More Narcissism Notes

Notes from here.

“…the clinical definition of narcissistic personality disorder.”

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • An unwarranted belief in your own superiority.
  • A preoccupation with fantasies of your own success, power and brilliance.
  • A craving for constant admiration.
  • A consuming sense of entitlement.
  • An expectation of special favors and unquestioning compliance.
  • A penchant for exploiting or disparaging others.
  • A total inability to recognize the needs of anyone else.
  • An incapacity to see those you meet as separate human beings.
  • An unreasoning fury at people you perceive as thwarting your wishes or desires.
  • A tendency to act on impulse.
  • A superficial charm deployed to disguise a gift for manipulation.
  • A need to always be right.
  • A refusal to acknowledge error.
  • An inability to tolerate criticism or critics.
  • A compulsion to conform your ever – shifting sense of “reality” to satisfy your inner requirements.
  • A tendency to lie so frequently and routinely that objective truth loses all meaning.
  • A belief that you are above the rules.
  • An array of inconsistent statements and behaviors driven by your needs in the moment.
  • An inability to assess the consequences of your actions in new or complex situations.

There’s A Name For It

In the 4 years or so that I have been working on this family’s problem — researching, learning about relationships and what can go wrong with them, trying to find the truth of things or at least exposing the biases — I have often had the experience of coming across a new word or phrase that perfectly describes something that happened in my FOO.  And every time, I think, “There it is.  It has a name.

Names are important.  Their existence shows that these things do happen, and they happen regularly, and they happen to other people, other families, as well as ours.

We are not “special”.  Our family’s story is not some weird anomaly that can’t possibly be understood by anyone else — it is in fact very well understood, and it is pathological.  It is not some unique form of “normal” that can only be understood, in Joe’s words, by someone who knows the “history of the family and personalities involved”.

If the story that’s being told can’t stand up to impartial, outside scrutiny, it’s not normal.  (But abused children often think abuse is “normal”, because abuse is all they know.)

Not only do these things happen — they are known to have harmful, lasting effects.  I am speaking of narcissism and NPD, parentification, parental alienation, blame-shifting, invalidation, scapegoating — just to name a few of my new words.  Narcissism and blame-shifting are known to be damaging to relationships.  Scapegoats are known to be the ones who seek out the truth.  Parental alienation is destructive to a child who naturally wants to love both parents.  Invalidation disrespects and destroys a person and a relationship.

Parentification often happens to the oldest child – especially if they are the same sex as the parent who is abdicating their proper role – and “The adultified child takes on responsibilities in the hope that it will hold the family together by keeping mom and dad around.

My siblings manage to ignore all this information, or explain it away somehow.  I don’t know how most of them do it;  there is one brother who simply insists that I am wrong about practically everything I write.

Which leads me to another term I learned in all of this:  “cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who… is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values,” and that one of the four methods of dissonance reduction, and probably the simplest, is to “Ignore or deny any information that conflicts with existing beliefs.”

Ta-da.  There it is.  It has a name.

Anyway, the point is, I’ve learned about a lot of concepts that definitely do exist, that are studied and well understood, and that explain most, if not all, of what happened in my FOO.

Up until now, though, I never had a word for what happened to me the morning after my father died, when Joe and Susan attacked me for daring to complain about Susan’s inappropriate behavior the night before — other than that I found out it is called a narcissistic rage attack, which explains what they did, but not what I experienced as a result.

Neither of my therapists diagnosed me with anything very specific.  “Therapeutic services” was the billing code the second, better and more experienced one, used.

Adjustment disorder” was the billing code used by the first one — who I went to for grief counseling, and who I think was not familiar with NPD, and the complicated family problems I presented as a result.

“Adjustment disorder is a group of symptoms… that can occur after you go through a stressful life event… Your reaction is stronger than expected for the type of event that occurred.”

I still remember how she was as mystified as I was, the day she exclaimed, “But you’re not even allowed to defend yourself!”  Knowing what I know now, it is clear that what I was going through was more than just normal grief over the loss of my parents — and to someone who did not understand NPD and its effects on others, of course it would appear that my reaction was stronger than expected.

It is obvious that the initial experience was traumatic.  There was, of course, the death of the only real, caring parent I had.  Then being yelled at, at the top of their lungs, inches from my face, less than 12 hours after the death of my father, by two members of what was supposed to be a family, who all claimed before the fact that they were going to be supportive, especially of me – pretty damned traumatizing, I should think.

