Do you find it easy to communicate and express your feelings? For me, it has been a process of surrender in progress.
When you are caring for someone with Dementia, it is just as emotionally stressful as it is physically demanding. I was unaware of how much I didn’t know until various specialists began explaining multiple medical issues on Mom’s behalf. Back then, I was in denial because I had feelings locked away, so I continually reacted to situations or people. I was responding to Mom’s behaviors and responses as if they were all personal attacks when we both had inner parts or ghosts from the past interfering.
Reflecting on my past, including adolescent rebellion, young adult ambition, and all the years of family drama, I can now see how my family was torn apart from Dementia as the catalyst. How could I live a similar life as Mom did without even knowing? I was striving to create a successful career and not become my parents when I finally realized I became what I was trying not to be because that is what I gave the most focus and attention to. Stuck in an old mindset of past experiences and failed attempts to fill everyone else’s expectations, I could not think positively or what I wanted for myself. This mentality created a victim mindset I did not recognize until I was a caregiver.
Stepping into this journey began with simple attempts to meet Mom’s needs, like picking up groceries or prescriptions, preparing meals for the week, or maintaining yard maintenance. The reality was that the unresolved adolescence became the boomerang that brought about anger and resentment. In an attempt to balance work, family, and Mom’s needs, the one approach that kept me capable of anything that resembled balance was to compartmentalize everything so feelings would not take over. I had mental categories aligned with matters of fact and prioritized by immediate need.
Throughout the early years, the anger I stepped into this journey grew with resentment and feelings of inadequacy. The values Mom instilled in me as a young woman seemed to evaporate in her as she declined. It was not fair. I continually wondered, “What did I do to deserve this?”
I stepped away from a growing corporate identity to become her essential caregiver, which seemed simple enough until I felt more isolated. Understanding my feelings helped me to understand Mom’s feelings. Not because she was expressing them clearly to me, but because I was eventually able to label my feelings so I could connect her behaviors to her feelings and what they looked like in different situations.
This realization was empowering because I could observe Mom’s behaviors or responses to understand what she may be feeling to act out or speak defensively. I could understand Mom’s survivor mentality even though the reality was far from that truth. Mom had also compartmentalized her feelings for most of her life while going after success as a philanthropic teacher. Our disconnect between Mother and Daughter did not magically appear because I chose to be her caregiver, and she chose me to be her guardian.
The realization that changed how I approached her was that we both had many different parts created from our experiences in life, leading to a victim mentality. Eventually, the panic of running out of time with her while trying to create a Mother-daughter relationship added to the old programming, old manipulative family values. The concept I was raised with was that blood is always thicker than water, which meant to me, I had no choice but to be her caregiver and eventually move her into our home.
Mom’s continued decline, as expected with mixed Dementia, forced me to recognize when I had met my limitations and needed to search for a memory care community. At the same time, transitioning her during late stage five aligned with the needs of someone with Dementia. However, this choice did not make me feel less guilt, anger, and anxiety.
I felt guilty for not knowing enough nursing skills, yet I also did not want to know more because of the shifting responsibility. I felt angry because I thought Mom was fighting my attempts to help her slow the progression, but someone living with Dementia has limited comprehension of the needs for special care. Then I felt constant anxiety from so many “what if” scenarios related to making the wrong choice that could result in injury or death.
These kinds of dilemmas create burdensome caregiver burnout. The victim mentality is unrecognizable when we say things like, “I don’t have a choice. I have to care for them.” In reality, we always have a choice. We may not like our options, but there are typically more than two ways to approach a situation. The victim’s mindset struggles to see a different way.
On the flip side of my victim mindset was Mom’s victim mentality. When it came time to make decisions about her care early on, Mom said, “What choice do I have? I have to do this?” Regardless of her lifestyle choices which led to her health conditions, she still felt like the victim. Mom often rejected my care because that was an attempt to control her life, even though she became dependent on others for care. As much as I tried to provide choices that would help improve her health, she often made the unhealthy choice. The embedded programming stuck no matter how much of her memory faded.
Mom’s victim mindset started as an adolescent after experiencing sexual abuse and did not receive therapy services subsequently. Feeling unable to choose her life’s direction was an embedded program in her nervous system. As Mom’s quality of life declined, her depression increased for various reasons, but what she could express the most were statements of victim mentality. Many of her statements were hurtful when I did not know any better.
At the beginning of stepping into my caregiving role, Mom was between stages 3 and 4 so she was still very headstrong and stubborn to prove she was a survivor. So much of her communication was the opposite of her behavior back then. Her actions spoke louder than her words. Reading her body language later became an observatory challenge to our silent communication. Knowing what mindset she functioned within made a world of difference by not taking her words personally later and still providing compassionate care.
I see caregivers stress more as they attempt to cope with their loved one’s victim mentality because, unfortunately, it can become narcissistic abuse. When our loved ones living with Dementia begin to feel the loss of control in their lives, the response of helplessness and betrayal may be projected onto you. This reaction is especially true for those with alcohol or substance abuse disorders and cognitive impairment.
In the later stages of Dementia, your loved one may become difficult to understand due to a narcissistic personality shift. These shifts often surface when they feel victimized because of their unrealistic expectations, hypersensitivity, and lack of empathy. Narcissists might play the victim to elicit sympathy and avoid responsibility for their abusive behavior. The caregiver stress response to this kind of behavior is what breaks the heart and creates the negative environment leading many to divorce or walk away.
The universe will present many stressful situations for us to learn from. Some experiences many pierce our heart or break us to create the victim mindset. I used to ask, "What did I do to deserve this?" And, now, I see what has happened for me to learn and heal from. I recognize the choices I did have when I previously felt I had no choice. If you are finding it hard to express your feelings because you think you don't have a choice as a caregiver, than maybe it is time for therapy to explore why.
Here are some signs of being aware of victim mentality behaviorally and cognitively:
1. Places blame on external factors or other people when things don’t go their way or wrong.
2. Has a problem taking personal responsibility for their actions.
3. Being overly critical of you or others.
4. Procrastinate or breaking promises from lack of preparation
5. They express thoughts often thinking that the world is unfair or unsafe
6. Catastrophizing or harmful pessimism
7. Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
8. Difficulty with intimacy and trust
9. Emotional unavailable
10. Limited empathy for others