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Can someone tell me WTF is wrong with my mother? And what I can do re damage limitation?

(19 Posts)
BasilBabyEater Sat 20-Apr-13 08:52:32

Bit of background:

Dysfunctional, violent upbringing, father alcoholic, mother violent, cruel enabler but also victim of father's violence. He's dead, so that's one problem over. <Dances on grave> <Tasteless, sorry> DM has had a fascination with death and illness for years - will go to any funeral however tenuous her connection with the deceased, will visit people from her parish she hardly knows in hospital, etc.

Current situation: Last weekend we found out that my BIL has a serious, life-threatening illness. All week my mother has been phoning me every day with her funeral voice, ghoulishly monologuing about people she knew/ knows who had a similiar condition, what symptoms they had, what treatment they had, what their DH/ DW said about it, etc. I know it sounds demented, but she's revelling in it. She's always becomes more animated and energised when discussing illness or death, like she feeds off it. She doesn't need any feedback or engagement from the other person, she'll just go on and on regardless of whether they are reacting or not. I can't describe how distasteful it is to listen to - I came off the phone from her the other day shaking with shock and rage, so God knows how my sister /BIL feel when she talks to them.

I don't know if anyone can help. I want to find out if this behaviour is recognised by other people as being a "thing" and how they deal with it; and to find out if anyone has any ideas about how I can support my sister. She has a major drink problem and is still vulnerable to being hurt by mother's malice, which is seemingly limitless. I feel so bad for her that at this horrible time, she doesn't have a mother she can turn to for comfort and support and in fact has one who can only add to her distress. I don't know how or even if I can ameliorate some of the damage she's still capable of wreaking. sad

Sorry I know this is a bit incoherent but there is so much information to try to pack in so I'm not drip feeding and this post is already too long and now DS is yelling at me that he wants the computer. I need to go out for the day so can't come back for a while but would be grateful for any advice.

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 20-Apr-13 09:07:35

I don't know the official term ... schadenfreude is more gloating about others' misfortune ..... but there are certainly a body of people who aren't happy unless they have something grim to obsess about. I think they're basically very bored and very boring people who treat others' bad news as a form of entertainment. The equivalent of 'La Crocheteuse'... the woman sat at the foot of the guillotine happily knitting as it went about its grisly work. Either that or, because their own lives are miserable, they actively seek out others in a worse situation.

How you deal with it, I think, is to cut the conversation short. As for your sister, simply offer support, moral and practical. Tell her to take no notice of Mrs Dementor. Good luck

forgetmenots Sat 20-Apr-13 10:22:12

Hi OP.

I don't have much help to offer I'm afraid, only to say that I used to work with someone like this. She genuinely thought she could have a day's 'compassionate leave' to go to a funeral for her mum's friend's sister, and seemed to be at funerals every other week, read the obituary columns, was also a hypochondriac about her own illnesses.

It got very hard when another colleague suffered a very sudden and close bereavement as she felt this lady was looking for the juicy details, as if it was gossip or good news. We had to say to our morbid colleague that we found her interest in all things death-related really strange and could she perhaps tone it down as she was upsetting the bereaved?

She went apoplectic, saying that death was part of life and we were all in denial, that we should all wake up. This ended in her pointing at a heavily pregnant colleague and saying 'I mean, your child will die one dy too, that's life, deal with it.' She was spoken to by a manager who was worried about her mental state and health. She left te company soon after for another job but I often wonder if she was suffering from some kind of compulsion.

How do you think your mum would respond if you broached this with her?

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 20-Apr-13 10:32:48

Your mother certainly seems narcissistic in nature and is certainly a very damaged individual personality wise.

No point at all in talking to your mother about her behaviours; she would never listen to any reasoned argument you put forward.

Why though are you listening to her at all and giving her any headspace, why are you not seemingly screening your calls?. Where are your boundaries with regards to your mother?.

