Abuse Tears Families Apart: A Sister Mourns the Loss of Her Brother

By Dr Tara J. Palmatier

August 10, 2012

Being in an abusive relationship doesn’t just hurt the target of abuse, it hurts everyone who cares about and loves the target.

In my private practice, I find I am increasingly working with family members of men who are grieving the loss, or potential loss, of a beloved son, brother, grandson, etc. These men all had the misfortune of getting involved with and committing themselves to “Crazy” (insecure, immature, abusive, high-conflict and/or personality disordered — diagnosed and undiagnosed — women).

The families members with whom I work either have already been estranged from their sons/brothers at the mandate of the abusive, controlling spouse or girlfriend or are in the process of powerlessly watching their loved one slip away as Crazy increasingly isolates and brainwashes him into believing the worst of his family and the best of her. Common lies and distortions include:

  • Your family is trying to tear us apart.
  • Your family is rude to me.
  • You family hates me.
  • Your family is controlling.
  • Your family is unhealthy.
  • Your family is enmeshed.
  • You need to man-up and quit crying to your mother/father/sister/brother.

Never forget, bullies and predators like weak, easy targets. Isolating their prey from “the herd” is just one of the ways they do this.

Why would an abusive wife or girlfriend try to force an estrangement from their boyfriend’s or husband’s family?

1. Many abusive individuals, Borderlines, Narcissists, etc., are pathologically insecure and jealous. She requires all of her prey’s attention, time, resources and affection. She views loving family members and friends as competition and a threat to her total control and ownership of her prey.

2. These individuals fear exposure. She worries that family members will see through her. She fiercely guards her prey and does not allow him around anyone with whom she does not control the narrative and/or is not one of her sycophants/toadies/negative advocates/flying monkeys. Removing friends and family from her prey’s life who would speak up and say, “The way she treats you is wrong” and help him reality test is imperative to her maintaining control.

3. As previously noted, these individuals like easy and/or willing victims. “Nice guys” seem to be the perfect prey. These women turn their prey’s kindness, patience, naivety, and willingness to problem solve and compromise into weaknesses. They count on their victim’s decency and sense of honor, loyalty and commitment to get away with the things they do. Isolating the victim is a very effective way to ensure he continues to drink her kool-aid and also to ensure that he has nowhere to turn for help if and when the light bulbs start to turn on.

4. Many of these women come from severely dysfunctional and abusive homes, but not all. For those women who are repeating the generational cycle of abuse and/or mental illness and personality disorders, this is just business as usual. If you look into their family tree, you will probably find a history of familial cut-offs, feuds, grudges, etc. Your daughter-in-law or sister-in-law or granddaughter-in-law probably sees estrangement and her host of other dysfunctional and abusive behaviors as “normal.”

5. For the abusive, personality disordered woman, isolating and controlling your son is essential to her psychological survival — at least, that’s probably how she sees it. Initially, she no doubt mapped her infantile wish for a perfect parent/mommy/daddy/knight in shining armor/savior onto your son or brother. If she has Borderline Personality Disorder or any of the other Cluster B disorders or traits (narcissistic, antisocial, histrionic), she no doubt began to devalue and abuse him once she secured a relationship with him. He probably went from being her “hero/soulmate” to a loser who cannot do anything right in quick succession.

Your son is more than likely jumping through an endless series of hoops in an effort to become her hero again. No healthy, happy, emotionally secure person with boundaries and self-esteem would tolerate this kind of behavior for long. Thus, Crazy keeps your son or brother tethered to her by keeping him in a weakened state of confusion, shifting blame, false hope and wishful thinking.

If you are watching this happen to a family member or friend, it is incredibly painful. You want to intervene and help, but Crazy probably twists your love and concern into something bad. You have more than likely had your hopes raised when your son or brother initially confided in you that all is not well and he is contemplating ending the relationship, only to have these hopes dashed when he inexplicably gives her another chance and another and another.

Every time he goes back to her, he becomes a little more distant and guarded with you. This is because Crazy more than likely punishes him severely for these acts of “disobedience” and “disloyalty.” This is often Crazy’s first act of parental and familial alienation, but it is directed at her husband’s/boyfriend’s family instead of the children they have together. Crazy cuts you out of your brother’s or son’s life just as surely as she will one day do to the children he shares with her. Consider it her dress rehearsal for parental alienation to come.

Some men see their way out of these relationships and reconnect with their families of origin; while others do not. These men become moths to the flame of Crazy until their very selves and souls are extinguished by her inferno of hate, jealousy, control and insecurity. Families with sons and brothers who refuse to escape often have to accept the loss because it is too painful to watch the destruction of their son or brother, and grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Many adopt a “tough love” approach like you would do with a loved one with an addiction.

I can only imagine how painful and difficult it must be to let go of a beloved family member who has become a brainwashed husk of the person he once was. However, it is often necessary to look away and distance yourself from witnessing the ongoing abuse in order to grieve and heal.

Kristina Grant, who follows the Shrink4Men Facebook page, has experienced such a loss. She wrote the following poem to grieve the loss of her brother. She has given me her permission to publish it here.

For my brother..

The time has come
to accept that there’s nothing
that can be done
To let it go
to be free

Oh I’ve tried and I’ve tried
over and over
but it never changes
I’m just spinning my wheels
in the dust of your destruction

it feels like
I’ve been living the movie Groundhog Day
over and over
same shit
different day

for five years in a row
around and around we go
where it ends
if it ends
nobody knows

no longer will I climb
your pathetic mountain of lies
to help you down
no longer will I cry
as I watch her bleed you dry

no longer will I try
to make sense of something
where there is no sense
no sanity
no clarity

you’re gone
deep in the folds
of her straight jacket
banging your head against the wall
over and over

excusing and justifying
the utter nothingness of what she is
as she tears you down
stomps on your crown
and laughs that crazy laugh

what will it take
to wake you up
to help you see
the nightmare that envelops you
controls you
owns you

the Succubus whispers in your ear
draws you down
fills you with fear
takes you
makes you cower
makes you whimper

I cannot watch any longer
I cannot bear
to see you suffocating
in the coils of the snake
as she squeezes you to death

so as the two of you
grab and nip at my heels
in the throes of your twisted dance
trying me
pushing me
wanting my reaction
just to feed your madness

watch me walk
my solid walk
NOW is the time I stomp on your hands
and tape your mouths shut

NOW is the time
that I cut the ties
with all your lies
and walk away
to live my life


Source: Shrink4Men