My step-daughter (13) is the second youngest of a blended family of eight. She lacks empathy and has high anxiety. She lies, manipulates, distracts to get what she wants and avoids any real responsibility. How does a step-parent navigate this situation?
As I’ve stated elsewhere, I am not a licensed mental health professional; therefore, I do not feel comfortable giving personalized advice. However, I will share a few thoughts I had upon reading this question. First, have you expressed your concerns regarding your step-daughter to your spouse? If your answer is no, why not? If you feel that your spouse will refuse to hear you out, or will listen to you but then invalidate your concerns, there are larger issues to deal with, and I would urge you to explore why you don’t feel comfortable raising this issue with him/her.
If you answered yes to the question above, does your spouse acknowledge that your step-daughter’s negative traits A. exist and B. are problematic? If you said no to either one, you’ve got your work cut out for you. In that case, my suggestion is to seek individual counseling for advice regarding how to cope with your situation and how to help the other children involved.
However, a yes response to both A. and B. is encouraging. Your step-daughter may benefit from individual and family counseling sessions. At such a young age, it’s possible her behavior is a coping mechanism, and a licensed psychologist can help make that determination as well as help her work through it and implement some positive behavioral modifications. Family sessions are useful for showing your support and everyone can learn healthy ways to respond to her attitude without reinforcing it.
Of course, if it turns out your step-daughter’s behavioral issues are more serious, it’s imperative to introduce a qualified therapist who can develop a treatment plan and realistic goals for the child. It’s possible she may also need medication to help reduce her anxiety. Something else to consider – is the other parent involved, and will s/he agree to therapy? You may need to go to family court.
Your original question may seem relatively simple and straight-forward, but even a mental health counselor wouldn’t be able to answer it without knowing more about the child, her history, and family dynamics. Before figuring out how to navigate, you’ll need to determine whether or not you and your spouse are on the same page regarding your step-daughter. Her manipulative behavior affects the entire family, and it needs to be addressed.
In a previous post, I talked about giving some insight into what it was like living with my narcissistic mother-in-law during the time my husband and I had to do so out of necessity. The following is an example taken from one of my personal journal entries from about five years ago. We had been there for several months, so we were noticing patterns in her cycle of abuse, and we were constantly on edge.
This happened on a day when my husband (then-fiance), Tim, was working and I was off. I was in our room, sitting cross-legged on the bed with my laptop. I’m an extremely introverted person; my personal space is important to me, and since the in-laws were also at home, I kept the door to my room closed. They (my NMIL and her flying monkey) were in a bedroom adjacent to mine where they had their computer set up. I knew they were both in there, because I could hear both of their voices, and I heard Maude lower hers in a conspiratorial tone.
Shortly thereafter, Chet opened my bedroom door, without knocking, and asked me what my middle name is. It’s important to note here that he did not appear surprised to see me, he did not say anything along the lines of, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were here”, he looked right at me and launched into his question without hesitation. Stunned at the sudden invasion of privacy, I was temporarily speechless, and he said something about they were taking a census online and needed info on everyone in the house. I was so floored, and I felt so violated, I simply answered him, so that he would go away and leave me alone to process what had just happened.
I am an adult female, and an adult male other than my fiance just popped into my personal space without knocking on the door. I have a right to privacy, and I don’t need anyone to tell me that. Even though I wasn’t in a state of undress, I could very well have been. Even if he wasn’t sure whether or not I was in my room (which they both later claimed, and that was a flat-out lie), knocking on the door first would have been the only appropriate way of handling that.
By the time my heart rate returned to normal and I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to vomit, they were still on their computer, and I came to the doorway of the room they were in to let Chet know that what he had just done was inappropriate and that he should knock before entering my room. Just like a couple of little kids, they both gave excuses, lies and justifications (with Maude doing most of the talking, naturally) along the lines of they didn’t know I was in there. Maude proceeded to tell me about the census and that she needed to know my middle name, so she sent Chet into my room to look for a piece of my mail with my name on it.
Where to start… ?
