

      If the terms of the relationship with her are bad for you- think about what you owe yourself.

      Know that there are many out there in your same situation making the hard but sometimes necessary decision to move past the endless, fruitless involvement with a mother whose relational terms are toxic for them.
      Take care,
      Katherine

      Reply
  11. Jessica

    I’m so thankful to have found your site. I am 39, married with 4 children. 5 years ago we moved across the street from my parents because my dad was so helpful with our kids. My dad passed away unexpectedly Christmas Day 2019 and now my mom has gone overboard. We always had a strained, tense relationship but now without my dad- the buffer- it’s so much worse. She wants me to be responsible for taking care of her mental stability and frequently checking on her as well as all the “ honey- dos”. But it’s never enough. I’m never doing enough, I don’t live her enough, I don’t check on her enough. I really want to go no contact, but us living so close might make that hard. Reading your articles and comments is helping me realize I’m not alone and I’m not crazy!!

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Jessica,
      Thank you for letting me know the site has been helpful. You definitely aren’t alone in this dilemna nor are you crazy!
      And oh my gosh- what a terrible way to discover your mother’s true limitations. It must be draining to say the least.

      I hope you will check in frequently to the site and get more and more information and helpful hits. I’m working on an online course for strategies on how to deal with a difficult mother. I’ll need beta testers if you are interested. Stay tuned.
      Best,
      Katherine

      Reply
  12. Michele McFarlane

    So amazing. The article and the comments. I think that I have my mother “under control “ but she still gets me. After not seeing her for five months, she is comfortable to tell me I am wasting my life. She is 82, I am a retired school principal. Why does this even still hurt? Why does she think it’s ok to say stuff like this? My non-reactive response stops the situation escalating, but provides me with no satisfaction. Just days of pain.

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Michele,
      Thanks for writing in.
      Good for you for not escalating the situation. I can appreciate how much self-control that takes.

      It helps some of my clients to respond to hurtful comments like this with ” I’m not sure why you would want to say something like that?” Of course, she will probably have a comeback so you have to weigh that possibility against calling her out.

      The response I suggested helps because you are acknowledging to her that she has a choice and is choosing to be hurtful. It probably won’t stop anything but it might feel good to you to speak to the hostility she is dishing out. It also follows that you would then get off the phone or end a visit.

      In other words, you have set the stage for taking action to protect yourself.

      I think some form of action is important to keep from introjecting or “taking in” her jabs. When you just “take it” you might run the risk of taking it in and carrying around the poison. It’s important that you send the message to yourself that you are rejecting her assessment of you.

      That’s different from arguing with her about your worth.
      Best of luck and let me know how it goes.
      Katherine

      Reply
  13. Margaret

    I am so glad I found this website! My mother is elderly (84) and my older brother has always been the ‘apple of her eye’ and no one else really exists (unless she needs something from me of course). My Dad passed about 10 years ago.

    She engages in this odd behavior with my brother (who I think just tolerates her at times) where they joke about things that make me cringe (most recently their jokes were about covid, other racist comments, making fun of different ethnic groups). I have begun calling her out on this behavior (a handful of times it has been in a public place such as a store) and letting her know that this is unacceptable and I find this offensive. I believe this is how she maintains my brother as her ‘favorite child’ because they share an ‘inside joke’. By the way this has gone on for years. Sometimes when I call her out on it she gets upset with me!

    I didn’t realize until I began researching the definition of a narcissist that this is really a form of manipulation…..
    Thanks again for you information!

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hi Margaret,
      It never ceases to surprise me the number of difficult mothers who elevate one child – idealizing them and then be so hard on another. And… how often this idealized child is a son. What’s more, the idealized son rarely has a “real” relationship with Mom. He tolerates her while she thinks he can do no wrong.

      It’s no wonder these personalities take marginalized groups.. “others”.. and use them as their objects of scorn. I’m sorry you are caught in the crosshairs of her hate and limitations. I’m glad this website has been useful.
      Best to you,
      Katherine

      Reply
  14. David

    I read this for a client of mine. It sounds as if my father is narcissistic or at least having several narcissistic traits. I would imagine this information/strategies apply to son’s and their fathers?

    Reply
    • Katherine Fabrizio

      Hey David,
      Thanks for writing in and being on the lookout for anything that would help your client.

      I do think the strategies mentioned here are applicable for sons as well as daughters. Fathers who have narcissistic defenses tend to be more overt and grandious while mothers can skew towards the covert variety. Either way, the strategies to deal with them tend to reinforce boundaries and how to resist playing their games.
      I hope this is helpful for you.
      Thanks,
      Katherine

      Reply
  15. David

    Thank you so much! I also found other authors who have written about sons/fathers and being children of narcissistic parents.

    Reply

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