ringing a bell to get help from a servant

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion. I’m not here to get you angry. If you don’t want to read about carees who are emotionally abusive, skip this post.

Why is it somehow acceptable for people who need caregivers to be emotionally abusive?

Some care recipients have had strokes, dementia, or TBIs alter their behavior. Inappropriate behavior with a medical cause is not what I’m talking about.

Some people are just assholes.

My mother wasn’t the best parent, but she took care of me. Not like some other parents. I had a good childhood.

We were never close when I was young and we weren’t close once I was an adult. It was clear she favored my brother, but so many parents do. We did the obligatory parent/child things. Spent the holidays together.

I avoiding spending much time with her, because I found her to be a toxic person in my life. I didn’t need her criticisms of my weight, my choice of life partners, how I raise my own children. I have a happy marriage and children who are doing well and love me, but she was never happy with us. She made her disapproval known, not only to me, but to anyone within ear shot.

If she wasn’t pointing out my faults and failures, she was boasting about my brother. It always struck me as curious, since he’s usually in-between jobs, struggling with his drinking, and breaking up with his latest girlfriend. But this was just something I needed to accept and I did my best.

My brother calls me when he needs money. Or every year or two for bail money. But mostly he and I are both fine to live our very different lives. I wonder what our relationship would be like if she hadn’t coddled him while belittling me, but I do my best not to waste time thinking about it. It’s just a way to understand and accept why my brother and I were never close. He grew up being told I was a failure, how could he feel any differently?

My husband and friends all seemed to understand that while I didn’t want to cut my mother out of my life, I needed to keep my distance. Rather than being a source of support and wisdom, like some mom in a Hallmark card, she was a source of stress and self-loathing.

Few of us have Hallmark card families. I’m certainly not the only one with a strained relationship with a parent. It made me sad sometimes, but it was just one thing in a very full, complex life. I’d learned to accept it, as much as I felt I ever could.

And then my mom got cancer.

I’d worried about what would happen when she got old. I kind of knew it’d fall on me, but I’d planned for this by saving for both of our retirements. I anticipated writing cheques and managing paperwork when the time came. I had a good decade — or three — before I’d need to hire home health aides and companions and whoever else. Plenty of time to save. Plus, she has savings of her own.

Getting cancer at 50 was not part of this plan.

I guess it’s just as well, since she refuses to accept help from anyone but me. Why? Because she says it’s my responsibility.

She tells her friends, her pastor, anyone who asks that she’s just fine. She doesn’t need any help. She tells my brother not to worry about her.

She demands I move in with her. I agreed to stay with her while we was recovering from surgery and going through chemo. I wouldn’t have wanted to go through that alone.

Oh, if only I’d thought about what I was getting into! She turned into an evil princess. She demanded I wait on her hand and food, around the clock.

I knew I would need to do all the paperwork, run all the errands, do all the cleaning, and cook all the meals. I’d signed on for that. I didn’t expect to do them while she screeched bloody murder in the background. She wants these things done, demands that they’re done, but then resents any moment I’m not at her feet, waiting for her next command.

Her doctors said it would be good for her to get out of bed, get some exercise, get back to doing things on her own. She’s not supposed to be bedridden. But the bed is her throne. She’ll only get up on her own if I take that goddamned bell away from her.

It’d be one thing if she were simply demanding. But she’s also mean.

The names she calls me! She’s spent my whole life making it clear that she thinks I’m not pretty enough, not smart enough, not thin enough. They used to come as snide comments and backhanded compliments. Now she just yells at me for being a fat big, an ugly stupid lazy bitch, a useless good for nothing unappreciative child who ruined her life. Because her tea is too hot or not hot enough. Because she wanted the vanilla ice cream with the flecks of vanilla in it. Because I was busy folding her laundry and didn’t rush to her immediately when she wanted me to change the channel.

She gets up out of bed to wake me up to tell me to get her something that was on her nightstand.

All the yelling must take so much energy.

It took me energy to not just walk away. And then I saw her at the cancer center, walking around, laughing, getting up to get things for herself.

Why was I forcing myself to stay and take care of this horrid woman when she’s perfectly capable of taking care of herself?

