How can I cope with the guilt of not wanting to care for a terminally ill narcissistic mother?

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My 67-year-old mother has just been diagnosed with a lethal form of cancer that kills most people within one year. With treatment she might have five years left if she's lucky.

I have intentionally lived far away from her for years because our relationship is very volatile and we have very upsetting blow-outs every time I visit home or she visits me. After the last time I saw her, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow myself to be alone with her again, as her cruel and destructive comments to me usually always are delivered when it's just the two of us. She doesn't treat my siblings (I have two older sisters) this way. Reading some articles about narcissism, I think I have identified myself as her 'golden child.'

I live on the other side of the world from my family and they are all wondering when I am going to rush home to see her (although they are all aware of the terrible relationship we have). The thing I am really wrestling with right now is the disturbing truth that I don’t really want to see my mother even though she is almost certainly going to die in a matter of months (or years, if her treatment is successful). This is hard to admit, but when one oncologist, now roundly dismissed, suggested she take no treatment at all and just live out the rest of her time (nine to 12 months, max) as she wants without the sickness that radiation, chemo and a major operation would entail, I was (silently) rooting for her to choose that option. It would be over soon. No drawn-out illness, no constant need for attendance and the accompanying necessity to be compassionate towards someone about whom I have very ambivalent feelings. And of course I feel guilty about feeling like this; I must be a very bad person to feel so cold towards my own mother.

My eldest sister lives with my mother and my other sister lives very close by. I believe they are able and willing to take care of my mother's needs during this time. However, I feel an obligation to 'be there' for them (for example, to shoulder some of the load of caregiving) as well as to show up and act like a 'normal' daughter would in this situation. I also don't want to regret not seeing or caring for my mother after she's dead. With her current treatment plan, she could be looking at up to a year of chemo, radiation, major surgery, recovery, and then another round of chemo and radiation. My mother is very focused on coming to see me where I live before the surgery, although I have never invited her to do so. But now I feel I must allow her to visit me, as it's one of the only things that is keeping her going.

I am so torn by my emotions right now. I know I have to take care of myself, but every time I have tried to set up boundaries with my mom she tramples them and I react with anger. I can't have this happening while she's dying; I would never forgive myself.

What can I do?

Answers 1 to 10 of 27
Hugs and more hugs to you. Please don't think you are a bad person because you feel cold to your mother. It is not your fault. Narcissistic parents often hone in on one child they think they can control. In this instance, it is you. In my family of 3, it is me. When you are routinely on the end of receiving harsh treatment by your mother; a sort of detachment takes place even though you don't realize it.

You sound like a wonderful and caring daughter who still wants to do the right thing even though the relationship has fallen apart. Maybe if you first just visit your mother at your sister's house, you could get a feel for how she is going to act if she were to come out and visit you.

If she is negative and abusive; that would be a sign that a visit to stay with you would most likely not be beneficial for you or her. I don't know how far apart from each other you are; but, sounds as though you would be happier if she did come to stay with you, despite the circumstances. If the visit was too much, she could return back to your sister.

I learned with my MIL and mother to be emotionally prepared for any outbursts; and when those occured - I tried to stay calm and walk away from them - even though I felt like yelling and screaming at them. So many of us on here deal with this personality disorder. I have become quite proficient at redirecting the conversation when it starts getting ugly, and just walk out of the room and allow them to deal with their feelings alone. Since you know death might be iminent;
try saying to yourself I am doing the right thing and feel good about it. I am a good person and whatever my mother says is not going to hurt me anymore. Believe me, when there is no reaction by you - they are left to stew by themselves.

Who knows, maybe this visit could work and you would know you did the best you could do. Keeping you in my prayers. Blessings and take care.
You need to realize you mother is mentally sick, not just physically and you need to accept and acknowledge it. You do not need and an official diagnosis. A person that acts the way you describe your mother is ill. I am not convinced this is the golden child theory. But illness is illness. She sounds much like my dad. Her behavior is a manipulation game she is playing, she will always do this. She will never stop this behavior, never. You have to change because she will not. I have known my father is mentally ill for years; he is now 82 years of age. When he was 81yrs old he was diagnosed as histrionic, sociopath, etc. by one doctor and another to have narcissist’s behaviors.

You have to realize she is sick, mentally ill, and she is content and does not want to change. When you realize this, then you can change how you react. You don’t have much time. You’re angry because you want her to be the mother you should have, you want her to stop the cruel behavior she has towards you, SHE WON’T. Don’t waste your time trying to explain to her how much she hurts you. She knows, this will confirm to her she succeeded. Don’t waste the last year with her trying to get her to understand the specifics of her actions. She has been doing this for years, she gets it. She is older and wiser then you.

She is mentally ill, she is content doing these actions and she is responsible for her actions. Yes, she is responsible for her actions. She knows exactly what she is doing. She knows she is hurting you and she is content and will continue.

