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.
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.
It’s quite common for men and women who’ve been romantically involved with narcissists, psychopaths, and other personality disordered individuals to recall the sex as being phenomenal or even the best they’ve ever had. Once that’s set in your mind, it can be difficult to heal from the emotional abuse inflicted by these incessant manipulators. Worse, if you miss going to bed with your ex, you’ll be especially vulnerable to any potential Hoover attempts from him or her. You also run the risk of ruining future relationships with healthy, sane partners if you compare all future partners to your malicious ex-narcissist.
Often, once a narcissist is sure that you are fully invested in them and the relationship, sexual intercourse tapers off. In some cases, they even take it off the table completely. They will use sex as a tool to obtain something from you, to get you to do something they want. Prior to giving it up, they will usually act as if being intimate with you is a chore. The mask has slipped, and you’ve glimpsed the darkness it hides. The kind, adoring, wonderful, too-good-to-be-true persona you fell for was never real, and neither was the sexual creature you thought them to be. To the disordered, sex is transactional in nature. The enthusiastic, acrobatic, anything-goes romps were as much a tool to get you hooked and reel you in as their loving words and adulation were.
What Does Sex Mean to a Manipulator?
It makes them feel powerful to have control over you. They manipulate your emotions, making you believe that they love and adore you. In reality, they are incapable of such human emotions. They mirror you in so many ways, creating the illusion that you have the same hobbies, taste in music and films, political views, etc., and sex is no different. They adeptly pick up on what makes you feel good, and they capitalize on that to spellbind you. You feel like you’re with the perfect partner, but you are merely there for their amusement.
They sometimes withhold sex intentionally, as a punishment, maybe simultaneously giving you the silent treatment, until you can’t stand it anymore and apologize for whatever they’ve accused you of, give in to a demand they’ve made, or whatever the case may be. Manipulating your emotions makes them feel powerful, and it’s a turn-on for them. However, it’s not always capitulation they’re trying to elicit from you; sometimes they’ll intentionally make you angry because pushing your buttons also makes them feel like they have control over you.
2. Material Gain
Generally, we think of female personality disorders playing this card, but disordered men do it too. Maybe they’re seeking out a place to stay, food, money, a car to drive, or something else that you are able to provide them with, so they flirt and stroke your ego, and the next thing you know they are sharing your bed. Then they start in with the down-on-my-luck story, and you, of course, want to help, so you move them into your apartment, cook for them, loan them your car, or whatever else it is they seem to be in need of. Those generous souls who consider themselves “rescuers” are especially susceptible to this particular manipulation tactic.
3. Relief from Boredom
Narcissists and psychopaths easily become bored. They like to play with people the way children play with dolls or action figures. They’ll most likely butter you up first (see #1, above), especially if you’re in the beginning (idealization) stage of the relationship.
Relieving boredom may include sexual intercourse itself; maybe they were feeling the urge, and you just happened to be around. Afterward, you’ll either be cruelly discarded or used to meet other needs. In addition to becoming bored on a regular basis, the personality disordered have trouble regulating their emotions and frequently behave impulsively, lash out, or self-medicate, in order to suppress their discomfort; sex can serve as a distraction from feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, or general emotional upset.
4. Narcissistic Supply
If they are doting on you and flattering you to no end, you can bet you’re giving it right back to them. They need to feel special; they want you to put them on a pedestal. In the beginning of the relationship, you do this without even thinking about it, and later on you are hyper-vigilant to their moods and know exactly what they want to hear you say.
They are typically promiscuous in nature, and have many sexual partners; having many suitors makes them feel wanted. It makes them feel special. They also quickly become disenchanted with a victim and move on to a new target for fresh supply. So, if you were having intense, frequent romps with your narc in the beginning, but things rapidly cooled off, this may be what happened.
Social status also motivates certain types of narcissists. Maybe you’re someone who happens to be incredibly physically attractive, extremely wealthy, or hold a position of power at your place of employment. Or any combination thereof. You are a conquest. They want to be seen with you. They want to exploit you. To do so, they craftily elicit an emotional attachment from you in order to keep you under their thumb.
