My grandmother moved away from the bulk of our family almost two (2) years ago now. As the flights are expensive, she only tends to visit a few times a year. However, every time she visits it causes conflict in our family. This is due to her making herself out as the "victim" in any situation, and also because she tends to seed lies around the family (Although I believe this to be semi-unintentional, as in she does it without thinking.)

It's gotten to the point where slowly, but surely, each family member is pushing her out of their lives. I've always been the closest with Nanna, but I'm also getting to the point where I can't handle it anymore. As such, I would like to sit her down and explain that if things don't change she is going to lose her family.


All of these examples are from her most recent visit, from the 8/03/2018 until the 17/03/2018 when she left, to give you an idea of the frequency of events. It's fairly long, but feel free to skip past. I've mostly provided it to give context to my families anger / annoyance

  • Nanna was given a set of keys so that she could borrow my mothers car. This set of keys had everything (car, house, shed, clubhouse, safe key, ect) on it. Nanna lost these keys.
    Nanna proceeded to blame everyone but herself for the loss of the keys (E.G Calling my sister to say it's her fault for not "immediently dropping everything to help search for them") and adopted a "woe is me" attitude (despite my mother being the one without keys anymore).

  • My mother and my Nanna (using the spare car key) left for a memorial rally that was being hosted that day. I was asked to look after my mums two staffys, however I wasn't informed that the keys had gone missing (which lead me to be locked outside my mums house, as she usually leaves a key behind for me). When I called my Nanna (mother didn't answer) to ask where the key was, I was yelled at and told "Your bloody mother probably has them in her purse, but everyone is blaming me! It's not my fault, [Asteria], she's lying to make me look bad" and told I would have to wait outside with the dogs until they arrived home that night (it was about 9am at this point).

  • Because I was locked outside, the dogs were outside with me (They're support animals, my mother is disabled so they follow whatever human is home around). Coincidentally, the neighbors dog had been busily tunneling under the fence during that day and managed to get through to attack the staffys. I ended up scratched, bitten, bleeding and crying from protecting my darling boys. I called Nanna (again, mum had no service) to request they came home early (because honestly I was pretty rattled). The first words out of my Nanna's mouth weren't to ask if I / the dogs were okay, but instead "Oh, and of course it's my bloody fault because I lost the keys."
    For me, this was a fairly big sign saying "I don't care about your wellbeing", and the incident that hurt me the most.

  • At a family dinner, Nanna was saying terrible, hurtful things about my grandfather (much, much worse then what she normally says). However this time my uncle was also visiting (He was raised by Grandfather and lives near him, my mother was raised by Nanna). Uncle said "Mum, stop. That's my dad you're talking about. Can't we just have a nice dinner?". Nanna started wailing about how no one loves her, how we always side with Grandfather and how everyone hates her. To give you an idea about the intensity of the things she was saying, Uncle stood up and left dinner, and has refused to receive any of Nanna's attempts to contact him.

  • Despite being verbally abused last time, I foolishly agreed to drive my Nanna to the airport again (We're rural, so this is roughly 6 hours there and back with rush hour traffic). About 2 hours into the trip, there was a multi-car collision that collected us in it's grip. My Nanna began screaming at the top of her lungs once we'd crashed, however the crash wasn't that bad (Lots and lots of nasty bruises, but that's it) but since she's old, I was immediately concerned and ready to call 000. I have some basic first aid training, so I tried to get a grasp of the situation so that I could better deal with it and assist her. However, Nanna ended her mindless wailing and instead started yelling about how she was going to miss her flight. No concern about how my car was now completely written off, didn't ask if I was okay, didn't check to make sure no one involved was injured. She was "the victim" because she would miss her plane, and everyone else would damn well know that.

  • When disagreed with, or told "no", Nanna always jumps quickly to "You HAVE to be nice to me, I won't be around much longer" to inspire a horrible feeling of guilt so that we'll "be nicer".

Nanna reacts to all situations with this mindset of "I am the victim, none of you understand how hard it is to be me". She's always been like that, but it has been rapidily increasing in intensity over the last few years.

Uncle is already cutting of contact, and so is my sister. Mother and I discussed and we're both ready to give up on Nanna.

But I want to make one final, last ditch effort to keep my family from cutting her out of our lives.


To convey to Nanna (without starting an argument) that -

  • She needs to stop victimizing herself
  • The family is already starting to remove her from our lives
  • It's not because we don't love her, but because her attitude is toxic
  • If things don't change she WILL lose all of us
  • What Interpersonal Skill are you asking about here? Right now, it reads like you want advice on how to get your Nana to change her behavior, which isn't really an Interpersonal Skill...
    – Tinkeringbell
    Mar 20, 2018 at 14:13
  • 1
    Perhaps the question should be: How do I talk to Nanna about her family-alienating ways, while minimizing the chance of her getting defensive, as she is prone to that sort if thing?
    – Maxim
    Mar 20, 2018 at 15:31
  • @Tinkeringbell I'm not so much looking for advice on how to get her to change, I know what I want to say (the four points listed). I'm just a very blunt person, and I know how I want to do it would be to harsh. so I'm looking at how to approach / phrase the conversation
    – Asteria
    Mar 21, 2018 at 1:51

4 Answers 4


So sorry to hear this, Asteria. I hope you all are ok, and that you've recovered somewhat from the two incidents.

Sometimes people forget that relationships go two ways - yes, the grown-up next generation should respect and look after Nanna, but Nanna also needs to put in an effort to make it work ... or at least not make it not work.

Growing old comes with many frustrations. Hearing, memory and eyesight go, chronic pain sets in, and to top it off, the circle of friends and family is slowly shrinking. It's easy to get into the habit of grumbling, even though it does no one any good.