When you realize this, you will not be angry. You will be sad there is no fix. You will be grateful you did not inherit her illness. I do not get angry, I get frustrated sometimes. There is a difference. My dad is draining and keeping him from destructive behavior is quit a job. My father never stops manipulating, he never stops playing games and enjoys being cruel. He’s a master at this and always seems to be ahead of the game. I am his only child taking care of him. He has several children. I take care of him because for me it is the right thing to do. I do not owe it to him. I owe him nothing. He gives nothing but pain to people, because that is him; he is a person that enjoys manipulating people and causing pain. People that meet him for the first time think he is the most wonderful person, I hear this from nurses, and others. He will be very kind to you, to your face if he needs you. He occasionally thanks me when I do things for him; I know that he would never do the same in return. He views my kindness to him as a naivety and weakness. I smile and say thank you and move on. It would be a mistake for me to believe his kinds words are respect. He would never make a sacrifice to help anyone; he would view this as a weakness on his part. Even the smallest of a sacrifice to help someone a tremendous amount would be considered a flaw by him. He just wants to keep me around because he has no one to help him or use. He can thank me and so forth and turn around to the next person and say the most awful things about me. That is what he does and I do not let it bother me one bit. I am there to take care of him and I do. I have not been around him for 10 years or more. Now he needs me and I will be there not because I owe him, I don’t. I did not pick my parents.

He is old and ill now. I know him and accept him for the way he is. I do not try to change him. I changed myself along time ago. I work within his boundaries. I take care of him the best I can. I do want the best for him. When he does his bad behavior I remind him it’s not in his best interest, sometimes he listen and sometimes he doesn’t. That’s the way it goes. It is what it is. I do not expect anything from him because I am taking care of him. He has nothing to give. He will always do what is the best for him. As far back as I can remember he said DAILY WITH PRIDE, “Hooray for me to hell with you.” I do not expect anything from him. I know if he says nice things to me it’s because he is getting something out of me, and wants more. I also know he is saying a hundred nasty things behind my back.

I will take care of him until he dies. Someone has to, the state or me so I will do so. I am not hurt by him. I realize he is ill. I realize he is also content being the way he is. When you realize the same with your mom you will be content and just do what you feel like you have to do. You owe her nothing, this is not about her. THIS IS ABOUT YOU. You need to act on what you can live with. You must let the hurt go. Yes, it’s a shame that my dad is always mean spirited. It’s a shame that your mom is as well. My dad would run me over with a truck if he had another provider that he thought would take care of him better then I do. I am not kidding with that. It’s past time for you to stop being hurt and just be there as much as you chose to, for her sake and yours, mainly yours. You have sisters that will take care of her. Remember do not set boundaries for her that you know she will not adhere to. Your history of setting these boundaries when you know she will and can not adhere to them is dysfunctional on your part. Help yourself and realize this and stop. You know your mothers history and to insist that she obeys you because you must have her obedience is not going to happen. You already know this. You said every time you have tried to set boundaries she tramples them and you get angry. You have to understand your mother which you probably already do to some point and you have to address your dysfunctional pattern of wanting to fix it. You are setting boundaries for her to get what you want, which is relief. That should happen but it never will, not the relief that you want anyway. You’re dealing with someone mentally ill. You can’t change her. Quit trying for the both of you. You are the parent now. Realize and admit it to yourself, who you are dealing with, realize she is going to be gone shortly and be content with what you have. Your relief will come when you understand, adjust to her, and, quit expecting her to change, she won’t and can’t, she’s an old dog. Remember you owe her nothing. But you do care so do what is best for both of you, recognize she is ill and you will NEVER have a loving supportive mother. You have what you have and quit being hurt and just be there before its too late. Let the anger go and realize she is mentally ill. Be glad you’re not her, you could be, we all could be and many are. My dad gave me and education with this, and when I put it all together I understood my childhood better. It gave me an understanding which I am grateful for. It should have been no big surprise which it was. It’s called MENTAL ILLNESS. Mentally ill people are everywhere and are at all different level, some are functional and some are not. Most are parents. Your family and mine are many. You are not alone.


Top Answer
First piece of advice: get a counselor. You probably need some good guidance now that you can count on to draw appropriate boundaries.
Second piece of advice: as much as you will read here about selfish siblings who won't help out, I fully recognize (and encourage you to, as well) that family relationships are complicated, and some siblings stay away from toxic situations for good reasons. Some stay away because they truly don't recognize the scope of effort that goes into caregiving, especially for a (let's just say cranky) person.
My own sister is a thousand miles away, and has her own issues to deal with. Her relationship with my Dad was never placid, and so she is better off offering assistance from afar than from next to my side.
You may be just like my sister. You may not.
In these times of crisis, there is a part of us that cries, "Get me out of this!" and another part that cries, "I have to fix this before it's too late." Neither part has all the facts. Both parts can co-exist and neither part has to "win." A good counselor will help. I send you all the best.
Rose, you are not the "golden child" but the "Scapegoat". Always getting the blame, right? So from one scapegoat to another, stay far, far away. The reason, nothing will ever change. So protect yourself.
Rose: It sounds like you live a great distance from your mom (other side of the world you said). If one of you is going to make the trip to visit, I suggest it be you. Having your mom in your home will be more difficult than visiting her. At least your sisters will be there and you can leave when you need a break.

