Do they even know what love is?


I've been wondering about this lately. How can your child say "I love you Mom" but then turn around and call you a "f-cking b-tch," and not just once? How can you love someone and steal from them? How can you call it love when you deliberately make choices that you KNOW are going to cause pain to those who love you?

I'm beginning to wonder if there is really anything behind those words, "I love you, Mom." Did all the unconditional love my husband and I gave our child his entire life count for nothing? Is there any point in even trying to keep our family unit strong when it's all take but no give?

Are these feelings (which I've never felt before...) just a phase of that "detaching" stuff I'm trying so hard to learn?


Active Member
My son has made this easy - he hasn't told me that he loved me in a couple of years - said very tongue in cheek. Makes it easy to believe his verbal abuse!


New Member
CAmom, I know EXACTLY what you're talking about. Sometimes I wonder if my child would even care if I dropped off the face of the earth...except then she'd have one less person to use.

But then I realize...she is sick. I don't think she means what she says. I think she does love me, but hates herself. The hate gets directed towards the safest person in her world: me.

It is not ok for her to do this, sick or not. I am practicing tough love and detatchment...and maybe one day, she'll be ready for real help.


Awww...Judi, I'm not sure which is worse. My son is CONSTANTLY telling me he loves me, but I'm just not so sure we're even on the same planet when it comes to what that means...


Alice, I feel the same way about my son at times...the dropping off the face of the earth thing. He always apologizes for being hateful and tells me that I should know he doesn't mean what he says, but I wonder if that's just a way to get me back in line.


(the future) MRS. GERE
I do think they have a skewed definition of love. Rob equates love with "what has he/she DONE for me/bought for me lately?"

I have no idea where he got that idea because his father and I have never shared that definition and we certainly never demonstrated it.

I blame it on the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) but it's broader than that. It seems to afflict all difficult children. It's where the mental illnesses our kids share, despite the different dxs, has them thinking so lopsidedly.

I am shaking my head as I type this. I will never understand the dichotomy.



Well-Known Member
Mine equates love with things---he sees the things that pcdaughter has---because she has done what she is supposed to and he thinks we "love" her more. He constantly tells me he loves me---while stealing me blind and having us walk on eggshells. He has never called me any ugly names---at least not to my face---but he uses my lack of "love" for him as a manipulation tool. I have seen a flicker of change since he sought treatment---but not enough to light a fire with...just a few sparks.


New Member
CAmom, I have often wondered the same thing. I was having almost this exact discussion with husband today. Personally I don't think they do know what love is. Even though we have loved them with our whole hearts they have never truly opened theirs. Therefore they have never really learned what love is. An open heart must be met with an open heart in order to fully impact it. That is why we feel so much pain our hearts were opened but they were shut out. They were not allowed to touch the heart of that they so much wanted to reach. That is the most hurtful kind of rejection. To give wholly and to be shut out. It is a hard pain to heal. -RM


New Member
When my son really started getting bad (at age 15), I wondered the same thing. He seemed so unreachable that he barely seemed human. A police officer once told me it might change difficult child's behavior if I cried in front of him (difficult child). The officer said he had seen it happen quite a few times. I told difficult child's therapist I didn't think difficult child would care-the therapist agreed.

On medication, though, it seemed like difficult child "thawed," and for a time, I felt like I had my son back. Now that he's off medication, he's back to the way he was. So I think it is part of his illness, but I feel like I've been cheated out of the relationship I could have had with him. But then I think how much worse it must be for him to not be able to feel love for someone else, even though I don't think he realizes he's missing out on anything.


New Member
I may be way off base here....

I've often thought that a person cannot really love another, if they don't at least like themself. I don't mean that in a "me first" way, but realize they are, down deep, a good human being, one capable of living a good life, etc.
If someone is harming themself - either by drugs, behavior, constant failure, etc. - they don't like themself very much.
And if they don't like themself, then how can they hope to really love another?


