In-Laws Not Setting Limits With Their Narcissistic, Antisocial Son

Reader’s Question

My husband’s youngest brother has been diagnosed as having various personality disorders since he was a teenager. His parents are not sure what kinds of personality disorders he has. I’ve done some investigation, and from what I’ve seen and learned it seems to me he is both a Narcissist and an Antisocial Personality.

This man loves to brag, is a liar by nature, has no remorse when he does harmful things to others, always blames others for his problems, has no concept of what financial responsibility means, never has a stable job, and is always going back to his parents to solve his problems. He’s now 30 years old and has been married for two years to a woman who has no clue about him (she definitely has mild mental retardation). They are finally going out on their own after sucking his parents dry both financially and spiritually.

My parents-in-law are working on their co-dependency with him, but we can tell there’s still a lot of work they need to do in that respect. They live only 10 minutes from him, and he comes over to their house almost every day, often unannounced, and treats everything in their home like it belongs to him.

My question is, how can my parents-in-law learn to deal with this son and set boundaries? We can tell they feel miserable with him taking advantage of them all the time, but they’re the kind of people who would never tell any of their kids to leave the house or not to visit without asking. Mind you, it’s not him visiting his parents that bothers us but the fact he abuses the relationship with them. Is there a way we can make them understand what he’s been doing and get them to set rules and limits instead of letting him take advantage of them and rule their household? As for his wife, we think the relationship will last forever because although she is just another of his toys, she’s the type of personality who will never challenge him.

Thanks for your help.

Psychologist’s Reply

Q: All of us have various “traits” of personality. To have a personality disorder means those traits are of such a nature and intensity that they both interfere with the ability to conduct healthy relationships and persist despite all kinds of adverse consequences. Most of the time, personality disorders aren’t diagnosed in adolescence because of the capacity most young persons have to change and mature with respect to their “style” of dealing with others and the world. However, in some cases, individuals can show signs of lasting personality dysfunction before they reach adulthood. In those cases, the difficult task of personality change becomes even more challenging.

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One thing is for certain: there can be no motivation for change if others in a person’s support system “enable” them to not question or modify their personality style. Parents of children with the type of personality dysfunction you describe often struggle with unhealthy emotional dependency (not co-dependency). That is, they have such a need for their children to appear to need them that they won’t say “no” to them or set limits, fearing that if they do, they’ll lose what little bond they have with them — never even considering the fact that what appears a bond of love is really a superficial desire to use and exploit. I’ve written about this extensively in my book, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].

The best thing that you can do is to support your parents-in-law’s attempts to deal with their dependency issues and to become more comfortable in setting limits. You can’t do this by demonizing their child because that would only prompt a protective response. Rather, you can empathize with their plight and encourage them in their efforts to become stronger. You can also support the notion that although at first it might appear to them that they are losing a child once they cut the umbilical cord, in the end they will have much to gain in the fact that they might eventually end up with an adult child with whom they can have a normal, mutually-respecting relationship.

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