How do I stop the guilt trips from my mother?

10 answers | Last updated: Nov 15, 2016
Bellamia4457 asked...

How do I stop the guilt trip from my mother? My dad could no longer care for my mom's needs as of October 2008. After her fourth hospital stay in a year, we decided to keep her in the nursing/rehab center. She feels my cousin and myself have "brainwashed" dad into thinking he can't care for her anymore. She would need help showering, walking, she stopped cooking, had problems with her bowels, incontinence and he was alway cleaning up after her. She would forget to take some meds and refused to continue to take her Lasix for congestive heart failure since it made her go. She's just downright nasty and tells dad that he broke his promise of "till death us do part". I'm exhausted mentally as the only sibling in the area and I'm taking care of all the finances, Medicaid, etc. How do I stop mom's guilt trips or will this continue forever?

Expert Answers

Maria Basso Lipani writes a popular website on geriatric care topics, where she puts her expertise as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to good use answering care planning questions. Maria is a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work and is licensed in California and New York.

Stopping the guilt trips is something you don't have control over. The best you can do is to change your behavior which in turn, may modify hers.

The next time she launches into the verbal assaults, calmly interrupt her and say that you didn't come to be beaten up and will leave if it continues. If it does, then it's critical that you do leave. Be consistent and repeat this as often as necessary spending the time you would have otherwise spent with her to take an item off your to-do list or better yet, to put your feet up.

My hunch is that your mother's nastiness is a thick, ugly cover for what are most likely feelings of sadness and disbelief that things didn't work out as she imagined they would. No one ever expects that they will need more help than their family can provide or that can be managed at home. While this truth makes for a difficult adjustment to a facility, sticking around to absorb the verbal blows only communicates to her that she is dealing with her feelings in a justifiable way and she is not.

The truth is that caregiving becomes unmanageable and unhealthy for any one person when it reaches the level of involvement you've described. Outside help and respite become essential and even that assistance isn’t always enough. Unless your father had the funds and the space to arrange for around the clock help at home, it sounds like he did what was necessary for both of them. Hearing this from other family caregivers in a support group setting might be very beneficial for him. If you think he’d consider it, the social worker at the nursing home should be able to do a simple search for a caregiver support group in the area.

Lastly, make no mistake about it: your mental exhaustion is as clear a sign as your body knows how to send that you are doing too much. I'm happy to know that you have a cousin in the picture, but you need more hands on deck. To get them, make an honest list of all the things that don't absolutely need to be done by you (follow-up e-mails, calls, letters, etc.) and ask your siblings to step up to the proverbial plate. Who says the person who lives closest should have to shoulder it all?

Community Answers

Galowa answered...

Dear BellaMia,

I'm with you... believe me. I am SO sorry for your mother, but MUCH sorrier for you. I'm now going to give you the best advice I ever received from someone else in this position. AND it is very much in line with what the expert has recommended - just a little more DIRECT.



Whenever you would normally call or visit her next - do so. BUT AS SOON AS SHE STARTS to make you feel bad - leave. Of course, if on the phone, SAY GOODBYE AND HANG UP.

This actually WORKS. My mother has Alzheimer's Disease, and even SHE "gets it." "No tickee, no laundry..." No play nice, no visit." PERIOD. Actions speak louder than words. HER ACTIONS are certainly getting through to YOU - aren't they?

Good luck!

An hour 4 me answered...

I took it one step further with my dad. when the BS starts I simply said " Your behavior is un- acceptable." I didn't threaten to leave. If the above phrase didn't stop the behavior I said "I'll return when you can speak in a civil tone." Then I left. Let her stew in her own juices. Also teach dad to do the same. Support Dad when he succeeds. Return on your next regular visit. Rinse repeat. Undoubtedly theres sadness and pain for all involved but until mom gets a grip at least you wont get beaten up. And she will learn

Galowa answered...

Hi to "An Hour 4 Me,"

The problem I had with

" Your behavior is un- acceptable."

was that it inevitably led to a "DISCUSSION." In and of itself a discussion is not bad, unless you are having it with a LUNATIC. So I personally do not recommend the "warning" route. Perhaps my werewolfess is just more argumentative than yours!

All I know is that with my mother, getting to HAVE an argument is just as good as WINNING ONE...



