My mom has always pitted her children against each other. What I mean is when she's with one of her kids, she would talk bad about another one of her kids or say how she can't stand them. Now that she's got dementia it seems to be amplified. She's convinced I'm stealing from her and my sister (estranged would be a good word here) feeds into that. She and my mom have made some financial transactions that are now in question by social services. I'm at the end of my rope and ready to just walk away. The stress of dealing with my mom is enough but dealing with other family members who question everything I do or have done but were never around in the beginning to offer help or assistance. Has anyone else ever dealt with this?

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My mother always used this "divide and conquer" technique to keep herself in power. (She has narcissistic personality disorder and this is one of the many of the abnormal things that they do.)

Everyone has a relationship with her but not with each other. For instance, when I was growing up she acted like best girlfriends with my younger sister and I was excluded. My sister and I are of course estranged and my mother likes that. When my sister and I did try to get to know each other my mother would say "Wait a minute--you guys don't get along, remember?"

Her eyes pop and she seethes if I even talk with my brother; he won't even look at me because it clearly makes her mad. (I am 61, 40 lbs overweight and showing the effects of gravity, but she still seethes with jealousy when it comes to me.)

She has a large group of friends whom she lies to (about her goodness) and leads around by the nose. They all seem to agree that she's a saint, but if anyone notices that something might be wrong with her this frail 90 year old narcissist wacks them back into line. They're so afraid of not having friends that they comply.

I left as a young girl but visited for many years. She got meaner and meaner with each visit so I eventually became estranged for 15 years but then recently returned to help her in her twilight years. I had visions of baking her bread, mowing her lawn and running her errands, but she wants no help. It infuriates her that my nephews, brother, etc. like me and are glad I came back. No amount of talking or reasoning on my part has ever gotten through to her.

She is meaner than ever--sadistic. The only time she laughs is when she sees someone getting beat up on television or that I am hurt in some way. She is toxic and I can't stand her. I've given up for the last time. I live 3 instead of 3000 miles from her now and once again find that I can't bear the thought of seeing her or hearing her voice or even seeing her handwriting. I wasted so much on her.

Trust your gut. Nothing is going to change. You don't have to be around her/them if it makes you feel bad and wastes your life force. They don't care about you or they wouldn't treat you this way so why should you be there? You only get one life and I urge you not to waste it.
Helpful Answer (15)

You are not alone! The emotional pain this triggers in you is very real and a well-known phenomenon in family dynamics. To call it malicious manipulation doesn’t do it justice because it confuses and smothers the soul of people who cannot defend against it. If this dynamic has been in your family since you remember, the hurt you feel is part of you and hard-wired into your self-preservation reflexes.
The idea of “setting your boundaries” and practicing your ability to do so, can help. In my life, it helps but it never wipes away the fundamental pain and injustice that can accompanies a family system that places advantage-gains over problem solving, self-awareness, and empathy.
If social services is aware of misuse of funds, they will probably get to the bottom of it. Though social services may alleviate the financial wrong, it seems only a trustworthy therapist can function as a “good parent” to help you deal with the hurt. Some people invoke prayer to give them strength to set fair boundaries and figure out how to do the right thing at the same time. It’s not easy. Others repeat mantras or put post-its on their mirror reminding them that they deserve to breath fresh air and thrive.
My therapist recently told me: “Every living creature deserves to defend itself against threat.” I am having to learn how to become aware when I am threatened. I truly believed I was a irredeemable bad person because I internalized my mother proclaiming I was the “bad one.” My sister is trying to learn to become aware as well, because she has her own wounds from having been accused of being the “bad one.” Though we are in our sixties, we are finally becoming real friends who can laugh and cry over this!
I imagine you struggle with the blood curdling unfairness of your family not being able to step outside their traps. You know there is something wrong, but feel helpless and keep stepping into the traps. There are many others on this site that have written about unhelpful/hurtful siblings and manipulative parents. Believe me, you are not alone.
I know it hurts terribly. Think about how you can set boundaries and put one foot forward at a time. If social services is involved, that is good. If you don’t have power of attorney (perhaps your sister does), I’m going to take a wild guess that you may be interviewed by social services if you are involved in your mother’s care or named as an important person by your mother when she switches her allegiance.
Think of your mother as a shape shifter and try to back off when her indictments are against you. Disengage. Say, “I have to leave for a while.” The more you practice this, the better it feels.
I am so sorry you are going through this. I do hope others on this site will answer as well because you deserve the best. I hope they will help you define your problem and set a course where you won’t be helpless.
Helpful Answer (12)


The acting of pitting people against each other is called "triangulation."  It is not typically a sign of dementia,  if they are doing it on purpose and not absentmindedly.

It is however a sign of either overt or covert narcissistic personality disorder, particularly because you noted that your mother has been doing this all her life.

(Frustrated124 wrote of her mother:  It seems the more I do for her the worse she treats me. My mother is also old school - convinced that mothers shouldn’t apologize for their behavior since they are older in wiser....Last time she insulted me was two weeks ago, we haven’t spoken since. My advice to you would be - walk away.)

That is not a sign of being "old school," It is the sign of a personality disordered individual.

