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Toxic mother - next steps?

(45 Posts)
llamainayurt Mon 23-Jan-17 08:18:16

First, some background: I have a difficult relationship with my mother, who I strongly suspect has borderline personality disorder (ticks most of the boxes). I finally sought help for my own depression at the end of last year. I'm now seeing a therapist, and finding it really helpful to talk about the relationship with my mother, and how I handle her meltdowns / tantrums. I went no contact for 6 months about 10 years ago after a particularly explosive meltdown (Mum eventually got back in touch with me). For the past couple of years I've been attempting low contact - superficial skype conversation every 2-3 weeks (with occasional longer gaps after the inevitable tantrums).

I constantly feel like I'm walking on eggshells, just waiting for the next inevitable meltdown / nastiness (although I can never predict what will cause this). We had a Skype conversation last week where she was horrible to my 6yo son (had a real go at him for being "rude" essentially because he wasn't being as chatty as she wanted - DS was predictably confused). I shut down the conversation and said we would call back when she felt better. In most of our Skype conversations she will end up telling the kids off at some point (all completely counter-productive when it comes to building a relationship with her only GC).

We're travelling back to the UK in the summer (first visit in 18 months) and I had planned to travel to my parents' part of the country, rent a cottage nearby and see them for lunches / days out (to make sure we have somewhere to escape to when the inevitable breakdown happens). But now I'm not sure that even this will work, given my Mum can't even get 5 minutes through a Skype call without having a go at the kids. And ultimately I want to protect them from all this.

My therapist has said my Mum (now 70) is unlikely to change. I've considered going no contact again, but worried this won't necessarily help (not least because of fear of the guilt I will feel if she dies without us speaking again). I'm really not sure what to do next. Ignore and call again in a couple of weeks, pretending, as usual, that nothing's happened and having an inane conversation? Or a carefully worded email to say that she upset my son during our last call, that we can't speak if she does this, but we're here if she decides that she wants to call us and have a proper conversation. Or something else???

If you've got this far, thanks for reading. Any advice from those who are going through / have been through something similar much appreciated. I have dipped in and out of the stately homes thread (which gave me the impetus to seek help), but not posted on this before.

humanfemale Mon 23-Jan-17 19:52:54

I relate to a lot of what you've said, though I am now NC with my BPD mother.

I took the decision after several tries to renegotiate our relationship, which all failed. I tried to speak with honesty about how her behaviour made me feel, set boundaries which were constantly ignored and walked over and finally realised that, while she kept on doing and saying new hurtful (and often cruel) things, I would never be able to be happy.

Having children was SO central to all this. I didn't value myself and my happiness because I had very low self esteem and a scant sense of my own feelings. But as my son got older the insidiousness of the relationship was just a big NO. She'd domineer, lie, manipulate, anything to needle and disturb me. And started using my son to do it. I cut contact when he was four and a half.

OP you must read Surviving a Borderline Parent - it's an amazing self help book with lots of advice on how to keep things manageable if you are maintaining a relationship with your mother. Really practical advice for the here and now, plus stuff to try to help you make sense of what must have been a very miserable and frightening childhood flowers

I cried with relief when I read some parts, just because of the validation. Seemed like finally someone understood.

DeathStare Mon 23-Jan-17 20:39:34

You mention your "parents' part of the country". What's your relationship with your dad like? Does he recognise your mum's behaviour or understand how you feel? Would you regret not seeing him?

llamainayurt Tue 24-Jan-17 00:49:22

humanfemale - thank you. It's enormously helpful to hear about others who've been through a similar experience. I'm at the stage of trying to set boundaries with my Mum now. It's hard, and, like you found, I suspect this won't work in the longer run.

I really identify with what you say - lack of self-esteem and having a pretty miserable childhood in particular (albeit with piano lessons, nice holidays and visits to stately homes!). I've been far less accommodating with my Mum since having children - which has led to more conflict with her. And ultimately my need to protect DC is stronger than my need to try to maintain a damaged relationship with my Mum. She seems to be becoming increasingly intolerant of the DC and unable to hold back from criticising them. My Mum had a very volatile relationship with her mother (who I suspect also had BPD) - I really want my kids to have a different experience of growing up. It does make me sad to think, whatever I do, they won't have a loving relationship with their grandmother.

Thanks also for the book recommendation - will put in a kindle order!

DeathStare - really interesting point about my Dad. He is, at heart, a good man, but has really withdrawn into himself over the years (particularly since retiring) and become quite detached. To the extent that when we speak on Skype I can usually only see a fraction of his face, and when we last said goodbye in person, I went to hug him and he absent-mindedly shook my hand instead.