Yes, as someone going through chemo, she could use some support. But will she die if I’m not there? No. She’ll simply save herself some yelling.

And so I left. Two months of her constant yelling, not letting me sleep, and telling me how worthless I am was enough for me.

My whole life, people have heard stories of my mother — or been lucky enough to meet her — and have reassured me that I was right to keep my distance. She is the classic toxic person all those women’s magazines warn you about.

But now that she has cancer, these same people are giving me a hard time about not staying to take her abuse.

Having cancer doesn’t make it okay to be an asshole. You can get frustrated, be upset, snap at someone in exhausted frustration and fear. But you can’t be mean to people for the rest of your life.

I read somewhere that in Cinderella it was originally the mother who was evil, but they changed it to an evil stepmother later on when the idea of motherhood became sacred. It was no longer acceptable to believe that a mother could treat a child that way.

I’ve spent my life not being good enough for her. I guess this is just one more thing to add to the list: abandoning her to die of cancer.

Giselle O.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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  1. Why is it acceptable for them to be emotionally abusive? It’s not. Just know if you try to leave, they might threaten to tell everyone you were the abuser and you might yourself falsely accused as well.

  2. Wow. I totally relate to you. Hugs!

  3. Your mom sounds like mine. She also favored my brother. I think she didn’t want a daughter because she loved male attention. I suffered greatly from her emotional neglect. But she got cancer in her 70’s. Thank God my dad could take care of her because I know I couldn’t take her toxic treatment of me. She died a year and a half after her diagnosis. I always felt she never loved me but she apologized to me on her deathbed. I never had children because I didn’t want her to be their grandmother. And I never married because of my parents’ tumultuous marriage.

    • I must say that my mom’s behavior was in great part due to her mental illness. Narcissistic, manipulative, selfish. She had every form of treatment and nothing worked. The day I moved out was my independence day.

  4. It’s a wise woman who knows when enough is enough and can walk away.

  5. Ive said this forever. Being sick doesn’t give a person the right to be cruel, especially when that person has always been cruel. Also not going to be a popular opinion, but I would absolutely leave her. Honestly I wouldn’t have spent holidays with her either. My father was abusive when I was a child and emotionally abusive when I became an adult. He’s toxic. I disconnected 15 years ago and my life is better for it. Don’t let societal obligations dictate your life, IMO. You can’t choose your family but you can have standards. If a person is that hateful then they’re obviously filled with unhappiness. Sacrificing your health as well is throwing good money after bad. Save yourself. And fk anyone who wants to judge you for it

  6. Fear. Fear drives the abusive behaviour, and fear paralyzes the caregiver. If we had proper support and funding, the dynamic could change.

  7. I understand. I nursed my mom until she died of colon cancer, she was a good patient and loved me dearly. My father though with dementia, TBI, TIA and strokes on top of half a dozen other conditions is different. Yes he’s sick. But he’s also always been selfish and is very verbal and mentally abusive to me. My mother carried most of this weight thru out my childhood and life, now I’m her surrogate. I’ve had to distance myself while trying to still take care of him and his needs and matters.

  8. Altho my mom isnt that extreme… I totally get it. My story runs parallel in every way but intensity. Mine is 96 and has lived with me since she turned 90. I feel trapped with a woman who has no filter on her mouth, is demanding and critical and now the memory is going I get to hear the same horrible comments over and over. I am glad Giselle was able to walk away. Dont let anyone shame you into going back.
    Would God that I had an option.

  9. Sounds like my life right now.

  10. Giselle I totally support your decision to walk away, you did your absolute best, why should you endure another second of that awful treatment.
    I can totally relate to what you went thru, experienced it myself.
    Bless you

  11. I am so sorry. You should have never ever taken on her care. Emotional abuse is emotional abuse regardless of the circumstances. There’s an old saying – make your bed hard it lays hard. When we see families step away from a sick person we as healthcare providers need to remember that indeed some relationships are toxic. Some people just can’t and won’t be kind to others. Families can get together and hire a formal caregiver if caregiving is necessary or the person can go to a facility to recover.

