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Selah R, M.S. LPC
Selah R, M.S. LPC, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 582
Experience:  Licensed Professional Counselor; over 13+ yrs exp working with adults, teens, & families/couples.
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Selah, How do we help our daughter who we believe is living

Resolved Question:

Hello Selah, How do we help our daughter who we believe is living with a psychopath, and how do I recover from the manipulations of my son-in-law after 10 years of taking him at face value. Here is the case history briefly.... I'm not a psychology professional - just a lay person with an 30 years of experience in counselling, which has grown out of my contact with people's personal problems through my main job. My wife and I have identified a psychopath in the family - our son-in-law. We have 10 years' experience of observing his behaviour and have read many books on the subject including Professor Robert D. Hare's "Without Conscience" "The Sociopath next door" by Martha Stout and "Women who Love Psychopaths" by Sandra L Brown. For this brief synopsis, I will refer to our son-in-law as "Jim", who first met our daughter when she was 15 and he was her school teacher. She was vulnerable and needed counselling herself because of recovering from the divorce of her mum and dad (I'm the step father) Jim was actually her counsellor at school and eventually had an affair wth her under the age of 16. We discovered this and tried to separate them but they carried on meeting in secret and eventually got married in spite of a huge age difference of 22 years. We did our best to accept him into the family. Our daughter occasionally wishes to leave him, but always ends up coming back to him in spite of his compulsive lies, adultery and highly manipulative and controling behaviour. She is drawn in by his excessive charm and kept in by the  children whom she wants to protect. He got his last girl friend pregnant although the child died at birth but our daughter still came back to him in spite of efforts to get a trial separation. He exploited her love of the children to get her back and we believe reactivated the hypnotic trance induced states which he laid down when she was a teenager. After 6 months of separation, swearing she would leave him permanently - telling us, the social services and police the same thing, from one week to the next she changed her mind and is once more completely besotted with him and is again under his spell. Once again he is trying to drive a wedge between myself and my step-daughter and we have suspicions that he damages the grandchildren via their food. These are just a few of the examples we have to cope with in our efforts to keep an eye on the family, but we would appreciate some help as we cannot escape this destructive man. Look foward very much to hearing from you. Best wishes, David
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Selah R, M.S. LPC replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for trusting JustAnswer with your important question.
That is a very difficult position to be in. It's going to be hard for her to leave, to give up on the years she has invested, and to risk negative effects from divorce affecting her children. But as a family, you can keep reminding her that she has support to help her leave, and that her and the kids deserve a safe home.
I would start by having her take a look at the various types of abuse he may be using to control her and keep her locked in the marriage.
Then she needs to understand that psychopaths do not change, they only say they will change to keep you under their control. But their behaviors and verbal assaults quickly go back to status quo. She will not ever have the power to change him, because he has no power to change himself. Nor will he ever have the real need to because he can always replace people in his life with new people with his charm and charisma.
The other part of the picture she needs to consider is would she be happy if her children turned out like him, or married people just like him? If not, why not? How does she think her kids will learn that his behaviors are not normal or healthy if he continues to live with them? You can not feed your children junk food all day every day and expect them to grow up to be healthy adults. They have to learn those healthy patterns now as children. What "food" is her spouse giving these kids? Divorce is hard on kids, so is moving homes, starting new schools, and other big changes in their lives. But staying in an unhealthy relationship "for the kids" is worse than divorce because the longer you stay married the longer your kids have to take on these unhealthy traits as their own personalities.
Keep reminding her that you love and support her, and that you know this is a tough situation. Many women in abusive or manipulative relationships take years before they muster the courage to actually leave. Many family members get burned out and detach from the woman because they don't understand why she won't leave. Ironically this detachment and loss of support can make the woman feel more isolated and more trapped. It's like trying to rescue someone from quicksand. If you yank too hard too fast, you'll usually end up trapped yourself. Slow but steady work is more effective for both people.
You may also ask her to consider seeing a counselor as an objective third party, to get another opinion on if this is a healthy or unhealthy relationship. She may think you want the relationship because you think no one is ever good enough for her, or some other false reason. She needs to realize it's not about him as much as it is about what's healthiest, safest, and sanest for her and her children.
Best wishes,
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

Hello Selah,

Thank you for your helpful reply to my question. There are some constructive points there, but I fear the situation is even harder than I might have painted. There doesn't seem to be any physical violence, and we find from the ABI.pdf document that you suggested, that the abuse is mainly emotional and Jim certainly scores very highly on that. However, it makes him especially harder to catch out or expose, because he manipulates and reframes everything so that he looks good.

I think our daughter knows that he won't change from the inside, but from the outside he is pressing all the correct buttons for her, so that at the moment she believes it is less harmful to stay with him than to leave him - as well as being less expensive. He is the "house father", whilst she is still working on a good salary. She doesn't at present see the damage he is doing to the children, the abuse of whom is again in the ‘emotional' category.

It is even more difficult for us to help, because she is very much against counselling therapy and psychology in general and becomes aggressive to her mum and me if we make suggestions or suggest web pages or books. She is "too busy for that sort of thing".

Whereas I agree with and understand everything you have pointed out, whilst appreciating your reply immensely, it appears to me that there is little we can do except put up with his controlling behaviour, and make sure, as you say that she knows we are there for her all the time.

Any comments would be gratefully received, although I know this is a tricky one. Most of professionals I meet socially or on web pages say that the profession can do nothing for psychopaths and the only advice is to "RUN". If psychiatrists say this, what chance have we got to help either our daughter or ourselves live with this destructive but charming and empty person, let alone expose him to my daughter for what he really is?

Best wishes,


Expert:  Selah R, M.S. LPC replied 6 years ago.
This is one of those extremely difficult situations where you have to decide if and when to step away from your daughter in order to stop enabling her to stay in a bad situation. Like a family with a drug addict, sometimes the family has to lovingly say that they will support that family member only if they seek treatment. The fear is that while standing by and offering emotional, financial, and other types of support you may be making it easier for them to keep making the same bad choices. For example, if she knows you will never stop helping her put her pieces back together, does that make it easier foe her to stay with him. If you set up the boundary that he had to go, would she find herself isolated enough and without support to the point that'd she'd finally say enough is enough. I don't know.
But if the situation starts tearing apart the rest of your family, your own mental health, or your own marriage, you may need to check your boundaries. You can't change him. You can't force her to open her eyes. The only thing you can control is if, and for how long, you are willing to get caught up in this turmoil. This is not an easy or quick decision, but most families know when the time is right. They often feel like they are drowning, trying to rescue their drowning family member. You can both die, and the sanest thing is to get yourself to safety and hope they will follow.
The highest rates of divorce are when kids are first brought into the marriage, and once kids start being teens. Kids are a huge reason many people stay unhappily married. Not only do they want to protect their kids from the possible damages of divorce, but the financial burden seems insurmountable. You may have an easier time getting her to consider leaving once the kids get older and are more independent.
But only you can decide how to proceed. It sounds like for now, being there for her is the best you can do. I wish there was a better answer, but there isn't. You've got an impossible situation of her not being ready to leave, despite the abuse he is aiming at her and their kids, and despite the fact that he's taking advantage of her by not working and having affairs. No woman deserves that treatment.
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