Our family has the ability to frustrate us like no one else can. But what can you do when the family you were born into is not only frustrating, but cruel, condescending and downright abusive?
We all have our limits and if you were raised in a household where abuse or mental illness was part of everyday life for you, your willingness to tolerate your family’s bad behavior may be higher than most people’s.
But sooner or later, many adult children of narcissistic families realize that they don’t want to put up with the abuse anymore. And that’s when many decide that the only way they can live a normal, healthy life is to cut themselves off from their family’s destructive behaviors.
Psychologists refer to this as going ‘no contact’ and the name means just that. It means that you no longer speak to, email or have any contact with those members of your family who have hurt you. And you make it clear to them that you would prefer it if they don’t contact you either.
If you are seriously considering going no contact with your family or already have, here are a few things to watch out for:
- Don’t assume that they will respect your decision.
If your family were capable of respecting your boundaries, you wouldn’t have to resort to going no contact. However, they don’t see it that way. They see you as an extension of themselves and the idea that you may want something different to them is impossible for them to grasp.
Also be aware that narcissists love trampling boundaries. Even if you tell them firmly but politely that you don’t want them to contact you, be prepared for them to call you up constantly, asking why you won’t speak to them. When it comes to respecting other people’s boundaries, they just don’t get it.
- Be prepared for an all-out smear campaign.
Your narcissistic family probably has been managing smear campaigns about you behind your back for years. But once you go no contact, the gloves will come off. Even if you have done nothing wrong, you may find yourself being accused of things you never said or did by relatives you thought were on your side. This is a common tactic used by narcissists to discredit their victim.
After years of suffering emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of your narcissistic family, should you dare to speak out about it, they will go into damage control and do everything they can to rewrite family history. Before your very eyes, they will have cast themselves as The Brady Bunch and you as Wednesday Addams.
- Beware of ‘flying monkeys.’
When it becomes apparent that badgering you to contact them and assassinating your character to everyone they can think of hasn’t gotten them what they want, they will call in the flying monkeys. Psychologists use this term to refer to the people your family recruits to try to guilt you into resuming contact with them.
The flying monkey may be a sibling or a family friend. They may initially sympathize with you, but you get the feeling they are not really interested in hearing your version of events. The flying monkey can be relentless in trying to get you to see ‘what you’re doing to your poor parents.’ Regardless of whether they realize it, the flying monkey is being used as a pawn to do your family’s bidding.
- Be firm and don’t give in if you know that nothing has really changed.
Once you have made up your mind to go no contact, you will endure every narcissistic trick in the book. They will try to make you feel guilty. They will deny your feelings. They will send you pleading emails, begging you to contact them. They will do a very good impression of behaving like an emotionally healthy family if they think it will make you change your mind. The one thing they won’t do, however, is take an honest look at themselves and their behavior.
- Surround yourself with a good support network.
Going no contact can be one of the hardest things for anyone to do. It’s even harder if you have to do it without any emotional support. It’s essential to have people in your life who understand what you have gone through and support you 100 percent. Talk to understanding friends about it. Join a support group for Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents or start one of your own. And be careful who you tell. People who haven’t been raised by narcissists may see your decision as cruel or an overreaction. You don’t need to deal with other’s judgments of you, particularly if they can’t relate personally to what you have experienced.
- Be kind to yourself.
It may take years for you to heal from having spent your life dealing with narcissistic family members. You will have days when you hardly think about it and other days when you are so filled with rage you can barely speak. But the longer you are away from them, the better the chances of your finally having a healthy, chaos-free life. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty about that.