Sunday, February 26, 2017

Is my mom beng abused?

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My sister has been taking care of my mother for nine years. My mother is 93, but she’s walking everyday and was talking with me on the phone once in awhile until last year.

My mom had a knee and hip replacement a decade ago. My sister moved her into her apartment and was supposed to sell the house.

I understood that and agreed she should. She said she also wanted the money from the sale of the house to put Mom in an assisted living facility.

We both picked out the facility together. I live in a different state. While I was visiting recently, I learned my sister talks about what a “pain in the neck Mom is,” and what a “complainer” Mom is and how she’s a big “baby” now.

I also found out that no one but my sister visits Mom. I went to visit her the next day and Mom was the same sweet and elegant lady she’s always been, except that she was very sad to lose her home that she and my dad lived in all their lives.

Turns out my sister moved into Mom’s home. She redecorated it and bought new furniture. She has complete legal control over my mom’s money.

Mom said she yells and curses at her and Mom can’t spend any money on anything. My sister doesn’t allow Mom to go anywhere or do anything that costs money. She can’t even take a knitting class because she can’t buy yarn.

Mom takes all of the abuse and says she understands it’s a burden for my sister to take care of her.

Mom’s caretakers told me that she’s depressed.

I feel guilty that I’ve been so busy with my work and family that I haven’t taken notice of how bad this situation is.

What options do I have?

A neglectful son

Dear Son,

Fortunately, you’ve recognized the severity of your mom’s situation and you are willing to take responsibility in helping her.

Unfortunately, your mom has taken on the victim’s role with shame by accepting the validity of your sister’s accusations. Because it’s her daughter, she may be unwilling to “get her into trouble” or she may be living in fear of retaliation.

Elder abuse is, in many respects, just like any form of mistreatment that results in harm or loss to a person. This can be in the form of physical harm, sexual abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, and neglect.

However, with elder abuse, there is the added significance of financial mistreatment. You need to address the situation directly with your sister. Although we can’t predict how your sister may react, chances are that she’ll resent you as an intruder to her caretaking and become defensive.

Communicate with management of the facility first.

Be prepared to contact a long-term care ombudsman. Each state has an ombudsman program, which resolves complaints and advocates on behalf of residents and the quality of their care.

You may also contact the National Adult Protective Services Association.

Plus, you have federal and state laws that have been enacted called the Elder Justice Act of 2009.

If your sister is unwilling to cooperate in changing your mom’s conditions, we give you the same advice we give all cases of abuse and bullying: report, report, report. Your mom deserves dignity and a chance to choose not to be a victim.

Her vulnerability is in your capable hands. Please help her to recover her confidence and courage to define her worth.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

Monday, February 20, 2017

Weirded out by threats!

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,
I’m a junior in high school, but, when I was in sixth grade, three boys tormented me with rude comments, especially about my body.

I was just starting to develop and I was slower than other girls. I was skinny and shy. I kept to myself and didn’t tell anyone what they were saying, except one friend. She was protective of me and she told them to leave me alone.

But, as soon as I was alone, the boys would corner me and say sexual things to me, especially one of the boys. He would threaten to do things to me after school and told me if I told anyone, I would “get it.”

He never actually did anything to me and neither did the other guys. But I still worried that they would.

My friend moved with her family the next year. We stayed in touch for awhile and she would always tell me to be strong and stick up for myself.

I never told my little sisters, my parents, or anyone else.

In eighth grade, I started playing basketball. I wasn’t home much and I was always with my team.

The boys stopped bothering me, except once, one of them threatened me again when I left the locker room.

Fast forward to high school … I became more confident and kept playing basketball. I also got tall and I’m not so skinny. In fact, I look pretty good and get compliments. I’m hoping to get a scholarship to a great university.

One of those guys asked me to go out the other day. He never said anything about what happened when we were younger and never apologized! I said I was too busy. I don’t get it. He seems different and I kind of want to go out with him. Do you think he could have changed?

I’m weirded out.

Dear weirded out,

You are to be applauded for overcoming your shyness and gaining confidence after being sexually bullied and abused.

It was good that you had a friend to help you. She seems to have indirectly helped you to find your courage to start defining yourself in a positive way. You did not allow fear to stop your action steps.

However, we want all girls, and boys too, to know that when you are being threatened in any way, to report any threats to your parents, teachers, principal and any adult you trust. It does not matter if you were threatened only once. You were consistently being put in danger and at risk by those threats.

Sexual threats are threats of violence, not attraction. One of the definitions of bullying and abuse means using force, threats, intimidation, and/or dominance and power over someone else. This can be habitual (which happened to you) or it may occur once.

Threats can escalate and could have caused you even more damage than the emotional harm you incurred.

You have an opportunity to guide others who are put into similar situations, to speak out against violence with your current confidence. You can create awareness for younger girls and boys who may think that saying something threatening isn’t really that bad.

