How do I live in a house where I am the “enemy”?
Question from “Stepmom feeling horrible”:
My 18 year old step-daughter and I have always had a tenuous relationship, she is very self absorbed, rude, and manipulative not only with me but with her dad, mom and brothers too. The difference is I have to ignore it or calmly say, “Please don’t talk to me like that”. Which does not help. The situation has gotten so bad that I started dreading going home. Recently, I saw her twitter feed and it was full of posts about sex, marijuana, and drinking. It was absolutely shocking to me. I showed her dad and he didn’t say much. Well, a couple days after i read all that filth, my step-d and I had a really bad argument, I’ll spare you the details. I was so ready to blow from all the stress. At one point she yelled at me to stop trying to be her mother. I never try to replace her mother who, by the way, she refuses to speak to. I just try to keep the peace and be kind. Well, after she aid that, I lost all control and yelled at her about here twitter posts, call
ed her a slut and told her to leave the house. I am so ashamed of how I reacted and that I let her get to me like that. It’s truly not my nature to do something like that under normal circumstances. Well, now I am enemy number one with the whole family, my husband supports me but, of course, he is stuck in the middle. I do so much for may stepkids and expect nothing in return. I’ve supported all of them financially and emotionally for 5 years now. I hate being in this role of bad guy.
Dear sister Stepmom, now a SMOM ,
I would like to start off by welcoming you to our group.
It was good to see that you joined our membership since you wrote this letter. Thanks for your patience in getting this reply. While I’ve already emailed you a few thoughts, below is my official reply to your letter.
I’m going to copy it and reply in purple.
You’re very articulate & theres so much going on that there’s no way I can cover everything in a 30 minute response here. However, let’s see if there are some things I can share that will give you some support, ideas and hope for your situation. Since you’ve joined our group, I’m going to copy this post on the Participating Members mailbox forum to other members can jump in and offer their ideas and support as well. LINK HERE (You have to be logged on for this link to work.)
OK, let’s jump right in with your letter:
SMOM Writes: My 18 year old step-daughter and I have always had a tenuous relationship, she is very self absorbed, rude, and manipulative not only with me but with her dad, mom and brothers too.
Cathryn Offers: I would like to start off this reply by saying that I’m so sorry for all the stress you’ve been through. Teenagers are hard enough as it is. Teenage stepdaughters are really hard. Teenage stepdaughters with narcissistically inclined behaviors are about as tough as it gets. I know that you are going to get a LOT of support from new sister SMOMS about this. Many of our members are also dealing with these emotionally wounded and cruelly behaving young women.
It’s also true that the people around narcissistically behaving people (NPDers for short) are usually wounded in different ways and have different strategies for surviving the emotional shredding they receive from the NPDer. There are several articles on the Participating Members forum that will support you & help you better understanding (and then protect yourself) from being so negatively impacted by her actions going forward.
There’s an article, “Understanding Emotional callousing” that tries to explain the ways many of our partners (the bio-dad’s) learn to numb the pain of NPD woundings that you may want to share with your husband (DH for dear husband.) Many of our DH’s are not only being wounded by their NPD bio-kids but have been shredded for years by a probable NPD ex-partner they once opened their hearts to. There is a lot to recover from and becoming conscious of it is a huge step forward.
It’s also good that you see she is behaving as she does towards everyone.
To an NPDer, people are only there to serve her needs, feed her ego or act as rage buckets upon which she can release her own unconscious rage and feel better about herself as she does so. Impacting others fuels her delusion that she is in control of her world…really the only thing that matters to NPDers.
This is the sad, unconscious reality & impact of the NPDer.
For some reason, we Stepmoms on a mission seem to trigger the NPDers and rick the unhealthy boat the original family had in place. We bring a healthy dose of objectivity and expectation of mutual respect that can really annoy the people who THNK they have figured out how to survive around the NPDer.
When we SMOMS are unwilling to indulge their every whim we become the target of the NPD stepchild’s (and/or bio-mom’s) need to dominate & destroy. While we only have so much control over how they act (very little actually), we sure can learn how to manage their impact and protect our personal power & well-being.
