My mother's subtlety

Started by smg, December 07, 2014, 07:22:45 PM

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M mother called me out of the blue last night. We've been estranged for 4-ish years. She still shows up at my door or calls about 3 times a year. I often want to yell the question, what the * are you trying to accomplish by saying the same things to me over and over?

As usual, I feel doubt and guilt. I try to remember and analyze everything, so that I can pick out something obvious and outrageous that will finally form a proper justification. It's an endless, non-productive, non-specific circling in my head (like the Tasmanian Devil's dust cloud, with dirt and claws flying out). Usually, I back away from it because it because it almost hurts. Sometimes intense, repetitive physical activity will make it easier to approach, but, honestly, I think that the best I get to is kind of tidying up the edges.

Last night, my mother started with inane trivialities, and when I said I wasn't interested in talking about trivial things with her, she went on to demand that I clarify whether I was going back on my previous statement that I would return to the family. I think that happens a lot, that she suggests my explanations are unclear, non-specific and inconsistent (which equals imaginary).

She also said that I'd said part of the problem was she hadn't "supported" me enough. Well, no. That's twisting it a bit, because I never wanted more of the same, I wanted different -- completely, f___ing opposite, in fact! I think the conversation she was refering to starting with me saying that I often felt worse when she got involved in a problem I was having. That's when she said that she'd done her best to support me in grade 6. What I remember from grade 6 is her saying "they're only doing it because they can tell you're the kind of person who would be upset by it," and that's victim blaming, not support!! And when, as an adult, i said "bullying", I got an outraged gasp of "you never used that word then."

The phone call went downhill from there.
-   I said that I'd observed what looked like a horror of dysphoric emotion; she demanded specific instances, said that "your father" would shoot her down if she expressed an emotion, and that "your father" says she has too many feelings.
-   I suggested counselling to learn new skills so that her life could be easier; she countered that she'd offered to go to counselling with me (heavy on the emphasis that she was willing to drive down and willing to pay).
-  Somehow we arrived at her exclaiming that I'd told her it wouldn't suit me if she divorced "your father," so what was she supposed to do; I nearly yelled back "I was a child" and added that I had no memory of that conversation.
-  She sniffled that "you and your father" have taken away all her power, control and autonomy, so that she doesn't know what she can do; I said I was sorry she felt that way and hung up (and immediately called a friend so I didn't have to worry that the phone might ring with her calling back).

I actually do know why she uses the same tactics again and again, always expecting that the 2nd or the 6th or the 19th time my response will be completely different and what she wants. In the past, that worked. If she kept banging on under the assumption that all my concerns were internally generated, that she only had to change me, not my environment or her own behaviour, then I would eventually give up. I would back away from that dust cloud because I couldn't get through it and it hurt too much to be near it.

Conflict with her always ends with complete submission: you can't just accept that you won't get your way, you have to admit that you shouldn't have wanted it, that the wanting is evidence of a fundamental defect to be fixed (and hidden until it's gone).



I'm so sorry that happened. Sounds like my M. It's like she wants to have a good relationship, but only on her terms in her reality. I've noticed there is nothing I'm going to say or do to make it stop. I've had to say things like, "I am no longer having this conversation with you, and if you decide to bring it up I will leave/kick you out/etc." I have even told my M that she needs to ask my permission to have conversations regarding family relationships or my feelings. When I told her she needed to ask my permission first, she never brought those topics up again.

I felt like saying the things above allowed me to feel like I had control over the situation. In the past I literally just leave or stop talking. Have you read that Medium Chill thing on the OOTF website? I think that has some good tips.

How are you feeling after that confrontation?


Dazed, I think.

I've read something about MC, and I'll go back to make sure that I've read the whole post, thanks. Yup, "her terms in her reality" and she seems to desperately want to give me money and food, maybe so that she can tick those boxes and present them as evidence of "a good relationship." Wow, you know the story! I'm glad that we can share here, and really sad that you've lived this too.

I have noticed that I don't get agitated (much) during our interactions now, SHE does. I don't think that's bad at all, but it does leave the challenge of connecting with how I feel afterward. Previously, if I got upset (in any context, not just a confrontation with mom), I would immediately be overwhelmed with shame and fear, and cry out of that endlessly, and never experience or resolve the initial feeling. I have some skills now to get out of that EF, but I feel a little afraid of triggering it. I have to prepare for a job interview tomorrow, so I'm aware that I have to put this aside to do the prep and the interview. That may be influencing me to dissociate from my reaction a bit.



Sounds like you have a lot going on! Good luck at your interview! I've often thought about asking my M, "How do you think I feel?" Mostly because I'm curious if she even thinks about being in anyone else's shoes. Sometimes we end up just having to do what we know is safe as to not trigger ourselves. Nothing wrong with that. You know more than anyone what's right for you.  :yes:


It probably was a good thing to dissociate or distance yourself from your emotions in this case.  How did the interview turn out?


