Worried About My Nephew

Reader’s Question

Hello. I have just read the article on Stockholm Syndrome which can be interpreted to relate to my nephew, who is in such a relationship with his dad. This article alarmed me in that it describes perfectly something I had suspected. When my older nephew died of heroin/bipolar, my brother-in-law brought this younger son back to town under the guise that he could help him in his depression and pay his expenses and clean him up from drug use and they could mourn together, etc. He put him to work, replacing the older bipolar son in every way. He feeds, clothes, supplies appartment and gun, even denies alcohol and drugs are a problem. Finally the son cut his wrists, and attacked a cop, but was not jailed on felony charges because they showed leniency regarding his mourning for his brother. He now is addicted to cocaine.

Rather than getting treatment, the father takes his son to his island home — a 45 minute boat ride — to ‘detox him’ (as he used to do with the dead brother), i.e., ties himself to the 27-year-old etc. This man and my sister control the island, truly. Big fish in small tank thing. All dealings with son re housing and employment are under the table. The kid definitely is in cognitive dissonance and has broken off relationship with me.

I go to a psychiatrist who is supportive and does know the case because it has had much publicity in the community due to my brother-in-law jailing the person (first in state) who slipped his first son heroin (when it was he who gave the son a bottle of Ativan to trade for the heroin). Also, they are suing a clinic for the death of my first nephew. So my psychiatrist is aware of this family but not the gory details I now describe to you. However, she had said something to the effect they are eating their children and describes it as a triangulation. She is not aware that I have now decided what we may have is Stockholm Syndrome. I fear for my nephew’s life, as he is suicidal.

I am wondering if I can call my therapist with this info on the Stockholm Syndrome article in hopes there is some law that allows her to break some confidence to track down (it is a small professional community) my nephew’s so-called useless shrink who is hired to look good but is not helping at all. He just prescribes more drugs.

Psychologist’s Reply

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There is a difference between Stockholm Syndrome and being in a relationship that is dysfunctional yet mutually-dependent. Your nephew and uncle seem to have a mutually-dependent relationship here — both supplying some need of the other. Your nephew is not being held captive and while miserable, may be an active participant in this situation. On the good side, your nephew being “on the island” may actually detox him and be of some help. As you suspect however, this relationship will eventually fall apart and create more family turmoil.

I would agree with your psychiatrist that this is a toxic family situation. However, your therapist has no legal or ethical right to intrude into this situation. Even if a therapist feels this is a Stockholm Syndrome situation — we still can’t intrude into the lives of willing participants, especially when they are not our patient. It would also be unethical to contact the nephew’s psychiatrist with third-party stories about what is happening in the family.

Sadly, all those involved are legal adults. As concerned family, we can try to maintain contact with the nephew, as I describe in the Stockholm Syndrome article. We can also be prepared to rescue the nephew if the current situation goes downhill fast…and it might. You’ll need to watch the situation from a safe distance. Both the nephew and his father are trying to get something. Father wants to relive his life with his sons through the remaining son and his son currently accepts the deal. This deal may not last long, as both will eventually realize that they are not achieving their goals.

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