This week we received a letter from a concerned mother of a young adult. In anticipation of the winter holidays I put it up (with some editing) and ask all of you who are struggling with leaving a sociopath to leave now out of respect for your parents and other family members who love you. If you are thinking of going back consider this story and your own family.
A mother’s story
It was whirlwind intense romance, she dropped out of (school) to be with him. There is a huge physical attraction. He has had a very dysfunctional childhood, from a very successful family, has been on the streets since (his teens) (in and out of foster care), has been in prison for assault with a knife, has no friends, no connection at all with family, extended family or family friends…He is (considerably) older than our daughter, has been ‘everywhere’, done ‘everything’, knows ‘everything’, and lives what he calls a free life out of society. He has huge debts from fines and unpaid bills – $80,000 or so.
He lives under the radar, he is a violent drunk, he enrolls in courses just to get the fees then drops out, he gets a job for a few weeks then argues with someone and looses it – he knows best. He has very high and mighty ideals and dreams, expensive taste, is very charming, can talk and talk and talk, he doesn’t listen, he lectures, he is very bright and articulate.
He is engaging and charming. He lies, and avails himself of others generosity – my husband calls him a parasite (he can’t even buy a coffee), he has stolen from us and lived off us with no guilt (he put things on our credit card and didn’t even tell us and when my daughter informed us – she was so ashamed – he just shrugged), he throws her out, he abuses her, he calls her names, and he pulls her down.
When she applies for something he tells her she will not be accepted, when with him she dedicates her life to him, she joins nothing – no choirs, no music, no classes – nothing. He takes drugs. He really affects her self esteem.
He is manipulative, controlling, abusive, lies and has very, very grandiose schemes and plans – and she believes them. He is untouchable. She knows all this, she knows he is destructive but she loves him. She adores him. We have been on a roller coaster for two years, fixing, healing, rescuing, helping.
At first we thought we would try, so we welcomed him into the family, but it is very hard, he is so controlling, know it all and abusive. He can never leave unless we pay gas, our daughter has bought two cars and he has wrecked, swapped or abandoned both. We have gone to the ends of the earth for her. He throws he out, and we bring her home and she wails and cries with so much pain, at the loss of him.
It is horrific. It goes on for months. He wants to marry her! Our daughter is one of the brightest children in the country, she is astonishing, but she throws it all away for him. And she has lost her friends, they can’t abide him. She doesn’t follow any of her usual interests, singing, drama, piano, dance or study.
He is everything. When he throws her out, she wails to me how it is all her fault, if only she had tried harder, given more etc. She is constantly finding excuses for his bizarre behavior, and errors. There is always a reason and she swallows it.
She tells me that we don’t see what she sees. She understands why we and her friends don’t like him, but she says if we could understand him like she does that we would see a hurt small child, that he is so vulnerable. She loves him more than anything. We are a very warm, non punitive caring family, very tight. But this has destroyed us. My husband and I have ended up fighting, as we can’t cope with this person in our lives. So much drama. He has thrown our daughter out 3 times now, and each time she goes back. She lasts about 3 months. This very last time, she lasted longer about 5 months. He threw her out last spring and since being home she has earned enough to buy transportation…. the first thing she did was drive many hours to meet up with him. We were so horrified that we decided that is it, no more. So now she is estranged from her family, we feel used and abused. She is now living with him (but they do not have stable housing)…
We always helped. But no more. She is addicted to him, addicted to the danger and the drama. There has been a very nice young man here most of the time she has been home this year – he adores her – she really likes him and loves him like a brother – but she told me he is too nice, not dangerous enough, too tame.
This has destroyed our loving family, Christmas is coming and we just can’t even think about it – any dreams of family holidays or events, dinners and celebrations have all been on hold for two years. Ours is now a sad household… I cry a lot and rage at empty spaces, I am now trying to reestablish my life, a new life without my daughter. So hard, it is almost like a death. So much pain everywhere, we are in pain, and she is consumed with pain when he throws her out, this pattern of on again and off again. Exhausting for those on the edge, must be hell to be in there.
Here are her questions with my answers
1. What do we do in this situation as parents? There is going to be another train crash. She is so young, yet is an adult. She is now isolated from us, we will not have him here as he drags us all down… This time we have said that she is on her own.
I applaud you for knowing your limits, setting your boundaries and sticking with them. No one of sound mind would say you are obligated to live with a sociopath and put up with abuse. Instead of using your support to better herself, she squanders it and does not grow. You have decided to stop enabling and consider that this situation seems similar to being the parent of an addict. That seems to me to be an excellent analogy. Perhaps you might visit an Alanon meeting. You might benefit from what other parents have to share.
2. Is this tough love aspect dangerous, what do you advise parents to do? Her friends have had enough of the drama, rescuing, and emotion. We are all exhausted. She is now lying to us. He is unfaithful, and at first his drove her mad, but now she says that he can’t hurt her anymore, she has come to terms with that aspect of their relationship. She will have him at any cost. I am most concerned about her self esteem, her emotional health and what she will stoop to have him. Also her future, she will have no future with him, lose her family, and all her hopes and dreams.
Yes the tough love approach carries with it considerable risk. However, each family has to balance for themselves this risk weighed against the harm being done to other family members and to your daughter by staying in the relationship. I usually advise parents to make it known the son or daughter will be accepted back warmly without judgment once there is a commitment to be free of the sociopath.
3. Will she grow out of it, will he hurt her, how can we support her without supporting him, what kind of support does she need, what are the signs that it is really over, how many times will she go back?
Like any addict she will consider sobriety once she has reached “rock bottom.” That is where the risk comes in, you don’t know what her lowest point will be.
4. Should we rescue her again when she calls, or does she need to solve this herself? How much contact should we have?
Don’t be her support so she can stay by chatting too much, that would be enabling. Generally that means not listening to her complaints about the relationship. Instead make it clear you are continuing with your successful prosocial lives and are keeping in touch with former girlfriends who are becoming educated and dating decent men. Without being direct draw her attention to how far she has fallen and what a “loser” she is becoming.
5. Have we pushed her closer to her by isolating her, yet we also need to protect ourselves. How long is this likely to last and what will be left with. How can we keep him away, if she comes home again?
The ideal situation would be for you to insist she get help and he stay away before you have her home again. Since he has stolen money from you, you may have grounds to contact the police if he refuses to stay away.
I invite others to give support, and comments to this loving mother.