"Social Frailty" Article

I think this is a really interesting and necessary read.

I’d not heard the term “social frailty” before…but now it’s connecting all kinds of dots in my head that I’ve been thinking about anyway.

My parents grew up in socially frail families to say the least…and they never recovered or learned better social skills as adults…so I grew up in a wildly socially frail family. My parents have relied on their children to fulfill their social needs their entire lives. And that was on top of them sabotaging each other. (Not a great marriage.) So now with them entering “prime health problem” ages…while monopolizing their kids’ lives even when they were physically healthy…they’ve successfully created another generation of socially frail people. At least three generations strong from what I can see. So they’re going to need us to care for them as they age and experience challenges…all while we have not been set up to have any support for either them or for ourselves.

I have put the work in to develop myself, my social skills, my coping abilities, and my friendships to turn this thing around for my kids. I have a basement full of kiddos playing together right now as I post this. And this has all been done at great personal cost…bc half of my birth family could not tolerate me going outside of the fold for additional relationships in my life. Whew.

I think this article does a great job of breaking down the nuts and bolts of the arc of one’s life, the richness of that life, and how challenges can be made easier or harder based on a number of circumstances. I’m planning on looking into long term care insurance for myself bc I imagine caring for me as T1D down the road will take a great deal of attention and resources.



For sure an interesting topic! I was raised to be contrarian and independent, resulting in me never asking for help…it sticks with me to this day, I hate asking anybody for help with anything, even loved ones. If help is offered I will gladly accept though. So even though I am probably the opposite of socially frail it is doubtful to think I will be asking my friends for help when I someday need it. I also think it would make things difficult in a group home or assisted living where the squeaky wheels get all the grease.

I’ve accepted that this inability to ask for help is part of my DNA and could potentially make life difficult when I become old and physically frail.

My strategy is contrary to the LTC industry sales pitch. I plan to be living in a handicap accessible ground floor place of my own when I reach that age, within flat wheelchair or walking distance to food and transit. Hopefully I can live out my years like that with help from my kids living nearby and a hired home health aide. I think that being at the tail end of the boomer demographic will help with availability of services.


Thanks for posting this. Very interesting and a quick read.

I agree both that I had never heard the term ‘social frailty’ before and that it can describe a set of conditions that are equivalent to physical frailty.

I just got off the phone with my 94 y o aunt, who had to ring off because she and a 92 y.o. friend (who is visiting from NY) have to go to a poetry reading in her senior residence. So in this context she would be socially robust.

My mother would have been socially frail if she had continued to live on her own in rural Massachusetts. But when she was about 72 she left rural Mass and moved to NYC, another senior living community. She had a robust 10 years there and enjoyed that time - so I think environment makes a difference. BTW, my mom applied for LTC insurance and was turned down. It is a business after all.

@John58 I can relate for sure to how you feel about our upcoming older years. Personally, I am not a big fan of senior residences and look forward to aging in place. But it’s clear that we need to find or create an environment that gives us some social robustness.


Very interesting article. Good to know that I’m not alone. My 89 year old mother is a classic monopolizer, believing she is entitled to be the focal point of my and my wife’s lives, and she actively ensures that is the case - no need for details (trust me, as long as this post is, it’s only the tip of the iceberg), as listing the full details will only serve to make me feel like an ungrateful son. So, she’s won that particular battle. On the other hand is my mother in law, who also monopolizes our lives. She clearly requires assisted living, but my wife (and her sister even more so), refuse to discuss it. So she lives in my home part of the year and with my sister-in-law part of the year, as she can’t be on her own. She does nothing. At all. She sits on the couch in my living room all day long petting my dog, with her head down, and doesn’t say a word. She can barely walk, so my wife has to bathe and feed her. She doesn’t get dressed or even comb her hair. But she’s always there. So she monopolizes us too, albeit passively. As a perfect example, just two days ago, I had to hang up on my mother (to whom I was explaining for the 89,000th time that she’s not only not running out of money, but that she could live another 50 years without even coming close - we have that conversation multiple times per day, because all she does is sit and watch CNN and calls me in a panic every time the DJIA goes down a half point). Anyway, I had to hang up on her because my mother in law lost her balance on the way out of the kitchen and I watched helplessly as she went down in slow motion. I then spent the next 20 minutes trying to get her up off the floor - which, although totally unhurt, she didn’t s physically incapable of doing herself and mentally incapable of doing anything but resisting my attempts to help. Of course, once that was done, I had to call my mother back to give her the full report and, again, reassure her that she is not going broke, now or ever.

