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Ask Dr. DombeckAsk Dr. Dombeck:
Psychotherapy and Mental Health Questions

Dealing with a family member's complete personality change

Sun, Mar 25th 2007

I am a 30-year-old with two older siblings; we were all raised in a loving home with our parents. We have moved to various parts of the country but have stayed close with our parents, who were due to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this year. My father has always had clinical depression but was on medication and, except for a few instances where his medication needed to be adjusted, he was living a happy and content life. Last spring he started acting somewhat manic and, as in the past, my mother suggested he should go in for a med check. This time, however, instead of going to his doctor he refused, moved out, and started a strange new life (living in a building with no roof, seeing other women, and other behavior that is completely out of character.) My mother tried to encourage him to go to therapy, but he refused that as well, blaming all of his problems on her. He turned against her, claiming that he has been unhappy for 40 years. That is just not true. His personality seems to have completely changed - we children each expressed concern and he has now stopped talking to all of us. He is very narcissistic and cuts anyone out of his "new life" (his term) who expresses any concern that he is not acting normally. He's using the classic lines like "I want to feel the highs," and is telling everyone who will listen how euphoric he is. He has completely stopped taking his medication. He filed for divorce, is bitterly pursing all of my mother's assets and will be leaving her with nothing, and will not listen to anyone who advises him to be more reasonable. He has sent us letters explaining how horrible our mother is and how she caused him to have a miserable life - this is all so patently untrue that it is very disturbing to everyone (he has even sent them, for no reason, to distant relatives!) Since he will no longer speak to his immediate family, I am really worried that the new people he has surrounded himself with will be unable to recognize the symptoms of his mental illness - or unwilling to deal with it or help him if they do see what's wrong. I know that people often turn angry or bitter when getting divorced, but this is much more than a mid-life crisis or a decision to leave his wife. It is pretty clear to everyone who knows them that he is experiencing some type of mental problems which are causing him to act erratically, to be extremely self-centered, and to behave in ways that are completely out of character for a man who had been very good-natured and laid-back for the previous 60 years of his life. This has been very difficult for us all, obviously, because it is as if our father has been replaced by a total stranger who will not let us help him. In addition to dealing with divorce, we are trying to cope with the complete personality change that initiated the whole situation. Is there anything we can do? Is there any way to approach a person like this that can result in any kind of positive change? We all feel very helpless and hurt by the situation, and for now we are focusing on helping my mom get through it. However, in the future we will want to try again to re-establish contact with my father, and we don't know if or how it will ever be possible. Any suggestions you can offer will be gratefully appreciated.

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