HELP! How do you deal with verbal and emotional abuse from aging dad?? I'm experiencing caregiver burnout and was just in ER.

I am only child, his daughter and have been doing caretaker tasks since 2006 when my mother died of a stroke and his health began to slowly decline. He is diabetic Type II and was just diagnosed with anemia and polymyalgia rheumatica (looked like a stroke) after an extended hospital stay. It seems that he may have dementia but he just changed doctors and it hasn't been officially diagnosed. We have never agreed unfortunately on politics or religion and it is a challenge now with Mom gone and no siblings. Parents had me late in life so there are almost two generations between us - a gap which I work at like a dog at to constantly bridge. He doesn't like my friends and he's not very social so it's just me and a housekeeper/friend that comes once a week. He has attacked my weight, my money (or lack thereof), my career. The excessive criticism is a bit less now since I don't think he feels very well (he was just in hospital for a month). Stairwells have been added to his house, rehab has worked well and he has cane and walkers on both levels. I moved in old house in '09 for a year to help him. It was difficult so I returned to my home state and eventually relocated to be closer to him.

I was recently in ER probably with caregiver burnout and it was as if no one gave a damn about that. The stress of moving has isolated me from my friends and hurt my job situation and my health. My friends have younger parents and have NO clue what I'm going through. My marriage dissolved, dating seems impossible. He refuses to move or to enter any facility even though I had a promising career and many suggested he move to make it easier. I love my dad, he's been very generous with me in many ways but I don't know how to talk to him or manage this hostility. Now our conversations are literally one hour or more of detailed explanations of all his aches, pains and various disorders. He expects me to listen without comment, attentively for a hour or even 90 minutes to 2 hrs of his straight talking (he's a retired professor). If I try to say ANYTHING at all, he gets upset and acts as if any contribution I make or ANY opinion I bring forth is garbage. Sometimes he gets quite upset and insults me. If the insults are harsh, I get panic attacks which may be getting worse. I've tried to give myself breaks to rest but my heart won't stop racing and I get headaches and lose time from work. I've tried for years to limit calls to 30-45 min - often close to impossible. I try to cheer him up but often he negates or violently argues with me. After visits or phone calls, my heart races, I'm so exhausted I want to sleep for days. I help coordinate the care, make calls to Visiting Nurses (which he just dismissed), do what I can but in some ways we've never gotten along and now it's harder. I'm doing everything I can. He seems to appreciate my capabilities when it comes to helping him with his care but everything else about me he acts like he truly dislikes. Question: Improving our relations decreases both of our stress levels and improves health which is my main concern. Is there anything else I could try to promote healthy communication? Also, how can I help myself stay strong because he has no one else??!! Please, please don't say I'm a terrible person I think about that alot anyway!!!

Answers 1 to 10 of 10
My dear, I wish I had answers for you. This is a very loving and sharing support group and you will be well taken care of here.

No one could ever think you are a terrible get that thought out of your head. Like the rest of us you are doing the best you can in a difficult situation. First and foremost you must take care of yourself! Best wishes and God bless you for what you are doing!!
Thank you for your answer. Sorry so long...guess I needed to get all that out ahhhh!!!
HawkWings7, a terrible person? Good gracious No! Where did that thought ever come from?

Are you getting treatment for the panic disorder? Are you in counselling? You deserve to take care of yourself.

Some observations: just because someone expects something of you does not obligate you to provide it. Think about that. Dad can expect or want or demand certain things, but you are still in charge of your own behavior.

I cannot start to comprehend your level of patience. I love my husband (86, dementia) and am doing my utmost to care for him, but I cannot imagine listening to a 90-minute monolog of his aches and pains (or any other subject, really. Conversations, yes. Lectures, no.) Different people have different hot buttons, and maybe you can sit there and let him drone on while you plan how you are doing to redecorate your bedroom. I coundn't do that! In your situation I would definitely set time limits on phone conversations, and also on in-person monologs. I'd have to. I'd be in a padded cell in a week without enforcing limits. I have one mentally ill relative who is extremely hard to end a phone conversation with, and I have on more than one occasion said "I'm sorry but I must go now. I will talk to you again tomorrow. Good bye," and then just hung up. Decide how important this is to you, and then set some realistic limits that work for you.

I don't think I'd put up with insults. I would say something like, "I'm sorry that you are disappointed in not having a daughter with a weight you approve of, but I am not going to listen to your opinion on that subject any more." And then I'd leave the room or end the phone conversation if he didn't respect that. But again, everyone has different hot buttons. Figure out what yours are, and take steps to protect yourself.

