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17yo son in unhealthy relationship which has totally changed his behaviour

(6 Posts)
nowheretoturnto Wed 05-Nov-14 01:28:10

It is a long story and hard to describe, so please excuse any disjointedness.
17 yo son has taken up with a girl for past year who self harms, is depressed, suicidal, panics, bulimic, insomniac and is generally very needy.
Although he was the usual uncommunicative, lazy teenager, he was not a bad lad, he has a gentle nature and still held on to a bit of playfulness.
His behaviour has totally changed both in himself and towards me.
I found cut marks on him and spoke to the school as this really was not him, who told me they were aware of her self harming issues. He has since left school, although she has remained there.
He seems to be copying her behaviour to identity and empathise with her. He is telling a lot of lies about his life to accomplish this. Where she has a lot of serious problems that she is putting onto him, he is making up things and I am often blamed for the majority them. He has taken to causing a lot of arguments between us and then telling her how wicked and abusive I am towards him and what a horrible life he suffers with me. Then he walks out and tells her that I have kicked him out. Not true! I am worried that if this continues for much longer he is going to become a pathological liar and start believing his own stories. It is almost like he is living a double life, whereby he is making up all these lies to her about how badly treated he is and how vile I am to him, but in reality he carries on as normal often even giving me a hug and saying he loves me! He is head over heels in love with her, even though he is often troubled and depressed, understandably as he is having a lot of her problems put on him and he doesn't know how to deal with them.and she occupies every millimetre of his head space. She is up all night texting. He gets tired and needs a far more sleep than her, but he is not getting it. His college work is suffering and other friends, activities etc. have fallen by the wayside. The earliest I can get him to bed is 1am. At one point he started not eating, but this seems to have stopped. I realise they all hate us at this age but the tales he is making up I feel are crossing the line. I have devoted my life to him and he is not abused as he claims.
Tonight I came home and he created an argument and stormed off to her house which is quite some distance away. I pointed out that I had not done anything and tried to ask what was troubling him but he started shouting and left and is staying at her house. I called the police who did not think he was in danger. I disagree as I am extremely worried about what is going on between them, and the fact that her parents seem to join in to turn him against me. Her parents are very controlling of her and she is turn is very controlling of him. She also hits him and he says he "does not mind" .He is gullible and naïve, she is his first gf, whereby she is quite worldly and has had other sexual relationships before him. The parents are aware of her self harm and yet do not get her any help.
I am a single parent without any family support. I know I cannot control who he chooses as friends, but I am worried about the current and also the long term effect it is having/will have on our relationship. I feel I cannot carry on like this, and whatever I do I am in a no-win situation. Obviously I cannot say anything about her as it will drive him further away.
Sorry this is so long. Any advice please?

Crazyative Wed 05-Nov-14 14:28:28

Your situation sounds so awful and heartbreaking and I'm so sorry that you don't have any family support, it must feel very lonely and frustrating having to deal with this on your own.

It sounds like you've read the situation well e.g. if you bad mouth the GF that will push him further away. But it must be very hard to watch your son change and do things that are not in his own best interests.

My sister ended up in a similar situation with her son although the GF wasn't self-harming, but she was extremely controlling. Sadly, my sister dug her heals in and made the mistake of telling her son that the GF wasn't right for him etc., etc.,. Eventually her son married the GF — and to cut a long story short, my sister has no relationship with her son now, which is not her choice. Her son's wife I think has symptoms of Narcissist Personality Disorder shown my her lack of empathy and conceited manner: underneath it all, I think she can't bear anyone challenging her own delusional view of herself — and he's bought into it. Although my sister was married, her husband was pretty absent / ineffectual (an alcoholic) and she had brought up her son by herself. Until the GF, they were extremely close, she had a say in everything he did — some family members have described my sister as controlling. I think of it as part control and part mutual dependency. But as soon as her son reached his late teens, started Uni, got a girlfriend — that dependency shifted to the GF. His dependency shows how unable he is to stand on his own two feet — he went straight from his mother to his girlfriend (now wife) with no period of independence in between. I now often think that my nephew chose a far more controlling version of his mother. He's incapable of thought that's independent from his wife. They even share a FB account — a merging of both their names. He also behaved very differently in our company — and if she was present, or at the other end of the phone, his whole manner would change. I sometimes think that my nephew has some kind of Stockholm Syndrome if such a thing exists in emotionally abusive relationships!

For whatever reason, your son seems to be dependent on his GF. Has he ever been confident, independent in his own right? If he behaves 'normally' with you when he's not with her, I'm guessing he does that because that is your 'usual' way of being together and she's not there to apply her judgement. Even though you know that this relationship doesn't appear to be doing your son any good — it doesn't mean that he will see it that way. At that age, there's probably a multitude of emotions and things to prove — and you say she's his first GF. He may be so thrilled to have accomplished getting into a relationship that he's willing to sacrifice all sorts of other things to maintain it. Until, hopefully, he sees the light. It's worth remembering that first relationships are rarely the lasting one's.

In your situation, I would make it my sole aim to maintain a relationship with my child. I'd try very hard not to criticise him wanting to see the GF (wondering if he causes arguments as an excuse to get out to see her because he knows you don't want him to?), I'd try to keep communication open even if it means biting your tongue. You can't look out for him if you don't see him. Remind him that you love him, that you're there for him and that you care for his well-being. In the midst of all this tension I know it will be difficult but I would try to find opportunities to remind him of his good qualities — it's easy to let a difficult situation dominate all your interactions and he may start forgetting what he's got going for him independent of the GF. Don't get sucked into situations where he's trying to cause arguments — he must know how to push your buttons. Reasoning that you haven't done the things he says won't necessarily make a jot of difference if his aim is to do all he can to see the GF.

