How do I respond to my mother's constant complaints?

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My father died three years ago after 53 years of marriage, and my mother is still depressed and grieving. She has severe arthritis, so she's frequently in pain. She complains about how she's "down and out," how lonely she is, how she doesn't feel good, etc. It's a constant stream of negativity, and it gets me down. I feel helpless because there's nothing I can do to change things for her, Today I was talking to her on the phone, and when I tried to change the subject, talking about extended family and other topics, she said, "Everybody else is more important than me. You talk to me like I'm a stranger." I'm at a loss.

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Mbmarc brought up another point that I've thought about -- if elders may act like things are worse than they are because of the attention it brings. It makes me wonder that if we let ourselves be guilted into doing things, are we just enabling them? Maybe they can do a lot more than they do and socialize more than they do, but if we are there meeting all their needs it is easy to fall into an invalid role. It seems like it would be as bad for them as for us.
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Wow, Mbmarc, your comment is amazingly insightful. I just hope you keep working on having the life you deserve, despite your mom's influence on your happiness growing up.

I have a good friend who had a very dysfunctional childhood. Now in her 50s, and after a lot of counseling and work on her part, she's finally coming into her own, enjoying herself, and feeling like a worthwhile person, worthy of love and happiness. Watching her blossom is a joy to me as a friend. So there is hope! My friend has been "no contact" with her very dysfunctional mom for 18 months. That has freed her from the negativity that any contact with her mom inevitably brought to her.
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I agree with Babalou and blannie because I have had to come to the same conclusion about my mother who had a mild stroke a few years ago. My mother's depression is very obvious and we realize now that she has been depressed for as long as we can remember. It wasn't as obvious when she was working because she had other things to focus on, but even then she still chronically complained about everything that she wasn't able to control. She started falling more into a depressed state after she retired. My struggle is with accepting the fact that what I thought my childhood and life were growing up, wasn't at all what I created in my mind and conditioned myself to believe. I believed that we were somewhat close to being functional. My depression comes from feeling very betrayed because my mother is holding on to the aftermath of the stroke and pretending to be more physically impacted by it than she really is. She was blessed not to have any loss of motor skills or paralysis. Holding on to the stroke is her only way of continuing to control us and to make sure we are always available to her. We have observed behaviors related to post-traumatic stress. Her mother died when she was 10 yrs old and she has extreme abandonment issues. As a result, her entire life has been a series of losses and disappointments. Her inability to take responsibility for her contribution to some of her negative life experiences is what fuels her depression and keeps her trapped in thoughts of hopelessness and despair. Its always everybody else's fault for anything that goes wrong in her life. We have learned that we can't want more for our mother than she wants for herself. She refuses to hold herself accountable for anything that she does or says and she will not admit when she is wrong nor will she apologize for anything that she does wrong. Her internal anxiety level is tremendous! We can't get her to agree to take any medications either so i'm trying alternative options through diet and herbal food seasonings. We see some slight improvement, but she is more concerned with convincing us that she is unable to do anything for herself anymore because it is the path of least resistance for her. It gives her a perfect excuse for anything negative that she does or says. This is hardest for me because until now she has always been able to control me. From a child she made me emotionally responsible for her and it hurt my ability to develop long-term relationships. In fact, she has made sure that she ran anyone who came too close to me off. I have gone through a lot of emotional soul searching now that I can see the truth. I am slowly setting the proper boundaries so that I can have some quality of life for myself before I die. Care giving has its boundaries and depression is both real and contagious. There are ways to prevent going down into the emotional pit of despair and the best way is to keep a solid line between your feelings and experiences and the emotional struggles of the person that you are caring for. It isn't easy to give tough love to the people we feel responsible for. It becomes crucial when your own emotional health is at stake.
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It's like you lost both your dad and your mom three years ago. Try to get therapy for yourself and your mom. The group has probably helped her but one on one in addition would be very helpful or family therapy with you. Three years is a long time to be stuck. She is young enough to stretch it out for 10 or 15 more. She may not realize that she is choosing the depression and even the pain. I'm making assumptions that she was not this way before your dad died. Start with therapy for yourself. If you are very specific about what you want to work on you'll make progress soon and be able to help your mom. Think of it as tough love for yourself. You can't force her but you can take action for yourself and learn to resist her negativity. Good luck.
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I agree with Babalou. Do the best you can to get her a good physical. Beyond that, since she doesn't want to change (for whatever reason) you just have to set limits and protect yourself and your own health and happiness. Your mom has created her reality and despite your best efforts, she wants to stay there.
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Has your mom ever had a complete cognitive and neurupsych work up? Would she humor you and do that? I'm betting you would find some cognitive decline.

Otherwise, im with Jessie, just listen and don't fix. Say, that must be really hard , mom. I'm so sorry you're dealing with that.
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My goodness girl, you certainly have covered all the bases and well. Honestly, you have done everything you can to help your mom but she is in a place where it sounds like she doesn't want help. Odd as it sounds, some people prefer to stay in a depressive state. She's lost her life partner and she is not goung to get any healthier or younger and she knows it. All you can do is be the amazing daughter that you have been albeit going slightly deaf. Support groups and people on this site will help you deal with this. Prayers.
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Her doctor is aware of her depression and has prescribed several different antidepressants, but my mother doesn't want to take any of them because they cause side effects and don't help her immediately. She's been told the medication takes about a month to build up in her system enough to have an effect, but she's not willing to take the meds long enough to find out if they'll help her. Her doctor gives her steroid shots for the arthritis pain and also prescription pain medication, but Mama doesn't want to take any medication that's habit-forming, which rules out a lot of medications that would help her. She goes to a counseling group, but she won't discuss her struggles because she doesn't want to cry in front of the group. I've made suggestions (get a cat or dog, find a place to volunteer, go to the fitness center to exercise, etc.) but she doesn't want to do any of them. I think that's part of the reason I feel frustrated about her complaints. She doesn't want to make any changes to help herself, and I can't change them for her.
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Perhaps she is terribly lonely, no one to talk to. Perhaps she just needs to talk about herself to someone, anyone as all she needs is someone to listen. One of the greatest gifts we can give is to just listen. Fortunately for her, she has confidence in you. Unfortunately for you, it is something I'm sure you dread. Depression is a horrible thing and add to it,combine chronic pain and loneliness, well, this woman is suffering in every direction. I wonder if you could contact her family Dr regarding the depression. Pain is amplified by depression. When was the last time she had a check up? She may be more ill than you think. Obviously she holds you in the highest regard and turns to you so that in itself says a lot about you. Sadly that puts the burden on you. You're in a tough situation. I've been there myself. Are there any senior resources centres that you could hook her up with, many have crisis hotlines geared to the elderly. I think her endless chatter is someone crying out for help. I hope you can help her find it. You sound like a very kind person.
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My mother does the same thing. She has spinal stenosis, so she does have some pain. She has many other things she complains about, too, so it is a constant stream on some days. Most of the things I can't fix, so I've learned to tune her out. That way she can still talk. I'm just not paying much attention. I believe she is mainly wanting to talk, anyway.

I used to pay attention all the time, and even try to fix things. It didn't work. I had to start tuning her out in order to keep my sanity. I still have a few shreds left, I think, so it must be working.
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