A normal healthy person will want to apologize if they are in the wrong. If a person refuses to ever apologize you are usually dealing with a personality disordered person.
Helpful Answer (12)

She has deep-seated actions and you will never be able to change them. Best suggestion is to learn how to shrug your shoulders and roll your eyes when she does this.

RE: questionable financial transactions: don't sweat it as you were not involved. Tell your sister she can have the job and walk away. I did that with my sister and I slept better for it. I never refused to help, but it doesn't take an army to change a light-bulb. Too many cooks really will spoil the broth. If your sister wants to take charge - let her, and go forth and enjoy your life.
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Gosh... I feel like this was a glimpse into my future. My mother didn’t help my relationship with my only sister. Couple of years ago my sister decided to move to a different state, simply because she hates winters and left the care of our mother to me. It seems the more I do for her the worse she treats me. My mother is also old school - convinced that mothers shouldn’t apologize for their behavior since they are older in wiser....Last time she insulted me was two weeks ago, we haven’t spoken since. My advice to you would be - walk away. You would probably be the one cleaning up their mess but for now, take a break. You can’t help people that won’t help themselves; and your family members seem to be as selfish as mine are. Keep your sanity - walk away.
Helpful Answer (11)

Yes, I have dealt with this. Your instinct to put some distance between you and the family might be your best bet.

My mother has always been divisive, and as a result, my sister and I have never been close. Sis harbors a deep well of resentment against me, which I have just realized in the last few years. Why? I don't know. I have just the one sibling (out-of-state) but there are local cousins who see fit to inject themselves in my family's affairs. Last summer, sister and cousins pulled a fast one, something so disrespectful (to me) and so unwise (for mother) that even I couldn't ignore it to keep the peace, which has been my MO for years since moving back to my hometown. I decided it was time to take a step back. I no longer deal with sister and cousins. I ignore them. I would like to do the same with mom, but that would bring a world of drama down on me. So I continue to fetch her groceries once a week and I take her out for a meal on major holidays. That is it. And I feel so much better.

Now I'm thinking about resigning my co-POA (with sis) because I feel I have all the responsibility but no authority. Mom has been found legally competent so she still makes her own decisions. Some of her decisions are dumb and self-defeating, but she has her chorus of enablers so there's nothing I can do to help her.

Another natural consequence is that I no longer make myself available to step-and-fetch for mom. Let those local cousins do it.
Helpful Answer (11)

Yup, similar things here....Ward and June Cleaver on the outside, divide, manipulate and conquer on the inside.

Us kids were rarely if ever alone together without the parents there to direct and control.

You are not alone. Flee if you can because the personality traits only amplify, any filter comes off, especially with dementia. Any thing wrong, real or imagined will fall on you. Distance, boundaries will pay off. Take care.
Helpful Answer (10)

Sick and Tired,

Don't lose heart! What you've done is take the first steps toward healing: The decisions to go "low contact" and following through. Bravo!

By establishing firm boundaries you're taking a stand, in essence saying "I refuse to be manipulated by FOG (fear, obligation and guilt). I refuse to allow you to hurt me and those I love. I refuse to listen to your divisive stories!" Your mom is toxic and won't change.

Breaking old patterns is hard; I know! But it gets easier. Every time you dodge the bullet, you take away her power and gain strength! At some point you'll feel lighter, happier, and free-er than you have for ages because you set firm boundaries. This is all healthy! You weren't put here on earth to be your mom's punching bag. No guilt!

I would suggest blocking or monitoring your mom's calls. Should you take a call, when she starts her negative talk, tell her someone's at the door and you have to go. If you go visit her, as soon as she starts her negative talk, tell her you're "going to leave and come back some time when she feels better." This works for individuals with or without dementia. Some people go all the way to no contact; that may or may not be right for you. For the present, I've found low contact works best for me.

You don't necessarily have to announce to friends and relatives what you're doing. No one will take care of you but you! Love yourself, Sick and Tired. You're worth it!
Helpful Answer (10)

Yes and yes. My Mom went through the same thing but not between her daughters but through brother-in-laws, relatives, friends. And I would walk away and tell your siblings to handle her affairs. Let's see if they step up to the plate. And I would tell them that since they question everything that you do, then they can handle her affairs.
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Yes Sickandtired.. plus I can relate to each and everyone’s testimony here. It takes a lot to come to this realization.. at least it did for me. A mother is someone who should totally love and cherish her children and not use and manipulate them. It still boggles my mind how awful my mother became. Thank God for my DH and children to help me through this nightmare. Much appreciation to the kind and caring folks here to take the time to share these inexplicable dysfunctional family secrets. At least it was secret for me as I always made excuses for my dysfunctional family. My own family is much relieved that I had the strength to walk away from mother. I thought that I would get an apology from her and the relationship salvaged but I think this rarely happens with these personalities. It still hurts but hopefully it will no longer haunt us. There is power in knowledge and I find the more I research the more reassured I am. Very grateful that I woke up and didn’t have to take this to my grave. A huge burden is lifted as many here can relate. Glad you are protecting your son from her behavior. Bless you and your family.
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