Working Backwards

A male friend’s question on Facebook:

“I don’t know how a person gets to the conclusion that understanding others’ emotions is a childish thing one is supposed to grow out of and be less understanding of others… How does anyone think that becoming less understanding of the world is maturing???”

My response:

“Because to a patriarchal mindset, emotions themselves are childish, or at best, effeminate — crying when sad or throwing a tantrum when angry are things that babies and children do, and they equate the outward show of emotion with having the emotion itself. Adults don’t do those things (unless they are manipulative women who cry to get their way). “Real men don’t get mad (e.g. throw a fit), they get even.”

“And empathizing with adults who are acting childishly makes you also childish.

“Seriously, this is what all my siblings think of me being upset about my SIL being so rude to me when my dad died. I was “over-reacting” and just need to “get over it”. Being “too emotional” was another accusation. My husband later observed that this was because I cried openly and without shame, and they just couldn’t handle me grieving like that.

“Oh, and as for “how they get to that conclusion” — it’s easy. You work backwards.

“In this case, you start with the incontrovertible “conclusion” that you are morally superior to the person whose behavior you don’t like. Then you find a way to “logically” support that “conclusion”. He does it by heaping scorn on her for being empathetic.

“In other cases, such as mine, you start with whoever you know is supposed to be at fault — I am the youngest and the scapegoat and cannot possibly be in the right over an older sibling’s wife — and then you find “reasons” why. So instead of asking, “Who was really wronged here?” they ask, “What has she done that we can say is the reason she’s at fault?”

“It doesn’t actually have to make sense — to borrow words from Terry Pratchett, it just has to have the “right shape”. If it kind of “sounds good” it will be accepted by everyone who also wants to reach that same conclusion.

“I don’t say it’s a healthy way to operate but I’m very very familiar with it. It sure must be comfortable. No chance of running into anything that would cause you to do any soul-searching.”

Old Home is Good Bread

It’s funny what can trigger a memory.  A friend on FB today posted a few lyrics from the song “Convoy”, and I was immediately taken back 40 years.

Listen, you wanna put that Microbus in behind that suicide jockey? Yeah, he’s haulin’ dynamite, and he needs all the help he can get.

The singer of “Convoy”, C. W. McCall, is a man named Bill Fries in real life.  He did commercials for Old Home bread, which is what actually launched his recording career.  (I also found out today that they must have licensed the concept out — another friend saw slightly altered versions as commercials for “Kern’s Bread” in Kentucky.)

Old Home was a brand name for Metz Baking Company, which is where my dad worked.  It was around 1974, so I was only 5 or so, but I can remember Dad and us younger kids going to watch a commercial being filmed once.  It was summer, and hot, so we were out of school.  I think I already had my glasses, so it was probably the summer after kindergarten for me.

My memories are bolstered by later seeing the pictures we had in the photo album:  we got to sit in the cab of the truck, and we met C.W. McCall and Mavis, and the mother, and the dog Sloan.

I do remember I got a really nice, warm, cushy hug from the mother, and she held me on her lap for a while.  I’m guessing I remember that because it was a rare thing for me to get such physical affection from a motherly figure.

I can also remember that Sloan the dog was supposed to eat a whole package of buns and try as they might, he wouldn’t finish the whole thing.  After two or three packages of buns it became clear that this was a losing battle, as the dog was getting more full with each attempt.

You can view all 12 original commercials here.  None of these spots seem to exactly fit what I remember.  There isn’t one that has the mother AND the dog at the cafe.  #10 is the closest one – at least the dog is eating a bun – but I don’t remember the poodle being there, and the mother isn’t in it.

But they could have been shooting footage for more than one commercial.  I think the cafe itself was real — or at least the disused building was real — and out in the middle of nowhere.  I also read one comment on youtube that said the two main actors were from Dallas.  So it would make sense to film as much as possible in one day, for later use.  By commercial #10 it was clear that the series was a winner, so the whole story arc would probably have been fleshed out by then, and they would have had an idea what scenes they would be needing.

