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My 87 year old mother is consistently verbally and

emotionally abusive to her sister...
My 87 year old mother is consistently verbally and emotionally abusive to her sister, my 80 year old aunt. My aunt is on the verge of a nervous breakdown or heart attack from the stress of the abuse. I want to protect my aunt, but I am unsure of how to deal with my mother. She has been abusive all her life. I stopped her abuse of me 40 years ago after I received counseling for two years and learned the proper skills to handle her. I feel an obligation at this point to protect my aunt, but don't know the correct approach to proceed.
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Answered in 3 minutes by:
8/10/2012
TherapistJen
TherapistJen, LCSW, CPC
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 3,701
Experience: Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Verified
CoachJenK :

Hi. Welcome. I am a Licensed Master Social Worker with more than 20 years experience working with individuals and families on a variety of issues.

CoachJenK :

I am so sorry to hear of this. I am sure in addition to you wanting to protect your aunt that it brings up many painful feelings and memories for you and your own childhood.

CoachJenK :

I am glad you have been to counseling to heal from those wounds.

Customer:

Thank you.

CoachJenK :

do they live together.

CoachJenK :

?

Customer:

No.

CoachJenK :

ok well that is good. How does your aunt cope with it currently...what does she do if anything to stand up for herself?

Customer:

She attempts to verbally defend herself, but she is no match for my mother. My aunt is kind and sweet. My mother turns vicious on a moment's notice.

CoachJenK :

and has she set a boundary for herself letting your mother know that she will not be able to see or speak to her when she is behaving in this manner?

CoachJenK :

We might need to set a very firm boundary here and follow through with the consequence.

Customer:

Yes, I was thinking of written correspondence to my mother because if I attempt to speak with her she will become angry and stop the communication. I have tried coaching my aunt, but she just does not have the skills or the fortitude. She worries about my mother's well-being and is not comfortable being out of touch with her.

Customer:

They love each other!

Customer:

My aunt seems incapable of setting boundaries. Should I intervene, and if so, how?

CoachJenK :

yes of course they do. so this may sound a bit off but if your aunt is willing to remain in touch even with the abuse and on some level she has accepted it, is it possible that you step back and let them negotiate their space?

CoachJenK :

If she doesnt want to be out of touch then she wont follow through with the boundary.

CoachJenK :

You may need to step back and I am very sensitive to the fact that this brings up so much for you.

CoachJenK :

they may just need to be in this dynamic and vent to you as they do.

Customer:

That is exactly what I have done thus far. However, at this point I am concerned that my aunt will suffer physical consequences. She is very nervous, emotional, and hurt. She has already had bypass surgery post heart attack.

Customer:

My aunt says she just can't take it anymore.

CoachJenK :

it is very frightening for sure. But she is deciding to stay in the dynamic. I might suggest that you talk with your aunt and ask her if she wants you to intervene and then talk with her about the boundaries and what to say when your mom behaves the way she does.

CoachJenK :

such as"

CoachJenK :

when you speak to me in this harsh manner, I am unable to stay on the hpone with you or i will leave the restaurant. Each time you treat me poorly I will remove myself from the situation. i am suffering from this and I want to have a better relationship.

Customer:

I have already advised her on how to stop the dynamic, but either she cannot grasp the skills I am trying to teach her or she doesn't have the fortitude to do it.

Customer:

Yes, those are the things I have told my aunt to do.

Customer:

Should I refrain from rebuking my mother?

CoachJenK :

and that is great and you must keep saying it over and over and you are right she may just not feel strong enough to stand up for herself. Would written correspondence in a loving way get through to your mom?

CoachJenK :

There is nothing wrong with being a supportive ear to your aunt but you may just need to endure it in the same way you have as it doesnt seem likely that this pattern is going to change easily.

Customer:

How in the world can I be loving toward my mother when telling her she is abusive?

CoachJenK :

great question....

CoachJenK :

Mom, I love you and care for you, but I am seeing something that saddens me so. I see how you treat....and it hurts her, me and you. I dont imagine you feel great inside while doing this. I urge you to look at your behavior so that you can relate to her more with love and caring.

