WISDOM
What advice do you give to an adult son who is being abused by his mother?

08/04/2013

Dear Karen,

I have a friend who’s elderly mother has always been emotionally controlling, abusive and just down right mean.  I would describe her as “toxic”, just full of venom.  She seems to have never learned any other way to get her needs met.  I would say she is mentally ill.  Her son, my friend, is the only family member willing to make sure she is cared for.  What is your advice for the son in this case… day after day, week after week subjected to the assaults to his heart, soul and humanity as he tries to do the right thing for his mother?

– Sarah

Dear Sarah:

Thank you for asking this very challenging question.  There is no easy,  simple,  right answer. So, I want to know what advice you, the readers, would give this man?  Please comment below if you have suggestions to share.

I have been discussing this question with several individuals, and following is some of their advice:

Heather said, “The friend, Sarah, who wrote the question can play an important role in this situation.  She can continue to care, comfort, and listen to this man—over and over again.”

Agreeing with Heather, a pastor  recommends: “ Sarah should continue being a good listener and caring friend to him.”  Also, “I would suggest that Sarah should encourage the man, her friend, to seek help from a pastor or therapist.”

Several individuals said that, “This man should be encouraged confront his mother.   If encounters with his mother is zapping his energy and mental health, and affecting his other relationships, he needs to take action to change the dynamics of the situation.”

As suggested above, if he seeks help from a pastor or therapist, they could help him learn how to care and confront his mother.  A book which might also be helpful is, Caring Enough to Confront by David Augsburger.  (I like the title because Confronting is part of caring for a person, in this case, the mother).

One idea from this book which has helped me is to use “Care-fronting.”

“Care-fronting” is a way of to communicate with both impact and respect, with truth and love. It is “Speaking the truth in love.”

So in “care-fronting”  I can care enough to say what I really feel, and
I can confront by saying what I really want.

Using ”I” messages:   the man might say to his mother, “ I am angry.  I feel rejected.           I  don’t like blaming or being blamed.”  He is telling his mother how he feels.

Then he tells her what he wants:  “I want the freedom to say yes or no”. “ I want a respectful relationship with you.”  “I want to look forward to visiting you.”

Care-fronting is telling the truth in love.

Often, as Christians, we say that Jesus wants us to be suffering servants.  That is true, but Jesus does not call us to be doormats and destroy our own lives.  There is “Care-fronting.”

Following are some examples from the Bible:  (From Caring Enough to Confront,
Augsburger:)

To the rich, vain, conceited young ruler, Jesus listened, responded clearly, then looked at him and loved him. Caring.  Then Jesus confronted.  “Go, sell all, give to the poor; and come follow me.”  (Mark 10)

To the would-be executioners of an accused adulteress, Jesus listened, waiting to hear their persistent questioning, to record all charges in the dust.  Caring  Then He said, “Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her.” Confrontation

Jesus cared and confronted.  He spoke truth in love.  May we do the same. Amen

Blessings,

Karen

Other Responses:

One man, Phillip, said, “There is a strong bond between a child and his or her parent—even if the parent is abusive.  Often the child wants to be accepted and valued by the parent.  If this man walks away, he will probably regret it in years to come.”  So, I would add, he has to find a way to improve the situation.

I also talked to one woman, Jan, who cared for her mom and her mom was so negative.  Nothing Jan could do was good enough and everyone was incompetent and rude.  Her mother died two years ago and now Jan wishes that she would have worked harder to understand what caused her mom to be so negative. She wonders, “What happened in her life to make her a crabby negative old woman?  Of course, Jan says, now it is too late to explore that subject.

Jan would advise this man to explore why his mother acts like she does.  I am wondering if the mother might agree to some counseling.  (Sometimes older people are aching to be noticed and pampered and like to be the center of attention—like she would be with a counselor.)  However, since the mother is elderly and possibly mentally ill, the likelihood of her changing is small.

But even if the mother refuses to change, seeing  a counselor, would probably be very helpful for the son.  He could get some advice on how to “be with his mother” and not be consumed by her attacks. Maybe if he understood his mother then he could adjust his attitude and feelings toward her.

Talked to one woman who cared for her mom and her mom was so negative.  Nothing Jan could do was good enough and everyone was incompetent and rude.  Her mother died two years ago and now Jan wishes that she would have worked harder to understand what caused her mom to be so negative. She wonders, “What happened in her life to make her a crabby negative old woman?  Of course, Jan says, now it is too late to explore that subject.

So Jan would advise this man to explore why his mother acts like she does.  I am wondering if the mother might agree to some counseling.  (Sometimes older people are aching to be noticed and pampered and like to be the center of attention—like she would be with a counselor.)  However, since the mother is elderly and possibly mentally ill, the likelihood   of her changing is small.

But even if the mother refuses to change, seeing  a counselor, would probably be very helpful for the son  He  could get some advice on how to “be with his mother” and not be consumed by her attacks. Maybe if he understood his mother then he could adjust his attitude and feelings toward her.

As mentioned previously, he could learn how to “care and confront” is mother.

From Facebook:

What a tough one. I would tell your friend to focus on the time when he will be leaving this earth and how he will he surrounded by love, good will and no regrets because he took care of his mother. Surely he will be rewarded in this life for his loving ways even if he is being met with resistance right now.  To live a life of kindness even in the face of anger and meanness is a very special gift to be able to give.  I send him love and good wishes.  Jeanette for his loving ways even if he is being met with resistance right now. To live a life of kindness even in the face of anger and meanness is a very special gift to he able to give. I send him love and good wishes. Jeanette

If you have a caregiving question, Ask Karen.

Photo credit: Dave Clements

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