Where is My Anger Coming From?

Dr. Henry Cloud’s work has helped me out a lot in this whole process — especially his book, Necessary Endings. That book taught me about the three kinds of people: the wise, the foolish, and the evil.

Not only that, he’s Christian and backs all this up with biblical references.  There’s backup for my choice, right there in the bible.  Not that that matters to me, but it ought to matter to some people:

If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.

Titus 3:10-11

A brief recap:

A wise person

The wise person sees the light and adjusts
Diagnosis: Is this someone who listens?

The evil people

The evil people intend to destroy.  For this post I’m not going into detail about this category.

A fool

A fool shoots the messenger
The problem is never in the room, unless it’s you
When the light comes, the fool gets angry
A fool hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22) and takes no pleasure in understanding (18:2). They defend themselves (and their ideas) even when they aren’t attacked.

  • Not listening
  • Don’t talk
  • Hope doesn’t come from more talking

[Fools] may be very bright and gifted. This is why they’ve gotten as far as they have… But here’s the problem. With the wise person, when the light comes, they adjust themselves to the light. With a fool, when the light shows up, they adjust the light. It hurts their eyes. They’re allergic to it. They try to dim it and they try to adjust the truth. The wise man changes himself; the fool tries to change the truth. “This wasn’t a big deal.” “It’s not like that.” Or, they shoot the messenger.

Whenever you give feedback to someone, and the first reflective move is defensiveness, let that be a warning sign. They are squinting. They deny that it’s reality, they minimize it, they externalize it, they shoot the messenger. They aren’t happy to hear it, and a lot of times they get angry. You become the problem.

Every time you talk to a person like this, they do not own it.

When you get hopeless about that with them, that is one of the best things you can do… [A wise responsible person] initially has hope that the person will start listening. But this person just keeps not listening. You gotta give up here.

Here’s what the Bible says, and all research validates: “With a wise person, talk to them. They will love you for it and listen and get better.” But then the Bible changes its tone. It says “do not correct a fool, lest you incur insults upon yourself. Do not confront a mocker, lest they hate you. Etc.” These verses describe reality like you’ve never seen it before. They say: “Here’s your strategy: Stop talking.” Why? They have stopped listening. Their allergy to reality is now in charge.

Here is the principle: Fools don’t change when truth comes to them, but only when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing.  (I remember having a conversation about exactly this idea with my oldest brother, at that last reunion, before I said to hell with this.  They are indeed bright enough to understand all this.  They just won’t own it.)

The challenge here is to limit your exposure, make it clear about the consequences, give them a choice, and follow through. Need to say “I need someone in this position that can hear reality. I hope that’s you. I want you to be in that chair. But that’s what that chair is going to require, and you get to make the choice.


So much of that was essential in helping me understand (after the fact) that I did make the right choices.  I went about it in an angry, upset way, and not the best way that I could have done it.  But the gist of what I did had the right, healthy instincts.

Anger is a normal response to what I experienced.  But now I find another reference from Dr. Cloud that helps explain the anger from a different perspective.  I’m just going to quote this one in its entirety:


“Many people conceal their negative feelings of anger, sadness, and fear. These people are unable to cope with good and bad because they have never processed these negative feelings, and they suffer from many problems, such as fear of relationships, depressions, and anxiety as a result. Negative feelings are valid, and they must be dealt with so they won’t cause problems.

“Anger, our most basic negative emotion, tells us that something is wrong. We tend to protect the good we don’t want to lose. Anger is a signal that we are in danger of losing something that matters to us. When people are taught to suppress their anger, they are taught to be out of touch with what matters to them. It is good to feel angry because anger warns us of danger and shows us what needs protecting. But, we are not to be mean or abusive in our attempt to solve a problem. This would mean to resolve it in some unloving way and would ultimately hurt us as well as each other.

I lost something important to me.  I lost my father, and then my whole family.  And I didn’t go about trying to solve this problem in a loving way.  I was angry and hurt and shamed to learn that people in my so-called FAMILY had LIED to others in my family about me, about what happened and about what they did.  That people had been told, and BELIEVED, that I was the one wholly responsible for the fight the day after Dad died — when I was responsible for none of it.

