Thanks AdultSurvivor for some good suggestions.
Mare, it confounds and distresses me that my husband and I both grew up in very unhealthy environments - he far more so than I - yet developed empathy and compassion and were always respectful to others. My husband impressed me deeply when reunited with parents he had believed abandoned him in infancy. He was separated from them - without contact - for 18 years during which time he was indoctrinated to believe they were no-hopers, had abandoned him, and he was - like them - ''the scum of the earth'', born to scum and inheriting their flaws.
In his mid twenties, he was reunited with his parents and despite the pain he had suffered he never once uttered an unkind or hurtful word. He treated them as if they were loving parents who had raised him and cared for him well. He went to great lengths to protect them from hurt, saying they had suffered far more than he and must be saved from further pain, even if he continued to suffer. He was 60 before he learned that they were, in fact, blameless, but there was never a hint of accusation or recrimination. Quite the opposite. Nobody who saw them together would have guessed at their history. He was a model loving and respectful son.
My son grew up in a good, loving home with parents who worked very hard to create as much stability and normality as was possible given their own struggles, yet he has neither empathy nor compassion, is cruel, abusive, rude, and disrespectful.
How is it that the father grows up decent and good despite abuse and deprivation, and the son grows up abusive and twisted despite being loved and cared for?
My husband says it comes down to discipline. He grew up in an institution where discipline was harsh and everything was regimented. He moved from there to the army where discipline was king.
My son would say the discipline in his childhood home was harsh, but it never was. My husband was disciplined, but he was gentle with the children because he had experienced such cruelty and abuse and was determined they would not suffer that way. He was firm. We had house rules and the children knew the consequences of breaking them, but they were loved and valued. Our other children talk constantly of a happy childhood in a good home and we have great relationships with them.
What happened to our son? He married a woman who declared that we were wrong to have rules and standards. She was filthy in the home, unbelievably lazy and selfish, and totally undisciplined in every way. She inherited great wealth and believed the world owed her a living. she acted like a princess who expected to be bowed down to and waited on. Our son developed a sense of entitlement, and the same undisciplined attitude as his wife. It wasn't quite so obvious when she was alive, but after she died he seemed to take on her persona completely. And it was shortly after her death that he turned on me. Until then, we were close. He remained close to his father until quite recently, when my husband finally decided he'd had enough of being abused and used. He had been unbelievably patient and tolerant, and just prayed for improvement, but our son went too far and he's finally given up on him - as has the rest of the family.
Not unexpectedly, perhaps, our son made a token effort to win his way back into the family circle over Easter, when he realized that we were quite content to cut him and his children off and we were having a good time without him. It was a miserable token effort, and actually did his cause harm - though he won't see that as fair. He will justify his behavior now and play victim because it didn't get the desired response. Situation normal! Happily, though, the family are all now on the same page and he can't hurt using the ''divide and conquer method'' that was once so successful.
Um, Holy cow. Annie I'm not a pysch, but I think this might be a huge part of the puzzle.
BTW, tangent, when I said "we" I meant my spouse and I as example. What I meant is, is there a possibility your son suffered trauma (bullying, verbal abuse from kids and teachers at school, etc) and you and your husband might not have noticed the signs? Kids tend to feel their parents are invincible, so thus they feel "everything" is their fault, kind of..
(And yes, Marie, I agree my sister is a hero).
Regarding how does one person turn our decent and kind and respectiful and another person develop a PD, this is a very interesting question. I am actually in therapy myself now due to my own issues, and taking a DBT class. I was born with severe ADHD (which has. Emotional regulation and impulse control issues). On top of that my mother was highly and erratically I aemotionally, verbally, and physically abusive, almost definitely undiagnosed DID (see my letter in unsent letters if you are curious, I wrote just the facts. This wasn't "spanking" but stuff that damaged my neck vertebrae permanently). So I developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder, sev ere PTSD, have a disordered attachment style, major separation anxiety issues, and have a lack of unhealthy uncoping mechanisms and developed skills,. I have some Borderline traits but Bordeline has been definitively ruled out. Anyway, apologies for the tangent... I am taking the DBT classes to learn those coping mechanisms I never learned through example and was threatened from developing. My therapist and DBT counselors said it is kind of amazing I am not MORE messed up and don't have full Borderline or Antisocial Personality Disorder or something. The theory is: what causes Personality Disorders is an individual's sensitivities PLUS the environment of truama or abuse. In my case, they think I was actually pretty resilient. I am NOT a good role model for my kids (I avoid conflict and don't know how to resolve it, thus another reason for doing DBT) and I sure have my issues but I am not as bad off with full PDs as many in my position could be. I suspect the same is of your husband. However, they gave an example of someone who is very sensitive due to individual differences /chemistry / genetics / imbalences whatever, who suffers what we might not get as a trauma (like being bullied at school for a period of time), and that "sensitive" person develops a PD. That is why the abuse or trauma does not have had to have occured necessarily within the nuclear family for a PD to develop, but be SOMETHING that the individual found traumatic or abusive over a period of
time while growing up. However, it was explained to me that BOTH a person's individual sensitivity and "trauma" is necessary to develop a PD is necessary.
Again, I am NOT a psych, but my father is one (and I do a lot of research, work on myself, and self analysis). Does this make sense?
Anyway, this is what struck me regarding your son. Again, this is PURELY HYPOTHETICAL so please know that. Also will ask some questions.
Did your son love his wife? Were they on good terms when she died?
So here is a hypothetical playing out in my mind:
Your son may have suffered some sort of trauma or bullying at school or from playmates or even from other adults growing up. Being a kid, he didn't quite understand it wasn't OK and didn't know how to express or communicate it. You and your husband had suffered growing up so may not have recognized the signs of a silently suffering child. As your son grew older, the trauma bothered him and he blamed you and your husband because you were supposed to protect him. Being male, he had the extra stigma of allowing whatever happened to have happened to him or him to not be tough enough to stop it, so he internalized and tried to minimilze the initial trauma and continued to blame you and your spouse for the pain. Being male and admitting helpless has its own stigma attached to it. Discussing feelings is difficult and hard to access.
At this point his PD was developing but he tried to keep it under control, as comparitively it was not "normal" to him.
His wife didn't understand the lack of entitlement and thought discipline of any kind was barbaric. She listened to his feelings and assumed parents must be to blame- he likely either left out the actual trauma or minimalized it or blamed you for failing to protect him. His feelings were acknowledged and this made him feel better, although the true problems were not addressed.
Then his wife died. This is a truely traumatic event and probably threw him into a full PTSD from losing her. Any other PD issues he had previously were probably amplified. He is probably not able to acknowlege his own pain, his own grief. Once again, he is blaming his parents.... The people he blamed for his childhood pain. He misses her, is trying to live life like her.... And that pain and grief and anger is being channeled onto you. I would not be suprised if he thinks it is not fair that both of you are still alive and you still have eachother.
Anyway, that is my purely fantasy thoughts on the matter. Do you think any part of it might be similiar?
I urge you to stay around for your grandkids. If your son is going through a truly unstable time, you may end up making a huge positive difference for them. My paternal grandmother is one of two adults who are probably the only reason I am a (mostly) functional alive adult today. Not trying to guilt you... Just let you know my opinion from a grandkids POV...