Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Emotional detachment is possible.

About a year ago, I was a wreck.

The phone would ring and I'd feel sick just thinking about my father on the other end of the line with the complaint de jour.

Before, there was the year when he kept having panic attacks disguised as heart attacks and spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital, requiring my attention.

I spent nearly every evening fuming and stewing about what he'd said, how he'd said it. I was furious, depressed, resentful and above all, trapped. Okay, I still feel trapped. But less so.

Reflecting on the past, trying to understand it, writing about all of it and learning that others have had similar experiences, too, have done me a world of good.

I can actually have a terrible encounter with my father, then forget about it ten minutes later.

"He's such an asshole," I'll say, then go back to whatever it was I was doing.

Now, I won't even bother describing, in great detail, to my husband what awful thing just happened. Because I don't want to let my father ruin a perfectly good meal or movie or time with my husband or daughters.

I managed to accomplish this with a great deal of PRACTICE.

Stewing and fuming, I'd concluded, had got out of control.

So I started with small chunks of time. I would force myself NOT to think about my narcissistic father. After a bad encounter, I'd let myself FEEL. I'd get angry or sad and sit with it for a while, respecting my feelings, but not allowing them to completely control me. Then I'd say, that's enough stewing. Time to move on.

I've also become better at anticipating problems and taking precautionary measures.

For example, my narcissistic father was winding up for mother's day. A week before, he started calling me daily to wish me happy mother's day. With each call, he'd become more maudlin...saying what a wonderful mother I was to my daughters, but that HE'D never had that kind of childhood because his mother had allowed his father to beat him. HE'D been a latchkey kid. And on and on. So I knew, for sure, that his attempt to take the spotlight (again) would be upsetting and triggering, so I asked my husband to answer the phone that day. I also didn't call my father on Saturday, the day before, just in case. I was able to have a lovely mother's day with my the horse races!....without letting my father ruin it.

I'd allowed him to ruin so many important occasions: going away to college (first weekend spent at hospital w/hypochondriacal father); birth of first child (trip to hospital due to his "bad" back); birth of second child (taking care of mother w/Alzheimers b/c father hadn't told me about her illness).

No matter the occasion, I was never allowed to enjoy it. To be in the moment. My father always had some problem or drama that required my attention and involvement.

But it's soooo much better now.

I'm not nearly the quivering mass of spineless jelly that I was a year ago.

And I'm REALLY glad I'm doing this while my father is still alive.

I'd like to end with a comment left by Anonymous Bob...which made me think about this subject in the first place:

"if I was to wait for my mother and father to die before I could have a good life or start working with myself I would be giving my parents power over my destiny. I would continue to be at their mercy like I was when I was a kid. Why should they control how I feel? Isn't this what we're trying to get out of - our parents controling our lives? When we were children we had no choice, but when we're older we can say "no, I will no longer let my parents control me".


Anonymous said...

A note to let you know Kathy Krajco of "What makes narcissists tick" has died.

She taught me so much and I know she effected many others the same way.

Holy Water Salt

Anonymous Bob said...

"I'd get angry or sad and sit with it for a while, respecting my feelings, but not allowing them to completely control me."

Oh la la. How very buddhist of you Nina. This is my practice too. I see it as confronting my parents in my mind instead of in the "real" world. I can't meet my mother irl, I get angry, but in my mind I can work through these issues and be more in control.

Anonymous said...

About a year ago, I was a wreck.
Likewise. Up until a year ago my mom played me like a fiddle with her constant proud woe-is-me dramas and traumas. Mom managed to “fly under the radar” for most of my life because dad’s narcissism is so much more over the tops than mom’s. Finally clueing in to her narcissism has been freeing and allowed me to doing the emotional detachment part, bit by tiny bit.

I'm free of her for the next 2 months. I was just offered another job as soon as my background check clear (no bum fighting or panda smuggling) so I will be gone by the time she returns. Now I'm trying to figure out how much I should pay for the house she will return to while I'm paying for my own new dig 350 miles away.

I don't trust what she says anymore. I'm sure she has plenty of money of her own but in all liklihood she will never tell me the truth.

And I'm REALLY glad I'm doing this while my father is still alive.

Absolutely. Though a thousand points of lights to you for still taking care of the old bastard. My sister and I haven't had the talk yet about what to do should dear mom get sick and require care. She's so freaking healthy that I'm sure she'll outlive her children, which maybe why we avoided "the talk".

roxtarchic said...

i used to call my sister & confer after an encounter w/the naf... but i realized, i was working her up and drawing her into his dramas and WHY give him that power... i'll mention things in passing now... i wont vent to my dh or anyone for that matter now... i honestly dont HAVE TO confer or vent, i laugh at it, shake my head, end the call or delete the message...

and i really DO believe the detachment is like pushing a stone uphill, slow going... but once you get it there... you take a deep breath & let it go.... it's just gettin to the top that's tough!

Nina said...


Thank you for letting me know. I'll post the link, too. I admired Kathy, too. The obit said she'd died unexpectedly...and so young. Terrible. Do you know what happened to her?

ANONYMOUS BOB: Is it Buddhist? I had no idea...not having yet learned about it, although I've meant to. Very cool! I actually learned that from my former therapist...who observed that I always dismissed/minimized my feelings too quickly and easily, but the feelings had a way of seeping out toxic sludge seeping out of the ground. I really like the idea of confronting one's parents in one's mind!

