Questions about Manipulators: How Do I Protect My Children?

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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24 thoughts on “Questions about Manipulators: How Do I Protect My Children?

  1. 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. 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.

      1. 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.


    1. 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.

    2. I too am going through this and so scared of losing them and I feel it’s coming. I have been holding on for years and he’s now taking it out on my daughter to the point he’s making her sick. Thank you for sharing your post. It helps others like myself who feel alone and are in similar situations ❤️

      1. I totally get this wife is attempting to estrange my daughter after attempting to have me incarcerated and having a friend call protective services. Any updates to your condition or avenues of tactic to change?

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

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. My goodness. You have just written about how my life would have turned out had i not spotted the emotional abuse off my husband in front of our daughter.
      I left him so that she would not repeat my mistakes and think this was how a man treats a woman. If i’d have stayed i would have never forgiven myself if that had happened.
      It is down to you to take a stand. Show your children this is not how people treat the person that they (supposedly) love. He is not a man, he is insecure and using you to make himself feel big and superior to you.
      Leave him, raise those children with a strong minded, secure and assured confident Mother who can stand up for herself in any situation.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

  7. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  8. My daughter who is 21 is living with a manipulative boyfriend. She will put the phone on speaker so he can hear everything. Right now is to the point where she says I am not her mother and she doesn’t have a family anymore. She also uses words like dummy, stupid, and others towards me. I want to help her. I don’t want her to lose herself in his manipulative ways. She has a good heart and always wants to help people. I don’t want her to lose herself by pleasing him all the time and always trying to make him feel ok everytime he victimize himself, which he does often. Please…How can I talk to her so she can see that is not a healthy relationship.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Always Mom,

      I guess first thing first… no one has right to call you any names. Get them stopped. Before you help anyone, you should help yourself. Set your boundaries and make sure they are not breached just because you feel responsible for others.

      At 21, your daughter has her own free will, and your only hope is that she exercises it responsibly, respecting herself as well as others. It is also an age where you cannot convince her otherwise, especially if she has negative view toward you.
      You best bet is probably just to state the morally right, social and responsible behavior and leave it at that. Take care of things that you control. Just point the right direction, and leave it at that. You cannot control others the direction they take.

      I will suggest you browse through some blogs here. They can provide you more insight. You may also want to consider reading the book In Sheep’s Clothing after checking some blogs. Consider taking help from professional counselor.

  9. Dr Simon, help. I’m a stepdad to two girls, 11 and 12. Been married to their mum for 1 yr, together for 4. Their dad is rich and as started bribing them with money. He call them names, embarrases them, and they feel they cannot stop seeing him because of the hairdryer shouting they receive from him, very abusive to my wife, was emotionally abusive all their marriage and is insulting me to the kids and to me in a very manipulative way. I am a man, I love these kids and feel by not standing up to him I’m not protecting them. The mum has got counselling and takes the route that however bad he is, he is still dad and she still encourages a relationship with them. I feel it’s doing more damage than not and to see two young girls scared of their dad flying off the handle if they tell him the truth and wanting to protect his feelings by seeing him is heartbreaking. I cannot be civil anymore, I need to take action but cannot work out what to do save hitting him to wake him up. Everyone is scared of this guy but he is just a narcissistic rich bully. Lease offer some advice.

    1. david,

      Dr. Simon has excellent book on the very same topic. You should read In Sheeps Clothing. If you like, gift one copy to your wife, this $10 gift will be worth much more than all the counseling that your wife received.

      Yep. He is narcissistic bully. He is not so much covert as described in the book, but he sounds like more aggressive variant of the same breed.
      I think, he thinks you are weak, when in reality you are just a nice person who sometime let others cross their boundaries with you. This works fine with most people, except few who step over you just because they can! He also think that your wife, and daughters are weak too, so they are fair game for hunting.

      Hitting him is an option, and if you can pull it off with at worst a warning from police, then it is a nasty short-cut way to resolve your problem very fast. But, it probably is not best way as it just may have unintended, unplanned consequences.

      Easiest should be to figure out your rights, and set those boundaries, and hold those boundaries no matter what comes your way, some examples:
      – I am primary caretaker of those girls, and no one has any right to shout at them. Complain to me if you have any problem. Better if you tell this to him on his face next time you catch him in the act, even better if you do that in front of your step-daughters. I am sure your daughters will be glad if you do that. You just need to hold on to “don’t shout at my daughters, complain to me” without hitting out, when category 5 tornado hits you. Hold well, you will recall it nothing more than a loud fart when it passes over, after all your wife survived it for 15 years, so cannot be more than that.
      – No one insult me in any underhanded way. I don’t need to see the face of that ****-face. If my wife thinks she needs to subject her daughter to same treatment that she received then she drop them and pick them. I am assuming his highness does not come over to visit them, your family is the way making trips to his palace.

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