© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Since she couldn’t get Carlos to go to her therapist to try an Intervention, she decided to tell Carlos that she’ll only have contact with him at her therapist’s office. She talked it over with her therapist. She talked it over with her mother, who she knew would disagree. But Maria decided that it was time to set a firm limit with Carlos and to protect her energy. Throwing away endless energy and sleepless nights on him was doing her no good.
While an in-person conversation might have seemed more sensitive, Maria had a lifetime of experience with him. She knew he was an expert at yanking away a subject that was important to her and changing it to his next dramatic tale. So she informed him in an email.
“Dear Carlos: I love you as a brother, but I’ve decided that I can’t have any contact with you at this time, unless it’s at my therapist’s office. Her name and address are below.
You’ve not taken any of my suggestions, so there’s no point in me listening to your problems, if you won’t listen to my solutions. You seem to have some problems that could be helped by meeting with a therapist of your own. I’m willing to even help pay for it, and it can still be totally confidential. I don’t need to know what you discuss.
But until you accept some real help, or take responsibility for some of your problems, I can’t help you. And until you meet with me, and my therapist, I can’t handle any more of our conversations or respond to your emails.
So, until you meet with me and my therapist, I’ll no longer talk to you, no longer answer my door if you’re there, no longer respond to your emails or letters, and I will not give you any money.
I know if you get the proper help you can make your life work. Many people have the kinds of problems you have, and they’ve gotten help and are much happier now.
Good Luck. Love, Maria.”
Maria forwarded the email letter to their mother and also to several other rela- tives. She expected Carlos would complain to everyone about her. She wanted them to hear what she’d said directly. She knew she’d be blamed by Carlos, and even by their mother, but the rest of her relatives would probably be sup- portive. After all, everyone knew about their personalities from a lifetime of personal experience.
The next day, she got an email from Carlos. She couldn’t help but read it.
YOU’RE KILLING ME. MAYBE I’LL KILL MYSELF SOMEDAY. IF I DO, YOU KNOW IT‘LL BE ALL YOUR FAULT! PLEASE TALK TO ME. I NEED YOU DESPERATELY. YOU’RE THE ONLY SISTER I HAVE!
YOUR LITTLE BABY BROTHER”
Maria felt horrible. What if he killed himself? Would it really be her fault? Could she do something now to stop him? She decided to discuss it with her therapist. He’d never attempted suicide before, but he’d made these kinds of statements before. He didn’t say he was going to kill himself, and he seemed a little optimistic with his new place to live and his severance package. Just to be safe, she decided to call her therapist.
Maria also felt manipulated. Carlos had pulled all of her heart strings. She wasn’t trying to hurt him! And he was also the only brother she had! But she’d been through a lot, and he wouldn’t do what she asked. She had set a limit of not talking to him, except at her therapist’s office. He ignored her request, yet he put such dangerous comments in his email that she felt forced to respond. She’d have to give him information about how to get help if he was truly sui- cidal. She’d have to go get him, if he was truly suicidal. She’d have to violate the limit she set with him, she thought.
However, when she met with her therapist, they came up with a different plan. Her therapist had a list of hotlines and suicide prevention services. Rather than having Maria respond to his vague threat and violate the limit she’d set, her therapist would respond to his email. Her therapist sent the following email back to Carlos:
“Hi, Carlos. I’m Maria’s therapist. She’s very concerned about you. She loves you, and really wants you to come meet with us at my office. You have the address.
I also want you to know that if you’re ever feeling like hurting yourself in any way, that you should feel free to call me, or one of the following hotlines and suicide prevention services. You can also call 911, or go to any hospital.
Maria cares about you very much, and I hope to meet you some day.”
The next day, Maria’s therapist got an email from Carlos:
“I’m never talking to you, so you can just get out of my life. Don’t bother me again.”
Maria was glad to hear that. She was glad that Carlos had at least communicated with her therapist, even though he said he wouldn’t talk to her. He probably didn’t even see the irony in that. And did you notice that he didn’t use bold, underlines, or capital letters? Maybe he can control his extreme emotions if he makes a strong effort. Maybe he would talk to the therapist again and get some help someday. At least there was a connection he might use in the future. In the meantime, Maria would do her best to focus on maintaining her own life, to resist initiating contact with Carlos, and to prepare to be firm and friendly in response to whatever Carlos’ next move would be.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.