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I would like to hear some helpful thoughts on how to respond when an elderly family member you are caring for says things that are hurtful. These criticisms seem to be an unconscious attempt to drive me and other family members away. This person has been dealing with chronic pain, has been for years and is frustrated with life in general. What is the best way to respond when hurtful words are being used? Do we, as caregivers, have a responsibility to turn their negativity around and make life enjoyable again, or do we let them wallow in despair as they subconsciously drive us away?

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I loved and miss my mom, who passed a year ago. I try very hard to see the positives in the relationship we had. But, truth be told, even before she suffered with dementia, she was a drama queen, a martyr and paranoid. She blamed me for putting her in a facility. In quiet moments alone, I came to realize that this lady who my mother had become was a stranger. She didn’t know who she was most of the time, and I sure didn’t either. It was a matter of accepting what she said to me, and then forgetting what she said to me. It is not your responsibility to be her spiritual guide and/or advisor, social director or cheerleader. It’s ok to let her ruminate in her foul moods. I did. And the next time I came to see my mom, she’d be in a different and better mood and we’d have a wonderful visit.
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I'm so sad to read how painful this still is for you.

It's just something to think about; but please do remember, and sometimes review, that you could walk right away, to a different home, and leave the care in professional hands. You have the right to do that. And it could be that if you're not in the daily line of fire, your relationship with the person you love so much might improve again.

You do also absolutely have the right to support. We're here to listen whenever you want to get anything off your chest; and do you get any breaks from caregiving at all?
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I appreciate all the input. I realize now it is not my place to have to make life good again for this person, even though I want to very much. Since I live at home with this person, I will just have to walk away when it gets bad and retreat to my room. I am still here when help is needed. The hard part is learning to let it not sting so much when hurtful things are said; I guess I have always been sensitive to that especially with this person whom I admired and respected for my entire life.
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Chronic pain would make the most laidback person get snippy let alone one who was sippy before. Just keep walking away. There really nothing you can do for people like this. Everyone thought my MIL was such a nice lady. She was sweet to friends and strangers and her sons, but her DILs...passive aggressive. I think the boys dealt with it by saying "yes Mom" then doing what they wanted. I am sure if she lived longer Dementia would have set in and the real MIL would come thru.
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People who are in chronic pain often have chronic bad attitudes (from having to cope with the pain).
My 1st suggestion would be to get a better handle on the pain. Does she go to a pain clinic? Has she been taking the same pain meds for years? If so, they are probably no longer effective. Ask her doctor if she can change to something else, possibly adding physical therapy or other modalities.

Now that that's been said, I'll share about my mother. She is a hypochondriac and loved going to the doctor (I believe for attention). She always had something negative to complain about. After nothing was ever found, I told her I would prefer to give her Positive attention rather than Negative attention. I figured that would change her attitude-Nope.
Then I went to "I'm sorry you're having pain. They've done everything they can for you.", then refuse to talk anymore about it. Sometimes I talked over her to not hear the ailments.

For your mom's criticisms, you could say, "Oh, I don't like thinking that way, so I'm not going to talk about it." It takes 2 to have a conversation. If she continues, stay strong and leave the room. Go back in the room 2 minutes later. If it starts again, repeat process. You CAN NOT control her but you can control you.
Even my mother at stage 5 Alz. understood when I had enough. I'd say,"I'm sorry mom, I've reached my limit. If you continue to say this same thing, I'll have to leave." It worked for awhile.
You can't change her attitude just as she can't change yours. If she chooses to be miserable, nothing you can do about it.
What's the best way to respond to her? "Gee mom, I would never say something so hurtful. Do you realize how painful that is to hear? Are you trying to hurt me?" Make her responsible for her words. Providing she doesn't have dementia, she should "get it".

You neither have the responsibility nor the power to turn her around. If she's too negative, tell her that you can't take the constant criticism then leave.
Even at her age she needs to be responsible for her actions.

She has been this way for a long time. Don't expect her to change overnight.

Do get her medications reviewed.
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"Do we, as caregivers, have a responsibility to turn their negativity around and make life enjoyable again..."

Absolutely not, nor do you have the power to do this. You can't change anyone else, you can only change yourself.

As the others have said - leave, limit your time with the negativity, detach, and distance emotionally...You can also try distracting them by changing the subject.

On the other hand, if you are the caregiver, and this person is in pain, do everything you can to get them the treatment they need. That does not mean you have to stay around for verbal/ emotional abuse which doesn't help anyone.
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If you don't mind my saying so, I think you might be falling into the common trap of believing that you can make all the difference to your mother's mental and emotional state if you only try hard enough and are prepared to make enough sacrifices.

A responsibility to make their lives enjoyable vs. let them wallow in despair: but this isn't the choice you're being given.

The choice you have is to persevere in spite of negativity and hurtful remarks, or to leave the hands-on care to people whom they can't hurt (or not in the same way, anyway) because they don't love them. Either is a legitimate option, and only the caregiver has the right to decide between them.

How to decide? There aren't any flow diagrams or apps that can lead you to a clear answer. As you go along, you weigh up whether your loved one is benefiting enough from your involvement to make the sacrifice worthwhile; and besides that, whether the hurt being done to you is something you can withstand and recover from.

I suppose understanding, as you clearly do, why the person is lashing out like this at the nearest target helps? But it only helps so much. Do you have any support for yourself as a caregiver?
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My parents. Both Perfectionists and controlling, also my father has said terrible things to people all my life, me included. His granddaughter included. How have I always handled this? By fleeing. It’s a very basic human reflex. I left home at 17 years old but stayed in touch with my parents. I figured they’d do fine and they did, until this last year.

And so how is a person who has deliberately limited the contact with another person for fifty years deal with “caring” for that person now? All I know is to leave. Distance has always helped me. I really don’t know.
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I feel your confusion and pain.

My mother is very passive aggressive. She 'acts' sweet and peachy to certain people, then turns and says the most horrific things to me--not often ABOUT me, but still.

When she crosses a line, either being very cruel about someone, or stepping over into the "dark side" of her personality, I walk out.

Mother has NEVER been a happy person. Moments, sure, but as a rule? She hated being a mother, she was angry at my father all the time, and she took out all her frustrations on us kids. We're so screwed up as a result.

As caregivers, we give care, but I'll be darned if I am going to wallow in the misery with her. Like I say, she has everything she needs, has life a lot better than most 88 yo's and still seems somewhat irritated with life. And us kids in particular.

This is how I respond: "Sorry you're having a bad day mom. I'll leave now and come back one day you feel better." and I leave.

And that subconsciously? Probably not as much as you think. When I walk in and my mom says "oh, it's you"....with that dispirited tone....it isn't subconscious at ALL!
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