He once (10 years ago, at the point when I went no contact with my Mum), acknowledged that I was almost certainly right about my Mum having mental health problems. It was a relief to have that validation. But, whilst he was very upset at what looked then like a cataclysmic break, it was also clear that he loves my Mum, and me breaking with her would also mean I wouldn't be in contact with him.

I would regret not having contact with him. But I don't think I could maintain contact whilst having no contact with my Mum (who would see any contact on my Dad's part as a massive betrayal in those circumstances).

I just wish I had a normal family with normal relationships.

llamainayurt Tue 24-Jan-17 01:00:21

humanfemale - can I ask how long you've been no contact with your mother? And whether you are happier now that you've done this?

A big factor holding me back from going no contact is concern that it won't necessarily make me feel better (due to guilt and feeling pain at having no relationship with my mother).

MrsBlennerhassett Tue 24-Jan-17 01:15:55

Have you heard of 'Medium Chill'? I sometimes employ these tactics with my mother who is similar but whom i dont want to cut out of my life completely.

MusicIsMedicine Tue 24-Jan-17 01:57:44

Why would you go back on another call, pretending nothing happened and having inane chat? That's sending the message that not only is it OK to abuse your dc, you will reward such behaviour by calling her again and ignoring it. Where is the boundary? For both you and your dc sake, you need a boundary. That could be something as simple as informing her that any time she is abusive to you or dc, you will terminate the call immediately. And start sticking to it. Expect a huge backlash when you put new boundaries in. Ultimately, the clear choice is then there, either your mother values the relationship enough to be respectful, or, you maintain your boundary and she ignores it, clearly showing you she is only interested in manipulation and control, in which event, it's time to ask yourself what you get from this toxic relationship.

I suggest reading toxic parents by Susan forward. So many pennies dropped for me about my narcissistic mother.

Hermonie2016 Tue 24-Jan-17 02:33:27

Do you have siblings? What does your partner say? My ex mil was like this and as someone on the outside I just couldn't understand why anyone tolerated the behaviour so should go NC. I understand FOG but ultimately you have to protect your own family from this.
It's so difficult to accept that you don't have "family" but the reality is you don't.Family is supposed to be about love and support which you don't have.

My stbxh had siblings who all maintained some level of contact and one was golden boy so it was very difficult for my stbxh to stand out with NC.

Pocketsaviour Tue 24-Jan-17 03:02:40

I went NC with my mum just over 2 years ago, and like you I had put up with her behaviours when directed at me over the years but her treatment of my son was the final straw. I could tolerate her abuse when it was directed st me, but not at him.

I only regret not cutting her off sooner. The sense of peace is astonishing.

llamainayurt Tue 24-Jan-17 04:07:44

Thanks all - really helpful to hear these different perspectives.

MrsBlennerhassett - I hadn't heard of Medium Chill, but just looked up your link and think that's what I'm trying (not always successfully) to do now. I struggle most with "being assertive without being confrontational", as being assertive feels so unnatural to me that it usually feels confrontational. I'm at the stage of being able to hang up on any angry phone call and say maybe we can continue later. But it's the how (if?) to continue that's stumping me.

MusicisMedicine - you're right - thank you. I can't keep ignoring this and need to set clear boundaries. I feel sick to my stomach when I think about doing this, but need to for the sake of my own health and my DC.

Hermonie - I have a sister who has a very different relationship with my parents. She sees and talks to them much more frequently and seems to get away with much more than I do (she can be quite abrupt / confrontational with my Mum in a way which would lead to armageddon if I tried it).

DP is sympathetic. He's seen the "real" side of my Mum and is extremely detached when he deals with them. He's suggested that I do the same, but it's harder for me. His parents are a complete contrast - laid back, engaged, amazing grandparents. I'm happy for the kids that they have one decent set of grandparents, but sad they can't also have that relationship with my parents. You're right that I don't have that I don't have a normal loving and supportive family.

Pocketsaviour - wonderful (and reassuring) to hear that you felt a sense of peace from going NC with your Mum. I think I'm edging closer to that final straw moment (and regret that I've exposed DC to too much of this already, albeit mostly from a distance).

