Reader Question Regarding Manipulative 13-Year-Old Step-Daughter

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.

My Narcissistic Mother-in-Law Has No Respect for Personal Boundaries

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.

Getting Back Into Blogging

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.


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).