You have already decided 'my step daughter is manipulative' so in this article I will not be talking about a step daughter who is having trouble adjusting to the new circumstances or temporary teenage phases.
Rather we will examine situations where the nature of the step daughter is controlling, domineering and exploitative. There are children, often from a very young age, that are difficult, or even impossible, to control, where discipline doesn't seem to work and they are selfish, abusive and downright cruel. It can be difficult for many people to imagine young children acting this way, but if you are in a situation where you absolutely know 'my step daughter is manipulative' then you know what I am talking about.
It's often very difficult to bring things up with your partner, sometimes because they don't want to think of their little darling in such terms, they may be just used to it, or they may be so manipulated by their offspring that they cannot actually see the true nature of their little darling. They continue to believe that their child is kind and caring and wouldn't hurt a flea because the child acts that way in front of them but is very manipulative when out of their sight. And other adults flat out don't believe you when you tell them what's going on. They cannot imagine a child being so nasty on purpose.
Living under a roof with such a child is often a living nightmare. They consume your time, your energy, your money and even the relationship with your partner. You can read more about what it's like living with such a child here.
In order to make things easier, I will consider 2 situations here, one where the step daughter is younger than 18 years of age and the other where she is older than 18.
The reason I use 18 is that psychiatrists use 18 years as a cut off for making certain diagnoses. Children who are controlling and dominating are often considered to have Conduct Disorder. This is characterised by aggression towards other people and animals, destruction of property, theft, deception and lies and repeated violation of any rules. The child has little regard for the family rules and they go against them any time they feel like it. Later on school rules and even laws are broken.
There are various reasons for a child to display such behavior including emotional difficulties, earlier childhood abuse and taking drugs.
The good news is that in situations like this, if the child receives the appropriate help, the behavior settles down. I say appropriate help because many of these children may be diagnosed with something else, such as Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome, bipolar disorder and so on. Treating these conditions will have little or no effect on the child if the proper diagnosis is Conduct Disorder.
There is a sub group of Conduct Disorder children who display callous and unemotional traits. They show little or no empathy and have very shallow emotions. They show no guilt or remorse and they can be very calculating in their manipulations.
These are the group that have a high incidence of being diagnosed as psychopaths or sociopaths later in life. Specifically, after the age of 18. Psychopathy, or Antisocial Personality Disorder is not diagnosed before the age of 18 because there is always the possibility of the child changing as he or she grows and matures.
If you are dealing with a child with conduct disorder or who displays callous and unemotional traits, it's very useful to know that! The rules you have to apply are different. It's one thing for a child with autism or Asperger's to make a mistake because they didn't recognize some emotional cues, it's a different ball park for a child to recognize the emotional cues and take advantage of them for personal gain at the expense of their victim. It is very useful to know that the usual disciplinary measures are not going to work so you don't waste years getting more and more frustrated trying to do things that are destined to fail. And not only that, but doing things that will be used against you later!
The first thing, obviously, is to get a diagnosis. If the chid already has a diagnosis and it does not seem to fit, or the treatment is not working, or you suspect conduct disorder, then it's useful to find a specialist in this area and have an assessment done. Getting a correct diagnosis means that you then know how to proceed and treatment is more likely to work.
These children can still be a handful, and treatment options are often very intensive. For example, such a child may not be allowed to be alone with other children at any time. This means constant supervision. This can mean every waking moment. Some parents of such children have to lock their own bedroom doors at night because they are afraid the child will come in and do them physical harm while they sleep.
So despite having a diagnosis and engaging in treatment (which may not give rise to any lasting changes) you may still have to make a decision. Do you stick around with your partner or do you leave?
There are obviously lots of factors to take into account. Does your partner accept that their daughter is manipulative? Are they engaged in trying to change things? Is the effort you have to put in worth it in terms of your relationship with your partner? Is this the kind of life you want for yourself? If you have your own children, how do they get on with the manipulator? Are they being affected? Are they developing pseudopersonalities? When your children grow up will they end up in abusive relationships themselves? Do you have the type of relationship you actually want with your own kids or is that being heavily affected by the manipulative step daughter? Despite treatment, what if the child does not change? What if the manipulation and control continues for years, even after the child leaves the home? (And yes, this happens a lot!)
Which brings us to the next part...
I mentioned pseudopersonalities earlier and these are an important part of a relationship with a psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. The manipulators destroy the victim's personality, make changes and freeze these changes in place. This false personality, or pseudopersonality, is programmed to be subservient, to take care of the manipulator, to trust and believe the manipulator, to do what the manipulator wants and to be dependent on the manipulator. This description will help to explain some of your partner's often strange behaviors in relation to their daughter.
It doesn't matter if it is a cult of 5000 people, a family of 5, or 2 people in an intimate relationship, the manipulators are using the same mind control techniques and create the same effects in any situation. They basically turn the people around them into their personal playthings, objects to be used and taken advantage of. The manipulators train people how to behave, how to think, how to make decisions, how to treat the manipulators, even down to how to perceive the world. They basically create a reality and then force those around them to live in this fabricated reality.
The manipulators can be great actors (and they are professional liars) and often people have different ideas about the manipulators. Some people may think that the person is wonderful, charming, friendly, helpful and caring because that is what the manipulator presents to them. Those living with the manipulator and subjected to the abuse will see another side that is typically hidden from public view, the cold, selfish, cruel side.
Living with someone like this is obviously very difficult. By the time they are 18, they have had plenty of time to practice their manipulative skills and they can already be very good at it. You can read more here about toxic families.
