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I always say in my talks that my mother was a dictator in search of a country. She had no problem ordering me–and everyone else around. She was an “old school” Grande Dame who was comfortable ruling the roost, bellowing out orders, and using just about any manipulative tactic known to womankind to get people to do it “her way” (Lord, bless her–that’s the southern way to say something bad about somebody and for it to be okay) Caregiving my mom was an extreme challenge in finding my balance and keeping the ship of our lives on proper course. Even with Alzheimer’ s and Parkinson’s, my mother had a bigger-than-life persona and I had to learn how to be strong–and loving–at the same time.

I’m not alone. I know lots of caregivers who struggle with feeling intimidated.

I know  a woman whose husband is in a wheelchair (due to a car accident) and can’t talk or eat (he has a feeding tube) and still, he controls the entire house–with his eyes and body language. He fusses (moans, turns away, scowls) and his wife and their aides scramble to please him, and do all they can to placate him. They also avoid him as much as possible because no one enjoys his company. That’s a lot of power–without ever having to speak a word!

Even though my mom was a force to be reckoned with, I had to learn how to make decisions and follow through even when she disagreed. Some days were better than others. Some days she was in a foul mood. Some days I was the fussy one.

I had to break it down to 5 minute increments. I used to put a band-aid on my finger–something to “fiddle” with that kept reminding me not to get sucked into the argument, latest demand, or fall down the sink hole of her emotions.

3 Tips to Break the Intimidation Cycle:

  • Pick your battles, but once you pick one–follow through. Once you establish a new edict, you have to, have to, have to stick with it. “Intimidators”  look for chinks in the armor–and will attack with twice as much arsenal as before!
  • Do what’s right–and best for everyone. As a caregiver, you don’t have the luxury of thinking about just one person. If you’re a part of the sandwich generation or have a multigenerational household, you have to consider the other members of your family.  Doing “what’s best for all” is a way to measure and balance your decisions, and it’s also something to fall back on or “blame” for what you have to do. Consider yourself the general of a vast army, and it’s your job to look at the big picture–and to come out of the war as victor and with the least casualties.
  • Dig deep. Do lots of self talks. When you feel yourself slipping, second-guessing, cowering…leave the room and go take three deep breaths. Even if they’re yelling at you not to leave the room, leave anyway.  Be alone for a minutes and let the fear, hostility, anxiousness leave your body. Remember the overall plan, what’ s best–and go back in when you’re ready.
  • BONUS TIP: Are you a people pleaser–times ten?  We’d (I throw myself in this category) rather keep the peace than speak up, but when we stuff our emotions, they tend to come out in other ways–depression, overeating, apathy, anxiety. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of? Will they be mad at you? Is that so bad? Let them have their own emotions and that you don’t have to get sucked in. Once they learn they can’t manipulate you, they may give up–but it won’t matter what they do once you find your own quiet center.

Being an “intimidator” or being intimidated isn’t a healthy basis for a relationship. Breaking the cycle takes awareness and consistency. But I’m here to tell you that it is possible–to relearn how to talk with and treat each other. In small, but significant ways, we can change. But the only person we need to worry about changing–is ourselves.

Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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