1. I don’t use my middle name. The in-laws used to check the mail, sort through it, and set mine and my husband’s off to the side which means they knew they wouldn’t find my middle name that way. My mail would arrive with only my first name and surname on each piece.
2. Even if that weren’t the case, coming into our room when we’re not home to look through our personal belongings is absolutely NOT acceptable. Not to mention she could have easily texted or called me (or her son) to ask my middle name rather than snooping through our room. Another obvious thing here is that if you don’t know someone’s middle name or initial, you leave it blank. It’s just a census survey; middle names are hardly important.
3. All of that was bullshit anyway; she just wanted an excuse to send Chet into my room unannounced to freak me out as punishment for not complying with one of her previous demands. She had wanted me to do something to let her know when I was there during the day. I don’t recall what that something was but, you know, knocking on the bedroom door and simply asking if I was there would have been a sane and rational way to find out. (We had only one vehicle, so when my husband was working and I wasn’t, I tried to stay as quiet and out of the way as possible; I didn’t want to bother them, and I didn’t want Maude to try and manipulate or gaslight me).
Tim bought a locking doorknob with a key and replaced it that very same night. Maude later (within the next couple of days) repeated the original excuses as sort of a half-assed apology. We were both in her kitchen at the time; she was standing at the sink cutting up veggies or something and I had come in to get a drink. I didn’t say anything in response. I just sort of slow nodded and then walked away. I didn’t believe her and I didn’t feel like pretending that I did.
Anyone who’s come out of a long-term toxic relationship knows that a manipulative, vindictive ex can all but ruin your life. They’ll at least do their best to try. My husband’s abuser managed to sabotage his career, basically setting him back to square one. She did this even though taking away his means to support himself also meant taking away his means to pay child support to her. An emotionally healthy woman with a handful of kids will look for a job to help support herself and her children. An unbalanced wreck in the same situation will spend all of her time plotting and scheming until she succeeds in cutting off the only source of income she does have.
To me, this is one of the most baffling aspects of psychopaths and the personality disordered. When they perceive that someone has wronged them, they will go out of their way to harm that person, even when it is inevitable that they themselves will be negatively affected by the outcome. I truly believe that many of them do have the foresight to understand that they will suffer consequences for their own actions, but they go ahead and implement whatever malicious plot they’ve devised, because they so badly want to cause someone else’s suffering.
My husband was in the military, and we were living all the way across the country from ex-BPD when she strategically tried to destroy his life. (In hindsight, the distance was the biggest blessing). We packed up and temporarily moved in with one of his relatives who lives in between our home state and the one we had just moved from. My hubby had a job prospect in the area; it didn’t pan out, we wound up staying with the relative and her family longer than we had planned, and she turned out to be highly manipulative which made an already stressful situation almost unbearable.
My husband eventually landed the job that he would have for the next several years, and we got our own place. He was quickly promoted to a management position, and eventually I was hired on with the company too. The owners turned out to be the most heinous, emotionally manipulative, abusive people either of us has ever worked for, and maybe I’ll get into that some other time. Eventually, this company wanted him to move back to our home state, and they promised him a promotion. He never got it, the work became intermittent, and we wound up staying with his parents for much longer than expected.
The idea was to move in with them for several months while my husband set up his surgery (to correct an injury and improve mobility), recover from the surgery, and give us time to search for a rental property. However, The Universe rarely takes our plans into account, and things got crazy almost as soon as we arrived back home.
Which brings me to the reason I started writing this post. I recently wrote a flash fiction piece that was inspired by our stay with the in-laws, and I figured why not supplement it with a blog post summarizing what really happened. I’ve started reading back through my journal entries and will post soon.
When I first created this blog, I intended to chronologically recount my story of abuse. There are a few reasons the blog has remained stagnant for so long. One, my brain works in a more random way, not so much chronological. At this point, I’m thinking of writing a book (or two or three), that way I can keep adding events to the correct chapters as I remember them.
