Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

Hitting family members

My sister-in-law has recently started hitting her parents. She hits them hard and without provocation. This is new - she’s been verbally abusive in the past, but has only gotten physical with police or mental health workers who were called to the house in emergency situations. My in-laws are older (mid-70s) and not in great health (especially father-in-law who seems to get the brunt of her hitting) and she is not a small person. We only learned this behavior had started because they came to visit and she hit her dad hard in public. We are concerned that this is getting increasingly unsafe for my in-laws. She has also started calling 911 to make false accusations against her dad and doing things like shutting off power to the house. She refused her last shot so is not currently medicated.

What can we do to keep them safe? Does anyone know why this suddenly started happening? Or have any advice on how to manage this situation? She doesn’t hit them for any reason we can tell - they aren’t refusing to give her something or arguing or anything like that. She’ll just walk up and hit then without any discussion and then walk away.

They refuse to look into alterate care for sister-in-law and can be pretty secretive about any incidents. They told a family member who was there when she called 911 and then later got kicked out the ER because “they won’t come visit us if they know” (which is true because I don’t think she’s a safe person to be around with a newborn and a 2 old, but hiding things like this is dangerous for them and also unfair to us because it doesn’t let us make our own risk assessments for our kids).

If she is refusing her shot she I would assume is still needing some sort of treatment. Since she is assaulting her parents and age wise they would be considered elderly, almost every state has elder abuse laws. If she were arrested would they not enforce treatment or at least investigate the sudden change? I don’t know and I am not recommending it but maybe just worth looking in to to see if that’s the best option for her and to keep them safe.

Yes she needs treatment. As far as I can tell she hasn’t been fully compliant with treatment (medication and therapy) in almost a decade. I did consider reporting it as elder abuse but 1) we don’t live in the same state and they actively try to hide this stuff so I’m not sure much would come from reporting it and 2) my in-laws would never forgive my husband for doing that.

Look up the laws for that state. In most states it can be anonymous. As far as they are concerned it could have been anyone, a neighbor who heard noises or someone at a grocery store who suspected something was off. Definitely check it out and see what options you have. I think it’s great they have you to look out for them.

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Thank you! I will look up if there’s anonymous reporting where they live and other rules about elder abuse.

Your sister-in-law is now committing the crime of battery on a regular basis. It is illegal to threaten someone (assault) and illegal to hit or touch them (battery). Mental illness is one thing, but criminality is another thing entirely. She could and should be arrested for it, this IS elder abuse and is illegal. Even though her parents might not want to press charges, if it is witnessed by someone else who stresses the physical attack, the police will bring charges themselves.

The ONLY way I got my daughter onto a long acting shot (she always came off her meds earlier) was for her to be arrested (for kicking a police officer) and then for me to go to the judge while she was in jail to request forced medication. She HAD to get the shot for some time by law, and has stayed on it ever since though the court order wore off years ago

In my opinion, this situation will only get worse. She has crossed the line from mentally ill to criminal.

Her parents are NOT safe. What if a fall happens after a hit, and a parent’s head is cracked? If they won’t call the police themselves, perhaps you need to have them come to visit again, and try to set up a situation where she hits them in front of you, then be prepared to call the police.

If they live far, you could inform the right government department that you KNOW she is abusing her elderly parents who won’t report it and ask for them to make wellness checks. Perhaps an arrest could lead to forced medication by court order. I am scared for your in-laws. Unprovoked violence could turn deadly at any moment if she is delusional.

Your father in law may not “forgive” your husband right away, but if he is seriously hurt or dead in the future, that is certainly the lesser of the evils of this situation. My daughter forgave me totally once she was out of psychosis even though I called the police on her repeatedly and testified against her in court.

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Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m going to call in a wellness check in their state anonymously. I’ve hesitated, against my better judgment, because of the family dynamics involved. In-laws have been a fairly consistent source of stress and argument in my marriage for the last 4 years, and any attempts to help have been unwanted. But I am genuinely concerned for their safety at this point and will just need to deal with any blowback that comes.

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Of course, @BDinVA1 . Sharing experiences on this site helps all of us. I do hope that the wellness checks will be done, and hopefully more than once, if needed. I am so sorry about the family dynamics and the source of stress from your in-laws. It is tough, very tough, to help those who do not want to be helped. Perhaps it will be a good idea for you to keep coming here just to feel some group support for own emotional state. I found the support of the wonderful people on this site to help me tremendously over the years.

