Held Hostage By Our Son’s Suicide Threats

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 188 · Duration: 00:15:08

Held Hostage By Our Son’s Suicide Threats

What do you do when your young adult son threatens suicide whenever you talk to him about getting a job or using adult behavior?Click To TweetWe’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, Held Hostage By Our Son’s Suicide Threats.

Today we’re hearing from Amanda from New York City and Amanda writes:

Dear Neil,

I have a 24-year-old son with bipolar disorder. He’s in treatment and is asymptomatic. Still he refuses to get a job and threatens suicide whenever the subject of “adult behavior” is brought up. He knows that leaves us paralyzed. It’s like living with a terrorist. What to do?

          Amanda from New York City

Now to Amanda’s question:

Thanks for your question Amanda. Yes, you’re living with your adult son who is terrorizing you.  But… since we’re seeing it that way, what can we do about it?  Not much, he has all the power.  Now, what if we shift this slightly and say, we are living with our adult son who is so averse to growing up, that he threatens suicide when we broach the subject with him.  Now that’s a problem but a problem we can at least begin to solve.  The fact that he has bipolar has undoubtedly contributed to getting here. It most likely interfered with his development, but regardless of what’s gone on, he needs to move forward; he needs to move forward for his sake and for yours.

A 24 year old threatening suicide if he has to get a job is pretty extreme isn’t it? What does it tell us; that he is that fragile, that he is used to getting his way by using passive controlling tactics?  Did the fact that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder disempower his parents from setting reasonable limits and now he’s continuing that pattern of getting his way because he is a victim of his bipolar disorder?  

Now, we always take it seriously when someone tells us they are suicidal, even if they are using suicide as a threat.  They can carry out that threat and that would be tragic. Since his bipolar disorder is under control, his behavior is less about bipolar and more about a lack of character development.  You know, integrity, responsibility, applying values in one’s life. Given how dug in he is, I’d have to predict that whatever you do, the next steps are going to be tough from the point of view that he’s going to resist and do what he thinks will keep you from setting limits and requiring him to move forward.  This is a pretty entrenched Control Battle here with you trying to help him grow, and he telling you “no way”.

Yet, it is your home and what he’s doing is unhealthy and represents dysfunction and there needs to be a plan to create healthy function.  If he is going to live with you, then you need to feel that it is healthy for him and healthy for you.

If he’s not going to “adult” (and I’m using adult as a verb here) if he’s not going to “adult” and become independent, then what happens to chronically dysfunctional adults?  They get certified as disabled, go on SSI, and usually live in group homes for people with disabling chronic mental health conditions. 

Amanda, those are really the two choices that your son needs to face; embrace the goal of emancipation and engage a process of adulting, or engage a process of formalizing chronic disability.  Before we talk about how to present this, let’s ask ourselves a couple of questions.

What’s the role of his regular counseling here?  You say he’s in treatment; what are they treating? What is the goal?  Is the goal to help him function better; to discover what is holding him back and address it? I’m sure he has depression and most likely anxiety, but I have to wonder if there is a goal or if the therapist is simply being a supportive person for him to talk with.  This is a family affair as much or more than it is an individual one.  What I mean is, this is about a family needing help getting to the next stage of life; a young adult and his parents figuring out how to move forward towards individuation and emancipation.  Who is paying for his treatment?  I’m guessing it’s you since your son doesn’t work.  With HIPAA laws, your son would need to sign a waiver to allow his therapist to talk with you, but I would only pay for therapy if he signed a waiver so that you can talk with his therapist. If the therapist isn’t able or willing to work with parents and a young adult, then we need a therapist who can.  

Here is my suggestion for how to present your son with the choice of working on adulting towards emancipation, or declaring himself chronically mentally ill and getting certified as such.

Here is how you might talk with your son whom I’ll call Matt:

And by the way, if he won’t listen, text this to him.

Matt, every time we talk with you about getting a job or becoming responsible, you threaten suicide.  That is extremely concerning to us.

If the thought of growing up is that overwhelming to you, that you think that dying would be a better option, that’s a problem and a problem that needs a solution.Click To Tweet  We don’t accept that you can’t or won’t grow up.  You are smart and capable and something other than your abilities is creating fear, anxiety or some other emotions that are keeping you from committing yourself to growing up; from creating a satisfying independent adult life. 

If we’re missing something and you are so disabled that the idea of becoming independent creates suicidal thoughts, and you truly can’t work or take steps towards being independent, then you need to get yourself on disability insurance and learn about services for disabled adults.  But that’s not how we see you.  

From there Amanda, you move forward and make some decisions.  After this discussion, next should be to contact his therapist.  The therapist needs to know about his suicidal threats and be able to address that with him and give you guidance. Either that will open things up and your son will get on board with making significant changes, or you could find another therapist to work with parents and their young adult son.  Your position needs to be, “We don’t accept the status quo.”  Once we’ve established that your son needs to start working on himself, with therapeutic guidance, he could enroll in an intensive treatment program.  That’s a step above regular outpatient therapy and not as intensive or expensive as residential treatment. Usually it meets 4 or 5 days a week for several hours a day.  They teach and practice emotional management skills, communication skills, goal setting, and most even have a family component.  

Amanda, does this make sense to you?  If you are a victim of terrorism, then there isn’t much you can do.  You’re locked in a Control Battle.  But instead, if you see that your son, with his threats, is telling you something about himself. Then we can hold a mirror up to him and tell him what he is saying about himself and we can take steps towards a solution.

Amanda, you may be thinking, “Yeah Neil, but what do we do when we say this and he says NO WAY I  won’t cooperate?”  Amanda, the simple answer is turn off the Wi-Fi, stop giving him money, take away the infrastructure that enables his unproductivity.  What do you do then if he becomes suicidal or violent? Call 911.  Then he can go to the hospital and be evaluated for suicide potential.  Your job is to stay committed to change and know that the change you are requiring is the support your son needs; it’s benefiting him and will make life more manageable for you. 

So parents and folks who work with parents and families, when parents feel held hostage by their children, children of any age including teenagers and young adults, there is a Control Battle in play.  Within the Control Battle dynamic, there is no solution.  The way out is to embrace a vision of health and commit to it.

When caring parents are clear and committed to health, and are clear and committed to change, the Control Battle Beast will starve, and kids will move forward. Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today listeners, and special thanks to you Amanda for sharing your situation with us.  Well, Memorial Day is behind us and most young people are out of school for the year and the rest will be out shortly.  I hope that next year, and any summer learning going forward is in person.  This year of online learning took a major toll on teachers, parents, and kids. Depression, anxiety and burnout are way up for so many people around the globe.   All the more reason that you need to take care of yourself.  You need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now. 

Have a question for Neil? Submit it now for discussion on a future episode of The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Don't want to miss an episode?

Be sure to subscribe to The Healthy Family Connections Podcast on iTunes for up to date information and advice from Neil D Brown -- all for free!


Want to tell your friends about The Healthy Family Connections Podcast?

Click here to tweet your followers about The Healthy Family Connections Podcast. They will thank you!Click To Tweet


Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .