How to Be Compassionate to Your Schizophrenic Mother
Hello Mom? Are You There?
My father left my mother when I was 13. My mother has schizophrenia. I was an only child so it was just me and my mother living in a two bedroom apartment in Philadelphia.
I can tell you that it wasn't easy but that would be an understatement. She would talk to herself on a regular basis and come up with language that only she would know. Sometimes she got so angry that it would frighten the neighbors; she would say embarrassing things that would make people laugh and then they would stare at me for my reaction. It was like I also had the disease through association.
About 45 years ago there wasn't a lot of sympathy for someone with mental illness. People just viewed her as crazy and there weren't many therapists or doctors that you could just go to like there is now--and there certainly weren't the types of medications that they have now for schizophrenia or psychosis. If she got too bad she would go to the hospital and get electroconvulsive shock treatment. That was the way things were.
It was difficult for me. My mother was an extension of me and if she was crazy there must be something wrong with me. I didn't know how to respond to my predicament but to be angry or tease her or to make a joke of it. I felt I had to put my mother down before any of my friends did. Somehow, I thought, that would make me appear different than my mother, but the only thing it did was to make my mother feel worse about herself.
In frustration I would plea to her to be normal. I would try yelling at her to change. Mom, can't you see how your behaving--stop that crazy talk! But my mother wasn't home, mentally--she was somewhere else in her mind. I wished she could be normal and meet my needs as a child but she couldn't. She wanted to, I'm sure, but she was incapable. It took me a long time to understand this. It led me to becoming a psychotherapist. If I couldn't help my mother at least I could understand her better.
Schizophrenia: Some Facts
- Schizophrenia is a thought disorder. It is not a person with a double personality, but a person experiencing strange and often unwanted thoughts. These could be paranoid thoughts or thoughts that one is seeing things that aren't there--like devils on the ceiling.
- Medications can help because schizophrenia is a dopamine imbalance in the brain. The medications may not completely take away the symptoms of schizophrenia but they can lessen much of the symptoms so the person can function.
- Schizophrenia usually surfaces in late teen years and early adulthood. It is much less common in childhood.
- People with mild schizophrenia can function in jobs. Many in fact can hold down a single job for many years while others might jump from job to job due to their behavior problems or difficulites in dealing with co-workers.
- Schizophrenia is genetic but having a schizophrenic parent does not guarantee that the child will become schizophrenic. There's about a 10% more likelihood that it would occur.
Mentally Ill Relative
How do you treat your mentally ill mother or relative?
Developing Empathy not Animosity
Empathy is seeing the other person's point of view along with the pain that they are experiencing. It was only after I got older, and experience the hardships of life, could I start being empathetic for my mother's situation. Here's some steps in developing empathy skills necessary in dealing with a schizophrenic mother.
- Use your imagination. Get some of your mom's baby pictures and childhood pictures. and see her as a little being with dreams and hopes until her unfortunate mental illness set in and prevented her from reaching these goals. Imagine if you were in her shoes, how would you feel?
- Set aside your personal agenda. Be with your mother without trying to change or fix her. Accept where she is in the moment. Don't expect her to be any different than she is now.
- Making boundaries. She is a separate person who has a totally different experience of life. Work on yourself. Remember that you have a separate identity than your mother.
- Emotionally detach. This is part of boundary making. You want to feel the pain but not be in pain. This is not easy and it takes a conscious effort to say that I am aware of your pain but I am not taking it on. Detaching yourself to the degree that her negative behaviors don't affect your mood.
- Let go of past traumatic experiences with your mother. If you don't you will be a person who walks around with open wounds--an easy target for anyone with negative behaviors, like your mother. You have to work on yourself. In whatever way you choose--perhaps finding help in a spiritual counselor or a licensed mental health counselor or therapist.
- Above all, she is a apart of you. And if you're nice to her, you're nice to yourself.
A Picture That Makes Me Empathetic to My Mother
Things to Remember About Mom
- She didn't want to be schizophrenic
- She's trying the best she can
- Schizophrenia is an amazingly hard thing to live with
- She is in pain every day with hallucinations or delusions
- She loves you and she gave birth to you
- She wants you to be kind and understanding
When I Visit My Mother Now
When I visit my mother now, I have to prepare myself. If I don't have an intention for the visit, I tend to revert back to an earlier time when I would allow myself to be angry with her or tease her or say things to her that aggravate her mood.
I think about what she wants from me. Does she want me to take her shopping? Does she want me to pick her up something from the store? I try to do something that she wants, because the visit is about her--not about me. She has a severe mental illness, I remind myself, she does not have the capacity to focus on my needs.
While with her, I am mindful of what upsets her and what things make her feel good. The fact is I know her very well. I have lived with her for many years and I know what makes her tick. I know what makes her angry, I know what makes her laugh, and I know what makes her cry. My intention is for the visit to go well and to manage my own feelings and my own ego when I am with her.
It can be done. You can have compassion for your schizophrenic mother if you set your mind to it. Having a good visit with her will make her day, as well as yours.
Let me know if any of you readers have similar experiences and how you are handling that difficult situation. Your feedback is welcome.
Healthy/Unhealthy Attitudes with Your Schizophrenic Mother
No, she's a person with a mental illness
They are symptoms of her disease--she's not doing it to hurt me
She is suffering
Active acts of kindness
Yes, she's toxic and should be avoided like the plague
She's acting that way to upset me and to make me angry
I am suffering
She needs to show more kindness to me