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Exhausted's avatar

What is the best way to be loving and affectionate with a needy, insecure, miserable mother, living in your home?

Asked by Exhausted (1443points) March 9th, 2010

My mother has lived her life in a state of self pity. She is incapable of gratitude or appreciation because this would nullify her ability to acquire the pity she desires. She is so wrapped up in her misery, that there is no room for relationships with others. My father was a strong-willed, controlling man that was very family-oriented. He provided for all our needs except affection. Before my mother married him, her Mom was the evil figure in her life. That changed to my Dad once they were married. Once he passed it was my brother because she was sharing her life with him. That situation eventually became so unbearable for everyone involved that she moved in with my youngest sister. She lived there for two years. They took excellent care of her and her finances, but their lack of participation in feeding her self-pity caused her to want to move in with me. She has been here almost 5 months. I would like to have a positive relationship with her and see her last few years be pleasant, but I find her constant complaining about everybody and her distorted view of her life experiences intolerable. She is so miserable that associating with her is frustrating and exhausting. How do I set boundaries for myself, with her, without being consumed with the effort? She has been on antidepressants and it doesn’t make a noticeable difference. I have compassion for her circumstance, but cannot express it because it would be like turning on a faucet that could not be turned off, completely draining me of my emotional resources. I am wondering if it is possible to show her a better side of life, with some creative methods, or do I accept this is her life, by her own choice, and let her sit in her room and feel sorry for herself?

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36 Answers

njnyjobs's avatar

Clearly, if she’s on anti-depressants, the doctor should be able to read into the problem beyond the pills. She may need some rude awakening presented to her. If she keeps on burning bridges among the family, there would be no turning back when the last bridge has been consumed.

partyparty's avatar

As you say you would like to make her last few years pleasant, so smile, clench your teeth and do your best for her.
Perhaps a positive attitude from you will promote a positive attitude from her.
I know it can’t be easy for you.

gailcalled's avatar

Get some help; let others deal with her. You can only change and take care of yourself.

It is clear that she will never be different. Use your energy to assure that she has a decent care giver, and simply stay out of her way. Don’t let her last few miserable years (if that is what she chooses) make those years the same for you.

I would really disagree with the advice to “smile, clench your teeth”...“Do your best for her” makes sense, but it is your best.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

What do you plan as an alternative in case the answer is: “no way”?

Your mother has obviously had a lifetime to perfect her techniques, and she has apparently never been deterred. Do you think you’re going to change her? Or do you expect to change in a way (acceptable to you) that allows her to take full advantage of you?

I’d suggest looking into that alternative. Your mother is going to use you up and throw away the husk.

john65pennington's avatar

You are living in a sea of misery and it shows. you love your mom and it shows. but, in order to feed her self-pity she desires, its draining you of your personal life and that shows. why is your mom not living in her own home? this is the best answer for all concerned? my mother is 92 and lives alone. she has her own self-pity going, but its kept under her roof, not mine. how old is your mother? is she too old to find another mate? if so, you are stuck in a rut and only you can make a change happen. how about a nursing home for your mother? your mother could then spread her self-pity to other elderly people that would understand and listen to her situation. you could then have your life back. misery loves company and it sounds as though your mother is dragging you down. make the change for the nursing home and save your sanity.

escapedone7's avatar

Wow. That sounds like a very difficult situation! I am sure you are stressed out. I’m not sure! I had a difficult grandmother that had congestive heart failure. I hired a friend who needed a job to go to her house every day and take care of her. When someone outside the family was there she put on her “company’s here” behavior. She slept alone at night because he went home after cleaning up after supper, but she had a medic alert alarm and she did not suffer from dimentia or anything that would prevent that. She died in the hospital though, because when she took a turn for the worse they hospitalized her.

I now take care of my own mother but only visit to do cleaning and shopping. I am going to watch the responses here. It’s got to be hard. I hope you find some solutions. Would family counseling help?

Seek's avatar

I’d just like to say that i feel for you and your situation. My own mother has this issue, and so does my mother in law. I left my mom as soon as i could, and my MIL eventually moved to be with family that supported her twisted view of the universe. I don’t know if they can be fixed.

CMaz's avatar

Put whiskey in her tea.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

… or your own.