Neither of them can even form the concept that my wife and I have our own children (and grandchild), that I run my own business (which means if I’m busy with them, I’m not working and, perforce, not making a living), or that I have my own long list of health issues that I deal with all by myself, They simply think that we are there to do their bidding, and have no thought that their refusal to have anyone but their children provide any assistance or socialization for them might be a burden on the family. And, as I stated earlier, although intellectually I strongly disagree with the entire set-up, emotionally I feel guilty if I don’t just toe the line. Saying ‘no’ is simply not an option.

I sincerely hope that I’ve done a better job with my sons, and I have expressly instructed them time and again that they are not to allow me to become the burden on them that my parents (my father passed away several months ago, but if anything, it was even worse when he was alive) have been on my wife and me. And, I am proud to say that, although they see what is going on, they don’t completely comprehend the constant stress it puts on us and our relationship (we’ve been married 38 years and this is just about the only thing we fight about - a lot), because, I pray, we have not raised them to live with the deeply engrained, misbegotten belief that ‘they owe us something’.

In rereading it, I don’t know if this post adds to the conversation or sends it off the rails, but either way, it feels good to get at least some of it off my chest. And I was right in thinking that posting even this tiny slice of what we deal with has made me feel like I must be an ungrateful sonofabitch.



I totally get it. And I am glad you shared.

I don’t know if you’ve ever come across Jay Reid’s free YouTube videos. They are between 10-15 minutes each. His subject matter might be of interest to you if you ever get a chance to take a walk and listen to a video without interruption.

You are in good company here. And kudos to you for teaching the next generation something different.


Thanks @T1Allison, and thank you for the tip on Jay Reid. Next time I leash up the dog and take my cigar for a walk around the ‘hood, I’ll be sure to give a listen.


Thank you for posting this, was very interesting and eye opening. Unfortunately I fall too closely to this.


Tangentially related to the topic. I hope you can read this without running into the NYT paywall. As a subscriber, I’m supposed to be able to share, but I may be doing it incorrectly.


One thing I’ve done on other boards is to past the text content into the posting and then use a summary button so it doesn’t create a post that’s too long. I was introduced to a wonderful app called instapaper that can take out all the formatting of a NYT article and just leave you with lightly formatted text and pix. See below for example.


How to Set Boundaries With a Difficult Family Member

The New York Times · by Catherine Pearson · March 8, 2023

It’s tricky but doable, says Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist and best-selling author. Here are her strategies for getting started.

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As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

Credit…Jing Wei


March 8, 2023

Nedra Glover Tawwab knows deep in her bones that you cannot choose the family you are raised in.

Ms. Tawwab, 39, grew up in a bustling home in Detroit where she “experienced it all,” she said, “from substance abuse to neglect in family relationships.” She scores a seven out of 10 on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey, a tool commonly used by health care providers to measure the severity of trauma that a child has faced.

That background led to her career as a licensed clinical social worker focusing on relationships. She is also a best-selling author of the book “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself” and a popular Instagram therapist whose 1.7 million followers devour her pithy nuggets. (A recent example: “The silent treatment isn’t teaching them a lesson; it’s showing you can’t handle conflict.”)

In Ms. Tawwab’s newest book, “Drama Free: A Guide to Managing Unhealthy Family Relationships,” she offers practical strategies for dealing with toxic family dynamics — and ways to successfully disconnect from a person when you decide to do so.

“As a child, relationships are put on you, but as an adult you get to choose who you want to be in relationships with and how,” Ms. Tawwab said. “Even with family.”

Setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships is difficult, enduring work, especially when it involves a parent, sibling, child or some other family member who has played a significant role in your life for as long as you can remember.

