Missing Stairs

The metaphor of the Missing Stair came from The Pervocracy.  It’s a very useful metaphor for a toxic person.

The basic idea is this:

“Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it?  Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it?  “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there’s a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings.  But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”

“Some people are like that missing stair…  Like something you’re so used to working around, you never stop to ask “what if we actually fixed this?”  Eventually you take it for granted that working around this person is just a fact of life, and if they hurt someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.

“…Just about every workplace has that one person who doesn’t do their job, but everyone’s grown accustomed to picking up their slack.  A lot of social groups and families have that one person.  The person whose tip you quietly add a couple bucks to.  (Maybe more than a couple, after how they talked to the server.)  The person you don’t bother arguing with when they get off on one of their rants.  The person you try really, really hard not to make angry, because they’re perfectly nice so long as no one makes them angry.

“I know not all these people can be fixed, and sometimes they can’t be escaped either.  But the least you can do is recognize them, and that they are the problem.  Stop thinking that your inability to accommodate them is the problem.”


You know Racist Christmas Uncle? He’s a Missing Stair. It’s a person with whom you have to socialise who damages other people. They make racist/sexist/homophobic statements, or inappropriately sexual comments. They tell rape jokes. They talk about your weight, and whether you should really be eating that. A Missing Stair enjoys upsetting people to some degree, even if they’re not deliberately baiting you.

The Missing Stair is someone you can’t just avoid. They’re a relative, or a co-worker. They’re the partner of a friend, or a friend of your partner. They belong to the Group that does your Thing: gaming, or wine club, or whatever else normal people do…

This isn’t just a person who’s a bit socially awkward. You know you have a Missing Stair when the thought of going to a social event you know they’re going to be at makes you feel sick. You really know you have a Missing Stair when you complain about their behaviour to a mutual friend and they say, “Oh come on, you know what he’s like. Don’t let him get to you.”

Because that’s the thing about the Missing Stair: everyone knows what they’re like. If you quietly say, “I don’t know, one of the guys there, he kind of creeps me out,” everyone knows who you mean. Everyone knows the stair is missing. Nobody fixes it. Everyone is expected to work around the Missing Stair. 

People will not handle you being rude to the Missing Stair. The Missing Stair has a free licence to be a jerk, that’s just the way they are, but you are socially obliged to not make a scene. The Missing Stair can tell you you’re raising your children wrong with no sanction at all. Yet if at any point you call them a fucking moron, somehow you’re the one starting a fight. You can be told you must support the Missing Stair because they are family, or a friend – as if you somehow magically aren’t.

If you ever do manage to get a Missing Stair out of your life – by moving city, for instance, or through a death – that’s when you really start to realise just how much energy you were putting into constantly working around it. The relief is amazing. I have, a couple of times, been rude enough to deal to a Missing Stair, and having other people come up and thank you afterwards is little compensation for the stress and adrenalized sickness of the confrontation they totally failed to back you during.


Talented and Gifted

Holy cow, do I identify with this article.  Even more the comments under it.

“…highly gifted children have an awareness and understanding of mortality at a much younger age than might be expected (some suggest that you can use the age at which a child understands mortality as a crude tool to approximate intelligence). Imagine then, for a moment, what it must be like for a child young enough to lack any significant autonomy and who relies on their parents for literally everything to understand that their parents are going to die in a way similar to how an adult might, but with the emotions of a young child. This can be an example of the asynchronous development experienced by many gifted children.”

Imaginary Friends

Why do kids create imaginary friends?
According to Kimberly Eckert, a registered psychologist in Calgary, children often create playmates just to engage in imaginative play (the way another child might play with action figures), but sometimes they do so when bored or lonely. An imaginary friend can also be used as a form of self-soothing during a big transition, such as adjusting to a new home or sibling.


According to Marjorie Taylor and her colleagues at the University of Oregon, by age seven, about 37% of children take imaginative play a step farther and create an invisible friend.

It seems logical that children who invent invisible friends might be lonely or have social problems, but research doesn’t support those assumptions. In fact, compared to those who don’t create them, children with imaginary companions (either invisible friends or personified objects) tend to be less shy, engage in more laughing and smiling with peers, and do better at tasks involving imagining how someone else might think.

Oldest children, only children, and children who don’t watch much television are more likely to create an imaginary friend. This probably reflects opportunity. Children need unstructured time alone to be able to invent imaginary friends.

Having an imaginary friend is not evidence that a child is troubled. However, imaginary friends can be a source of comfort when a child is experiencing difficulties. There are many case studies of children inventing imaginary friends to help them cope with traumatic experiences.


