Dr. Zoe Shaw, A Year of Self-Care

Ask Dr. Zoe – Can I Detach from My Aggressive, Disrespectful Teenage Son?

Ask Dr. Zoe - Can I Detach from My Aggressive, Disrespectful Teenage Son?

‘Mamma b’ Asked:

My son’s dad is a malignant narcissist and has been a terrible co-parent. […] Before puberty we were so close, then I had four years of heartbreak. My mum abandoned me (also a narcissist).

I thought if I got away from the toxic situation as a baby but still allowed him to see his dad, then he would be okay. But for the past year he has been triggering my PTSD from a lifetime of narcissistic abuse. I felt like I was back with his dad: the lying, the manipulation, the complete lack of empathy even though I’ve taught him ? It could just be a teenage thing; he’s 15 and I think he has daddy issues.

I had to have the police remove him for being aggressive, disrespectful and smashing up my house. The dad he’s hated for so long? He’s decided he wants to stay there now. I know I did my job, and I know I can’t do anything to help him. He will either end up like his dad or he will get a wake-up call.

He’s been behaving like a sociopath for a year now. He won’t take responsibility for his actions and he is going to be in for a shock in the real world. I’ve told him I love him and miss him and want to see him, but he says he needs time, like I did something wrong? I’m a heyoka empath so I’m struggling.

I felt suicidal when he was here with all the calls from school and trouble he was causing. But now that he’s not here I can’t stop thinking about him. It’s only been two weeks. I just want to detach enough to find myself again and live my life for me not him.

Dr. Zoe Answered:

My response is going to result in tough love for both of you. The very last thing your son needs is a mom who detaches from him. Yes, you need to take care of yourself, of course, but that needs to happen within the context of working toward connection with your son.

As much as it seems apparent that your son has picked up dysfunctional relationship patterns from your ex-husband, he has only just reached the cusp of being able to be diagnosed with a personality disorder.

It May Not Be Narcissism

It is super important to understand that adolescence and NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) look very much alike. Actually, toddlerhood and much of childhood is a very narcissistic time. Developmentally, children are completely self-focused and centered on getting their needs met, as they should be. It doesn’t mean that they can’t learn positive social qualities like empathy and nurturing. They can even become people pleasers, co-dependent and narcissistic in their behavior, but they don’t yet meet the true criteria for personality disorders until closer to adulthood.

There is no doubt that your son is acting out. There is no doubt that you have lost control of him in your parenting. There is no doubt that the words he is saying are hurtful. I’ve been through a couple of my children’s adolescence and I know how exhausting and thankless it can feel at times. When we struggle with boundaries, especially as empaths, we often think that detaching is the answer, but it is not. The healthy answer is learning to deal with the feelings that our attachment produces, especially when it comes to our children.

Even A Disrespectful Teenage Son Needs to Know You Care

This relationship between you and your son is for life. There may be a time and a place where you have to cut ties in the relationship, but his adolescence is not one of them. Giving up on your 15-year-old son is not very different than giving up on a toddler who throws a tantrum and demands that you leave them alone or that they don’t need you. You very much still have an influence on the outcome of his life, even though you may not be able to see it right now.

I know this may sound harsh, but what your son needs is boundaries and unconditional love. He needs to know that you feel lost in your relationship with him and that you miss him terribly. You need to communicate to him that you notice him repeating the hurtful patterns of his father and that you are struggling to parent him. He needs to understand that if his words and behavior are abusive, you will not tolerate that behavior and will disconnect with him in the moment to protect yourself.

He also needs to know that you will not disconnect from him forever, that you will love him and care for him, regardless of his behavior. It’s important that he sees that you will continue to strive to find ways to connect with him, which include spending time with him, taking an interest in the things that he enjoys, calling and texting him regularly, and otherwise working hard to engage and maintain your relationship with him. He needs to know that you haven’t given up on him and you have faith that he can grow into a phenomenal man with a testimony.

I know this is hard and it certainly won’t alleviate your pain in the present, but it may in the future. Your job is to find your own support system where you can vent and feel heard, incorporate healthy self-care, surround yourself with people and activities that lift you up as you walk this journey with your son. If he says he needs time, then give him the time, but still text or call him, if he allows. He needs to be able to spread his wings (healthy or otherwise) with the knowledge that you will be there when he lands (or falls).

He is identifying with his father, but if his father is as unhealthy as you describe him to be, he is aware of this on some level and his relationship with his father will eventually falter. You will be there to pick up the pieces.

I’m sorry this is such a lonely, difficult time for you. I encourage you to be careful not to repeat patterns in your own family of origin, but to seek out mental health treatment in order to heal and repair from your own trauma. I applaud you for reaching out and asking this question. You are brave. I hope and pray that this season will pass quickly.

You’ve got this, Mamma B!

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