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How can I help my 24 year old son who I believe has given up on life?

heart to heart
My son has really given up on life. I am so worried about him. He is 24 and has a lot of issues about his past, for example he was bullied all through his school life. I took him out of school a couple of times to teach him myself, as he was so miserable. Now he can't hold onto a job for more than five minutes, he thinks he's totally useless, has one friend who's a bit younger than him, who puts up with his constant anger at life and can't make friends or talk to people.

I just don't know what to do. The only reason he says he doesn't kill himself is because it would hurt us, his family, otherwise he can't think of anything he'd like to do better. I love my son. He's one of five children, the second youngest, and I and all the rest of the family, i.e. his siblings and father, really don't know what to do.

Wallace's reply
Wallace I encourage you to refrain from feeling or visualizing that your son has given up on life. What we visualize tends to happen - so visualize your son as happy and fulfilled. If you and your family all constantly visualize your son as strong and healthy in body, mind and spirit, this will give him the best chance of recovery. It is vital that you continue to believe in your son even if he does not believe in himself.

It seems to me that your son has problems that go deeper than bullying at school. It may be that these are problems of low self-esteem, self-hatred and an inability to be creative and communicate constructively. I suspect that it was these difficulties that attracted the bullying rather than were the result of the bullying.

I strongly recommend that you suggest your son has a visit to a psychotherapist. If you can, make the first visit a casual affair. Ask if your son would like you to accompany him. Make the first visit more a chat and a shared cup of tea than a formal therapeutic session. Your son may feel very threatened by the prospect of such a visit, so he needs gentle guidance.

If he is unwilling to go then I suggest you work at establishing a stronger bond of trust with your son. This bond of trust will have been eroded by the high level of anger in the relationship - anger that he is directing at everything and everyone. To nurture this trust you need to get beyond this anger. To do this I suggest that your husband takes your son on an adventure holiday - two weeks minimum if you can manage it. Choose a holiday that your son would like and that has a high level of physical exercise. This will help dissipate the anger while on the holiday and allow his father an opportunity to establish a closer relationship - a relationship not with the anger but with the person behind the anger. With a sensitive approach from his father, your son may decide to open up and a degree of trust may form. But don't force anything, if it is going to happen let it happen naturally.

If you are unable to afford such a holiday then I suggest inviting your son on a series of adventure weekends, perhaps walking and camping in the mountains. The principle here is to give your son something physically challenging that he would like to do into which he can pitch his unresolved anger. Then, as his anger dissipates, you need to be ready to be by his side to listen to him, if he wants to open up and talk.

If your son doesn't like physical challenges, see if he will take an interest in self expression through art. I'd love to see him paint, or produce in clay, images of what he is feeling inside. If he prefers this to the adventure holiday then go with art - but always be ready to listen to your son. There are art therapists who may be willing to work with your son in this way, or if you prefer set a place where he can paint or work with clay at home.

If you can deepen the trust in your relationship, then your son may be more willing to listen to you when you suggest seeking professional help from a psychotherapist. You may feel this difficult relationship with your son is tearing your family apart. This is the time the family needs to pull together. As a family you need to visualize the best for your son, and support him with unconditional love, in the way I suggest. In time, as the relationship with your son improves, your whole family will grow together and find a shared sense unity, love and understanding inclusive of your son.

I feel your family need an anchor or reference point to guide your actions. You may find it helpful to order my book Unfold Your Wings and Watch Life Take Off and have its presence in your home. If different family members pick it up and read it they will find in its pages the healing path that leads from anger and despair to joy and happiness. In my past I too was like your son and the book charts my journey from angry and distressed young man, who like your son was suicidal, to peaceful and serene adult, with guidelines that empower others to make the same journey.

I am holding you all in my thoughts and prayers.

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