Unhandled trauma or schizophrenia?

Last year my wife of fifteen years began to have more bizarre thoughts than usual which culminated in her believing she was being monitored and could be removed or killed by a group of alien/overlord type people from another planet. Various things happened after that including several diagnoses of schizophrenia and one attempted involuntary treatment which failed miserably due to an overloaded mental health system unable to cope with additional inpatients.

Five months or so on and the confabulations and fantastic stories have largely stopped, however she still has no insight into what is happening and has never taken medication. She can for the most part operate perfectly normally as long as she is only required to do things of her choosing. Any request do do anything results in childish behaviour most notably shouting, violence and blaming (me for everything). She cannot be told anything that could in some way be considered controlling or forcing without triggering at least a half hour shouting fit. This has always been the case but the things of her choosing have reduced now to the most basic activities where she spends most of the day cooking, eating, sleeping, walking around the streets and using the computer.

This situation has left me rather overwhelmed as she has little understanding of what this sedentary lifestyle will do to her health and weight in the long term. It has been almost ten years now since she had paid employment and despite telling me she is looking for work, nothing ever comes of it. If I ask her to do anything like exercise it triggers the monster and depending on the time of her cycle, she will call the police or family violence numbers and tell them that I am abusing her.

In an attempt to get her up off the bed and doing some exercise recently she threw a tantrum and lay on the floor, and after several attempts to pick her up she called the police and reported me as dragging her across the floor. They have now started a file on me as a repeat abuser and this can only end in one outcome- me getting a criminal charge. So I’m stuck here in that I cannot do anything to try and encourage her to get out of these habitual patterns since it will ultimately end up in criminal charges as they only consider the story of the victim.

She unfortunately had extremely violent parents who did all the things she accuses me of and that in reality I am dealing with a three year old fighting against her parents which I just happen to represent. After seeing this exact same behaviour in my friend’s child I am absolutely convinced this is what is happening. It is like all children go through this tempertantrum phase and grow out of it but in this case she was severely traumatised which has locked-in the behavours as some sort of defense mechanism/survival thing.

My options are somewhat limited now as if I do anything to trigger her I will very likely end up with a restraining order and that means I am unable to live in the house I pay mortgage on and she will be completely alone with her thoughts. If I try to get involuntary treatment she will argue (validly) that she is not a danger to the public. If I leave the situation and do nothing she will eventually end up overweight, unhealthy and have wasted her life. If I walk away then I’m leaving a three year old [edit for clarification: we have no children, the three year old here is the traumatised one inside my wife] to fend for herself and walking out on my wife which is a hearbreaking thing for me to do. The helpline here suggested that I report her every time she is violent to establish a pattern, however she is only violent if I ask her to do something and her violence is purely “protecting herself” and is therefore completely justified. This is too greater risk now.



I’m sorry to hear of your difficulties.

I cannot say anything to whether a diagnosis of schizophrenia is correct or not. It certainly seems she had some delusions and psychosis which appear to have resolved somewhat.

It also sounds likely that she would benefit from some mental health treatment. As much as I know it worries you, I would not consider her lack of exercise to be a priority at this point, but rather helping her reach a better state of mental health. I doubt that any type of confrontation will be helpful. I certainly would not use any kind of physical coercion, especially given the family history you describe.

At this point it might be most helpful for you to get some counseling for yourself to understand what you can do to manage in this situation, and to make your child’s safety and happiness a priority.


Wow that is an awful lot on your plate. I am sorry you are having to deal with this. I come from very violent parents myself and my first thought when you describe your wife’s behavior is PTSD…Which can result in odd reactive behaviors…And she could also have intermittent psychosis as well. I am no doctor but I a care for my adult schizophrenic son and occasionally my schizo-affective sister and I am in counseling for PTSD. I think besides her needing to be professionally evaluated, you may need to contact a lawyer and/ or a counselor and get advice on how to protect your child and your home and keep from being criminalized in this situation. Until she gets help you may need to just consider yourself a single parent with a potentially hostile roommate (and don’t ask or demand anything of her ) until you get advice on how to proceed or until she gets evaluated and treated. Tall order I know but that is all I can think of…I also think I would keep a journal, dates and times and actions because that will be helpful if you ever end up in front of a judge. I wish I had more to offer, If I can think of anything else I will let you know. My heart goes out to you. I hope things work out.


Thanks for your thoughts. I have edited my post as it wasn’t very clear in that we don’t have children (see above for why!), the three year old is the traumatised one trapped inside my wife.

I was never completely convinced by the sz diagnosis. She had all the signs for sure- denial, confabulations, fantastic thoughts, paranoia, delusions etc but they seem more like a result of being left to her own thoughts for too long and an echo chamber forming. I end up away for work a lot and she spends most of every year by herself so these thoughts have nothing to balance against reality with.

