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Please help me devise coping strategies to deal with toxic mother

(78 Posts)
Ginshizz Fri 21-Sep-12 10:42:06

Hello, here is a brief bit of background to my relationship with my mother:

- I grew up pretty much just with my mother. My father was away a lot with work as he was in the forces; my brothers are much older than me and were at boarding school; as we moved around a lot, I had no real long term friends.

- Looking back now, I can see that my mother was full of self pity and depression. She constantly looked on the bleakest possible side of everything, saw the worst in everyone and everything, and was resentful of anything that went well for me, finding something negative to say about anything good that I did or any good luck I had. If she could not find anything suitably dark to say, she would rely on her old favourite "oh well, the IRA will probably blow us up anyway."

- unsurprisingly, I became fearful of everything and everyone and believed that no matter how well I did in anything, it wasn't good enough. I became very depressed at an eary age (diagnosed at 9 by the forces Dr who said in my notes, it was due to my parents).

- At fifteen, I was a straight A student who kept being told by my mother that I was stupid and my school was rubbish which is why they thought I was good and that I would never get into university.

- On being accepted into Cambridge, I realised she was talking shit. I had a blinding moment of realisation when I saw she has just been transferring all her shit onto me and, while my friends had all been supported and buoyed up by their parents, I had been let down terribly by mine.

- I then had a great time enjoying life, feeling positive about the future for the first time ever, and generally stayed the hell away from the toxic, depressive old witch.

- things have become more complicated since having DD who is now 18 weeks old. Having a DD of my own makes me even more livid at how I was treated - I would do anything, anything , for my little girl and want the very best for her. I can not understand the resentful, jealous, undermining awfulness I was subjected to. I am beyond furious that this woman refers to herself as my mother.

- However, she is still married to my father and I want him to see DD. The upshot has been an uneasy truce whereby they have seen DD twice together and DF has seen her twice on his own. When my so called mother came up to see DD last time, she was vile. She said things like "someone has to keep an eye on that baby" ie I am not looking after her properly; she said to DD when she started crying "mummy doesn't love you and daddy doesn't love you" at which point I flipped and asked her to leave; she even had a go at me because she thought the cat looked sad and neglected (our cat is a very content, well fed puss who is effectively queen of the house and isn't so much as slightly downcast ever). These are just a few examples of the shit to which we were subjected.

- anyway, my parents are coming up next week and spending the night. I don't know why I agreed to this. I think it's because I want my dad to see DD. I am shaking with anxiety already that the bitter old witch is going to be, well, herself.

What should I do? Cancel? Prepare some put downs in advance? What can I do to minimise her awfulness?

Erggggggh. I would love to hear from anyone else who had experienced anything similar! And any advice on how I can keep the toxic awfulness away from my lovely DD would be gratefully received.

I suspect I am just going to have to cancel ... Such a shame for DD to miss out on time with my dad though.


Thank you for reading my rant... thanks

CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 21-Sep-12 10:48:09

I actually think you'll be fine because you're already standing up to her. 'Prepare put-downs in advance' and be ready to ask her to leave the minute she steps out of line. If she behaves herself - and she might well do that after the last time - then all's well that ends well. Also make it clear to your DF that he needs to pull his weight. He can't sit there playing the innocent and saying nothing.

It's your home, you're in contol, you're not an easily manipulated little kid any more.... I think the experience will be more cathartic than you anticipate.

Tiago Fri 21-Sep-12 10:49:50

"Be careful mother, your claws are showing" in response to her comments?

What does your Dad do about her?

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 21-Sep-12 10:57:19

Many children now adults who were subjected to such toxic parenting have FOG - this is an acronym for fear, obligation, guilt. A combination of all three may have played a part in you agreeing for them to stay a night.

I would cancel such an arrangement, an excuse can be readily made here.

You really should not have them within your own home. I would suggest they stay in a hotel instead.

Do you get along with your siblings; what sort of relationship do they have with their parents these days?.

Toxic parents more often than not end up being toxic grandparents and this crap can also filter down the generations.