Just a funny little part of my childhood with my dad.  Part of my reality, my history.  This was my Dad being a parent as well as an executive, taking his kids along to something fun because he had the chance to, like any normal parent would do.  Giving Mom a break, a day away from the kids, even.

The Triumvirate version says Dad was “brainwashing” us younger kids with fun things, so we would take his side in The Divorce.

It takes a special kind of bitter vitriol to twist normal parenting into a brainwashing campaign, but you can’t say it’s not creative.

Blame Shifting

Notes from here

…People will blame anyone or anything for their misery sooner than take the responsibility to own it and make it better… The result? More people with more misery, but always with someone or something else to blame it on. 

While blame may ease some of the anxiety, guilt, fear or sense of responsibility, it does nothing to solve the problem

You probably know or have known people who always have an excuse, never taking ownership for what they could do to make their situation better… Often, within the first five minutes of talking with someone, we can tell that solving his or her problem is going to be a long, uphill battle. Not because the particular problem itself is unsolvable or the condition untreatable, but because the most important factor required for overcoming it is missing: the ability to take responsibility for one’s own life.

On the other hand, when someone does have that one ingredient – the ability to take responsibility – we have more than just a vague hope for him or her. We know that this person will get better. It borders on absolute certainty.

Another New Phrase – Disenfranchised Grief

Notes from here

“Disenfranchised grief” is when your heart is grieving but you can’t talk about or share your pain with others because it is considered unacceptable to others. It’s when you’re sad and miserable and the world doesn’t think you should be, either because you’re not “entitled” or because it isn’t “worth it.”

Your relationship was real, but the family (or members of society) would not or does not approve.

Slight twist on this one.  My side of the relationship to my siblings was real.  I tried for decades to fit, to be accepted, to do the things they wanted me to do.
It was when I needed them to do something for me, in return, that it all fell apart.  And I realized how one-sided the relationship had been, and that I had never really been accepted as a real member of the club (at least not by my sister, who now runs the show).

I am grieving something that I wanted so badly, but which did not really exist.

You aren’t grieving how people expect.

This can happen when the way you are acting in your grief is unsettling or confusing to someone else. If you are “too upset” (Dad’s death) or “not upset enough” (Mom’s death)…

If you’re experiencing any of the above (or something similar), you need to know that you are entitled to your grief. Nobody has the right to take away your grief, and it is their failing — not yours — that makes your grief “unacceptable.”

Disenfranchised grief happens because your love and care for the object of your grief isn’t recognized

And in certain situations you may be right — not the part about it being your fault (because it isn’t!) — but because there are certain situations where people try to turn their own pain and anguish outward at the nearest convenient target. Or they’re just super-judgmental people.

In any event, it is not your fault — it’s not like any of us can control who or what we care about — and you have a right to your grief, your style of grief or your reason for grief for one reason: because you are grieving.

It is also your right to be comforted, affirmed and validated.

It’s especially painful when… you are the only one in the family experiencing the deep loss.

“What’s Happened To You”

La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la
Everybody
La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la

What’s happened to you
You used to be so shy
You used to hang your head down
You wouldn’t look in my eyes

Did you see some great vision
Did you finally break through
Did you shake the foundations
What’s happened to you

La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la

What’s happened to you
You used to look so tired
Now there’s a spring in your step
And your words are on fire

Did you hear some great secret
Did the words ring of truth
Did you rise from the ashes
What’s happened to you

Where the four winds meet
The world is so still
The waves are not pounding
And the hungry are filled

Our shadows have crossed here
Where the sun touched the ground
The gathered are singing
What a beautiful sound

They’re singing
La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la
Everybody sing
La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la

What’s happened to you
You used to be so unkind
You used to curse at this poor world
So what changed your mind

What stirred such compassion
Is a mystery to me
I don’t know what happened
Oh but I like what I see

Where the four winds meet
The world is so still
The waves are not pounding
And the hungry are filled

Our shadows have crossed here
Where the sun touched the ground
The gathered are singing
What a beautiful sound

They’re singing
La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la
Everybody
La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la
Everybody
La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la
Oh, sing out
La la la la la la la la la la
La la la la la la la la la la

I Dare You

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe

P.S.  I met Matt Inman once.  I was smart enough to bring a decent pen and some nice paper, and I have a few original drawings as a result of that foresight.  One went to my online friend Becky, who loves Inman but couldn’t attend the event.  A couple went to the son of one of my other friends.  This is the one I kept for myself.  Thanks, Matt, for all your great work.

