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Very low contact with parents and struggling a bit - reassurance please from people in similar situations!

(113 Posts)
Lottapianos Mon 06-Jun-16 12:22:52

Brief background - narcissistic, engulfing parents who don't do 'independent' or 'different'. Grew up never being allowed to have feelings of my own. Used as marriage counsellor / emotional dumping ground by mother since age 10 / 11. Have struggled with depression and anxiety since forever. Spent 6 years in therapy.

I have been very low contact with my parents for several years now - no phonecalls, text / WhatsApp once or twice a month, see them about once a year (they live in a different country). They never visit me. I very slowly realised through therapy that they were toxic and emotionally harmful. The process of separating and detaching from them emotionally has been excruciating, and I have been deep in grief for the past few years. Every time I see them (not often), I come away feeling drained, scared, depressed and grieving all over again for the relationship I thought I had with them.

I'm coming out the other side of the grief and I have periods where not being in touch with them very much really does feel 'ok'. The situation will never be what I would like it to be, but it honestly does feel ok at times. I remind myself of the awful things they have said and done, remind myself of the psychological effect they have on me, remind myself that there is nothing wrong with wanting to protect and take care of myself. And yet..........

I'm feeling guilty again. Feeling like I 'should' visit them. Like I 'should' be in touch more often. I find myself worrying about them. And then I remind myself that they are adults, in good health, with no financial worries, and they know where I am. I have never not been welcoming when they have visited in the past. So why should I be taking on all of the responsibility etc etc etc

So I'm stuck playing ping pong with myself again! Back and forth between guilt and strength. Its exhausting and I'm tired of thinking about them all the time. Please share any words of strength and wisdom from your own experiences. I know that feelings going up and down is a normal part of this process but I'm really struggling right now

Itsallwrong Mon 06-Jun-16 13:05:41

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 06-Jun-16 13:23:20

I think what you are feeling currently Lottapianos is pretty typical when it comes to adult children of narcissists right down to the FOG (fear, obligation and guilt).

You are having a wobble; your parents are as you say in good health and they have never given you the consideration you so deserve. They are not worried about you are they, they have had a lifetime to make a difference when it came to you and they have not done so. It is NOT your fault they are like this and you did not make them this way (their own families of origin did that lot of damage to them).

Would you consider speaking to a therapist (and one highly versed in the workings of narcissistic family structures) about these very understandable feelings.

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 06-Jun-16 13:31:50


re your comment:-

"I have forged 'congratulations' cards from my mother. Bought presents on my parent's behalf to give to the children at Christmas and on birthdays. Made up excuses as to why they aren't able to visit us. All sorts of weird stuff that makes me feel like I'm going mad. "Deep in grief" is a very good way to describe it.

No-one in my life knows how I feel about my relationship with my family. I daren't ever speak of it, and I'd hate my children to know".

No, no and no again. Please do not lie to yourself or to your children like this. Why enable and or protect your mother like this?. It's all part of your overall "training" by them, your own fear obligation and guilt to these people. Your children may well know its your writing really, they are not daft and they know that she does not contact you as a family. It is NOT repeat not your fault she is like this. Start being honest with yourself and them. Give them the age appropriate truth.

You are certainly doing the right thing by keeping your children well away from people like your mother. Narcissistic grandparents in particular make out for being deplorably bad grandparent figures. They tend to over value or under value the relationship with the grandchild. Actually it is painful to watch a narcissist interact with a grandchild mainly because there is no interaction. They were not good parents to you and such people do not change.

I would suggest you have a look at the website entitled "daughters of narcissistic mothers".

I would also suggest that you contact BACP and find a therapist who is highly skilled in the ways of narcissistic family structures. CBT may not be helpful here as a therapy. You also need to find someone who has NO bias about keeping families together despite the presence of mistreatment.

Onthewingofaswift Mon 06-Jun-16 14:18:27

Hi Lotta/itsallwrong

I read your posts and I can understand your feelings of unrest. I know how it feels to have that horrible uneasy guilt/confusion coupled with knowing you are doing this for the right reasons. Frequently I have to tell myself that I am doing this for a reason, and yes, things are really that bad, and no my mother isnt sitting worrying or caring about me.

