Dear 100 Hour Board,
I asked this question (https://theboard.byu.edu/questions/76678/) a little over a year ago. Since then, things have gotten monumentally worse. I've found out things about this girl that I never wanted to know... and I probably don't even know half of it. Her behavior has now escalated into illegal activities, word of wisdom violations, self harm, sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night, and who knows what else. And now that she's 18, there's not much anyone can do about it.
I'm not really concerned about her leaving the church anymore-- I realize it's not the most important thing to worry about. Right now, I'm just worried she's going to end up in jail or even worse. One of the most frustrating things is that she always acts like nothing is wrong. One day after she'd run away and we all put our lives on hold to spend several hours filing police reports and trying to contact her, she came home and immediately started talking with me about some stupid cell phone game. I wanted nothing more than to scream at her and tell her I don't care about that -- she's ruining her life, scaring her parents and younger siblings to death, and making her family miserable! I just kind of sidestepped the subject and left the room.
She still works at that stupid fast food place and often doesn't get off work until after midnight, and then she sticks around talking to her co-workers for hours after that. Her parents don't trust her to drive herself or get a ride home, so they have to go sit in the parking lot and wait for her to finish, reducing their sleep to just a few hours a night, if they're lucky. She doesn't care at all about how she's affecting their health and sanity in multiple ways. She just sleeps all weekend to make up for her lost sleep, but she doesn't understand that her parents have jobs and other kids to take care of and can't do that. She just yells constantly and insists she's doing nothing wrong. She's become a perpetual liar and very verbally abusive, especially to her mother, and it's breaking my heart.
She says no one loves her and she'll only be happy when she moves out of her parents' house. She's planning on going to college in the fall, but it's not even a sure thing that she'll graduate from high school. I'll be shocked if she doesn't either flunk out of school or run out of money (because she has absolutely no sense of the concept of not spending more money than you earn) and be forced to move back home after one semester, starting this horrible nightmare all over again.
Anyway, I guess my question is, how can I still love her when I don't even want to be around her anymore? I know I need to try to be her friend still, but I'd never be friends with someone like this if she wasn't a family member. I have my own problems to deal with, and she's totally toxic. I just want to slap her and kick her to the curb to get a hard dose of reality. Please tell me how to deal with someone like this... I'm at my wits end. In an effort to be nice, I bought some tickets for us to go to a concert together this summer, but I'm already regretting that decision. I don't know if I can survive spending an entire evening with her. Is there any way to talk some sense into someone like this? I can't even imagine what her parents are going through.
First off, I have a lot of empathy for you, your sibling and sibling-in-law, and all your nieces and nephews, not least this young woman.
Frankly, all of her behavior points to an incipient psychological disorder, most likely a personality disorder along the lines of Borderline Personality Disorder (the self-harm and the glibness, the lack of a theory of other minds, is what tipped me off), but it could be a number of things.
I plead with you, you have some sort of influence on your niece's parents, please encourage them to get their daughter to a counselor. It will do her infinitely more good than this job: I agree with last year's respondent that is a categorically bad idea.
Yes, she is a young adult, but she is still in high school. I was never expected to work; school was my focus. Is there a way that this family can survive financially without her income? I know that in the post-recessionary economy, many family's finances are tight, but their niece's well-being, as well as their own, is at stake. If she at risk of flunking, I plead with you to help her get a tutor and one-on-one help. Is she in the Salt Lake Valley? Then I would tutor her, pro bono, not a doubt in my mind.
I understand that she is making herself difficult to get along with. But I think a wise, level-headed aunt like yourself is an absolute godsend to her. You don't have to enable her self-destructive behaviors—frankly, I think the parents could use counseling as well after getting her out of the dead-end job and getting her to focus on her studies—but trust me, please believe me, if you withdraw your affection now, the downward spiral could get worse.
Young women who feel unloved, who self-harm, who act out, often feel very misunderstood, even worthless. I think if you use this pivotal moment to tut-tut her and make your disapproval obvious, she'll lash out. I think now that's she's reached her majority, she needs to get into counseling, possibly on medication at the recommendation of a qualified psychiatrist, not me, and take responsibility for a new outlook, a new friend circle, a new high school if that's what it takes.
Why should you love her? Well, she's your niece. Think of her positive qualities: independence, vivacity, probably a reasonably intelligent and loving younger girl inside the shell of someone who has become manipulative and mean under the influence of people who are doing her no good.
PLEASE, if you have any influence, get her out of this job, and into counseling.
I agree with you that as an adult, she can choose whether to be involved with the LDS Church at this precise time. But her parents can certainly set ground rules of behavior while she's at home, and I think absolutely unconditional love while enforcing absolutely conditional privileges (if nothing else, she can't handle the job, and would be much better served and serving using her rambunctiousness volunteering at an outdoor gardens, or giving music lessons, SOMETHING).
