Let’s Go To Counseling Together And Work On OUR Problems


By Rev. Renee

            When I started setting and enforcing limits on my birth-father and his behavior, my birth-mother called me up and announced that her husband was “willing” to go into joint therapy with me. Now to a novice, inexperienced in dealing with really dangerous narcissists/sociopaths, this might sound just peachy. Finally, we’re getting somewhere. At first glance, an abuser offering to go to counseling with you appears to be a hopeful sign. It sounds like he’s willing to change, to make some concessions, and try to work out the problems in your relationship.  But before you agree, stop and think twice.

            If an abuser decided to go into therapy BY HIMSELF, then we might assume that at least he’s admitting HIS behavior needs to change and is owning his part in the problems between us. But when your abuser thinks YOU need therapy too, doesn’t it follow that he believes that YOUR behavior also needs to change, and that YOU also bear some responsibility for the problems in your relationship? 

            Abusers sometimes suggest joint counseling, like my birth-parents did, “to work on OUR problems.” But I take issue with the idea that it’s OUR problem. I didn’t have a problem. My abuser did. I actually was quite offended by the insinuation that I needed any kind of therapy, and the implication that I was contributing to the problems caused solely by my birth-father’s abuse. There was nothing wrong with me. In fact, I was finally becoming healthy enough to start standing up for myself, having appropriate boundaries, and expecting to be treated with respect.

            I was not about to let my parents blame me, even partially, for my birth-father’s inability to get along with me, or anyone else. There was nothing wrong in my relationship with Daddy Darling that a change in HIS behavior wouldn’t fix. Then we could all be pleasant and enjoy each other’s company. It was that simple. But he was unwilling to do this. And I, having a full time job, children to raise, and a heavy load of volunteer commitments, was unwilling to waste any more of my valuable time playing games with him.

            I had already literally spent years going around in circles with my parents over their abuse, and getting absolutely nowhere. The joint-counseling “offer” came at a time when I was enforcing my boundaries much more firmly than I had ever done in the past. My parents’ stubborn refusal to respect those boundaries had made it necessary for me to curtail the time I spent with them. The more they acted out, the more I cut back on our time together, to give them less opportunity to inflict their drama and abuse on me and my family. They knew I was getting stronger, and they were losing their grip on me. It had gotten to the point where I hardly ever spoke to my birth-father and pretty much never saw him. Hence, the joint-counseling idea, a typical narcissistic Hoover attempt to suck me back in and get me trapped in the same room with him, having to talk to him and listen to more of his abuse. Daddy Darling always loved a captive audience.

            And an important part of that audience would have been the therapist himself. Someone who was getting paid to listen respectfully to Daddy Darling and take him seriously while he dominated the whole conversation with his mind games and perversions of the truth. Someone who was supposed to be “neutral”, meaning able to be swayed to his side by the wiles of the sociopath (remember, sociopaths always underestimate everyone else’s intelligence and perception). Someone whose job it was to actually pay attention to the narcissist. Someone who, in birth-father’s opinion, would have no choice but to allow him to control and take over with his drama, while I would sit there, trapped like a rat, session after session, never getting any of my points addressed, my blood pressure skyrocketing while my abuser did his best to undermine my credibility and make me look like a crazy person. What better source of narcissistic supply could there be than weekly meetings with two people stuck in the same room with him for an hour, forced to listen to every pearl of wisdom and outrageous fabrication that drooled out of his mouth? And you can bet it would have been quite a show.

            Study after study on narcissists and sociopaths shows that therapy never works for them. They do not change and they are never “cured”. They manipulate and toy with therapists, play mind games, lie and twist everything. You cannot possibly make any progress in therapy if all you’re going to do is lie, deny, try to make the therapist feel sorry for you, and blame everyone else for your problems, and that, by definition, is what narcissists and sociopaths do. They also use therapy to learn psychological jargon and the latest fad “personality disorders”, so they can use them as excuses for why they behave the way they do. Then they can claim they’re “sick” and can’t help it.

            Your abusive parent is not going to change. If she really wanted to change so badly, then she would go to counseling without you. The reason she’s willing to go to counseling WITH you is not to change HER, but to change YOU. Back to the way you were, before you decided to grow a backbone and start standing up to her. Everything was fine before you decided to go crazy and change it all. She also wants to get the therapist on her side, and get him thinking, and trying to convince you as well, that YOU are at least part of the problem. If the therapist shows even a hint of neutrality, she will take it as confirmation that a professional thinks YOU have a problem, and you will never hear the end of it. 