She can’t stay angry/reactive to me for more than an hour or two, then she returns to my normal very loving wife so I’m not concerned with her taking any action against me, what I am concerned with is if her angry self calls the police enough times they will build an evidence case against me over time.

Things get more complicated as for my side of this, I would probably be some sort of autistic or aspergers as I prefer not to be around other people and spend my time inventing fantastic things which end up as intellectual property in the aerospace industry. I can relate to my wife’s confabulations fairly well as I have them too, the difference is that mine tend towards reality whereas hers tend towards fantasy. My mind gives me all sorts of weird and wonderful thoughts which I don’t understand and then eventually I get a cognition and suddenly it all makes sense and I can then explain to others how to solve this impossible engineering problem we are working on. I feel very lucky to have made a career out of these thoughts and it is only because my wife recognised this when we met and encouraged me to study engineering. We make a good team when we aren’t stuck in trauma mode.

As far as getting help goes, we have been to five counselors so far and found that they were either unwilling/unable to help us, or her inner child clashed with the inner child of the counselor (also had an abusive childhood it turns out) or they wanted to just try things with no set plan for $180/hour which I wasn’t prepared to support. I’d love to find a competent psychologist here but so far no luck. I don’t want coping strategies, I want a workable method of resolving this by dismantling the internal mechanism that causes her to identify me as her parents/apply defense strategies that she has no ability to reason with. Maybe this approach doesn’t exist yet. Part of me says I can invent it but I don’t fully trust that thought.


Catherine, if you don’t mind me asking, do you have certain triggers and defense modes that are purely a function of traumatic things which happened to you at a younger age? Also, do you have flashback of similar past incidents when in anxiety-inducing situations? Please ignore if I’m being inappropriate.

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Schizophrenic or not, the book everyone here recommends is I’m not Sick, I don’t need help by Dr Xaviar Amador.

It teaches a good way to talk to people who lack insight, repair your relationship and, hopefully, convince them that treatment could help them with something, even if they never admit they have an illness.

It goes against my nature because I’m a very direct person, and this method requires you to be someone indirect, but I think it could help me with other types of relationships too.

It’s short & relatively inexpensive - and there are videos on this site somewhere. I keep meaning to bookmark them instead of just telling people that, but haven’t done it.


First off my heart goes out to you in dealing with this problem and trying to identify what it is and how to help your partner. Years ago, I saw a documentary on PBS by Leo Buscaglio. I think if she could read or watch this, she might see herself in this inner child. Leo F. Buscaglia Quotes (Author of Living, Loving & Learning)

You might find his book on Amazon. I couldn’t find a link but it suggested meeting that inner child and loving her. I think the right therapist could help her work through this trauma.

I wish you the best of luck and great advice on documenting events both positive and negative. I would imagine you have found incredibly creative ways to not ask her to do something. If so, Please share idea with us. My son’s outbursts were recently diagnosed as PTSD.

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Thank you, yes, that was the book the local support group gave me to read and it helped mostly in identifying the patterns and seeing how many others of similar age go through the same things. I tried the strategy suggested but, perhaps like yourself, I’m not quite the right personality to really ‘own’ it.

Thank you, I’ll look into Leo Buscaglia a bit more.

Part of the problem is she understands well that she was abused but believes that because she did a couple of marketing psychology papers as part of a business degree, she is now a psychologist and is trained to diagnose others as unfit to diagnose herself. She also spent quite some time with a Buddhist group and believes that she cured her traumas that way. These extensions of reality are significant barriers to understanding the reality of the situation.

Unfortunately I haven’t found very useful ways of asking her to do things. I’m a fairly blunt/direct person and have few negotiating skills and her alert mechanism is so sensitive it sees past any attempt I can make at trying to fool it. She will often try to do something I asked once she has run through the shouting fit but it is obvious that she is not doing it for herself but trying to appease me/her parents wishes which is not helpful. I saw this pattern in a lot of my classmates at uni, their parents had ordered them to study engineering but they were only there to fulfill that wish and hence did poorly, learned by rote, or dropped out.

It seems that once our mind gets into the idea that we are doing things to appease another person of authority then we lose the ability to do things for ourselves. Somehow I need to rebuild the intention and desire to do things for herself but don’t yet know how.


I was advised to ask my son about his goals as a diversion tactic. I think I will let him write thee out and make daily goals from there.

Do you think he does things more for himself or to appease you?

