So many people write to ask me whether manipulators or other disturbed characters can ever really change that I posted an article addressing this very question a couple of weeks ago (see:  Top Question about Manipulators:  Can They ever Really Change?).   Just as frequently, folks inquire about where and how they might get the appropriate kind of professional help to deal with the disturbed character in their lives, and I have an article posted on that topic as well (see:  Character Disturbance:  Getting the Right Kind of Help).   People also frequently ask me how they can protect their children from the negative influence of their spouse or partner once they’ve become clued into their destructive ways.  Often, a person will ask this question in tandem with a question about how to make friends, acquaintances, or others “see” what they have finally come to see with respect to the character of the problematic person in their lives.   Somehow, it feels vindicating to them if they can get everyone else around them to appreciate just  how much wool the disturbed character once pulled over their eyes.

Before addressing the aforementioned issues directly, I think it’s important to emphasize one of the general principles I advocate strongly in my writings, including my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance.  It’s absolutely critical that folks understand and respect the areas of their lives where they do and don’t have power.  Why?  Because whenever we invest any time, energy, or emotional passion in something we don’t have power over, we set ourselves up for a sense of defeat, loss, and eventually, depression.  That’s why it’s absolutely essential to put your energy and effort in what you have power over, namely your own behavior, and not to fret so much about the things you have little control over anyway, like what someone else’s reactions or opinions might be.

Naturally, a caring and concerned parent doesn’t want to expose their child to harm.  And there are certain instances in which a parent must take firm measures to ensure a child’s safety.  But it’s also possible to become far too concerned about the “negative influence” a disturbed character might have on a child’s development.  It’s also often a waste of time and energy to engage in a personal crusade to open the eyes of family and friends to someone’s true character.   So I often advise folks to keep themselves focused on their own conduct, because that’s where the power lies.   Children are always observing.  And they don’t just pay attention to what we say.  They mostly notice what we do.  We have the power to model for them what appropriate, principled, behavior is all about.  They come to understand character by the character we ourselves display.  And they’re perfectly capable of contrasting that character with the character of others.  The same is true for our family and friends.  The better our own nobility shines, the more someone else’s character deficiencies stand out like a sore thumb.  We also have the power to assist our children in their own quest to develop character by providing appropriate encouragement and recognition.  And it’s crucial to be as attentive to their effort as it is to recognize their successes.  Bottom line:  the best way to protect children from negative influence is provide them with as much positive influence and encouragement as possible.  We all have the power to model, lead, and encourage.  And because it’s simply not possible to insulate our children from all the negative influences that exist in the world, the stronger our leadership and support is, the more “inoculated” our children will be against the forces we fear might corrupt them.  And to do this effectively requires tons of energy – energy we couldn’t possibly have if we were depressing ourselves fighting the losing battles we sometimes fight to make things happen that we don’t have the power to effect.

Sometimes the fruits of doing the right thing aren’t realized for some time.  One parent to whom I gave the advice above remained mad at me for several years thinking that her children would simply be lost to her as a result of the negative influence of her manipulative ex-husband.  He would poison their minds, she feared, and eventually estrange them from her.  But her children grew up not only to appreciate the big difference in the character of their parents, but to do their mother very proud by the kinds of persons they became (patterning themselves largely on the example she set for them).  And she’s glad she stopped fretting about whether her friends, family, or even her children would be deceived or negatively influenced by her character-impaired ex because she now enjoys the fruits of all the efforts she made to exemplify a better course.  In the end, she did more than protect her children. She guided them to a place and a level of living none of them even dreamed possible during the darker days.  And she had the energy to do it because she didn’t invest herself in the lost causes she was once tempted to pursue.

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16 Responses to Questions about Manipulators: How Do I Protect My Children?

  1. Debra
    Mar 30, 2012

    Wow. This is exactly where I’ve been stuck the last few weeks, and it’s a miserable place to be. Thanks for posting this. That’s how I want to live.

  2. Selb
    Mar 31, 2012

    Simply brilliant i am going putting this wheel into motion straight away.

  3. songbird4
    Apr 02, 2012

    I have been experiencing the samething with my children. It is difficult as the older two both moved out to live with their father and everything I do or don’t do gets twisted and I am the bad parent, The hardest thing is to let go of my children and not respond to the voice I hear that of which is their father’s the same words I am an over reactor, I am unstable it hurts to hear that from my children.

    This site is giving me some hope…just sad to have the little moments gone because I beieved in someone who told me lie after lie and manipulated my entire life.

    • Dr. Simon
      Apr 02, 2012

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’re finding the site and its contents helpful.

      • songbird4
        Apr 05, 2012

        My question is:

        Do you have any suggestions regarding teenagers living with their father and mimic his reality? By pointing out the falseness of the reality, pitfalls etc I have succeeded in alienating myself farther and farther from them. If I did not accept my ex’s reality I was made to be the crazy one, I see this happening with our children. Any suggestions? Do I just smile and say sounds great?

        If anyone has any input I would appreciate it. I can not seem to get past the emotional pain and think logically on this one.

        Songbird4

    • Amy
      May 21, 2014

      After a long divorce process of three years and being cheated on. My ex continues to destroy me in front of our beautiful daughter. It pains me to feel this way and to see how cruel one could be. However I am stronger for it and I am trying to control my own thoughts when he is around me especially when he demises my character in front of our daughter. In hopes that he stops, I am reading as much as I can to stay focused. After all we are all a child of God and I am in his hands. In turn learning to be who I am and doing the right thing is what matters. Hope everyone stays strong from manipulation as the behavior does not seize. Wish there was legal council that would help women who are mentally abused.

