How do you cope with an utterly draining person who you can't avoid?
December 6, 2013 7:06 PM   Subscribe

For various reasons, I'm in currently in a domestic situation with a family member who is really, really draining. This person has quite a few traits that seem narcissistic/borderline/non-respectful of boundaries.

I can't just leave and must spend most of my day around this person. How do I cope? Complicating factor is I'm an introvert and feel under contant psychological assault all day.

Long story short: I'm caregiving an arsehole.

Hope me?
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl to Human Relations (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Make borders. Enforce them, no matter what.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:20 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Firmly and politely refuse to take any shit whatsoever. Never surrender.

Forgive as quickly as you comfortably can when they back down/apologize.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 7:40 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The thing is, when you're taking care of someone who can't take care of themselves - if they're bed-bound, or just very ill - a lot of your leverage disappears. You can't just leave the house (you might be able to leave the room for a minute or 10). You can't just say "If you speak to me that way I again, I won't help you bathe/fix you a meal/help you dress."

I don't know your exact circumstances, but when I was taking care of my mom - who was not an arsehole but she was very sick sometimes, and in pain, and afraid - I tried to just kind of keep my mind as blank as possible when she was being, um, difficult. I cleaned the house with Great Vigor to work off some of the frustration. When she was asleep, I watched a lot of distracting, mindless television (nothing too heavy and emotional). I did stuff that would kind of put me in a zen state, where I would notice my thoughts or feelings without dwelling on them - played a lot of solitaire. Maybe you knit or something, or could teach yourself.

Get relief care if you can. If there's another family member who can come sit even just for a couple of hours so you can get out and do whatever, or if you could hire (insurance may pay? depends on where you are etc.) a home aide once in a while.

It's a tough situation with no easy fixes, which sucks. Sometimes there's just no way out but through.
posted by rtha at 8:02 PM on December 6, 2013 [14 favorites]

Understand what is driving the person's negative behavior (eg mental illness, sheer frustration/lack of control, etc.) and embrace the compassion that usually results from that understanding. Sounds trite but truly attempt to find it within yourself to rise above it (and them, if it helps to think of it that way).
posted by lovableiago at 8:09 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

It can sometimes help to picture yourself in a bubble, or protective light, or whatever image works for you, such that their nastiness or negativity just bounces right off it. I sometimes find that concentrating on my exhalations helps too -- like I'm literally expelling their energy from my body.
posted by jaguar at 8:18 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding respite. Any time of day for any amount of time you can get. When you get this respite time, make sure some of the time is spent being mindful of not losing yourself to the stress.

Also seconding understanding where this person is coming from. It does help, although for me only really intellectually and not so much deep in my heart.

I say this as a parent to a child with a diagnosed issue that makes my life very difficult. I am also an introvert.

I take walks, make cooking and eating absolutely pleasurable, listen to music a lot, read books so I have something else to think about, and sometimes watch mindless television.

There's always This Great Green to come and visit.

Please take care!
posted by mamabear at 8:22 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by pickypicky at 9:10 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fellow introvert here. Can you create something like "afternoon nap time"? I've seen this work. If it's a set amount of time at a set time every day, it starts to seem less like a negotiable "wish" or "want" of yours and more like a fact of life. Can your family member be alone for an hour?
posted by salvia at 9:56 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Furthering the following two statements:

"Make borders. Enforce them, no matter what."
"Firmly and politely refuse to take any shit whatsoever. Never surrender."

You can try to do this as nicely as possible, but if that doesn't work:

This isn't going to sound very nice. But. Be a fucking asshole if you have to. Feeling that you're under constant psychological assault justifies this. Say, no, yell the most hurtful, nasty shit you can think of that will shock them into different behavior. This is how you let them know that the old dynamic is over and the person establishing the new dynamic is you.

This was the only way I found to change the behavior of a particularly thickheaded person in my life. And it worked. I tried for years to change things while being nice, and I lost and got overrun every time. When I dropped that "nice" shit, I finally won. I feel better now.