I notice my wife makes efforts to get me to notice her doing something which are “look mom, I’m doing stuff” actions and therefore indication that she is not doing it for herself. Example is coming back from a walk down the road and making obvious panting/out of breath noises and then having a shower to show that she is exercising.

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I have PTSD and I agree with the advice never to touch your wife in any way during a PTSD episode.

Give lots of physical space. Don’t box her into rooms, meaning she should always have a safe exit that is totally clear. Don’t loom over her like an adult to a child. Do not raise your voice or argue. That way you won’t seem like an abuser.

If she is reverting to a terrified state, try to be the stable, calm person you would be searching for if you felt that way.

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She obviously wants to show you that she is exercising. Tell her how proud you are of her. Start giving her earnest compliments of the things she is doing. Even if she makes a mess in the kitchen. I tell my son im so glad you are cooking for yourself. What are the things that will spoil if we don’t get them in the fridge. Let’s clean this up together. Let’s put these dishes away and I open the cabinets and hand him plates.
I have yet to see him start a job on his own. I’m not saying it wont happen, I just always have to work with him on things.


Thanks for your thoughts. I used to try and get away from her when she became fully triggered but it only amps up and prolongs the situation as she is subconsciously hunting down her parents and me walking away is seen as a weakness to further attack. There is no place that is safe for me, she will barricade doors, block me in, follow me outside, anything to ensure I receive the full power of her anger.

In more recent times I have found that it is better to stay calm, put earplugs in and just let her go for it because I know that it will only last about half an hour then she will go into sulk mode and become completely motionless for another ten minutes before returning to normal. If we don’t run through the process it can take a long time for her to come out of it so I now prefer the short and eventful to the long and sporadic, and she is back to saying I love you within minutes of recovery now. Recognising that the anger isn’t really directed at me but that I just represent and trigger her past helps me stay calm and distant from it all but jeez, it is hard work. I find that talking jibberish is a good distraction to keep my mind from wanting to react to her.

I’m not sure what will happen the next outburst and am thinking about setting up video recording so that at least I have some evidence of what really goes on. I am rather concerned about what the next episode will bring but I just got a bowl of cherries on my desk which is code for I love you so it might be a few days off yet.


I’d love to be able to do that but it only sounds fake if I try. Mostly I don’t talk to anyone unless for work so my vocab skills are somewhat formal and technical. Heaping praise on somebody is not something I can naturally do unfortunately.

The other issue is that the more I say to her, the more chances there are of saying something that triggers the whole process again. It is like a game of minesweeper… I never know what is going to explode next. If I say nothing then all is good for pretty much indefinitely, however that just goes back to the same Groundhog Day-esque routine that she is stuck in.

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I can sympathize with you on this. The same thing happens and he starts kicking, throwing, and hitting things. He told the cops and the 911 operator I was harassing, hurting him, and abusing him on Tuesday when I tried to Baker Act him. I had to show them my wrists and the progress notes I have been writing for the past 2 months. I think you need to start writing down everything that’s happening, recording it, and you should install video cameras in your house secretly and save the videos without her noticing. Find some way of getting her out of the house and do it. I have voice recordings of him being violent against me and screaming at me because he didn’t want to take his medication. The progress notes helped A LOT. He was literally asking them to arrest me as soon as he opened the door and I think along with the recording of me talking with the 911 operator, him talking to them and saying delusional things, and him being aggressive and resistant with the officers, the progress notes saved me from getting arrested and getting him Baker Acted. The officer asked me to send it to her work email so that they could use it in court against him, along with the 911 recording.