  4. songbird4
    Apr 06, 2012

    One more thing Dr Simon have you found that when people have children with disturbed characters the children can only accept one reality?

  5. Omaa
    Jun 21, 2012

    Thanks,Dr Simon. I see a lot of logic in what you write. My kids (6 and 2) see me react really badly to my husband’s psychological/mental/emotional attacks while he sits really calmly and calls them to “Come see mommy act all crazy again.” Or my son will ask why I’m always moody and crying . Or my 2 year old daughter will try to get me to hold hands with him cos she sees me avoid any contact with him. And it makes me even more depressed. Last week, I sat through him berating me for hours and when I couldn’t take any more, I tried to towrench the wheel so that the oncoming traffic would kill me (kids were at home).

    Noone believes me because he’s stopped the physical abuse after I exposed him by checking into a hospital. He even told the doctors that I’m delusional and the injuries were self-induced to set him up. He’s turned up the mental abuse and takes edited photos of me,records conversations we had etc to prove that I’m insane and paranoid.

    Right now,I’m intent on outwitting him and also presenting myself better. I now realize that noone will ever believe him especially with my seemingly neurorotic emotional breakdowns and dependence on sleeping pills and alcohol to numb me.I’d like to hang around for a few more years till my daughter’s older (maybe 7-8 years) . Nigeria’s patrilineal so I’ll lose custody if I fought and I was stupid/naive enough not to have gotten visual evidence of past abuse.

    I’d appreciate any suggestions as per which of your books will help me (and my kids ) cope while I’m still living with him and still maintain my sanity.

    • Dr. Simon
      Jun 21, 2012

      Thanks for the kind words and for your questions. Although you’re no doubt facing an ordeal, perhaps the readers can offer some suggestions. Then, I’ll weigh in myself with some principles that might help.

  6. Patrice
    Jun 24, 2012

    Omma I feel your pain and my thoughts and prayers go out to you through this very hard time. I often think of ways I could have done things different during my 15 year marriage to a disturbed charachter, I still struggle with letting go and wondering if I am indeed the crazy one. I do not like to tell people what to do and hated it when people did to me by saying oh just do this or that….but I will say this to you. Your children need you as their mother someone who is present to them and the only way you can do that is by taking care of yourself. I lived with mental abuse berating and got worse when I said I was leaving…started drinking to numb out which only caused me a lot of problems BUT gave me a great road map of how to live….12 steps.
    If I could do it different I would not try to out wit, always defending myself to him justifying righteous feelings. I would get support, document, plan how you will leave him if that is your intent if choose to stay, get support from a domestic violence group if there is any around, reading recovery material. Seek help if you can not stop drinking because it does not help but makes it worse it takes away even more of yourself it takes away your power and someone is already trying to do that to you. You are a powerful woman remember that! Read all you can on recovery and all of Dr Simon’s books!

  7. K
    Jun 26, 2012

    Dr Simon,

    I do everything the therapist says, especially with regard to my special need son. But it’s getting more and more difficult with their mentally unstable dad. On Fathers Day he had apparently taken a knife to himself and threatened to kill himself, but it took my son 7 days to report that to me, and until last night, after many nights when he kept waking up crying that dad was going to die, I had no clue what happened.

    What do we do in situations like this? It’s a living nightmare to see your children suffer needlessly. The authorities do NOTHING, other than taping a crime scene and giving interviews to media after everything is over.

    Please help. Thanks.

    • Dr. Simon
      Jun 26, 2012

      I’m so sorry you’re experiencing such an ordeal. Unfortunately, even though all the information shared on this blog – especially in regard to the principles I advocate in my writings about dealing with impaired characters – might make it seem like I can give direct advice with respect to a person’s situation, I simply cannot. That’s because it’s inappropriate and virtually impossible to assess the nature of someone’s situation remotely and to offer the right kind of advice. There are many possible reasons for erratic, impulsive, and terror-inspiring behavior, some of which are rooted in psychiatric illnesses other than character disturbance. So, best to address these concerns with the professional with whom you are working. But if you suspect that the professional might have either misdiagnosed the nature of circumstances or possibly lacks the appropriate training and experience to deal with the presenting issues, you always have the right to seek another opinion. It certainly can feel frustrating sometimes to think that nothing can be done to help a situation, but sometimes you have to be quite persistent in seeking out the right support. I know I’m being general here, but that’s of necessity. Others are free to comment, but it’s not possible for me to be more direct in the absence of an accurate and reliable assessment of your circumstances.

  8. Donna
    Feb 07, 2013

    When a person commits to marriage and family life one is committing to spending time, energy and Emotional passion in something one has no power over – the free will of another person. I can’t see how it can be avoided unless one avoids relationships. Scary!

    • Dr. Simon
      Feb 07, 2013

      One puts time, energy and emotional passion into appropriate and well-disciplined self and other loving, which yields its own immense benefits regardless of the response of others. Not so scary when you look at it that way. And making a relationship commitment in the absence of sound character assessment of the person with whom we’ve become involved is always a risky proposition, which is why it’s so important to understand the essential elements of character.

      • vera
        Feb 07, 2013

        In tribal days, suitors were expected to work for the prospective inlaws and prove their character over a significant period of time. Makes a lot of sense on a certain level.

        • Dr. Simon
          Feb 08, 2013

          Not too long ago, “engagements” before marriage really meant something as far as getting to know the character of a person, their history, background, and family of origin, and securing both the blessing and support of family and friends before taking the next step. It made a lot of sense, too.

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