Hard Truths for a Worried Mom, Whose Oppositional, Tx-Resistant Son is Coming Home for Christmas Break

Dear Belleruth,

We have had a difficult time with our 20 year old son from the beginning, and have sought help from various professional therapists since he was four.

I've never really felt we were getting anywhere with any of them. Our son knew how to act like a good therapy patient and say all the right things, but he never changed. He now blames my husband and me for his misfires and failures.

We had him tested here in Baltimore, and they confirmed much of what we already knew. He is very intelligent but there are big discrepancies in areas of functioning. We tried to get him into an intensive outpatient program for emotional help but were told he was not a good candidate because he would not cooperate.

He lacks empathy, does not make good relationships with others, does not tell the truth, and lacks basic consideration for others. We have been told he probably has a personality disorder.

We took a chance and sent him off to college, understanding that it could very well be a complete waste of money, but frankly, we needed the break and so did our two younger kids. Family life has been calm and peaceful.

Thanksgiving was tough with him home again, however briefly. This brings me to my question: which of your CDs would be good for me to listen to help me get through a 5 long weeks of having him home over Christmas break? I dread it. Worse, I dread him failing and getting thrown out of school for keeps.

Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions you can pass along.


Dear Roberta,

Truth be told, anything for stress, would be appropriate. Hearing the details of the situation doesn't really change what guided imagery I'd recommend. You're living with a really tough and persistently stressful situation, and even with your son out of the house, I imagine you're always waiting for that other shoe to drop. Worry must be the subtext of your every day. So anything like Relieve Stress, Relaxation & Wellness, or Caregiver Stress might help.

But I'm afraid you're going to need more than guided imagery for this situation.

I know you've gotten all kinds of help for this kid, but I wonder if you've ever tried family therapy for everyone in the family.

If you can't change your son (and I think you may have to prepare yourself for that possibility), you can at least change the family dynamics around him, better protect yourselves and your other two kids, and learn to cope with the situation in such a way that it gives this troubled son a better shot at taking responsibility for himself. You may need some coaching on how to set stronger limits, learn when to ignore him, when to intervene, when to walk away, when enough is enough and it's time for him to either make it in school or have a shot as a barista at the local Starbucks on campus.

It's hard for me to say if you've over-functioned and done too much for him, and not let him experience the consequences of his actions - or if he'd be this way under any circumstances, because he may be missing certain critical 'chips' in his hard drive. If he's dealing with some sort of sociopathic or personality disorder, it might not make any difference if you've been overly enabling him or not.

I do recommend signing on somebody – if not a family therapist for those of you still at home (and including him over holiday break) , or else getting a parental or family consult, to figure out the best responses to the situation, and help you formulate policies and procedures for dealing with him.

Maybe, Roberta, you should get your own counselor who can support and advise you, give you some extra strength and nurturing, and maybe help you detach more. Your son will be a hard nut to crack, and you need to be looking after yourself and the rest of your family.

All best,


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