Are some people truly beyond hope or help? My inclination is, yes, there are individuals that are beyond hope, but I am wondering what your experience tells you.
The context of my question is this. I have a cousin who is a drug user, a criminal, a liar, and so many other awful things. He is also estranged from his father after committing many crimes against both of his parents for many years.
He contacts us every once in a while to manipulate us with his lies. I have succumbed to some of his requests only to find he has lied to me. Now I learn he is manipulating elderly aunts with stories of his having serious illnesses. The guy has had every opportunity in the world and has failed no matter the help that was offered.
I also find that he has been arrested twice in the last 20 days; for public indecency and for felony theft. This now makes 26 arrests that I know of. I know he lived some time in a home for HIV/AIDS homeless people only to be thrown out for substance abuse.
He has been like this for 30 years, and I just want my aunts to know the truth. I think they should know he is a criminal, a drug user, and I can only assume that he has AIDS.
Can someone like this really change? I don’t see how. I personally have given up on the guy, but I just can’t stand to see him manipulating my aunts.
Any thoughts? This doesn’t really fit into your kindness theme, but I no longer feel any kindness or compassion toward him.
– Frustrated family member
Some people may be beyond hope. These people find pleasure in harming people, even murdering them. But they are a tiny minority.
There are others who despite treatment, keep repeating destructive behaviors like substance abuse, criminal activity or even child abuse. It sounds as if your cousin is one of them.
So we could look at his behavior, awful as it is, and say this is just a bad guy. Family and society have done everything they could for him so now let’s just put him away and protect both him and us. And that would not be an irrational argument.
There might be other ways of looking at your cousin. We could look at failed institutions and failed mental health treatment. And that would also be a valid argument and one I would endorse. Our understanding of the human mind/brain has come a long way in the last hundred years. But we are still very far from knowing how to effectively treat many relapsing forms of mental illness.
None of this takes your cousin off the hook for his behavior and I strongly believe that, with very few exceptions, people should be responsible for their actions.
So is your cousin hopeless? He might be, but we can answer that only in hindsight. We do know that he sought treatment several times. So I would assume that he is a tortured soul who does not wish to suffer but has no idea how to end his suffering.
Most people who abuse drugs – or try to get money illegally – do so in a misguided attempt to suffer less.
But the real issue here may be about whether you can help him. Perhaps the first question is whether you want to help him.
If you don’t want to, no one would fault you. And if that was your decision, I would hope that you could find some peace with it. Keep in mind if you do this out of anger, you might carry resentment. So if you opt to give up, please just let go and hope for the best for this man.
If you decide you’d like to try again, you and your aunts have to do something other than what you have been doing because we know that doesn’t work.
So here is a rule of thumb when dealing with substance abusers or related conditions: Do what you can to help them get better but don’t do anything to keep them sick.
Giving them money, making excuses for them, even bailing them out of jail are ways of enabling them to continue with the same behavior.
It is important that your cousin know that the only thing you and your aunts will do is support his getting help. You may help him find a facility or even drive him there, but that’s all. As much as I think dialogue helps resolve conflict, this man’s conflict is within himself and long discussions would be fruitless.
This terrible disease of substance abuse affects friends and families and loved ones of the abuser. So whatever decision you make, it will be difficult as it involves saying no to someone in your family.
Programs like Al-Anon for families and friends of substance abusers can often be helpful. You all would benefit from the support of people who understand.
In Al-Anon, they often say “detach with love.” That’s difficult to do. Your cousin is a troubled person who may or may not survive his illness. But if you are able to set these firm boundaries, you might feel safe enough to find some compassion for him.
Sometimes the extent of your power is your fervent wish for someone to suffer less. And right now, I wish that for you, your aunts and your cousin.