As I explained in a previous story, severing contact with my mother was rather easy. When I’d had enough of her childish blame games, her temper tantrums, her bigotry, her alcoholism, I simply quit calling her. And I didn’t answer the phone when she called me. At first, I thought that was all it would take to put all that toxicity behind me.
What was I thinking? After a lifetime of getting sucked into her traps, I should have realized she wouldn’t be letting go that easily. You see, my mother needs me. I served a very important function in her life. As Sandy Hotchkiss explains in her book Why Is It Always About You?, a narcissist’s ego is extremely fragile. She needs someone close at hand to serve as (what Ms. Hotchkiss calls in Chapter 17) a shame regulator — a person who can be used, manipulated, and/or threatened into the role of pathetic loser. By projecting undesirable personality quirks onto someone else, my mother is able to look and feel like a saint.
That’s where I came in. I’m sweet and kind-hearted, trusting and optimistic, faithful. These qualities are particularly loathsome to someone like my mother. She considers nice people weak, stupid, inferior in every sense of the word. At the same time, these idiotic dolts (as she sees them) do come in handy.
You see, my mother isn’t really human. Oh, she has the genes for it. She was born into this world in the normal way. But she lacks a conscience — that sense of right and wrong and accountability for one’s choices. She simply does not have the one thing that identifies us as human. According to this article, she’s one of 3–5 percent of the general population to have been born with no conscience.
Sociopaths have an extremely limited range of emotions — mainly anger, hatred, revenge, jealousy. And their main goal in life is to destroy. It doesn’t really matter what they destroy, as long as it’s something other people value, or what they consider weaker than themselves — their own children, the environment, other people’s health and well-being.
But she can’t just march into the nearest mall and start shooting. That’s tacky. People who do such things, however justified they might be, give people like her a bad name. Besides, doing anything for herself was too much trouble. Worst of all, she’d blow her cover, and that would put an end to her games.
So, to keep the fun in her life, my mother needed to get sneaky. Really, the only way to get away with her level of evil was to pose for a statue at the Vatican, to appear so wonderful (at least out in public) that nobody would ever guess she was capable of hurting a fly. It was quite the performance, and she spent her life perfecting and adjusting her saintly facade.
For a sociopath, the first order of business is acting lessons. Wherever my mother went, she searched out the nicest people to ever walk the face of the earth. She went out of her way to surround herself with as many of them as she could, scanning the group and silently asking questions. How does one hold their eyes and skew their lips when they’re concerned about someone else, or happy, or in love? What do they say? How do they stand and move? She watched these human beings carefully, studied them, mimicked the tiniest nuances in their behavior.
Then, when she felt comfortable playing her role, she poured on a sickly sweet charm to convince others that it was really her. I must admit the act was beguiling. But it was fake. Pish-posh my words at your own peril. It was fake.
Her Best Role Model
So I guess I was her favorite acting instructor. She needed me to show her how to look human. I remember when she called to tell me that one of my cousins had passed away. She boo-hoo’ed until she thought I was feeling sorry for her, then she asked me, “What do I say to my sister?”
That question may sound normal enough, at least on the surface. Many people don’t know what to say to a person who is mourning. But when situation requires, normal people are generally able to come up with something. Compassion, in my observation, is instinctive. But my mother, lacking such native instinct, simply did not know how to proceed. And that particular chapter hadn’t been covered in acting school yet.
For me, it’s really not that hard to console a mourning friend. In my experience, simply listening is the easiest option. But I wasn’t going to let my mother in on that little secret. If she wanted to know how to respond to her sister’s needs, she would have to ask somebody else. When this conversation took place, I still spoke to her but I had grown weary of showing her how to look human.
My Mother’s Brand of Entertainment
My presence in my mother’s world was required for another important reason. According to stories from her childhood, she enjoyed torturing animals, then siblings, then unsuspecting “friends.” Just as she needed to be surrounded by nice people willing to offer acting lessons, she also needed someone conveniently available to attack at will.
I suppose in a pinch, my father could fit the bill for a little while. One of the last stories she told me was of my father visiting the dentist to have a tooth pulled. He had received insufficient anesthetic (no doubt after my mother had spoken to the dentist privately about some adverse reaction he supposedly had to pain-killers), and he was “white as a piece of paper.”
The whole thing reminded me of all the times I had major dental work with no anesthetic, as she had instructed. My mother always did enjoy torture by dentist. But attacking her husband just didn’t give her the same satisfaction as when she did it to me.
She Needed Me
My mother’s world just didn’t spin properly without me in it. So, when I stopped calling her, with no warning or explanation (I had long since learned that any type of give-and-take communication with my mother was not possible, and that trying was dangerous), she panicked. What was she to do? How was she to survive? Where would she get the fix of attention that I so easily provided? Who would she scream at when her inner rage bubbled to the surface for no discernible reason? Who else would teach her how to look like a normal human being?
Conscripting the Flying Monkeys
Severing contact had sent my mother into a struggle for her very existence. She absolutely must have me back! But she couldn’t very well say that to her neighbors. That wouldn’t be saintly. Somehow, she had to make her inner struggle seem normal, even justified. Childbirth offered her the perfect opportunity, and she slipped into her doting mother costume. She whined at everybody in her world that she was so desperately worried about her “poor defective daughter.” She called my clergyman. Twice. He assured her, twice, that I was just fine and she needn’t worry.
She didn’t believe him, so she called the cops. Three times. The first time the cops stopped by the house for a welfare check, I was out of town on a business trip with my husband. A neighbor told me about the visit when we got home. During the other two visits I told the cops, very clearly, that I was fine and that I did not want any more dealings with my mother.