Yes! [lol] "How do you think I feel?" and cue the deer-in-the-headlights expression from mom.

Thanks for the good wishes... but the interview didn't go well. I had an expectation of what jobs were available that didn't match reality. I was responding to a call for applicants to fill "all positions" and the positions weren't named, let alone described. So the job that I believe I'm suited for and that I prepared to interview for doesn't exist with this company (or rather it does exist at their flagship location in another city, and won't be duplicated here). When I found that out, all my preparation was derailed. I couldn't latch on to any idea besides "I don't feel prepared." They sat back to let me direct the conversation, without much of the usual give and take, and I floundered.

Happily, I also found out today that I have a second interview with another company in a few days. (Okay, that's ALMOST bad news because it means I have to be prepared again -- better prepared even -- in just a few days, and I feel anxious about that, which is another feeling to process -- what a challenge!)



Hi smg.
Don't know your situation so well so if I'm off mark, tell me!

I noticed:
"I suggested counselling to learn new skills so that her life could be easier; she countered that she'd offered to go to counselling with me (heavy on the emphasis that she was willing to drive down and willing to pay)."

It sounds like a bit of a competition is going on.  It also sounds like there could be some room for agreement there.  I remember my mother making an appointment with a psychiatrist for me when I was about 17.  I went because I also felt there was something wrong with me.

Had a brief conversation with the P and a couple of days later my mother gave me the results.  (She had Dr friends who had probably set the appointment up).
She said,
"I've heard back from the psychiatrist and he says there's nothing to worry about in your behavior, its just normal adolescent acting out.  He also suggested that we go back together for a second appointment but I don't think that's necessary since we've already got it sorted out.  Do you?"

Of course I agreed with her - quick break to insert MANIPULATIVE FRIGHTENED LYING * - and that was the end of it.

I have often thought how my life, my burden may have been completely different if I had taken that opportunity and got her in front of a psychiatrist.

Just my 2 cents but if she's prepared to go (however distasteful she's making it with, her martyrdom your lucky position, money thing - I think you should give it a go.   


Hey SMG, sorry to hear about the interview.  I have a fair bit of anxiety when it comes to interviews too so just wanted to send you a  :hug: for the next one.  Hope it goes well!


Hi Morph,
I don't know about on-the-mark, or not. I appreciate your perspective. (Thanks for sharing!) My position now (and for I don't know how long) is that I'm not going to take the risk of getting into a room with my mother to have a vulnerable conversation, even with a therapist to referee. I don't believe she's capable of emotional expression -- she's 72 and has been holding on to her robot-mask for most of those years.

Also, I think that when a therapist is working with two people together in a relationship, a lot of the job is refereeing, rather than giving empathy and "unconditional positive regard," to one party or the other. Any attempt by the therapist to do that could be perceived as invalidating by the other party. (If someone has experienced joint counselling with a possible NPD and can provide insight, please do.) I think that my mom really needs that empathy and positive regard, and it would take A LOT of it to gradually unlock her emotional expression.

I'm sorry if you're suffering with regret over a potential lost opportunity. When I was about 10 my mother decided she couldn't fix the thing wrong with me on her own, and tried to arrange therapy for me. All the therapists she contacted insisted on seeing the whole family, so that's what happened for a couple of sessions, and then I went alone. I remember the sense that I was putting the family to this trouble because I was defective. I remember my mom telling the therapist what was what, and the rest of us barely venturing to say anything. I remember the individual therapist telling me that I was just wasting my parents' money if I didn't talk to him. I thought that it would be like confessing to my mom about a problem, only with even more authority, that he would tell me my feelings were wrong, and i would be even more wrong because I wouldn't be able to use that knowledge of wrongness to make the feelings go away. I don't think I had a concept of safety.

About a year ago, my mom said that the therapist told her "it" was all her fault, and kind of sneered "so what was I supposed to do." I dunno, Morph, what might have happened with your mom in the psychiatrist's office. It would have been great for either of us to have our positions validated, to take away some of the shame when we were still young. Was that likely to have happened with our mother's in the room? Maybe with a good enough therapist?? What would she have said when we got back home?

The idea that I could have had the grain of the idea that it wasn't my fault is sad and wonderful.



Kizzie, Thanks for the hug! Yup, interviews are tough.

Morph, Yes, I have been working from a sense of superior emotional intelligence relative to my mom -- I'm a leetle bit smug, especially when I feel defensive. I still feel scared to have a real conversation with her, or with her in the room, and I don't choose to use my energy that way.
Wow, your mom must have been really frightened by the psychiatrist's report and what else he might say.