My brother becoming violent toward my mother was a turning point in my parents caregiving of my brother. He had first attempted to strangle my brother during an argument while drinking, and in a separate event he did the same to my mother. Family reaction was swift and strong. My mother got a restraining order against him and he was not allowed in their house and he had to find other quarters on his own. They purchased a home for him through a trust. He was not allowed to visit them while drinking and he was not allowed to drink at their home. It also precipitated them moving out of a large home into a more manageable condo. These were changes that were long overdue.

My brother also made 911 and other threatening phone calls after this which lead to a SWAT standoff which was resolved by breaking down a door and window to his house and hauling him to jail. He didn’t particularly care for that, obviously. My mother refused to bail him out of jail. Her position was these were all consequences of his violence toward her. While this has been expensive and has complicated the family’s collective caregiving of him, it kept my parents safe.

I’d look into whether court facilitated mental health or diversion programs are available in her state, and see if they might be leveraged after pressing charges to coerce treatment in exchange for staying out of jail. This may be difficult if they don’t want to press charges. I’d also look into elder abuse protections which may be leveraged on their behalf to bring charges on her even if they will not.

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I do regularly read this forum to try to learn more, but I don’t post often because I’m not a caretaker. Or at least we aren’t caretakers yet. We’ve tried to educate ourselves about the illness and do what we can to prepare for the future (special needs trust, working with a financial planner, consulting 2 lawyers about guardianship, saving email/texts/police reports etc. and researching residential options in out state).

Part of me really resents my in-laws for not taking any action to try to get her help. It’s been hard watching her disappear over the last 10 years while they ignore doctors advice, refuse help and pretend she’s not sick. I’m also angry at them because we will inherent this issue (to some extent - I wont ever allow her to live with us) and they refuse to share information or plan for her future. They say things like “we could never put her in a care facility because she would hate us, but you can do it in the future” which shows they fully expect my husband to take over her care. I am in therapy to work on this anger and to work on helping setting healthy boundaries with them.

If she had not started hitting them I would have stayed away - I’ve accepted that they won’t do anything to help her and that when they aren’t here anymore we will have to do our best to piece together her medical and treatment history and figure out how she will pay for things. But with the hitting I feel we have to get involved again.

I’m so sorry, that sounds frightening and so difficult. I’m glad your family was able to set safe boundaries and stick to them.

That’s the scenario I’m worried about. With your brother did the violence start suddenly and escalate? Like did he hit and then progress to strangling? My worry is that she is doing this because the voices are telling her too, mainly because she hits this without any trigger - often she isn’t even talking to them or near them before she hits them.

They will never press charges unless something really bad happens. Which is another reason I won’t let her around my kids - it’s my job to make sure whatever bad thing happens doesn’t happen to my children.

I’m glad you used the word “we”. I remember when you posted before about concerns regarding your then unborn child. Its good to know that you and your spouse have worked together to solve those concerns. You made a really good choice in working with a therapist to set healthy boundaries.

Everyone has offered you great advice. I only wanted to chime in on one thing. I believe it is important to make sure your actions are “we” actions. Inlaws in good circumstances can be tricky and things their child does and says (as opposed to what you do and say) will always have a better chance of helping the future change for the better. If a call is made to Adult Protective Services, I hope it is your husband that makes the call.

I had been married a long time before I realized that, ultimately, decisions regarding my husband’s family would have to be made by my husband. At the same time, I reserved the right of refusal for myself and my children to participate in his family’s events. My MIL’s neurodiversity had always been focused negatively on me and the other SIL. After each visit other relatives would tell us the rude things my MIL said I had said to her. None of it was true, but she was quite believable - and inlaws can enjoy embracing negative inlaw stories. After her neurodiversity was finally diagnosed my husband’s relatives were very apologetic. Of course you and your spouse should work out any terms between you that work for your situation.

My husband and his brothers preferred to stay away from their parents as much as possible. The brothers idea of coping with the problem was avoiding it full time and enduring/ignoring it for short visits spaced far apart.

The brothers continued with this “strategy” and eventually the situation did a slow collapse.

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Honestly things have not improved that much between my husband and I. Even on this issue of his sister hitting their elderly father we were not initially on the same page. He simply swept under the rug the incident that we saw when they were visiting. But then when his older brother at Thanksgiving told him that their sister was getting more violent and had been hitting their parents, so he couldn’t pretend nothing had happened.

He still insists that his sister is not dangerous because he says he knows her. I have tried with the help of the therapist to have him realize that he doesn’t know her. The person who is hitting his parents is not his sister that he grew up with.The disease stole her a long time ago.