Would not actually feel too sorry for your Dad in all this as people from dysfunctional families end up playing roles. You seem like the scapegoat for all their inherent ills. Your Dad has put up with her and has failed to protect you and your siblings from her cruelty and outbursts. Your Dad is likely to have played the role of bystander i.e act out of self preservation and want of a quiet life. He escaped via work. He is also still with her; he gets what he wants from this relationship as does she.

You did not make your mother the way she is; it was likely her own birth family who caused that damage to her.

You cannot change them but you can change how you react to them.

I would also suggest you read Toxic Parents written by Susan Forward and look at the "well we took you to Stately Homes" thread that is on this Relationships page. I would also look into having counselling regarding the relationship with your parents; BACP may be worth looking into as NHS lists for counselling are miles long.

chatsworthy Fri 21-Sep-12 11:24:50

Oh dear OP - I can sympathise as I grew up with a very toxic father. I will second what Cogito has said above in that I think you will be fine because you recognise her for what she is. Once you start realising there is absolutely nothing you can do to change her (and that she never ever will apologise) I think you can get it to a really healthy head space which will help you deal with her when you have to see her.

I would also second what Attila says about not feeling too sorry for your Dad. I felt very sorry for my Mum because she had to live with my Dad who was a psychotic lunatic a lot of the time. However, after my Dad died I suddenly realised that my Mum actually says a lot of the things he said, she just didn't scream it at us. She is nowhere near as toxic as my Dad was, but she can still be there with a very quick putdown just when you don't need it. I guess this is the effect of living with a narcissist for 40 years.

I found having kids really made me think about how I was brought up which in itself can trigger all sorts of unhappy memories. Counselling worked brilliantly for me and helped me realise I wasn't going mad. Good luck!

CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 21-Sep-12 11:33:31

"You cannot change them but you can change how you react to them."

Which is already happening ....progress..... and I think OP that to cry off having your parents stay in your home because mummy dearest might make nasty remarks would be a retrograde step. It's a power-game, ultimately. When you were a little kid you were powerless but also ignorant to what was going on because you had no other term of reference. Now you're an intelligent, grown woman you can not only see what's going on but refuse to tolerate it. The weekend may therefore throw up more friction points but, as long as you feel in command and you're on home turf, I think you'll get a lot of confidence out of it. Maybe rather than 'fear, obligation and guilt' you feel you're finally getting somewhere winning that power-battle? Laying the ghost?

Cokeaholic Fri 21-Sep-12 11:48:48

Don't forget the MN standby putdown/response of "Did you mean that to sound so rude ?"

I would say cancelling/postponing is just creating a fearful future experience.

Go ahead with the visit and pounce on her every.little.unpleasant.remark. Enlist your dh to do the same. Seize the chance to bring her to heel or go no-contact, the chioce is ultimately hers as it will be dictated by her future behaviour.

Call her on them ALL. Involve your Father if possible, as after all he must see this stuff and realise it is not an acceptable way to behave. If he doesn't he needs educating even at your parents age.

I personally would have wanted an immediate heavy discussion after the "your mummy doesn't love you and your daddy doesn't love you" remark.

She may not want to visit again if she realises that you are on to her and she has to be polite and thoughtful in her comments.

my own mother is mildly toxic at times but I'm fairly certain my dad had words with her about her critical way of treating me at about the time my first child was born as I was amazed at how non-judgemental she was and then I realised that dad stayed throughout all of the early visits which was unlike him. He'd usually take dh out somewhere or vice versa but he didn't leave mum alone with me and my pfb until some months later when I'd had time to find my feet and mum had seen that things are very different these days in the world of babies and she was the one out of touch with the recommended way to do things

Ginshizz Fri 21-Sep-12 12:24:22

Wow thank you all for taking to time read my rant and to give me such thoughtful and helpful feedback.

I agree that cancelling would be storing problems up for th future so I think I will go ahead with letting them stay.

