Recently, my mother's neighbor called to share a letter written to "Dear Abby", which she had found in her local newspaper. As I live in another state, and had not seen it, she read it to me over the phone.
Dear Abby Columnist
DEAR ABBY: My 87-year-old mother is narcissistic, self-absorbed and extremely cruel. Her physician has consulted with my sister and me and verified these challenging traits. When she says something or acts out, she'll say, "I am who I am, so don't expect me to change."

How can my sister and I deal with the needs of an elderly parent who continues to verbally and emotionally mistreat us and others? My sister is beginning to react in a defensive, angry manner (rightfully so), and all I do is cry and feel guilty for wanting to get away from her.

-Reached Wit's End in Loma Linda, Calif.

DEAR REACHED WIT'S END: Because your mother is behaving the way she always has, her unpleasantness can't be blamed on old age. The next time she acts out and tells you, "I am who I am, so don't expect me to change," respond by saying: "That's right. You are who you are, but I don't have to subject myself to this. If it happens again, I'm out of here." Then follow through.

If that doesn't discourage her unpleasant behavior, consider hiring a social worker or licensed caregiver to see her needs are attended to. That's not abandonment; it's self-defense.

The neighbor concluded by stating, “Sounds just like your mother, doesn’t it?”

Although my sisters and I didn’t write the letter, each of us could have.  The neighbor went on to say that after months of trying to be helpful to my mother, she had decided to take herself out of the picture, as she could no longer tolerate my mother’s behavior.

My mother is 82 and a widow. My father passed away September 29th, 2012. Since the beginning of his illness, a year prior to his passing, my mother has become increasingly demanding, self centered, and even cruel. Yes, she always was, but somehow my father was able to keep her in check. I often told him there would be a special place in heaven for him due to his tolerance of her, to which he replied, “Oh, it’s not so bad.”

But it was, it was horrible, to us and especially toward him. The older she got, the worse it has gotten.  Always a manipulator, she loves to play one daughter against the other. Unfortunately, too often we bought into her tactics, each thinking it would give us a breathing space, a respite from her caustic and punitive behavior.

In the fall of 2001, I traveled with my parents for two weeks to my father’s birthplace. He had not returned since his family had moved “out west” when he was seven. Our plan was to see the area where his great grandparents had settled in the early 1830s. We hoped to visit cemeteries, homesteads, and libraries to do research for our growing family genealogy.

My mother was a huge millstone during the trip. In hindsight, this should not have been surprising, as our focus was on my father and his family – not her. Towards the end of the trip, once again, my mother pushed the envelope and after so many days of superhuman patience, I lost it. My defense was to tell her, among other things, how immature she was acting and then clam up and “freeze her out”.  Admittedly, not too mature on my part, either!

A few days later she approached me with, “Can we call a truce? Could we try to get along?” I responded, “Sure, Mom. I would like to get along, but you make it so difficult. I think you would like it if I just disappeared and never came back. But, I won’t do that as long as that old man is alive. I will be back again and again. After he passes away, you will never have to see me again.”

Eleven years later he did just that and now he is free. Free of the year long illness that was so painful. And, free of the person who caused years of physiological and emotional pain. In being set free, he also set me free!

Thank you, Dad! I love you and miss you! And, thank you Abby, from those of us who are subjected to a "narcissistic, self-absorbed and extremely cruel" parent. We appreciate your support when we find it necessary to opt out of the relationship.


  1. I am sorry to read that you had a tough time with your mother, but at the same time you had your dad who was your pillar of support.
    God Bless.
    Bhavya from the AtoZ Challenge blogging at Just Another Blog

  2. I thought really long and hard before using this as it seemed too dark and personal to post in the A to Z Challenge. Then I thought of this quote, "What does not kill us makes us stronger." I love it and often think of it when dealing with my mother. So, in the end, I decided to post it thinking perhaps it would be helpful to someone who may feel alone in their struggle with a difficult family member.

    Yes, having my dad was an amazing blessing. That and the fact that I have his (and my grandmother's) sense of humor, which has served me well, and allowed me to bounce back from the really dark days.

    Thanks for stopping and commenting!



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