Low Contact is the phrase we use to describe a specific way you can keep in touch with your Narcissistic Mother, on your terms.
What exactly those terms are, is something only you can decide. But the important thing is that it has to work for you! I describe as the sweet spot between how little you’d like to see her, and how much you are obliged to see her. (There’s more information on going Low Contact in my book You’re Not Crazy – It’s Your Mother which is also part of the comprehensive Mega DONM Resources Bundle. And once you decide those terms, it’s about setting boundaries and keeping to them. That can be the difficult thing.
So, say you decided that you’d only visit once a week, say. Or once a month. But your mother invites (and by ‘invites’ I do of course mean ‘summons’) you in between times, and puts pressure on you to accept. This is where you have to be strong and calmly assertive. It’s not easy, but it’ll come with practice and every time you do it, you are reclaiming another little bit of your power and it feels very good.
Narcissistic mothers are also masters of manipulation, and so they may well lay it on thick, trying to make you feel guilty if you don’t accept. You need to be strong!
Another way of going Low Contact is to withdraw emotionally. You might physically see her as often, but just not share yourself as much. Keep conversation very light and superficial and safe.
Don’t tell her any of your good news in case she rains on your parade. And don’t tell her any of your bad news in case she feeds off it.
I remember when I used to still see my mother – I could almost literally feel my Self folding in, hiding in a shell, when I went into her company. My whole face closed down, my expression became muted and passive. My natural warmth and enthusiasm got put away. In no sense of the word was it ‘me’ who was in her presence.
This was not a conscious Low Contact strategy, as I didn’t know about Narcissistic Personality Disorder then. It was just the only way I could cope. Also, there was the very strong message that the person I really was was not acceptable to them (i.e. her and my Enabling Father) so I had to put that Self away lest it be criticised and attacked.
This wasn’t a healthy or functional pattern, but it did make the relationship between me and my parents work, to the extent that it worked at all.
And so, if you decide to operate the Low Contact plan, you could try that.
The other option, of course, is to opt for No Contact.
Here’s an excellent essay by L.J. who’s a master of Low Contact:
Dealing With A Narcissist
When we have a Narcissist in our lives we quickly learn how manipulative, difficult and unpleasant they are.
What we often find hard to learn is how to deal with them so that we remain in control and as undamaged as humanly possible. I speak from bitter experience here.
The first thing we have to do is to let go of any hope that they will ever become the reasonable, balanced human beings we would like them to be. That just isn’t going to happen. They don’t have either the will or the capacity to change and no amount of being reasonable or reasoning with them is going to make it happen. Letting go of that hope is a huge relief. It means that we accept the reality of what they are and we don’t have to waste emotional energy trying to make them ‘normal’ any more.
So how do we deal with them? First you have to set your own limits on what you will and will not accept – boundaries. You have to make these very clear to the Narcissist, you have to be prepared to repeat them endlessly (they will never learn or accept them) and you have to stick to them rigidly. I have found that it is best to deal with their behaviours one ‘symptom’ at a time, one day at a time.The first and easiest boundary I set with my Narcissistic mother was about what I am and am not prepared to listen to. Like most Narcissists she can be incredibly negative and nasty about people, including me. Working on the principle that people can only hurt you if you let them I decided not to listen to any of her hurtful nonsense any more. We have the power to control what we listen to by putting the phone down or walking away.
The first time I set this boundary we were out on a jaunt to a local market town, some 12 miles from her home and with poor transport links. Her endless bitching and negativity was wearing me down and I lost it with her. I told her that I was sick of hearing it and if one more negative thing came out of her mouth I would leave her and she would have to make her own way home. She spent the rest of the afternoon looking like a goldfish. Every time she opened her mouth to say something, she realised, stopped herself, and shut her mouth again.
I have repeated this scenario in many different ways since then, often sounding like Joyce Grenfell in the Nursery School sketch. We are, after all, dealing with emotional infants here and things have to be repeated time and time again.
She will start, I will say, “I am not prepared to listen to this,” and if she continues I say “That’s enough, goodbye,” and put the phone down or leave.
I have set another boundary by refusing to be manipulated by her. I have made a game of this and I confess that I rather enjoy it. I have told her many, many times that if she wants anything of me, she has to ask. Like many Narcissists she is very arrogant and imperious and thinks that I should anticipate all her wants. She believes that she should not have to ask for anything, that asking is demeaning so she tries manipulation.
I deliberately don’t get it and we can go on for ages, going round in circles with me trying hard not to crack up laughing! Let me give you an example of the type of conversation that we have had many, many times:-
Mother:- “J’s family take her shopping every week.”
Me:- “That’s nice of them.”
Mother:- “Every week without fail.”
Me:- “Good for them.”
Mother:- “Lots of people here [sheltered housing complex] have families who take them shopping.”
Me:- “That’s nice.”
Mother:- “You don’t take me shopping.”
Me:- “You never ask me to.”
Mother:- “I shouldn’t have to ask!”
Me:- “I have told you many, many times Mother, if you want me to do something for you, you have to ask. If I can I will. If I can’t I will tell you I can’t.”
Mother:- “I shouldn’t have to ask!”
Me:- “But you do have to ask.”
Mother (now childishly petulant):- “ I do my own shopping.”
Me:- “Good for you.”
Mother:- “ I go to Aldi with J.”
Me:- “That’s funny. I thought you said that J’s family take her shopping every week.”
End of conversation, usually with her declaring that I am just being difficult. and me trying hard not to laugh out loud.
Another aspect of refusing to be manipulated is learning not to be damaged by the fact that she will issue poisonous diatribes about me to anyone who will listen. This vicious bad-mouthing is extremely common with Narcissists and it, or the threat of it can pin down many people in the victim or scapegoat position for years. So, you just have to move away from it, emotionally.
My mother has done this more times that I can count, spectacularly ruining Christmas a couple of years ago by viciously bad mouthing me to my mother-in-law. That was when I determined never to host them in my own home again. She does it with her friends and the way I look at it is, if they are the kind of people who are prepared to listen to and believe all that bile, they are not the kind of people I want contaminating my life.
These are just a couple of examples of ways that I have found to deal with the Narcissist in my life. Maintaining minimal contact helps a lot, for Narcissists are such HARD WORK. Many people find that no contact is the only way to protect themselves, but minimal or no contact, the important thing is to do what you can to protect yourself.
L.J. – Daughter of Narcissistic Mother
Mothers With NPD:
Info & Resources:
What other DONMs say:
The Mega DONM Resource Bundle