Boundaries that are reasonable

I’m not even sure what I’m looking for with this post. Maybe just confirmation that I’m not the unreasonable one. This is the only place where I know people understand the situation.

I told my husband that his sister will not be around our toddler and baby so long as she is unmedicated (she started refusing all meds in 12/1), hitting people, and calling 911 to make false accusations. I told him I was sorry and that I wished things were different, but that this was a boundary I was setting and it wasn’t negotiable because he is too enmeshed in the situation to see clearly.

Now he and his parents are making me feel like I’m crazy, for lack of a better word, and unreasonable and unfair. He’s saying I’m overreacting and that she isn’t dangerous because “we know her”. But the truth is they don’t know what she’ll do - no one knew she would start hitting them or calling 911 on them.

I’m trying very hard to remind myself of what a terrible situation they live in every day, but truthfully I am starting to resent them quite a bit at this point. Working on that in therapy, but every time they push like this and my husband prioritizes his sister over our kids I just feel the resentment grow. I’m feeling a bit lost on how to proceed and how to make sure I’m maintaining my boundaries while also not overreacting or subscribing to negative stereotypes. I’m also feeling like the damage to our marriage is growing and I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel since there is no plan in place on what to do when my in-laws pass.


I’ll just say we thought we knew my brother, and then he tried to strangle my other brother. Even then we thought it was just a one-off, and then he tried to strangle my mother. A restraining order, purchasing a small house for him and a condo for my parents, and setting up a trust for him followed. It took my mother putting her foot down to break through their collective denial and inaction. This is even after courses of Alanon and NAMI.

And even though I have a SZA diagnosis and violent stereotypes of the SMI make my life difficult, I felt it was long past due to happen and the violence was a consequence of maintaining an unsustainable status quo by trying to be too kind and denying realities of their situation. Sometimes someone has to be the bitch for the good of everyone. I’d consider asking your husband to attend NAMI friends and family courses for you both to learn more about potential risks of violence, how to mitigate them and how to plan for her future. I think you’d have a better chance to break through the status quo if you enlisted him as an ally, and you both were better educated on strategies to deal with her behaviors.


Thank you for this Maggotbrane. I’ve attended the NAMI courses but my husband chose not to, unfortunately. While the tools they shared were helpful to know I did not meet his sister until after she was ill and therefore have no relationship with her. She is very suspicious of everyone, but particularly people she didn’t know from before she got sick. She rarely spoke to me even when she was able to and when she did it was to be unkind.

I will try again to see if he’ll consider the class or consider going to therapy. I fear that he’s adopted his parents’ way of dealing with this situation which is to just pretend things aren’t as bad as they are - what you so eloquently described as collective denial and inaction.

I once again agree with maggotbone. You need to be true to yourself. Your main job is to take care of your baby and yourself. Take care


My son has had schizophrenia for 26 yrs and has never hurt anyone, he his also very protective of his young nephews. In fact he dotes on them, he had a relapse last year and became verbally aggressive towards some people, but not family. Still he was protective towards his nephews.

I can understand your concerns from your perspective if you don’t really know your sister in law as a person and only know her through her illness. But I can definitely relate to her family when they say they know her.


I’m glad that that is a situation with your son. I wish that was a situation with my sister-in-law. However the difference is that she has hurt other people, she’s attacked police officers, healthcare workers, a roommate and that’s just who we know of. She’s also since October started hitting her parents and calling 911 on her father to make false accusations. At one point in time she also had a recurring delusion that she was married and had a baby. This made me extremely nervous because when I was pregnant with my first it was unclear that she understood it was not her kid (she made some comments that were alarming).

What you are describing would be great compared to where we are, but the reality in this case is they don’t know what she’s going to do. When she was doing “better” compared to now (still very delusional and non-med compliant), she couldn’t even tell my oldest was there. My in-laws insisted she was dying to meet him and when we got there she was so far into her own reality that more than once she nearly stepped on him and once she knocked him over because she didn’t even realize he was there. She also took down every baby gate, left the door unlocked, left the kitchen stove on, smoked inside, and generally did things that were unsafe in our rental home and was not capable of understanding that it was dangerous for the kids. My in laws so desperately did not want to believe she was ill that they spent years pretending she wasn’t, so I don’t trust their judgment or assessment of her condition at all.