Former desparate mom
<span style='font-size: 11pt'>Camom, I wonder, also if what they define as love has anything to do with reality or if it's just a knee jerk statement that they think they are supposed to use. For the most part I always felt that if I fell off the planet, it would be an inconvenience to my difficult child but no real loss. He is affectionate and I know it hurts him to see me unhappy or disappointed but he just doesn't get it. The behaviors repeat themselves over and over.
He doesn't call me horrid names or curse and for the most part he doesn't steal. (I have a change I collect from the washing machine in a jar, for the kids for emergencies. He emptied it recently. He was told that he may not do that without clearing it with me. It isn't his. I think he was surprised. He thinks what's mine is his too. Imagine!
Love isn't supposed to hurt. Talk is cheap. Our difficult children are masters at the empty words. It's sad but it's as Suz says, it's a byproduct of their mental illness or as I like to call it their "brain wrinkle". </span>


New Member
Well, like always, I see it a little differently.

When any of us were young, how much did we consciously "love" our parents? When I think back, what I remember is feeling safe with my parents because I was not responsible for my own upkeep. If I starved? It was their fault, not mine. (Not that I thought of it that way, then ~ this is a looking back thing.)

Most adolescents need to fight home a little to grow up and away.

Now add drug use or, like Fran says, brain wrinkles.

Our kids are in trouble. Whether that is because they use drugs or have a brain wrinkle or have something else going on, their ability to even understand, let alone communicate, the complexity of feelings that makes up love is as messed up as anything else about their growing up.

I don't understand how they could do what they have done to us either, CAMom. I think that is what drove me for so long to try to find it ~ to find where I had gone wrong in raising someone who seemed to hate me. I had my ideas about how I should have done this or that differently? But there was nothing which would justify him hating me enough to destroy himself right in front of me ~ which is what all our kids are doing, if you think about it.

Or at least that is how it looks, to me.

So, you know what I concluded?

Whether they love us or not cannot matter, now.

That we love them has to be enough, because it is all that we have.

And if we give in to that hopeless, what-did-I-do-how-did-this-happen, then the drugs, or the brain wrinkle, or the whatever it is wins.

Sometimes, I have to reach back really far to do that.

Too many times, I simply refused to see anything I did not want to see. I wanted it to be my problem, because if it was something I had done, and if I could just figure out what it was, I could make amends, take control, fix it.

So many times, the other ladies on the site have had to shake me up and make me look at what was really happening to my son ~ and to myself.

It is like watching someone kidnap and torture my child.

Only the person who kidnapped him, and who is torturing him right in front of me?

Is all I have left of my own son.

That is why I have the quote about faith at the end of my posts.

That is what I have left.

And though it doesn't feel like it some days, that is alot.

And because it is all I have?

It has to be enough.




member since 1999
I think what concerns me more, in terms of their life success in relationships, is that because we keep coming back after all their spewage they've gotten the message that *everyone* will put up with- this junk.

thank you got a wake up call fairly early in life. A beloved Residential Treatment Center (RTC) staff person, who thank you had barraged with the most vile racial slurs you can imagine and then some, finally had enough. He just shut down. Did his job, period. No socializing, no outings, none of the "extras" that is seems most Residential Treatment Center (RTC) staff do. Just gave directions, monitored behavior, gave cues, monitored consequences. He did this on his own, and unfortunately I think was truly hurt by thank you's junk, but I think he was right on. thank you was baffled. I think he finally understood (for a moment anyway) that there is no one else in the world outside of his parents who will keep coming back for more of his abuse. Even his sibs, Weeburt especially, have had to draw a line in the sand.

I agree with- Barbara - whether or not they truly "love" us is beside the point. We love them, we're trying desperately to get them on the right track, I don't really care if he loves me or I'm a (insert expletive of the day). I love him, more deeply than he can know, but completely without any expectation of reciprocation.

But that's certainly not to say that his carelessness with- the people who really do love him doesn't hurt, a lot.
No, my daughter does not understand what "love" is. To her, "I love you" is a phrase, like "please" and "thank you", that you use when you are being polite, behaving like you are supposed to, trying to appease or wheedle something.

She knows what love is intellectually but not emotionally. She expects to receive it unconditionally, but what it means to her is what others do for her. The person who loves her is the one who devotes their life to making sure that her life is pain and trouble free, an impossible task, of course. The "love" she gives, however, consists chiefly of bestowing the right to be the favored one who has the task of devoting their life to making hers trouble and pain free.

She has love for people in that she feels grief over their loss, but very little empathy. She was devastated when her grandmother died but had no understanding of her mother's grief. I don't think she really feels that other people experience pain and sadness like she does.