In addition, such a long trip for someone who is ill is just not advisable. What if she got very sick at your home and had to be hospitalized. What if her cancer went into high speed and she was not well enough to travel back to your sisters. Tell your sisters and your mom that it's too risky for her to make such a trip and you will be out see her when you can arrange it.

You can talk to her by phone in the meantime and go visit when and if you feel the time is right. You can send her cards and notes. If you want to visit her, then it's best if you can just let the things she says go in one ear and out the other. You will feel better if you don't take the bate.


My heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you who have taken the time to relate your painful experiences and give some hard-earned advice. You have shared your wisdom and given me some hard truths to think about. This is difficult territory, but it's somehow made a little easier knowing others have been on this path and are still around and willing to help others.
Rose, are your sisters aware that their mother treat you differently then she does them? If so, then I can't imagine why they would fault you for not wanting to see her. Guilt is supposed to be for when a person has done something wrong and KNOWS it. I don't see that here to be honest. If you're close to your sisters, call them and tell them of you dilemma, see what they say. I guess if it were me, I'd go see the mom that treated me so bad, and say 'goodbye mom, too bad you're such an evil person. bye'. Then leave and go back to your family and thank God you're NOT like her.
No offense NancyH, but I would leave out the "goodbye mom, too bad you are such an evil person" I can't see the wisdom in taking time off from a job and paying for an airline ticket just to take a cheap shot at someone who is dying. Mom is the one who has the mental illness, not Rose. Cattails.
Rose, have you prayed about this and asked God for wisdom and guidance on what to do? Only He can give you the right answer. It is helpful to hear from so many others, but ultimately, God will give you the best answer. All you have to do is surrender to Him, knowing you are helpless to know how to handle this complicated situation here. He knows you, He knows your mom, He made you, but God is love, and your mother's behavior is not of Him! The bible teaches us NOT to be angry or show hatred towards a person, for it is not her that is speaking and acting, but Satan himself through her, using her. The bible states: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12
This scripture is telling us that what you are wrestling with is Satan, not your mother. Your mother represents flesh and blood, but Satan is the spirtual host of wickedness, he and his fallen angels. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers came to take Jesus away, Peter got all excited and and in an attempt to protect Jesus, Peter took a sword and attacked a man named Malthus, the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. He (Jesus) rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Mark 8:33
What is happening here is Jesus is speaking out against Satan that is acting through Peter. God is love, Jesus did not want Peter to react like man would, but how Jesus would. Now Rose, this doesn't mean you would actually say in front of your mom, "Get behind me Satan" when she is verbally harming you, although I have done this with a sibling before, and it did stop her in her tracks. But realize is is not your mother who is behaving like this, it is Satan through her. Like Sunny64 says, she is sick. She IS sick, she is full of the evil source. You need to pray to God with all your heart, mind and soul for her deliverance, so she can be delivered from this evil source before she dies. It is possible Rose that you could know your real mother, if she was clean of Satan. Do you know of an intercessary prayer group in your area? If not, maybe you could seek one out for help in prayer. The main thing Rose, is to realize again, even though you think this is your mom thinking, saying and acting this way against you, it is not. It is Satan. It is a spiritual sickness, that demonstrates itself out as a mental illness. So keep this in perspective, and be upset with the behavior, but LOVE the person. If you can do that, you will have succeeded. Jesus won the battle against Satan. The battle is won, we just have to pray and reach out to Jesus for strength, wisdom, and protection against Satan. God bless you Rose. Janice



you say, "The thing I am really wrestling with right now is the disturbing truth that I don’t really want to see my mother even though she is almost certainly going to die in a matter of months",
Rose, I know that some promises really need to be broken, but in this case I'd like to see you keep your promise to yourself that you will not be alone with her again. I say go an visit her at least once, soon -- for your sake. You will always struggle with "should I have" if you don't. But also try to arrange for a sister or someone else to be in the room with you. Can you stay with a sister? If not, consider a motel. Why set the two of you up for an emotionally exhausting experience?

Can you help your sisters from afar? Perhaps send money to pay for respite care? Send them gift certificates for dinner out? Ask them what they need that you can provide without actually being present.

And I hope you realize down deep that it is NOT YOUR FAULT that your mother is mentally ill any more than it is your fault she has cancer.

Best wishes to you.

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