It’s really not the same thing as what you are describing, unfortunately. I wish it were.


I forgot to mention that she also has been verbally aggressive to family for years before escalating to hitting her parents.

What I described with my son becoming verbally aggressive towards others happened after the psychiatrist messed up his medication. Before this happened he was always up beat and placid. The way he went I had never seen him like he was before. Upon speaking to a friend who is a psych nurse, she said someone she knows went the same after stopping their medication but that person also got physically aggressive, like your sister inlaw. Withdrawal psychosis is a bit like a heroine addict stopping taking heroine abruptly and going cold turkey. That may not help the situation with your sister inlaw as its happening now. I do wonder with the swinging door patients if it starts by the person forgetting to take their medication at first and then they start going downhill and relapse. One thing I do believe is that even when the person goes psychotic, deep inside there is the person they really are who can be reached with perseverance.

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That’s very helpful information, thank you. We don’t have much visibility into her medication, whether she is taking it or when she switches, unfortunately. She has gone through some stages of refusing meds entirely (like the last 3 months), taking meds sporadically, or taking meds in dosages she decides rather than listening to her doctors. The only time we know she’s been medicated consistently was when it was involuntary via shot for several months. The saddest thing was that when she was consistently medicated she was doing so well - working part time, making friends again, able to exercise and run errand and enjoy some level of independence. This was years ago.

I hope she is still in there deep inside, but I don’t know how she will be reached when there is no effort being made to change her situation or get her fully treated/compliant. And until something changes all I can base my boundaries on is her behavior, which is escalating, and the few facts we know which is she is currently completely unmedicated and hitting people.

Thanks @sasone2one, you really got me to thinking. @BDinVA1 is in such a tricky situation - to quote Nick an actual person with scz who liked the word “tricky” for such situations.

I was just writing to Sando after I read your comment and realized how differently I looked at my own son when there was a period of time when I only saw his symptoms. Of course BD only sees the symptoms, as she has said, there is not a previous relationship. She’s a good mother and she is perceiving an abnormal situation and reading it as a threat to her children. Her brain is going to have trouble moving away from that thought - as a parent she is hardwired to alert on such mental warnings.

Since my husband’s mother and her sister had scz…and now my son has scz…well, its never too early to learn about the illness and think about the future. Not to forget that blending in new members of the family can be a tricky business in the most ideal of situations. A lefty at a circular table of righties is going to change someone’s family dinner experience.

How would one want one’s own child treated under such circumstances must be pondered along with safety issues and concerns for the future. Its easy to judge the journey of others, we are on a rather unique journey that must be taken to be fully understood. Have we made mistakes? Oh my yes - just like all of the other parents. Who judges us as parents? As another real person with scz once told me, “no one can judge you as a mother but me and my brother”.

Family boundaries are a tricky business.


I think you are being completely reasonable. You must protect your baby. i had to separate my son from his sisters even though he loves them very much. He could’ve killed them even by trying to protect them from his imagined demons. I also believe it’s irresponsible to not have a plan for her when the parents are gone. It’s not going to go away. You set your boundaries.


I get what you are saying just like I see the concerns of this mum concerned for her own child. I can also relate to what you are saying about only seeing the symptoms and not your son. I’ve been there myself, I would say mostly down to stigma… looking back its almost like I became detached from my son, l felt afraid of him so I wasn’t acting like the mum he knew, as he wasn’t acting , like the son I knew. It probably took me a few years to start thinking and seeing my son for who he was and not the label he has been given. That label also affected him too, he knows about the stigma and how he feels others view him. This also affected his mental health. This is why I can see the concerns of this mum, she is being a normal mum, being protective of her own child. Just like her mother inlaw is being protective of her daughter (sister inlaw). I was only thinking recently how much my son having schizophrenia has not only messed up his life but mine and my whole family, his brothers etc. I can’t see me being unique in this situation.


I know your situation is not unique. My husband is still afraid of my son and doesn’t see our son, he just sees the symptoms. Our family is fractured in that we can’t all be together at the same time. Sometimes I do think that we were lucky for the years that my son’s scz was active and we didn’t know. During those years we had regular holiday get togethers and vacations just the same as always. It was as though our family life was being viewed through those lenses the optometrists use to test your vision. Our family life slowly twisted until it eventually became out of focus in a way you couldn’t not notice. We have worked to put our family gatherings back together and we are getting better at it.


