Advanced search

Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.

Low contact with parents

(29 Posts)
Wishimaywishimight Wed 22-Jun-16 10:57:04

I am very low contact with my narcissistic mother and enabling (also narcissistic?) father. By LC I mean that I have very little phone contact with them - they rarely phoned me anyway so now they never do. I phone on Christmas Day and maybe once or twice throughout the year. I don't have them in my house and don't visit theirs. I do send birthday cards, Mother's & Father's Day cards etc and text occasionally. Every 7/8 weeks or so I arrange (by text) dinner with them. Always in neutral territory (restaurant) and always with my DH present. I won't go into the back story except to say that I found the Stately Homes thread full of familiar stories. I finally went LC 5 years ago when I was at the point of needing counselling to deal with my anxiety around them and I physically shuddered when in physical proximity to my mother as a result of a lifetime of criticism, judgement, being told how I'd upset them, let them down, numerous occasions of being sat down and lectured for all of my faults and failings as a daughter etc etc ad nauseum.

Anyways, when I text mother to suggest dinner she normally leaves a number of hours before responding (despite the fact that when I am in her company she looks at her phone regularly). Each time she leaves it a little longer. This time, it has been over 24 hours. I know there is nothing wrong as I am in regular contact with my sis (who does not support me at all in LC but would let me know if they were ill etc). I'm fairly certain they are not abroad as they were last month and even if they were mother has the same phone as me which works abroad). I just get tired of these games. Even though I am very much distant from it now it brings back to me the anxiety I felt whenever I had to phone them or see them in the past, this has never entirely left me but obviously it's only an occasional issue now.

Not really asking anything other than seeking other's experiences of this I suppose. Presumably it's all about control but, really, what is the point at this stage? It's not going to bring me to heel (in the past the silent treatment used to be guaranteed to get me on the phone to them practically begging to know what was wrong). Btw, when I went LC I wrote them a letter telling them what I was doing and why, they never took responsibility for anything I wrote- I just got the usual responses when we eventually discussed the letter: "things weren't that bad", "I don't remember saying that", "your father would never say that", "you hear things that aren't there", "you were always too good with words", "you always have to have the last word" etc etc etc. Grrrr, getting myself worked up now...

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 22-Jun-16 11:42:08

They've had you well trained; the only people who really bother with narcissists are those now adult children unfortunate enough to be raised within such a dysfunctional family.

I think you now need to turn the current level of low contact into no contact. It is not possible to have any sort of a relationship with a narcissist. Low contact with narcissists more often than not turns into no contact. What do you get out of this, what keeps you at all in contact?. Probably the FOG.

Your sister is likely to be the golden child in this whole dysfunctional scenario and that is probably why she does not support your low contact stance. Ultimately you may well have to lower your current level of contact with her as well, she is no friend of yours here.

Why do you feel obligated to arrange dinner with these people?. Would suggest too you stop now sending birthday cards and the like; it just keeps you further obligated to them and remaining in a FOG (fear, obligation, guilt) state with regards to them.

Their actions are still about controlling you, you're still waiting for a response from her re dinner. Keeping you waiting for a response gives them power and control.

I would cancel all future dinners as of now as well, all they seem to do is give you a laundry lists of your own supposed shortcomings and the response to your letter was typical of such disordered of thinking people.

The game playing cannot continue if you were to completely disengage from them.

girlywhirly Wed 22-Jun-16 11:43:06

No experience of this, but I would just let her contact you in her own time. Don't book anything until she does. If you aren't available on the day she suggests, casually say that. If there is no response at all, you don't have to see her, and listen to bad things about yourself. At least you can say to your DSIS that you offered dinner and there was no reply. Parents bad manners, not your fault.

Treat this as you would a rude acquaintance who doesn't reply to a message, and if she does eventually reply state that you are now doing something else instead.

I do know how Narcs manipulate people. You can use that knowledge gained from the Stately homes thread to help manage how you feel when there is no reply or delayed reply to messages. But it does beg the question why you are still attempting to see your parents when it gives your mother something to control you over. I know that somewhere deep inside you want things to be different. But limiting the ways in which she can damage you is the only way.

LaurieLemons Wed 22-Jun-16 11:47:35

Sounds like you would like to go no contact? What are you afraid of? It doesn't sound like your getting anything positive from your relationship.

