She’s not uncaring, she’s ill.

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: In the past 5 years my wife has been violent, paranoid, over-reactive, dillusional and sexual with 6 other partners. I now although it seems too late am realizing she needs to be medicated, and from reading of disorders on-line, she seems to be symptomatic of literally several illnesses. She is currently in counceling and is considering meds (lithium and Depakote) but i am sure she is a patient whom paints a not so accurate picture of what she does to hurt others and why. Should i pity her? The youngest daughter has known me as “Daddy” for 6 of her 7 years, and i am frustrated knowing that the likelyhood of our pending healthy relationship is doomed due to her mother’s repeated episodes. I feel now she would be better in a foster home than with her own mother, and don’t know whether to intervene for her welfare. I have two children of my own from a previous marriage in my care and no room for her. There are so many details, i should actually write a book. I had NO idea the trauma and confusion sexual abuse as a child could inflict on a woman. She can be loving, warm, spiteful, in total denial, blaming, promiscuous, raging, paranoid, dillusional, disassociative, etc…any opinions? What a broad question huh?
We are already divorced, but I don’t want to abandon her as i know i am one of the few true outlets she has for her problems. As i am the victim of her affairs, this is progressively difficult for me to pursue without malice.

A. I’m so sorry you all have been through such a very hard time. I’m not showing your complete letter in order to protect the privacy of the kids involved. I’ll try to address at least some of your questions.

Not everyone who experiences sexual abuse as a child develops symptoms later. But about a third do. These range from mild issues of trust to much more serious and debilitating symptoms. However, your letter suggests that your ex-wife may well have been suffering from a mental illness in addition to the after-effects of abuse. Since the suggestion for meds is Lithium, someone has made at least a tentative diagnosis of bi-polar illness. If that is the case, it would explain a lot. And – if that is the case – you and she needed some good help long, long ago. She’s not selfish, uncaring, sexually promiscuous, or mean. She’s ill. Since you are still involved, I suggest you contact the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in your area (www.nami.org). They can offer you information, support, and referral to counselors who can help. You’ve been trying to manage this alone for far too long.

Meanwhile, I’m very, very concerned about the 7 year old. She has known you as her Daddy for most of her life and you don’t have room for her??? What is that about? You have left her in a situation that you, an adult, found intolerable. She has lived in chaos and apparently “lost” her father through divorce. If she were to be placed in foster care, she would lose her mother too. Sometimes foster placement is necessary to get a child out of a dangerous situation. But in this case, you are available. Double up. Sleep on the couch. Show her that she is loveable enough for someone to care. Show her step-siblings that people who are responsible do the right thing. Get her some counseling and help her maintain a relationship with her mother. Otherwise, the situation may well repeat itself with another traumatized little girl growing up not knowing what normal love looks like. You haven’t been able to save her mother despite lots of good effort. But you might very well be able to save this little girl.

I wish you all well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Jul 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). She’s not uncaring, she’s ill.. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/07/16/shes-not-uncaring-shes-ill/