Two, and this is more of an excuse than anything else, is life happened. I got busy with work and other things. Because I already felt overwhelmed at trying to recount my tale, it was easy to use “I’m just too busy” as an excuse to avoid writing about what I’d been through.
Three, and probably most importantly, is that I realized shortly after I created my blog that my significant other (now my husband) had been through the same thing I had but to a far worse degree. At the time, he was still in touch with his abuser who was actively trying to destroy his life. This was causing all kinds of problems, and it was what I really wanted to document because it caused me so much more pain than actually living with a psychopath ever did.
Getting back to feeling overwhelmed, my situation was confusing, I didn’t have the terminology to adequately express everything that was happening, and trying to figure out what exactly was going on was exhausting. Eventually, my husband and I figured everything (mostly) out, but it was still difficult to comprehend. I feel even more compelled to try to get this out, if for no other reason than there doesn’t seem to be much information out there on how to cope with this type of situation, and how to help a loved one who is dealing with CPTSD and dissociation while they are actively being abused. It was a frustrating, frightening experience, and I can’t be the only person to have gone through this with someone dear, not knowing how to help. In fact, some of my reactions probably made it worse.
My goal is to write a book in two parts (possibly three). The first book will relay the story of the part of my life I lived with my narcissistic abuser; the second book will recount the journey my husband and I have taken through the aftermath of abuse. A possible third book would be my husband’s life with his borderline personality disordered abuser, but that’s completely up to him. I know a good deal of that story, but it’s his to tell.
In the meantime, where am I going with the blog? Unfortunately, my husband and I have both lived with, and worked with, some extremely volatile and manipulative people, even after we thought we’d be free of those types for good. Writing about these experiences seems like an easier jumping off point while I’m working on my first book.
There is no cure for psychopathy/sociopathy/cluster B personality disorders. There is no way to teach a monster to have compassion and empathy. Worse, being a sociopath isn’t even a crime, in and of itself. There are plenty of personality disordered, high conflict people running around loose in our culture, and they destroy people’s lives. Not all of them kill, not all of them are physically abusive, and not all of them commit such blatant crimes that they wind up in prison, but they all use and abuse others for their own personal gain.
Given that knowledge, is there any way we could co-exist with psychopaths peacefully? Could they be integrated into society in such a way that they could only be helpful? Here are a few ideas for how to neutralize them, in order to protect the innocent.
Option 1 – Banishment
Exile them. Give them their own remote territory to reside on, but make sure they have no way to leave this place. The vast majority of them are not the foaming-at-the-mouth, axe wielding maniacs that most of us think of when we hear the word psychopath. Many of them are CEOs, doctors, lawyers, politicians and, yes, even mental health professionals. Scary, no?
So, they would have their own community, they could set up their own government, and so on. We would drop in food and other supplies periodically, and they would have to learn to ration it all out. Of course, they wouldn’t; it would be survival of the fittest, and this is all just for fun, so let’s try not to overthink it.
This would be something like John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. Only we wouldn’t shoot them, if they tried to escape; we’d tranquilize them, and return them to their natural habitat. It’s perfectly acceptable; that’s what we do to bears when they wander into the suburbs.
Option 2 – Sedation
Leave them at large in the community, but they have to be on heavy tranquilizers. Friends and family members will be in charge of medicating them and then parking them in front of a television set. They may hang out with everyone else, but they’ll be too loopy to use and abuse anyone. We’re talking doped to the gills, all happy and drooling. There’s no way they’ll feel up to stealing Grandpa’s social security check, gas-lighting their spouse, or manipulating Aunt Mildred into co-signing for a loan.
And, of course, if the family members feel squeamish about having to give injections to their crazy relative periodically, they could opt for a lobotomy. What? It’s a permanent solution, and everyone is appeased. The family members get to keep their beloved sociopath around, and said sociopath will be unable to harm anyone. No more manipulation tactics, no more lying, no more keeping everyone on edge. Imagine it – the new and improved psychopath.
