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Alex B. Dealing with difficult parents

Discussion in 'Ask a TMS Therapist' started by Guest, Dec 1, 2014.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    This question was submitted via our Ask a TMS Therapist program. To submit your question, click here.

    Since my father's death 5.5 years ago, I (an only child) have been my 85-year-old mother's pretty-much constant companion and caregiver when she is unwell. During this time, I have experienced many physical symptoms which went away via TMS awareness, journaling, etc. in view of this, do you have any hints regarding my day-to-day interactions with her, since she tends to be rather hard-to-please and controlling? I want to keep my physical symptoms at bay.
  2. Alex Bloom LCSW

    Alex Bloom LCSW TMS Therapist

    Hi, thank you for the question.

    First of all, I'm sorry for the loss of your father. Losing a parent can be one of the most difficult losses that people can face, and can create a lot of difficult challenges. It certainly seems that you are facing one of them, as your mother's care is now your responsibility.

    The situation that you are facing is fertile ground for the development of TMS, which we know you are susceptible to, based on your history of experiencing and subsequently overcoming physical symptoms. There are two big issues that I see here. One is your own capacity to provide care for an elder while caring for yourself, and the second is how the nature of this relationship triggers TMS. They are related, but let's go into each of these.

    The first is the most straightforward it's an issue that many adult children face. What to do when an elderly parent requires care? The first impulse very often to roll up your sleeves and get in there yourself to provide what is needed. After all, this is a person who dedicated themselves to raising you and you wouldn't even be here if not for them, so isn't it only right that you step up to the plate now that they need help? While your inner critic may constantly use that kind of logic, becoming the primary and "constant" (your words) caretaker for an elderly parent is actually a slippery slope that can end up being detrimental to both of you. What happens very often is that children of elderly parents will set aside their own needs and self-care in favor of doing what they see as their "duty". The result is fatigue, resentment and eventually burnout. It sounds like you are starting to experience this.

    The problem of course is that inner critic that tells you that you if you don't do these things you are basically a bad person, an ungrateful child, and so forth. But we can see that caring for your mother is a burden and is causing you stress! The pressure,anxiety and conflict that results is fueling your TMS. So what can be done?

    While I could give you advice on "day-to-day" things to do, this won't really solve the problem. It would be like adding oil to a leaky engine. Yes, it will keep the car going, but until you patch the leak, you'll continue to leak have issues.

    What you can do is begin to consider the needs of both yourself and your mother. This means finding compromises. I'm of course not suggesting that you simply pull up stakes and bail out. Far from it. But what it sounds like you need is some help, if only to give you time and space to do what you need to do for yourself and to recharge your batteries. I would recommend looking at your mother's insurance and see what kind of care-taker options are available. Again, this doesn't mean that they will be there all the time, or even the majority. But it is important both for you and for your mother that you give yourself the opportunity to care for yourself.

    By doing this, you can take some of the pressure of yourself. The anger and frustration that can be generated by caregiver burnout can further contribute to to TMS sessions. You may find yourself getting angry at your mother and then judging yourself for it, further enmeshing yourself in the cycle of TMS. By giving yourself some time and space, you can help diffuse that mechanism.

    Any advice or information provided here does not and is not intended to be and should not be taken to constitute specific professional or psychological advice given to any group or individual. This general advice is provided with the guidance that any person who believes that they may be suffering from any medical, psychological, or mindbody condition should seek professional advice from a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions. No general advice provided here should be taken to replace or in any way contradict advice provided by a qualified, registered/licensed physician and/or psychotherapist who has the opportunity to meet with the patient, take a history, possibly examine the patient, review medical and/or mental health records, and provide specific advice and/or treatment based on their experience diagnosing and treating that condition or range of conditions.

    The general advice and information provided in this format is for informational purposes only and cannot serve as a way to screen for, identify, or diagnose depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions. If you feel you may be suffering from any of these conditions please contact a licensed mental health practitioner for an in-person consultation.

    Questions may be edited for brevity and/or readability.

    Ollin likes this.
  3. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    I agree totally with Alex Bloom about making compromises when we have relationship problems.
    I have had to make compromises with family and friends on several topics, mainly politics.
    Now I keep my political views to myself. And I don't push religion on anyone.

    Being a caregiver is often no fun. I did it for my mom for two years and got burned out.
    She just could not be pleased.

    We should try to do our best as caregivers, but especially with a senior citizen mother or father,
    we should not feel guilty or angry at ourselves if we can't keep it up.

    My sister's daughter cares for her, but when it began overwhelming her, she called an agency
    sends a helper over twice a week, so the daughter has some time off. Churches and social/public agencies
    may have such help.
  4. Andy Bayliss

    Andy Bayliss TMS Coach & Beloved Grand Eagle

    I like Alex's pointing to the Inner Critic's role in our suffering and in our TMSing. I "take care" of my mother, and I am aware of the compulsive voice in my head that insists I do more and AM MORE for her. Its believability is couched in the words that Alex implies: "Look how much she has done for you. She is a helpless old lady." or even "You're a piece of sh*t if you don't [insert endless list of actions and attitudes that "please Mom"].

    For me, it is important to see this voice and disengage from my inner child's justifying, arguing, or pleasing. These conditioned-from-childhood responses to the Inner Critic keep me engaged. And I blame this on my mother.

