Question: I am so overwhelmed caring for my both physically and verbally abusive mom for the last six years—and I have been in the medical field for over 20 years! It's different when it's family! How do I get through a day by myself and not fall into a deep depression? I'm so sad.
Dr. Amy: You are so right: taking care of a family member is not the same as treating people professionally. It can be far more complicated because emotion and shared family history are at play. I found the same thing when I cared for my parents.
I have two thoughts for you. The first is that caregiving is not a solitary activity. I often remind people that, just as it takes a village to raise a child, as the proverb says, it also takes a village to care for an aging parent. Frankly, I think it simply takes a village to help us get through life. I encourage you to think differently about the care your mother needs and ask yourself who you can call on for help. Very few people are able to do this alone and remain healthy. If you cannot afford paid support, turn to your friends, family, and community organizations.
My second thought is that it is never acceptable to be abused, and so you need to set boundaries with your mom. You will likely need help from a counsellor preparing for this conversation and establishing new ways of being with your mom. That’s because it seems like the pattern of abuse is long standing. Change will not happen overnight and you may find the process difficult. I encourage you to seek professional help to support you in this new path.
You might try sitting down with your mom and explaining that you have given the matter a lot of thought and want to set ground rules for how you two will interact. Share with her how it makes you feel when she lashes out at you. Talk to her about how you would like your relationship to be. Tell her you sympathize with her situation and know it must be frustrating, but violence and verbal abuse are not OK and you are no longer prepared to accept this. Tell her that you will leave the room the next time, and every time, she starts to be abusive. Then follow through. Obviously, you want your mom to be safe at all times; you need to be safe too.
You do not deserve to be abused. No one does. You deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and gratitude. Good luck on your journey. I send you courage.
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