How? We can learn how to become non-reactive warriors. We get good at wearing our energetic “BeeKeeper’s Suits” to eliminate their ability to “sting” us. We can discover any false or limiting beliefs that keep us trying to connect with them. We can claim our power…really we can!
SMOM Writes:: The difference is I have to ignore it or calmly say, “Please don’t talk to me like that”. Which does not help.
Cathryn Offers: This example above is rich with insight into your beliefs AND gives you a chance to see how NPDers don’t feel the need to be bothered with any rules or manners that interfere with their needs.
Why do you HAVE to ignore her direct rudeness?
What about ignoreng her rudeness in new ways that don’t involve you swallowing your anger or being shredded?
These questions are not a criticism.
You’ll find I ask a lot of questions.
The answers are not wrong or right.
They are revealing.
It’s a chance to realize that you may not belief you have any other choice, but it’s just that you are not aware of anything else or, more likely, you don’t give yourself permission to do anything else because those choices conflict with your beliefs. (You may want to read the thread on the General forum “Hall pass guilt” for more on this.)
Whenever we feel we have no choice, we feel disempowered, which is enraging and feels like an emotional volcano erupts within us. At least it can feel that way. Not fun at all. It is noteworthy and there’s much to be learned from it, IF you can look at this process as a loving exploration.
Please check out the public article about dealing with rude teens for some ideas? LINK HERE.
What if you tried a new response to her?
You open to this idea?
Because telling a NPDer anything is likely to get a negative sting, telling her she can’t say something, feels to her like a joyfully wicked challenge. Since we can’t usually stop words from coming out of their mouths, your comment evokes a verbal energetic sting. (I’ve been stung so many times by my stepson, I have great compassion for you in so many ways. )
Her reaction is a chance for you to see that she’s operating from a very different set of beliefs about how we treat people. This is important to note.
I bet you would have NEVER spoken to anyone like she’s spoken to you and many others, many times. Watching our stepkids get away with rude, hurtful disrespectful behavior is infuriating to us at many levels. No wonder you went postal on her (more on that in a moment.) More articles about this as well.
The focus here & now is to put on your creative thinking cap and begin to figure out new ways to respond to her when she speaks directly to you. This can be very hard as watching anyone speak to anyone in these hurtful ways is something most of us didn’t experience (or did) and promised ourselves we wouldn’t experience it as adults. Watching a skid disrespect their dad can be heart-breaking and sadly can even result in us losing respect for our mates. T
My mentor Kit taught me, ‘The best way to get someone’s attention is to ignore them.” This is very true with teenagers and NPDer’s as well.
Future options to consider & customize & experiment with when she speaks to you in unacceptable ways:
“I’m not interesting in talking with you when you speak to me like that.” (Walk away.)
Look her in the eye, smile, think to YOURSELF “I’m not going to give you my attention when you speak to me like that” Say nothing and walk away.
Look her in the eye, take a breath and calmly say something like, “If you want anything from me, you’re going to have to say that again without the attitude.” Look at her and if no improvement, “Let’s move on” or just move out of her stinging range.
The article will give you more about reclaiming your power with Teens.
Our “go to” book for dealing with teens if “Get out of my life but first can you take me and Cheryl to the Mall” by Anthony Wolf.
Our “go to “ book about narcissism is, “The Wizard of Oz & other Narcissists” by Eleanor Payson. You can listen to Chapter One for Free on the public part of the site. LINK
SMOM Writes: The situation has gotten so bad that I started dreading going home.
Cathryn Offers: WOW DO I KNOW THIS FEELING. It’s so awful. At one point I went to this retreat center with one-room cabins for 4-5 weekends to get out of the house when my stepson was in 5th grade or so. It was initially freeing, but then I resented feeling I had to leave my home to be safe. My DH resented that HE didn’t have the same choice to leave. He felt at the mercy of his son’s behavior but had to stay. Believe it or not, my stepson was furious at me for “abandoning Him” even though he also said he would not be nice to me if I stayed. Crazy making. (That’s NPDers).