The responses to your letter sound like my mum, never taking responsibility, 'forgetting' or minimising the most hurtful things. It's draining and I wouldn't blame you if you decided not to bother.

Wishimaywishimight Wed 22-Jun-16 11:57:46

Thanks both for your responses. Attila, you are absolutely right about my sis being the golden child. Until I went LC we were very much on the same page, always trying to placate mother, comforting father etc. We used to spend hours wondering why our parents were the way they were, why they would never phone us, we always had to phone them ("we're the parents, we don't have to"), why so full of complaints, always giving out to us etc. Once I went LC she panicked, told me I was over-reacting, was trying to hurt them, completely invalidated all of our previous conversations re the narcissism etc. She now reaps all the benefits (financially) of being the golden child (they are very generous when you play their game) but I wouldn't go back for all the money in the world - for the most part I now have peace of mind.

Both of you ask why I remain in contact - a few reasons I suppose. I still love my dad, he's a lovely person, just a coward and would throw me under a bus if it earned him a few brownie points with mother but nevertheless I don't want to never see him. Same with my sister, she's not on my side at all but we make an effort to still see each other and we get along well and can have fun on a night out but we never discuss 'the situation' (not since she made it clear that she doesn't agree with what I did). I also fear loss of contact with the extended family (all on mother's side - aunts, uncles etc). None of them would know anything about the LC, it's very important to my parents to present a united front ("what goes on between these 4 walls stays between us").

Girly, you're right about treating them as I would a friend in respect of the invitation. My DH is saying we should just make our own plans for Sunday and tell mother this if/when she eventually responds. I always give them more lee-way than I would a friend so will consider doing this. I can't meet them next weekend so it would be another 2 weeks before we could do dinner which would mean it's been about 10/11 weeks since the last dinner. Why should this matter? Dunno really, habit, ingrained anxiety, all still lingering...

Wishimaywishimight Wed 22-Jun-16 12:01:01

Laurie, you're right, I get nothing from the relationship. I hang on in there with LC because that sense of duty/obligation is still there just to a much lesser extent. Things were a lot better when I was a child and I have a lot of good memories of my childhood (up to about the age of 12) and I am very sad when I think back to then and think, despite what happened in later years, I still owe them something because of that.

Also, when I see them now there is no criticism etc. It's all very pleasant if a little superficial. My DH is always there, we are always in a public place so there is no longer any opportunity for them to get me on my own which is how they used to operate.

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 22-Jun-16 12:12:58

Hi wishing

Re your comment:-
Both of you ask why I remain in contact - a few reasons I suppose. I still love my dad, he's a lovely person, just a coward and would throw me under a bus if it earned him a few brownie points with mother but nevertheless I don't want to never see him. Same with my sister, she's not on my side at all but we make an effort to still see each other and we get along well and can have fun on a night out but we never discuss 'the situation' (not since she made it clear that she doesn't agree with what I did). I also fear loss of contact with the extended family (all on mother's side - aunts, uncles etc). None of them would know anything about the LC, it's very important to my parents to present a united front ("what goes on between these 4 walls stays between us").

You have indeed been well trained and what you write is very typical of adult children of narcissists. This is all very characteristic of an emotionally unhealthy and dysfunctional family; the ideal image must be maintained to the outside world at all costs no matter how dysfunctional it actually is.

Your dad is patently not lovely (I wonder why you used that word in relation to him; I would think that your own FOG is behind that) because he would indeed throw you under the bus and has done. He has patently failed to protect you from his wife's excesses of behaviour and has stood by and let all that crap descend upon his daughters. He is a weak man who has acted out of self preservation and want of a quiet life; he cannot be at all relied upon. He is really her hatchet man here willing to do her bidding. Such weak men as well often need someone to idolise and he would probably say something like, "don't criticise the choice I made in a wife". He is more than willing to hang you out to dry.

Re the extended family would you want to maintain contact with people on your mother's side, some of whom would continue to act as the flying monkeys?. The people that will matter most to you extended family wise are those who will actually take time to listen to your side of the story without disregarding it as nonsense on your part. Who in the extended family has bothered to listen to your truth, the missing truth?.

Women like your mother cannot do relationships so the men in their lives are either narcissistic themselves (like your enabler dad) or are long gone.

Your sister is not your friend here either and is playing out the usual golden child position; this is actually a role not without price either but she is as yet still unaware of that. She is not willing to hear your side of the story and actively seeks to shut down any discussion; she wants to maintain her golden child position within the family.