He will admit that he would never have thought his sister would hit their parents or make false accusations against them. But he insists that she’s not dangerous. He just does not want to admit to himself that he doesn’t know how she’ll react and, like his parents, he tends to whitewash past incidents or rewrite them in his mind to be less serious than they were ( suicide attempts, going catatonic, physical incidents with roommates and police and medical staff, etc).

Unfortunately on this issue I have simply had to put my foot down and say that she is not welcome in our house or around our kids and that we will not see her when we visit his parents. It’s complicated because she lives with them, but we have made it work before and we will make it work again. Honestly it would even be different if I trusted his parents and their judgment, but I don’t they have just spent too much time pretending that she’s not sick and stomping over other people’s boundaries. When I am with them I feel like I have to watch their behavior as much as my sister-in-law’s, because in order to portray the happy family picture my mother-in-law would absolutely hand over my toddler or baby to sister-in-law, otherwise she would have to admit how sick she really is and she can’t do that. My mother-in-law I think is now herself not fully mentally well because of the situation she’s been living in for the last 10 years. She needs everyone around her to pretend along with her or her self delusion doesn’t work. The problem is I’m not willing to do that when it comes to my children.

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You know, BDinVA1, these situations can get complicated. Its not unusual at all for families to normalize the behaviors of their neurodiverse family members. My husband and his brothers normalized their mom’s behavior for years - it was all they knew and it was their normal. Your SIL’s behaviors have become your MIL’s normal. Your husband’s older brother believes the sister is getting “more violent” enough so that he wanted to express the concern to your husband.

Two things, one regarding the violence. Some animals in nature will shut down when attacked. They won’t flee and they won’t fight back. Some people are the same way, they shut down and become unable to help themselves - particularly against a beloved child. Just like your husband sees his sister through old eyes, it can be much more so with parents. The situation worsens gradually and what looks appalling to you isn’t seen that way by the people involved. My Family to Family instructor taught that we are often too close to see what is actually happening.

The second thing is regarding you and your young family. One of the priorities we learn at Family to Family is the importance of keeping our own lives up and functioning. I think of it as “containing the damage”. It is easy to get caught up in your inlaws situation. Of course you want to get the situation fixed up and manageable. That is not unusual at all and its an instinct that we caregivers often have to fight when the situation is beyond our control.

There’s another brother, your husband does not want to deal with it. You have alerted your husband to your concern. His brother is aware.

Sometimes we have to release our family members to their journeys and their choices.

The caregiver 3 C’s are

We didn’t Cause it
We can’t Cure it
We can’t Control it.

We can COPE with it and you are doing a great job of coping by keeping your children out of the situation.

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Not exactly. The strangling was sudden, but it didn’t escalate from something or to there. There was an escalation of his verbal expressions of anger and threats prior to this, but he wasn’t physically threatening other than pacing around and body language.

Per voices, to my knowledge he doesn’t experience voices per se. To be clear, his diagnosis is bipolar disorder and he self-medicates with alcohol and other drugs. I’m the one with the schizoaffective disorder diagnosis and experience with what you call “voices”. In my experience these don’t always function as stereotypical depictions in media and other neurotypical imaginations might have you believe. My participation in his caregiving predates my diagnosis, and I have adapted to my illness far better than he has.

been through this same thing only i young er she fights j hit back i fight back may be thank about getting a place of her on i no another couple has the same thing going on they sick and in there 80s he try ed to kill him mom but he livening bye himself now because thy scrayed of him thy wanted to put my 28-year-old in another place she would not bath and do what i said may girl getting better thy put her on pills i make her clean up now she lost her teeth we been though alot she want get up to she wants to

Hi @Kim_Roberts and welcome to the forum. It is soooooo very hard with a severely ill relative. Often a person’s body care is neglected when they are ill. Do you feel safe?

ye i safe my girls better but my landlord not so safe but one thing thou he lives by himself

shes under a state worker shes better

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Just to offer a different perspective - First of all your in laws must be protected so it’s good you’ve decided to call for an evaluation.
Secondly, how do you know her accusations are false? You didn’t mention what they were. Could it be years long resentment or anger from incidences when she was a child?
Some Mentally ill people have violent outbursts but no all. My Schizoaffective son is very gentle but he gets angry (which he turns into depression) whenever he sees his father - and for good reason. He’s just not able to deal with the emotions brought out by his fathers visits. So every time his father visits which thankfully is only 2-3 times a year my son ends up in the hospital - where he is now.