The “Poor Me” Child: How to Handle a Child with a Victim Mentality
My 8-year-old stepdaughter is forever pouting, appearing like a “sad sack”. She’s always looking for someone to feel sorry for her and forever comparing what she has to how much others have and coming up short. It’s so annoying that sometimes I feel like screaming, “Get a life”! I don’t like to be around her, yet my husband and I have her every other weekend. She throws the whole family out of kilter.
Mommy Zen™ says:
It sounds like your stepdaughter is developing a “victim mentality” which can be very annoying, but more importantly very dangerous. Not only is it unpleasant to be around the constant negativity, but a child with a victim mentality can be vulnerable to predators who have a special radar for that sort of thing. So it is very important to help her build up her sense of well-being.
I noticed that you use words like “forever” and “always”. While it may seems like that is true, I would first encourage you to be on the lookout for times when this is not the case and she is pleasant and fun to be around. There must be a few times like that. Then begin to focus on those.
Your Kids are Not Responsible for Your Feelings
You also suggest that her behavior throws everyone out of whack. This is an awful lot of power for a child to have. It may be the only way that she feels she has any control or gets any attention. She is a child and she has limited resources compared to the adults in her life, so let’s work on getting the balance here.
The adults should set the tone in the home, not the kids. It makes the kids feel more secure if it is made clear that they are not responsible for everyone else’s feelings, even if it appears that they enjoy “making everyone crazy.”
How to Regain Control
So let’s examine some ways that you can get the control back.
I suggest you present your observations to your husband in a nonjudgmental way. He is likely to be sensitive to any accusations about his daughter. Explain the dangers that threaten the unity of your family, but also the dangers that threaten her well-being. Maybe both of you, together with your stepdaughter’s birth mother, can agree on what to say and how to respond when she behaves this way. If you don’t have a good relationship with the birth mom, that’s ok. You can choose to work something out with your husband and your stepdaughter’s mom, or work out your own solution and response.
Your stepdaughter needs you. Here are 10 tips that might help.
- Change the way you see the child. She is an innocent girl who has had difficult situations in her life. She feels misunderstood and unimportant and lonely. Detach from whatever resentments and irritations you might have around her, your husband or her mom.
- Understand that she is in your life for a reason: maybe it is to help you grow, but more importantly, she needs what you have to offer.
- Spend time w/ her, particularly during those times you can identify between pouting sessions when she seems more open. Help her discover her unique talents and skills and interests.
- Encourage her to grow in these areas of strength and interest. Take family outings around things that encourage these things.
- Give her responsibilities when she is at your house so she doesn’t feel like an outsider, and follow through with making sure they are done. She needs to be treated as if and feel as if she is a part of your family. She must abide by the rules of you home and I would encourage you to lovingly enforce the rules.
- Expect her to succeed and verbalize that expectation to her.
- Encourage her to dream; help her develop a plan to achieve those dreams. Sometimes kids just need to know that they are important enough to be heard.
- Teach her by words and example the power of gratitude.
- Give her loving eye contact and tell her plainly and firmly that you care too much to allow self pity or negative behavior. Do not reinforce her self pity in anyway, either by giving into it or being disgusted or irritated by it. Any validation, positive or negative will reinforce it.
- Do not get sucked into drama or gossip about her mother, or allow her to put a wedge between you and her father. Keep communication open and make sure you and your husband do not hide things from each other. Stay united. Keep talking…and breathe.
Marianne Clyde is a licensed marriage and family therapist, specializing in anxiety, depression, relationship issues and eating disorders. Happily married with a combined family of 8 children and 10 grandchildren, her office is located at 20 Ashby Street in Warrenton, Virginia. For more information, visit: MarianneClyde.com or call 540-347-3797.