Dealing with a narcissist

Navigating the challenges of caring for a narcissistic grandmother with dementia and the complications it brings to a family, including financial struggles and the need for power of attorney.

Dealing with a narcissist
Photo by Francesco Corbisiero / Unsplash

Question:

I was going to give you the whole background story, but the reality is it won't help. Grandma is a narcissist who has driven away every one of her children except my mom. Even Mom limits her contact. When Grandma was no longer getting what she wanted from Mom, she went looking for something else. She couldn't obligate anybody else. Her grandchildren had all had brushes with her split personality, and weren't planning on caring for her. Here I am, not because I want to care for Grandma, but because she offered to sell us her house which then got twisted into a lease option contract when she couldn't bring herself to relinquish control. No one wanted Grandma's house. It had fallen into the kind of disrepair that gets demolished (i.e. foundation, termites, plumbing, electrical, mold, insulation, rodents, water rot, windows) that don't pass fire code.

The list goes on.)The contract obligates us to pay all property expenses including her utilities, but otherwise gives us the fluid income to make the necessary repairs. After a year of spending 1/3 of our income repairing the property we still have at least another 1/3 of next year's before we will be done making repairs. Thankfully we do all the work ourselves or these repairs would have surpassed the value of the house, and it would have been best to tear it down. Furthermore, the destructive nature of repairs such as electrical(which had burn marks by the way) would have been out of the question for Grandma who's primary concern is appearance over everything else; including safety issues.

One day this year Grandma decided she'd had enough of us, and tried to convince everyone that we voided the contract by fixing major problems in the house because the end result looks different than the original. She began calling all of my relatives to tell them we are here taking advantage of her, and that she is supporting our family of 6 on her social security. That we don't spend any money on the place like we "promised", and other such nonsense.(An uncle that lives 6 hours away, and feels loads of guilt for living away from his mom for 40 yrs, is certain all these things are true) She even tried to convince us that we were now just renting from her, and that she had our contract removed from her trust and voided. My husband very calmly told her we were buying her place (the contract is written so that we can purchase the house in 20 yrs or upon her death whichever comes first), and that contracts don't work that way. She spent a lot of time back paddling, threats of selling the house to keep us away from it, and, when that didn't work, threats of burning it down. When I told her about all the documents I kept as proof from the start she got white as a sheet.

The problem I'm facing right now, on top of the narcissism, is that she's showing signs of several health related elements that have me concerned. For one I'm certain she has obstructive sleep apnea, and has for decades. Lately she has shown every single classic symptom of congestive heart failure, and subsequently I believe she has early signs of vascular dementia. Dementia and a narcissistic personality disorder are a potent combination. I have been berated and belittled for things like a broken hose, or using a dishwasher. I don't have power of attorney, my mom does, and she spends as little time with her mom as she can. It took 6 months of a persistent cough, and a couple huge memory episodes while she was present before she heard me about the dementia. Grandma hasn't been in to see a doctor in years, and I'm not sure she ever will.

I'm confident she would be diagnosed, and I think that Grandma knows it, thus her reluctance. In the meantime she holds short conversations regularly with the out of state uncle who talks about us or exclusively about the news which is always on. He doesn't see it, and thinks he would recognize it in those 30 min conversations. I've never been guilty of wanting Grandma's approval, but it breaks my heart that my favorite uncle now hates me for things I'm not guilty of. Without a diagnosis from a professional I feel like I'm treading water, waiting for the next big blow-up to try and twist the facts. In the meantime I am just thankful for the foresight to get the whole agreement in writing, and for my silly obsessive need to save receipts. Any suggestions on how to deal with the distant relatives when a diagnosis is unlikely?

-Jacque

Response:

Jacque, You certainly have a lot going on. Dealing with a narcissist is like walking in a minefield. You never know what will set them off.  If they perceive you have even slighted them, they will turn on you.

There are so many different dynamics here. You grandmother sounds as if she is a malignant narcissist.  She is a master manipulator.  She reeled you in to take care for her by dangling home ownership. Her behaviors are classic. She has changed her mind to selling, to leasing etc.  She wants to make sure she continues to control you.

Your grandmother’s health issues may never get addressed. If she has not been to the doctors in decades, she cannot be forced to go now. Most narcissists believe they know more than anybody else, including health care professionals.

Since your mother is the legal power of attorney, you have no say on how to deal with your grandmothers health.  With that said, if your grandmother decides you are the better candidate, she can change.

Health care power of attorney is only activated if your grandmother is deemed incompetent or can no longer express her wishes to health care providers.

Right now you are at her mercy. And you are correct, dementia with a narcissistic personality can be a challenging combination. Dealing with dementia alone is a challenge.

You have to accept that you have no control over her health or her poor choices.  You are going to be forced to manage by crisis. A medical emergency will occur. It is inevitable. You need to prepare for that.

If she has no medications or medical diagnosis, it will be a challenge.  I would prepare and get things in order. Get copies of her Medicare and Supplement information.  If she has allergies, or takes supplements etc, put that information in a file that you can take to the hospital or provide to the first responders when they come to the home. Understand, that if she refuses to go to the hospital, the first responders will not take her. If she is unconscious or in a mental health crisis, or a threat to herself or others, then, they will take her to the hospital.

Until then, you cannot do much.  You can do your research.

As far as the extended family, your grandmother has a life long pattern of manipulation. She knows how to push the right buttons to get others to respond in her favor. Her brother is a perfect example of that. He wants to love and support her from afar. He lives 6 hours away. He knows she is toxic. However, you must understand, she will always play the victim. Trust me, no matter what the truth is, a narcissist will deny, lie, deceive and create drama to get their way.  I suggest that in order to protect yourself, you start to video tape her behaviors.

I recommend that you start a video/audio library of her conversations or tape your conversations or interactions.

While she most likely will deny, even when the video speaks the truth, you will have documentation to show other family members or the authorities when she falsely accuses you.

I would also start to explore your states law regarding an admission to a senior behavioral health unit.  You want to know the process to have her admitted when she has a melt down. And, with what you are dealing with, it may be only a matter of time.

With your grandmother’s personality disorder and her neglected health issues, you have a lot to deal with. Do not allow her to destroy you and your family. As a malignant narcissist, she has no sense of boundaries. She see you as an extension of herself.  Please try to protect your children from her emotional blackmail tactics. She will guilt them, make sure they know they have disappointed her and they did not meet her standards.

I know you have spent so much money fixing up her home in hopes of being your some day. You are paying a hefty price for that home.

Please feel free to contact me if you need more support. I do suggest that you join a support group of family members living with a narcissist.

-Diane Carbo, RN