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My mother is like a zombie when it comes to being positive. Yet, she comes to life when anything negative can be expressed by her. The only time she seems to have any life is if she is being critical or judgemental of other people. Anything enjoyable she is involved with is met with completer indifference. She is not incompetent or diagnosed with dementia.

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Having read the book: Boundaries, written by two doctors....I learned new ways of dealing with my mother, who has been negative, unhappy and critical all her life, but is much worse in her older age, and WAY MORE now, with my father placed in memory care and her life 'upside-down'.....I ignore her when I cannot get to first base. If she just goes on and on re: a particular theme, I will simply say, " Well...Mom, what could you do about that? What other decisions could be made?" She tends to immediately shut up or change the subj because, as it shows me, she would rather complain than actually think about a solution. When she criticizes others (she is big on noticing everyone's else's faults and comment on strangers....OR even family....who are 'too fat' for example)...I'll just say, " You know, I wouldn't talk about anyone else's situation unless I were quite sure I was perfect by comparison" or something like that. My mother is 4'10" and weighs 95 lbs and prides herself on 'not eating'....but she is a 'dried up wrinkled prune who is so unhealthy from years of not caring for herself and can hardly walk through a grocery store....so hard to understand her focus! I think it's to make her feel better about herself....but it's totally unnecessary talk. She is full of deciding what other people think and what they are dealing with or what decisions they are making, but SHE couldn't decide which piece of mail to toss in the trash without asking me! Since Dad left, she has complained constantly about every place he's been in...about all the caregivers, about what time he gets to eat and why the meal times vary by 30 minutes....and whether the staff got him dressed the way she thinks is correct and even down to how they do not do the laundry the way SHE thinks it should be done. She expects ME to call and complain about all these things daily, but NOT tell them SHE complained!! So, I've learned to not call them and to work with them to appease her in the important areas...but she's going to complain. I tell her we could bring Dad home with her and bring in caregivers to help and then she would know what was happening all the time. THAT shuts her up because she wants to assume no responsibility herself. She wants to tell everyone else what to do so she can blame them if she doesn't like how it turns out! I'm on to that one. Calling the bluff by putting the decision or responsibility back on the complainer shuts her up for sure. The book is great. I got it on Amazon, but it's also easily available. I can't remember the authors names but if anyone wants, I'll go find it.
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Some people are just like that and it is extremely hard to be around them. I live in a family where a couple of them have those tendencies: very critical of things and other people (even the driver in the car next to us); impatient to their own benefit; seemingly angry with the world (which in truth they probably are). I've come to accept it although perhaps I'm the one who needs counseling. I also see it as a means of control of their environment . . . you are so involved in their attitudes you don't have a chance to have an opinion of your own (no would you wish to express them because that might start a fight!). Hang in there, she's not going to change. Just remember that you are a person, too, with your own feeling and attitudes. Perhaps should not be around her so much if that's at all possible.
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Yes, my mother is the same... most of the time. She has lost her "cooth" so to speak. She says things out loud and it is sometimes very embarrassing. I just tell her that was not nice... and remind her that she taught me not to say things like that. Haha!
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Its funny in a way but it seems like at the assisted living place my mother is in that they all get a kick out of being unhappy and complaining. It almost seems like they are in high school and being annoyed with everything is the "in" thing to do. I don't quite get it.
However, last night at family night when there was a slight problem with dinner I saw how some of the adult children there acted (those visiting) and was not surprised as the negative outlook on everything apparently runs in some families.
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Do what you can and then let it go. It just causes us pain to resist something we can't change. Ignore bad behavior as much as possible and reward positive behavior (if any). To dwell on what we feel SHOULD be, to expect things to change or become fair, all this just puts our own minds in a negative place. We have to use inner resources and not give away our own power to anyone else. Good luck and God bless.
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Maybe your mom is just unhappy. I work as a home healthcare nurse and I also cared for my dad in my home for 5 years and it's been my experience that many elderly people are miserable. They're sick, they're old, they need help doing very basic things that they've done all their lives. Even my dad, who was the most optimistic person I ever knew, broke down in tears frequently toward the end of his life because he didn't want to be living "this way".

If your mom doesn't have dementia she may be lashing out just because she's very unhappy. I find that to be true with most people. If someone is berating a waitress or snapping at the clerk at the convenience store or being rude to the person in line in front of them at Walmart I always assume that the person is unhappy in their lives and in their hearts.
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I agree with LisaRose - I think they enjoy complaining. Mostly looking for attention. And it definetly runs in families - favorite topics of conversation within Mom's family - their latest ailments (Sometimes one more of them talking on and on about their "sugar" levels is really a turn off).
It doesn't do any good trying to be sympathetic - just encourages them to go on and on about their health issues.
I try to change topic or just say matter-or-factly "I don't know what causes that. I'm no doctor and wouldn't want to be." And then I go find something else to do. It's hard to complain without an audience. (Kind of like a kid throwing a tantrum - not much fun with no audience.)
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My mom does this. She always has and, apparently, always will. She is in her comfort zone when she is negative. She views her attitude as 'realistic'. But the rest of us see it as excruciatingly negative. We can't change her. People have to change themselves. If they don't see the necessity of change, there's nothing to be done for it on our part. My way of coping: when Mom gets in uber-negative mode, I find something else to do, away from her. I make it a point not to share in the negativity. It is a bitter path and I don't want to follow it.
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I was married to a man like that for nearly 10 yrs. No matter what the situation, even if it was mostly good he would find something negative about it and harp on just that. It was almost as if it made him happy to be unhappy. I didn't know his mom, she died before I met him but from what I heard about her she was the same way. I came to believe that it was his way of getting attention. If he was unhappy all the time people would feel sorry for him. And pity was better than no attention at all. Needless to say we are no longer together. His unhappiness made us both unhappy
I agree with desert above. Change the subject if you can or just walk away.
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A good neuro-psych evaluation is in order, since it is obvious her happy circuits are not working. Talk to her primary physician about a referral .
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