And then the aftermath, where they lied to everyone else, blamed me, threw me under the bus, and no one thought twice about what might have really happened – also pretty damned traumatizing.

And finally, that last reunion – when I was physically ignored, yelled at again, and began to understand just how the rest of the family actually viewed the whole incident.  Up until then, I had thought that they knew what really happened, but chose to simply sweep it under the rug for Joe & Susan’s benefit.  (That would have been bad and unhealthy, sure — but it would also have been “normal” in the context of our family and the ever-present hierarchy of age.)

I didn’t realize until then that Joe and Susan had lied about what happened, and that they all believed those lies:  they believed that I had started it, deliberately picked a fight, that I was entirely to blame for it, and that they in fact believed they were being rather magnanimous in not holding my supposed behavior against me!  Rather traumatizing to not only have the original incident thrown back in my face, but to realize that their view of it, and me, was even worse than I had thought.

So, for a while, I looked at the idea of PTSD.  I found out there is something called “complex PTSD“, which is quite different from “classic” PTSD.  “Situations include… psychological manipulation (gaslighting and/or false accusations)… Forms of trauma associated with C-PTSD… [include] emotional abuse…repeated or prolonged traumas in which there is an actual or perceived inability for the victim to escape.”

That had some commonalities with what I had experienced, and for a while I wondered if I had been a whole lot more screwed up than I realized, by the early separations from my mother, and her neglect and disinterest — but it didn’t quite fit.  PTSD is a fear-based reaction, and I’m not afraid.

Now, I think I’ve found it.  It even fits in with PTSD, in a way, but it is different.  By reading about PTSD and soldiers and veterans, I learned about moral injury.

Depending on who you ask, this idea is either new or old.  “It’s a new term but not a new concept.  Moral injury is as timeless as war — going back to when Ajax thrust himself upon his sword on the shores of Troy…

Yet the term, and the idea, is very new, at least in the treatment of PTSD and other mental health issues of soldiers and veterans.  Most of the work I have found on this is written in this context (probably because the military is where there’s plenty of funding, and by the nature of the beast they are at least somewhat focused on mental health).

One definition is “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”  However, this definition doesn’t take into account the effects on the person who actually experienced the act.

Another definition doesn’t rule it out:  Like psychological trauma, moral injury… describes extreme and unprecedented life experience including the harmful aftermath of exposure to such events. Events are considered morally injurious if they “transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” Thus, the key precondition for moral injury is an act of transgression, which shatters moral and ethical expectations that are rooted in religious or spiritual beliefs, or culture-based, organizational, and group-based rules about fairness, the value of life, and so forth.”

Moral injury is … a sense that their fundamental understanding of right and wrong has been violated, and the grief, numbness or guilt that often ensues.

“…the pain that results from damage to a person’s moral foundation... Moral injuries… have to do with failing to hold yourself or others to account.

“…[people] can be morally injured by the transgression of peers and leaders who betray expectations in egregious ways.

One expert is a Dr. Shay, who introduced the clinical concept.  And his definition is that moral injury can happen when “there is a betrayal of what’s right by someone who holds legitimate authority in a high-stakes situation.”  Bingo.

Dr. Shay also talks of “authority perceived as violating what is “right” or “fair,” keeping in mind the extreme dependence combat Veterans have upon one another for survival.”  Well, when I was very young, and my mother was hospitalized, I learned on some level that I had to depend on these people for survival.

Finally, this definition actually includes a potential victim:  …“moral injury” refers to the emotional and spiritual impact of participating in, witnessing, and/or being victimized by actions and behaviors which violate a [person’s] core moral values and behavioral expectations of self or others.

What happened the night my father died, and the day after, pretty much blew away the concept I had had of my “family” as a group of decent, healthy, moral people who could hold it together and maintain a reasonable amount of self-control in a time of crisis.

I never thought they were people who would treat a family member the way they treated me:  screaming at me, leaning down to shout directly in my face, with the accompanying threat of physical violence implied by that invasion of personal space.

Or, if they had been triggered by that crisis, and did behave so badly, they would own up to it, apologize, and try to make amends.  They would be honest, responsible adults.

I never thought that my “family” were people who would ignore what I politely asked for in a time of crisis.  That they were people who would deliberately lie about another family member to cover up their transgressions.

And what happened at and after the 2012 reunion destroyed the idea that my “family” would at least TRY to step up and do the right thing in a difficult situation.

That was when I found out that whatever else they might do in other situations, whatever else they might be capable of, however moral and decent they may be in other facets of their lives — they won’t do it for me.

