I am an only child and take care of parents in my home. Mother has mobility issues. I have written before about her complaints and my reaction to them. I dread going into her room in the morning because she always greets me with a list of complaints. I have tried not to engage with her. My first reaction is to feel guilty and to try to explain or fix whatever was wrong. Big mistake! For example this morning she said there was no water on the table. I pointed out that there is a full container of water on her table, but she says she can't use that container because it is not the right color. This is a new development because I didn't know that a container's color mattered. When I offer a solution she says I am complaining. She talks down to me and uses my full given name rather than my nickname. Then she says I should try to lie in her bed and see how I like it. To me it sounds like she is wishing me ill. I feel that she doesn't like me since I have been involved with her care. We had a fairly good relationship before her illness. She has not been diagnosed with dementia but I think with all the medication that she takes her personality has certainly changed. How can I protect myself from taking everything she says so personally. I know it is affecting my health and I am beginning to not like being around her.

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I'd be tempted to tell her that she should try lying in bed in a nursing home and see how she likes that.

This to me is a clear case of biting the hand that feeds her. She does it because she knows she can get away with it. She controls you because you're the one thing left that she can control.

There's no need to respond to her complaints, except if you want to point out that her complaints are baseless and counterproductive. If I heard the complaint about the color of the water pitcher, I'd tell her "If you don't like the pitcher, don't drink the water." When we were kids, my mother would tell us "Drink it or wear it." You can make the same point without going to that extreme. Basically, like it or leave it. Stop offering solutions. She can drink the water or not drink it. She's lucky to have a daughter who provides her with a bed in her own home with a container of water next to it. She needs to see that. Or not. But you need to see it, at least.
Helpful Answer (35)

Demstress watch out for yourself.. it is too risky to your own health to continuously be treated so mean by your mother.. How cruel and thoughtless of her to you and living in your house and you taking care of her.. if she is in her right mind or perhaps dementia has set in.. or has she always been controlling of you.. narcissistic and self centered.. You need to take care of yourself first and most likely will need some help with your mother as her anger is directed toward you. As they say bite the hand that feeds you. An outside helper most likely won’t suffer the same treatment and hopefully resources to help with financial costs.. perhaps a senior center could set you in the right direction. It might be time for assisted living for her. Seek help and notify her physician before she saps the life out of you.
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I've got to say that the comment about the water pitcher struck me as being pretty typical of some with dementia.

My "pretty good relationship" with my mom was based on very limited exposure. I was able to hold it together and be sweet and nice for about an hour. Tops. After that, her politics, her illogic 
( before dementia) and her way of thinking drove me mad. If I'd had to live with her or vice versa, I would have considered suicide or homelessness preferable.

Get her seen by her doctor. Get a needs assessment from your local Area Agency on Aging.

And if she starts to complain, try saying brightly "Oh I'll come back when you're in a better frame of mind"
Helpful Answer (30)

You had a fairly good relationship before her illness.


Could you describe it a bit, if you'd like to?

The thing is. It isn't obvious to me that when a person you love and get on with well is crabby for reasons you can perfectly understand, you feel personal culpability for everything that cross, unhappy person then finds fault with.

You can be sorry she's bed bound. You can be sorry she's rattling with medication. You can be sorry that she's feeling ill, frightened, frustrated, just plain sorry for herself even. All of those are legitimate grievances, to which the appropriate response is "oh dear, poor old you" and a hug.

But to start feeling that YOU are her problem, or that God forbid she's so envious of your youth and health that she's actually ill-wishing her own daughter...

That's... not a rational or even a common response.

So. I wonder. What was your "good" relationship built on?
Helpful Answer (20)

Me, age 10: Mom, I'm hungry!

Mom: Have an apple.

Me: I don't WANT an apple!

Mom: Well, I guess you're not hungry then.

The pitcher thing made me laugh too, for this reason.

I haven't lived in the same town as my mother since I was 15 (I went to live with my father). Now that I'm staying with her and being her caregiver, I feel like I didn't know who she really is at all. And I love her, but I don't really like who she is very much!

You have to be pretty thick-skinned to be a caregiver, I think, whether that person has dementia or a personality disorder or is just cranky from pain, health problems, and declining independence. And you have to be really good at boundaries. If you're determined to keep your mom at home and out of a facility, I strongly urge you to get some counseling. That's going to be the thing you need to toughen up your skin and to become more able to set your boundaries with your mom.

The other thing that helps me a lot is this forum. This is one of the few safe places you will ever have to vent whatever you need to vent, and know that you'll find a lot of folks who've been through the same thing. Keep coming back! If you don't get it out SOMEWHERE, it will eat you up inside.

Also, as others have suggested elsewhere, look up "Fear Obligation and Guilt (FOG)" online.  Lots of it is geared around dealing with dysfunction like personality disorders, mental illness, etc., but I think you'll find some helpful stuff out there. 
Helpful Answer (20)

You are a person and your mother is a person, so it is certainly natural to take interactions personally. And it is hard to get out of a reasonable habit you have had since childhood.