I'm interested to know, do you try to stop him seeing her?

I'm not sure what support exists for parents of teenagers but I wonder if there's someone you can talk to, with some professional insight into how to cope with this?

Anyway, my heart goes out to you.

nowheretoturnto Wed 05-Nov-14 17:22:08

Thank you so much for taking the time to write your message. It was really helpful. Although a bit worrying that your nephew ended up marrying his controlling GF.

My son has never had much confidence or been very independent. He is very gullible and impressionable and a people pleaser. He was often bullied at school and I was always down there fighting the latest battle.

I do sometimes wonder, as you so rightfully pointed out with your sister, that maybe he sees me as a bit controlling, but it was never done intentionally. When there is only the two of you, the relationship is a close one, as it became my job to do everything that would normally or hopefully be shared between two parents or even wider family, so maybe it did come across to him as control.

I have never tried to stop him seeing the GF as I realise that it will push him further away and he will chose her over me every time.

We have had a few of these episodes where he storms out and it all blows up and things are said. But the things that are said do need to be discussed such as the cut marks that I saw on his body and I did have to refer to the GF as it was apparent that he was copying her behaviour. This is why I feel that whatever I do or say is wrong or is misconstrued by him either on purpose or otherwise. It has got to the stage whereby I dare not say anything as whatever I do makes things worse.

I have really tried to concentrate on our relationship and maintain it, but really feel that it is slipping away. I feel so sorry for your sister. I could never understand how parents could let communication with their kids stop, but can now see it is so easy to happen.

I think he causes the arguments as he can then match her numerous problems with his own, again a way of identifying and empathising with her. What he does not realise though is that it is driving a wedge between us. Also he seems to believe his own lies and I am finding that a bit worrying. It is like a sort of Walter Mitty Syndrome but very damaging. The police have referred him to CAMHS for a psychiatric assessment, but whether or not he will go is a different matter, or if I will ever know the results as he is 17 and considered an adult.

It is very hard to maintain any relationship with him under these conditions. I am trying but underneath it all I am concerned and worried about what is really going on and where it is all going to end. If she told him to jump off a cliff he would.

Thanks again for your help.

Crazyative Wed 05-Nov-14 23:23:32

It sounds like such a terrible situation for you to bear on your own, I'm glad that my message has been of some help.

I really hope he goes for the assessment because any psychological worker worth their salt should be able to detect some of what's going on. You're obviously the best kind of mother as you rightly point out, you can't ignore the physical harm he's doing to himself and you've attempted to do something about that. I don't think any kind of therapy would work unless it was confidential. Remember, his GF will not be privy to it either. Even if he tells her about it, she can't sit their on his shoulder during it. But I wonder if the GP might be able to refer you both for some family therapy too? You sound like you're at your wits end, surely the GP can't ignore that? Unless there's some funded support available, through a charity perhaps? I'm sure there are charities that deal with the issues you say he's displaying.

It sounds like you've both had quite a difficult time getting through things together and you've done what all loving mothers do, which is try protect and care for your son.

I didn't mean to sound like that I thought he might think that you're being controlling. As a matter of course, I think teenagers can try to shake off parents as a way of finding out who they are on the way to independence. I can totally appreciate that as just the two of you together, you would have a close bond. Perhaps he finds it difficult to maintain a close bond with you and with his GF, particularly if she is as controlling/influential as you say. He might feel he has to choose.

It must be so hard to communicate with him when it feels like you're treading on eggshells — again not uncommon amongst parents of teenagers. All I can suggest is that you keep doing what you're doing, which is looking out for him, being there and showing him you love him.

Just a thought, but if there's any chance that he might be willing to do any activities with you — perhaps initially those he likes e.g. going to a film and having a take away after. This might help for you to claw back / reestablish your bond with him and/or, dare I say it — together with the dreaded GF too? These are just things that come to mind and I know it's easier said than done. While she's on the scene, I don't think you will have the same bond with your son, but while she's around perhaps you could try to become a part of 'their' life? Just another thought. I, like you, will live in hope that he eventually sees the light and gives her the boot! But, in the meantime...

I really hope you've got some friends to support you through this — we don't always think to ask for help (speaking from experience) but when we get the help, we realise how much we needed it. I would urge you to speak to someone -- a professional or a friend. I think even you alone receiving some kind of support might help. I'm pretty sure the GP can provide referrals for counsellors etc., if you can't afford to pay for one privately.

I noticed there's a whole information section on teenagers on mumsnet. There might be some nuggets of wisdom there — and perhaps mumsnetters with experience of similar issues.

Take care.

nowheretoturnto Thu 06-Nov-14 09:43:35

Thank you again.

I try to do some things with him but he doesn't really want to. He does it out of sufferance.

I think he does need some sort of counselling and I have arranged for him to have an assessment on Saturday with a private organisation. Then wait for the CAMHS one.

Also I will look out for some sort of counselling for me too.

Yes I do feel like I am walking on egg shells. Even more so though as he twists things and makes things up to accuse me of (sometimes) quite serious things that I have not done.

Thank you for sharing your insight.

Crazyative Thu 06-Nov-14 10:27:36

Sounds like you're doing everything you can — I've just found out what the CAMHS service does, it sounds like a very good option. I hope you and your son get the help you need. I'll look out for an update but no pressure.

Take care of yourself.

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