Son with ODD and Explosive disorder is Abusive to Mom

Hi Dr. Laura,
Your daily newsletters have wonderful advice! However, I always wonder how I can get these tips to work for my son and I, because he has been diagnosed with mental health disorders (i.e., ODD, many years ago, and, recently, bipolar disorder with intermittent explosive disorder). In addition, I divorced his father because he was abusive to me (and to our son, in different ways). His dad was arrested suddenly, and I never permitted him to return home. As you can imagine, this was very traumatic for all of us.

My son has often been somewhat oppositional and mean to me -- part of the time. But within the past few months, when he started playing with some less-than-desirable (in my view) kids in our apartment complex, he has become very abusive to me -- constant cursing, disrespect, defiance, and physical violence and threats. I've taken him to the ER twice and called 911 twice (with much difficulty and ambivalence).

How can I get your methods to work -- when I am faced with constant defiance and abuse, both physical and emotional? In many ways, he treats me worse than his father did. Traditional therapy hasn't worked. He's been recommended for the group IOP (intensive outpatient program) at a nearby hospital, but the insurance is an insurmountable obstacle, and self-pay would be nearly prohibitive.

There are no other programs in the city of this type, so we're trying to get individual therapy a few days a week. Day programs and residential programs are more restrictive interventions than what he needs. It's hard to keep my cup full, or even a quarter full, with his abuse. And sometimes when he returns home on Sunday after weekends with his dad, I get even angrier because I was able to live a normal life for a couple days. Sometimes, however, the time off is helpful.

Thank you!

Thanks for writing. I'm so sorry to hear your story. You don't say how old your son is, but he is clearly suffering. I realize he's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but his abusive behavior is indicative of deep wounds beyond bipolar disorder. These wounds may be in your relationship with him, which is clearly under great pressure. Or he may simply feel close enough to you that he expresses his pain to you.

In either case, it seems clear that this situation can only get worse as he gets older, unless you find immediate support. When you say that he doesn't need a day program, I'm surprised. It sounds to me like he may. Obviously, the IOP would be ideal, if you can find a way to manage it.

I also think the two of you also need family therapy together. You should not be taking abuse from him, and family therapy will assist you in transforming your relationship.

Re your question about how to use my daily emails with your son, I think they are more useful for you. As you have no doubt noticed, many of my emails are about how to keep your own cup filled. I realize that is a challenge with a difficult child. But I think if you can manage it, you will find that your reactions to him change, which will be enough to begin impacting his behavior toward you positively.

The other part of my emails that I hope you'll put to use is my focus on connection and on emotional intelligence skills. Your son is so difficult partly because he is in pain and feels disconnected. If he can reconnect with you by having you tolerate and "hold" the fear, pain, and sadness under his anger without exploding back at him, I think you'll find that a lot of his anger will melt away.

I wish you much strength in finding the help you and your son need.
All blessings,
Dr. Laura

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I have seen amazing improvement in my *very* angry 17 year-old son after acknowledging that there was a reason he was so angry and acting out. We have had several heartfelt conversations and I have seen a real change in how he treats his younger brother, and how he treats me.


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