I had been betrayed, lied about, to people who ought to have given me some benefit of the doubt, if they loved me — who ought to have sought me out, who ought to have cared about, asked about, and believed my side of the story — who, when told my side of the story, ignored it, and acted like it didn’t matter — one brother in fact told me I ought to have done things differently, when in fact the “differently” was EXACTLY WHAT I DID DO, and yet when apprised of that fact, that he had been lied to about what happened, that didn’t seem to change a thing.

These were people who beforehand claimed they WOULD do all these things — turns out all that bullshit talk about “cutting each other slack” was just so much hot air.  I had, and have, absolutely every justification for being angry.

What they don’t have is justification for being defensive about what they did, for saying they “did nothing wrong”, for not sincerely saying they were sorry, for saying that my feelings didn’t matter, were wrong, for always trying to make me the one at fault.  They don’t own what they did.  And the reason — going back to the beginning of this post — is that it isn’t painful enough for them to do so.  The loss of me as part of the family isn’t painful enough for them to change.

The other threats:  facing up to the truth of what really happened when Dad died, who really did what, facing up to having been wrong all these years, having to admit to their little sister that they were wrong and have treated her so badly, facing up to the lies that were told about me by Susan and Joe — facing up to all that is far too painful for them.

In other words, they fear that whatever loss of “family” or loss of face that will result from actually addressing this issue will be so painful to them, that it’s hugely preferable to let me experience that loss and pain instead — e.g. the pain of losing my whole family.

And I guess I can understand that, but it still makes me the scapegoat one final time.  It just doesn’t matter how painful it is for me.  They choose to save their own skins and leave me to drown.

I suspect the reason Susan got so very angry the next day was rooted in her own loss of her father at a very young age.  Fine, I can understand that, and even empathize with that.  But you know what?  You have a responsibility to work on your own shit, FOR THE VERY REASON THAT IT’S NOT COOL TO VOMIT IT ALL OVER SOMEONE ELSE TO MAKE YOURSELF FEEL BETTER.  And if you don’t work on it, and you do take it out on someone else, you need to own up to that and apologize.  And keep apologizing, sincerely and truthfully, until you have assuaged the hurt that you caused, and rebuilt the trust that you demolished.

“Major consequences for denying our angry feelings range all the way from psychophysiological disorders, such as headaches and ulcers, to character disorders, such as passive-aggressions, to the inability to work, to serious depression and panic. Any way you look at it, denying anger keeps one from getting problems solved.

“Another problem with denying anger is that it turns into bitterness and leads to a critical and unforgiving spirit. Instead of denying anger, we must own it and find its source. As we examine our anger, we can find out what we are trying to protect. Anger may be protecting an injured vulnerability or a will that was controlled. We may be under condemnation from someone and need to get out from under perfectionism. Whatever the source, anger tells you there is a problem, and it should never be denied.

We may discover that our anger is protecting something bad, such as pride, omnipotence, control or perfectionism. Maybe we feel angry because we are losing control of another person. In either case, if we deny our anger, we can’t get to the source. Anger, then, is helpful because it is a sign something is being protected, either good or bad.”

An Accident

A story about another family’s tragedy:  a 4YO shot and killed his 9YO sister with a gun.

“…how does [the mother] get past all of this anger? She has told herself countless times that it wasn’t [his] fault. He’s just a little boy. He said he thought the gun was a toy. But every day she has to work at not being upset at him.

“I know this sounds horrible, but do you know how hard it is not to have ill feelings toward a kid? How hard it is not to be upset at Jaxon? Do you know how hard it is?” she had asked the night before. “I have no one to blame. I can’t blame my kid. I can’t blame God because it’s inappropriate. I have nobody to blame. I have no outlet as far as taking out my anger, so I use my family and my fiance as a punching bag.”

I find it incredible that this woman, this family cannot place the blame appropriately on the great-grandfather who left his gun out irresponsibly, and the other adults involved.

Then again, maybe I understand it all too well.  The dysfunctional family who can’t deal with their own culpability, the mother who heaps the blame on the easiest place to put it: on the small child who wasn’t responsible for what he did, the child who now looks for love and doesn’t get it because the adults around him are too fucked up to get the help they need to deal appropriately with their emotions.

“I love you,” the 4-year-old boy says as they drive through their neighborhood, just after his mother, who awoke with another migraine, told him to “shut up and sit on your butt or else.” “I love you,” he says again, a few seconds later, for what seems like the 10th time today, and now no one says anything.

