How do I maintain emotional detachment in the face of fear, obligation and guilt?


My dad died 7 years ago. My mom was always kind of a closet narcissist, but without my dad around to check her worst tendencies, she's become incredibly toxic, passive aggressive, and manipulative. She is a master of Fear, Obligation and Guilt (FOG). Her favorite roles are "helpless victim" and "saintly martyr." I'm having a really, really hard time dealing with it. I realized she was a narcissist a while ago, so went "low contact." I live across the country and only talk to her once every two weeks. When I hang up the phone, I feel OK. But a few days later, without fail I start to feel horrible and I don't know why, and it's only in retrospect that I realize that it came from something she said during the call that I dismissed as "no big deal" at the time. The problem is that, in the meantime, I've done damage to my career or my marriage because I feel so horrible. And it seems like I've only recovered from one call that it's time for the next one and the cycle repeats. It's been so helpful to read others' stories on this forum about FOG. Any tips to spot FOG in the moment and keep it from getting under my skin?

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I know she's depressed and has been as long as I can remember, although she flatly denies it. I tried to get her into therapy, and she wasn't having it. (To be fair, she lives in a tiny little town and there aren't many therapy options).

She has a face she shows the rest of the world and face she shows to me. Most people think she's a saint. One of my challenges is that if I stand up to her in any way, she tells everyone how awful I am, and they think I'm a monster.

Growing up, I was the scapegoat in my family. I wasn't supposed to be successful, but somehow I am. She makes a lot of passive aggressive jabs intended to cut me back down to size. She takes shots at things she knows will upset me (e.g. my job, my husband, my weight, etc.) They're often subtle, and I don't realize until a few days later what she really meant. (I think sometimes I block out things she says because I don't want to deal with them. But it always comes back to haunt me, because I get really upset but don't know why.)

She also thinks I should give up my life to move across the country to take care of her 24 x 7. She's in good health, has lived in her town for 50 years, and has a lot of people in the community who support her. Literally 10+ people are standing by waiting to drive her to appointments, do her dishes, cook her food...anything she needs. She also has two sisters she's really close to and two other kids.

But, to talk to her, you'd think she was all alone, enfeebled, and utterly abandoned by the world. These are the images that I can't get out of my head after I talk with her. My conversations with her leave me feeling wracked with guilt and like I have no choice but to sacrifice my entire life to go help her. And then my husband reminds me that, no, she's not all alone and, no, she's not sick, and then I snap out of it. And, even though I know it's just a manipulative game that she plays, somehow I keep falling for it.

Up until recently, I kept giving her a pass, wanting to believe that she wasn't that bad. I know better now, but it's hard for me to maintain boundaries. I was trained from an early age that it was my job to sacrifice myself to make her happy, and my instinct to do just that kicks in on an almost unconscious level. It's really frustrating.

It's really good that I live far away. I have slowly become more aware of what's happening and I feel like I'm doing a somewhat better job. But I need to do a lot better...therapy is a good next step for sure.

Thanks again to all for the words of support. For those of you who are dealing with similar issues, hang in there!! We will get through this!
Helpful Answer (0)

Definitely therapy for the FOG, narcissistic self centered behavior. Who takes care of your mom? Therapy might help her to break the cycle.
Helpful Answer (1)