The comments about my dad are very interesting. He is a committed catholic and I used to think that was why he didn't get divorced but I have come to see that there must be something more to it than that. Until I had DD I just assumed he didn't want to take sides but, since realising that if DH so much as uttered a tiny percentage of the horrors I had thrown at me on a daily basis (not that he would), I would happily march out with DD and live in the garden shed rather than expose her to such tosh, I think it isn't that simple.

So on some level I think DF is complicit in all of this. I remember being struck by the craziness that he is a brave man who risked his life to fight for his country but telling my mother to shut up when she was clearly damaging me was beyond him. I refuse to believe that she is nearly as scary as an army of argentinians trying to kill you... Although sometimes I think the army would have been a more preferable foe because at least you knew what they were up to!

I love the "did you mean that to sound so rude" comment. Genius. I will be informing DH that we will sprinkle that liberally around any conversation with my mother.

Fortunately DH totally sees what the bitter old boot is like. I think it was when she started telling him that I was very lazy, didn't work hard enough at school / uni and am basically wasting my life away doing nothing of importance that his hackles were well and truly up. She seems to use slagging me off as a way of bonding with other people ... Which is odd as most people find a mother slagging off her daughter quite repulsive; especially if you are married to said daughter so there's a chance you've decided you quite like her!

Sadly my brothers don't get it. They both conformed to what my mother saw as a worthwhile career (both in the forces) and wee both married and had kids by the time they were 21. I had the audacity to be self employed in a totally non military environment and to wait until the very old age of 36 to have DD! So, according to my mother, the sun shines out of my DBs' arses and I am the devil. Which is nice for me.

I tried talking to my brothers about it when my mother called me up the day before my finals at uni and told me that DF needed a heart transplant. This was not true in any way (DF is as fit as an ox). My brothers just said I must have misremembered the conversation. Y'know because that is the kind of thing you'd probably misremember isn't it? I often confuse "your dad's just nipped down the shops to get a paper" with " your dad needs a heart transplant." FFS.

Strangely, my nieces do get it. She is a controlling and judgemental old hag to them and they hate it. She used to delight in slagging me off to them (which they found confusing as i get on well with them) but they are now all over 20 and simply tell her to shut up.

I have no idea how to broach this with my father. I feel I should warn him that I am not going to take any more of her shit and he needs to rein her in or bring some of his old body armour up when they come to stay.

I think the fear, obligation, guilt point is a good one. That is exactly how I used to feel but I won't accept it any more - which, I suppose, means I have to prepare for the consequences.

One of my friends said to me that they thought my mother was very narcissistic. I know what the word means in the general sense but can anyone tell me what it means in terms of parenting? Or point me in the direction of a book that could enlighten me?

I will def read the toxic parents book.

I am so sorry to hear that other people have had similar experiences but it does make me feel less isolated and more like this whole mess is my mother's problem, not mine.

I simply won't let this shit get anywhere near my DD. Even if it is going to cause huge family friction, I'm determined not to let her be part of this cycle.

<must keep fired up to make sure i don't let my defences slip!>

Thank you again for your posts and grrrrrrr to parents who pass their own crap onto their children rather than dealing with it themselves!


CogitoErgoSometimes Fri 21-Sep-12 12:43:03

"I have no idea how to broach this with my father."

Simply tell your Dad that, whatever reasons he has for tolerating her behaviour, you won't be putting up with any crap. That way he can't say he wasn't warned and how he chooses to respond is his business. As you already have a reputation for not being meek and obedient I don't think this will come as any surprise tbh smile

Yes, your mum probably ticks all the 'narcissistic personality disorder' boxes. There are volumes written on the subject but I'd distill it down as being an extreme form of drama queen where the subject is centre of the universe and others are only engaged with or tolerated if they aggrandise the subject's own sense of self-importance and/or make the other feel inferior.

I think you're taking the right approach.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 21-Sep-12 12:54:02

Children of the Self Absorbed written by Nina Brown is a good book.

Would also suggest you visit the website entitled Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Such women always but always need a willing enabler to help them and she certainly found a willing person in your Dad (who escaped her by throwing himself into work). He also failed you utterly by failing to protect you from her outbursts and general madness.