You may want to seek out a therapist re your dysfunctional family but you need to find someone who has got NO bias about keeping families together despite the presence of mistreatment.

Protect yourself from these people, having contact with them will only further tie you up in knots. Your own current level of contact is still too high and should be further lowered. Stop giving your mother more leeway than you would a friend; you would not have tolerated that from one of your friends and family are truly no different.

Have a read also of the website entitled Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 22-Jun-16 12:20:03

Things were a lot better when I was a child and I have a lot of good memories of my childhood (up to about the age of 12) and I am very sad when I think back to then and think, despite what happened in later years, I still owe them something because of that.

Yes this is also what I meant about having you well trained. You feel so obligated still to them, believe me they feel no sense of such obligation towards you. Your role is to serve them and their needs; they see you as a non person.

I would think that things got more difficult for you from teenage years because that is when you really started to answer back and have an opinion of your own; they were threatened by that because they basically see you and your sister purely as an extension of them.

It is probably difficult for your DH to meet up with them as well because he knows how badly you have been treated and you still keep on seeing them. You get nothing positive out of this relationship with your parents and I think in order to move forward you will need to deal properly now with your own feelings of FOG. Being concerned that it will be now 10/11 weeks since your last dinner with them is all part and parcel of that.
It will keep you trapped otherwise.

Wishimaywishimight Wed 22-Jun-16 12:26:23

Hi Atilla, I know you're right in many ways about my dad but (I can't help saying 'but'!!) he is a gentle person who people generally adore (and feel sorry for due to my mother), he is not my protector though, you're totally right about that.

With regard to the extended family, people have very subtly acknowledged that mother is 'difficult' but it's said with a slightly awkward laugh and I have never confided in anyone about how she has treated not just me but also my sister and dad and so have never given anyone a chance to listen to my side. The extended family are all her sisters and their families and while most of them are lovely I also know that they would be loyal to her (she is the eldest) and it's just not a risk worth taking. We don't get together often but when there is a big birthday or a wedding or suchlike I do enjoy being among them and I am very hesitant to lose that.

I am very familiar with the website you mention - it's what enlightened me in relation to narcissism 6/7 years ago and ultimately gave me the strength to go low contact. I can honestly attribute most of what I learned about how to deal with my parents to that site and I am forever grateful for that!

springydaffs Wed 22-Jun-16 12:37:45

I don't think the nuclear option (so easily bandied about on here..) is necessarily the solution at all. A bit nose/face tbh - you'd be the greater loser in one sense re extended family. T-shirt here.

But if you can keep up LC then do! Seeing them regularly for meals is not LC. Expecting her to stop playing games, or being disappointed she's playing games, is not facing the reality that she's a narc. This is what narcs do REGARDLESS what you do. They power on like a train, never fluctuating. They don't improve EVER. They go on doing the same old same old: scratch the surface and there it is, pumping away with the same force as always and ever.

As long as you can bear this in mind you'll be a much safer position. Keeping her sweet to keep family is sensible - if you can manage it.

She will never improve or change. If things look like they've eased off and she's mellowing, don't be taken in: she's only doing that to suit her own ends. You have to get your head around that (hard I know flowers ).

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 22-Jun-16 13:00:42

Going no contact is not the nuclear option here; low contact is not working out for the OP and what she writes is very typical of the conflicting emotions that adult children of narcissists feel. She is very much in FOG with regards to her parents. Its still very much on the parents terms, they are still running the show really. People who also go no contact do so after much heartache and soul searching on their part; it is certainly not a short process in terms of time taken at all.

Why put up with any of this at all out of some idea of family? Family are not binding and I think if the OP was to break away she would be protecting herself from bad things.

I would only keep in touch with the extended family members who are fully willing to hear your side of the story. Start putting out feelers to these people and do not keep your parents actions a secret. Abuse as well thrives on secrecy.

Extended family members who basically act as flying monkeys are not your friends here because they are acting purely in their own self interest and their opinion should be ignored.

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 22-Jun-16 13:05:29

"he is a gentle person who people generally adore"

Define adore. Oh yes they can be "pillars of the community" but its an act put on for outsiders. What they are like at home is another matter entirely.