If she is not under drs care , she needs to be .
As for what you experience , I have experienced that with extremely bi polar loved one and yes it does feel like you no more than heal from the last time it happens again .
If you look up when the full moon's are through the year you can find a timeline . Print it out or write it down and put it by the phone .
The 7-10 days before a full moon, sometimes a little more , are a time period when the mood swings are worst for someone extremely bi-polar ( which is manic / depressant old terms ) . Not everyone has the same bi - polar .
She is going through alot but cannot realize it .
I think I'd write her a email that would arrive right after the next full moon and it would give her also a recording of her last call . Ask her to just listen . Her mind set will be different then and she will not believe it was her . That's ok . It's her voice and she has to accept it . Without this proof , everything else is in vain . Some who have bi polar are more depressed , some are more manic . It's a fine line between some who are " narcissist " and the bi polar term . In otherwords , this is not something she can help without medication . In the email follow up with another one that lists a dr in the area and until she can PROVE she has gotten help ( not an appointment but actually goes there and has an assessment so she can receive help ) , tell her you absolutely cannot go through one more phone call . Also , that you must have her approval with the dr so you can speak to him or her following the assessment . This will take time . She will be angry . That is ok , you can no longer sacrifice your mind to take her calls . If there is a chance she helps you with finances you must become independent which can mean take a second job or reduce your fixed expenses if you don't have enough to live on . Sometimes kids put up with parents like this because they worry they won't get the money or whatever when they die . Would you really sell your mind ? Probably not if you realized that you have the power to change this . Hopefully , this is your day that you take control of your life and you don't put yourself through this anymore except for that one more phone call you need to put on speaker phone or record through your phone depending on it's program . I hope you too get assessed . Sometimes bi polar means more depressed than manic for some and just getting assessed can help . Don't be afraid of it . It's not scary , you will find someone who understands and does not want to do anything but help you heal .
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I can SO identify with what you've shared. Years ago, my therapist offered a visual: At first, when you walk down the road you keep falling into the open manhole. You know it's there, but you keep stepping in it over and over again. After awhile, you begin skirting the manhole; but still, sometimes you get too close and fall in. Then, after what feels like an endless series of falls you manage to avoid it most of the time, until finally you learn to walk around it.

I still haven't quite got the hang of walking around the hole. Sometimes I'll be having a conversation with Mom and she'll "stab" me with her "knife" and I won't even feel it until later when I see the blood and I realize I've been wounded. Our moms know which buttons to push because they put them there. You may decide at some point to go no contact altogether; that's your choice. We wouldn't drink bleach, would we? We wouldn't spray weeds with RoundUp without wearing a mask. Nor should we expose ourselves (without protection) to toxic people that kill the soul. Sometimes the best protection is avoidance.
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I think that therapy is a great idea. I haven't encountered a problem like that, but, I can't imagine how stressful it would be for a person to try to make me feel in a way that is unreasonable and unwarranted.

Do you know why you feel fear or guilt from the way she talks in these phone conversations? I'm just curious. To me, if she is saying things that are unkind, untrue or demanding, I would question her mental health and treat it as a sad situation, but, nothing that was my doing. Is that what you mean by staying detached?

Can you ask the therapist for pre-planned comments you can make to her that defends your own sensibilities? Or is that advisable?

Maybe, a professional would be able to help with some tools that can help you. Please post as to how it goes.
Helpful Answer (1)

You are not alone. And I realize I'm not alone.
Only my situation is my mother in law and she lives with us. Her bedroom is about twelve easy steps to our bedroom. Tooo close for comfort.
I need to get a counselor too.
Hugs and BlessinGs
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Thanks so much to everyone for your responses. I agree that therapy is a very good idea. It's also great to know that I'm not alone, and that there are others out there who understand. I really appreciate all of the thoughtful insights and support!
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And what Sendhelp said, Never Give Up!!!💜
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Yes to therapy! 
I stumbled across a "life coach" in training by accident and got free council for 6 sessions.
The very FIRST visit I felt the black cloud lift for the first time in 42 yrs.
Not everyone will be super lucky and stumble across someone in training
and get some free sessions...
I would absolutely pay the $$$ for the clarity I gained and the "unsanity" I lost!!!!!
 I'm still rewiring my brain and identifying triggers!!! The D*MN FOG LOVES to kick in, sting me, and break to the ground and make me weak again...NOW, I use the "tools" my life coach suggested...those nasty episodes of dread and doom are getting weaker and weaker, just takes time to work on it.😊 
You sound just like's soooo controlling!!! BUT it does lessen with work and determination!!!
Please find yourself help.
Read here EVERYDAY!!
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Therapy helps unwire the buttons inside your psyche that were planted there years ago.
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