Tattletale

This morning at about 5:30 am, the cat woke me up because his timed feeder failed to open.  So I took care of that and then went back to bed. At which point a memory surfaced.

I felt an ache in my left leg, and the term “charley horse” came to my mind.  What followed that was an immediate association with my two youngest brothers.

And from there came this forgotten memory, of going to my mother, possibly crying, because one of my brothers had given me a “charley horse” when we were “playing”.  There could have been a trick played on me, as in, “Do you want a charley horse?” when I didn’t know what one was, so I would say yes.

So if my mother was in the house, I would have been younger than 6.  My gut feeling is that I was around 4, which would put my brothers at 7 and 11.  And my sense is that this happened in the afternoon, maybe after school for them.  I want to say that it happened outside, and I don’t remember a coat, so it was probably warm weather.

Anyway, I went looking for my mother and found her, lying in bed, and my view is that of being about level with her back, which was turned towards me as she lay on her side.  I can see her aqua colored housecoat.  She doesn’t turn over to look at me, let alone hug me or show concern.  She doesn’t even move.

And when I complain to her uncaring back about the physical harm my bigger, older, stronger brother did to me, what I was told may not have been in these exact words — but the meaning I clearly get, the words in my head now are,

“No one likes a tattletale.”

This is how my mother apparently dealt with me being deliberately physically harmed, at the age of around 4 or 5.

It puts the blame on me for having bothered her with my problem, my pain and distress.

It makes it clear that she isn’t going to do anything about it.

It contains the threat that “people aren’t going to like you” (which she continued to use on me throughout high school).

I now know that what was meant in all those cases — what she was really saying, but couldn’t say aloud — was I don’t like you.”

And finally, it fits the familiar pattern:  I ask for help of some kind, and I get told in no uncertain terms that I’m not going to get what I ask for.

(Of course, you mustn’t think that this shows my mother being NEGLECTFUL.  I have it on good authority that she’d have had to be going to a BAR and leaving the kids in the CAR, for it to be NEGLECT.)


So.  My recourse at that age is going to be one of two things:

  • go and tell Dad, and try to get some help – although I am certain he wasn’t home, or I would have gone to him in the first place;
  • or, with the threat of not being liked hanging over my head, which maybe also prevents me from going to Dad, because of the fear of losing the one person I can trust and count on in the entire world — (and thus exposing her complete lack of care and concern to him, the one person she has most to fear from if she is found out) — I can retreat and stay away from my brothers.

This works for the narcissist on quite a few levels.  They like to keep their audience from communicating with each other — it makes it so much easier for them not to be found out.

My mother’s reaction makes me wonder if there is also an association with the incident at my kindergarten Open House, in the fall of ’74, when I became the “big mouth” — blamed by my mother for having spoken truthfully about my family when I was asked.

If she decided that I was to blame then for speaking the truth, it is not a stretch from there to being called a “tattletale” for speaking up about physical abuse from my brothers.


There were other incidents of physical harm that revolve around them.

Once I was playing with my brothers in the back yard, and for whatever reason was running behind the garage.  I tripped (or was tripped?) and fell on some glass from a broken window.  My wrist was slashed open vertically — the way you’re supposed to do it if you’re serious about bleeding out — and I ended up with 9 stitches and three still-visible scars.

Another time, my second-youngest brother was cleaning a BB gun in the basement, on a big old metal desk we had down there.  I think all three of us younger kids were there.  I was drawing or writing on one end of the desk, and my brother was cleaning the gun at the other end — with it pointed at me.  At some point the gun went off, and I have a middle finger that I still can’t feel the tip of.  My brother claimed he thought it was unloaded, and that it went off when he opened it.  I have my doubts that that is how a BB gun works.