I think also being surrounded by society where "being with family" "my mum and I are best friends" "I tell my mum everything" seems everywhere is so hard when (in my case) I can tell my mother nothing, she has no support to give me, she isn't able for whatever reason to have compassion for me (yet has great compassion for her neighbours) and I am not even acknowledged at the most basic level.

I think part of the process is reminding yourself again and again that it is ok to protect yourself and your emotional wellbeing, and they are adults who make their own choices, and you are not responsible for them.I find I have to really think hard about this because my mum switched between cruel and pleasant and old. (hence I am always on the back foot)

I think its especially hard when people around you may be in touch with their parents or when you hear (as I do frequently) "but she is your mum, you should phone her, she is old"

My story is I need to stay in low contact with my mother for my own sake. I got so low wondering what I have done wrong, how can I rectify the things she reminds me I haven't done in the past, how can I be better, how can I get some scrap of affection or approval; that it is deeply affecting my self worth. Always critical of me, and always keeping me on the back foot by reminding me of past failures while never, ever acknowledging me is my mothers method of cruel rejection. So I would try harder and there would be time where she seemed to like me, she would seem interested in me. Then all of a sudden, back to the back foot when she reminded me out of the blue of something I did or didn't do, often years ago. And this circle would continue, me desperate for some scrap of love or approval, some semblance of stability and then when I feel sort of secure...bang...its all ripped from me by some cruel remark, or when I try and talk about something important she will turn away from me, look out of her window and say "ohh look there is so and so, wearing a lovely jumper"

So I am starting the pathway to acceptance that my mother doesn't actually want me, that she emotionally abuses me; and that is her problem, not mine. Because my sibling is no contact with her and my dad is dead I do feel uneasy about no contact so i acknowledge it needs to be low contact and based only on what she needs. I am working on totally disassociating myself from her so she cant influence my emotional health.

I too think I am in a state of grief. It helps when I can see reality for what it actually is, that makes me calmer. I have been very unsettled when I have thought I must call my mother, she is old, she is alone; only to call her and be stonewalled or worse. Because my mother is so nice to other people and tells me how much they think of her, I struggle with the grief around what I see is her active rejection of me and I have to use various CBT exercises not to fall into the trap of convincing myself i need to do things better, and she will start to like me. Unfortunately my brother is no contact with her and gives me no support (as in he refused to mention her or talk about her) so I feel very alone and panicky a lot of the time.

Itsallwrong, could you tell someone about your parents? Are you afraid they may judge you? I tell no-one either because when I have skirted around the subject invariably the person I am talking to tells me something along the lines "you are lucky to have a mum" or similar and they all laugh and say "oh your mum is funny". This fills me with a rage and I feel more isolated than ever. Also people tend to come up with solutions "why dont your talk to her, why dont you visit her and take her shopping". That doesnt help. Convincing people this isnt my fault and I am not overreacting is very hard.

So my only words of wisdom is to take it a day at a time, remind yourself of why this is important, keep working on your own self worth and networks and they are responsible adults and you can only respond to their behaviour not change it.

Lottapianos Mon 06-Jun-16 16:29:22

Thank you all so very much. You have all confirmed what I know deep down and helped me to feel so much less alone with this.

itsallwrong - I totally understand the desire to 'test' them by getting in touch. Its so miserable to feel that your parents have given up on you, or just can't be bothered, or whatever it is that's going on for them. I'm sure we're making a mistake by trying to apply 'normal' rules to their crazy behaviour, but its so hard to let go of that relationship, even if what's left of the relationship seems paltry. I was on ADs for a brief period when I was coming very close to self-harming, and they can work well, although for me, they are a treatment of the symptoms, not the cause. It took psychotherapy for me to really feel that my experience of my parents was changing at a gut level. I wish you lots of luck. Having parents like this is such a cruel cross to bear

Attila- thank you for your wisdom yet again. I know its the FOG calling again, but its so damn hard to shake it off. Its a wobble, you're right. I need to just ride it out. Only a week ago I was feeling really at peace with the whole situation. I do find myself swinging between feeling calm and accepting of the situation, and then back to feeling churned up and desolate about the whole thing again. Its so intensely painful. I've been in therapy for the past 6 years, and only recently brought the sessions to an end. Its been the most gruelling thing I've ever experienced, but also by far the best thing I've ever done for myself. I'm still in pain, but overall I'm calmer, less anxious, more accepting, kinder to myself, less critical of myself and others, and better able to handle tough emotions like anger and jealousy.

