“Do what I want, or I’ll kill myself!” Sounds rational… NOT!

Or… the sad tale of the reluctant Mormon missionary…

This morning, Bill and I were having breakfast and I read him a post that recently showed up on the Recovery from Mormonism message board. You can read it here.

For those who don’t want to click the link, here’s a brief synopsis. A poster writes that his or her brother is currently serving a Mormon mission in England. The missionary is very depressed and wants to come home, but his mother has insisted that he must stay on the job. The young man’s mission president also refuses to let him leave, and says that the missionary will be prescribed antidepressants.

The missionary’s sibling explains that their family is very dysfunctional. Their parents are divorced, and while dad is “healthy” and lives in Utah, their Montana based mother is extremely toxic and manipulative. When she doesn’t get her way, Mom threatens suicide. This causes everyone to get concerned and do her bidding so that she doesn’t follow through on her threats. Because of Mom’s dramatic bullshit, everyone is kept in line, even though it’s not in their best interests. No one wants to be responsible for Mom’s early death by suicide, so they give in to her manipulative demands.

As I read this post to Bill, I asked him if it sounded familiar. Sure enough, it did. My husband’s ex wife is not the woman in this story, although she certainly could be. Ex has never been above resorting to extremely dramatic threats to get her way. She never threatened or attempted suicide when she was married to Bill, but now that her eldest children are grown, she has since gone there more than once. When younger daughter decided to leave home, Ex reportedly attempted suicide and actually wound up in the hospital. Supposedly, she did this because she “loves” her children and can’t bear to have them leave her. Because she “loves” them so much, she tried to off herself when they decided to claim healthy self-determination. Very logical, isn’t it?

I don’t know much more about the details of this suicide incident, and don’t really care to know. The point is, Ex is a very manipulative person who will stop at nothing to get what she wants… even to the point of threatening self-destruction. As we can see from the RfM post and certain other situations we’ve been in, this kind of dramatic reaction is not uncommon when you’re dealing with a toxic person and co-dependents ensnared in their emotionally manipulative traps.

The one story Bill does remember about his ex wife’s manipulative habits is about how she broached the subject of their divorce. I’ve written about this a few times on my old blog, but I know I have some new readers and the old blog is currently closed. So here’s the brief backstory…

Back in 2000, Ex unilaterally decided that her relationship with Bill needed to change, and her manner of forcing Bill to “rock bottom” was the only way to change it. She was convinced she was entirely correct, and there was absolutely no room for compromise or discussion. It was her way or the highway, and she was completely inflexible about her position. So, Ex presented Bill with divorce papers and said, “I’m serious. You do what I demand, or our marriage is over”.

Bill was totally blindsided. He knew they were going to have a discussion about the future of their marriage, but he didn’t realize his ex wife had made all of the preparations to try to force him to sudden action. That weekend, they happened to be celebrating Easter at Bill’s father’s house. Ex’s three eldest children were there, although Bill’s dad and stepmom had taken them out for ice cream.

Ex, who had planned everything in advance, cooly presented Bill with an ultimatum– “Either admit you’re a “sick” person who hates women, go into counseling with the LDS bishop, and change into the man I think you should be, or we’ll get a divorce and your life will be over“. She was reportedly very confident that this threat would set things in motion. It never occurred to her that he might actually call her bluff. And because she was so “dead serious” about what she claimed she wanted, she’d even gone to the trouble of lining up a notary public who was available on a major holiday, and she’d drawn up the divorce agreement herself. She let Bill know in no uncertain terms that he must give in to her high pressure tactics, or there would be hell to pay.

Well, Ex was right about one thing. Their marriage needed to end. But she was wrong about everything else. Most importantly, Bill’s life definitely didn’t end when he accepted her proposal to divorce. And my husband certainly does not hate women. He’s also not “sick”. In fact, he’s a very level-headed, kind-hearted, reliable, decent person who goes to work, pays his bills, and does his very best to do the right things. He’s generous to a fault, and very quick to acquiesce in a confrontation and admit when he’s wrong. The fact that he’s like this sometimes makes him attractive to narcissistic, manipulative, abusive people. However, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he will deal with you. In Ex’s case, he broke down in tears. Then, when she suggested divorce, he asked, “Where do I sign?”

Ex’s next reaction made it clear that this was not the result she had anticipated. She grabbed the divorce papers and retreated to the guest room at my in-laws’ house. There, she spent hours locked away, crying, raging, and generally making a huge scene. When she finally emerged from the guest room, Bill forced her to follow through on her threat. They went to the notary public Ex had arranged. It was Easter Sunday, when most people would be celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Bill was about to start celebrating resurrection of his life.

Many years later, when Ex’s eldest kids were finally ready to fly the coop, she went there with similar drama. But this time, she couldn’t threaten divorce. Instead, she went there with a suicide threat and subsequent attempt. Fortunately, two of her three adult children were smart enough to save themselves and get out of that trap of manipulation. They’re on their own. The third child is still kind of stuck, but reportedly has a clue that her mother has “issues”. With any luck, one day she’ll accept the life ring that has been tossed to her by family members who understand her predicament and want to help. She doesn’t have to stay mired in the quicksand.

A few days ago, I wrote about Dr. Les Carter, a psychologist who makes very useful YouTube videos about narcissistic, manipulative people. Another psychologist I’ve written a lot about is Dr. Tara Palmatier, who helps men who are victims of abusive women. Both of these mental health professionals are well worth exploring, since they offer assertive solutions on how to deal with manipulative women. I would also encourage that missionary’s sibling to explore these two psychologists for ideas on the mindset behind narcissists. “Dr. T”, as she’s nicknamed, tends to take a harsher, more cynical view of narcissists than Dr. Carter does. Dr. Carter is very rational and compassionate, while Dr. T is much more “no nonsense”. Dr. T has often advised that when a manipulator threatens suicide, the thing to do is call the authorities and let them handle it. I am inclined to agree with her.

A person who threatens suicide when they lose control of a situation is engaging in the height of manipulative behavior. It’s pathetic, but more importantly, it’s potentially dangerous. I liken it to a child who holds his or her breath when he or she doesn’t get their way. Often, the threat turns out to be empty, but sometimes the manipulative person will take action out of spite or simply because he or she really has reached that level of frustration. Regardless of why a person makes a suicide threat, the point is you’ve now entered a situation that could result in injury or loss of life. That requires professional assistance.

Someone who is driven to make a suicide threat is obviously on the verge of losing control. So, if the mom in the RfM story says, “If you come home from your mission early, I’ll kill myself”, take that threat seriously. Call for help. Get it documented. At least you’ll know you took steps to help her, even if she’s just trying to force your hand. She won’t like being hauled off to the hospital, sure. It will be expensive, embarrassing, and probably humiliating. But maybe it will also give her pause the next time she decides to make a suicidal threat when someone makes a decision she doesn’t like… or, if she really does need help, she’ll actually get it.

As for the young man on his mission, perhaps he needs a reminder that, first and foremost, he’s a volunteer. He doesn’t have to stay on a mission if he doesn’t want to. He has a say in his own life. He’s very fortunate, too, since he has loving family members who are willing to help him escape. A lot of people in his situation don’t have that. When I was in the Peace Corps, my mom told me not to come home early, but at least I knew I could leave if I wanted to. Ultimately, it wasn’t her decision. I think, when it comes to religious missions, particularly in cultures where it’s considered a rite of passage as it is in the LDS church, members are conned into believing they don’t have a choice. They DO have a choice. Anyone over 18 is a legal adult and can make decisions regarding their own lives.

It’s possible that his mission president has the missionary’s passport. Maybe he doesn’t have any money for a plane ticket. Fortunately, he has friends and family who can help him. I certainly hope they will, especially since the original poster writes that he’s depressed. I know firsthand how paralyzing depression is. It makes you feel helpless, hopeless, worthless, and like there are no alternatives other than the way things are right now.

Antidepressants certainly can be helpful. They helped me immensely. However, taking them is a personal choice, and should not be forced… particularly not by a mission president who likely does not have the expertise to determine if that is what is required. Many people can get over depression just by getting out of a toxic situation. It’s possible that the missionary simply needs to be with people who love him. Or, maybe he does need medication. But that is not for a mission president with an obvious agenda to decide. It’s not his life and it’s not his choice.

Someone who is so on the edge that they’d actually kill themselves over your decisions is not someone whose orders you need to be following. Obviously, this person is not thinking clearly about their own issues, let alone yours. If you saw a mental health counselor who said, “Take my advice, or I’ll kill myself,” would you think that person was competent? I would hope you wouldn’t. If your lawyer said, “I’ll kill myself if you don’t plead guilty (or not guilty),” you’d probably think he or she was batshit nuts, and certainly isn’t offering advice based on your interests. The same goes for a family member or friend who threatens self-harm if you don’t do what they want. That person doesn’t even have his or her own best interests in mind. They sure as HELL aren’t thinking of yours!

Threatening self-destruction in the name of “love” is not at all a loving thing to do. So you should do what is best for you… and if someone threatens self-destruction, call for professional help. Let the pros deal with that person. You get on with your own life, and don’t let their craziness muddy reality any more than it already is. Figuring out life is tough enough without that shit.