My youngest brother had a definite streak of cruelty.  After the divorce, when we had babysitters in the summer months, we had one who had a 5YO daughter whom she brought with her every day (with red hair, too).  I had no interest in playing with her, so I must have been several years older than 5; the divorce was finalized when I was 7.5 so I had to be older than 8, which puts my brother at older than 11.  Certainly old enough to know that you aren’t supposed to deliberately hurt other people.

He concocted this “game” where he would call her by name, and she would come running into the living room, and then he would hit her with a pillow hard enough to knock her down.

After a while she got smart enough to not respond to his call, so he invited me into the game and got ME to call her name, in order to prolong his fun.  I think I only did it once or twice and then refused to “play” any more.  That poor little girl was crying and she went to tell her mother, but I don’t think she was able to explain what was happening and besides, I am sure my brother said we were just playing with the pillows and she fell down, or something.

Funnily enough, once I stopped trying to play with my older brothers, I can’t remember any similar incidents that involved physical injury.

I’m sure this will be called paranoia by those who have a vested interest in making sure it is seen that way.

Or is it the willful inflicting of pain on another person — one who is already known to be the scapegoat, at least when Mom is home — by a couple of boys who are in pain themselves, and don’t have any other way to express it?  Because of course boys don’t get sad and cry.  Boys get angry, and then physically violent.  And the scapegoat gets the brunt of it.

Happiness is Choice

Notes from here

“…most of us grew up in a culture that places great value on “fairness” and “playing by the rules.”  There’s just one problem with this noble ideal: the world simply doesn’t work that way.

…If someone assaults you, steals from you, or cheats on you, you have every right to feel upset or angry—so, too, if you have suffered verbal or emotional abuse… You will almost certainly need time to grieve… And, depending on how [someone] has behaved, you may also need time to work through feelings of anger, betrayal, and the downright “unfairness” of it all… but past a certain point, they may do you more harm than good.

“…we need to accept the world for what it is. The Thai Buddhist Master, Ajahn Chah, put the idea this way: “If you want the duck to be a chicken and the chicken to be a duck, you are really going to suffer!” Indeed, part of accepting life for what it is means accepting—not liking!—that there are many “bad actors” out there who sometimes try to hurt us.  [but boy does it suck when these people turn out to be part of your family, which we are told we can always count on, blood is thicker than water, etc, etc]

are the Stoics saying we should simply “turn the other cheek” and put up with injustice or shabby treatment at the hands of abusers? Certainly not!”

“Seek refuge in yourself. The knowledge of having acted justly is all your reasoning inner self needs to be fully content and at peace with itself.”

Radical Acceptance

Notes from here

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.  (Deuteronomy 30:19)

“…If you were a more sensitive soul, you may have been injured by the numerous selfish people that you met along the way; and they are everywhere (welcome to the human condition). Some of these wounds can last a lifetime, leaving you feeling stupid, unwanted, second best and so on…”

“…We must accept what happens to us. That doesn’t mean that we like it or that it is fair. Life is not fair… We all want to rage at the world, or crawl into a depressed spot when we feel the injustice and randomness of our pain.

“Or perhaps you were traumatized by an accident, an illness, a corrupt business deal, a rapist, the death of a child, Mother Nature. All this happens in this world and it may happen to any of us… When injured by others or by circumstance, I encourage you to feel it all; the outrage, the hurt…  This is grief work and it is a necessary part of healing… Grief brings you through pain to disbelief, to anger, to “only ifs” to profound sadness, to loss – and then to acceptance. It gets triggered again and again, like tsunamis of anguish that take you over when you least expect it. But, over time grief does get worked through. The wound heals, even if imperfectly. We are left with acceptance…

“You can stay mired in your sense of injustice and self righteousness. You can develop an entire personality around your victimhood. But what purpose does it provide?… Very often, it was an injured soul or group that hurt you in the first place. A cycle of victims and oppressors does our species little good.

