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Psychology/Step mother nastiness


QUESTION: Dear Kristina:

I have a question regarding the family dynamic of step-families.  Specifically, whenever there is a family occasion…(wedding, funeral, etc) my father’s wife has been EXTREMELY rude to our (my sister’s and I) mother.  She (my father’s wife) is not a particularly nice person to begin with…self-centered and narcissistic.  However, in an effort to give her the benefit of the doubt, I have noticed that this is a fairly common phenomenon…IE that current wives are resentful, and rude towards former wives. Thus, despite my personal feelings toward my father’s wife ( I do not like her…for obvious reasons) I am attempting to understand this phenomenon. The nastiness she exhibits toward our mother is so blatant and over the top that I’s seems almost cartoonish…like a caricature of nastiness.

I should note that my mother doesn’t care…or even seem to notice…She is virtually oblivious.  I should also point out that our father has a narcissistic personality disorder, and thus lack the ability to empathize, and read people effectively…IE to see people for who they really are…So his current wife can stroke his ego, and tell him how wonderful he is, and he does not see through the façade. She (his wife) can pretend to care about his children, and he cannot read her true intentions. I suspect his wife also has a narcissistic personality disorder…my understanding is that this condition presents itself differently in females than in males. Which is to say that his wife is not particularly abusive, as far as I can tell, but she is extremely snobby, and haughty…needs to stay at fancy hotels, and eat at fancy restaurants…and be “served” by those she considers to be “inferior.”

That being said, as I stated earlier, I have observed that this is a fairly common phenomenon…that of current wives being rude and resentful toward former wives, so I am attempting to understand this phenomenon before making a final decision regarding how to feel about it.  Our mother is a genuinely nice person, and has not given our father’s current wife any reason to behave this way.  She has never wanted our father back, and is thrilled to be rid of him.  IE She has never been a threat to our father’s current wife.  My parents have been divorced for over 25 years…Our father has been with his current wife for over 20 years.

In point of fact, our mother has a dependent personality disorder, (which I suppose is why she’s so completely oblivious to being treated this way.)

I any event… I suppose my question is this…This:  Is this an underlying psychological need that some women have…IE Should I be more understanding of our father’s wife’s need to be “the only woman” in our father’s life…or is she really just a nasty person, deserving of disdain and contempt?

As I noted earlier, her nastiness…and more particularly selfishness is not limited to our mother, bus this seems (to me) to be the most disturbing aspect of it, and most evidentiary feather of it.

Thank you for your time,


ANSWER: Leigh,

Thank you for submitting your questions to me here at AllExperts. First let me start with some basic information about personality disorders. In general, like most mental health concerns, they are relatively rare. For example, Major Depressive Disorder, one of the most common mental health diagnoses effects only 7% of the population in ANY 12-month time period. Personality disorders are much lower with lifetime prevalence rates ranging from 0.1% to a high for 4.9%, so the likelihood that all of you family members, yourself excluded have diagnosable personality disorders is relatively small.

That being said, lets look at the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic and dependent personality disorders. Narcissitic PD is characterized by a lack of empathy, grandiosity, and a need for admiration. This may fit for you father and step-mother, however I could not definitively say that either meets the diagnostic criteria based on your descriptions. Dependent PD is characterized by a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of that leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation. Based on your mother's lack of reaction or even awareness of your stepmother's actions, I don't believe that she meets the criteria. Instead, the way that you have described her actions sounds more like the reaction of someone with a healthy sense of self and well-developed personality.

Now, regarding you actual question: should you be more accepting of your stepmother's actions? That really depends on your own psychological well-being. Have you developed a healthy personality that allows you to function as an individual who can be in relationship with people without owning their actions or behaviors? If you are unable to separate yourself from other people's behaviors then I would recommend that you seek therapy from a local provider. If you can separate yourself from your step mother's behaviors, then do so and enjoy a happier existence. I hope that you can allow your stepmother to own her actions rather than you owning them.

Best wishes,
Dr. Luna

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thank you for your answer. I am a little unclear of what you mean by "owning" my father's wife's actions.  I mean they're her actions, not mine.  I just find it bothersome to observe my mother being treated that way...and somehow it seems to me that most people would be at least a little perturbed by it. I do understand that it is up to me with regard to how much I let it bother me..or perhaps even if I let it bother me. but "owning"??? I'm familiar with that concept  IE "owning" your own actions and so forth...but I am a little unclear of how you mean it in this context. so, I suppose a little clarification would be helpful...if you have the time.

Thanks again.


Thank you for seeking clarification. Based on your description above, it sounds like you have a hard time allowing your step mother to act her own way (respectful or not) without it affecting you. You are correct that if you are offended by her behavior then you should address it, however it appears from your description that her actions are affecting only herself (i.e. your mother is unbothered by her actions and thereby not harmed). You seem to be picking up the battle for her actions and thereby taking ownership of them and allowing them to negatively affect you.

Hope this helps,
Dr. Luna


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Kristina Luna


I specialize in clinical psychology with particular experience in clinical hypnosis, borderline personality disorder, LGBTQ, and aging. I have not worked with children for several years and would not feel comfortable answering child and adolescent based questions. My interests in adult psychology are fairly diverse, so please, sent me a question and lets see if I can help.


I have been working in the field of psychology, to some degree, since 1998. Initially, my work was more behaviorally based, but through my educational and training experiences, I have expanded to a more eclectic viewpoint. I have taught introductory psychology and have worked in college counseling. I have also studied hypnosis for several years, completing my dissertation on basic research in hypnosis. Finally, I completed my internship and residency in a transitional treatment program for young adults (18 - 16) with difficulty transitioning from home.

Doctor of Psychology 2009 Indiana University of Pennsylvania Indiana, Pennsylvania Master of Arts in Psychology 2002 MCP Hahnemann/Drexel University Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Bachelor of Arts in Psychology 1997 Keuka College Keuka Park, New York

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