Caring for a narcissistic mother, need advice on how to cope.

Started by

I am taking care of mom part time and today was peaceful but I get so worn out listening to her talk about herself and her needs all day.. I was telling myself she doesn't love me. I felt like an object in the room. It's hard for me to separate the job of caregiving and the nature of someone having lots of needs/wants and having a mother who is self absorbed. She is always telling me she loves me but I don't believe her because I feel like I'm an audience to her and that's why she loves me, for what I do for her....does she really love me? I'm SO CONFUSED. At times she is an absolute terror and goes into rages where she accuses me of really mean things and I have to walk on eggshells afraid I'll say something she'll twist around to shame me with. I don't understand how these narcissists can be jeckyl hyde like this? Anyone get what I'm saying? I read of a technique where you don't react to the person with any emotion....detach emotionally.


Yes, I know exactly what you mean. It would be easier to understand if it were more consistent. Some days they are nice and some days they are the devil to deal with. The nice days are the most confusing, because they can make us think that it is us, not them. We have to remind ourselves it isn't us.

Has your mother always been self-absorbed. Some people get that way when they get older. Their vision of the world becomes more narrowed over the years until one day they can't see anyone outside themselves. They can dwell on each itch, each pain, each spot until it drives others around them crazy. And they can get so mad if you don't respond in the way they want you to, and sometimes even if you do.

The emotional detachment is the best way to go, but it is hard to pull off when there is a frontal assault going on. Often the best strategy is to say that something isn't true, or say to stop some behavior, then just walk away and go about your business. Still there will be the gnawing anger to deal with. I can't stand the gnawing anger. It feels awful and is so unhealthy. I try to look at the bad feelings like they are trying to teach me something about handling them. Sometimes that works. Other times not so good. :)