I know I’m going off topic with this comment, but this often comes to mind when I read about people with schizophrenia being violent or aggressive. About 10 yrs into my sons illness, me researching etc and got a carers grant and went to college and gained qualifications. I eventually became employed as a carers development worker (support worker). I used to work with and support carers one to one in the community.

One day I went to visit this carer who cared for her partner, while we were sat speaking her partner suddenly appeared.,he was in a right rage. He started shouting at me, shouting " I’m not mad! " tbh he scared me. So I sat quiet until he had started to calm down, and told him I knew he wasn’t mad, told him about my son and others I had met with the same label, and mentioned recovery that didn’t mean a cure.
From that day onwards, everytime I visited his partner he sat with us and never got aggressive again. The day this happened when I returned to work I found a folder with his name on, the folder had a red sticker on indicating violent or aggressive behaviour. As I worked with the carers I never looked at the patients records so went to their homes with a open mind. What I got from this experience was, those working with him spoke to his symptoms and treating him as such. It’s a bit like being humoured. People with schizophrenia are not stupid they too can pick up on how they are being treated or spoken to. I now do straight talking to my son, I say it how it is. Like if he hears a voice that’s attacking him. I will say something like, it’s not what the person thinks of him it’s what he thinks they think that comes out as a voice. With a lot of research I worked out how voices occur, and have explained this to him.


Your experience reminds me of a similar event with my son and how I had to handle it differently due to his anosognosia.

My son became unwell and feeling unwell triggered a panic attack. He has been to his local emergency room several times in the past with health concerns. They let him know they believed he was having a panic attack and that upset him.

When I arrived he was suspicious of everyone and getting increasingly upset. He angrily greeted me with “its not a panic attack”. I told him I believed him and that settled him down right away. We talked and I told him that his body is very sensitive to changes and I was sure he had felt a change. His health is quite precarious and he agreed that he could have felt a change that triggered a panic attack.

Yes, I can see where you say its a bit like humoring them. With dementia patients you can humor them pretty easily, our family members often require some tricky maneuvering to help them.

I really dislike it each time we have to discuss violence or aggression on the forum, its a small percentage, but it happens. Unfortunately our families dealing with aggression and violence in their unmedicated family members do need the subject to be discussed. As you are pointing out, often temper flare ups can happen by mishandling and misunderstanding. Just like they do in all people everywhere.

Gaining the ability to “read the room” as you do takes education and experience, well done you :smiley: At this point, my son is in his late 30’s and he has learned to communicate his needs better. He will tell people that they are too close to him and people generally respond well and move away. His current medical team continues to amaze me by how well they work with him. They take everything he says seriously and treat him like he is a real person. Brilliant eh?

Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience!


I once read the statistics for violent crimes of people with mental illnesses. The figure given was 7%, the remaing 93% caused by those without a mental illness are those that need to be feared, going by this. I vividly remember my sons reaction when he found out his dianosis, he reacted by shouting " i am not a murderer ! " my son became ill aged 22, he has recently had his 50th birthday.

Thank you for this. A big part of my struggle in this is that I do not trust my in-laws. During the pregnancy with my first baby they made it all about my sister-in-law. We told them that we had had three miscarriages, and the one right before this pregnancy was at 20 weeks. And that the advice of the doctor was to reduce stress since I was high risk. They still decided to yell at us because we expressed that my sister-in-law could not be around the newborn, based on doctors advice, because at the time she hadn’t bathed in eight months and had a serious staph infection and herpes outbreaks regularly. Apart from her mental health completely, the pediatrician and obstetrician both advised that someone with that poor hygiene could not be around a newborn and that staph especially was extremely dangerous to infants. My father-in-law decided to scream at us and to tell me, after I just shared about miscarriages, that sister-in-law was the person most excited about this baby and that she had right to it. He insisted our doctors were wrong about the risk and that he knew better.
They also chose to lecture me about when I needed to tell my sister-in-law I was pregnant (for obvious reasons we were not sharing the news until much further along) and he did this at a table at a work event in front of my boss who didn’t know I was pregnant.

