A woman contacted Lovefraud seeking advice in dealing with an extremely disturbing situation. This woman, we’ll call her Rosalyn, suspects her sister-in-law of child abuse.
Rosalyn has been caring for the child regularly ever since she was small, and the girl is now starting school. The little girl if fine in Rosalyn’s care, but when it’s time for her go home, when Rosalyn says, “Mommy’s coming to get you,” the child starts crying and carrying on.
Several times Rosalyn has noticed that the child had bruises. “How did your hurt yourself?” she asked. The girl said she didn’t remember. Other incidents also have Rosalyn concerned about her young niece’s wellbeing.
Rosalyn sees behavior in her sister-in-law that makes her think the woman is a sociopath. It’s not a conclusion she came to lightly. “It took me about a year to figure it out,” Rosalyn said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what the problem is.”
The woman is still married to Rosalyn’s brother. But when Rosalyn tried to talk to her brother about her sister-in-law’s behavior, the result, she said, was “shoot the messenger.” Rosalyn’s brother did not want to discuss her concerns.
So, worried about her niece, Rosalyn called Lovefraud. What should she do?
Father in denial
Rosalyn told me more that makes me think that her concerns are legitimate—details that I am not including in this article. It also sounds like her brother is a caring man who is in denial or under his wife’s control.
Many of us have had to stand by helplessly as someone we cared about was being manipulated by a sociopath. And many of us were that person being manipulated, while our friends and families tried to talk sense into us. The hard reality is that, until someone involved with a sociopath is ready to see what is going on and take steps to leave, there is very little others can do. That appears to be the situation with Rosalyn’s brother.
Call the authorities?
Rosalyn asked if she should call the authorities. As heartbreaking as it is, the answer may be no.
Rosalyn is not operating a licensed daycare facility—if she was, she would be legally mandated to report any suspected child abuse. Rosalyn is simply babysitting her niece regularly.
Rosalyn does not have proof that her sister-in-law is harming the child. So if she called the authorities, it would probably backfire. First of all, the sister-in-law works in a profession that most people would find to be incongruous with child abuse. Secondly, her brother does not see, or at least admit to, a problem.
This is a married couple that is living together. If the child doesn’t “remember” how she got hurt, the mother denies any wrongdoing, and the father says there is no problem, it is unlikely that Rosalyn will be believed.
Resist the temptation to disparage
Rosalyn asked if she should “plant seeds” in her brother’s mind that there might be something wrong with his wife. Again, this is very risky. Here’s what Dr. Leedom wrote in a previous blog post, ASK DR. LEEDOM: How can I get my _____ away from the psychopathic con artist?
The sociopath will set up situations that narrow, yet intensify, the range of emotions your loved one feels. Be as much of a source of warmth and encouragement that you can. Try to resist any temptation to disparage the sociopath. The responsibility for recognizing the evil in the sociopath has to come from the person him or herself. If the person complains about his/her life, do not react emotionally, instead be a good listener and point out the feelings you see. If you become angry and say to the effect, “How dare he/she treat you this way!” You will see your loved one defend the sociopath, and make you shoulder the emotions he/she should be having about the situation. Instead, your loved one has to personally own all the negative feelings about the sociopath.
Rosalyn’s brother is still in the fog, that place of confusion created by the sociopath. Suppose Rosalyn had a “heart-to-heart” with her brother, accusing his wife of child abuse. Suppose the brother then confronted his wife. The woman would convincingly deny any wrongdoing, and then convincingly attack Rosalyn, forbidding the child to ever see Rosalyn again.
Maintain contact with the child
This would be the worst thing that could happen. At least, with Rosalyn, the little girl is safe and happy. She gets a respite from whatever may be going on at home. So the most important thing is for Rosalyn to maintain a connection with the child.
It may be best for Rosalyn to take no direct action to contact authorities, warn the brother or confront the sister-in-law. Instead, it may be best for Rosalyn to bite her tongue, keep her eyes open and make sure she can keep babysitting the little girl.
Rosalyn, should, however document everything that happens. She should keep careful records of any behavior the child exhibits that might point to a problem, photograph any unexplained injuries and videotape the child’s acting out.
By doing that, Rosalyn may accumulate evidence for when the child gets old enough to say what is happening to her, or the brother begins to come out of the fog, or the mother screws up—which she will. Then, her documentation may help free the child from an unhappy situation.