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How do I live with an abusive demented mother?

answered 03:40 AM EST, Sun April 29, 2012
anonymous anonymous
My 75 year old alcoholic mom broke her hip while drunk 6 weeks ago. She is due to be released from the hospital in the next couple of weeks. Her therapy assessment indicates that she is not longer capable of living on her own. I had not had much contact with her for a while and she is also clearly having some issues with dementia, probably alcohol related.

I do not have a good relationship with my mother. She is an abusive person. She physically abused me as a young child and has been verbally abusive to me my whole adult life. Because of this I have basically cut her out of my life.

Now she has nowhere else to go and no money to pay for any care. I have put her on a waiting list for a public long term care facility but I am told the waiting list is about a year to get in. It looks like the only place she can go from the hospital is to stay with me.
I don’t know how I am going to make it through the next year. I know that I have to do this (I have decided that I have to, even though I don’t want to) but she is still very abusive to me and to especially to my husband, who is a saint for allowing me to bring her in.

How can we survive this next year as a family without losing our sanity to this terrible woman? I am not sure we are going to be able to do this…

Dr. Ari Hahn Says...

Dr. Ari Hahn A. Hahn

Unfortunately, they don't know any way to guarantee that you'll be able to live through the difficult period of time with your describing. I do, however, have quite a number of suggestions from my own professional experience. I have worked with quite a number of families who feel overwhelmed because of their difficult family responsibilities. There are many many ways of coping and finding different avenues of support. When I do work with a particular individual or family can always find some sort of customized combination of coping and support.

Of course, you do realize that it is not completely rational to put yourself through the hell that you are proposing. Don’t get me wrong. If I were in your situation (which I never was, and never will be, Thank God) I believe that I would make the same decision and “rescue” the woman only because she is my biological mother. But it is important to know why you are doing this. The rationale for making the decision in the first place will give clues as to where you will find strength to go on when the going gets tough.

Is it a religious decision? In other words, are you doing it because it is the moral thing to do? If yes, how far does that moral imperative go? Do you believe that it is a test from God? Or an opportunity to be a good moral person in spite of difficulties and suffering? Is there a sense of guilt that would overcome you if you do not care for her? Or is it just wrong to be able to save a human being and not do it, even if she were not your mother?

You will need outside support. Do you have a community that shares your belief system that engendered your decision to help your mother? Do you have other relatives that would show appreciation of your efforts? Do you have relatives that would ridicule or degrade you for your efforts? If you have a priest, pastor or rabbi that will support you it would be helpful. Friends and relatives are good for short term and occasional support. They tire very easily. It is important to cultivate their support.


There are questions which need to be answered concerning how much caring your mother actually needs on a day-to-day basis. When you need to take a vacation from her how long you can get away from her and leave her in the house alone? Can you leave her alone in the house for three hours or three days? Do you have the means and ability to give her her own living space? How much independence can you give her in the kitchen?

There are questions which you will have to address concerning you in the relationship with her. While it will undoubtedly be difficult and painful to live with an abusive woman, you might need to teach yourself that she can only inflict as much real damage as you allow. Much of the pain of having your mother in your house will be a result of the terrible history you have with her. Her mean and evil ways inflicted much damage when were a child, but now you are an adult and her behavior will be more painful than damaging. But this is a perspective which is very difficult to learn and incorporate into your life. This is part of the process of therapy. I do not think that therapy will address your needs right now. Nonetheless, it certainly can achieved with the proper help and support.


I strongly suggest that you get a coach to help you through this difficult period. I specify a coach because in that modality there are two distinct advantages over having a therapist as a support system. First,  coaches are more available and have the mandate to assist you in times of crisis. Second, coaching is focused on solving practical problems and issues. A coach focuses on your own special strengths and coping mechanisms as they apply to your own particular situation. Additionally, the focus is on the present and the future; how you're going to cope now and for the next week. The therapist will focus on how your history of being abused by this woman is complicating your relationship with her at the present time. While this can be important and useful, it is not very efficient when you need to cope right away, right now.


While I'm sure that there are other coaches who specialize in this area of assistance, I am not really aware of it. I can help you if you want. On the other hand, if you look and find other coaches who specialize in helping families who were overwhelmed because of their responsibility to family members, please tell me about those other coaches because I typically take a very limited amount of clients and need other competent professionals to refer people to. Again, whether you engage me for professional support for somebody else, I think it is extremely important that you do engage a professional coach.

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Page last updated Apr 29, 2012

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