That was when I figured out that I didn’t have a “family”.  At least, not one that was healthy enough to give me the respect, love, and acceptance that I was asking for.  My FOO was one where, when I asked for these things, instead I was ignored, invalidated, or criticized.  Maybe it is a functional family among the “right” people; I wouldn’t know, because I’m not in that club.  What I know is that it is a group of people who are incapable of doing the right thing for my sake.  I’m not important enough to them.

disruption in an individual’s confidence and expectations about one’s own or others’ motivation or capacity to behave in a just and ethical manner

Moral injury does not, by its nature, present itself immediately. Some will experience questions of moral injury days after an incident; for many others, difficulties will not surface for years.

“Moral injury usually stems from a precise moment in a [person’s] experience… It’s about reconciling that event that sticks with you… And it’s also about reconnecting with a moral community, feeling connected to your fellow man.

Between those two experiences — that day in 2000, when my dad died, and that day in 2012, at the reunion — I lost my whole experience of “family”, the people I was connected to by blood, that I had been connected to for my entire life.

Two dozen people, gone from my life.

“Transgressions can arise from… the behavior of othersAn act of serious transgression that is at odds with core ethical and moral beliefs is called moral injuryBetrayal on either a personal or an organizational level can also act as a precipitant.”

It’s not a mental illness or failure to cope:

“Distinct from pathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal event.

It is the loss of trust:

“Both flavors of moral injury impair and sometimes destroy the capacity for trust. When social trust is destroyed, it is replaced by the settled expectancy of harm, exploitation, and humiliation from others.

In my case, I got the reality first, and now I have the settled expectation.

I got the reality of being treated like shit at the worst time in my whole young life, by the one group of people in your whole life that you’re always, ALWAYS supposed to be able to count on, for anything, any time, anywhere.  The ones who were older and supposed to be oh-so-much wiser.

And, I got the reality that there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

“With this expectancy, there are few options: strike first; withdraw and isolate oneself from others (e.g., Achilles); or create deceptions, distractions, false identities, and narratives to spoil the aim of what is expected (e.g., Odysseus).”

I tried the latter option — to “get over it” — hiding my pain from the wrongs done to me, censoring my feelings, my thoughts, my opinions, my beliefs, in order to “fit in” and not do damage to the “family”.

To accept the act of Susan violently, viciously vomiting her psychological shit all over me RIGHT AFTER THE DEATH OF MY FATHER — traumatizing me, leaving me to deal with it for years and years — and to pretend that it never happened — so that she, and everyone else, can also pretend that it never happened (or if it did happen, it was my fault) and she can pretend that she’s still perfectly perfect.

Never mind that it DID happen.  Never mind what it did to me.  Never mind that if she gets to be perfect, what’s left for me to be is only the flaws.

I was supposed to allow them to continue to treat me as second-class, as a scapegoat, as if my feelings and my pain and my trauma and my humiliation didn’t matter as much as hers.  When it was MY father who had died – MINE.

What is misunderstood is that if this is what the group needs me to do in order to not sustain damage, it’s already really, really fucked up.

After realizing this painful truth, I finally chose the other option, to get away from the toxic people, and the ones I no longer trust, the ones who consider themselves above wrongdoing, the ones who are so very perfect that they would never humble themselves so far as to apologize to ME.

Because to the special arrogance of the Triumvirate, that would be unbelievably humiliating.

And finally, one bullet point that sums up most of what I have felt about this for the past 4 years:

“Emotional responses may include… Anger about betrayal-based moral injuries.”

It feels so good to finally have a name for it.

Even better, it feels GREAT to discover that I’ve been doing all the right things, in terms of healing myself.

Not ignoring a problem usually helps, and this one is no exception.  Also trying to understand what happened, analyzing it, looking at evidence.  Guess what I’ve been doing?

“People mostly try to push those experiences away and not look at them, and they inevitably end up with an oversimplified conclusion about what it all meant,” he said. “We’re trying to get them to unearth the beliefs that are causing their distress, and then help them analyze it, consider the evidence…therapists focus on helping morally injured patients accept that wrong was done [though not by me!], but that it need not define their lives.”

And then there’s this idea:

IMG_20160120_162242“…some have devised makeshift rituals of cleansingAt the end of a brutal 12-month combat tour in Iraq, one battalion chaplain gathered the troops and handed out slips of paper. He asked the soldiers to jot down everything they were sorry for, ashamed of, angry about or regretted. The papers went into a makeshift stone baptismal font, and as the soldiers stood silently in a circle, the papers burned to ash.