She cries at Lifetime movies and reads romances and gobbles up glurges (see but things like comforting a sick child and cleaning up the poop and vomit in the middle of the night, or dragging herself out of bed to get her child up and dressed and fed and off to school with last night's homework in her backpack, those things are just drudgery, not "love". She could read the previous sentence and agree (and fully believe) that that is what love truly is; but not actually do it.

That sounds harsher than I meant it to. I sometimes wonder if my conception of love is pretty much the same as what I described above; I constantly think, "After all I've done for you..."


What an interesting topic, thanks for starting it, CA Mom! Shortly after I kicked my dtr out I had to deal with her in person--long story, not relevant here--and I felt like my blinders were off and I was seeing her for the 1st time with a more objective view. I told her something about how much she had betrayed all of her family with her lies and stealing and using us and that each of us, me, her stepdad and 2 siblings all felt the same way. She said that she couldn't really care about us, the only person she cared about was her boyfriend. I thanked her for being honest, said that we all knew it from the way she treated us. It was very liberating to me at the moment because I didn't feel upset, and actually did feel glad she was being honest.

A little bit later she surprised me by telling me that she actually did care about us but it was too painful so she just shut those feelings away. Again, I was able to be in my more "objective" mode and told her I was sorry and maybe she could deal with it someday in therapy. I didn't get all sucked in but didn't reject her either. Since then we have had a much better relationship but I need to take those blinders off every now and then because I tend to put them back on and can't see her objectively. I see that she loves me but can't love me in the way I might want her to. But then with kids I don't think you can expect them to love you the way you love them anyway. I think it is not good for us to look to our children for our need for love. I have told difficult child 1 a number of times that if she does have a baby (has been pregnant 3 times now, miscarried each time) that the baby won't give a darn about her needs--to a baby it is all about me, me, me. So many girls seem to think that a baby will fulfill their need for love and a baby couldn't care less about that!


Hound dog

Nana's are Beautiful
I think T gets Love. But I don't think he interprets it quite the same as we do. I'm not sure if I can even put it into words. But at least he never uses Love to lash out and hurt. So I guess that is something.

N and I have talked about this. She used to be great at screaming "I hate you!" with such passion it could really hurt to hear it.

N swears she never once meant it. Regrets ever saying it. But is not so sure why it is pretty much the first thing to come out of her mouth when she's raging. She says most of the time she doesn't even hear herself saying it. (among other things)

And I do have to say she is remorseful after a rage. She's a lousy actress, too. So I've never had her try to fake regret. If N doesn't regret what she's said, she's the first to tell you straight out. lol

I've learned not to pay attention to it at all. At those times they become just words. Nothing more. No meaning. Just words shouted in a rage.

N is trying to learn to pay attention to what she has pouring out of her mouth during rages. This is not easy for her at all. There are times when I can really see her struggling to keep a grip on her control. And by me not giving them any meaning, it helps keep me from responding in such a way as to make the situation worse. I keep hoping with much practice with this at home it will be much easier for her when dealing with other people. (those who are going to attach meaning to her words)

Strange how having the baby has helped N so much. Aubrey is teaching N better than I ever could what real love is, and what is truely important in relationships. I know since the baby has been born N has learned so much that I could never get thru to her no matter how I tried.


Suz and Kat, YES, I believe my son is a lot like that! He's always seemed to feel that, whenever I said no about anything, it was because I didn't love him. Weird...


Rejected, I know my son's love was pure and absolute when he was younger. But, starting around 14 or so, it seemed as if he began to use it for his own ends and became very manipulative. I so wish I'd seen that for what it was at the time so that I could have nipped it in the bud...


Hmmm, interesting about the crying thing. I've cried in front of my son on a few occasions, just because I couldn't help it. At first, when he was younger, it distressed him terribly, and he was beside himself. Later, about a year or so ago, my tears seemed to INFURIATE him, and I believe that my loss of control made him lose some degree of respect for me.


Skeeter, that makes a lot of sense. I think the drug thing really does have a lot to do with it because I think my son was so driven by his pot use that any reminder by me or anyone that he had obligations and loyalties just represented another barrier to knock down. He couldn't have possibly liked himself much...