Onthewing - I recognise so much of your post! Happy families being rammed down your throat everywhere you turn. The most saccharine, Disney-style version of family being presented as the norm. Your mother having absolutely no support to give you, so not being able to share anything about your life with her. Having to remind yourself over and over and over again that its ok to want to be treated better than this, that you don't owe your parents a relationship if they can't even be decent to you. Its exhausting. So exhausting. Is it maybe like being an addict who is now clean and sober, but having to be on alert all the time for triggering situations, triggering people, avoiding getting sucked back in to any dangerous temptations?

Its so tough. In some ways I feel that its impossible for me to grow up - a part of me is still a child, begging for my parents' love and approval. I haven't had children myself, in part because it is a door I just cannot bear to open. I am terrified of turning into my mother - I can see some of her behaviour in my relationship with my DP and it horrifies me. I'm working on changing it. We had a row this morning and I was feeling very defensive and hurt, but I had the clarity to think 'do NOT react like your mother would'. I'm proud of that. I was able to talk to DP and respond in a way that calmed the hurt, rather than getting stuck into the silent treatment and prolonging the hurt on all sides, the way she would have.

I sometimes wonder what I will feel when my parents die. In some ways I feel I have done my grieving for them and for our relationship. Relief? Lightness? Gratitude? Sadness for them and their miserable lives? I honestly have no idea.

cinammontwist Mon 06-Jun-16 17:52:49

I have to run but I just wanted to say I thought I'd written your post Lotta.

Lottapianos Mon 06-Jun-16 18:01:43

Thank you cinnamon. The loneliness is so dreadful at times, it helps me (and hopefully all if us) so much to know that other people are struggling but surviving in similar situations.

Hissy Mon 06-Jun-16 18:09:15

I hear you too Lotta, it's very lonely being normal in a damaged family.

Hissy Mon 06-Jun-16 18:15:46

Lotta, if you have the clarity to know what your mother is/does, you'll not follow her. She doesn't have the insight you do.

You are not her. Don't let her have any more control over your life, she's done enough.

Lottapianos Mon 06-Jun-16 19:39:19

I know Hissy. Rationally I know am not her - I am a separate person with my own life and my own choices. And yet she was SO engulfing, and really did treat my sister and I like her puppets,that it's hard to move on entirely. It's seriously dark disturbing stuff and it scares me stiff sometimes. So many people just cannot understand any of this, so thank you again

RunRabbitRunRabbit Mon 06-Jun-16 20:21:38

I am out the other side of this. One of my DBs is still in the FOG.

I think the best thing is to let the guilt wash over you. You have been trained for years to feel guilty. The feelings of guilt will happen.

It is only really problem if you act on those feelings, restarting contact and thus opening yourself to more of the same.

Let yourself feel how you feel but do nothing about it, well, maybe write it down and say to yourself I'll see how I feel in a couple of weeks. No hurry.

Put your emotional energy into your own relationship.

Your subconscious might be trying to get you back into your old comfortable behaviours instead of letting you change your current relationship. It might be displacement.

whitehandledkitchenknife Mon 06-Jun-16 20:31:27

Just throwing my two penn'orth in to let you know that you aren't alone Lotta. Lots of wise counsel here. And I just want to second Attila's words about not enabling/protecting your mother by forging stuff for your children. Children will accept an (age appropriate) explanation for the lack of interest. If you're in a place to be able to do so, explore what this need to do so, is about. Take

Lottapianos Mon 06-Jun-16 21:37:34

'Put your emotional energy into your own relationship'

This is such good advice. I have a really lovely partner who sees me and hears me and allows me to have feelings and supports me every day. He has similar crap with his parents so he gets it. There is no comparison between my relationship with him and my relationship with my family - I get so much from him and he makes me feel good about myself. This is where I should be directing my energy and efforts, and I do, but it's good to be reminded of the importance of investing in healthy relationships

Onthewingofaswift Tue 07-Jun-16 13:15:44

RunRabbit I am interested how you got through the FOG and how you manage now? Your post was calming, especially the "no hurry". You are so right, there is no actual hurry and I need to remind myself of that all the time.