Their tragedy was officially labeled “an accident”.

If anyone is at fault here, it’s the great-grandfather who left the gun out.

Yet the boy’s own mother still wants to blame him, and finds it hard to say “I love you” back when he says it.

A comment on this article also caught my attention:

A long time ago when I was working at a small city FD as a firefighter/medic a different squad than I was assigned to got a call on Christmas morning for a fatal shooting. A 13 year old had gotten a 12 ga shotgun for Christmas and the very first thing he did with it was point it at his 11 year old brother and pull the trigger, assuming his parents (or Santa Claus) had not been stupid enough to leave it under the tree loaded. The shot caught the younger boy in the shoulder shredding his sub-clavian artery and the boy only made it as far as the front yard before he collapsed and died. The responding crew fought hard for the boy but could not revive him.

They said afterward that of all of the hard things about the call the hardest was when the parents recovered enough in the ER to confront the older boy and they pretty much destroyed him screaming at him right there in the waiting area.

So, mind you, that’s professionals — who see this kind of tragedy every single day — saying that the absolute worst thing about it was when the people actually responsible for the tragedy started screaming at the person they wanted to blame for it, and destroyed him.

If anyone reading this blog has refused to believe what I’ve asserted here, has ever denied the truth or at least the possibility that what I have written could be true — read and reflect on this family’s story and STFU.

Poor kid.  At least when he is old enough, he will have the facts available to him, the truth of what happened, and I hope he is OK.

An Outsider’s View

“The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe…

“Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power.

“…will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble…  if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted

“… any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy…”

any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it.

“…Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, etc., bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in a short period of time.

“…When someone doesn’t trust you and isn’t open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, there really isn’t much, if anything you can do… no amount of understanding, no amount of respect, no amount of evidence is going to change their minds, assuage their fears.

“Of course, it didn’t help matters there were scapegoats available they could direct their fears, anger, and white supremacy towards… Why reevaluate your beliefs… when scapegoats are available?


From this article about politics, of course, but it applies to my FOO as well.

Their brand of fundamentalism is a combination of Catholicism, Mary/mother-worship, and blame-shifting.

I am the outsider, the convenient scapegoat who can be blamed for the problems; whose views, evidence, and explanations can be easily ignored; whose existence means they don’t have to think too much or feel too bad about what they did or allowed to happen.

Others put bad information — lies about me — into this closed system, those horrible things were unquestioningly believed, and it did a lot of damage.

Can’t Please Everyone

From Dr. Henry Cloud:

“If you are human, you care whether people like you or not. It matters to anyone who has a heart. Only the most emotionally and relationally cut off people have zero interest in whether others like them or feel more positively toward them. We all have a human need to be loved by others, and we all enjoy positive appraisals.

“Successful people eventually go through a doorway that is essential to making their personal lives, as well as their professional lives, work: they realize that they do not have to please everyone or have everyone like them. In fact, part of what fuels that realization is the bigger realization that not only do we not have to please everyone, we can’t, even if we wanted to.

“Embrace the reality that it is literally impossible to make everyone happy, and that it’s ok to like and choose some things that some people won’t like or choose. You’ll learn that when you give up what is impossible, you can begin to focus on what is good.

“You’ll realize that just because someone is unhappy with you, it doesn’t require that you give up your purpose, fold your cards or change. You’ll know that making some people unhappy is part of the deal, and you can keep going. When you accept that every decision divides, you quit trying to do the impossible, and you begin to make the right choices, knowing that our choices will divide.”

Impact > Intent

imapct-intent

Same goes for interpersonal relationships — such as, say, those with your little sister.

It’s really not enough, and it’s not responsible, to say to yourself, “Well, I didn’t MEAN to…”

Because you DID.

Intent doesn’t actually matter one bit.

IMPACT — the effect your actions actually had on another person — is what matters.  And you don’t get to disavow that.  You don’t get to say “it didn’t happen”, “that’s not what I meant”, “that’s not what this was about”.  That’s just bullshit equivocating, dancing around your responsibility.

I’ve seen numerous stories from numerous people about how difficult this Thanksgiving is going to be, after finding out that their uncle, brother, cousin — and you’d be surprised, or maybe not, at how many of them are white men with absolutely nothing to lose in this Brave New World — after finding out that someone who they thought cared about them STILL voted for this bigoted, racist, sexist, horrible asshole.