I'm assuming there is some problem with your mother's life view.  I know it can be painful (defeating, crushing, depressing, infuriating, invalidating) when opening up to the perpetrator.   I tried several times with well thought out strategies to do this, however to no avail, just another nail in the coffin/brick in the wall.

It just seems to me that having a shrink (who knows their stuff) present would be an excellent opportunity.   I would like to think that they would be able to have one session and grasp what's going on and then ask you to come in separately to continue the work.   I'm pretty new to this, and have just had my first 4 sessions with an online T - my faith in the profession has been rocked (and not in the musical sense).  Maybe you already have a T that you have a rapport with and could bargain with your mum to see that person together.

She's 72 and frail, I get it, but she may have some inkling that the robot mask may not be the best way of going through life.  She maybe using you as an excuse to see someone about problems that she is just now becoming aware of.

My mother is 90 and I saw her a few weeks ago.  Shadow of her former intimidating self but still clutching firmly to her warped and uncomfortable life blueprint.   She managed to make my son cry by chastising him and her engine hadn't even warmed up!   I'm still @#$% furious with her but I am also aware that she has been living this loveless, frightened life for many decades and its very sad.  If she would consider going to therapy I would do it for her, so she can get 5 minutes of respite before she kicks the bucket!

Still think it's a supreme opportunity which as time goes on will probably become less of an option.  You've got time to plan what you want to happen when you're not caught up pressing buttons with your M.  Main thing would be to make sure you see someone who is competent and understands cPTSD.


Have you ever thought about just hanging up or not answering the phone at all? Why even bother going through the same thing again and again?

I cut all contact with my parents (who are 100% responsible for any mental issues I have) when I realized that the cost of doing so was lower than the cost of continuing to allow them to abuse me. And any contact with them is abusive, forcing their warped idea of reality down my throat, resistance is worse than futile.


Quote from: smg on December 09, 2014, 08:03:29 PM
My position now (and for I don't know how long) is that I'm not going to take the risk of getting into a room with my mother to have a vulnerable conversation, even with a therapist to referee. I don't believe she's capable of emotional expression -- she's 72 and has been holding on to her robot-mask for most of those years.

You are probably doing the best thing for yourself smg. My M has NPD and 'I've come to understand (and more recently accept) that she is simply not capable of honest self-reflection and emotion because of her PD.  She is broken and her tactic has and always will be to make herself look good which means she will do anything, including slam me to achieve that. I refuse to ever be vulnerable around her any more because I know I will pay so I get that you don't want to try therapy - there's just no real point. 

By the way, my M&D got into see a T I was seeing when I was about 19 and the message they came away with was that I was a very angry young woman - well duh!   :doh:  However, they chose to interpret this as my being unreasonably angry, so all back on me yet again. I never went back to that T and thinking back I really should have reported him.


Brandy, I wonder if I have the conversations with my mother (once they've been started by her) partly as punishment, partly because I think/hope that I can straighten out some things and stop some of the same-old accusations. I don't know if I'm ready to just instantly cut her off.... Maybe I'll take some time to think of and write out some goals and strategies, so that I don't have to decide what I'm going to do when she does call, just remember what I've already decided.

Lovely, Rain is right that the idea of requiring permission for certain conversations is great -- mindblowing really, and so simple that I didn't notice it in your post at first. Thanks.

Kizzie, Yes, I don't see a point to putting myself at risk, either. I'm convinced that my mother's idea for therapy is to get help changing my interpretation of her behaviour, and NOT to change her behaviour, let alone the feeligns and attitudes behind it.

Rain, Thanks. Slow drip acid is a good analogy. And you're right that the truth appears tucked in amongst the niceness. Sentence 1: trivia, sentence 2: offers of gifts, and ... sentence 3: "isn't it true that you've been deliberately lying to me!"

schrödinger's cat

Quote from: smg on December 25, 2014, 12:41:43 AM...the truth appears tucked in amongst the niceness. Sentence 1: trivia, sentence 2: offers of gifts, and ... sentence 3: "isn't it true that you've been deliberately lying to me!"

:blink:  That reminds me of two acquaintances I'm now LC/NC with. They do that so often, it's just not worth enduring the contact and always having to brace oneself for the sudden attack. The worst of it is how the truth gets twisted into something so ugly, you hardly recognize it anymore - but the way they say it, they're not the Ugly Stepmother, they're Snow White all the way, every inch the wounded-yet-stoic innocent. "Oh no, there's no problem, what problem could there be, everything's fine, even though you [insert hints at unnatural cruelty here], but I'm not angry, because contrary to you, [insert self-justification here]", and OH MY GOODNESS LIFE IS TOO SHORT for this kind of crap.

They have each other now. I wonder what that's like, two such people interacting? Like two praying mantisses, I'd imagine. "Nothing to see here, not at all, I'm simply just standing here, serene and peaceful, la la la la la.... SNEAK ATTACK!", followed by chewing noises.