665TheNeighbourOfTheBeast Tue 24-Jan-17 08:06:12

I am NC with my mother. Interactions with her had deteriorated it something that sounds not dissimilar to yours. An endless littany, from her, of my inadiqacies and her dissatisfaction with...well everything.
I thought that the ongoing emotional battery was manageable and had tried many psycological and physical barriers to maintain a safe distance...(all the chills, boundries and grey rocks you could think of)
In retrospect though, I realise that on her part the mother/ child relationship actually ended when I was about 8 and my feelings of obligation to maintain that on my own were misguided and damaging.
Once I realised that, it just left who she was as a person. Did I like who she was as a person enough to let her treat me like that? And the answer to that is of course no. No one should treat someone else like that.
I guess it's an odd thing to do? But it was only when I untangled the two roles, mother and person, that I had real clarity about how damaging and unnecessary my efforts were.
I guess I'm asking , if you reverse the problem, if you maintain this relationship, what, are you hoping to achieve? As a person, mother, grandmother what role model is she offering your children?

llamainayurt Tue 24-Jan-17 11:56:50

665TheNeighbourOfTheBeast - I think it's mainly feelings of obligation and guilt (particularly as my Mum gets older) that are holding me back from going NC. But the question of whether I like who she is as a person enough to let her treat me like she does (or whether I would accept that treatment from anyone else) is a good one. The obvious answer is no. And she is getting worse, not better, as she gets older. I can't imagine accepting that treatment from anyone else, let alone letting my kids be subjected to it.

What am I trying to achieve? I suppose I want the semblance of a normal mother-daughter relationship (which I guess I can never have). I don't want to feel like I've been the one to make it fail by making the move to go NC. My Mum has some good qualities - she's a good storyteller, and I would love my DC to know more about her homeland and their heritage from her. She wants to love me and my DC, but it's like she can't help herself from sabotaging this every time we talk or meet.

Is she a good role model for my children? No, and this makes me sad.

AttilaTheMeerkat Tue 24-Jan-17 12:51:57

It is not your fault your mother is like this, you did not make her this way. Like many such people you are suffering as well from fear, obligation and guilt which are but three of many damaging legacies left by such parents.

You really do need to keep your mother well away from your child with immediate effect. Your mother cannot even behave via a Skype call; I would further limit all these to a situation where you are in no contact with her. You've tried low contact and it has not really worked out. You find it difficult to make and create boundaries and she will not respect any boundaries you care to set. If you do really want to protect your child/ren from all this there is no contact.

You can teach your children more about their homeland and heritage, there are people other than your mother who can do that. Your children need positive role models, not disordered of thinking people like your mother having a pop at you all at any and all given opportunities.

As for being worried about how you will feel when she dies, I would not go down that rabbit hole. She does not feel at all guilty for what she has put you and now your child through. She really does not deserve any of your consideration now.

I would read the following from Out of the Fog:-

You would not have tolerated any of this from a friend, your mother is no different. She was also abused by her mother (your nan) just as you are being abused by your mother now. This sort of toxic familial dysfunction can and does go down the generations. It can stop with you because you do not and will not treat your child the same as you were treated.

Ultimately you will need to grieve for the relationship you should have had rather than the one you actually got. You are going to have to let any residual hope that you can have a "normal" mother and daughter relationship go. She is not built that way and its not your fault she is the ways she is (her own family of origin did that lot of damage to her)

llamainayurt Tue 24-Jan-17 13:50:54

Attila - thank you for the very frank (and much needed) advice. There's a lot to digest here, but what you say makes a lot of sense, even if it is hard to hear. I want all this dysfunction to stop with me, and not pass it down to the next generation.

665TheNeighbourOfTheBeast Tue 24-Jan-17 14:01:47

I suppose I want the semblance of a normal mother-daughter relationship
Quiet reasonable, and I expect, like many of us, you have done absolutely as much as you can to facilitate this, more than most people in normal familial relationships ever do.
You can forgive yourself it didn't work. You really can. I think the temptation is to look at other families and judge yourself against them - they seem to get over the small stuff, keep going, forgive each other. It does feel like failure to step outside that version of "normal", but sadly I expect you were never really there in the first place. Its the difference between dealing with the odd drip and a tsunami.
Accepting that. Accepting you cant fix the relationship, and that the reason you can't is because the other person doesn't want to, is hard, but possible, and as Pocket said - quite freeing.
Realizing they are and always have been actively sabotaging your efforts, that they have an entirely different agenda - and it is absolutely nothing to do with you, your behavior or anything about yourself, I found to be one of the keys to moving on without guilt. You seem to have already realized this in several ways.

A useful question to consider might be,
"How much of myself am I giving up to stay here - in the position of being abused, and do I have the right to expect my children to put up with seeing this behavior modeled, not only at me - but also at them?"

keepingonrunning Tue 24-Jan-17 14:13:35

You might be surprised to find that when your mother eventually passes away, you naturally feel sadness but primarily experience peace and relief.

You will have already done grieving for the mother you never had. flowers

llamainayurt Wed 25-Jan-17 12:02:03

665 - that's all really helpful. I'm on my way towards accepting that my relationship with my other is not normal, that this is not my fault and I need to act to get myself (and my DC) out of this situation. The decision on whether to go NC, though, feels like standing on a cliff edge. Terrifying, but the prospect of living under the shadow of this for the rest of my / her life is worse.