Your sister unfortunately can only help her own self; her relationship with her mother is not actually something you can involve yourself in. You need to protect yourself from both your mother's dysfunctional behaviours and your sister's alcoholism.

springyhappychick Sat 20-Apr-13 11:17:51

It sounds to me that you're trying to manage the unmanageable. Your mother appears to have a MH/personality disorder and your sister is an alcoholic. You appear to have an extremely disordered family, which is not surprising given the details you have posted about your childhood.

Join the club. Have you had any therapy/done any work re your family? You will find with an alcoholic that, when push comes to shove, they have their first and foremost love and that everything else comes a poor second. Her husband's illness will register but will very probably push her deeper into her addiction - unless she addresses it. If you are busy picking up the pieces then you are helping her to avoid addressing the problem iyswim.

When your mother makes her ghoulish calls, are they to you or to your sister? If to you then cut it short; if to your sister then it's for your sister to deal with. I doubt very much if your mother will listen to any reasoning about her relish of illness/death so it is left to you to set boundaries that prevent her spilling her inappropriate fascination all over you.

It's good to get some info about disordered families/behaviour and it may be an idea to look at codependence to perhaps look at your own behaviour, too.

I appreciate you didn't ask for the info I am posting but the effect of eg your mother's/parents' disorders will be felt throughout the family and it is not uncommon for each member to rely on an addiction as a means of coping.

BasilBabyEater Sat 20-Apr-13 12:50:26

Back for half an hour before rushing out again. LOL at Mrs Dementor, what a brilliant nickname for her. Yes that's what she does, sucks the joy and pleasure out of anything.

You're all right to remind me that I can't manage my sister's relationship with my mother, I think I just needed that confirmed. I normally don't put up with her mithering on - she calls nearly every day but it's only for 2 minutes at a time, I don't engage. It's only this week for some reason I let her blab on and I must remind myself to cut her short. Forgetmenots, Attila's right, no point confronting my mother re her behaviour, she's beyond reason.

I suppose I am worried that my mother will be a source of pain for my sister when she has so much pain to deal with already. More than worried: I know she will be. But I can't do anything about that can I? sad I suppose I feel guilty I've managed to detach myself from my mother reasonably successfully, I put very firm boundaries on when and how she's allowed in my life (I've had counselling to help me do that) - my sister never has never quite managed that, but she managed to keep her at arm's length by using her DH as a sort of "gatekeeper" and also by moving physically further away from her.

But yes, I don't think I can manage the unmanageable. I suppose I just have to recognise that I can't protect my sister from my mother's malevolence. And I hadn't thought about her drinking getting worse but you're right springyhappychick, that could happen. sad Thanks for those links.

Anniegetyourgun Sat 20-Apr-13 15:27:32

La Tricoteuse innit Cog? <pedant>

CogitoErgoSometimes Sat 20-Apr-13 15:39:18

Yes you're right Annie.... Tricoting away she was. smile

Stepmooster Sat 20-Apr-13 15:56:11

Hi Basil, just wanted to say my mother was exactly the same. She was an abusive, narcissist and in the end an alcoholic. She delighted in the attention she got when relaying gory details of a motorbike accident she witnessed. It was truly sickening. She was even going to go to the coroners hearing (is that the right term?) But my sister and I told her we'd disown her if she did. Couldnt let my mother loose on the poor fellow's grieving family.

In the end my sister and I cut our ties with mum, although it was because she became violent and had a habit of making false allegations to the police about us/whoever. She just loved the attention the police gave her. Most of her siblings cut their ties in the end too, and only one remained in touch at the time of her death. TBH your sister knows by now what kind of woman her mum is.

It used to worry me more about the nice caring people who met my mother and befriended her. She told them heartbreaking and false stories for sympathy and attention. But alas you can't change someone, and I spent many years trying to 'save' her to no avail. Absolutely pointless exercise and will only tie you up in knots as you ultimately fail.

BTW I totally get the <Dances on grave> <Tasteless, sorry> part.