LOVE to US!!!!!!!!!


A fellow caregiver answered...

I have been a registered nurse for 30+ years, most of those involved in long-term care settings. It is common for our new residents to express anger and do their best to make their loved ones as upset about the decision to place them a nursing home as they are. This behavior often consists of crying, yelling, threats, etc. They are striving to get control over some portion of their lives - even if that control is to attempt to contol their family by trying to lay a guilt trip on them. It is never an easy process. Think about it - they are in a small, unfamiliar room with few of their precious and beloved personal belongings, they suddenly have to sleep alone (without their spouse), they have baths in front of total strangers, they have set times to eat, to participate in restorative care and activities, and may have a roommate that is unknown to them. It is very frightening, depressing and discouraging for them. Often, family members are a safe target - you will still love them even when you are hurting or mad at them. They don't vent at the nursing staff because they are afraid it will impact the care that they receive (it doesn't - we truly do understand how hard this transition can be but love them anyway). I always visit with the families who tour our facility to tell them to expect this behavior, that it is normal and eventually, their loved one will come to terms with being in the nursing home. If we do our jobs right, it becomes a safe and secure environment, nurses are there to evaluate them and help them when needed, we try to help strengthen them and attend to their needs. On average, the process takes about 6 months from time of placement to acceptance. You are not alone! Hang in there -it will get better! Often times facilities have family support meetings - if yours doesn't, talk with social services to see if they would consider setting one up. Good luck and God bless!

Galowa answered...

Greetings Everybody!

I'd LOVE to place my mother in the responding nurse's (Anon's) facility, but I think, unfortunately, places like hers are few and far between ...

She is right, of course - eventually new residents settle down and find their "sea legs" in their new environment. However, from what I have experienced and witnessed, this "settling down" does NOT always carry over into a "settling down" in relationships with close family.

The fact is, in the minds of MOST LTC residents, they didn't (and DON'T) need LTC in the first place! As a result, as long as they are aware enough to know they are IN LTC, they will complain about it to those they blame for "putting them there..."

They do, of course, eventually adjust to, and even thrive in the new environment, even building new "family ties."

HOWEVER, as soon as close family members from their past lives arrive on the scene... they start in with the accusations and demands - eventually working their way through their entire repertoire of emotional blackmail all the way to the pleading and crying. What most family members don't know is that the minute we are "out of sight," "off site," "out the door," etc.- a miraculous transformation takes place. Our loved ones go back to their new lives with their new friends and "family units," and it's like we were never there!!!

OH BOY - did THIS ever gall me after I was finally afforded an opportunity to "witness it." In fact, I was so shocked by this revelation I went out of my way to catch glimpses of it several times before I really believed it. But it's TRUE! BELIEVE IT...

We humans are very complex beings capable of surviving - even thriving - in may different environments or "realities." The problem, I think, is that we can only manage one reality at a time... and when we visit our loved ones in LTC, they are confronted with this "mixing" of two separate and irreconcilable realities.

Consequently, the abusive, pathetic, angry behaviours we, as family, experience from our loved ones when we visit, may never change. Which is the reason it is so important for US to have strategies for coping with these behaviours.

If, as in my situation, your loved one has dementia, you will NEVER successfully "reason" with him or her. However, there are THREE approaches which worked for me when I had my mother in a memory care facility for seven months.

These are:


This is outlined in greater detail in my earlier post on this thread... I think this works because, while our loved ones MAY have lost the ability to "reason," they usually still have the capacity to be "trained."

2) When planning a visit, IF POSSIBLE, plan to take your loved one out of the facility for real world activities.

When the visit takes place in OUR WORLD - residents tend to forget theirs... AND, when the visit is over, drive them to the front door, having made sure to arrange in advance, for a STAFF MEMBER to meet your car, assist them OUT OF YOUR CAR and escort them back into their world. MAGIC.

3) If you MUST visit in "their world" DO NOT allow any time during the visit to be spent "lingering" in the privacy of their "room..."

This personal, private space is the number one location for crying, complaining, carrying on, and berating you. INSTEAD, try to visit when there is an event or activity going on in "their world" which is something in which you can participate together - even if you just go and share a meal in the dining room. If that's not possible, find an open place to conduct your visit such as a lounge, or living room area - any COMMON SPACE, any PUBLIC SPACE, any HIGH TRAFFIC SPACE - because they are less likely to create a scene of any kind where it can be witnessed by facility staff, or their new "friends" and peers...