Whether they MEANT to or not, whatever their other reasons may have been, no matter how good those reasons could be — they went ahead and deliberately put the rest of us, those with maybe just a little less privilege, in a much worse place for the next 4 years.

They decided that part didn’t matter so much as their own reasons.

As I told my husband tonight, I’m really a trendsetter.  I broke up with my family (at least partly) over their conservative politics and outdated misogynistic and racist ideas YEARS ago.

But if my own reading, research and intelligence hadn’t done it, I’m certain this election would have.

I was just ahead of my time.

Why I Grieve Today

This is about two very different ways of seeing the world.  [Read George Lakoff “Don’t Think of an Elephant” for a clear picture of those two different ways.]

“Hillary supporters believe in a diverse America; one where religion or skin color or sexual orientation or place of birth aren’t liabilities or deficiencies or moral defects…

“Trump supporters believe in a very selective America; one that is largely white and straight and Christian, and the voting verified this. Donald Trump has never made any assertions otherwise. He ran a campaign of fear and exclusion and isolation—and that’s the vision of the world those who voted for him have endorsed.

“They have aligned with the wall-builder and the professed p*ssy-grabber, and they have co-signed his body of work, regardless of the reasons they give for their vote:

“Every horrible thing Donald Trump ever said about women… has now been validated.
“Every profanity-laced press conference and every call to bully protestors and every ignorant diatribe has been endorsed.
“Every piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation Mike Pence has championed has been signed-off on.

“Half of our country has declared these things acceptable, noble, American.

“Those whose voices have been silenced will be further quieted.

“Those who always felt marginalized will be pushed further to the periphery.

“Those who feared they were seen as inferior now have confirmation in actual percentages.

“It’s about religion being weaponized.
“It’s about crassness and vulgarity and disregard for women.
“It’s about a barricaded, militarized, bully nation.
“It’s about an unapologetic, open-faced ugliness.

“…knowing that these things have been amen-ed by our neighbors, our families… That is the most horrific thing of all. We now know how close this is.

“It feels like living in enemy territory being here now, and there’s no way around that. We wake up today in a home we no longer recognize. We are grieving the loss of a place we used to love but no longer do…  [this is also how I felt when I figured out what my FOO really thought of me]

“Grief always laments what might have been, the future we were robbed of, the tomorrow that we won’t get to see…

“…we had an opportunity… to let everyone know they had a place at the table… and we said no.”


I’m actually not surprised.  This exclusionary way of thinking is exactly how my FOO treated me:  they hold against me my personal choices of religion (lack thereof), family planning, politics, you name it, I’m wrong for it.  And they are all in the Midwest, the reddest of states — with the exception of my sister, who lives in a suburb of Chicago that is even whiter than the one HRC grew up in — and that’s extremely hard to do in Chicago, unless you have a lot of money.

That small-mindedness, that closed-in, closing-off fear of anything new or different, combined with a worship of the almighty dollar as the only measure of anything worth having, gets you conservative thought.

See, those things can be overlooked, as long as they don’t pertain to you and yours, and as long as there is the promise of economic prosperity coming out of that same sewer of a mouth.  If it will make you rich, with no adverse social consequences to you, you can easily overlook the ugliness aimed towards “others” — and in some cases, gleefully join in.

I used to wonder how it was that the conservatives I knew (mostly well-off whites) claimed they “wanted a better world for their children” — yet they were always opposed to any kind of progress or opportunities for various other people:  atheists, minorities, women, LGBTQ, whoever wasn’t just like them.

I figured out two things:  one, it most specifically was THEIR children they were wanting this for — NOT for every child, everywhere, regardless of what their social condition might be.  Like, say, Jesus is supposed to have suggested.

This I think has its roots in the conservative idea that children are somehow “born bad” and have to be “made good” by performing certain religious rituals, learning social rules, and being harshly disciplined as a little child for doing what comes naturally to a child:  doing things that make them happy.

Happiness is not a value in conservative thought.  It is debauchery.  (If you think that makes for a bleak way of life, you’re right — I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and I can definitely say this side is better.)

And “other” children who do not undergo the same religious rituals as yours, or follow the same social rules as yours, remain “bad” and not deserving of being treated the same as yours.