ANYWAY…LOTS of compassion for you and my goal is going to always be how to find ways to help ourselves and our partners create a safe place for us in our own homes. There are several articles and even a form for dealing with this on the Participating Forums. If you can’t find it let me know.
What I hope you will see, very soon, is that you have many more choices than the ones you have tried. Many of our child-created beliefs imprison us in stepfamily situations and figuring out where we feel trapped is going to bring lots of relief. When we’re dealing with an NPDer, it’s a whole different game. It’s like trying to play checkers with someone who’s playing chess and we don’t realize it but they do and aren’t saying. GRRRRR!! (not at you but at the dynamic…so unfair)
SMOM Writes: Recently, I saw her twitter feed and it was full of posts about sex, marijuana, and drinking. It was absolutely shocking to me. I showed her dad and he didn’t say much.
Cathryn Offers: This is a real head-scratcher isn’t it? (The part about our DH’s not reacting as we imagine a caring father would react!!) The article about emotional callousing will explain a lot AND, I just want to say, “I Get it” that it would be so very upsetting to learn and realize about this young woman you have cared for and supported in countless ways for 5 years.
It’s so hard.
It’s also going to be great if you and your DH will begin to connect in a new way so that you two will be clear about how to handle these things in more than the two options of “Do something OR ignore” strategy. Many DH’s fear that if they care, it means they have to do something they don’t want to do. They’re are afraid whatever they do will generate more damage and they are usually right. (Darn it) I have great compassion for the DH’s now that my DH and I have done the “Post game” detailed analysis of our experience. See “His Kids: HIS Call article on member forum for more ideas about how this could work. LINK
Hang in there (if you want to) there so much to learn, try and figure out.
SMOM Writes: Well, a couple days after i read all that filth, my step-d and I had a really bad argument, I’ll spare you the details. I was so ready to blow from all the stress.
Cathryn Offers: One of the things you’ll read a lot about on the membership forum is that I believe being a Stepmom is going to poke and provoke every emotional wound we have from our own lives. As we bring our wounds into this relationship, they bang up painfully with DH’s wounds. It makes sense that many other things were going to be dredged up in our emotional consciousness. It’s a chance, when we realize this, to work together to help each other in new ways.
With this belief, I’m also completely convinced (by my life and work with others) that being a Stepmom provides us with the opportunities to heal all those wounds, realize our true power and live a life much more grand and empowering than if we hadn’t faced and learned from our Stepmom-ing experiences. There are many articles about this on the forum. I just mention it here to “throw a positive future” for you. It can be hard to see anything positive when we’re being pelted by emotional pain and rage from so many directions and people. (Hugs galore)
SMOM Writes: At one point she yelled at me to stop trying to be her mother. I never try to replace her mother who, by the way, she refuses to speak to.
Cathryn Offers: Do you see how you are in the role that is filled with so much charge for the child in her who is hurting because of her bio-mom issues? ALL NPDers were emotionally devastated at some level by the NPDer bio-mom who raised them. You do not deserve this misdirected rage AND while you can’t stop her from saying it, you can take the sting out of it and respond in new ways that do not hurt you. You can learn how to not put yourself in situations that give her the excuse to express her rage at her own mother onto you. I know this can be hurtful AND good news, it doesn’t have to be.
Have you seen the 31 Tips we created for the 15th anniversary? Here’s a LINK to the tip about this very thing. Maybe you can do some brainstorming with other members to find a response that feels empowering and in line with you and your personality.
SMOM Writes: I just try to keep the peace and be kind. Well, after she said that, I lost all control and yelled at her about here twitter posts, called her a slut and told her to leave the house. I am so ashamed of how I reacted and that I let her get to me like that.
Cathryn Offers: WOW! Been There & felt that rage well up. I’ve also lost my temper a couple of times myself. This reaction was long in the making and learning to have compassion for the long term, often chronic stress you’ve been under will help you a lot. We sister SMOMS have all got our stories and if you post about this on the member form, I bet you’ll get both compassion and camaraderie from so many of us. So often we imagine how Saturday Night live would do a skit about this. Can you imagine?
Dear Newbie SMOM, are you open to another interpretation of this event?