If it turns out that Dad is developing dementia, then expecting him to learn to treat you differently may not be feasible. But you will still need to figure out ways to protect yourself. You are a good person and a good daughter. You deserve to take care of you, too!
Thanks so much for your response. Well interestingly enough I wanted an IPhone when my recent contract was up but opted for a cheaper Android cell phone recently and it tends to drop ALOT of calls. Many times it will go out when he's droning so maybe the phone is on my side ha ha.
That is funny about the phone. I agree with HawkWings7 you have to take care of yourself. Have you ever heard of "Love and Logic" by Jim Faye? I actually purchased their audio CDs for my own children but I am finding that Love and Logic works wonderfully with elderly as well. The entire platform for their program is loving yourself, telling others how you are going to live your life and letting them live theirs in a kind and loving way. Just this week I found myself saying to my father "nice try, lets find a solution that we can both be happy with" and "you could try that, how might that work out for you?" It is so simplistic but so very liberating to not get sucked into degrading arguments that just bring you down and depress you.
I also have been to the ER for panic attacks, depression and anxiety all related to caregiver burnout. Love yourself, even when you don't feel like loving yourself. We are all doing the very best we can. Best of luck to you.
Whispypixie, thanks for the response. You also went to ER for burnout!?? Tell me how are you treating this?? I'm not sure who to go to, my primary doctor is not much help. I have a list of names and numbers but it's exhausting and expensive to locate someone via trial and error.
Top Answer
HawkWings, I know how you feel. Those constant little digs wear heavily on us, particularly if we have been hearing them throughout our lives. I don't know why some parents need to belittle their children. My mother's favorite pastime is making digs at me. She says I don't have a real job. I say it pays the bills. She says "barely!" In reality, she is so distant from my and her finances that we both might be millionaires or paupers. She has no idea. But she has that need to dig.

My health and personality deficits are also her favorites. I ignore or ward off the verbal digs, but know they are having an effect on me, because I do not feel as good about myself. Listening to garbage talk all the time really messes up our lives. There are many old people who do this and I wish they would just be quiet. When there is dementia, it gets even worse, because the same digs are revisited with tiring frequency.

In my mother's case, I believe she has the need to reduce me to the level of a lowly maid by seeing me as nothing. It would be too hard on her to be helped by someone she saw as something more. I have realized that I can't change the way she is. I just have to buck up under it or leave. a

I've often heard what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I think it is the silliest statement ever invented. One of the hardest things caregivers face is the verbal abuse and constant complaining of the people they are caring for. Sometimes I think that some people are mad that they have gotten old and are not as able as they once were. Personally I feel that there are only two options: get old or get dead. And at least if someone was lucky enough to get old, they didn't get dead. (Okay, I'm being silly now. Getting old is certainly no fun for many.)
JessieBelle, thank you for your thoughtful, specific and realistic response. I try SO hard to let things 'roll off my back' but as you mentioned it is perhaps the 'tiring frequency' that wears on us...yes perhaps they feel better about getting old if they do this. I have thought of doing funny things, such as bringing the trash can during talks to sit there and with a wink suggest that he aim any frustration in the can's direction, as it might be more constructive LOL. Haven't tried it yet but enjoy thinking about it:) When I have rare moments of clarity and realize how sick he is, I have a few victorious moments when it begins to seem funny and I use humor to disarm. But I wish those moments weren't so rare.

I totally hear what you said, understand how you feel too:) Thanks! Love to say to Dad "well, if I'm doing great must be cause I'm a chip off the old block". Sometimes also want to say "well Dad if you think I suck, maybe you should look at your parenting skills". LOL Haven't said it, but enjoy thinking about it!!!
HawkWings7, it has been a crazy busy weekend so sorry for the slow response. Yes I have been in the ER multiple times unable to handle the stress of caring for my father. My dad was living with me and after my 2nd or 3rd uncontrollable anxiety / complex migraine attack I began seeking alternative methods such as talk therapy through psycologists. One therapist tried an imagry technique that did not work in the least and she told me that if this one session didn't fix it then she didn't know what else to do. At that point I was beside myself and felt like I was litterally going crazy. So I voluntarily checked myself into a psychiatric ward for one week. My thoughts were sliding downhill very fast and I knew I needed more help and strength than what I had within me. After that hospital stay, I made the decision to move my father out into a better facility where an entire team could help me with him - not just me, even though he has 3 other children (who wouldn't lift a finger). I see a neurologist for my complex migraine headaches, I see a psychiatrist for anti-anxiety and depression medication prescriptions and I see a psychologist for talk therapy. Between these three professionals, I have to space my appointments out carefully so I can make all my co-payments. So far it seems to be helping pretty well. Hard days are still hard and good days are still good but I am not in constant darkness like I was before, I am not feeling like the world is going to swallow me whole in one big gulp like I felt 4 months ago.
Going to the ER for this sort of thing is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT! Either you are accused of being a drug seeker, a hypochondriac or flat out attention seeking. It is very hard to get professionals to take you seriously. I would start by asking people you know if they know of any good doctors who deal with anxiety as a specialty. Get multiple names and google them online. You'll be able to see their accomplishments and skills on bio pages. From there, once you have found someone you trust or like, ask about talk therapy as well. Sometimes the psychiatrist can offer talk therapy as well.
Having to go this route with a psychiatrist does not demean your character or make you crazy. (Believe me, this is a hurdle I had a hard time getting past). They can be so helpful and supportive and help you find ways to better yourself. When you are in an airplane and the air masks drop, you always put your mask on first so you can then put your child's mask on second. We have to take care of ourselves, or we won't be taking care of anybody, and that is not what we want because otherwise we wouldn't be caring for the ones we love, no matter how hard it can get - we keep pushing on. Hugs! You'll find solutions, trust in yourself.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

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