It’s quite common for narcissists and other personality disordered individuals to use one mate to make another target jealous. As stated above, having many partners to choose from also makes them feel that they are in high demand. To paint this vision for others, they will shamelessly flirt, sometimes dangling the promise of sex as a lure, in order to keep many admiring would-be suitors interested; this makes the narc appear to be ultra desirable to whoever he or she is targeting.
Don’t Get Caught in the Trap
The intensity of sexual interludes with psychopaths is often mistaken for intimacy. Don’t get confused by whatever emotional connections you are feeling during these capers, the narcopath is incapable of having the same feelings for you. Love, deep connection with another human being, a sense of caring for someone else; they can only fake these emotions. They can make you feel like you are the center of their universe, but the other shoe will eventually drop. You can have better relations with a genuinely loving partner; you can develop an emotional connection with a non-disordered person that will only enhance your love-making. But first, you have to get out of the abusive relationship and begin the healing process.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and personalized advice from a licensed therapist.
I was reading an article about sex trafficking, and I couldn’t help noticing how the abusers got into the victim’s head in Brianna’s story.
Psychopaths, sociopaths, predators, whatever you want to call them, they all follow basic patterns for victimizing others. It starts by asking seemingly innocuous, friendly questions. What they are really doing is gleaning personal information from you with the intent of using it against you later. In Brianna’s case, the predator used personal knowledge of her likes and dislikes so that he could cast a younger predator in the role of her Prince Charming. The one portraying her “dream guy”, then made her feel special and forged a superficial bond with her, thus making it easier to manipulate her into doing what he wanted.
It’s important to notice these patterns, because anyone is a potential victim for a sociopath. If you have something they want – sex, money, power, access to information, anything really – they will try to charm you into giving it to them. And it’s not only naive teenagers who are fooled by these toxic manipulators. Even seasoned mental health professionals have been known to fall for the lies of psychopaths.
People should be aware that not all inquisitive strangers are simply friendly and curious. Some of them are predators, and the questions they ask are to help them assess how potentially useful you could be to them, how gullible you are, how compliant you will be and, ultimately, how to get into your head. There’s no need to be suspicious of everyone you meet, but, if you are an especially open, talkative person, it’s prudent to guard the personal details of your life a little more closely. In other words, make strangers gradually earn your trust as you get to know them, as opposed to just giving it to them freely and without question.
Educate yourselves about psychopaths and other abusive personalities, so that you’ll know what red flags to watch for. Make sure your teenagers are aware that such malicious characters exist. There’s no reason to teach them to distrust others, but rather how to protect themselves and their peers from predators.
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.
After more than a decade of having some type of psychopathic presence directly or indirectly involved in my life, I have been wanting to chronicle these misadventures for quite some time. Originally, I planned to start from the beginning and do a thorough job of chronicling my experiences in as much detail as possible. It was supposed to be a purging experience, and a way to gain more insight into myself and what I have been through.
But the thought of going back to the start of all this, to get it all out, and try to put it in order, was absolutely overwhelming. That is mostly why I have been putting off starting a blog until now. The other delays were deciding what platform to use and how to get some of this stuff off my chest if I wasn’t going to do a chronology of events.
After doing some research, I decided on WordPress for a number of reasons which don’t merit going into detail about. I’m sure this will become easier as I familiarize myself with WP and blogging but, for the time being, it feels a bit awkward.
I’ve come to realize that I don’t so much have a need to relive my experiences from beginning to end (although I’m still considering writing it all down, if I ever feel like tackling that), but my analytical mind is caught up in the mechanics of these relationships (between psychos and their victims). The behaviors are truly fascinating.
A bit of background: Why am I blogging about this?
I lived with a psychopath for a while, and then I moved out. Unfortunately, I wound up moving back in at a later time, and that’s when things really started to go downhill. Once I got away from him for good, things got even more interesting. It turned out that the vindictive, overgrown child my best friend (now husband) was trying to divorce was even more of a monster than the one I had lived with. Figuring that out with him turned out to be more painful than my own previous experiences. I’m blogging as a way of healing and gaining perspective. However, if anyone happens to find these posts helpful, that’s wonderful.
The two toxic individuals I’ve mentioned in this post meet the criteria for psychopathy. Though they both display traits from various personality disorders, they are both pathological and covert, so I’m not even bothering with the PD traits, although I’ll probably point them out from time to time. (Once you learn to recognize them, it starts to become second nature, like a survival instinct kicking in).