Option 3 – Sanitarium
Removal from the general public might be a better option, if the friends and relatives do not want to keep the disordered individual around. Or the family may not want the responsibility of caring for such an individual, maybe they just want to be able to visit him or her once in a while. In that case, the option of institutionalizing their favorite psycho might have a certain appeal.
Electroshock treatments will be administered only at the discretion of the family members. Otherwise, the psychopaths get locked in a padded room. They will be given some crayons and paper, and classical music will be piped in to keep their thoughts serene and pleasant.
Option 4 – Employment
Give them the jobs that no one else wants to do. This option gives them an enormous amount of freedom, so they would need to be branded in some way, to alert innocent folks of the danger. Perhaps tattoo SOCIOPATH across their foreheads. It has to be clearly visible if it’s going to serve as a warning for people. Besides, these days, everyone seems to have a tattoo or 20. It’s hardly inhumane. Or, perhaps we could come up with a standardized psycho hairstyle to identify them.
Some fitting careers for the sociopaths: garbage man, crash test dummy, lift pump remover, commercial dishwasher, butcher, bat guano collector, Port-O-Let cleaner, and roadkill remover are some of the most appropriate. The disordered who have already earned high level positions – doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, would have to do at least 50% pro-bono work. And if they ever get caught doing something illegal, they get busted down to the lower level employment options.
Unfortunately, the chances of someday living in a world free of personality disordered individuals are slim to none. These creeps do not seem to be in any danger of extinction, and they are quite good at blending in. However, our society should give serious consideration to finding a way to identify and deal with psychopaths in such a way that they are not allowed to mess with the minds and emotions of regular folks.
As we start the new year, I was reflecting on my goals for 2019, and that got me thinking about how much can happen in a year. A few years ago, my husband and I started a tradition of writing down Happy Thoughts throughout the year and stuffing them into a jar, then we read them to each other during the first few days of the new year. We’ve been doing that this week, and I’m realizing how much I have to be grateful for, and I don’t want to take anything for granted.
I grew up in a dysfunctional family, so it astonishes me that it took me as long as it did to recognize it when I found myself entrapped in it in my adult life. What’s more puzzling is that, even after my own experience, I didn’t see my best friend’s (now my husband) Stockholm Syndrome for what it was. In my defense, I was still licking my wounds and trying to make sense of what I had been through. I was also blinded by optimism and a renewed sense of hope.
So many people feel obligated to maintain unhealthy relationships because of a little shared DNA, and I’ll never completely understand that. I left my abuser, and I had no trouble disengaging from my narcissistic father. (I came to see both of them for what they were at roughly the same time.) DNA? That’s superficial. Toxic is toxic, and I refuse to feel obligated to enable a narcissist or to unduly stress myself out.
As of this writing, I haven’t spoken to my father in almost ten years (same for the narcopath I lived with; it was a clean break, no further communication), and it hasn’t been difficult at all. My husband went no-contact with his narcissistic mother a few years ago, and he doesn’t miss her either. I realize not everyone has an epiphany moment, or their toxic relative (or lover) does something so unforgivable to them, that trying to salvage the relationship is no longer an option, but I want to tell you that not having to deal with toxicity in your personal life on a regular basis is a much more peaceful way to exist.
Whether it’s a lover, a parent, sibling, or even a child, no one should have to endure emotional, psychological, or physical abuse out of a sense of duty or obligation. It may be difficult, but you can remove the negativity from your life. You are good enough, and your needs are just as important as anyone else’s. You can have hope and aspirations. You can live up to your full potential.
As stated in my introduction post, I lived with a sociopath for a number of years, and my significant other was ensnared by one for over a decade. If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve had your own major encounter with a psychopath, or perhaps you have a loved one who has. And if that’s the case, you may already have learned that the reason some of us get involved with sociopaths is because we’re trying to resolve childhood issues. We had high conflict, sociopathic, or personality disordered parents, and we got stuck in dysfunction; we don’t know what normal, healthy relationships are all about.