“But your mother didn’t call us,” the cops said. They read a name from their notes.
“That’s one of my uncles,” I replied. “I haven’t seen him in years. Rest assured that my mother sent him.”
My mother is extremely averse to doing any of her own dirty work. When something, anything, needs to be done, she always manages to con somebody else into doing it for her. She conserves energy that way. She also avoids any repercussions when her games blow up in somebody’s face, by appearing uninvolved.
“What do you want us to tell him?” the cops asked me.
“Anything you want. But I’m fine, and I’m not calling my mother.”
She didn’t believe the cops either.
More Flying Monkeys
All this drama took up most of the summer, during which time my mother called and left numerous messages on my phone. My brother called too. At first he was angry (drunk?). Then he was wheedling. Then he told me I had “hurt my parents’ feelings.” Then he pretended to be patiently understanding. I ignored him.
I was tired, disgusted actually, but relieved at the same time. Asserting my own personal boundaries felt good. For the first time in my life I began to feel in control of my own destiny. I wanted to keep the momentum going.
Then came the weirdest voice mail I had ever received. In essence, my brother explained that I had thrown the entire family into a panic, and my silence indicated that I certainly must be dead. And my husband must have killed me because I had met him online. Yes, you read that right. And they call me crazy??!!
Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands
The next day my mother called. This was a clear indication that things were getting very serious. Instead of sending flying monkeys as she usually did, the wicked witch was actually going after Dorothy herself. Unprecedented! This effort to take matters into her own hands told me how desperate my mother was getting. She said, “We’re coming to get you. Let us know when your husband will be out of the house, and we’ll bring you home.”
A couple days later, Sunday, I was taking a nap on the couch when there was a knock at the door. I panicked at the sound of my brother’s voice. He was asking my husband, “Is my sister here?”
I tried to pretend I was still asleep as he marched into the living room, sat down on the coffee table in front of me, and stared deeply into the eyes. I laughed later. He almost looked sincere. He asked me why I had worried the family so, why I was acting so irrationally, why I had cruelly rejected my family’s loving concern. I said nothing. Finally, he dropped a fat manila envelope on the table and stomped out, promising to return the next day. I refused to let him in, and he sat on the front porch with my husband. I stayed inside and kept my big brown dog very close to my side.
The envelope contained a couple of sappy letters, hand-written pleas to come home to my family that loved me. My mother’s letter opened with the words, “Hi, baby girl.” I had never heard her use that phrase before, and for a reason I couldn’t explain, it made my skin crawl. Also in the envelope was a letter I had received from someone else, some twenty years before. When I had received it, I placed it in my journal for safe-keeping. Then it disappeared. I had no idea what had become of it. But here it was now, in this envelope. My mother had apparently stolen it somehow. I no longer wondered why I was afraid to write in a journal.
The next day I put a short letter in the mail, addressed to my mother, expressing my desire for no contact. It was very short and to the point. I told her that if she ever tried to speak to me again, I would involve the police and an attorney. I changed my phone number.
For a few years after that, I received birthday cards and Christmas cards from my grown children. This confused and angered me. Nobody in my family had ever sent cards before, for any occasion. In fact, my kids never called or wrote at all. But twice a year after going no contact with my mother, I received a greeting card from one of them. Each contained the same hand-written script, as if my mother had stood beside them and dictated— one line explained what had kept them too busy to call me all year, another one said they loved me. The last line begged me to call them if I ever needed anything. They included a phone number.
She Finally Took Me Seriously
Apparently, my mother took my no contact letter seriously enough to realize that she wouldn’t be able to message me directly. But I hadn’t said anything about my children, so she conned them into sending me those cards. When I moved, they stopped coming. I haven’t received one in about three years, and I don’t really miss them.
Nobody has called me, written, emailed, or successfully contacted me on social media. Probably because I blocked everybody. But I had forgotten about LinkedIn. I had set up an account a while back, but I don’t use it much. So I was surprised to find a request to connect, from my children’s father — the man who left me in 2000, and haven’t seen since.
Why would he try to contact me? I could imagine the conversation he and my mother must have had, because I’ve heard it so many times before. “I know you left her for good reason. But she’s my daughter and I love her! All you have to do is get her to come back, and I’ll take it from there.” I didn’t take the bait.
She Never Gave Up
My mother did try to contact me when my father was dying. She called an uncle and instructed him to call the clergy. Actually, she had him call no fewer that six different people in various leadership positions. My phone blew up with messages.
The head of the women’s organization texted. I had to call my mother immediately. My father was dying. I texted back, asking her to call me as soon as he heard he was gone, so I knew when to start the party. She was shocked.
In later conversation with her, she explained that my uncle’s story sounded so very believable. Said Uncle: “Her father’s death is such a tragedy, but maybe some good can come of it, if it brings her home to her family that loves her.”
My mother’s pity party rages on. If I hadn’t previously warned the head of the women’s organization that my mother was dangerous, she would have handed over my confidential contact information immediately.
When my mother dies, I expect I’ll have to go through the same routine. I’ll handle it the same way I did when my father died. I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief, throw a party, and get on with my life.
Though my mother isn’t dead yet, she is now officially part of my past — a past that nobody should ever have to live, and to which I will never return. No contact is a very serious decision, and I didn’t make it lightly. But sometimes it’s necessary for survival.
When I first severed contact with my mother, I wasn’t sure what my future would hold. I had never been allowed the chance to explore any possibilities. But I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that on the other side of sociopathic abuse, there is sweet enduring peace.