We suggest that you don’t challenge your sense of well-being by trying to find out if your perpetrator really has changed, because the outcome could set you back or cause permanent harm.

Offer a strong “no” to any further date requests from him. Offer no explanations.

We think you will grow from this experience and find many worthy dates. Best to you! You deserve it!

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Gay in a straight mariage

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

I have been married for 43 years. I’m a gay man and my wife knows it. We got through a very difficult time. However, we have had a good marriage for a long time. I haven’t acted on my sexuality since I was young.

My mother is dying and asked me if I was “queer” and I said no. I did not feel it was necessary to bring her more grief. She’s a very religious woman and I am a religious man.

My wife got mad because I didn’t tell my mother the truth. She said my mother must know the truth by now or she wouldn’t have asked.

None of my children or grandchildren know. It’s not an issue in our marriage, so why should I tell my elderly mom now? What good would it do? Why does my wife care about my mother knowing?

My clergyman knows because he also counseled us. That was a long time ago.

And God knows. I know that God loves me. I was at peace about everything until now.

If I wanted to leave and be with a man for the rest of my life, my wife would have eventually been fine with that. At one time, that is what I thought I wanted. But after thinking about it for a long time, I decided I wanted my family more.

I love my wife even though I do not feel “that way” about her. I want to understand why she wants to rock the boat, so to speak.

Not rocking the boat

Dear not rocking,

We feel you have made your decision, along with your wife, to choose the way you want to live your lives. We also feel your sexuality is between you and your wife.

We cannot know why your wife is angry about your not disclosing your private decisions with your mother. However, this may be a symptom that you two have more to address regarding your orientation. We do suggest that you and your wife may need some extra help with your losses and suggest getting professional guidance, regardless of what has been done in the past.

We applaud the mature manner in which you and your wife seem to be handling your lives together. There’s no reason you can’t continue holding true to each other through this new challenging time.

In order to keep awareness of each other’s needs and comforting, it may be wise to address any new feelings now.

If you allow that to happen, you’ll grow closer through this experience of great loss. You’ll be able to function at a heightened level of appreciation for each other and close any gaps of miscommunication that often happens when people lose someone so very close to them.

We hope and pray this current hardship will give you both an opportunity to solidify your relationship together in a new and even more positive way.

Best to you both. Our condolences are with you also.

Rhonda and Dr. Cheri

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Gaslighting: An insidious form of bullying

Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,

My older sister told me I’m too sensitive, too na├»ve, and a people-pleaser. She said my boyfriend is cheating on me.

My sister is friends with my boyfriend’s sister. My sister said she found lipstick and underwear in my boyfriend’s car that aren’t mine. She points out a girl she says is sleeping with my boyfriend.

I asked my boyfriend, who broke up with me because he said I don’t trust him. I don’t trust him, but I wanted to know that he loves me and wanted to work things out. He said I was crazy and making stuff up. I told him I had proof and told him what my sister found in his car.

Guess what my sister did? She denied everything I said in front of her friend (my boyfriend’s sister), my boyfriend, and me! She called me a liar and worse. She said I was out to hurt her and make her look bad.

I felt crazy. I couldn’t believe she denied what she told me was the truth!

We got into a big fight later. She said she had to lie in front of them and it was for my own good. She said I was too sensitive for the truth and I can count on her for the truth. She said I was too good for my boyfriend and he’s the liar. She told me not to be dumb.

I heard her on the phone talking and saying that she felt sorry for me because I was emotionally disturbed.
When I told her I heard that, she said, “No, you didn’t.”

I went wild and said I’m not crazy and asked why she was doing this. She ignored me and said she would be there for me when I calmed down.

Is she bullying me?

Am I going crazy or am I a bad person?

Crazy or Bad 

Dear Not crazy,

Your sister is manipulating you and yes, it is bullying and abusive. It’s called gaslighting. It comes from the title of an old film and it’s prevalent in our culture. It’s subtle and despicable, it’s contrived and calculated.

You need to distance yourself from your sister so you may heal, and become “un-stuck,” start making your own choices, and start defining yourself. We believe your sister manipulated you to make you dependent upon her.

First, you are on the right path of truth by recognizing that gaslighting is actually happening to you.

Second, trust yourself. When your sister lied and you knew it was a lie, believe yourself first. Realize that someone who is gaslighting will consistently deny the truth. She has been very clever at twisting your reality.

Third, things that don’t make sense to you are just that – nonsensical.

Fourth, asking why your sister does what she does isn’t important. Write down all the names and judgments she has labeled you with and replace them with your true virtues.

It’s easy to become a victim because gaslighting is a gradual process. It’s hard even for skilled professionals to recognize because it’s not straightforward like physical abuse. Don’t shame yourself.

Signed, Rhonda and Dr. Cheri