If one of your parents is a narcissist and you’ve been reading up on how to deal with it, you may be wondering:
‘I hear about no contact all the time. But what is going no contact all about? What are the implications? How can I be sure it will work…?’
Well, you’re all set here. In this post, I look at the ins and outs of:
- Going no contact with a narcissist parent
- What to consider when going no contact with parents
- How going no contact with your family can play out
And I offer a case study so you see how one person dealt with the practicalities of no contact in their life.
You can jump to any of the sections here:
At some point, your relationship with mum or dad just hurts too much:
- the put downs
- the me me me mentality
- the cold silences
- the dread and depression pre and post contact
- the subtle and not so subtle guilt tripping
- the violation of boundaries
So you start to ask yourself, ‘Is it all really worth it? Should I just go no contact? You know, I love my parents, but the pain I’m in with every contact just sets me back.’
It sends you into a tail spin.
For example, in the lead up to seeing your family:
- You start to get irritable or down.
- You find yourself moping or acting out with food, alcohol, shopping. Fixating on looking just right.
- You get hyper-critical of your self and others
Eventually, you start to ask yourself this question, that every adult child of a narcissistic parent comes to. Would you be better off just not seeing your family anymore?
‘No contact’ is the decision to make the ultimate boundary with your narcissistic parent. Often it includes the other parent too, as they come as a package and, can including siblings. (More on that below.)
In deciding to have no contact, you are trying to put in place a self-preservation strategy.
Whatever others may say to you, you’re taking action for a reason.
Because all the options have been tried, tested and at this time, fail to support you in the way you need to keep your mental and physical health.
So let’s look at how going no contact can help.
Let’s get into the heart of it:
If you go no contact, what are the advantages?
In some ways, you’re giving yourself permission to get on with you life.
It’s saying, ‘this relationship with my parent, has too much of an impact on me for to be able to live life as I want.’
By going no contact, you can focus on what’s important to you right now: relationship, friendships, work, personal passions.
You can clear yourself of the energetic and emotional minefield that is navigating your family dynamics.
You’ll probably worry less as a consequence. And feel lighter in yourself.
But are there downsides to doing this? That’s what we look at next.
Taking the decision to break off contact with your parents or family is a big one.
Why might you hesitate to make this decision?
It’s likely to trigger off enormous feelings of guilt and shame. As if you weren’t doing your duty. Or you were betraying your family.
It might feel hard to get on with life without feeling you’re not entitled to your joy and inner peace.
You may feel like you are missing out and have been excluded from the club, even though another part of you feels the club is toxic.
You may be judged by friends of your parents or the family, and your extended family.
If you have siblings and they are caught up in the narcissistic family system, they will probably side with your parents.
It’s quite likely that a narcissistic parent will try to manipulate the situation to avoid any shame on themselves for your no contact. They might:
- tell lies about you and the reason you’re not in contact
- try to make themselves out as the victim of the situation
- use overt and covert ways of making you second guess your choices
So if you choose to go no contact, you’re likely to be in for a bumpy ride, either way.
Is there a half-way solution? That’s next…
Assuming your parents are together still, you might wonder if it’s possible to have a strategy where you maintain contact with the other parent.
Of course anything is possible, if you choose it. For some people, maintaining contact in this way feels a way of keeping a foot in the door for the future relationship and not feeling cast out.
But there are risks:
- Often in longstanding relationships with a narcissist, the other parent will be consciously or unconsciously colluding in what is a co-dependent relationship.
- They may not be able to separate safely from their partner to provide you with the safe harbour you seek. Proceed with caution.
- When the chips are down, they will always side with their partner, in my experience. Which could leave you very exposed and vulnerable.
When no contact is always worth considering
If your parent is so extreme on the narcissistic spectrum, that contact with them continues to be toxic for you, then no contact remains an important option to consider.
In this case there is almost no possibility of emotional safety, ever. This type of parent will continue to create great emotional harm to you, with no chance of things ever improving.
If that’s the case for you, it may just be better to stay away.
If you’ve thought about all these options and think that no contact is the way forward, what do you need to think about? Let’s look at that next.
If you’re in the early stages of recovery, having no contact can be helpful. It can create the mental space for healing, but it may also feel very exposing and difficult for the wounded and vulnerable part of you.
That part of you may:
- feel panicked
- need a lot of reassurance and struggle with both the outer and inner feelings of rejection that no contact (even if self-imposed) can evoke.
If you’re in the middle of recovery from the trauma of childhood narcissistic abuse, having a temporary break from contact can help consolidate the changes and healing.
If you’re able to reduce or avoid contact, it allows time for the scar tissue to form over your wounds without them being broken open again.
If you’re in the late stages of recovery, and you feel that there is no chance of having respectful, boundaried contact with your narcissistic parent, then no contact remains an option.
Or you may feel able to renegotiate your relationship with your parents in which case you may choose to lift the no contact rule and see how things go.
That said, sometimes no contact might be the only way forwards.
So you’ve seen that no contact is not a straightforward option.
It might keep you emotionally safer, but it’s also likely to create an inner backlash. It can trigger intense guilt and shame.
Are there other options? Well, here’s a good one, if you’ve already done some healing and your foundations are starting to feel strong enough:
This term is Karyl McBride’s, author of ‘Will I Ever be Good Enough’. She talks of a middle ground you can occupy, once your groundwork is stable and your defences in place: it’s called ‘civil contact’.
This type of contact is based on a number of assumptions:
- You have done the work to build your resilience
- You’ve come to an understanding of your family dynamics and how they impact you
- You’ve been able to develop self-compassion and reduce the impact of toxic guilt
- You’re ready to accept your parent is unlikely to change fundamentally
- You’re able to let go of the idea that your parent will meet any of your emotional needs
- Having civil contact is way of maintaining a level of contact with your parents / family without becoming enmeshed and caught up in the old dynamic.