Imaginary friends used to be a cause for concern, but research is finding that kids with elaborate tales of friends who aren’t really there are getting ahead in learning and social development. So what makes children who dream up pretend playmates so advanced?

In the days of Dr. Spock, imaginary friends were seen as a symptom of social problems. If your child was spending her time talking to thin air, prevailing wisdom said she probably needed more attention and company. Seen as a way to deal with loneliness, stress, or conflict, imaginary friends had a bad rep for most of the 20th century.

But the tables have turned, with psychologists touting pretend friends as boosters for language and social skills. Last year a study from La Trobe University in Melbourne found that three to six-year-olds with imaginary friends were more creative and socially advanced. Earlier studies had shown that kids with imaginary pals use more complex sentence structure, have richer vocabularies, and get along better with classmates.


Imaginary companions are much more common than people might think. Up to two-thirds of children have them, typically between the ages of 3 and 8 (although there are accounts of teenagers who retain them from childhood or who first develop them as teens).

Historically, many researchers and parents thought that imaginary companions were harmful or evil, and were a sign of a social deficit, demonic possession, or mental illness.

Small, statistically significant differences between kids with and without imaginary companions do arise, however, and they tend to be positive, says Taylor. For example, children with these pretend pals tend to have a slightly larger vocabulary, are less shy, and are good at understanding the perspective of others.


The way researchers used to view imaginary friends has undergone a nearly complete reversal since the early 1990s. Until then, the consensus among child psychologists was that children with imaginary friends were troubled introverts who, the more they indulged their fantasies, were more likely to need professional help.

As a result of this work, a new profile of children with imaginary companions has emerged: They are more socially skilled, they perform better on tests of verbal skills and, perhaps not surprisingly, they are more creative than children who do not have imaginary friends. What’s more, these benefits do not end in childhood.

Take all the most creative people you know, says Jonathan Plucker, a creativity researcher at the University of Connecticut who is researching how people, especially students, communicate their creativity to others. It doesn’t matter if they are artists or engineers or entrepreneurs. Now look for common denominators among them. What you are most likely to find if you do some digging is that they had an imaginary friend in childhood.

“It pops up almost whenever it’s asked. Creative people say, ‘Oh yeah, that was me,’” Plucker says.

Today, they can say it with pride, not fear of stigma.

“They thought these children were weird,” says Taylor, head of the Imagination Research Lab at the University of Oregon. “Maybe smart, but socially troubled or shy or whatever. And all that is completely wrong.”

In was not until the 1990s that a new view emerged: that children with imaginary friends were actually exploring a form of play with a high degree of creativity.

In a study published in the Creativity Research Journal in 2005, researchers found that children who had imaginary companions were more creative than their imaginary-friendless peers.

And in 2010, Evan Kidd, a researcher at Australian National University, and colleagues found that adults who had imaginary friends as children scored higher on creativity tests than those who did not.


Children who have imaginary friends are not typically loners. They don’t have issues with making or keeping friends. Parents should see imaginary friends not as a replacement for real friends, but as a sign of a child’s resourcefulness. A child with an imaginary friend is a child who has found a way to cope with feelings and problems.

Children have two different ways of relating to imaginary friends. Children may have hierarchical relationships or egalitarian relationships with their imaginary friends. In a hierarchical relationship, one friend in the relationship is dominant, more powerful. In the egalitarian relationship, the imaginary friend and the child are on equal footing.

In the hierarchical relationship, an imaginary friend may boss the child around or direct him to a good hiding place. In other cases, the imaginary friend is under the child’s command, and must serve the child’s wishes. Imagine what a comfort this is to a child who is bossed around by her peers in real life! Finally, she gets to tell someone else what to do and get that friend to obey.

Children aged 3-6 with imaginary friends, are, in general, both more creative and more advanced in their social skills. They have larger vocabularies, use more complex sentence structures, and get along better with their real life friends.

We can use that imagination to think about the future or to solve problems. For children, an imaginary friend can be a guide or a comfort or a way to understand things. The imaginary friend is there by command when the child is bored or lonely, and has no one to play with. An imaginary friend can soften  a difficult or stress-filled time, for instance, when the child is adjusting to a new baby brother or even a new home.

One of the great things about imaginary friends is that they are always available. Big sister doesn’t want to play? Imaginary friend to the rescue.

The imaginary friend is forgiving. Children can yell at imaginary friends. They’ll still be your (imaginary) friends.