As far as my parents are concerned, I’ve already made my peace. When I say that, I mean I’ve made my peace within myself and, as a result of that, I was able to make my peace with them. (I want to point out that this was partly a result of the relationship I had with the psychopath. As I was discovering what he was, I realized he and my father seemed to have come from the same template. So it gave me some deep insight into the relationship I had with him, as well.)
My SO comes from a highly dysfunctional family also, and has made significant progress as far as understanding how that has affected his life and his choices. He has learned to recognize when he is being manipulated, and he stands up for himself. We both still read books like this one to continue to gain valuable insight. For me the subject is still fascinating.
Getting back on topic, Dr. Forward tells her clients that forgiveness is not essential. I respectfully disagree. Unfortunately, many people seem to think forgiveness and absolution are one and the same. They are not. Forgiveness does not equal absolution. The two are not synonymous. Forgiving someone does not mean that you will continue to allow them to abuse you or that you will pretend like the abuse never occurred.
It’s been my experience though that forgiveness is a process. You cannot simply state that you forgive your abuser and expect that magically, all of the hurt from the past will disappear, you will have your self esteem back, your toxic parent(s) will be grief-stricken at ever having hurt you and will become the perfect parent(s), etc. Strangely, many people seem to think that that’s how forgiveness works. It has to come naturally. For me, it’s been part of the healing process. It gradually started to happen on its own, without any conscious effort on my part. (Other than struggling to make sense of everything and to recover from it all.)
I realized I had forgiven these people when I got to the point where I could think of them, and unpleasant incidents from our past, without feeling strong emotions. Now, especially when I recall traumatic incidents from childhood, they almost seem as if they happened to someone else. I don’t feel anger, confusion, emotional distress, helplessness, hatred or a wish to lash out. Sometimes there’s a little sadness at the fact the we humans can be so cruel, but that’s not what this post is about.
The second thing I disagree with Dr. Forward on is her urging all of her clients to confront their toxic parents. I don’t think a confrontation is necessary for everyone. She suggests putting it in writing or arranging a face to face meeting. The patient basically outlines the abuses/neglect they suffered, how they were affected by it, and that they are not going to tolerate any ongoing abuse or disrespect. I think there are plenty of people who could benefit from writing a letter that they never intend to send. (Writing in a journal is another option.) If you’re struggling with going no-contact, then the response to your confrontation might help you decide. However, if you already know in your heart that no-contact is the only way to have peace in your life, then what’s the point of a confrontation?
Dr. Forward suggests that the confrontation is to prove to the patient that he/she can stand up to their parents. In my experience, in order to do that, you must set solid boundaries and stop allowing the parents (or anyone else for that matter) to cross those boundaries. When you can do that, then you know that you are okay. When you no longer allow them to abuse you or treat you with disrespect, when you can calmly tell them that you’re going to walk out/hang up if they keep acting like children, when you can refuse to give in to guilt and manipulations, when they are no longer able to push your buttons, then you are fine.
You can stand up to your parents without confronting them with the past. In some instances, a confrontation may make things worse. For me, I simply don’t see the point – it wouldn’t be helpful to me at all. Everyone is different though and, if you feel the need for a confrontation, Toxic Parents will help you prepare for one. Check your local library, or you can purchase the book on Amazon or e-bay.
There’s one more thing I want to mention. Dr. Forward gives examples of how toxic parents typically respond during these face to face encounters. Not surprisingly, they react exactly the same way personality disordered spouses/lovers do, when we call them on their bullshit. Essentially, they respond with denial, blame shifting, false apologies – in hopes of sweeping everything under the rug, making excuses/rationalizing, the martyr routine, and – my personal fave – the whiny, melodramatic why-are-you-being-mean-to-me crap. I couldn’t help noticing the pattern, and it made me wonder if Dr. F would also advise her patients to have a face off with an ex spouse/lover. I doubt she would, and doing so with one’s parents hardly seems like it would be particularly helpful for the same reason.
Each of us is different, and it’s important to do what’s best for you. If you find this book helpful, and you want more, I’ve comprised a short list of books that have been helpful to me during my recovery. If you’re interested, you can view it here.