Customer:

Yes, thank you, ***** ***** thought about phrasing my letter with "you are breaking my heart over this, Mom."

CoachJenK :

rather than than the you....say it Mom my heart is breaking over this. puts her less on the defense

Customer:

Okay, yes, I understand. Like you, I do not feel that this dynamic will change. My mother gets furious if she knows I talk to my aunt. She may retaliate against my aunt for calling me and telling me how distraught she is. My mother never thinks she does anything wrong. She thinks my aunt is always provoking her into a justified rage. Textbook abuser profile.

CoachJenK :

yes classic and so you know first hand how to deal with her and you may need to develop a routine where you and your aunt speak without her knowing...I am not a fan of secrets but in this case it is protecting her from further harm.

CoachJenK :

and rebuking your mom wont help as you know since she is unable to take responsibility for any of it.

Customer:

Yes, I already do that. And here is the catch. If I say anything to my mother, in writing or otherwise, she will be even more furious with my aunt, so I just feel damned if I do and damned if I don't.

CoachJenK :

yes you run that risk for sure. so again you need to be creative in the why you are writing now. if you have had a recent visit you can reflect on that.

Customer:

I have placed a call to a female cousin of mine who lives near my aunt. She is intelligent, kind and compassionate. I plan to ask her to visit my aunt to check on her physical/emotional well being. What do you think about that idea? My cousin has not yet returned my call.

CoachJenK :

yes that is a good idea. i am glad there are others close by who can check in and i am hoping she is willing.

Customer:

Oh she certainly will. We all love my aunt and my mother. And yes, I just returned from a ten day visit with them, so you are right that I could phrase the letter as though it's based upon the episodes that occurred in my presence when I was there, however, my mother is like a hawk and has a sixth sense - she will suspect I have spoken to my aunt. Oh dear.

CoachJenK :

I would absolutely reflect upon the visit that is the way to begin even if she is a hawk.

Customer:

Okay, another problem is that I normally call my mother every Saturday morning to chat and also sometimes during the week. Right now I am downright angry with her, which has not been the case in a very long time. If I don't call, Mom will know something is wrong. I suppose I will just have to face the music and tell her that I was upset and stressed over the dynamic between her and my aunt when I visited, and not mention that I know about today's "emotional altercation."

CoachJenK :

yes put on that armor and do what you need to do...she knows if she barks and bites that others will dance around her. This is how she wields her power.

Customer:

Absolutely. I have watched this all my life and was victimized as a child. Lucky for me, I sorted it all out in two years of therapy while in college and was able to stop this dynamic with my mother. She is on her best behavior toward me.

CoachJenK :

well use that knowledge and strength to get her to behave in that way toward your loving Aunt.

Customer:

I don't want to ruin my relationship with my mother now, but at the same time I feel a protective instinct toward my aunt.

CoachJenK :

I hear your strength...you can do this and I might then also acknowledge that you know how she retaliates and you wont stand for that either

CoachJenK :

I understand

Customer:

Alright then. I think I know how to proceed. My mother may get mad at me, but I can take that. She will try to behave more for me than anyone else because she values our relationship of course and she does know that I love her and have forgiven her completely for the past. I don't know how she can ever control her anger, but all I can hope is that she will try.

CoachJenK :

I agree. I wish you the best with it and please come to me anytime for support.

CoachJenK :

I applaud your strength and courage.

Customer:

Thank you so much Jen. I have never done this on-line counsel kind of thing, but this situation had me stumped. Thank you very much for your counsel. I'll talk to Mom on the phone on Saturday, after I have calmed down. And I'll still ask my cousin to check on my aunt.

CoachJenK :

perfect. I am glad you reached out. Please take a moment to click on the rating tab to offer a rating of my work. I thank you in advance. Request me anytime.

Customer:

Thanks again. All the best to you. Keep up your good work.

CoachJenK :

thank you so much.

TherapistJen
TherapistJen, LCSW, CPC
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 3,701
Experience: Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Verified
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Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 3,701
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