From the sounds of it, talking isn't going to help much. Try non-verbal interactions that communicate care: send her a batch of cookies with a chatty letter telling her what you've been up to recently (don't talk about the keys or any of the unpleasant interactions at this point); when/if there's another visit, give her a big hug and a smile.

If her pattern of behaviour has carried on for so long that everyone's keeping their distance, she's probably not been getting much positive attention. That feeds the vicious cycle of grumbling and distance. By giving her some positive attention, you're sending the message to her that someone still cares for her. You don't have to spend much time together, but whatever contact you do have, make them happy moments for your Nanna.

A word to the wise here: keep your interactions brief - at least initially. Don't stay so long that her old habits come back and turn things sour.

It's probably taken her a long time to develop her current mindset, so don't expect to have them reversed immediately. However, little flashes of happiness have their own way of accumulating, and perhaps over time, she would come to value the part of the relationship where she isn't a victim.

All the best!

tl;dr To help your Nanna stop seeing herself as a victim, paint her a different picture so that she can see herself as something else: a beloved grandmother, a wise old lady, someone worth doing nice things for, ....

  • 4
    Another thing that gets affected by age is the body's ability to produce serotonin. Serotonin is what allows us to feel contented, calm and happy. Coupled with reasons to be unhappy (memory loss, hearing loss etc., like you mention), it is easy to see why an elderly person would feel unhappy and misunderstood, in a situation where such attitude appears "unreasonable" and "disruptive". Mar 19, 2018 at 12:01
  • @Galastel Oh dear. Well, that's one more reason to treat the older generation well - it sets the reference for the younger generation to follow when the current generation becomes, in time, the (cranky?) older generation. It also serves as a reminder to work on making some 'good old days' now.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 19, 2018 at 12:07
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    not all people lose their memory with age, or their hearing, either. Mar 19, 2018 at 12:25

I would like to expand on Galastel's comment. This sort of thing occurred with my grandmother as she got older and really reached a peak when she reached her 80s. It is true that older people get depression at decently high rates, both because of physical issues and social ones. For my grandmother it was both, she was getting weaker/sicker so had to move in with us, and because of that she was losing contact with a lot of her friends and loosing her ability to live her life as she pleased. Because of the depression she started lashing out in sometimes very hurtful ways.

What solved the problem for my Nana was to see a psychiatrist who prescribed a mild dose of an antidepressant. Afterwards her mood and attitude improved greatly. She has always been somewhat crotchety so it's not like she is all smiles, but the angry outbursts subsided. We even got proof recently that the meds were working, because she started having fits of anger last year until we realized she had started taking something that interfered with the antidepressant. A small medication adjustment had her back to her normal self.

I know not everyone is fond of this kind of solution, but it has improved her quality of life and has prevented her from alienating the entire family as your Nanna seems about to do.

In my household it was easy to broach the subject with her because she lived with us and my parents already were very involved with her health. I do not know how you would go about approaching this with her. Especially since she doesn't live anywhere near you. Perhaps people in the comments could suggest ways of approaching this topic.

I might say a direct approach, but she already feels like the victim so I doubt telling her to see a therapist would help.


Some days ago, i was reading some articles about the victim pattern and victim mentality.

For some people, as your grandmother,it is more less a strategy to deal with life whether it is staying safe in one’s comfort zone, numbing oneself, finding company, getting attention, avoiding being responsible for something in one’s life, etc. (she just cannot be with what she perceives as failure in life)

Playing the victim, helps her that she is really a good person (I guess it is the opposite for what you think about her).

In this case, some points can be helpful:

  • You have to stop being righteous and superior about how she is such a victim.
  • Validate that she has the view she has. This does not mean agree with her. Rather, just acknowledge what she said. Part of validating is getting not only the words, but also the mood and emotion behind what she is saying (such a mirror can sometimes create enough of a space that she can actually hear herself).
  • Encourage her to stop blaming others and to be compassionate to herself (you can have a seat with her and discuss this point, and show her how this point can lead to bad results in the future).

First of all, it was your family's fault to handover the bunch of keys to your Nanna. If it were merely car keys that were needed, you should have given her only that set.

Apart from that, let's think about the entire situation from her perspective.

When the whole set was lost, she was afraid that you would start blaming her for everything and hence she got into a defensive mode. Unfortunately, you also ended up being outside home and she was more afraid that you would all blame her again for losing the keys. The situation did not end at merely losing the keys. There was repercussions of it. Internally, she knew it was all because of the lost keys, she was more afraid of the blame that you all would be doing.

And about the car incident, I think she was more afraid that she might miss the flight and she has to put up with you till she boards the next one.

She is old. She wants attention too. It is a natural thing. You cannot convey anything to her at this instant. You need to build a rapport with her to achieve any of your goals.

  • Send her flowers.
  • Send her gifts.
  • Call her once in a while and recollect an incident when she was being nice to you. Tell her how much you loved it. Do not keep the conversation long.
  • Tell her about a nice movie that you watched in the recent past or a nice lunch that you had with a friend.
  • Try to recollect what she is more interested in. Talk about those things.
  • Make her laugh. This is the most important thing. How long has it been that she has had a hearty laugh?
  • Never bring any topic about your kith and kin with her. Restrict the topics to just you and her.

The more you make her laugh, the more she would trust you, confide in you. This takes time. Be prepared for the time that you need to put in. Even if the family loses her, ensure you won't.

  • 2
    Wow, that first sentence is quite harsh and judgemental, I'm not sure it's serving your purpose, you should think of deleting it if you want to avoid being downgraded
    – F. Emin
    May 2, 2018 at 14:50

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