The unhealthy idea that “children are born bad” is the one thing that truly, completely sickens me about conservative thought.

The second thing I figured out is that the “better life” they want for their children means exactly one thing:  more money.  More material wealth.  Bigger houses, better vacations.  That’s the only thing they mean by “better”.  I suppose there is some grudging allowance for scientific advances in things like medicine, too, but the main thing is more money.

It’s a pretty poor way to judge a human life, but even so — I still don’t get how they think their kids are going to benefit in that way from the leadership of a man, and a party, that both have a long history of screwing over the average guy when it comes to money.

Yes, I grieve for what might have been, personally and nationally.  The difference is that nationally, I also fear for the future.

Epigenetics: It Leaves a Mark

Some VERY intriguing info here:

“You might have inherited… your grandmother’s predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn. 

“Or not… The mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too… Like grandmother’s vintage dress, you could wear it or have it altered (or rip out an old sweater and re-knit it). The genome has long been known as the blueprint of life, but the epigenome is life’s Etch A Sketch:

Shake it hard enough, and you can wipe clean the family curse.

Maybe this is the reason I never wanted to be a mother myself:

“…they found that inattentive mothering in rodents causes methylation of the genes for estrogen receptors in the brain. When those babies grow up, the resulting decrease of estrogen receptors makes them less attentive to their babies. And so the beat goes on.

And maybe this explains some other differences and impacts:

“…Why can’t your friend “just get over” her upbringing by an angry, distant mother? Why can’t she “just snap out of it”? The reason may well be due to methyl groups that were added in childhood to genes in her brain, thereby handcuffing her mood to feelings of fear and despair.

“Our study shows that the early stress of separation from a biological parent impacts long-term programming of genome function…”

“… suggesting that epigenetic transmission may not be at the root. Instead, Nestler proposes, “the female might know she had sex with a loser. She knows it’s a tainted male she had sex with, so she cares for her pups differently,” accounting for the results.”

“And what if we could create a pill potent enough to wipe clean the epigenetic slate of all that history wrote? If such a pill could free the genes within your brain of the epigenetic detritus left by all the wars, the rapes, the abandonments and cheated childhoods of your ancestors, would you take it?”

Sign me up.

Codependency and Dementia

My FIL and my husband enabled my MIL to not deal with her control issues and her dislike of me — which was probably because I defied her attempts at control, from the get-go.

Planning the wedding was a nightmare (and, needless to say, I did not have an older sister or a mother helping me out on that one).

We were planning the wedding in Boston, long-distance from Texas, long before the internet would have made it so very easy.  His mother had it all figured out:  we would get married in the chapel of the school at which she worked.  I didn’t much care where we got married, but I wanted the processional and recessional to be the traditional (secular) selections, and kept after her to make sure her chosen venue would allow it (some church venues don’t, because it’s secular music).

I suspect I earned her enduring wrath the day she called and told me, “I found out about your music.

“You can’t have the music you want, but that doesn’t matter.

I immediately replied, “Well, we can’t have it there then.”

And apparently to say that to her was unthinkable.

It wasn’t unthinkable to tell a bride she can’t have her chosen music, mind you, but it was unthinkable to deny her what she wanted.

Looking back, I’m surprised I prevailed, but I did, and without even a fight.

Something in my voice must have told her that this was Not A Thing To Mess With.  I got the music I wanted, in a 130-year-old church instead.

And I got one pissed-off mother-in-law, who basically, childishly, pretended I didn’t exist for the rest of her life:

After both my in-laws died, when we were cleaning out the house, I was talking to a neighbor who had been close to them.  Along with praising my MIL for how warm and wonderful she had been to her — “treated me like a daughter” — and if you don’t think that was a twist of the knife, you are much mistaken — she also said, “I’ve never heard a thing about your wedding.  You could have been married in Jamaica for all I knew.”

In the nearly 20 years that I was married to her son, no one put a foot down and said, “Look, she’s here to stay, you need to figure out why you don’t like her and deal with your issues, because they are YOUR issues.  She hasn’t done anything to deserve the way you treat her.”

Well, that isn’t 100% true.  It happened a time or two, with varying degrees of success.  I can remember a meal at our previous house where the four of us actually had a 4-way conversation — the only one I can remember — and it was really very nice.  And it happened once.