Lotta: How are you today? Applying normal rules expecting normal results to these kinds of relationships leads to disappointment, but learning the new rules and accepting them will, im sure take time. Also, like any other form of grief I am sure this kind of grief has the ability to ebb and flow, thus catching you off guard.
With regard to relationships, yes, I am on high alert now and sadly I have got myself into friendships with people in the past whereby there was a lot of neediness in the friendship (me supporting them) that in my desperation for stability and closeness I saw as regard and love and comfort. I have cut of 2 significant "friends" because when I wasn't able to satisfy their requirements from me (i.e I said I couldn't do something for them), they hit the roof. I am now very aware of peoples agendas. I do feel so much stronger for being able to make those decisions.

I am a hurricane of tearfulness and annoyance with myself at the moment. For a few months my mother has had a relative with her and it seemed to give her a real boost, she was contacting me a lot, pleasant and asking about me when I visited (and he was there), being very chatty. I am so annoyed with myself as I had let myself fall into a false security believing she enjoyed her time with me, she wanted me. Cue him going back and she reverts back to normal. I challenged her a little on my shopping visit last week about some work she is having done on her house and she threw back in my face that I have only started visiting recently and I never used to. I had to call her about something my brother wanted (another story) and I was coughing (chesty cough). She said "You obviously cant speak you are coughing, Ill let you go" and that was the end of that. Although my brother is no contact with her, and only contacts me when he wants something she is desperate to know how he is, what he is doing etc. When I remind her he is not in contact with me, she gets annoyed. He never asks about her so i have no help from him. I am actually no contact with him and he doesn't know because he doesn't notice as he doesn't contact me unless he needs something.

Last night I decided I would tackle my DP about his perception that bad contact is better than no contact "but she is old and your mother" attitude. I was very clear to him that actually its her decision to reject me, and to make the cruel remarks and that "putting myself out there" again and again and failing to get anywhere is ruining my emotional health and will seriously damage my mental health. I dont think he understands it and that is fair enough but he agreed it is unfair and not to mention what I should do in the future and to not minimise my feelings or make excuses.

Its a day at a time for me and I hope its ok if I put some comments on every day, its good to know I am not alone. This loneliness is somewhat distracting. I also have a weird gut wrenching feeling all the time, that something bad is about to happen. I assume this is a stress response.
Can I also ask, did you tell your parents how you felt at any time or did you stop contact. I do realise my mother will not believe anything I say (She found me crying one day after being cruel and asked if I was on the menopause). Any tips/hints greatly received

Lottapianos Tue 07-Jun-16 21:46:15

Well done for putting your foot down with DP. I think people who have healthy family relationships really struggle to understand where we are coming from, and we need to be very firm about where our boundaries are. I think that distancing yourself from your mother is particularly hard because society believes so deeply that mothers are loving, selfless creatures who will do anything for their children. Bullshit, as we well know!

In answer to your question, I didn't make any big announcement with my parents, just gradually reduced contact as it felt right for me. I used to phone them every week and listen to a long monologue from my dad, with only the most fleeting interest from him about how my life was, then sit in almost silence with my mother because she's shit at conversation that's not on her terms. I kept this going for years out of duty. Ridiculous!

They used to give me a very hard time about moving to the UK and staying here ( they live in Ireland), saying they missed me, it was so hard, it was like I'd died (wtf!) And yet they have visited me 3 times in 15 years! I cut back on contact and stopped sharing anything of substance with them and I'm much better for it overall, even though it hurts like hell at times. It got to the point where sharing any info with them at all was just handing them more ammunition to use against me. These are not healthy people to have in my life!

Aussiebean Tue 07-Jun-16 23:00:50

When I get the comments about my mum I tend to be brutally honest.

When my dc were born, people where making comments about how happy she must be. I shrugged my shoulders and said 'nope, she couldn't care less' (which she can't. No phone call, no presents no interest)

i also say my mum is a very nasty person and I have little to do with her. My husband is also honest and says she is not very nice and we have little contact.

Why should I hide the fact she is nasty. Spent years doing that. But when I accepted the fact that it was a reflection on her and not me I stopped hiding.

I also hope that it teaches people to not do the whole 'but you only have one mum' comment.