Hopefully, one or more of these strategies will prove helpful to somebody. For me, they were hard-learned lessons, but WELL WORTH the LEARNING.

I still heard complaints, but they were actually LEGITIMATE, SPECIFIC complaints about aspects of my mother's life in memory care... These complaints I was actually able to do something about! I could bring them up to the administrator! They were complaints which actually made it possible for to get some action - providing an improved living experience for my mother! (What a relief it was for me, not to BE the problem!)

The bottom line is that when a family member leaves home - permanently - everyone is suddenly forced to straddle two very separate realities. And this CAN be managed, but ONLY with some thoughtful planning and strategizing on the part of those still living in the "REAL" world.

Any way you visit, however - under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should ANY kind of ABUSE be tolerated by ANY party...

Hope this helps someone -even a little bit!



: )


Cordelia answered...


Just wanted to say a big "thank you" to you for your post. I've been enduring the harshest of diatribes from Mom for the past two months she's been in LTC. Funnily enough, one of the best visits was when we took her out of her room, down the hall to a little "penny auction" with snacks. But, we didn't make the connection that you illustrate so well in your post - take them from their comfort (or "moan") zone! I'll definitely try this, and the suggestion to take her out and have a staff member meet us. My husband has been resisting taking Mom out because he's fearful we won't be able to get her back to the facility after the visit. So, this may work! Thank you SO much!


Mochamom answered...

I can relate to all of the stories and answers above- only my situation is a little different. My Mom isn't in a facility, she's living independently in a senior apt. community. She is receiving a lot of services: meals on wheels, home helper (2 hr a day 5 days a week), visiting nurse who monitors her medications, and a woman from Senior Services who assists her with her bill paying and money management. Despite all of this she has become a very angry person and tries to bait me into arguments all the time. Her brother and sister barely speak to her for the same reasons and I am increasingly becoming resentful of the constant verbal abuse (and physical- she's thrown me out of her house twice...slamming my foot in the door the first time). It's a vicious cycle of verbal abuse and then anger at me for not coming around or calling enough. I read the book Elder Rage (great book btw) and the tip for this kind of thing was three warnings- I did something similar to that. I gave her one warning of "I'm not going to argue" and then when that went unheeded I said "I am ending this conversation." It worked pretty well until I "accepted" her most recent invitation to fight (a phone call) and quickly realized I had made a mistake. She also sends ranting emails and in those cases I either only respond to the appropriate parts of her email or I don't respond at all. It's exhausting and I find myself dreading her phone calls and don't even have a desire to go to her house. I feel guilty about that but I'm in self preservation mode now. The best analogy I can come up with is- just because she straps on the boxing gloves doesn't mean I have to step into the ring. Practice not perfection, right. Hugs to the all of you dealing with the same kind of thing:-)

A fellow caregiver answered...

My mother is 85 and at the point where she needs the support and care of a care facility of some kind. She is adamant, of course, that no such thing is needed. She is trying to pit me against my brother and sister, assuming I will take her side in any discussion of moving. She tells my brother about how her own brother was so helpful when her own parents were placed in LTC. Meaning of course, that she thinks my brother is falling short of the mark. She is ignoring the fact she put her own parents in "one of those places." She lays guilt trips on all of us, implying that if we loved her enough to help her more, she would be able to stay in her own house. For 6 months, I kept track of all the times I went to her house and did things for her. It averaged 25 days out of the month. What more could I do? I talked to my therapist and took a time-out from my whole family. Immediately, they all inundated me with all kinds of correspondence about how "selfish" I was, how it would make me sick to "isolate" myself from the family!!! They didn't realize this was actually my salvation! When my mom starts in with the guilt trip now, usually sighing that no one ever comes to visit (BS) or that it would be nice if I did her laundry instead of my sister because I always iron everything, or how my sister won't use her coupons when she buys her groceries, trying to make me feel sorry for her and come to her rescue. But I went through burnout already, and I don't think you recover from that entirely. Getting burned leaves scars. I realize now I have to take care of myself and disengage whenever the pressures get too much. No matter what ANYONE says.

Rosar answered...

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