BasilBabyEater Sat 20-Apr-13 20:20:20

Lordy, your mother sounds like mine Stepmooser, that sort of inappropriate involvment is exactly what she'd go in for.

It does seem to be a "thing". I mean, in conjunction with other things. (My mother also has OCD, for example.) I know the medical profession have described Munchhausen's Syndrome and hypochondria (my mother's GP tells her she's a medical phenomenon) but that step further of not only being interested in your own illness, but in any random person's illness - I don't know if that's a common, recognised disorder.

Chubfuddler Sat 20-Apr-13 20:25:29

It sounds like a firm of munchausen's by proxy doesn't it? Whatever it is it doesn't really need a fancy label though, it's fucked up and you know it. You just need to protect yourself from it. It's hard but detaching, at least emotionally, is the only way.

Sorry about your BIL he must be going through hell with an alcoholic wife on top of his diagnosis.

BasilBabyEater Sat 20-Apr-13 22:40:19

Well... he doesn't realise she's an alcoholic, he's one too. Neither of them would call themselves alcoholics, they're deep in denial and they validate each other's drinking.

Funny you should say it is a bit like munchhausens by proxy except that as I understand it, that's when people actually go out of their way to make other people ill. This is one step before that, just being attracted to illness. I have on occasion thought that if I were growing up today, she may well have been on the radar for that though - she used to take me to the doctor's a lot and insist on second opinions and tests. I remember being dressed up in very smart clothes, almost like wedding outfits, every time I had a hospital appointment and then being taken to school in those clothes when everyone else was wearing uniform. There was an element of attention-seeking in it - someone normal would have got me into my uniform as normal, but she dressed up as if it were tea at the Ritz. I'm absolutely sure that nowadays, her behaviour would have been clocked as very odd.

springyhappychick Sun 21-Apr-13 19:30:17

he doesn't realise she's an alcoholic, he's one too

oh Lor <groan>

BasilBabyEater Sun 21-Apr-13 21:43:38


Yep, I'm afraid my family is a bit of a car-crash.

Hence me trying to detach as much as possible.

This thread has helped me focus, thanks.

springyhappychick Sun 21-Apr-13 22:31:32

I've sacked my family for less!

Moanranger Sun 21-Apr-13 23:51:19

I have an aunt exactly like this. I think she is narcissistic & has screwed up her children. I stopped taking my kids to visit as her obsession with other people's illnesses etc distressed them too much. It is probably some sort of personality disorder. Not too difficult to avoid/minimise contact with an aunt, trickier if it's your DM.

tangerinefeathers Mon 22-Apr-13 09:51:13

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

garlicyoni Mon 22-Apr-13 10:22:32

The only thing I'd like to add to your very constructive replies is that it might help your sister somewhat to acknowledge what your mother's like? In my family, we all kept up the pretences until I decided to break the mould - sure, nobody thanks me for it, but I'm not suggesting anything dramatic to you ... just call your mum the Dementor when you speak to your sister, ask her how she's coping with the grim phone calls?

For yourself, obv, just remember to shut her up / ring off when it gets too much, and free yourself from any desire to 'help' her. All the best!

evaeoin Mon 22-Apr-13 23:29:12

i have a mother very like this. she delights in illness/problems/deaths etc. loves funerals - could spend days supporting the families at the time of funeral but there wouldnt be a mention in the following weeks/months etc.
she drains the life from me. if you are lucky enough that its only phone calls (and not daily visits like in my case) i would cut them very short and almost have an out of body moment til you can get her off the phone. if you felt up to it you could try as best you can to support your sis and just leave your mam and her neurosis parked somewhere and call it mental.

my mam cant understand why i dont tell her all my problems even when i dont have any! when i do she would literally be the last person on earth i would turn to - have learned the hard way - it just feeds their addiction to misery. deep down they are hard faced unfeeling people who really dont care anyway but if you accused them of it they would be apolaptic(sp!) with shock! its narcissim no doubt.

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