Assuming this person still has their mental faculties mostly intact, they know they're being an asshole, and they know that as long as you are nice, they will always win because they are willing to go farther than you are. The only way you can win is to show them that you can and will go farther than they can.

These are the ugly details of what is known as "standing up for yourself".

I know it sounds shitty, but so many of us lead lives that are stunted and rigidly constrained by circumstances (usually financial). If you can't make the nicer options work for you, do what you gotta do.
posted by the big lizard at 12:02 AM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Coping With your Difficult Older Parent was a good book for me to read just to know it was a common problem, and I don't even live with my parents.

I'd recommend having very regularly scheduled away time, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:08 AM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

just because you are a caregiver doesn't mean you get to be walked all over. you are allowed to speak up and say "that isn't acceptable." "no." "do not talk to me that way." etc. you are also allowed to set boundaries regarding what you will and will not tolerate and do. i'd also suggest you join a caregivers' support group or some other support group/therapy to help you take care of yourself.
posted by wildflower at 2:19 AM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Living with anyone with a dramatic and eratic personality disorder is something like hell and it's near impossible to understand if you haven't had the experience (and very hard to grasp even when you have). Sooner or later you will need to get out.. the power of the pathology is such that it will break you or you may even begin to take on some of the traits as you become the 'container' for all their vitriol. Damn.. I've just erased a whole load of other stuff I wrote.
Here's a great book

You may also want to check out aftermath surviving psychopathy radio and the daughters of narcissistic mothers site. All of these disorders infer the emotional traits of psychopathy.

You are absoloutely not alone. Learning about it is at least validating.

Interestingly Rebecca Walker (Alice Walkers daughter) believes Alice is a narc and has bravely spoken out about it (they are estranged)... speaking out victimises the victim twice over as the abuser twists everything. We have a long way to go before the force of this is widely understood.
posted by tanktop at 3:19 AM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Stop Walking on Eggshells is worth reading.

When my Mom was ill, then dying, there were times when she was an utter bitch, and she had always been pretty difficult. I watched my sister, who has years of hospice nursing to draw from, just lay a big hug on Mom and say "It's hard, isn't it" or "It's no fun being sick" and Mom responded with less bitchiness, plus, just awesome.

Some illnesses are especially bad. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) causes a chronic, low-level panic, because you just aren't getting enough oxygen, and it makes people crazy-er, and they are difficult because there's an alarm going off, all the time, and they can't do anything about it. Yeah, Mom had COPD.

Draw on whatever love and compassion you can find. Go to the bathroom or someplace where you can be alone, and read for 10 minutes, or watch something funny on youtube. If your person can watch tv, play funny movies or tv shows as much as possible. Netflix would be a requirement. Does Arse-y like old movies, maybe shows from youth?

Music sometimes touches people in ways nothing else can reach. Find some music from Arse-y's youth and see if it helps.

You can say Arse-y, love, it's awful to be so sick, but when you're unkind, it hurts me, and doesn't make you feel better, so I'm going to take a little break or, as a response to something mean, Ouch, that didn't feel very nice. Not very often, but sometimes you have to call people on their shit. When you tiptoe around a dying person, somewhere they know it's because they're dying, and that can't feel good. Have a list of topics in your mind, and change the subject when Arse-y is dreadful. Arse-y, how did you meet Spouse? What were your parents like? What subjects did you like in school? Who was your best friend when you worked at ___? Tell me about your 1st car. Most people love to talk about themselves, and it's your chance to get family history - write it down or record it, if you can.

And take breaks. Go for several walks a day, being outdoors helps. Play music that you love, on earbuds if Arse-y really objects. If possible, go to the store daily or every other day, so you see other people.

Remind yourself that caring for a dying person is an act of compassion and courage. It requires strength and diligence. You are a superhero.
posted by theora55 at 7:14 AM on December 7, 2013 [11 favorites]

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