Have you thought about what you’d say to another Stepmom sharing the same experience with you? (our compassion is usually triggered for another & it’s going to be interesting for you to see where you do and don’t have compassion for yourself.)
Re: the Your apology. I feel it’s always good to apologize when we lose our tempers and say things we wished we hadn’t said. The key thing is to learn how to apologize without giving away our power.
One Example: “I’m sorry for the words I chose when I lost my temper with you. I was beyond enraged and if I had to do it over again, I would do it differently in so many ways. I can promise you I will learn from this experience.” End of Apology and HEAD UP!
If you can reclaim your power, within yourself, you can begin to use this situation as the teaching opportunity it is. Also, offering an apology is all we can do. Needing the other person to accept it, is a variable based the person you are addressing. An NPDer sadly looks at an apology as an opportunity to manipulate the other. There’s nothing in it for the NPDer to accept your apology. (This can be hard to crock until you better understand Narcissism.)
I hope you can make a choice to forgive yourself for WHY you did what you did and redirect your energy to learning from it. All those pent up feelings deserve your attention and when we shame ourselves we lose that chance.
Note: Please see article about “Shaming vs Honoring our feelings” on the Member forum. LINK
New thought: Can you promise yourself that you’re not going to allow yourself to get into that situation again? Can you promise yourself that you will stand up for your rights in new ways at each interaction so there’s no ledger of outstanding unprocessed feelings from her abuses? These are all ways to refocus the energy of anger that will lead to new more effective personal boundaries.
By the way, there’s absolutely NO shame is not knowing any of this stuff.
It’s a journey and when we can be open to new ideas and find the energy to try some new things, we soon realize that we’re more and more powerful over these NPD energy draining stepkids. (and bio-moms.)
SMOM Writes: It’s truly not my nature to do something like that under normal circumstances.
Cathryn Offers: I completely and totally believe you! AND…these were not normal circumstances. You’ve been mistreated for years. You watched the man of your dreams allow you to be treated in many disrespectful ways that conflict with your beliefs about how lovers support each other and how children treat the adults in their lives…this is a LOT of emotional energy to keep contained. It’s kind of like all the energy it takes to keep a large beachball under the surface of the water. A ping pong ball, easy peasy. A soccer ball…a little bit harder, but doable. But a giant beach ball can become all consuming. Make sense?
In many cases it’s the nicer we are, the kinder we are, the more thoughtful and willing to help others we are…the more devastating these NPD stepkids can be for us. It goes against almost, if not all, the things we believe about behavior and about how we dreamed we’d be treated when we become the woman of the house.
I hope you will cut yourself some big, big BIG slack about all this so you can get to work helping yourself in new ways. I’m quite sure you have punished yourself enough. I’m hoping you will make the choice to move from harsh criticism to compassion about your outburst. Ideally, it will be the beginning of you not ever having to experience life this way again. Many times, these situations, as painful as they are, become the catalyst for many wonderful creative changes for all.
SMOM Writes: Well, now I am enemy number one with the whole family, my husband supports me but, of course, he is stuck in the middle.
Cathryn Offers: This is such a complex situation. I’m so sorry for the pain of this situation AND (you’ll learn I love the word AND) it’s a chance for you to re-examine things. It’s sad that the whole family is not able to have compassion for you. It speaks volumes that they are acting as they are. There are many reasons for this AND it’s my job to help you feel better about yourself. You’ve apologized and this is a chance of you to reclaim your power. It’s a chance for you to look at how you give attention (emotional weight) to the opinions of various others VERSUS your own opinion of a situation.
I’ve learned, on my journey, that I was taught (read brainwashed) to believe that everyone else’s opinion trumped mine. This is so disempowering since no matter how much we tap dance, we have no real control over others.
What if you started thinking about the women you admire who’ve stood up to change things in their lives?
Think Norma Rae on the top of that table !
Think Erin Brockovich! Think of the people you admire who have accomplished things in spite of the overt criticisms of others.
Think of all the great things that have happened because someone was willing to “rock the Boat” in new ways?