  12. Giselle, thank you for saying what needs to be said. The emotional abuse is horrid. May you stay strong, and find the peace you need.

  13. Oh Giselle…I am SO sorry you’ve gone through this. I’m glad you walked away. There is nothing anywhere that says you have to endure ANY kind of abuse from someone who has berated you your entire life. It’s painfully obvious that she doesn’t care. And you tried and did the best you could. I truly believe that God is pleased that you even tried. As for others…what they think of you is none of your business. You have a clear conscience, and that’s all that matters. God Bless you. It is a thankless and extremely hard job.

  14. It’s not always their choice to behave like that if they didn’t have dementia.

  15. I don’t allow it, it makes the client feel guilty and out of control

  16. It’s weird, my husband got what I would call demanding. As if Please and Thank you left his vocabulary. He was in pain, but that is not a good excuse.


  18. It’s true. Often times the person who needs the care is really verbally abusive. I guess they are pissed off to be in their situation. Frustration leads to this.

  19. Good job in walking away. Allowing someone, anyone, to abuse you like this is not loving them, in fact enabling someone’s abusive behavior is a very unloving thing to do to them. It allows them to continue on in unchecked, selfish, evil sin that will be judged by God.

  20. Seems to me, among other things, that the mother is on a power trip. She wants her daughter to jump and ask how high. She gets pleasure from knowing that she can twist her into knots, and she gets even more pleasure, i’m guessing, knowing that her daughter sees how she is around other people. She doesn’t need other people to do a thing for her, but her daughter can’t do enough. The mother would never dream of asking her son, a man, to do anything for her, but the daughter is fair game. i’ve seen that dynamic more times than i can count. People like that will never change, because controlling others and having power over them fills some emotional need, and it never seems to end well. The daughter was wise to get out. Hopefully, she can recover from her experiences and find some real peace and joy for herself.

  21. My boyfriend who has muscular dystrophy needs care. I’m his caregiver. The mother to 2 of his kids. He is very verbally abusive to me.

    • You have a real good excuse to pack up and leave. Your babies will see how he treats you and probably lose respect for you and possibly themselves repeat the same behaviors. Save your children, now.

  22. Get the hell out of there & don’t write another check! Give her house key to those who criticize you & walk away! Don’t be a martyr & take responsibility for someone who abuses you!

  23. I think the title of this is misleading.
    “Why is it somehow acceptable for people who need caregivers to be emotionally abusive?”
    It somewhat implies that the person has become emotionally abusive, though not due to medical issues, after they became in need of a caregiver. In this story, the mother was obviously a mean, abusive person before needing care.

  24. This article makes me very grateful for my Mom and her sweet, although confused dementia. Wow.

  25. Oddly enough a Rocky quote helped me when I was losing it with my brother. I love him. I will do whatever it takes to care for him. And yes I get he was going through an effing nightmare but there was a few times I just had to leave early,take a walk. “Nobody owes nobody nothin’. You owe yourself. Friends don’t owe! They do because the wanna”

  26. I stopped reading at, “she demands…” You give her the power. Sounds like she’s ruining your life. Put her in a home. Visit her on Sunday. She’ll get it.

    • They are usually problematic in the homes as well and the home sends them back

    • Yes it is that easy if the patient requires 24 hour nursing care. If not like this mother who was perfectly capable of taking care of herself but pretended she wasn’t to control and belittle her daughter. A nursing home cannot send a difficult patient back home either. They can encourage the patient and family to look for a more suitable placement but they cannot legally be kicked out.

    • Many residents of nursing homes are difficult. They don’t put them out unless they become physically combative and even then, there are alternatives. My husband improved after going into long term care. Keeping him at home beyond what I could do physically and emotionally was killing us both, not doing him any favors. And he’s a good, caring man. I wouldn’t devote my every waking moment to someone that was abusing me. Period.

  27. I definitely know how you feel. But, this time it is switched around. I am the one with cancer and also, the caregiver for my Dad and Oma.