While your mother is still a person, she isn't the person she was. It does sound like she has dementia, but even if the change is "just" from losing her independence and being bedbound, the change is real.

Have you ever had a time in your life when your reactions were not "you"? I know that I am having a depressive episode when I am not "me." Several years ago I cried on the phone with my boss, and I snapped at a coworker I liked a lot. Definitely "not me" behavior. I made a psychiatric appointment. Also when I was in the hospital for an emergency I was clearly not in my right mind for several days. I apologized to a few people when I got well!

So I am not surprised that your poor mom, with her medical issues, loss of independence, and mobility problems isn't fully herself. And if she has dementia, there is serious physical damage in her brain. I think if she had been narcissistic all your life you would know it! More likely she is self-centered now because of her circumstances. But look up narcissism and see what you think.

Could you be a little over-sensitive from all these negatives of your mother's? For example "try to lie in my bed and see how you like it" I take to be similar to the often-used expression, "try walking in my shoes for a mile." I don't take it that she wants you to be sick, but that she wants you sympathize with what she is going through. Maybe a response like this is appropriate: "Mom, I can't even imagine what you have to cope with. You are doing amazing! I hope I can be as strong as you are if I ever do lie in a similar bed!" Acknowledge her feelings. Express sympathy and admiration.

For the water container comment I'm not sure I could keep from laughing out loud, but I would prefer to take it in stride as if it were a perfectly normal comment. "Oh. I'm sorry about that. Are there other colors you can't drink from? I'll put them on a sticky note by the sink so I can remember that. My memory isn't getting any younger!"

How can you stop taking things so personally? Remember that your mother now has some personality defects. She didn't ask for them and if she could really have an objective view of herself she'd probably be appalled.

Would you consider getting some counseling to help you cope with this very challenging situation? It is sad to dread seeing your mother every morning!
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You just described my grandmother. Yes if she was unhappy she wanted to make sure everyone else was too. You pushes you around because she knows she can. You need to push back. Don't like the color of the pitcher? Oh well, when you decide to like the color you can get yourself a drink. I'm sure we all had our parents say this to us as a child...but heaven forbid we say that to an elder who is behaving the same way. She wants to see you jump to make her feel better. Stop acting like every little whim of hers is a crisis.
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@demstress - I’m so sad to hear your story. I too am an only child and my mother was an Italian-born widow. So I understand that not having siblings means that NO ONE can understand what you’re going through. Are you also caring for your elderly father as well? In my case, my husband and I had made a deathbed promise to my father in 1988 to care for my mother. She eventually ended up living with us in a house we had built to accommodate her needs. It was a grueling job to manage her care and needs in addition to working a full time job and raising three kids for me. But as the dementia and depression set in, that’s when similar behavior to what you’re describing occurred on a daily basis. Our story is long and will be published online soon, but we went to seek legal guardianship and a corrupt and greedy NJ attorney that was a complete stranger to my mother convinced her to fight the guardianship and won. There were no siblings or distant relatives challenging a will or wanting money.  The last thing my mother said to us in the NJ county courthouse was “I never agreed with my grandchildren going into the military so I hope they ALL die in battle and I hope you and your husband end up all alone”. Maybe it was the dementia or the psychosis talking, but a curse like that - follows one forever. Especially as an only child, who cared for their parent for 24 years. The really sad part is - my mother passed away all alone years later under the guardianship of the lawyer pal of the first greedy lawyer. She weighed in at only 70 pounds and didn’t even know who was caring for her and thus more than half of her estate went unaccounted for by the time she died.  It’s not about the money, but rather the unexpected and terrible way that ones parent’s personality completely changes when dementia and mental illness sets in. I hope you can somehow get your mom into an assisted living facility soon, so you aren’t stressed out by her hurtful words. Remember, with dementia, they trust the stranger sitting next to them on a bus, before the caregiver who is lovingly taking care of them.
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One thing that really struck me when I was talking with my therapist is when she told me that my dad wanted me to "suffer with" him. It is quite common she said when people resent how their lives have changed and they see you as not suffering like them, so they do the complaining etc. so that you can feel what their suffering is like. A book that I suggest you get and read is Loving Hard to Love Parents by Paul Chafetz. It will give you ways to respond to her as well as ways to understand her behavior. It is a quick read but full of good tips. It helped me a lot. He is a psychologist who counsels adult children of difficult parents.
How you respond will help you not take it personally.
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Thank you all for answering my concerns. Spirit dancer, I wondered about the description of "narcissistic." I am not quite sure if being narcissistic is the same as being selfish. My mother has always been generous when she was well, but since she is ill she cares mainly for herself, could be self-preservation and an understandable reaction. I guess when one becomes overly concerned about their own well-being at the expense of others that the problems emerge.
BarbBrooklyn, before parents moved from Queens, New York, I saw them a couple of times a year. Always pleasant visits, but living now with people 24/7 that I haven't lived with in more than 30 years has been a major adjustment. Maybe I can never adjust because we are just too different. I do appreciate the questions because I can delve deeper into what is causing me to have such a strong reaction of my mother.
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