Trillian's avatar

I wish I could help with this. All I can do is identify. My mom has issues that, while legitimate, coupled with her inability to let go stifle whatever enjoyment she could get out of life.
I and my two sibs are basically over it at this point. When she starts in, we all deflect and change the subject. Fortunately, she is remarried and has a husband who is also a few sticks short of a bundle. They feed off of each other and repel at the same time. Apparently, it works for them.
I think the only thing you can actually do is to be honest and tell her straight out; “I don’t want to hear about it. You make yourself unhappy dwelling on certain things and I have no wish for this unhappiness to affect my family. I must therefore ask you to cease and desist from mentioning these things in my presence.”
Then, every time she begins, just remind her. “I’ve asked you not to discuss this with me and mine.”
Then turn the subject to something that will allow her to answer in a positive manner, like; “Did you see that so and so got an “A” on her test?” This breaks silence and is something other than to talk about.
Good luck.

MissAusten's avatar

The description you gave sounds like a borderline personality disorder. You said she is on meds, but is she also in therapy? Could you go to a therapy session with her or talk to her therapist?

BPD is often difficult to diagnose because patients can exhibit a wide range of behaviors and are usually resistant to therapy. I suspect my mother is undiagnosed with BPD, and have found resources that help me deal with her. There’s a book called “Understanding the Borderline Mother” with a chapter describing the borderline “waif,” and it is very similar to what you describe. Also, BPD Family has message boards, articles, and tools to help people deal with a bpd family member. You can also find reviews for other books and resources that may help.

Google “bpd waif” and browse through some of the things that come up. One common trait of people with bpd is they paint people “black” or “white,” and from what you said about your mom always having a target (her mom, your dad, your brother, etc) it sounds like she does some of that.

It sounds like you are trying to maintain boundaries but have a hard time with it because your mother is now living with you. It isn’t easy to maintain those boundaries, but if you are clear about what you will and will not accept, you might be able to keep some kind of balance.

gailcalled's avatar

My sis and I have similar issues with our 95-yr-old mother, but she is in assisted living and we help around the edges only….enough kleenex, plants watered, favorite jam in refrig, all newspapers and magazines from 2009 thrown away, enough hearing aid batteries, etc. We treat her with dignity and respect and expect nothing in return.

But to have her living in one of our homes? O man. It was hard enough to grow up with her.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Your mom sounds just like Tony Sopranos mom. If you have not seen any of the Soprano episodes, maybe watching them would see how hopeless it is to try to change someone who’s been the way they are for decades. If I were you, I would explore the assisted living option. Some people are just impossible to live with. You and your siblings could pick her up and take her shopping or out to dinner sometimes. You could visit. But the most important thing is that afterwards you can leave and go back to your happy life.

syz's avatar

What a difficult situation to be in (and what a lovely writing style you have, by the way).

I applaud your efforts, but I too think that you should find your mom a good quality assisted living situation. Think of how much more patient you’ll be able to be with her when you know your interludes will be finite. That will allow you to focus on having the best relationship that is possible under these difficult circumstances.

Grisson's avatar

Let her read this question and the responses.

davidbetterman's avatar

This is easy. Fake it.

Just_Justine's avatar

Oh gosh you sound so much like me. My father was like that. He raged at everything and everyone. He was mad at being old too, and made it seem like my fault. I used to say to my mother, “I don’t know how you put up with a man like that for so long”. Life is cruel though, because she became like a baby (brain op) and I was turned into his “wife” over night. Agh! I was stuck with him for ten long years, complaining, being a victim. I was drained, exhausted, bitter and fed up. Oddly though, we grew very close, I started to understand where his angers and complaining came from. I never really came to terms with it thought. It left me almost incapable of forming meaningful relationships. Because if anyone showed the slightest bit of neediness I wanted to run for the hills. When he died I felt no guilt. Because I had sacrificed a lot for him. The only guilt I felt was how I had neglected my own life which I have slowly begun to rebuild. It was left in shatters.