  28. Being a caretaker means you take the abuse. My husband could be in severe pain, his medications are wrong, doesn’t know who I am, etc. Then when he realizes what he did, he apologizes. He is on 19 meds, has had 4 major surgeries in the last year and has stage 5 dementia. Be thankful you have them now, you might not have them later…Sure there are times I want to run, but you have to realize why you are doing this. LOVE…

    • That’s the frustrating thing, being emotionally abused, and then told you need to be thankful for having that person in your life. This woman’s mother did not apologise, and had been emotionally abusive to her daughter throughout her life- she had targeted the daughter alone.
      Being a caretaker in your position takes a world of strength, and I really admire you for it.
      Being a caretaker in the writers position- where she was manipulated and emotionally abused by someone who appears to have targeted her alone for her whole life- is something else entirely.

    • My mother told me for the time I could remember she did not want me and my grandmother made her her keep me. She would have a baby and put it in my room to take care of. My brothers and sisters thought I was their mother. My step father molested me at age 7 til 14. When I told my mother when I was 7 she told me to stay away from him. I ran away to a police station at 14 to protect my siblings. I refuse to be angry all the time. God puts everyone on earth for a purpose and we will all be judged in the end. My husband is a retired disabled vet, it is my turn to take care of him. I have learned that love matters in all things.

    • Your situation is different than the authors, your husband can’t help it when he’s nasty and recognizes it later and apologizes. This woman’s mother has been an abusive bitch to her her entire life.

    • Laura Laurs Borud so was mine..She died on January 30. All my life I tried to get my mother to love me, it never happened. But I did try. I am a better person for it. I was whipped with rubber hoses, wire hangers, given hot and cold showers. Given to my step father as his sex toy. At the age of 10 I was put on a bus by myself to go out picking in the fields to get money to her. I cooking and cleaning by 5.

  29. This was an excellent thread/discussion to follow. Thank you, everyone for sharing your experiences. It let’s do many others know they’re not alone. Very difficult and complicated scenario, especially when you’re an unpaid family caregiver.

    • Or have a disability yourself.

  30. I don’t understand it either. But my mom died last month and I would give anything to have her back. None of the hard times even matter anymore.

  31. Doesn’t give you a
    License to be an asshole or manipulative which I now know my mother was–wish I had been smarter then

  32. My mom was truly a kind, loving and giving woman prior to her brain injury that has turned to dementia. For her, it is something she really doesn’t have control over. If I hear that she’s going to kill me once a day, I hear it no less than 25. I have to let it go or it would break me….since no one is around to care for her, I let it go.

  33. Narcissism. Huge problem. I’m dealing with one. No one understands unless they have dealt with it.

  34. Sounds like a lot of clients I had, no wonder if someone offers me a caring job now I recoil in horror. Burnt out.

  35. I’d say anyone willing to criticize is very welcome to step in and take over!! Do not judge! No one can be in your shoes. She’s liable to be perfectly civil to someone else. I agree, past time to walk away.

  36. I posted a note on my refrigerator at one point in my life that said, “You teach people how to treat you by what you are willing to tolerate.”
    Sounds like it was past time to walk away.

  37. A serious, chronic illness does not just belong to the patient. It belongs to the family and the only way to do it well is to work as a team. Being the sick one does not give you license to be an asshole. I totally agree with caregivers who will not allow themselves to be abused.

  38. So many times we hear it’s the disease and not the person. Truthfully a lot of times I could care less what it is I’m just sick of it. In this case however her mother is mean. She was mean when she was well and mean when she had cancer. Truthfully if the dr said exercise is good for her there was no reason her daughter should have stayed unless she is into abuse. Sounds like a toxic relationship that should not involve caregiving on her part.

  39. I currently work with several caregivers facing these exact trying and confusing situations. I, too, will face this type of journey again. I have no answers, insights, or guidance other than do what YOU think is best for yourself, the situation, and the individual. On some level, staying in a toxic or negative caregiving situation directly bypasses and conflicts with the cliche of “take care of yourself” that society espouses to every caregiver. When does walking away become the best way to care for oneself? When it is right for YOU. Thank you for this candid, honest, open article.

    • I m in that toxic situation and taking steps to get out. Family members are complicating the issue.


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