You can warn your Dad but he may well not listen or even want to listen to any comments even if come across as completely reasonable. Your father too will likely side with his wife in all this; she has trained him well to be her enabler. Also he has allowed himself to be her enabler.

You may well feel empowered now by reading our comments (fab and you are making progress) but actually standing up to your mother after a lifetime of such conditioning may be very difficult for you to do when she is ranting or standing in front of you. Narcs really have the most awful mouths on them, their language is often awful. Its not impossible though, its going to take time and you also need and fortunately have your DH to back you. I would recommend counselling though for yourself re your relationship with your parents.

Am glad to read that DH is on your side; you must both present a united front to your parents and not waiver in any way. Ensure that you have clear and precise boundaries with regards to your parents and may I suggest you raise them even higher now in advance of their visit. Discuss this with your DH. You have and should throw the pair of them out immediately if you get any crap directed at you, your DH or your DD. I also note that your mother to my mind treats all women with disdain; she was probably raised to value and put men on a pedestool. I reiterate; you did not make her this way. What do you know about her background by the way; that will give you clues.

If you do feel your mother is narcissistic, it is to my mind not possible to have a relationship with her. She could well end up using your DD as narcissistic supply.

chatsworthy Fri 21-Sep-12 13:14:33

I'm glad this is helping you feel better. You'd be amazed how many of us grew up in households like this. I started being more honest with my friends when I came to terms with my dad's behaviour and I was stunned how many other people had similar experiences. My DH is also very supportive and it makes a huge difference to your mental state if you have someone around who you know believes you. If you do tell your dad that you are not putting up with this anymore don't be shocked if he minimises what you are saying to him. I gave up with my mum because she would accept his behaviour was awful, but then would say he had a terrible upbringing, or that he was stressed at work etc. Conversations like this always leave me in a really anxious state so I stopped doing it.

The only person you can change is you, so focus all your energies on stratergies to protect your mental health. And if you can sort out some counselling for yourself then do.

Ginshizz Fri 21-Sep-12 15:28:03

Sooooo interesting - especially the drama queen point and the idea of using people as a narcissistic supply.

Th drama queen comment made me remember when we were in a car crash - it could have been horrendous but fortunately nobody was hurt. Before she had even checked whether my father or I were ok (or the people in the other car), my mother started banging on about " why does everything bad have to happen to my things? Why was it my car? Why couldn't it have been your car [directed to DF]" hmm

I feel very uncomfortable giving my mother any information about DD. She constantly hassles DH and me for info like her weight, height etc but my instinct is to tell her nothing as I know she will immediately construct some sort of story involving DD but mostly about trying to elicit pity for my mother IYKWIM. For example, DD was in special care for a few days after being born and we didn't tell anyone as we were busy spending time with her and she was under observation, not treatment so there was no reason to worry people. My mother found out because she was pressurising us so much to visit that DH let it slip. The story that went around our relatives wasn't "oh thankfully everything is ok and they will be home soon," it was "poooooor me, nobody tells me anything, can you believe that Ginshizz didn't tell me her DD was still in hospital, how do you think that makes me feel etc etc."

Is that what is meant by narcissistic?

And thanks for the point about my DF minimising my views if I broach the issue with him. Yes, I can see how that might happen but at least now I can be prepared.

Thank you again for your posts, it's been a real eye opener reading your comments


Ginshizz Fri 21-Sep-12 15:33:44

And sorry for rambling, it's just such a relief to talk to people who know where I'm coming from!

Viking1 Fri 21-Sep-12 16:29:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Ginshizz Fri 21-Sep-12 16:39:06

Oh Viking that sounds terrible. I am so sorry to hear that. What a bitch to be so toxic she has dripped her poison into your child. What a horrible woman.

Thank you for the warning; every inch of my body screams not to let my mother have any direct, unsupervised contact with DD and your experience makes me think I am right in being cautious.