Again image is all important to the narcissist. Does your dad have friends, I would say no he does not (and nor does your mother). These people collect acquaintances like stamps, these people have no friends.

Do you feel your current level of low contact is working for you; I would argue that it is not because you are still anxious about their possible reactions.

Lottapianos Wed 22-Jun-16 13:22:26

Hi OP, I have huge sympathy for you. I recognise so much of your post - the physical reaction to being around your mother and her criticising ways, knowing that they would never be able to hear your concerns, the blame, the criticism, the judgement. Its hideous. And Attila is right that your father is just as much to blame - he should have stood up for you but left you hung out to dry because it made life easier for him. That is not a loving parent who puts their child's needs first and wants to nurture and protect them.

I am low contact with my parents and going NC doesn't appeal right now. I have a relationship with them on my terms and that (usually) works for me. Low contact for me is no phonecalls ever (like your parents, mine never used to phone me ever, and I dreaded ringing them so I just stopped), text or Whats App once or twice a month and see them once a year at most

The silence, the lack of response to your text is hugely controlling. Here you are worrying and feeling anxious and wondering what it all means, and that all means they are taking up loads of space in your head. My parents do the same. We've been conditioned to put their needs first at all costs, and to worry about having upset or displeased them in some way. Its both liberating and scary when you realise that they are adults, they have choices, they are not people who need looking after by you or anyone else. You are not a child anymore and you do not have to worry about pleasing them. You are doing just fine without their approval. I know though that old habits die hard and its so hard to move past the FOG and into a place where you really don't care about their reaction.

As springydaffs says, the key is acceptance of who they are and what they are capable of, and the realisation at a very deep level that their behaviour will never change to what you would like it to be. That is intensely painful because it means letting go of the hope that they will one day be able to see you and hear you as a separate person.

Have you ever had any professional support with this like counselling or psychotherapy?

Wishimaywishimight Wed 22-Jun-16 13:49:53

Lotta, I did attend a Counsellor about 7 years ago when this really really got to me. I didn't find it hugely helpful - the counsellor kept wanting to do these role-plays where he played mother and I tried to stand up to him - it just didn't feel authentic, I couldn't summon up the right level of dread and fear! He did however help me to understand how her behaviour was about controlling me, this lead to me reading a lot including Toxic Parents and Emotional Blackmail and I then discovered narcissism and the daughtersofnarcissisticmothers website which was of great benefit.

Update: She just texted a minute ago to say "Sunday is fine" - obviously wearing her frosty knickers, no excuse for the delay which is unusual, obviously she no longer cares. Usually she will make an excuse for the delay in responding and then say something like "great, see you there" or something similar. I'm going to go along (always have 2 glasses of wine before I meet her...) and get it over with. Will definitely start leaving longer and longer gaps between meetings, perhaps 12 weeks or so next time.

I'm just not quite ready for NC, the FOG hasn't quite lifted, only dispersed somewhat. I guess it was 40 years in the making (I'm now 47)....

Thanks so much all of you for your responses and advice, I very much appreciate you taking the time.

Penvelopesnightie Wed 22-Jun-16 14:01:02

This reminds me of an escapade I had with my mother . We would invite her once a week to a dinner always on the same day every week. Every week my mother got later and later til she was walking in whilst I was serving up or even eating . Then one week me and DH didn't make any dinner and left it and left it then went to pub . She phoned next day saying " you went out?" But she must of turned up so late . So I admitted" yes we did , sorry" and just for a brief period she was a lot nicer to us .

GreenHen Wed 22-Jun-16 14:33:26

Do you think you would be able to put the ball in their court with respect to suggesting the next meal? So at the end of the one on Sunday, suggest that your mother text you to arrange then next one (and brace yourself for a long wait?). Maybe just send a text after the meal saying something like ' lovely to see you both today - let me know when you are ready for another meal out'.

We have a similar situation with DH's parents - eventually (when I finally worked out what was going on with them...oh those wasted years) I started inviting them less and less often (we were only ever invited to their house once a year) and now I have completed stopped.

I think it is really hard to truly get out of the FOG - I needed a counsellor (and they aren't even my parents, although I think my own family situation made this more poignant), and I'm still not fully there. DH exclaims 'see! I told you what they were like but you didn't believe me did you?!'. I think we both have a foot still in the FOG but it is manageable now. We allowed them to have a really negative affect on our marriage for years but now we are stronger than ever.