Most of the rest of the time, in person or on the phone, his parents spoke to their son, and not to me.

At one point during that visit, we took them to a place they wanted to see.  There were walking paths, so my husband and I went for a walk around the perimeter.  His parents walked for a bit and then sat on a bench.  When we walked back up to them, his mother looked directly at him and asked, “[name], how was your walk?”  She made sure it was clear that she was not asking both of us.  Only her son.

Standing in the bookstore, his dad came up to the two of us and said, “[name], did you ever read The DaVinci Code?”  My husband said, “Yes, we both did.”  That small statement changed the conversation to be among the three of us, not just the two of them.  But his mother was nowhere nearby.

Another episode occurred when she and I were buying tickets for a ferry.  The woman at the window asked my MIL where they were from and why they were visiting.  She replied, “Oh, we’re here visiting our son.”  With me standing a foot away.  I said pointedly, “And his wife.”

I also distinctly remember another meal during that same visit.  After I had cooked it and served it and we all ate it, his dad looked not at me, sitting across from him, but diagonally across the table to his son, and pronounced, “She cooks a good meal, [name], you can keep her.”

At the time this infuriated me.  I considered it belittling, to refer to me as some kind of property, even one “worth keeping” — and was angry as hell that he apparently just couldn’t bring himself to look at me and compliment me directly.

Now I know that he wasn’t allowed to treat me nicely.  If he had looked at me, spoken directly to me, and complimented me, there would have been hell to pay, I am sure, in the form of his wife’s wrath.  But it was OK to speak to me in the bookstore, because she wasn’t there with us.

We once got a phone message on our anniversary.  His father left a message saying, “[Name], this is your father calling to wish you a happy anniversary.”

Never mind that by definition, an anniversary is celebrated between TWO PEOPLE.  Without me, there wouldn’t BE a damned anniversary.

But of course, there was that thing with the wedding and the fact that she didn’t get her way…

(there is in fact whole a list of weirdness and conflict that happened around our wedding and his mother, including that she used the same pattern for her dress as I chose for the bridesmaids.  And she doubled the cost of the dinner without telling me, and then skipped out on paying the bar bill after she said she would.  The best one was when she decided that one usher (her other son) wasn’t quite good enough, and she wanted her other son – the groom! – to leave the altar and come to the back of the church to also escort her to her seat.  I have a fond memory of telling my mother this, to which my mother replied, “If she gets both of hers [sons], I want all four of mine.”)

Over time, his dad started signing cards “Don or Dad” which I took to at least be a tacit admission that I existed at all.  I’m not sure how he got away with it.  I figure he probably signed the card after she did, and put it in the envelope.

Because no one could call her on the carpet about it.  There was way too much history there.  She had an alcoholic mother — she became parentified and had to do her mother’s job.  And from a very young age, she had to be in control.

When it came to the wedding planning, we later joked that I was probably the first person to tell her “no” in 40 years.  (And I figured out why her own daughter flat-out refused to have a big wedding.)

My MIL (and everyone around her) would probably have benefited from some therapy, but she was of a generation and a culture that didn’t do that kind of thing.  You toughed it out.  Maybe you prayed, but you kept it to yourself and god.

And, you ruined relationships — because prayer is a shitty substitute for therapy.  Therapy actually works a lot of the time.

The result of her inability to grow, to work through her own issues, affected three relationships.  Four, actually, if you count theirs.  When she was suffering from dementia later in her life, there was a lot of anger that came out against her father, and was directed against her husband, who was trying like hell to take care of her.  It was so much more difficult for him than it had to be.

And that’s not love.

“There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult (or child, for that matter) has to be responsible for: herself or himself. When you find yourself in any way paying for someone else’s responsibilities, not only are you stuck with a delayed ending, but you are probably harming that person.”  ~~ Dr. Henry Cloud

If not actually harming, then at least you are enabling them not to face reality, denying them a chance to grow as a person.

I can see the same thing happening in my FOO.  My sister doesn’t let her husband contact us.  This controlling behavior spills over into the rest of the family as well.  And it goes without saying that Joe can’t be friends with us, even if he wanted to.

But dictating who another person can be connected with is inappropriate and manipulating.  Make your own choices, sure, but don’t force those choices on another person, no matter how close.  You get to be responsible for you — they get to be responsible for them.