If I could do it differently I would keep on seeking until he was on correct medication. Looking back I think he had major issues including bipolar. I would not isolate myself. I would talk about it so I could cathart all the nonsense he pushed onto me. It is really hard I know. But reach out to others in the same boat. Somehow sharing helps. Keep her busy in some way so she is occupied. Get her linked to an organisation where she can visit, or takes elderly people, (if she is elderly) on outings. Find a hobby she enjoys. Ask your siblings to take her on weekends. I had zero support plus no groups I could join here. So I ended up bottling everything up. I think if she experiences life in a more positive fashion she may quit complaining. Also bite your tongue! I always said, no regrets, I wanted no regrets.

Siren's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt: I completely agree with you and pretty much agree with all the posts written here:

You have to protect your own peace of mind first and it sounds like your mother will not change, it will be painful to try to change her (and time and energy consuming) and your best bet is to allow her to express herself how she likes and has enjoyed (apparently) all these years, while protecting your own peace of mind and happiness. I would not have her live with you unless there is an in-home caregiver in the day, and you are able to go out on a regular basis to alleviate some of the misery by osmosis.

Exhausted's avatar

Thank you everyone for the input. I have gleaned much comfort and possible solutions for my circumstances. I think the best plan of action is to lay down some boundries for myself and let her know I am there for her but will not listen to her complaining and negative perspective. At this time, she is not physically dependant so I do have some space to breathe. She will eventually need constant care and hopefully by that time, we will be able to afford other options, until then I will come here to get some positive input when I’m struggling. Thank you so much.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

ha! when you figure this out, you tell me – my mother has guilt tripped me her entire life and still is stringing me along – she lives with us and drives us crazy.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

No “normal” family can afford assisted living. My granny had money and was comfortable and used to nice things. She took her money (all $30,000 of it) and gave each of her daughters $10,000 to use to take care of her. Then she went into a very nice assisted living complex and the state paid for it. Of course, there are now stricter laws regarding this sort of thing, but the point is, if your mother has no money, you can put her in a very nice assisted living complex paid for by the state. Maybe. Anyway, at least look into it. I know that there is a gorgeous complex in my town for this purpose. The rent is determined by the person’s Social Security.

thriftymaid's avatar

Getting the needy, insecure, miserable mother out of your home.

plethora's avatar

Forget it….or divorce your mother. Not trying to be hard. That’s what a counselor told me I had to do and I did it. Did not speak for 6 years until she got sick….then was back to her and had a good relationship the last couple of years of her life….primarily because she had her own issues to think about and stopped intruding in my life.

snowberry's avatar

Thought you might like to know, if at any time she goes into the hospital, THAT is the time for you to talk to the doctor about assisted living or nursing home. They cannot refuse you if you tell them she can’t come back home to live. It may vary from state to state, but the way I was told, after discharge from the hospital, she would be put in a nursing home for a period of evaluation (usually about 6 weeks), and then permanent placement in either an assisted living center or a nursing home.

Of course, neither you nor she would have any say about WHICH facility it would be, but it is your only option for getting her out of the house without having to pay her way yourself.

plethora's avatar

Get her out. This is a losing game for you and a winning game for her. Screw her feelings. She’s a miserable user who is a master player of the guilt card.

phillis's avatar

No wonder you’re exhausted! You spend all your time catering to at least one person who, as you clearly stated, is “incapable of gratitude or appreciation”.

The problem is not your mother, dear. It’s you. If she is incapable, why are you still trying? That is the very definition of pointless. You can get pissy if you want, but it isn’t going to change the fact that it isn’t your mom’s fault that you have thus far been unable to manage your emotional life. You are all grown up now. The window of time you can get away with blaming others for your problems is over.

After your first sentence, it took me all of ten seconds to identify the problem. I didn’t even need to finish reading all that massive effort you put forth! And therein lies the problem. You don’t have any boundaries set whatsoever. The question and detail is an exact image of how your mind is working on this problem. You’re going ‘round and ‘round, saying lots of things, none of which matters one whit. Your FEELINGS matter, but all this extra stuff is only serving to bog you down, and it’s showing.

Take control of your life. Set your boundaries. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but you do need to be firm, because no one is accustomed to this “new” you. It will take them time to come around. In the meantime, Do what you know you need to be doing, and stop the excuses. They’re killing you, and you’re letting them. Who is really the one responsible for that?

YARNLADY's avatar

My son brought his girlfriend, now wife, here to live with us, and she is exactly like that. I put up some physical barriers, a folding door in the hallway and a fence across half of the yard. Our arrangement worked best when she stayed in her part of the house, and I stayed in mine.

