I know many people can relate to the guilt, anger and destroyed self-esteem that can result from a parents’ manipulative behaviors through-out childhood, without me even having to rant about the exact ways my mother’s personality disorder attempted to destroy her kids. There are as many ways to deal with someone like my mom as there are unhealthy relationships. I would like to share my experience with a mother with a personality disorder, in the hopes that it might resonate with someone.
Keep in mind, I am not an expert. But here is how a bruised kid somehow grew into a happy, confident adult…
Remember the three Cs:
- You did not cause it
- You can not control it
- You can not cure it
Cut contact if you need to
I was fully estranged from my mother for several years. I highly advocate this step as necessary. When it has become a survival situation, when you can’t deal anymore without losing yourself, do it. But it’s not easy. Especially if other family members get involved. Just be firm but not aggressive in your boundary setting.
Find your worth. Enjoy drama-free relationships. Go through the steps of grief. Be angry at this person; cry for all you wish you’d had but realize you won’t. Do remind yourself it’s not your fault.
Eventually you may feel like you could to be in the same room without drama ensuing
If being estranged is like being separate islands, it took me a decade to realize that for better or for worse, those islands are stuck in a bigger river called Family. So I am no longer estranged. But our relationship is not “fixed.” I am simply distanced. I took this step because I wanted my daughter to be able to attend family gatherings. However, never EVER leave a kid alone with an unstable person, even if that person has been on their best behavior for months.
How to explain it to your kids
I made the mistake of leaving my daughter with my mom for thirty minutes once, and my daughter was deeply traumatized by this — not having the thick skin of an adult or grown up in that sick environment. I fumed. I cried. I breathed. And then I explained that her Grandma has a deep wound in her heart that creates all these negative emotions, like anger and sadness. And instead of using her words (Communication! Which I have been endlessly helping my kid do) Grandma reacts by wanting to make others hurt like her. Surprisingly, kiddo understood.
I know confrontation is useless
I refuse to respond to comments designed to hurt, even when they DO hurt. If I must speak directly with her, I maintain superficial conversation, about work and the weather. I recently discovered this technique actually has a name; “the medium chill.” (I wish I had found this resource earlier, instead of figuring it out on my own over a decade, which prompted me to write this post.)
I am no longer a part of my mom’s world
I am a fluffy white cloud hovering somewhere on the outskirts of her world; a world that revolves around thunderstorms, the ominous rumble of her controlling behavior, and retina-whitening flashes of drama when she does not get her way. She no longer has an effect on this particular cloud, and so she has dismissed me. It’s perfectly fine. She is no longer the center of my world either.
It is not all rainbows and unicorns
I find myself clinging by my fingernails to the fact that I can not cure her. Certain responses are deeply engrained. It’s tough to resist, to react with calm indifference. I am very much a “savior” personality type; I like to help and think everyone can find their way. It feels like a personal failure not to be able to heal the person who is supposed to be one of the most important figures in my life.
Ultimately, it’s possible to maintain somewhat of a relationship with someone who is broken, after you have healed yourself. To be distant, not estranged. I refuse to be dragged down, and you can too; yet it will always remain a constant juggling act of fragile balance and reaffirming boundaries. I can’t miraculously cure her. And you can’t either. And until/if she is ready to take responsibility for her behavior, she will remain that way.