Yes, I have several…one of them is if anyone raises their voice in anger (to anybody even strangers but within my earshot) I literally want to run away and hide…if I am unable to do so without to much drama then my blood pressure rises, my face turns red, my vision goes blurry, and I feel like I am going to have a heart attack…I am 57 now but when I was young (early 20’s) I might punch somebody in the face or swear like a sailor at them …I have been through lots of therapy off and on for many years and I know you are not for “coping skills” but trust me there will come a day you will want and need them…you just don’t know it yet…Before the coping skills can work you and your wife have to find a way to work through the pain and anguish of the past…there really is no forgetting it, shoving it somewhere or pretending it isn’t lurking around…for me in the beginning I talked a lot to my therapist about specific events that were still traumatizing me, that I found impossible to accept, or that I felt some god awful guilt about…so many jumbled up feelings…and I often would put on a happy pleasant front with a big smile for the world and then bam! I’d hear someone yell or scream at someone else and I was either like up in someone’s face telling them to shut the &%$ up or I was darting away as fast as humanly possible…I am so much calmer and able to deal today BUT and my life is such that there is very little chance that I will run into too many of my triggers but it can happen from time to time…today I still go to therapy and I go to DBT classes…Dialectical Behavior Therapy based on the therapies of Marsha Linehan…(good stuff) really helps me to stay in the moment and effectively stop ruminating over past tragedies and horrors. I wish there was an invention that stopped all of the chaos and mental anguish cold in it’s tracks but there is not, you have to go through the muck and get to the other side and then you and your wife will have better perspective…I believe that. I am sorry I misunderstood about you having a child…I guess it is a good thing that that is not an additional worry at this time…It sounds like you and your wife have a good relationship when you are both feeling stable and sound. That is hopeful. My idea about the lawyer was not in fear of her taking action but just to try to get some real ideas on what you could do to assure that you don’t unwittingly get a criminal record without deserving one. I understand that Asperger’s aspect because my oldest son has that as well, he is a multi lingual teacher in California and pursuing his Master’s degree at present. BUT he can have a hair trigger temper when really frustrated or stressed out…he tends to be somewhat disorganized and accident prone and doesn’t always feel very comfortable in social situations too, he would rather be home with his wife, playing video games or reading about Chinese history. When he and I are together if he raises his voice …it triggers me and it has lead to an argument…we have a good relationship overall, but it is hard for him to understand why I react like that -since he is often all about facts-and feelings are not easily in his “wheelhouse” I am still working on things…but my point is that your individual personalities can sometimes trigger each other in spite of the love you have for each other…I think you will ultimately need to find individual therapies and then at some point therapy together…I am not sure where you live but maybe you might need to go to someplace where you both can get the services you want keeping in mind how sweet life will be when these outbursts,conflicts and ideations are finally under control…just my thoughts…have you called NAMI? They have resource options… http://www.nami.org/ anyway…you can ask whatever you like I can relate to many parts of your story even though I am not married…welcome to the forum.


Oh man that sounds rough, thanks for sharing your experiences though. The majority of calls to police have ended in her talking herself out of it or handing the phone to me, the transition out of it usually seems to happen while she is on the phone but not last time. Last time it was very different in that she wasn’t violent at all, she went straight to sulk mode so I’m not sure if something has changed or whether I triggered her differently this time.

I’m looking into video cameras but I’m pretty sure anything recorded on private property is illegal without the knowledge of the occupants so it will have to be with her understanding. Also I don’t want to do things that break down trust, we have a very loving relationship other than this issue and she really is my best friend. I’m thinking a GoPro type camera that I can set up anywhere at a moments notice. Years ago I tried audio recording it and she smashed the recorder, hopefully GoPros are tough enough.

This apparent struggle for control or resistance to domination/being controlled seems a common theme here. If we take a much broader view, that is pretty much the whole of human existence- control of other humans and resources. Maybe there is a very fundamental thing going on here within the human subconscious which we just don’t understand yet. I mean, every war ever fought was for control over something or somebody right? Maybe this is just a miniature version of it.


Anytime and it is rough. No, just say you were concerned of burglars or you can actually install cameras for burglars, but also ones in your home and that way she “knows” about it. Record it with your phone and have a passcode. The moment she tries to stop you, press the close button and it’ll continue recording, but she won’t have the passcode to stop you. Trust in and with schizophrenics is difficult to exist, I’ve come to know this the hard way. Do what you gotta do to help her get better and not have a record where you’ll eventually get sued or go to jail on the whims of an insane woman.


Thanks Catherine for your explanation.

Yes, I wish there was an efficient repair method for the human mind too. Mostly I like to think that we simply haven’t evolved sufficiently yet as a race to properly understand how the most complicated thing in the known universe operates. That gives me some hope at least. This is also why I’m not much into coping strategies as they are a way of saying that yes there is a problem but we are not smart enough to properly solve it so let’s use this workaround instead. My engineering mind has to solve the problems which is both a blessing and a curse.

I’m guessing your triggers are strongly linked to actual events where raised voices historically meant compromised survival in the same way that my wife automatically takes any hint of control as a compromised survival state because of the way she was treated. This is very basic ‘fight or flight’ stuff which we humans haven’t found a way of efficiently resolving yet. There must be a way, heck, we are the most intelligent beings around yet we behave like the least intelligent at times of perceived duress. There has to be a valid reason for this, I refuse to believe this has to be the way it is. Or maybe I’m just stubborn.

I’m not in USA and have been in touch with some of the support groups here but haven’t really found anyone I can strongly relate to yet. They are more about mental illness in ‘proper’ families with multiple children, grandchildren and relatives whereas it is just two of us. Most of what they seem to do is develop communication strategies between family members who don’t understand mental illness and that doesn’t really apply to us. All of their information so far seem to end in either coping strategies to minimise conflict or separation, and I’m not interested in either unfortunately.