We must accept. Not in the classic Buddhist sense of non attachment. We should be attached. A wrong is a wrong; and it needs to be righted if possible. But we must start with the understanding that what happened to us is part of the quixotic human condition… Radically accept your [relatives’] stupid (but human) mistake. It cost you. No question. You are angry and perhaps have a chip on your shoulder… This kind of acceptance is the end stage of healthy grief…

“To accept means to see things clearly. It reinforces the notion not to give a second chance to someone who doesn’t deserve it…”

© Mark R Banschick, MD

Second Chances

Another good post from Dr. Cloud:

“…the reality is, if we are going to give someone a second chance, change needs to happen.  A second chance is the opportunity to move forward to something newThere must be something new and different in order to move forward than move backward. Only when everything is the same, you are repeating what already has been, and there is no reason for the outcome to be different… you must be able to see tangible fruit to know change is real.

Dr. Cloud also mentions, “Remember that just because someone is sorry, it doesn’t mean they have changed.”

So there’s that missing – sincere apologies – even before any change can occur.  And it’s clear that a sincere “I’m sorry” is too much for me to hope for.  My siblings are simply too proud and arrogant to take responsibility for their actions towards me, to admit they were wrong in how they’ve treated me.

For the protagonist, that is something that should be automatic, when someone you love says that you hurt them.

And for everyone else, there should be anger on behalf of the person you love, when someone else hurts them:

“When confronted with injustice, cruelty and harm, a lack of anger is a sign that you are subconsciously failing to love those who are suffering from that injustice, cruelty and harm. If you love them, then you ought to be angry — and that anger ought to compel you to act on their behalf.”

You got kids?  If not, how about a kid sister or a kid brother?  No?  Then how about a dog, you got a dog?  Or a cat?  A spouse?  Everybody loves someone or something.  I’m going to go with kids here, but if you don’t have kids, just think of your little sister or your cat or whoever it is you love.

Say you see somebody hurting your kids — deliberately, cruelly inflicting harm on them.  That will make you angry.  Such anger is right and proper and just.  You will be angry because you love your kids, and that anger and that love will compel you to act on their behalf — to stop this cruel somebody from harming them.

Now, if you saw this happening and you did not get angry or try to put a stop to this cruelty, what do you suppose the rest of us would think?  We wouldn’t be congratulating you on your saintly calm demeanor.  Nor would we be admiring you as an exemplar of Christian civility.

No, we would be angry with you over your lack of anger.  Then, after we acted in your stead to stop the harm being done… that anger would compel us to confront you with your evident lack of love…

Well.  What part is missing?  The part where I say that I was hurt?  No, that’s been amply communicated.

What’s missing is the concern for the person who got hurt and the anger over it.  In other words, what’s missing is love for their little sister.

I won’t pretend that line up above doesn’t sting to read:  “just think of your little sister or your cat or whoever it is you love.

It’s used by the author because a little sister is such a ubiquitous example of someone that normal, healthy people love and want to protect.

It’s been very hard to accept that my siblings don’t really love me.  Especially after all the time and effort and money I spent doing what one is supposed to do for “family”, trying to earn what should have been freely and automatically given.

But it’s clear as day that they don’t.  It’s sad that they don’t; it’s dysfunctional, it’s even explicable, given the whole sordid history — but the one thing above all is that it’s true.

It all started to come out when Dad died.  Of course, that lack of action aka love all got explained away pretty quickly by people saying that they didn’t do anything wrong and hoping I’d just forget about what happened.

But, that’s not how HEALTHY human relationships work.

“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

“…if someone tells you that you’ve hurt them, the least you owe them is your respect and acknowledgment of their pain. The worst thing that you can do is… make them feel like they’re the one who did something wrong, or tell them that you didn’t actually hurt them. You don’t know their feelings. If they’re telling you that you hurt them, then you hurt them. Accept this and apologize.”

That’s how you start fixing what’s broken.  But they aren’t interested in a second chance.  They aren’t interested in reparations — partly because what’s broken is them.  They don’t miss this relationship enough to do anything about it.  They simply don’t love me.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say they love their relationships with each other, their dysfunctional ideas, and their father-hating identity, more than they love me.

It ends up looking the same from here, anyway.  And I’m still better off without it, than with it, if there’s no real change possible in their hearts.