ENILINA: Congratulations on your job offer! Good luck w/figuring out the rental money stuff...yuck...especially when you can't trust her to tell you the truth about her financial situation. I'm sure you and your sister will eventually have that talk...when the time comes. That's a difficult conversation anyway...and with such a difficult person as your's even more off putting. I mean, my inlaws have FOUR kids spread across the country and they are in their 70's...isolated in a small town that is very hard to get to...and they've never talked about that stuff, ever!

ROXTARCHIC: You are a very considerate person! Not only did you realize you might be winding up your sister, you actually resisted a very powerful and basic urge to legitimately complain to a safe person! We all need to whine...especially about stuff like this...but it's great you were able to take a step back and probably do the both of you a favor! Because WE wind OURSELVES up by too much venting.

Anonymous Bob said...

Well it sounds like buddhism to me, maybe your therapist was into MBCT?

Ooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..... P:

Cinder Ella said...

One of the hardest things for me to learn was to FEEL. It was so easy to stuff the feelings and just try to forget about the latest narcissistic display. Do you find that as you practice sitting with the feelings that it becomes easier and easier to feel them and go on? I'm amazed what power they had over me, to literally drive me to do anything except accept them.

For me, some parts of emotional detachment have been very easy. Others not so much so. Watching my mother's antics, her pathetic attempts to rope me into her world -- to those I can easily remain unattached and easily spot the manipulation miles away. The ones I find harder are those that remind me just how little I, her kid, actually exist to her.

Like the time she dropped by with her vacuum cleaner to ask me to show her how to change the belt when just weeks earlier I had told her how much trouble I'd been having with my dust allergy. Or when, while lying in a hospital bed because of a problem pregnancy that threatened my life and that of my baby, she berated me on the phone, questioned my parenting skills, then hung up on me because I wouldn't adhere to her medical advice (in which she has no training).

Hmm, I guess it's the intrusions into my world that I have trouble detaching from, or maybe the times when other people's mother would be a source of comfort but mine is oblivious to anything but seeking comfort of her own.


Anonymous Bob said...

Nina, don't you think that your relationship with your n-parents could be described as an abusive relationship? That's what I think about my parents. Look at this: My childhood sucked. No love, just ice cold mind games and manipulation. When I see her today I get this trigger thing going on so I can't really meet her without going crazy. So I avoid her.

Here's my hypothesis: being a child of narcissistic parent(s) *is* actually abusive and as children of narcissistic parent(s) we share the main symptoms of physically abused persons like triggers, avoidance, etc.

We were emotionally and spiritually abused!

Katherine Gunn said...

Anonymous Bob~

Precisely. Children of narcissists were/are abused. Period. And they do suffer from triggers, etc.

Nina said...


The story you related of being in the hospital w/a terrifying problem pregnancy...and your mother choosing that time to scold, well, astonishing. It's a very sad example of just how incapable a narcissistic parent is of showing care, providing even the most extreme of times. If ever we feel guilty about our feelings toward our n-parents, we only need remember such times!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I found your blog! One of my favorite detachment exercises happened with a phone "conversation". Talking on the phone with my N-dad is, well, you know, like listening to him talk about himself. He has his list of lead-in "polite" questions, like "so how are you and the kids" - but he's just waiting to tell me about him, or reminisce again for the millionth time about the day he took me to do something I enjoyed or the time he taught me how to drive a stick (what planet was he on, he badgered me into a shivering mess and 5 years later my husband taught me how!).... anyway, I started answering the question and decided to stop talking the second he cut me off.... he never even notice. Now I do it for fun. It really drove home the point that they are UNABLE to think about others or care about others.

Anonymous said...

Ooph! I can completly relate. My mother is very emotionally manipulative. Just the other day she texted me to say that she was disappointed in me and didnt understand what my problem was ... this was because she texted me earlier that morning saying I needed to wish my stepfather goodbye for his buisness trip. Mind you I work as a school nurse and being the end of the year I'm up to my nose in paperwork and I still have to take care of kids. She knows I don't carry my phone and that I'm busy. On top of it all my stepfather doesn't acknowledge me unless he needs money. When I confronted her about this she immediately went to her "I won't ever text or call you anymore. I'm sorry I'm such a burden in your life" . BEYOND FRUSTRATING because never would I ever say to her to stop communicating with me and she does this all the time to me. Ever since I moved out it's gotten better because I can avoid her more easily when I know she's in a mood.
Ive gotten better about dealing with my reaction towards her. No longer am I spineless and guilted by her and its nice to realize that it's not my fault and I dont need to feel guilty. Thank you for writing this its helped! And the comments and really helpful too! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Nina. And all the others who have commented. I had googled "how to detach emotionally from a narcissistic parent" and am so glad I found your blog.

I am choosing to keep in touch with my n-mom, who is elderly. I have done the "work" and am aware of what I am dealing with, but still have such a hard time getting her out of my head. Working on emotionally detaching is the next layer of the onion that I need to work on, I think.

Just knowing that it is possible to do, and that others are doing it, gives me hope and makes me know I am not alone. And knowing that it takes time and practice is helpful too. I plan to read your other posts as well.

Thank you - I feel like I can breathe again! :)

Anonymous said...

Am I a bad person? My narcisissistic mother, who I now understand to be abusive, manipulative and a liar when it suits her, is showing signs of dementia. She lives alone in an increasingly filthy house and refuses to consider moving into an assisted-living home. I am handicapped, in a wheelchair and have started to avoid my mother, which makes me feel a LOT better. But guilty. Should I be there for her and let my psyche keep taking the hits she dishes out? Having trouble setting boundaries.