A child wants to imagine the sky to be green and the grass blue? The imaginary friend is right there with the child to imagine it and “live” it, and most of all, laugh about it. No one has to know about the color switch, which makes it safe. No one will laugh at the child for being creative at play.


I can remember one morning at breakfast telling my mom and my two older brothers about a dream I had the night before.  Since Mom was still in the house I must have been around 4 or 5YO, 6 at most.  In the dream there was a giant green pig with no legs running down the street.  I think it was the older brother who scoffed and said, “How could a pig with no legs be running?”

Of course my mother didn’t defend me, or chastise my brothers for laughing at me.  Narcissists don’t build family ties.  They prefer to divide and conquer.

After that, I stopped talking about my dreams because it felt so bad to be made fun of and laughed at.  Because of that incident, I also stopped talking about any scary dreams I had — instead of getting comforted by my family, I figured I’d just have to deal with them myself.

In fact, I tried to stop dreaming at all.  I changed my before-bedtime prayers to include these words:

“God, please don’t let me dream about anything stupid or scary or silly.”

I still don’t often remember my dreams.

Needless to say, I had an imaginary friend as a kid, and I got made fun of for that, too.


A list of some of the many things imaginary friends can do:

  • Provide companionship
  • Give the child a chance to try different ways of doing things
  • Allow the child to play in a more creative way
  • Offer a safe place to practice people skills
  • Permit children to test out strong emotions like anger and fear, in safety and in private
  • Let the child be the one in charge, the boss, when the child may be feeling powerless or vulnerable in real life
  • Empower the child to experience a rich internal private life that is safe from others’ eyes
  • Grant comfort when a child is stressed out by being there with unconditional (if imagined) love and acceptance

    http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/05/parents-relax-imaginary-friends-are-a-totally-normal-part-of-being-a-kid.html

In other words, for concerned parents who might want to see it spelled out: An imaginary friend is nothing to worry about. First of all, they’re incredibly common — by some estimates, 65 percent of kids have had an imaginary friend by age 7. And kids know they aren’t real; researchers today believe these made-up companions aren’t an indication of loneliness or a deficit of social skills so much as they are a normal way for kids to exercise their imaginations.

And past research has shown that kids who create imaginary friends may even enjoy some cognitive and emotional benefits. “In a lot of ways they’re really similar, but when we do find differences, they tend to show an advantage for kids who have imaginary friends,” says University of Oregon psychologist Marjorie Taylor, the author of Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them. “They’re sociable kids, they’re less shy than other children. There are some studies that show they have enhanced social understanding — they’re better able to take the perspective of someone else in real life.” (It bears noting that these links are correlations, not causations — scientists don’t know if kids who already have these traits are then more likely to create imaginary friends, or if the act of having an imaginary friend in turn spurs the development of certain skills.)

It Takes New Words

Notes from here

“I believe time heals almost no wounds,” said Dunn. “What heals a wound is good treatment. That doesn’t come from sitting there, waiting. … People 15 years later can recite with incredible accuracy the words that wounded them. The only way is to replace them with new words.”

No two people view any event exactly the same, even within a family. Coleman called this a “separate-reality phenomenon.” Differences in perspective depend on things like position in the family, age and relationships with parents or siblings. A parent might view an interaction as “conscientious,” while the child sees intrusion and control. “It helps to recognize we see our own lives typically from our own narrow perspectives,” he said.

Repairing relationships starts with listening.Take your adult [sibling]’s complaint seriously and listen for what’s true. You don’t have to agree with all of it. But be empathic; try not to be defensive or offensive or blame and criticize,” said Coleman.

Sometimes it’s not clear why family members don’t get along or are overlooked, which may make a situation harder to address. Julie Connor said at her family’s gatherings, certain individuals were sometimes left out of conversations and activities. She once asked why an uncle was ignored. Her mother said she didn’t know.

Charles Randall Paul, president of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, believes techniques that bring warring nations and religious rivals together can help families with seemingly unresolvable conflicts — including religious, philosophical or lifestyle differences where people “believe they cannot with integrity compromise.

“You can have a respectful and even friendly relationship with someone who is your opponent, your rival. So many think incorrectly that disagreement means it would be impossible or wasteful to engage that person,” he said.

Paul admires noted family therapist John Gottman’s ability to watch muted videos of couples and predict by looking at certain facial muscle movements whether couples were treating each other with contempt or respect. “Contempt is the death knell for any human relationship,” Paul said. “If they feel you disagree with them, that’s a different matter — especially if they feel you love and respect them.”

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 [referring to the author of the article that was the subject of the OP] 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