I had to realize that her problems and complaints had nothing to do with me, but her need to always be the victim. Once I came to terms with that, I no longer felt like I had to try to placate her. I asked her to write down the issues she had and the possible solutions, so we could go over them, but she was too lazy to do it. Every time she started to complain I said “write it down” and she eventually stopped.

plethora's avatar

@YARNLADY I’m just curious how your son gets to waltz back into YOUR house and live, not just himself, but a girlfriend also, who then turns into a wife, and a very difficult wife at that??? Sorry, I don’t understand enabling behavior. It had to happen with your cooperation and support. Again, I’m just baffled. I’ve never heard of such a thing. (Well, I have heard of it and even seen it and it’s always a blinding case of the most extreme codependent enabling behavior.) Maybe Im wrong.

YARNLADY's avatar

@plethora In these economic times, the only alternative was to throw them out in the bushes along with the other homeless souls that have been abandoned by their family. What was supposed to be ‘until they got back on their feet’ turned out to be much longer than any of us expected.

Possibly you are showing a sense of projection on your part to label providing love and support to my son and his wife under difficult circumstances as codependent and enabling. I was brought up in a family that offers support and love to each other through thick and thin. I think it is terribly sad to read story after story here on Fluther of people who are so hateful and estranged from their families.

Just as my family was and is always there for me, so I am for my sons and grandsons. I also took in my own mother for the last few years of her life when Alzheimer left her with the mind of a three year old. Both my brother and sister have had their own down and out days, and I took them in when they needed me.

When I was a child, growing up, all my aunts and uncles and cousins lived within walking distance of each other, and we spent most of our free time doing things together. When any family member had problems, they were shared and supported by all of us. I still live by those old fashioned ways even though they seem to have been forgotten by most.

plethora's avatar

@YARNLADY That’s very different from what I have experienced. You seem to have a very tight knit family and the values that you have are admirable. Much much smaller family group here. Thanks for explaining.

snowberry's avatar

@YARNLADY You and I are very much alike in this way. Although I grew up as an only child, at one point we had 10 people and 4 generations in our house for a year. I loved every minute of it, but it was because I was very focused on all the love that made such an endeavor work, rather than all the upsets and tension.

snowberry's avatar

In addition, consider calling your state Division of Services For Aging and Adults. If that’s not exactly the name they have for it, it is similar. Tell them your problem, and ask for a social worker to come help you deal with this. This will do a few things for you. First, it’s documented, and it’s on paper that you have sought help (a good thing). Second, these people have a variety of resources they can offer you (everything from care-giver support services to maybe Adult Day Care, to referral to counseling). You don’t know, but you might qualify for free counseling. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Another thing I suggest you do is if your mother is not already under the care of a doctor who specializes in aging adults, make the change now. They understand your situation far better than you realize. It might be they could change her medication and help YOU in the process. The best thing would be if she allows you to come into the doctor’s office with her. Then you can get the doctor or nurse aside and tell them what you are dealing with. I was amazed to find that my father’s doctors actually had a social worker who worked full time with their staff, just to help families out with issues like you describe.

YARNLADY's avatar

@snowberry very good advice

plethora's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt Thanks for bringing this up. If you are reading this and do not have Long Term Care insurance of some type, I strongly suggest you get a policy for yourself. If you decide to try to “analyze and figure out if you really need it” your answer will always be NO. That is, until you have something akin to the experience I had. My former mother in law, about 70 at the time was diagnosed with cervical cancer in Nov (years ago). Her 70 year old husband, retired Air Force Bird Colonel, was strong and healthy. Bad enough that his wife had cancer, but at least he was there to care for her. Four months after her diagnosis, one morning he has a major stroke, and in one instant this strong capable man morphs into a 12 year old boy who cannot even take care of himself much less his wife. I then watched the two of them take 6 years to die.

I forgot about analyzing, found the most experienced person I knew in the long term care insurance business and got myself covered. Have not regretted it for a moment and gladly pay the premium every month.

Long Term Care situations arise at all ages. Don’t wait, if you are over 45

gailcalled's avatar

Here’s a recent study on the fact that women are guilty of feeling too guilty. But we knew that already.

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