You might need to:
- limit contact to a frequency which feels safe
- meet on neutral ground
- limit the time of the contact
- spell out your boundaries
- be prepared to politely and kindly assert yourself
- be ready to walk away if things get too much
So if you’re going to go down that route, what do you need to do to keep yourself safe?
I call it:
the contact contract
If you’re going to have contact with your parents or family, setting the parameters for how this is going to work, is essential.
One way forward is to create your own contract for future family encounters.
You don’t need to share this explicitly with your family unless you feel you want to.
However, it’s what you’re going to keep in mind if and when you spend time with them.
In this contract you might stipulate:
- when, where and how long you are willing to meet for
- who might need to be present (and who not)
- what your trigger words / phrases / looks are and how you might respond
- what your red flags are that mean you would feel you need to remove yourself
No contact experimentation
It might take a few goes to establish a way of doing this that works and feels ok.
Be experimental and willing to try different things out, as long as you feel safe to do so.
Whatever you decide, there’s one thing that more important than any other…
Being kind to yourself.
Moving forward with kindness to yourself
This idea of modified contact might be new and difficult territory.
Often clients I see will set no contact boundaries for a time, but may choose to lift the boundary.
Or sometimes, the vulnerable part of them can’t bear the shame of separation and re-establishes contact before more robust defences are in place.
It’s really hard when that happens, not to be swept up in an alternative wave of self-shaming, for having transgressed your own rules.
As with all stages of recovery from abuse, your goal is to treat yourself with the utmost kindness, recognising each step along the way is a major one, however small or large.
So how does this all play out? Here’s a case study.
*Stu is a composite case study of examples I’ve worked with. Client work is, of course, a confidential process.
Like many adults of a narcissistic parent, Stu’s life seemed ok to an outsider. He was single at 34 but had had a couple of long term relationships. He was quite introverted but counted himself lucky to have a small group of close friends he’d known since college.
Stu had had depression on and off throughout his adult life. It was particularly marked around holiday periods and birthdays, but it came and went throughout the year.
He felt low, listless and not very social when depression came on.
He finally decided to get help from a therapist as he started to worry that this pattern of depression was never going to go away.
As we worked together, it became clear that while Stu’s first evaluation of his childhood was happy and normal, the reality was quite different.
Boundaries with his mother
His mother was always exhausted and said she worried about him. She would ask him endless questions about his life, to the point where he would shut down.
His father seemed a silent bystander in all this, often preoccupied with his garden or out playing golf.
His mother confided in him about all her challenges in her life and relationship. Whenever he made attempts to distance himself, she became cold and silent.
Guilt and resentment
Stu felt enormously guilty about his growing resentment towards his mother. He felt he had nothing to be cross about and worried about being ungrateful and callous, particularly as she was growing older and more frail.
What emerged in our work was that Stu’s mother exhibited traits of an introverted narcissist. She wasn’t able to see Stu as a separate being to her with his own needs and wants.
Soon Stu was able to link his depression to his encounters with his family, his mum in particular.
He decided to distance himself more, first reducing contact and keeping converations superficial and away from his own emotions or his mother’s.
The more he tried to do this, the stronger his mother reacted. She started to get ill and call more frequently, leaving him messages that caused enormous guilt and self-questioning.
Temporary no contact
Recognising that while this was going on, it would be hard for him to heal the neglected and shamed parts of himself, Stu decided to go no contact, at least temporarily.
This caused him enormous inner-turmoil. He felt guilty and ungrateful. As if he were abandoning his mother and this was the worst possible thing he could ever do.
At the same time, he recognised that carrying on as before was sending him into deeper and more frequent depressions. It felt like an impossible dilemma.
Something had to change.
After agonising about his decision for a few weeks in therapy, Stu came to a decision.
For 12 months, Stu limited his contact to a birthday greeting for his two parents in the form of a card and that was it.
To help him, we worked together to ensure he had something of a support network in place, in therapy, through an online support group and with two trusted friends in whom he felt he could confide.
Challenges along the way
The first 3 months were very challenging. He felt pulled strongly back to his family. An aunt contacted him and pressured him to be in touch with his parents. A childhood friend emailed him, saying his parents were worried about Stu’s. These felt like enormous twists of the arm.
They were immense tugs on his resolve. But he hung on in there, working gently with self-compassion and particularly the wounded child part of him who was so fearful of abandonment.
After 12 months, Stu felt he had enough insight and resources to open up contact again. His depressions were less frequent and he had started to grieve the losses of his childhood.
Some of the trauma locked in his body had begun to release and he felt he could begin to renegotiate his family relationship.
He didn’t want to be completely outside of the fold but from now on, it was going to be on his terms. He knew what his red flags were and decided that for now, meeting his parents on neutral ground outside of holidays was best for him.
That’s Stu’s story, but what about you? How do you need to move forward?
You’ll have seen from this post, that there is no right and wrong with no contact.
It’s a personal choice of what serves you best.
But the best advice is that you should be on your own path of healing before taking any drastic action.
Without that, there is no foundation for things to change. You can make the break, but you can’t change your family.
You can only change your relationship to them and yourself. That’s the starting point.
If you feel you can’t heal while you are in contact with family, then that might be the basis for making a decision.
It’s important that you feel in control.
And to know that no decision, either way, is irreversible.
Feel stuck? Confused or unsure? Got more questions?
If you need help with no contact and boundaries with your family. I specialise in working with people just like you. Let’s see how we can work things through together, to help you find greater peace and joy.
Get in touch for a free initial consultation by calling or text me on 07443 640556 or emailing me.
Read more on Karyl McBride’s view of going no contact here: