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Our Family Is In Crisis

by Pat

My daughter is now 15. We have been dealing with her "control" issues and anger issues almost all her life, from the time she kicked out her window when she was 3, angry over a privilege being taken away as punishment, to our latest issues like yesterday, when she broke my husband's laptop computer in a rage over not being taken to the mall to go shopping.

Basically, she reacts in anger whenever things don't go her way and she's had her heart set on something. (And our own anger control in reacting to her has not always been the greatest, either, not by a long shot.) We have been to counseling, but the anger management techniques they've given her, like "scream into a pillow" or "write in an anger journal" don't work in the heat of the moment. But I'm not sure that anger management is her only issue.

In addition, she refuses to go to bed at night, and now, over the past year, instead of 10 p.m. like it used to be when she was younger, she routinely stays up until midnight, sometimes 2 and 3 in the morning, getting hardly any sleep, which only adds to her anger each day. In addition, she refuses to take responsibility for waking herself up in time for school-- we've bought her four different alarms over the years, but she always comes up with an excuse not to use them-- "They broke" or her latest, "You need to buy me a new table for my room in order for it to be close to my bed."

So then, she says she won't wake up at all unless we wake her. We told her we'd each stick our head in her room only once each morning, and that's all we've done, but she still blames us when she's late to school because she just won't get up (who wouldn't after staying up that late)? In addition, she refuses to eat what I cook, lately even the stuff that used to be her favorite, to the point of getting angry and out of control if she doesn't eat, so we buy frozen pocket sandwiches and other "extras" so she can just be on her own and leave us alone.

Yet she gets tired of that as well, and we still catch anger. In addition, all her life, she has always deliberately "dragged her heels" and made the family late to things, whether it's a piano recital, dinner at Grandmother's, etc., even when it's things she wants to attend. It's like she has to always do things her way, not anyone else's. We have left her behind before but sometimes we can't, like two years ago when we were going on a family vacation.

She refused to pack on time, refused to get in the car even when we packed her bag, to the point where when my husband forced her, she fought him badly and made it hard for me to drive. It was an awful scene, one I wished our younger daughter didn't have to be around. We thought that would never happen again, but it did again this past holiday season. This time, she scratched him so badly and pulled my hair as I tried to drive, that we went to the police. I was hoping for an "Andy Griffith" kind of warning for her but when they saw the scratches on my husband's arms, they sent her to Juvenile for the day.

And now, if we thought we had anger issues before, everything has escalated. She says she hates us for what we did and will never forgive us. And, to make matters even worse, we recently realized she's been a routine liar over the years about various things and has stolen almost $100 of her sister's money, flat-out denying it even when we caught her red-handed and then admitting it but saying, "She deserved it, I hate her" and "Buying things is the only way I feel good any more."

We have been told by our probation officer we need to get anger management counseling. I don't know where to turn. We are in a crisis right now-- my husband had to go in late to work today because I was afraid to be alone with her so he took her to school-- late, of course. But in spite of all this, she makes good grades and is involved in several school activities in which you have to try out to be involved.

She has never given her teachers any trouble. So that's why we haven't medicated her, because her "control" issues seem to mainly be with the family (although lately I've seen her get upset with her friends when things don't go her way-- I don't know how they stay friends with her, to be honest). Does this sound like Oppositional Defiant Disorder? I feel so alone and have never met anyone with a child like this. We are usually very firm in following through with punishments and sticking by our word so it's not like she's a spoiled kid who is "enabled" all the time. Yet it doesn't seem to make a difference. I am at my wit's end and would appreciate any guidance you can give.

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Pat, and thanks for telling your story here. It is clear that you and your family are in crisis. I will try to help in any way I can. I am going to give you some straight intuition here, and it may or may not be accurate for you. You will have to decide.

I think you have unresolved personal issues yourself, and your daughter is reacting to your "untold story." I suggest that you first do the three part journaling process described on this page.

Then, when you feel ready, tell your daughter your story. Tell her about your past, and how her current behavior fits in with that, if it does. This needs to be done in a loving way, which I know may be difficult for you the way things are.

Next, I want you to spend some time every morning, writing about what you love and appreciate about your daughter. You have developed a very negative view of her (with good reason), and it is getting in your way in your relationship. She needs you to believe in her. She needs you to see the best in her.

You sound like you're afraid of her anger. That's not a good thing, because it gives her the message that she's bad, and that she's more powerful than you are. I strongly suggest you get some personal counseling of your own, to get in touch with the healthy power of your own anger--which is connected with love.

I also suggest that you check out these programs. They are perfectly designed for parents in your situation. You and your husband need to listen to the CDs together if you get one of the programs.

I encourage you to see this as a family problem. As you said, your daughter's problems are mostly with the family. If you were local, and came to me for counseling, I would want to work with the entire family. I have had great results helping troubled adolescents by working with the whole family. Often the angry teenager is acting out something for the family, and the problem won't be resolved until the family addresses the underlying issue.

As I said, my perceptions may or may not be accurate. Please forgive me if my input does not seem to fit. If it does fit, I hope you find it helpful.

Believe in yourself, your daughter, and your family, Pat. You are good people.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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