    Taking my own space-in-the moment helps me discern who I really am ---from who I take myself to be (a child), in relation to the Inner Critic. I do this by telling the Inner Critic to BACK OFF three times, and sense into my body. If my own autonomous sense of self does not return, I use other phrases and use my body as a gauge to see if I am still caught. It is an experiment. Just seeing how I am caught is also a release at times.

    When I am caught in an enmeshed relationship with the Inner Critic, I feel trapped and blame this on Mom. Disengaging from my own inner coersive parent, I can discern that Mom is not the one trapping or attacking me. It is myself! Disengaging from the Inner Critic helps me be more loving toward her. I am more loving to both of us.
  5. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi, Andy. You are handling the caregiver situation wonderfully.
    The more you love, the more you care. And vise versa.
    Your mother may not even appreciate your devotion, but God does.
    So does your Inner Critic.
    mike2014 likes this.
  6. Ollin

    Ollin Peer Supporter

    About compromise - I find that even this word makes me tense, perhaps from my life history compromise for me meant putting my needs second to those of someone else's. This would surely be fuel for TMS... Maybe a better way is to:
    #1 get clarity about what both sides want and where their needs conflict, while refraining from impulsive judgements,
    #2 back off on issues that can't be immediately resolved (without dismissing them) and aim for peaceful coexistence until time and mutual goodwill heals some of them,
    #3 agree to disagree on things that cannot be compromised and keep on treating each other with respect.
    mike2014 and Ellen like this.
  7. Anne Walker

    Anne Walker Beloved Grand Eagle

    My husband and I own a home care agency in Texas and my 79 year old mother lives on our property so I have some experience with taking care of ones parents. One commonality I have noticed pretty much across the board is that most children( I say children although many of them are grandparents themselves!) describe their parents as being difficult. I believe that it is the nature of the parent/child relationship and the necessary role reversal that creates this impression. I heard an interesting author on the radio the other day and he said something I think is so true. He said that what children want for their aging parents is safety and what parents want for themselves is autonomy. It can seem as though our parents are very controlling but what we don't often see is how powerless they feel. Our company is frequently hired by the children of aging parents. And most of the time the elderly are very resistant to accepting help. It is frightening to become dependent on someone else and to loose the abilities we have always counted on. Even 5-10 hours a week of outside support can make a world of difference and help someone remain independent. Sometimes it takes months to successfully transition into accepting care from outsiders but it can help tremendously in maintaining balance and not getting overwhelmed and burned out. I also think it is important to find things that you and your mother can enjoy doing together. I know that is not easy. My mother is a hermit and depressed a lot of the time. She has a PHD and is one of the smartest people I know and yet she can spend days getting upset over a Time Warner bill. Small things become big things and it can take a whole lot of patience. I really respect your choice to take care of your mother. Believe me, you are not alone, and it is a very wonderful and worthwhile thing to do.
    Irene and Ellen like this.
  8. njoy

    njoy aka Bugsy

    So true "...what children want for their aging parents is safety and what parents want for themselves is autonomy." As I get older, the LAST thing I want is my kids looking after me. I don't want them fussing to keep me alive and safe, when what I want is to do life my way until my time is up!

    Yes, it's natural to try to help other people, especially those who cared for us, but the self-interest we condemn is also entirely natural. I think we do many of our "good deeds" not for the other person but to feel better about who we are. Taking our own needs into consideration is important for many reasons. We can't leave it to others to notice what we need. We know (or can find out) better than anyone else.

    I wish I had realized this 45 years ago when my kids were small. I forced myself to be at home 24/7 doing what (I thought) a good mom does. Instead, I could have found myself a part-time job (or continued my education) while they had fun for a few hours in a good day care. Then, I would have had happy times being with them instead of feeling mostly depressed, exhausted, and resentful.

    We give our kids the impression that truly caring about someone else involves huge sacrifices. It may, at times, but more often a moderate approach can be found.
  9. blake

    blake Well known member

    What a wonderful and informative post! I have been dealing with this issue myself. My mom has schizophrenia and I have been in the "parent" role with her since I was a small child. While we don't live in the same city and am only minimally involved in her care, spending any amount of time with her almost always triggers my tms, even though I've been working on this issue since starting my tms journey. I know all too week the anger-guilt cycle mentioned here.

    I have no idea what the answer will ultimately be for me, but I like the idea of finding middle ground. Part of me (the very small child part) does not want this relationship in any way, but other parts of me think this is too extreme. I guess it's about finding the right balance. Guess my symptoms will let me know when I've found it!
  10. lorrie

    lorrie New Member

    I totally get it. My mother started to display Alzheimer's symptoms right before the surgery I had. She was a scientist who was always there 100% for me yet the morning I had a possible cancerous tumor removed she claimed stomach problems and did not go to the hospital. I knew she had it and I suspected it was going to be a long grueling battle and it was a total nightmare, and one year before she died my husband's father died. Oh it was a marvelous time. Young teenagers, my pain, managing my mother's finances, yeouch. The day she died..she had regressed to a newborn basically...was one of the happiest (and of course sad) days of my life. I don't have any advice except I kept telling myself I was doing all I could, I needed the oxygen mask on first, etc.
    Irene likes this.

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