Anything else is just a way of avoiding hard work.

If you have to control others’ interactions, if you can’t deal with letting other people be responsible for themselves, if you have to force others to also pretend that a family member doesn’t actually exist because you can’t deal with them — then you probably need to do some.


After seeing what my FIL went through, I can’t imagine how my brother and my BIL will deal with their wives if they ever develop dementia.  As with my MIL, unresolved issues from early life can be reactivated, but by then it’s too late to deal with them cognitively.

“Relatives and front-­line care staff often notice a history of trauma in the lives of people with dementia. Investigations into the backgrounds of an initial 51 people with dementia identified what appeared to be unusually high levels of childhood loss, particularly the death of fathers…

“When I was considering with the son of one of them the concept that the burying of traumatic memory might constitute a route into dementia, he commented that his father and numerous uncles and aunts had the advantage of being able to complain heartily to each other about their childhood experience whenever they met at family gatherings over the years because their father was profoundly deaf and couldn’t hear what they were saying(!)”

“Having someone to believe and validate one’s traumatic experience is an essential part of the healing process. Siblings may, at least sometimes, be able to help each other keep painful memories within conscious awareness rather than feel obliged to bury them.”

But of course, you’d have to love the other person, really care more about them than you do your own comfort, to go and face your issues and deal with them, after a lifetime of trying to bury them.  Of course my sister and SIL won’t do it for me, as my MIL did not.  But maybe they should do it for their spouses and children.

capture(from “Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s Or Dementia“)

The Importance of Kindness

Some notes from this excellent article, written about married relationships, but with concepts applicable to any relationship.  There are three parts that I found most applicable.


As I read the first, I thought about how I spent years – decades, really – trying to somehow earn a place in my own FOO, and how those attempts almost always started with my sister, and how they were always unsuccessful:

…partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

 The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t—those who turned away—would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

Boy does that feel familiar.

How many of my bids were rejected over the years?
How many suggestions did I make that were rejected?
How many bids to me were never made, as they were to others?

Yet my sister (and apparently others) got upset over the fact that I didn’t make the “right” bids at the last reunion:  “I know that I specifically asked you about your knitting classes, and whether you were doing anything with the house.  In contrast, you did not ask me about ANYTHING — how difficult would it have been for you to say, When does school start for you? or, What are you teaching this year? or, How do you feel about being a grandmother?  It was interesting that the universal post-reunion comment last year was that [you] did not ask anybody anything about what they were doing”

The fact that during the first 12 waking hours of that weekend, I had been deliberately snubbed by her, as well as attacked and yelled at by my youngest brother, of course had no bearing on this at all…

Why would anyone feel like asking someone anything, when they have made it plain that they can’t even be bothered to give you a hug after not seeing you for a year?  Or when the first thing they do when they see you (again after a year) is invite you out for a walk, and then yell at you?

Yet it is expected that I will continue to be interested in THEM, no matter how they treat me.  And the obviousness of the score-keeping is just disturbing.

Of course, not every interaction with every FOO member has been horrible.  There have been good times, with some people.  But the alliances that those people have with the other ones prevent them from being allowed to extend any bids, or accept any that were made.


Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

I wrote about this idea before, with respect to my parents’ relationship.  But it’s also applicable to a scapegoat.  Blaming and criticizing the scapegoat is so important, it’s nearly impossible to admit that they could ever do or be right.


And finally, there is this section:

One of the telltale signs… inability to connect over each other’s good news… being there for each other when things go right is actually more important for relationship quality. How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship… in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive.

Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”

…In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”

Reading this just stopped me in my tracks, because once again — there’s a name for it.  I recognized this behavior long ago, but I didn’t know what to call it.

Years ago, in April 2008, I got an email from my FIL that simply said, “Funny pictures of cats with captions,” and it had a link to a website where I was fortunate enough to fall into a group of the funniest, cleverest, and above all, kindest people I had ever known.  I’ve traveled the world to meet them:  New Zealand, England, and The Netherlands, as well as too many meetings to count in the US.  (This year, we’re going back to England to spend Xmas with a couple of them.)  Many of them have supported me steadfastly through this journey of  jettisoning people who refuse to love me.  They have, in fact, become, in large part, my new family.