They then spent months bullying and guilt tripping my partner and I to try and let my sister-in-law be in the hospital for the birth. Again this had nothing to do with her mental state, but the fact that she had extremely poor hygiene and the doctor had already said that that was not possible. They literally called us to try and get their way for months until I finally broke down sobbing and told my husband that I was changing hospital and putting in a safety protocol with my doctor (not registered, security alerted, etc.)

This will probably not be well received here, but I absolutely do judge them for their actions and for their failure to do anything to get sister in law care. They have given me no reason to trust their assessment of the situation and frankly I very much question their own mental health at this point - they want so badly to pretend that things aren’t as bad as they are and they can only do that if everyone pretends along with them. I’ve been in therapy now for 3 years to better set and articulate boundaries with compassion to them but also to work through my growing resentment each time they make demands and then try to emotionally manipulate us to get their way. I understand that they are likely behaving this way because they are absolutely desperate and their lives are horrible right now, but that doesn’t mean they have a right to mistreat me and it certainly doesn’t give them the right to treat my children as medicine for their daughter who is ill. Somehow they don’t understand the hypocrisy of saying “we are just doing what’s best for our child”, while at the same time trying to force me to do something that I do not believe is best for my children.

If it were my child that was ill I would hope I had enough strength and insight to be honest with myself about the situation and to respect other family members’ boundaries, even if it hurt me to do so.

I don’t blame any of this on my sister-in-law. She is ill and can’t do anything differently. Even when she is verbally abusive I understand that it’s the illness talking. But that does not mean my in-laws get to set the boundaries for my family, particularly when they actively try to hide things (they hid the hitting and the 911 call and actually told other family members who were there to witness it not to tell us about it because otherwise we would not visit ). I have been very clear that they are welcome at any time and have even found and offered to pay for a nurse to come and stay with my sister-in-law. I’ve also told them that I am fine going down there to visit and spending time in public places as well. But none of that is acceptable to them.

I guess I should also add that I grew up with a parent who was mentally ill and refused treatment for many years. It was hell for all of us and did lasting damage. I will not do that to my kids - if my sister in law is unmedicated and verbally or physically abusive she won’t be welcome in my home. At least not until my kids are old enough to understand the situation and set their own boundaries and decide how much they want to engage and expose themselves to.

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That’s really interesting. Do you know where I can read about that? I’d love to be able to share that with my son.

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I dont know you or your inlaws, but to be fair i can see both your side of the story and yours as well. And the situation you have brought here is a classic example of how caring/supporting a son or child with mental illness affects the whole family. You mother inlaw is acting normal with her daughter, as you are with your children.

You wont understand any of this because you are not living the life of your mother in-law, which i can confirm is extremely stressful. I have been reflecting recently, i have 2 other sons and as much as I’ve tried i can see how most of my focus has been on the son with schizophrenia. I was talking to one of his brothers recently, saying how much this situation has ruined my life, he turned to me and said its affected the whole family and ruined part of his life too.

What saddens me is although you say this is not about the sister in-law, but your mother inlaws reaction. Your story shows the chaos schizophrenia causes in families and the damage it causes to relationships. I visualise your mother inlaw not seeing her grandchildren, because of schizophrenia.

I really do see the hurt and pain you have experienced with miscarriages, losing a baby is heartbreaking. I also lost a baby in my younger days. I even understand your anger you feel and guess you are young at the moment. You havent yet had the life experiences that come over time, to perhaps be able to reflect on.

But know this is not about your mother in-law or sister-in-law this is about schizophrenia, i call “IT” and separate my son from the label that has destroyed his life… xx


-Setting boundaries with potentially dangerous or dangerous behavior is always PARAMOUNT.

And, one of the hardest things, at first, you have to do with your loved one.

-It takes practice to get tough about setting boundaries.

In my :heart:heart, which still gets broken :broken_heart: regularly because of behavior diagnosed as paranoid SZ in my son,

I know now how to set boundaries with him.
( and others ). These boundaries are verbal and physical.

-Believe me, I have seen some dangerous behavior!!! In and out of home, hospital, court,jail and more.

Be Brave, Know Thyself and,
Trust your Intuition about BOUNDARIES.

from Vermont,
mom of SZ son 25+ years

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