I live with my possibly narcissistic grandmother, she is about 75 years old and has progressive hearing loss. Basically, it's almost impossible to get her into therapy now, and if she is truly narcissistic, I've heard that the personality disorder (PD) doesn't have a good prognosis even in sufferers in bodies better functioning than hers.

All members of the household have all expressed the concern to each other, basically along the lines of "she only thinks about herself". Some of the things she does:

  • Turned on the radio so loud even the neighbors complained — when we asked her to turn it down, she wouldn't because she said she couldn't hear it. Which is okay, but not at 6 AM in the morning after she woke up. She still wouldn't agree. This is daily.

  • We bought a new garden hose a few days ago, a long one because we had to be able to water the plants by the side of the road, but yesterday she demanded me to cut a sizable portion because she couldn't lift the majority portion of the garden hose rolled up near the faucet. She should've consulted the rest of the household first, but didn't.

(NOTE: Later, she said to a renovator crew living with us that I also said the hose is too long, when I have never said that either by myself or in front of her.)

  • Told me to air dry freshly laundered clothing on a dirty wood pile (that we've been accumulating since the last house remodeling).

I have always had memories, living with her since childhood, that whatever she wants cannot be refused. There would only be escalations and escalations of anger until she gets what she wants one way or the other. I even have memories of challenging myself on how far I can refuse doing something for her.


  1. I just don't want to do the things she tells me to do.

  2. I would gladly be all hands for this house, but I would rather avoid the things that should have been consulted with the rest of the household first.

How can I tactfully refuse or at least delay doing her bidding?


I've tried a lot of things. Some of what I tried include:

  1. Just saying no over and over again, which ends up in continuous escalations of anger (she thinks she's above me and has authority over me since she's older);

  2. Tried stopping communication for a while, which worked but eventually I would have to communicate with her again because we live together;

  3. The grey rock method, which worked for a short while, and I'm continually trying to do now. The problem is that sometimes my feelings get in the way though, you have to understand that she is my grandmother whom I've been living with since childhood. So this is a mixed success.

She pits people against one another, saying to Z that X said or did y while y never happened. Z becomes infuriated in response while X's attempts to reconcile failed, until Z has an epiphany of their own or gets informed by other people or new evidence. (The story with the renovation crew is one little example.)

  • 3
    Hey jonvyltra! You've given us quite an elaborate summary of things your grandma wants but can't have.. but could you also give us what you've already tried doing, and how that worked? If there's anything you considered but haven't tried yet, please also let us know why. That way, answers can take that into account and not suggest things that have already been proven not to work. How have you refused your grandmother so far, just saying 'no' each time? Tell her other things? You say you've challenged yourself, how far could you go?
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 28, 2020 at 6:42
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    Interpersonal matters always include at least a second person. To give you a meaningful answer, we need to understand how your grandma always gets you to do her bidding, how she reacts if she doesn't get her wishes fulfilled and what she does if you delay doing her bidding. If she plays members of the family off against each other, it would be also helpful to understand how your family members react to her. I understand that all this information could probably fill an entire book, but please try sticking to general information rather than anecdotal stories to keep it short.
    – Elmy
    May 28, 2020 at 6:52
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    Hello @Tinkeringbell and Elmy, I updated my question in response.
    – jonvyltra
    May 29, 2020 at 6:27

1 Answer 1


Just say no.

Don't explain why. Don't offer other solutions to the problem she claims to have. Don't get emotional or rude. Simply say "no" as directly as you can. Anything like "I'm not going to do that" or"that's not going to happen" is fine. Use your tone to make it gentle and respectful. If she interrupted something you were doing to make her demand, then to back to what you were doing. If you were having a conversation, change the subject. If she persists, simply state something along the lines of "I understand, but this isn't up for discussion" or "please drop it, I don't wish to discuss this". If she still won't stop, physically leave her presence.

She can't force you to do things for her, so don't. I can't imagine your parents will complain when they hear you've refused to chop up the new hose or put clean laundry on a dry laundry pile, so you should be fine there. If your parents don't want you to do these tasks but also don't like you telling her no, then switch to "I need to get permission from mom (or whoever) first" and then go get permission or tell her you'll ask when they get home or whatever you need to do to get permission. Again, if your grandma argues, just restate that you need permission from X and you won't do it without that. Some possible responses are, "I understand you feel your permission is good enough, but I need permission from X first," or "I'm sorry you're upset, but I still need to get permission from X first." Do not engage in any arguments or justifications.

I have experience with this in a couple different ways. One was I dated someone who tended to get... emotional and maker unreasonable demands. I spent a long time trying to get him to see logic and justify why it was unreasonable for him to demand those things. Eventually I just started saying no, not happening, I won't do it. You'd think it'd escalate the situation but it actually does the opposite because you aren't engaging in an argument. You may have to put physical distance between you two to get the other person to calm down if they get very upset though.

The other way I experience this is through work. I develop software for a consulting firm, and our clients often ask me directly to make changes. I tell them I don't have the authority to do that, so I will talk to X person who does and ask them for permission. And if your parents do say "yes please, throw our clean laundry on that dirty wood pile" then who are you to argue? Advocate for your own laundry, of course, but if it's not yours and the owner is fine with it? Not your problem.

Make sure you keep it about yourself, so it's always "I'm not allowed to do that without asking, so let me go ask" rather than "you can't give me authorization to do that". Or say "I'm not going to do that" not "it's unreasonable for you to ask me to do that". Do not even utter the word "you".

Unless you have someone who has authority over you undermining you, this should work. If making demands doesn't get her anywhere then she'll mostly stop (barring a serious complication like dementia).

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