Are You Dealing with a Vindictive Mother?
Since I’ve gone no contact, she’s badmouthed me to anyone who will listen. Family, friends, neighbors, even on Facebook. I basically can’t go back to the town I grew up in. How do I get her to stop?
There was one mother who actually wrote her son-in-law a letter, which reported that her daughter—who’d finally cut off all connection to her mother—was having an affair.
Another mother wrote her daughter’s boss, accusing her daughter of stealing money and forging the mother’s signature on checks. None of it was true but the daughter nearly lost her job nonetheless and her boss’s view of her was forever altered; she ended up having to leave the company anyway.
Then there was the mother who tried to help her daughter’s ex get custody of her grandchildren – go so far as footing the bill – even though the effort ultimately failed because the mother’s character testimony was fabricated.
These are extreme responses. But daughters who have tried to set firm boundaries with their unloving mothers or have gone low or no contact often report being the target of malicious gossip and harassment, both in the flesh and on social media.
Who’s most likely to start a vendetta?
My own mother didn’t fight back when I went no contact right before my only child was born. She had always been open about how “difficult,” “headstrong,” and “overly sensitive” I was to anyone who’d listen but she also liked bragging about my accomplishments because she thought they reflected well on her.
My mother cared a great deal about appearances, and I later learned that being shut out from seeing her first grandchild was profoundly embarrassing to her. So while she had nothing good to say about me, she largely stayed mum on the subject other than soliciting people’s pity for what a cruel and heartless daughter she had. I learned much later that very few people believed her.
Without question, first up for global warfare is the mother high in narcissistic traits—yes, that “favorite-playing” manipulator of siblings who sees her children, if she sees them at all, as extensions of herself.
As Dr. Joseph Burgo explains in The Narcissist You Know, the narcissist takes any challenge to herself and her authority as threatening and, from that moment on, she’s in it to win it with no holds barred. And if the narcissist mother feels hurt, she’s going hurt you more. Mind you, she won’t acknowledge any of this consciously; she’s much more likely to beg for sympathy and attention from others because she’s being treated so badly, even as she slanders you.
Second up is the controlling mother who doesn’t take kindly to anyone not doing things her way, accusing her, making her look bad, or anything else that might suggest she’s not as in control as she thinks. She will punish those who desert the ship or who try to assert themselves. She’s most apt to play the martyr if her daughter has set firm boundaries or has gone no contact, pointing to her perfectly kept home as proof that she did “everything” right.
Last but not least is the combative mother who, like her narcissistic counterpart, loves the imbalance of power that’s built into the mother-daughter relationship and, because she often has a cruel streak, enjoys making her daughter feel lousy about herself. The mother is a bully at heart—often deeply insecure—but that doesn’t slow her down. She’s competitive and often jealous of her daughter, and while she doesn’t usually display her behavior in public, she’s not going to let her daughter win.
Least likely to engage in skirmishing are the dismissive mother and the emotionally unavailable one; like my own mother, they may be socially embarrassed by the boundaries set or outright rupture but, secretly, they’re relieved. You won’t hear from them.
How to deal with the vindictive mother
Your first response to her campaign is probably going to be a mixture of emotional pain and utter disbelief because the whole point of either setting boundaries or curtailing contact was to remove yourself from the fray so you could start to heal and now you’re right back in it.
The pain could become intense as she organizes her army, some of whom are people you care deeply about and had hoped would hug the sidelines without getting involved. Every ounce of ambivalence you feel—after all, what you really wanted all along is for your mother to love you—might rise to the top, making you doubt yourself.
Here are some tips to try to cope with a vindictive mother.
- Distinguish between hurtful and things that could really hurt you
Yes, it’s hurtful to have someone spread lies about you but you should differentiate between gossip and actions that could actually damage you and your life. If your mother is really doing off-the-wall things such as contacting your employer or making false accusations, talk to an attorney about what you can do. Gossip and innuendo are one thing; harassment is another.
- Try to stay out of the fray
Your mother is trying to get attention for herself, especially from you. Yes, the impulse might be to fight fire with fire but the truth is that if you engage, you will actually deprive yourself of the freedom you sought from her influence in the first place. Take the high road and try not be reactive, reminding yourself that this is about her, not you, as it always has been.
Mollifying your mother and deciding that this just isn’t worth it may seem tempting but, according to women I’ve interviewed, doesn’t lead to anything productive except more spins on the carousel. If peacemaking means that you have to continue to countenance the treatment that led you to separate yourself in the first place, remind yourself of the cost.
- Seek help and guidance if you need it
I’m neither a therapist nor a psychologist but I do know that many daughters find themselves in even greater pain than they anticipated because there are potentially so many losses involved as people take sides in the battle. You will need a good support system and if you don’t have one, please don’t go it alone. There’s nothing to be gained by trying to do this on your own.
And remember: This isn’t about you. It’s about her.
Photograph by ju_saijdo. Copyright free. Pixabay.com
Burgo, Joseph. The Narcissist You Know. New York: Touchstone, 2016.
, . (2017). Are You Dealing with a Vindictive Mother?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/knotted/2017/08/are-you-dealing-with-a-vindictive-mother/