I can't speak for your mother, but I suspect that she does love you. She just doesn't love herself getting older.
Have a answer, hire a RN and let them handle your mother. problem is most people like to complain about the elderly but don't wish to hire someone to care for them. Allow them to spend there money and enjoy it, but today most people are hiding the elderly money for themselves. Mom and dad are to hard to deal with... BUT IS THERE MONEY, waiting for you? I handled a Aunt for years, never got paid a dime, but that wonderful daughter from Michigan sure was there to get her money..did nothing for her mother or father.. money is the wasy to god knows money. Want good professional people hire a RN, not a person from some 3rd world nation, not even legal in this country.
Relationships are give and take, but most people want there parents to be there money bags for life. There money should be spent on them...
JessieBelle I understand your situation. I too am taking care of my mother with very similar personality type as yours. My husband and I have been here with Mom for over two years. Mother has never been a happy woman. She has always been self absorbed. She has always needed to control everything and everyone. She has always been living in fear of what will people think of her. But now, she is up againest something she can not control....the aging process and she is afraid of dying. So, with all of that said, she is one miserable woman. She takes all of this out on us. She is very cruel in what she says. She loves to try to get something (an argument) started. We use to react to all of this and she simple sat back and enjoyed watching how the mess turned out. We do not react anymore, we simply say "ok" to whatever she is talking about and we walk away. If we don't play the game, she has nothing to go with. We have to keep our sanity and emotional well being in place. there will be a life after she has past away, and we want to be well enough to enjoy it. We are here to keep her safe. We make sure there is food in the house, the house is clean and she is safe. My husband gets her to the doctors appts. and other errands that need to be done for her. But we have had to learn to detach with love. We care about her and what happens to her. But it is not our job to make ourselves available for her abuse. We thought we could make a difference in her life, do things that would make her happy but that did not work. She is happy when everything around her (and everyone) is miserable. We do not play in that sandbox. We just walk away. It is the best we can do. Our walking away has not changed her behavior, but we are more at peace and have more room in our hearts for the things we like to do for Mom that put a smile on our face. We have not conquered all of this but we have started to enjoy taking care of Mom. We had to figure out what was ok with us, and walk away from the rest. My Mom will never change she will only get worse as she gets older, but we do not have to be miserable with her. I only hope you can find a way to not get caught up in your mothers games. My the angels stay close by you and guide thru this adventure.......................:)
LadyDi3: I like your ideas. I am caring for my narcissistic husband. Never realized that's what he was. I just always considered him selfish and self-centered. Always had to be the center of attention, etc. Now that he has dementia it's even worse. He can get very nasty verbally, but I am learning to detach. Not always, but sometimes I'm really proud of myself for being able to just say OK and walk away. I get my house cleaned very thoroughly when I'm angry or hurt! Not exactly fun, but it gives me great satisfaction when the house is cleaned and the meal is cooked, even if he doesn't eat it. His loss. This is not easy; but life overall is not easy. God has a plan, and although I wish I knew what it was and when it was going to play out, I know I can't. I need to learn to "go with the flow" and trust in Him. Blessings...
Thank you for asking this question because it is exactly what is going on with my mother and I didn't realize it! She is angry all the time and yells at me and my father and tells us what an awful life she has has. I feel like she doesn't love me and there is nothing I can do or say that makes her happy....she is not the mother I know and that bothers me so much. I can't stand all the drama and her negative attitude so I feel like I have become a turtle and just pull inside my shell....but, it sounds like from what everyone is saying that I'm becoming detached and maybe that is the best way to roll. I haven't known what to say but I have been trying to just agree with whatever she says by saying....if you think you are a certain way then you are or I tell her I will not tolerate a certain type of behavior and then walk away. We are lucky though, my parents still live I. Their home but we have a local agency come into the home 5 days a week for 3 hour time periods to help mom with household chores, bathing and preparing meals. They have seem is,liar behaviors from my mother so it at least validates my concerns about her behavior. It is just difficult to not feel guilty about how I'm responding to my mother but I have to do it to keep my sanity and my life as much drama free as possible....I wish I could offer suggestions to you but this is how I'm coping!
I "get it" too - may I ask if YOU wanted mom to live w/you? Because mine is 94 & I've never lived away from my parents so there's the emotional factor here too - she "goads" me sometimes even when I see her at the n.h., then I get upset & she says "oh I was only joking." Now I KNOW mom loves me BUT I also know we could NOT take care of her in our home because our marriage would fall apart - Richard's a great guy but he's set in his ways - he's 63 & I'm 52. Is your mom confined to a wheelchair? Richard just told me the reason your mom talks about herself a lot is BECAUSE she's in her situation - Question: How would YOU feel if you (because God forbid you had a serious accident)were "stuck" in your body & KNEW there was no way you could do anything or most things for yourself? She's VERY angry at her own body & Richard also said she talks so much because how else is she going to make her needs known? Hiring an RN is a GREAT idea IF you can afford it. After reading your letter for the last time I KNOW we couldn't have had mom in our home - our marriage wouldn't make it. BTW, I'm a Medical Assistant & Hospice volunteer...
I think the messages, take care of what YOU can, are important, for you only resent more if you try to give in without speaking up. But I also think there is an important message in krusso's post, in which her husband has ideas about why mom is that way - many women of an earlier generation, were taught to always be polite, never put one's own needs first. Many women felt lost in larger social settings, where those who were more familiar, navigated with apparent ease. Such women could be themselves at home, somewhat - but had no support for individuality and their own expression in public, so they lack the skills of flexibility and give and take. Some may have been very important and they never learned the "take" part very easily - so they deflect their feelings and needs until resentful, then show resentment when they finally speak up. I understand such women for I am one. I had opinions growing up, but social isolation. So when I do caretaking, I have a special compassion for older women, who lash out, instead of asking for help. I have my way of dealing with this, which is to listen to their complaint, twice - and then tell them I've listened twice, but they seem not satisfied, and I will be in the other room, and will return in 5 minutes. And I leave. This gives them time to calm down, and by the time I return, they have usually sorted out what they want. One said, it's your job to stay, and I said, yes, it's my job (or my choice, if that's how it is) to help, and I am glad I am doing that. But I don't have to stay and listen to you criticize me more than once or twice. I'm trying to understand what I can do, but you seem to want to criticize me, so I'll be in the other room. That kind of clarity, without total either/or decisions, leaves them space to regroup - and repeat as needed. It's important to say you are glad you chose to be with them, and that you want to help and be there, but for now, you will leave, for a short while. And then return, and try again. If it's not better, leave again - but not with bitterness, just with understanding it's not easy to deal with a difficult child - which is how that person is, when they have been so alone for so long.
Wow. So many people are dealing with the same stuff that goes on with my 94-year-old mother. In a way it makes me feel better because of the perspective that this is a *condition* rather than a personal attack. On the other hand, nothing can make the so-called relationship pleasant.