In 2010, I was pictured and quoted in the New York Times after attending a Mariner’s baseball game with the site CEO and hundreds of other fans.  Can you guess what my FOO’s reaction was to my fun and awesome news?  Oh yes.  Passive constructive, at best.  I especially remember my sister greeting my news with less than lukewarm interest — which was odd, given that she seemed to appreciate that I would email her a selection of the funniest postings every week.  (Of course, that was of some benefit to her.  Being happy for me about the article was, of course, asking too much.)

But it goes a lot deeper than that.  When my husband and I were planning our trip to New Zealand at the end of 2008, I was hesitant about posting anything about it in the group.  I distinctly remember that being an issue for me.  For weeks I was actively resisting my natural impulse to post about the trip.  Not because of safety:  because, I realized later, I was expecting to receive criticism, jealousy, disinterest — anything but “active constructive” responses.

I was afraid of ruining my new-found friendships with my good news.

How fucked up is THAT?

The reason I know that’s what I was expecting is that I was both shocked and overjoyed when the responses were, instead, overwhelmingly “active constructive.”

My friends were EXCITED for us!  My friends wanted us to post pictures!  No one was jealous of us being able to go on such an exciting, expensive trip.  No one was telling us how crazy we were to be meeting up with an online friend.  Everyone was so positive and happy for us.  Not one negative or jealous thing was posted on the website.

And I was grateful, as well as stunned.

One member in NZ privately contacted me, and offered her help with the planning.  We ended up going to meet her, and we stayed at her house, watched a beautiful sunset off her back deck, met her cat, and spent New Year’s Eve and Day with her.  What a great time.  (She didn’t even get upset when we accidentally backed the RV over a small retaining wall and crushed it.)  We had the World’s Most Not-Northerly Cheezemeet.  She died of breast cancer a few years later and I still miss her.  But I’m so glad we had the chance to meet in person, even if only for a day, and I got to hear her voice, which was beautifully deep and rich, with that wonderful New Zealand accent.

That experience of getting a friendly, kind, “active constructive” response from a bunch of people who at that time were essentially acquaintances was the very beginning of this journey.

That was when I started figuring out that the way my FOO acted towards me was not the same.  They did not act towards me the way that nice, normal people, with no axe to grind or psychological baggage about me, acted towards me.

Side story:  In fact, the one person attached to my FOO who has always treated me similarly is also a person with no baggage about me:  my BIL.  My sister’s husband has always been kind to me, and I was able to recognize this even at the age of 13, when my oldest niece was born, and my siblings and my mother and I all traveled to their home for the baptism.

During this visit, one evening after dinner “the boys” were going to watch a Dirty Harry movie (this was back when VCR’s were a new-fangled thing and watching ANY MOVIE YOU WANTED, or at least any one they had at the video rental place, was incredibly novel).

I wanted to watch too, but my mother didn’t want me to, saying I was “too young to understand it”.  I now think what she really wanted was for me to “help her with” (in other words, “do”) the dishes in the kitchen.

But my BIL stuck up for me, saying I was plenty old enough to watch the movie, and he even let me sit in his recliner with him, and I remember him telling me, “If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask me and I’ll explain it.”  I’ve always remembered that small kindness, probably because it stood out like a fucking beacon from my normal familial interactions.

Getting back to the NZ trip:  in contrast, I know that not one person from my FOO ever asked us about it.  How’s that for scorekeeping?  But you have to understand that this was a huge event for us:  a three-week trip to the other side of the world, further than anyone else had ever gone, except maybe my father during his days in the Coast Guard — as well as it was in celebration of my husband’s earning his first sabbatical.  Lots of milestones.

And I remember that we brought our laptop full of pictures to the next reunion, hoping to share about our wonderful trip, and finding no one cared.

And it’s not that they aren’t capable of doing it.  Now that I know the difference, I know it happens between others in the family.

You would think that all these clues would have added up a whole lot sooner for me, but what this shows is that up until I met my online group, I had very little “normal” to compare and contrast with my lifetime of experience.  In the same way that an abused kid grows up thinking abuse is “normal”, the three negative modes of response were what I was used to, and what I thought was more-or-less “normal” among people who professed to love each other.  I’m so thankful that I found a place to learn otherwise, and real friends who truly love me, and who will hug me tightly whenever and wherever we happen to meet.