Ms. Tawwab shared some strategies to help start this emotional process.

Decide what a “successful” relationship would look like to you.

You’ll never have a perfect relationship with anyone in your family, Ms. Tawwab said. With a difficult family member, it helps to step back and consider what a “successful” connection means to you.

To begin, identify the issues that are affecting your dynamic with this family member, she said. Then decide what type of relationship you can realistically have, and want to have, with that person, taking those dynamics into account.

For example, perhaps you are struggling in your relationship with your in-laws. “If you come from a close-knit family and your partner has a family that’s a bit more distant, sometimes we try to arrange things, we try to invite them in, and when we get that pushback we’re upset,” Ms. Tawwab said. In that scenario, “success” may mean that you accept the way your in-laws are and stop trying to change the family culture, she said.

Ask yourself: What can I control?

Throughout her new book, Ms. Tawwab emphasizes her belief that you cannot change your family members.

“When the solution to the problem is ‘they need to change,’ the problem will never go away,” she writes. “You can only control your side of the street.”

Ms. Tawwab recommends asking yourself: If this person did not change a single thing, what — if anything — could I do to make the relationship different? Write it all down in a list, she said: “These are the issues in this relationship. These are the parts of those issues that I can change, and these are the parts that are not my stuff.”

In the book, Ms. Tawwab offers the example of “Kelly” (she uses only first names throughout), who has been emotionally “burned” by her brother, time and again. Instead of dwelling on how much she would like to change his behavior, Kelly could jot down coping strategies within her control, like letting his calls go to voice mail so she can return them if and when she is ready, and letting him know that certain topics, like rants about siblings or parents, are off-limits.

Increase your tolerance for difficult conversations.

Changing a dysfunctional relationship will invariably require you to say hard things to a family member. But that is a skill that anyone can develop, Ms. Tawwab said.

Start with a pep talk. Remind yourself that being assertive about your needs and your boundaries is not rude, she said.

Then, when it’s time to address your family member, keep your script simple, Ms. Tawwab said. People often put off difficult conversations because they are searching for the “right” words. It’s OK to say something like “I don’t want you yelling at me anymore,” she offered as an example, adding, “There’s not a more ‘beautiful’ or perfect way to say that.” (Therapy can also help you identify and connect to your needs and learn to express them, she said.)

“We have tricked ourselves into thinking that we’re supposed to always feel comfortable, so even as we’re saying hard things our goal is to say it without the other person feeling upset or mad or wanting a further explanation,” she said. “And that’s not realistic.”

Know that the family member will likely take it personally.

In dysfunctional families, change is almost always seen as a rejection, Ms. Tawwab said. She writes in her book that “boundaries in unhealthy families are a threat to the system of dysfunction.”

Your call for change might be met with disapproval (“You’re wrong for changing; everything was going well until you intervened”), shame (“You’re a terrible person”), or resentment (“I’m upset because you want something different”), she writes. You could also encounter general pushback, which might involve your family member continuing to behave as though you said nothing or pressuring you to change your mind.

Anticipating those responses can help you steel yourself so you are not hurt by your family member’s reaction.

Find a healthy distance.

Ms. Tawwab said she was struck by the number of people she encounters who overlook the strategic power of distance and its importance in preserving certain bonds while still establishing a healthier dynamic.

Distancing yourself from a family member is not the same as ignoring that person, she writes. Distancing might mean putting time and space between you and your relative (for example, declining invitations or staying in a hotel during family holidays). Distancing could also mean engaging less with the person on an emotional level (for example, steering the conversation away from topics you’re not comfortable with or simply excluding that person from certain areas of your life).

If you want to maintain a relationship with a difficult family member because it ultimately feels worth it to you, acceptance — and strategic distancing — can give you some peace, Ms. Tawwab writes, but it won’t be easy.

“You will have to do the work to accept situations, and build patience for what is outside your control,” she writes. “Remember that dealing with certain problematic behaviors is a choice.”

The New York Times · by Catherine Pearson · March 8, 2023


Very :sunglasses:

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