The reason that psychiatrists are prepared to make a diagnosis of psychopathy after the age of 18 is that after this is that it is considered that there is little chance of change in the personality of the person and if a person is manipulative, without empathy, abusive and exploitative at this age, chances are they are not going to change.
I mentioned earlier that drug and alcohol abuse can lead to antisocial behavior and a diagnosis of psychopathy is only made when any potential cause for the antisocial behavior has been ruled out. Something to keep in mind here is that psychopaths often drink a lot and/or take drugs. Remember they get bored easily, they engage in risky behaviors and they often say 'when I take drugs, I feel alive.'
If your step daughter is manipulative and you think she is in this category, it's important to be clear about the cause-effect if there is alcohol or drugs involved. Is the substance abuse causing the antisocial behavior, or is your step daughter taking drugs because she is psychopathic? The answer to that question changes a lot of things.
Another source of confusion for people is the abuse cycle itself. Very briefly, in an abusive relationship, there is a build up of tension, then the abuse occurs, then the manipulator does and says things to control things again and the 4th stage is one of calm. During this calm phase, the manipulator does and says nice things (or at least Is not overtly nasty). They act 'normally'. The victim typically relaxes and is relieved that things are nice again. They hope that things will continue this way into the future.
But this is a very dangerous time for the victim. They end up forgiving and forgetting the abuse. In the calm phase they are being very heavily manipulated by the abuser into thinking that things will improve. This cycle can go on for years, the victim being treated very badly but then thinking, "But she is actually a good person, she just has these moments..."
The idea that the step daughter is basically a good person arises because most people don't consider other people to be evil, the step daughter does nice things sometimes and people typically find it very difficult to think that somebody might actually be treating them badly and taking advantage of them on purpose.
Thinking that the abuser is a normal person 'who has issues' is facilitated by making excuses for their behavior, or for why you have to put up with the bad behavior. There are all sorts of justifications people come up with to explain bad behavior. "My step daughter is manipulative because... she hasn't adapted to her parent having me as a new partner... or she is insecure and needs to control things around her... or she gets stressed over certain things and this is how she copes... or she has Asperger's or is bipolar... or her mother treated her badly as a child..." and so on.
A good general rule is that no amount of good behaviors justifies bad behaviors. Said another way, look at what your step daughter is actually doing, without considering the reasons and excuses. and respond to her behaviors.
If you are in a position where you regularly think "my step daughter is manipulative," then chances are she is lying to you and to your partner, she talks down to you, she dismisses you, she ridicules you, she gives you things to do and then complains about what you did, she takes a lot of your time, she takes time away from your relationship, she probably still gets money from your spouse (loans she never pays back, bills paid for her, cars, gifts etc), she treats your family badly, she expects to be treated in a special way, she tells you how to run your life and your relationship and so on.
I suggest you make your own list of horrible things she has done. Just her behaviors, no excuses or reasons. Now look at the whole list. This is what this person is capable of. It doesn't matter that she gave you a nice gift or a compliment or is helpful in some way, she did these things. That is what you have to deal with. This is the reality of your situation. Now, what to do about it...
First of all you have to assess where your partner is in all of this. Do they actually see the manipulation? Do they actively ignore it? Do they recognize it but are at the end of their tether because they know there is nothing they can do about it? Or are they somewhere in the middle? This is important because the thing about psychopaths and narcissists is that they are not going to change. The only change they undergo is an improvement in their manipulative skills over time.
If they are not going to change, and you prepared to put up with the abuse, then there is nothing you need to do. If you are not prepared to tolerate the abuse, then you need to do something different. That means first of all, reducing contact with the abuser. Of course, this can be difficult and that's why it's important to know what your partner thinks. Remember that your partner may seem to be putting your step daughter ahead of you but that may be because they are programmed to do that. They have difficulty standing up to their daughter. It's easier for them to argue with you than to upset her.
Talking openly with your partner is very important. Saying the word 'manipulator' and even 'psychopath' or 'narcissist' is also important. If you are dealing with a psychopath and everyone is not on the same page, life can be very difficult indeed.
A good tip here is to give your partner something to read. It is often easier for them to see it in black and white than to hear it coming directly from you. They feel that they are making the connections themselves rather than someone telling them what they should think.
If your partner is on board, they recognize the controlling nature of their daughter, great! You can both start learning more about mind control and psychopathy in order to undo your pseudopersonalities and take back control of your lives again.If your partner is not on board, they you have some decisions to make. Can you minimize contact? Can you stop her taking your money? Can you minimize the damage she does to your relationship? (spoiler, probably not, these people are much more devious than you could ever be).
Many people ask, "My step daughter is manipulative, so how can I stay in the relationship and not be affected emotionally?" My answer is always the same, "You cannot. You are a healthy normal, feeling person. These types live by controlling the emotions of others. They are experts at it. You cannot have a relationship with someone like this without being affected by them."
Having said that, you can minimize the effects by learning about mind control and the techniques being used against you, but the effect on you will never be zero. And keep in mind that as people learn more and more about abuse and control, they typically become less tolerant of it.
If your partner is not interested in discussing or understanding what is going on, then you have to weigh the relationship against your step daughter. Are the benefits you get from the relationship worth the effort it is going to take to put up with your manipulative step daughter for years?
For many people they are not. The stress, chaos and drama of a manipulative step daughter takes a huge toll on people and there is no shame in making your own decision that you want a life free of tyranny, a life that is easy and peaceful where there are no daily power struggles.
You can read more here about controlling people, characteristics of a manipulative person, signs of mental abuse, dealing with a toxic family and narcissistic abuse recovery.
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