Wishimaywishimight Wed 22-Jun-16 14:57:12

Pen, it's just a pity the niceness never lasts though!

GreenHen, in a way I agree that it would be good to leave the ball in their court however my heart pounds whenever she so much as texts me so I feel like I would be waiting and wondering when she would contact me, wondering how I would respond etc. At least this way I know she will never contact me unless I make the first move to arrange dinner and I prefer this.

springydaffs Wed 22-Jun-16 15:15:54

I think the point is, Atilla, that NC at this stage would be much worse for op.

All in good time, op. Sounds like the counsellor wasn't your thing - horses for courses. Do try again. ime it was years of counselling that finally got the worm to turn. I'm not saying my parents don't hurt me sometimes but, by and large, I don't expect anything from them. That doesn't mean I don't privately mourn not having good parents and family, but I know I am never going to get the good stuff from them. It's just not going to happen, they are incapable of it.

Interestingly, my parents tip toe around me a bit these days. Give them an inch and they'd be in - but the point is they don't get an inch, or a mm, to get in. Because I don't expect anything from them and they know I will check out if I'm not happy. With no explanation! As someone posted on here recently, you can't argue with batshit.

Lottapianos Wed 22-Jun-16 15:31:59

OP, I would struggle with the role play activity too. I'm really glad it let you on to Toxic Parents though - that's a wonderful book, such an eye opener! It helps so much when you can see their behaviour for what it is, and you slowly stop blaming yourself for being a 'bad daughter' or whatever.

There is absolutely no way I could get through dinner with my parents without alcohol either, and I'm someone who frequently goes without alcohol quite happily. Its not good, is it? I think your plan to gradually increase the amount of time between dinners is a good one, that's how I went from low to even lower contact!

Go easy on yourself re FOG - as you say, 40 years in the making, so can't be undone easily

springydaffs Wed 22-Jun-16 15:56:21

Therapists talk about turning around an ocean liner (it takes a long time to turn around an ocean liner!). It takes a long time - a journey, a process - to turn around all the toxic conditioning we had as kids.

By a long time I mean years, if not decades. If I chart when I first started realising what my parents/family were about and made some changes... to now, when it's moreorless seamless and I know my stuff and don't take any shit, it's 20 years or more. But that still doesn't mean I don't get hurt sometimes! They are lethal people and if I choose to hang around them (LC) I'm going to get splashed by their toxicity now and again.

Lottapianos Wed 22-Jun-16 16:08:48

The ocean liner analogy is useful springydaffs. I'm about 10 years on from starting to get my head around the idea that my relationship with them was highly toxic, and that includes 6 years of weekly psychotherapy. I have made a lot of progress but still feel I have a long way to go, especially regarding FOG

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 22-Jun-16 16:30:44


The ocean liner analogy is so useful. This has been your "normal" from childhood but you can turn that ship around.

Would you now want to contact another therapist; BACP are good and do not charge the earth. Such people are really like shoes, you need to find someone that fits. That previous person I would argue did not fit well with your approach.

The contact level is also too high because they make you feel anxious anyway and you need to drink a couple of glasses of wine before meeting her (or your enabler dad). You do not have to do that with anyone else. BTW do you pay for their meal?

What about deciding to not send them birthday or Christmas cards any longer?. A small but significant step there.

Remember too that it is not your fault they are like this, you did not make them this way. Their own family of origin did that lot of damage to them.

springydaffs Wed 22-Jun-16 16:33:59

Yes, my 20+ years include, coincidentally, 6 years of therapy, too. And endless courses. And books. And support groups. And grappling with addictions so 12-step stuff. Etc! Etc! Lots of etcs.

I think it's unrealistic to suggest we can just knock this shit on the head and turn away. It doesn't work like that - it takes a long time to knock it on the head and turn away.

Lottapianos Wed 22-Jun-16 16:38:02

I agree springydaffs - NC is absolutely the right way forward for some people, but not for everyone

Yes yes to the endless books, courses, etc etc etc. Its non stop. I do wish sometimes I could stop battling with myself all day every day and just let life happen! I do sometimes but I wish I had less angst. Its there from the second I open my eyes in the morning sad

springydaffs Wed 22-Jun-16 16:44:59

Yes sad flowers

My mantra is to enjoy myself. I squeeze enjoyment out of anything and everything. Counterbalances all the shit.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now