I know it's not much consolation but I am sending birthday wine to you for the weekend xxx

deleted203 Sat 22-Sep-12 02:55:33

OP, have you noticed that your DM cannot bear other women? You say she is a judgemental old hag towards your nieces (and yet the sun shines out of your DBs arses). It sounds to me as though she is pathetically jealous of younger, smarter, prettier women in general. I would be very wary of having her around my DD as she gets older. Who needs a dreadful old woman like that putting them down all the time? It might be helpful to realise that it's not YOU in particular she is toxic towards - but your sex, perhaps.

Ginshizz Sat 22-Sep-12 12:31:58

sowornout that's a good point. She is accepting of my SILs because they chose the "correct" path of marrying and having babies young, but she is never warm or glowing about them in the same way as she is about my DBs.

I have been having a big old think about this overnight and thank you all so much for your posts as I have realised that her evil behaviour towards me isn't actually as personal as it seems. I think it's largely down to the narcissism issue which means it can't be about me personally because her frame of reference is always herself so, as you have said, any woman in my position would have elicited such craziness.

I also suspect what she wanted from a daughter was someone to reinforce her view of the world by being a little mini-me who sucked up all the negativity and was just as pessimistic about things as she is. this would have been an ideal mirror for her and not challenged her in any way. So I certainly wasn't what she wanted hence her efforts to grind me down to become like her.

This has led me to think that long term, there is no way I can let her have a relationship with DD. Attila I see what you mean about it being impossible to have a relationship with this kind of person and I certainly do not want DD to come into contact with this sort of toxicity.

My plan is to be very strident about challenging any shitty comments immediately and DH is on board with this. I think it will lead to a big old stinky family argument but screw it; I am pretty sure that DF and DBs must see how crappily I have been treated and if they choose to continue to turn a blind eye then the only thing I can do is to remove myself and my wonderful girl from the equation.

Heartbreaking really but I don't think there is anything else I can do.

Thank you all again for your posts - they have really helped me get a better grip on things

<rolls up sleeves ready for a fight>


Viking1 Sat 22-Sep-12 12:41:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Ginshizz Sat 22-Sep-12 12:55:13

shock angry

Viking that is DESPICABLE. I cannot imagine how awful that must have been for you, what a dreadful situation. I hope you had kindness and support from other people to help you through the attack and the vile response from your ... I don't even really know what to call her.

Thanks for the tip about what to expect. I will brace myself for it. I suspect there will be much emotional blackmail and attempted manipulation as well as a hefty dose of venom.

I am a bit anxious about how this will impact on my relationship with the rest of my family but, it's not like they've been very supportive for the last 36 yrs so at least if things are out in the open, they can't ignore the issue any more.

Is it too early for a gin to steady my nerves??? grin

cybbo Sat 22-Sep-12 13:01:04

I really envy people who have supportive, interested parents

I've just started a years teacher training course so my career is finally on track, I had to teach myself and resit GCSEs to get there, and am proud of myself!

And thank god I am because my mothers only comments have been ' oh your brother always wanted to be a teacher ' and she has the hump with me if I'm busy doing assignments and can't take her weekly boring phone all about Roger across the road and his piles


Viking1 Sat 22-Sep-12 14:10:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

deleted203 Sun 23-Sep-12 00:31:10

'You won't be able to do that'? You were accepted into Cambridge FFS! And as a teacher of 20 odd years experience, teaching stroppy teens, I can tell you, girl, that if you can handle your old Ma then you can handle anything a 15 year old can throw at you! (And little people are even easier!). Good luck in your teacher training - I have great confidence in you smile.

LineRunner Sun 23-Sep-12 00:51:45

Good luck, OP, and good luck, Viking, and good luck, Cybbo.

FFS you are are wonderful and brave.

LineRunner Sun 23-Sep-12 09:44:42

(My mother's mission in life is to make other people unhappy.)

Ginshizz Sun 23-Sep-12 17:05:54

Well you lot are truly inspirational! If you can do all that, then I can be strident about not letting toxicity reach my DD.

I still can't believe that there are so many of us out there who have had to deal with all this nonsense. Well done us for surviving!

Parents are arriving tomorrow so I will keep you posted...!


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