            Also, keep in mind that your abuser is NOT going to keep your counseling sessions confidential. She will repeat and twist anything you say, to make herself look good to others and make you look like a nut-job. At the very least she will let the rest of the family know that you are in therapy with her. Since it’s HER therapy, too, she will claim she has the right to tell anyone she wants to about it. She will also do everything she can to imply, if not state outright, that YOU are having “issues” that you need help with, and make it seem like she is heroically donating her time to help you. It’s a huge mistake to make yourself vulnerable to an abuser unless you want your personal business, or rather, HER version of your personal business, blabbed to anyone who will listen and give her narcissistic supply. If you go into counseling with her in good faith, and speak about your feelings openly and honestly, every word you say will eventually be used against you. With narcissists/sociopaths, I have always found it much safer to play it close to the vest and never let them know what I’m really thinking.

            Relationship therapists often insist on SEPARATE counseling first, before they will see a couple together, so each can work on his own issues before they try to work out their joint issues. However, in my case, my “issue” was not that I was sick, neurotic, or had mental or emotional problems, despite the fact that my parents would have loved to make me believe that, and were in fact trying to make it seem that way. My “issue” was that I was finally growing, becoming healthy, and getting stronger, by the grace of God. This was a good thing, not something I needed therapy to undo.

            My answer to my birth-mother’s “generous” offer was “No, thanks”. I informed her that I did not need counseling, because there was nothing wrong with me. It did not matter what any counselor might say, anyway.  I had already made up my mind that I was unwilling to continue having a relationship with birth-father if HE did not change. The one who had something wrong with him was him.      

            However, I did offer a compromise, which I thought was quite reasonable, and certainly more than I owed to either of them. I agreed to cooperate with therapy for HIM on MY terms. I told birth-mother that her husband could pick the therapist of his choice, and I would be willing to have a telephone consultation with whomever he picked and bring them up to speed on what the problems were from my perspective. They could then go to work on him with my best wishes. And after six months of therapy for HIM, I would be willing to once again speak on the phone with the therapist to discuss what, if any, progress they felt they were making. This was all the time and effort I was willing to commit to making HIM normal. He wasn’t worth any more than that, and it was a losing proposition anyway. I also agreed to continue consulting by telephone every six months until such time as I was satisfactorily convinced that Daddy Darling was genuinely changing, and only then would I consider a face-to-face joint meeting with the therapist present.   I made it clear that I was in no rush and would not be pressured.  I would only take it VERY slowly. 

            Not to worry, we never got that far. I never heard another word about therapy. My control-freak parents were not about to “obey” me and allow me to take control by setting my own terms and conditions for my cooperation. And of course, my abusive father was neither interested in going, nor willing to go, if it meant that HE would be the one doing the work and making the changes. In his opinion, there was nothing wrong with him. He had no desire to change. He never intended to go in good faith, so he was not interested in going alone. He would only go to JOINT therapy, because he wanted ME to change, and go back to the way I was- once again accepting his abuse. Also, because this was yet another attempt to control me, by forcing me to sit in a room and talk to him, or rather, listen to HIM talk. So much for being sincerely willing to look at himself and be accountable for his unacceptable behavior.  This whole charade had just been another one of my birth-parents’ manipulations.

            Just because you are refusing to be abused anymore does not mean there is something wrong with you. You do not need to be “fixed”. I have a huge problem with giving an abuser any ammunition by which to claim, and to tell other people, that his VICTIM is the one with the mental problems. So, if your abuser or her Silent Partner ever suggests it, be very cautious about an offer for JOINT therapy. It’s extremely doubtful that it’s coming from a sincere desire to change and restore your relationship, and all the other relationships she has damaged as well. Someone who is accountable and willing to admit that THEY are causing their OWN relationship problems would be eager to change. They would get themselves into counseling ASAP, and would not make YOUR attendance a condition of THEM going into therapy so they could improve the way they relate to people and make their OWN lives better. The one who has a problem is your abuser, and if she is serious about accepting the responsibility for the results of her own actions, then she should be willing to go into therapy alone and work on herself. You will know she’s really trying if and when you begin to see some positive changes.   

            There is no psychology in the Bible. Therapy for abusers is not their victim’s burden. The Biblical view of abusive people is not that they are suffering from some sickness requiring patience and sympathy. The Bible tells us that people who abuse others are EVIL, not sick. They CHOOSE to cause pain for others. Our only obligation is to rebuke them in the hope that they will see the light, and to forgive them ONLY if they repent (change). We have absolutely NO obligation to “help” them change, in fact we are warned against having continued contact with them. If they do not change their ways, we are instructed to have nothing more to do with them (Luke 17:3; Matthew 18: 15-17).