My mom has always displayed very unusual behaviors that have raised havoc on our family. She acts feeble, has a victim mentality, and always needs to be different. If we go to a restaurant, she wears a fur coat in 90 degree weather, brings old Tupperware’s with her own food in it (filled with a conglomeration of meat, dessert, vegetables all mixed together) and pours water in it saying she has bad digestion. She won’t wear pants, only skirts because pants bother her legs. She can’t own anything nice or new — even if we buy it for her; she’ll use her old, gross stuff instead. She can’t be around anything that smells good (even if its all natural) but has no problem with things smelling bad. The list goes on … She always says she has some kind of sickness that keeps her from being able to do what normal people do. But really we believe she has a mental illness. Please help us find out what this illness is and how we can live a healthy life being around her. Her actions have brought us so much shame and embarrassment as well as a lack of mothering. She won’t go to counseling or admit she has a problem. Any suggestions for us? Thank you! (age 34, from US)What Illness Could My Mother Have and How Do We Cope?
What Illness Could My Mother Have and How Do We Cope?
A: I of course can’t diagnose your mother without meeting with her in person, but from what you are describing it reminds me of the diagnosis Schizotypal Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterized by a pattern of social and interpersonal deficits, distortions in thinking and perception, peculiar beliefs and eccentric behavior. I’m including this link for more information: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizotypal-personality-disorder/basics/symptoms/CON-20027949.
One of the difficulties in treating personality disorders is that because the beliefs are truly a part of the person’s identity and world view, they often don’t see that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with and thus rarely seek treatment on their own, which fits with what you are saying about your mother. You might initially ask for guidance from her primary care physician or contact the closest NAMI chapter. Also, she might find it less threatening if you ask her to join family therapy rather than trying to convince her that she has a problem that she doesn’t see. Ultimately though, she is who she is and just like we as children want unconditional love, so do our parents. You and your family may just have to find a way to accept your mother for who she is and not expect more than she can give.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts