How to deal with extended family's denial

Currently I’m having a really hard time dealing with my mother in law’s denial of my son’s schizophrenia. I understand that it’s hard for her to accept, but I find her words to be incredibly invalidating to my family’s and my son’s experience.
She recently said that “it takes years to actually diagnose schizophrenia,” which it doesn’t. It’s 6 months. And she then said that she thinks it’s autism and Crohn’s.
It’s so illogical and anger inducing.
Honestly, who cares what he’s experiencing is called; he’s experiencing it, and we’re living with him while he’s experiencing it.
My son has had, what we now realize as his immediate family, prodromal negative symptoms for years before his first full psychotic break in June. But, he’s had positive symptoms in the past few years, as well, that he openly talks about.
I know that I have to do my own work in separating my feelings and truth from her words and emotional hurts, but right now I’m feeling so triggered by her.
It also doesn’t help that she believes she’s the most empathic person, and her behavior right now is the literal opposite of empathy. She hasn’t once said, “I’m so sorry you’re all going through this.”
Just venting… thanks for the space. :heart:


What you are experiencing is the reason I didn’t tell my family about my son’s schizophrenia for years. Not revealing it was easy because we live far away from family. We didn’t even tell them until our son began to call them to reach out for help. He wanted them to stop us from sexually abusing him.

When my Family to Family instructor began walking me back through my son’s life to reveal the prodromal stage to me, I remembered when I first realized something was different. We didn’t understand something was wrong until a few years into the active stage in his early 30’s. His schizophrenia’s progress has always been insidious. He was at university when he called me one day and told me that his friends were mad at him. He said they were mad because he didn’t want to spend time with them. When I hung up the phone I remember standing very still and thinking that he has never not wanted to spend time with his friends.

I am sorry about your MIL, you have enough on your hands without having to deal with her denial and ignorance. I was totally frustrated when it took my husband such a long time to actually understand. He would skip Family to Family classes to go to soccer games! In FtoF they say that the number one cause of divorces when a child is diagnosed with mental illness is the parents being at two different levels of understanding.


@hope , thank you so much, again, for responding. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for sharing your experiences. I’ve read some of your posts on here about the sexual abuse accusations you’ve been through. My heart absolutely breaks for everything you’ve gone through. Right now my son is very focused on sexual abuse he endured as a child, but I honestly do not think that it happened. The age he keeps talking about when it occurred, he wasn’t alone with anyone. I think when he was hospitalized, he was saying that it was my husband and I, but since he’s been home, he won’t give any details on it. He just says that he “was told” that it actually happened, and a lot of his delusions are wrapped up in it. It’s gut wrenching to be falsely accused. It makes you feel sick to your stomach.

My husband’s family lives just a town over. We don’t see them in person a ton, but often enough to cause anxiety about the relationship. My daughter’s birthday is this weekend, so they’ll be stopping by, and after she’s been so outright in denial about everything, I’m absolutely dreading the visit. Hopefully, since they’ll be in our home with our son here, we won’t even have a conversation about it… or, as my daughters have said, it could be the absolute worst day ever, with my son going into uncontrollable psychosis.

My son was never as social as your son sounds like he was. He was always shy, and even when he was little, if there were other kids at the playground, he wouldn’t want to play. I still can’t believe, though, that I never thought of his negative symptoms in his teenage years as being indicative of serious mental illness, because when you realize that’s what’s going on, it’s so clear… But when you’re in it, and you don’t know, you just never would’ve thought that was the explanation. I honestly thought he just doesn’t like me, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I didn’t realize that the sz was what was making it so hard for him to feel an emotional connection.

You telling that story of standing very still, thinking your son had never not wanted to spend time with friends… I think of all the moments through the years where little ‘mom alarm bells’ were going off, but I didn’t know what was wrong, or I thought I was overreacting. It’s so interesting to me how accurate mom radar is for that stuff…

That makes total sense to me, and I can completely understand how it happens, probably way more frequently than not.

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My aduly kids didnt believe it for 4 years till they saw an episode…i was just an enabler,

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I had a close friend who kept insisting it was trauma. I finally sent her an article and she stopped. My own therapist kept telling me, “it couldnt be that bad.” I left her after 14 years. A friend of my husband’s suggested an exorcism. My sister-in-law prescribed homemade kefir and other nutritional remedies. They are all trying to help, i guess. But there’s nothing helpful about it.

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I am so sorry you are going through this with your MIL. You do not need this in addition to caring for your son. I would offer that you set a boundary and tell her that talking about your son’s problems (illness) is off-limits. In order to care for your son, you need support from people around you, not their criticism or judgement. If she cannot respect the boundary that you have set then consider telling her that you need reduce your time around her. She doesn’t have to understand what’s going on with your son, but she should understand that you need love and support.

Since your son’s break was in June, it may take a while before he finds and stabilizes on the right medicine for him. This is a very tough time for you and your family. Hang in there.

I’ll comment on a few items that resonated with me.

First, it’s not like Autism and Crohn’s are walks in the park! My mentor and colleague died of Crohn’s in his 50’s. And Autism was originally named juvenile schizophrenia, and misguided “Freudians” were quick to blame “refrigerators mothers” as the cause. I’ve found most peoples’ “understanding” (sadly, including psychiatrists) of mental disorders becomes fixed around the college time, never mind that the DSM is periodically revised so “knowledge” about such matters by elders is often seriously out of date.

Second, I’ve found that family members who are often quite impotent or passively involved attempt to reclaim feelings of power by being “right”. As my father’s mobility declined due to dementia, my brother living on the opposite coast strenuously argued it was all caused by his psych medication, and my other medication refusenik brother with bipolar disorder agreed with him, as it suited his agenda. So my sister and I had to deal with an armchair Google doctor and pharmacist and a delusional medication denier convinced that all the psychiatrists in town were incompetent and most especially my father’s who inconveniently was the only geriatric psychiatrist in the area! Never mind it was the same medication I’d been taking for over a decade! I had one brother say he didn’t understand why I was advocating for the medication and his psychiatrist, and I said call me crazy, but I’m the only one here with actual successful experience working with psychiatrists and taking psychiatric medication responsibly.

The main way I deal with others’ denial is acknowledge their advice, and say respectfully it’s not their call, and in my opinion they aren’t qualified or knowledgeable enough to make such decisions.


Its very hard, I dont find the general public sympathetic, 50% think your
making it up, 25% tell you to kick the schitzo out to the streets, and other 25% are scared to be around.