Monster In-Laws

Dear Dr. Darcy:

My father-in-law hits himself repeatedly in the head, hard. It's a problem he has had his whole life. He also suffers from depression and anxiety. It has become a huge problem now later in his life. My family and I suffer as well, since we rent from my in-laws and are subjected to constant slapping and hitting in front of us as well as the sound next door. He has a long history of being admitted and released from various mental wards in hospitals, with seemingly no problem. In fact they release him saying he is fine, and give a prescription of some low dose anti-depressants. I cannot believe how he can escape the system like this when my children suffer from this constant form of abuse. You see he can turn it off when in the company of others and seems to whack out when it's us alone.

My husband grew up with these episodes all throughout his life, and is scarred by it as well. How do we get him the right help? He won't take the drugs given to him, and he is only getting worse. I have read it's a form of "cutting", I don't know I am done with feeling bad, because I have seen him act "normal" and my kids are in a bad way. Please advise.


I feel for you, girlfriend.  Your frustration and feelings of helplessness come through loud and clear.  In order for me to help you, I have to show you ways in which you are not helpless, so it may feel like I’m hitting you in the head.  And maybe I am, but it’s for the sake of your children.

You need to move the fuck out of that house.  NOW.  Today. I’m sure you have a billion reasons for why that’s impossible and I’m here to tell you that it’s all bullshit that you’ve decided to align with so that you’d stay in the status quo.  No one likes change.  And the smarter we are, the better the reasons we come up with for not changing.  You are a prisoner of these reasons, and what’s worse is that your kids are too.

Your father-in-law is engaging in a maladaptive, attention-seeking behavior when he hits himself.  This is a learned behavior, well within his control to change (evidenced by the fact that he can turn it off when in the company of others), and he has gotten away with it his entire life.  He’s not changing unless his wife sends him to a hard-core DBT program (Dialectical behavior therapy program) which she’ll never do because she’s an enabler. She enables him by staying with him instead of setting a limit and throwing him to the curb the next time he whacks his head against a wall.  Your husband enables him as well by providing him with income generated by an unacceptable rental situation.  If you guys didn’t rent from your in laws, do you think anyone else would?  Maybe initially, but if they had a shred of sanity they’d be out the door within a month, rendering your father-in-law with a natural consequence to his behaviors that might actually matter to him.  Clearly, the emotional damage that he’s done to his own family and that he’s now doing to his grandchildren aren’t consequence enough.  He sounds like a selfish fuck, clinically known as a narcissist.

You enable your father-in-law too by living there.  You say, ‘I cannot believe how he can escape the system like this when my children suffer from this constant form of abuse.’ Your job, as their mother, is to safeguard them from abuse.  Only you are responsible for exposing them to daily abuse.  Not a hospital.  Not a flawed system.  Not even your father-in-law.  You.  Your children are picking up the tab for your decision to not make waves with your husband. It's a vicious cycle:  You don't want to upset him.  He doesn't want to upset his parents.  And your poor kids are stuck living in an environment that is unsafe for their emotional development. I wonder how tolerant your husband would be of his father if his consequence was having you all move out..   There are 2 responses to growing up with abuse:  You either run like hell from the first signs of it or you find a situation in which you live with it again as an adult.  Your husband, consciously or otherwise, chose the later.  What’s your excuse?

Here’s what’s going to happen if you don’t move out of that house:  Your kids will grow up to hate you.  They’ll forgive their grandfather because I’m sure the family story has been Grandpa is sick.  They’ll also forgive their pushover father because Daddy was raised by Grandpa and he doesn’t know better. In the end, you will be left paying the tab for this emotional debt.  Well, you and some poor shrink who’ll be virtually powerless to undo the years of trauma that you exposed your kids to.  Check out a CoDa meeting (linked here) while you're at it. They'll help you find the inner strength to do what isn't coming naturally.

Writer’s Stats: Female, Straight.