Just as the predatory stepfather has become a cliché, the wicked, greedy stepmother has also become an archetype because so many times the characterization is accurate.  So what can you do when your father marries a grasping, bullying, uncaring woman when you’re young?  How can you stop such a bully when your father marries one late in life and she wants to get her hands on the family fortune and your most cherished sentimental items?

Of course there are many situations in which a stepmother has loved and enriched the life of her stepdaughter.  See “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” by Georgina Howell for one famous example.

But when you’re young and an evil stepmom moves in, with our without her own children, and treats you like Cinderella, you have only one court of appeal, your father.  If he won’t see the truth and rectify his mistake, you have only a few options:

  • Keep resisting, fighting and rebelling; keep trying to make him see the light.
  • Fly low; be devious, learn to dissemble, lie and hide in order to minimize the damage.

The first strategy usually has disastrous consequences for children.  Typically, fathers never get it.  Sometimes relatives might defend you, but they can rarely open your blinded father’s eyes.  For many reasons, none important for your later life, your father typically won’t accept or value that you’re being mistreated and he won’t get rid of the witch.

Kids who use this strategy usually end up ruining their lives because they’ve only prepared themselves to resist, fight and rebel.  All their energy goes into trying to get justice from a stone.  They don’t prepare themselves to have wonderful careers and lives.

Kids who use the second strategy often succeed in later life.  Don’t waste your youth fighting an unwinnable battle.  Use your time and effort to develop skills that prepare you for a good career and a great life.

Of course, a bullying stepmom will harass and abuse you whenever she can.  She’ll also try to align your father against you.  And if she brings her own children into the marriage, she’ll try to shove you out so hers can inherit the love and money.  So what?  History is full of kids who succeeded despite the unfairness and injustice of such situations.

Since your father is besotted and blinded, there’s little you can do to obtain justice.  When you’re young, you can’t understand how a person can do what he’s doing.  When you become older and can see the reasons, there’s still little comfort in that understanding.

In this situation, the key to success is an inner one: keep your spirit alive and burning fiercely until you can get away and make your own life.  Of course you won’t have the head start you would have if your father had done better for you.  So what?  That’s not the end of the world.

Of course you’ll get blamed for everything.  Your wicked stepmom will heap shame and guilt on you.  Don’t accept it.  It’s not your fault.  Of course, you did some things wrong, but even if you’d been perfect, it wouldn’t have been good enough for her.  You were in her way or she needed a scapegoat or she simply liked to inflict pain.  The way she treated you was her fault, not yours.

Don’t let anxiety and stress lead to depression.  Don’t let negative self-talk and self-bullying destroy your self-confidence and self-esteem.

Stay invulnerable to outrageous fortune; verbal, emotional and physical.  You aren’t at the mercy of events.  Don’t let them crush your spirit.  Your spirit can endure and soar.  You can create a great life for yourself.

The other typical situation occurs when your father marries late in life and forces a selfish, greedy, narcissistic new wife into your family.  Encourage your father to make a prenuptial agreement to protect the family fortune he had before he met her and specify in his will who gets each sentimental treasure from your childhood.

If there’s no written assignment, after your father dies she’ll keep your biological mother’s things and even your most cherished toys.  She’ll make you grovel to get any of your father’s items.

Of course she’ll blame you for why she’s mean and keeps things from you.  She’ll say that you didn’t communicate lovingly enough with her, you hurt her feelings or she needs and deserves what ever she wants.  And she’ll say that she has a right to it all.  She needs it to comfort her for her great loss.

She’ll try to divide your siblings into warring camps; if you’re not on her side you’re her enemy for life.  She’ll make you crawl in order to get anything, and then she’ll jerk it away just as you think you’re about to get it.  It’s as if she enjoys raising your hopes and causing you pain.

Recognize as bullies these manipulative, hypercritical, distorting, demanding, lying toxic people who use their hurt feelings and anger to control everyone else.  Notice who has all the responsibility for making her be just or generous; she never accepts any blame, never has to please you, never has to apologize.  You always have to please her, accept all the blame for any problem and do all the apologizing.

Your crawling will never be enough to get you anything important.  She’ll always raise the bar on what you have to do.

If you try to negotiate with these bullies, you’ll always give up something in hopes that she’ll reciprocate.  But you’ll be disappointed.  After you give something up, the negotiations will immediately become about what you must give up next.

Accept that you’re in a war with a bitter, relentless and ruthless enemy who won’t compromise or negotiate in good faith.  Fight to get what’s yours.  Then turn your back and walk away.  She wants to trap your energy for the rest of your life; either pleasing her or fighting her; it doesn’t matter which.

Of course some moms harass, bully and abuse their biological children in the same way.  Their children need to use the same tactics in order to survive and thrive.

Take your energy and make a wonderful life, no matter the injustice of what happens.  The best revenge is a great life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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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