How to Help Them
The StepHero™ Community Newsletter
Dealing With An Angry Teens - Introduction
This newsletter applies two key principles, mirroring and loving reality, in
a real-life situation of a member of our community who had to deal with an angry teen. With her permission, and with
names removed or changed, everyone in our community can benefit from her
current situation and the responses I offer.
Her Plea For Help
My fiancé has been divorced for five years, with a 15-year-old son and a
21-year-old daughter, both still in his home. I have three adult children in
their late 20's and 30's with grandchildren.
The problem is his daughter. She is resisting our upcoming marriage, is self-involved and has lived alone with her father and brother for five years now. She has been the "lady of the house". She is threatened by me, and the fact that I will be moving into their home after our wedding. She is aloof, doesn't want to interact much with me (although had been friendlier previous to our marriage announcement) and she has no ideas
of her parents getting back together, as she doesn't get along with her mother.
She is territorial.... understandably so, but complains to her father about petty things. Like Christmas I "whipped" the potatoes, "she" mashed them....very small, petty things that she perceives as my being "bossy".... Her father is not the type of individual who will sit for long conversations empathizing etc.... his basic response is "suck it up and deal with it"...when it comes to her and her antics.
I am worried about moving into their home, with her territorialism... and her being so threatened by me.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated
”Nicole” (not her real name)
You're fiancé’s daughter's response to you is quite normal and understandable. What I can do is offer you some peace of mind in the midst of it. First, let me give you a “reframe” – another perspective. In my experience, you're actually lucky that she's vocal about how she feels. My 18-year-old stepdaughter was very nice to me until I moved in, and then became so passive/aggressive with looks that could kill and barely a word to me that I would have given anything for what you're currently getting - open, forthright communication of her true feelings! By starting off with a feeling of gratitude, in the face of what appears to be unpleasant, you get to begin to enjoy the reality of your situation, instead of wishing it were different.
I understand your concern and worry about moving in with her "staking her claim" so to speak. By acknowledging this reality and working with it, you stand to gain a lot of territory yourself. While her father is not one for long empathetic conversations, what about you? Are you able to "get her" on how she feels in a way that brings it out and, quite honestly, gets those feelings out of the way?
One of the things keeping the two of you from having a healthy relationship is the discharge of the negative emotions she has about the upcoming marriage. Think about it this way - she has a ton of "emotional landmines" from the past, especially in relationship to her mother and the divorce (big clue that she does not get along with her mother), and your very presence as a potential mother-figure is triggering those landmines to go off. Instead of being afraid of them or wishing that they weren't there, I encourage you to be excited about discovering them and setting them off. I even encourage the use of the phrase "thank goodness, there it goes" in your head to remind yourself that the person who is raging against you is really releasing old, painful wounds from the past. You can even tell yourself that you are safe enough to for them to have it with - and that means you actually have a chance at a real relationship.
Here are some ways you can support her
and even encourage her:
I coach stepparents on how to do this technique with their kids, with each other,
and even with the former spouses. When you can really get that the other person’s discharge is never about you, then you are home free and will not be adversely affected by whatever they try to pull. It takes discipline and while it's not necessarily easy to do, it makes a huge difference when you can.
- Be very clear in your own mind that her apparent animosity about you has NOTHING to do with you.
- Do your best to not take what she says personally, by telling yourself that it looks like it is about you but it is really about her mom.
- Don't tell her that - tell it to yourself.
- Be a mirror to her - reflect back to her what she is saying to you to show her you understand and "get" her on how she feels. It is important when you are mirroring what she's saying to also mirror her energy around it. Don't be all calm and peaceful as you tell her you understand how angry she is; be forceful, strong, and as loud as she is with your statements – matching her energy with your own. Not yelling at her - yelling with her, as the case may be.
- Invite deeper exploration. Use phrases like: "You really hate how I whip the potatoes, huh? Tell me more!" or "You can't stand how I'm here all the time, huh? What's that like for you?" Sometimes just staying in the room and repeating back and saying "tell me more" is all you can do in the midst of her rage – and it will make a world of difference. When someone feels "gotten", they can't help but share more and reveal their pain underneath. If she doesn't, then you're missing the mark – and you get to try again.
- Once you've gotten her trust by doing this technique for awhile, you can begin to delve deeper. Once you hit the nail on the head about what she's feeling and you can tell that she feels really understood, then you can ask some more probing questions, like: "when was the first time you ever felt this way?" or "do you recall ever having to defend your territory like this before?" - you'll know how to word it once you truly get the pain she's feeling. Do your best to allow her to determine where this is coming from and don't bring up her mother before she does.
I recommend that you enlist the help of your fiancé in supporting you in discharging about her to him behind closed doors. While you want to encourage her to have her stuff with your face on it, I'm afraid it doesn't work the other way around. You do not have permission to have your discharge with her face on it AT HER. And, you will need to be discharged, as you'll have past fears, old hurts, and your own landmines triggered by her.
If your fiancé is not one to be able to hold this kind of space for you, you'd do well to share your challenges and pain with a trusted girlfriend or hire a coach or therapist, depending on the depth of your own pain and fears associated with this situation. I offer to you to look at her as a gift to you - to heal your wounds from when you were her age. The more you open yourself to receiving her as a gift, the more you'll be able to be present to her as she heals her wounds.
Blessings to you on your upcoming marriage and your wonderful life ahead,
While this looks like it is about “Nicole’s” situation, every family has a challenging issue that triggers those emotional landmines. Take some time to explore with your partner the landmines that get triggered the most for each of you. Then look at the ways you currently handle situations when someone in your household gets angry or frustrated. See what it would be like to apply the technique of mirroring instead and discover the possibilities!
If you find yourself challenged by the above Action Step, contact me at
to schedule a coaching session to get you unstuck.
Wishing you and your blended family
all the best,
Emily Bouchard, founder,