Toxic step-fathers and step-mothers are clichés because they’re all too common.  But the ubiquity of harassment, bullying and verbal, sexual and physical abuse doesn’t diminish the pain and long-term damage inflicted on defenseless kids.

Of course, kids can also treat their step-parents cruelly, and step-mothers and biological parents can also be relentlessly cruel, but let’s focus here on step-fathers who abuse their size, control and power.

These step-fathers sexually abuse one or all of their step-daughters while the moms ignore the evil.  The perpetrators are to blame and the daughters’ anger is rightly focused on these men.

But let’s also look at the moms who won’t see or hear anything bad about their new husbands even though the complaints and evidence are clear, and the damage to their children is striking.

Later, when the complaints and evidence are brought forth by the now-adult and articulate children, these mothers will usually still defend and excuse the predators they invited into their homes.  Typically, the mothers whine and demand that their children should perpetuate the lies and secrets.  “After all,” they complain, “they deserve a little happiness after all they’ve suffered.  Their daughters should understand how hard it was for them.”

Nonsense.  These narcissistic mothers deserve nothing; certainly not the allegiance of their abused daughters.  Most daughters make repeated overtures of friendship to their uncaring and unsympathetic mothers.  The daughters hope that by understanding why their mothers didn’t protect and defend them they’ll be able to forgive their mothers and maintain a loving connection.

I hope that the emotional blackmail and manipulation contained in the word “forgiveness” will be the last straw.  How can the mothers heal the wounds they ignored and let fester during years of abuse?  In addition, these mothers rarely start making amends by getting rid of the perpetrators.

The daughters, who held the pain and trauma when they were young, are still left holding the emotional bag.  There’s no way they can release their anger by simply beating the bullies to death or making them burn slowly, even though he deserves even worse.

Separate from what social services and the police might have been able to do, what can the adult children do now?

  • Don’t debate or argue.  Don’t try to get your mother and step-father to admit what they did.  They can keep you hung up, focusing on them for years.  Take your time and energy away from them and focus on a new life.
  • Stop abusing yourself with negative self-talk and predictions of failure that increase self-doubt, stress and depression, and destroy self-confidence and self-esteem.  Convert those inner, self-bullying voices into helpful coaches.
  • Get away from both your mother and step-father; physically and emotionally.  Get away from triggers that are guaranteed to keep you in emotional turmoil.  Don’t let abusers keep hitting a very black-and-blue area of your body, emotions and spirit.  Distance and no contact will help you focus on your present and future instead of on your past.
  • Don’t let your children near them.  More important than their knowing their toxic grandparents is your protecting them from emotional and physical perpetrators.  Be a model for them to keep a flame of strength, courage and determination burning in their hearts no matter what happens to them.
  • Forget about understanding and forgiveness; let these come in their own time, if they ever do.  Understanding why that old man, who may or may not be truly sorry now, could torture you like he did does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding how your mother could allow you to be tortured does not excuse or justify the behavior.  Understanding why they maintained a conspiracy of silence then and now does not excuse or justify the behavior.
  • Become internally invulnerable.  Use the past pain to inspire your present life.  I know that’s easy to say and hard to do.  Find people to remind you of your fighting spirit when your energy flags.  Get an expert coach to help you put the wounds behind you.  Fill the mental space in front of you with your vision of the present and future you want.

Don’t let toxic step-fathers and colluding mothers ruin any more of your life than they did when they had physical control of you.  You’re now an adult.  You have control of your physical, emotional and spiritual island.  Vote them off it.

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Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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