(Have you read my Pep talk for Stepmoms? I love the metaphor with the 1980 USA hockey team. The coach, Herb Brooks would have NEVER EVER WON if he had allowed others to define his choices at the very beginning of his 20 month journey that led to a gold metal and such positive impact on so many. even 30 years later.) LINK
I know this can be extremely hard.
What if you decided that anyone who is unwilling to have compassion for you about this situation is not worthy of your time & attention at this time?
Sometimes just imagining something can give us a sense of whether or not it’s right for us. Here’s hoping that in the coming months you’ll be able to see very clearly that YOU are a model for adult, wise responsible & kind behavior. A human being who lovingly learns from her experiences.
I wish this for all of us. The people unwilling to see who we really are and unwilling to own their own impact, are never going to be changed by our attempts. It’s only by realizing that they want to be in our lives within the guidelines we set up for ourselves.
By the way, Your DH doesn’t have to be in the middle, IF he’s willing to learn how to NOT be. I can tell you that the more you change, the more he will be able to see that he has more choices as well. This can be very good for a SMOMS/DH relationship. Refuse to accept that excuse anymore. He needs to wake up and get creative as well…which he can if HE is willing to eon up to the possibility that there is another way to handle things.
SMOM Writes: I do so much for my stepkids and expect nothing in return.
Cathryn Offers: Hmmmm? As you re-read that, is that really true? For me, I realized that the things I was expecting in return were so basic, it never occurred to me I wouldn’t get it. Things like basic manners, basic kindness and a shared desire to care for & be kind to each other. As Stepmoms in situations with NPDers, we’re suddenly up against a whole foreign set of behaviors. It is crazy-making until we understand it and even then it can be very very hard to accept.
It’s completely human and healthy to expect an fair exchange with the people we give to and do for. It’s not healthy for a subservient relationship, but I know that’s what I ended up creating, unintentionally but it’s what happened. I just couldn’t believe that people (DH, ss and bio-mom) weren’t going to one day wake up and see all I did for them. I was so afraid to stop doing & trying something for fear of the connections I would miss out on. (My childhood wounds include being rejected and left out.)
I can remember thinking, “If I stop trying, no one else will step in and all my efforts will be wasted and the dream lost.” It was hard to face the loss of, what we call, “The Happy family dream” AND…once I woke up to the NPD dynamic, my DH and I were able to craft a new dream and I was able to see that I could survive not being connected to people who were NOT being very kind to me. Note: As a kid that’s not an option. As an adult, it’s now my mandate.)
I believe you may want to look at your beliefs and your needs.
There’s a lot of material and a special forum about learning from resentments as well as one about dealing with NPDer. I hope you will choose to lovingly explore this area. There’s an article about over-giving vs natural giving that you may want to read also. LINK
In our enthusiasm for passionately loving and wanting to support our mates, we can over-give. We can drain our very life force and still have people looking at us for more. When do we get to say “ENOUGH” and feel good and strong about it? How about starting today? (There’s that Rocky music. Can you hear it?)
SMOM Writes: I’ve supported all of them financially and emotionally for 5 years now. I hate being in this role of bad guy.
Cathryn Offers: I completely understand this too! What if you make a new choice and decide that you are the GREAT STEPMOM in a tough situation? What if you use this experience to re-think your giving, your beliefs and put emphasis on what YOU need and choose to believe that this will benefit everyone? Honoring instead of shaming yourself for feeling life so deeply and fully. I bet you ability to feel joy is one of the things your DH loves about you. I bet you will both feel better when you create new ways to interact with the people you have to interact with in new self-honoring ways.
Welcome to SMOMS.org.
While this has taken a lot more that 30 minutes to write, I offer it to you joyfully and share it publicly with other Stepmoms. Thanks for such a meaty question. I’m so sorry you are dealing with this stressful situation. You’ve found a group of women who can relate to what you’re up against. Once again, so glad you found us.
May you find something here that is helpful on your journey as a Stepmom on a mission. Please reply with any questions and comments to this letter on the member forums. This reply is for the public and we can go into more details on the other thread. I will place the links on the thread within the forum so you will be able to get to everyone.
With Hugs and kind regards, Cathryn