Itsallwrong Wed 08-Jun-16 13:28:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 08-Jun-16 13:38:20

"But I figure if I keep the cards/presents thing to myself then my children need never know. They really don't at the moment (I can come up with good excuses) and I'd like them to believe that their grandparents care about them".

No, please do not keep on doing this mainly because you're lying to yourself as well as them. You are deluding yourself because the alternative for you, to realise that they are really that toxic as parents and could not give a damn, is too painful. You're covering for your mother, someone who really does not deserve your consideration at all (after all she has never given you any). What if one of your children were to say thanks for a gift from them and they reply that they never sent any such thing.

Re your comment:-
"And I often hope that deep down my parents are embarrassed at their own thoughtlessness"

They do not think that at all, that is you projecting your own feelings onto them. This is because unlike them you are a nice and decent person. Such toxic people never apologise nor accept any real responsibility for their actions.

Itsallwrong Wed 08-Jun-16 13:39:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Itsallwrong Wed 08-Jun-16 13:49:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

wobblywonderwoman Wed 08-Jun-16 14:01:40

Op I sympathise

attila you have helped me a lot in the past - new username. sorry to hijack the thread, I am on lower contact. Sill visit twice a week but don't give too much away for fear of criticism. my mother constantly tells me how hard my dh has it etc.

last week I pulled her up on it and she shouted that I was accusing her and she was more afraid of what dh would thing, That I won't let her 'in' but she wants to help more. I am very pressured in my work, Two toddlers but still visit. how do I deal with this. she starts crying when I say to her I am doing my best but what she says is unfair. she then says I twist what she is saying.

like dh went out to buy butter when I was at work with dc. I do th full shop with them but she shakes her head saying poor dh. Imagine having to do all that. I painted a fence but dh repaired it. poor dh. Imagine how hard he has to work for you.

so I don't tell her stuff then she gives me grief for closing up and not letting her in so does my father 'we don't know you anymore' this was after I pulled away because of shouting and saying he gave up everything for me. I actually was an easy teen, studied, worked. I am fairly quiet. Bought own clothes all of that. Paid my way through uni. Didn't do too much it of the norm. they try and sabotage all I do. Talk me out of college, buying a house. Going for promotion. I recently got a very high roe and they don't speak of it

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 08-Jun-16 14:02:32

I hope you do manage to stop the card and gift thing because its not doing you or they any favours at all really. You are covering up for people who do not deserve any such consideration from you. They were deplorably bad parents to you when you were a child and such toxic people often become bad grandparent figures to any grandchildren they have.

Your other siblings bar one are the "golden children"; itself a role not without price either and commonly seen in narcissistic family structures. This other sibling who is not favoured and you are really the scapegoats for all their inherent ills. People from dysfunctional families do end up playing roles. I would read up on narcissistic families and see how much of that actually resonates with your own experience. Reading the "daughters of narcissistic mothers"website may also be helpful to you.

If you are in the UK may I suggest you contact BACP to talk this through with a therapist. You really need to find someone who has no bias about keeping families together despite the presence of mistreatment.

Do not see this as a loss; you have broken free of them bar this once a year contact which I would now cease as well. You have your own family unit of which you can be proud; the best revenge here is to live well.

And well done to you as well for putting your man straight. Unfortunately many people who do come from emotionally healthy families really do not get the warped dynamics at all of toxic families.

Itsallwrong Wed 08-Jun-16 14:19:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Lottapianos Wed 08-Jun-16 16:05:22

It'sallwrong, I'm fascinated that you recognised the 'Irish' theme in my posts! I have noticed similar themes in other Irish families I know - conformity at all costs, appearances are everything, loads of pressure to keep your mother happy. Treating 'emigration' (seriously, who uses that word anymore?!) as being like a death. My cousin moved to London for a few months when he was 21 and my aunt was utterly devastated. She actually said 'he might as well be dead'. That's a direct quote. It's not normal and not healthy and I do think this kind of enmeshment seems to be more common there than in UK. It's bloody suffocating and I'm so glad I have made my life elsewhere. Britain has been home for me in a way that Ireland never was. I became a citizen 4 years ago and am very proud to be British smile I cannot emphasise how utterly batshit mental my family would go if they knew this, so obviously I will never tell them!

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