Or is it really a relationship? There's no give-and-take. Only take! However, I've found it doesn't need to be so painful if we just LET IT BE -- the person and the acting out. That is, leave the drama alone. Don't judge it and don't get sucked in. S/he is addicted to behaving that way and nothing we say or do will change that.

Based on my own experiences, I would say that the pain we feel in dealing with such people is caused by (1) taking the behaviors personally and (2) resisting the person being exactly as they are. Think about it. What if their behavior had nothing to do with us? What if we made it okay in our own minds that they behave however they do?

Recently I had a breakthrough in this area, related to my feeling distressed that mealtimes were such a strain because of things not going the way I thought they should. Finally I was able to see that my own behavior fit the classic definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Right? I just completely let go of my own desires and POOF, end of problem. It's fabulous.

Meanwhile, about the love, I suspect that you DO have the mother's love you crave but that your insistence on a certain type of expression of that love deprives you of feeling it. You may want to consider the possibility that love abides independently of a person's behavior.

Thank you for raising this issue and for those who've contributed ideas for dealing with it. I'm really grateful for this forum. God bless us every one.
Narcissism doesn't happen over night. People who are truly narcissistic have always been that way. I have realized that when people get older, the condition just implodes. Oh sure, they feel out-of-control, afraid, or whatever....but they never change. I am willing to guess you have dealt with this your entire life.

My father is Narcissitic and has always been this way. I don't deal with it at all. I walk away every time. I simply won't play his games, don't take his threats seriously, and live my life. Am I cut out of the will? You betcha, and I am a much happier person because of my decision. Some people, be it friends, co-workers, neighbors, or parents, are just toxic. They are negative, ungrateful, game playing, manipulative human beings. And I don't allow myself to get sucked in. Do I care if they love me? Well, at my age....I really don't worry about it anymore. People who love you....really love you, will not be trying their very best to make you feel miserable. Of course, misery loves company....but I refuse to be in misery day after day after day. No one deserves to live this way. We all make choices in life.

Detach with love is the way I do it. My mother becomes increasingly frustrating when I try to do something for myself. She is lovely if I sit with her day and night watching her tv programs. I can not do that, I must stay in the house with her and that is enough confinement for me to handle. Right now since I am checking my emails, she is filling up her pockets with stuff, tapes, makeup, glasses, stuff, it is nuts, she tries to sneak by and do it, she runs if I turn my head like she is five years old. I just let it go and then empty her coat pockets later on. She then will start calling me names, low but loud enough for me to hear so she judges, and I have called her on it in the past and she says oh I am saying my prayers, okay, so I ignore it, miffed but ignore it. Then she raises the level a bit, surely I have heard her now. I don't respond and she gets really annoyed and will move on to do something that will make me have to go to her. Love, well love is subjective isn't it. I can't move without her asking me what I am doing and where am I going, is this love, well she says, she is concerned and worried about me, that is not love that is smothering and really it is self preservation for herself. I don't play by my mother's rules of what love is, love is selfless and unconditional, something she has not known of in my opinion. Detach, detach, detach, and stop feeling guilty. The latest ploy my mother uses when I don't react, is to say, she wishes she was dead. This one is not working anymore for her. I told her that she needs to be careful of what she says because people may think she is really suicidal and then she'd have a world of hurt to have deal with counselors. So, she uses what she can and she will always try to weild guilt. Things may not be better, but I am better, because now I know and I understand.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support