I think my next step will be to set clearly to my Mum that I can't accept her berating or criticising me or the children on our calls, and that if she does this I will have to stop the calls. I fully expect her to counter-attack when I do this - in which case I think I'm now clear that I will have to go NC. Deep breath.

keepingonrunning - I expect you might be right. Can't quite believe I'm in this place.

Mistletoetastic Wed 25-Jan-17 12:50:14

I wouldn't use Skype, it is giving her access into your home, family etc, just say that the internet isn't working and if you want to chat then use the phone?

Not much more advice really other than setting clear boundries with the message of its this or nothing.

I suspect that my sister has a similar personality disorder and fera for her DC, she accuses people and situations of making her ill, I wouldn't want to be the child receiving that message.

llamainayurt Wed 25-Jan-17 13:39:45

Mistletoetastic - good idea on using the phone rather than Skype.

OFFFS Wed 25-Jan-17 14:00:15

OP a lot of what you, and the other posters, are saying is ringing bells with me. I'm dealing with an XH with BPD and thinking my mother may also have it (I'm just unravelling it all in therapy now).

I've mainly considered it from my point of view, but I need to start thinking about giving my DCs te told to deal with their BPD dad.

Thank you for starting this thread.

OFFFS Wed 25-Jan-17 14:25:22

OP a lot of what you, and the other posters, are saying is ringing bells with me. I'm dealing with an XH with BPD and thinking my mother may also have it (I'm just unravelling it all in therapy now).

I've mainly considered it from my point of view, but I need to start thinking about giving my DCs te told to deal with their BPD dad.

Thank you for starting this thread.

LostSoul1985 Wed 25-Jan-17 19:11:12

I don't post regularly, but what you are going through is very similar to a situation with my mum & dad. I explained in a text to my brother my feelings in the strongest possible way. I thought it might help (with resolving feelings about your dad) "If a stranger passed away, it would be sad but I wouldn't feel anything because I don't know them. When dad passes away it will be sad. But the sadness and loss I feel now more. For the dad I didn't have, who should have stood up for me but didn't because he was too afraid of her & only considering his own feelings & needs. It's frightening to tell them how I really feel because mum both ignoring me then seeking to make me feel bad makes me feel worthless & small. I feel sadness & loss for the mum I should have had who should have cared for me & viewed me no less than an equal. When she passes away, I will not be sad because I already have grieved. I will only feel relief because I will not miss the pain"
Thinking of you x

kittykittykitty5 Wed 25-Jan-17 19:20:20

I have been NC for two years from my Mother. I don't miss anything, I only regret not doing it years ago.

I went LC five years previously and everytime the behaviour "peaked" I emotionally detached a little further.

I am another one grieving for the mother I never had.....

llamainayurt Thu 26-Jan-17 00:14:47

OFFFS - it's incredible (and sad) how many of us seem to have gone / be going through the same thing. Therapy is really helping me work all this out now as well. I only wish I'd started down this route earlier. The support on this thread is also amazing. It's a really hard thing to talk about with other people in real life (my DP and therapist are the only ones I've spoken to about all this).

LostSoul - your words really resonate with me. Particularly the sadness and loss which I already feel for the relationship I should have had with my Mum (and, to some extent, my Dad). Thank you for posting.

kitty - interesting. I've essentially been doing the same - detaching a little further every time my Mum's behaviour "peaks" over the last few years. And now heading, probably, towards NC. I feel like I'm running out of energy to deal with the constant ups and downs (and, moreover, I don't want to any more).

OnTheRise Thu 26-Jan-17 09:48:32

I've not seen my parents for three and a half years. We had a particularly nasty visit to see them, they were horrid to us all, my children got upset, and at that point I realised things had to change.

It's been so much easier not having to worry about offending them. Yes, there were problems: initially I asked them to stop phoning me because they'd phone, say stuff, then deny having said it: so I told them they had to only email me, as then we wouldn't have so much confusion about what had been said. They reacted to that by phoning me multiple times every day for a while, so I bought a little gadget from eBay which allowed me to block their calls. It was really cheap and worked well. I have had several abusive emails from my father, and a few gaslighting ones from my mother. But they've pretty much stopped now, thank goodness.

I gave them an out: I said I wanted my father to apologise for upsetting us all, and I wanted my mother to tell me what I'd done which was "cruel" (she told my relatives I'd been "cruel" to her). But all this time later, neither have made any proper attempt to do those things.

What worked was to set very clear boundaries ("Do not phone me again, just email,") and to enforce them very rigidly (I'd hang up the phone as soon as I heard their voices) and without exception.

I wish I'd done this years ago. My life is happier and easier now.

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