If she indeed has BPD or another serious personality disorder, getting counseling now could not only save her grades and her parents' sanity, it could save her life.
That's what I'd suggest. Love her for her past strengths, the interesting and accomplished woman she certainly can become if she takes responsiblity for her life and gets help for her feelings of self-loathing and lost-ness, and love her because if you don't, you could lose her forever.
Dear Frustrated Aunt,
I second Portia in that your niece really needs therapy because something is definitely wrong. I'm not qualified to make any diagnoses, especially with so little information, but check out these diagnostic criteria and see if any resonate with you:
- frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships going between extremes of idealization and devaluation
- persistently unstable sense of self
- impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging, such as spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, or binge eating
- recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviors
- intense mood swings, usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days
- chronic feelings of emptiness
- difficulty controlling anger
- stress-related paranoia or dissociative symptoms
That's the list of symptoms which characterizes a mental illness called borderline personality disorder. Nobody can make a diagnosis except for a licensed mental health professional, which I am not. It could just as easily be, as a commenter suggested on your last question, a response to trauma such as sexual assault. It could be a lot of things. Even more importantly, nobody can treat a mental illness except for a licensed mental health professional. That means therapy. I understand that your niece is now an adult and so no one can force her to seek therapy. I also understand from your question of a year ago that your sister believes that your niece would react poorly to therapy due to her tendency to shut down. Therapists are used to that and have techniques to deal with it. I think it's time to trust a mental health professional and get your niece into an office.
Getting your niece into an office might be difficult, especially with the current situation as it is. Your sister and brother-in-law are currently going to great lengths to try and protect your niece, which is admirable. They do it because they love her, which is, after all, what parents should do. However, if there is a point between healthy love and enabling, they appear to have crossed it. The truth about these types of behaviors is that you cannot protect someone from unsavory outcomes. You just can't. Your attempts are futile. They have to decide to get healthier. In the meantime, nobody, NOBODY, can protect them from all of the terrible possible consequences of their actions. All anyone can do is love them and refuse to become part of the problem. Unfortunately, your brother-in-law and sister are part of the problem when they do things like sit outside your niece's job for hours waiting to take her home. They believe they have to do it to prevent their daughter from getting into trouble, leaving with someone dangerous, or not coming home at all. It could be that they are right and that any one of those things could happen if they didn't wait outside, but it could also be that all of those things could happen if they do wait outside. In addition, they lose the majority of their sleep, experience chaos, and are unable to spend that time with their spouse or other children while your niece experiences no consequences for her behavior. She can behave however she wants and she will still get a ride home to her warm bed. While your sister and brother-in-law's motives are excellent, the results are unhealthy.
So, how can anybody get your volatile niece into a therapist's office? I imagine the answer has to do with implementing consequences and holding boundaries. For example, perhaps if she will not seek therapy she cannot live at her parents' home anymore. This would be because her presence there is so unhealthy and chaotic, especially for her siblings. She is an adult, and remember, she can't be protected from herself anyway. There are a lot of chances for these types of techniques for other behaviors, too. If she isn't outside within ten minutes of her shift ending, maybe she doesn't get a ride home. If she is yelling or being verbally abusive, maybe everyone else leaves the room until she calms down. If she wants to rant and rage against someone or something, maybe it's okay for ten minutes but no more. Boundaries aren't about punishments. They are about keeping everyone healthy and avoiding enabling behaviors.
I also need to take a moment and stress how difficult all of this must be in your niece. Let's do a thought experiment. Let's imagine that within the past year your entire life had changed. You lost your faith and your close relationships with your family. You have watched your grades tank and your prospects along with them. Your moods go from content to anger to intense sadness within just a few minutes of each other and you cannot control them. Everything that is happening is so intense that the only way you can find to calm yourself is to harm yourself. You don't understand why everyone is so angry with you sometimes, or you do and you can't stop anyway. What do you imagine that would feel like? I imagine I'd feel disoriented, scared, alone, hurt, and angry. I think I'd deserve as much empathy as anyone could give me. I hope people would hold me accountable for my behaviors to help me get better.
One way to improve your relationship with your niece could be to focus on things completely outside of the chaos she reigns down on everyone. In your last question you said you would ask your niece if she had any questions about the church and that she would claim she didn't. Maybe she interpreted your question as you saying that all that mattered in your relationship was the church. (I'm not saying that's what you meant, just that perhaps that is how she interpreted it.) Maybe what needs to happen between you and her is to build a relationship separate from all the negative things that have happened over the past year. Sit down with her and talk about light topics, like television or her dumb cell phone game. If that goes well, talk to her about how her day went, what she likes and dislikes about her job or about school, what her friends are like, if she has any romantic interest. Don't give advice at all during these conversations. Just listen. If that works, maybe start seeing if your influence grows a little.
Good luck, and all the best.
- The Black Sheep