“It was sort of a ritual of forgiveness,” said the chaplain, Lt. Col. Doug Etter of the Pennsylvania National Guard. “The idea was to leave all the most troubling things behind in Iraq.”

And, I knew that I needed to write this blog.

“Dr. Shay places special importance on communication through artistic means of expression. Moral injury can only be absolved when “the trauma survivor… [is] permitted and empowered to voice his or her experience…”

“We favor the tenet that “treatment” of moral injury must be defined by the individual according to their beliefs and needs. Outlets for acknowledging and confronting moral injury include talk therapy, religious dialogue, art, writing, discussion & talking circles, spiritual gatherings, and more.”

Of course, it’s still a bit of a mixed bag.  For one thing, it has occurred to me that at least part of what the rest of my FOO is doing is actively avoiding EXACTLY THE SAME MORAL INJURY that I received.

Those cowards don’t want to believe that Joe and Susan could really, truly have done what Joe and Susan did.  They don’t want me to describe it:

 Imagine what it felt like to see Susan’s horrible, ugly, angry face two inches from my own, bending down so she could scream right at me, to feel her spittle on my face, to wonder if she was going to physically attack me, to hear the shouts from both of them ringing in my ears — their words just so much angry, hateful noise, because both of them were shouting nonstop, at the same time.

And she lost her shit like that over the idea that I had dared to criticize her selfish behavior of the night before, when she refused to do something I asked for right after my father died.

I didn’t want to believe it either.  The difference is, I don’t have the luxury of not believing it, and I don’t have to imagine what it was like, because I’m the one they did it to.  (And my husband witnessed it, and he has some moral injury from it too, you fucking bastards, because he feels like he ought to have done something to stop it.)

And I didn’t want to believe that they could lie like they did, and that everyone would believe them like they did.

This would be bad enough on its own – but now add that this was only hours after I watched my beloved father die, and then sat by his dead body, waiting for the ambulance to take him away, all the while forced to listen to her LOUDLY LAUGHING AND JOKING WITH A STRANGER IN A ROOM WITH A CORPSE.

This is in stunningly bad taste no matter how you slice it.

And this was after I even specifically and politely asked them to go somewhere else with their jolly conversation.

Yet, in the presence of that obscene behavior, that outright disrespect and provocation, I STILL managed not to scream at her, not to get up in her face and shout and spit and threaten.  I certainly FELT like it, but I controlled myself.  Because you just don’t do that shit to people.  Not if you are a decent person.

Good thing it happened to the strong scapegoat, I suppose, because having lived through the past few years, if I’m truly the strong one then I don’t know what the hell it would do to any of them.

And, this is never going to happen:  at least, I’m not going to get it from my FOO.

“…moral injury affects, and is affected by the moral codes across a community [in this case, a family]… moral injury stems in part from feelings of isolation from [the family]. Moral injury, then, is a burden carried by very few, until the “outsiders” become aware of, and interested in sharing it.

Finally, this quote was written in terms of therapy, but it works on another level with my own story.

…by and large, those with moral injury are on their own.


Yet Another Article…

…that proves my point. Find the whole thing about manipulation tactics here (part 1) and here (part 2).  Looks like a lot of good stuff on this professional’s blog.

“Let’s talk first about the tactic of rationalization. Actually, a better term for this tactic would be “excuse-making” or “justifying.”

“…When disturbed characters make excuses for their behavior, they know what they’re doing. They have a clear purpose in mind when they’re seeking to justify themselves. They use this tactic only when they know full well they’ve done something or plan to do something most everyone would regard as wrong. But even knowing it’s wrong, and knowing how negatively the action reflects on them, they remain determined to do it.

[I’ll add that this is exactly the definition of a mortal sin.]

They might feel “entitled” to do it… they’re actively fighting against a principle they know society wants them to adopt. And more importantly, they’re also trying to get you to go along with it.

…Why are the elaborate “explanations” and justifications necessary if the person doesn’t realize how most people would judge their actions?

“It’s not that they don’t know most folks would regard their behavior as wrong. And it’s also not that they truly believe in their hearts that what they’ve done is okay. Rather, they simply don’t want you to negatively appraise their character and possibly be done with them. And, more importantly, they don’t want to accept and internalize the notion that such behavior should not be done again.

“Let’s look at another tactic: denial… Refusing to acknowledge the truth is not the same thing as neurotic denial. It’s simply lying…

“Manipulators will often couple denial with other tactics such as feigning innocence. This is when the person you’ve confronted acts like they have no idea what you’re talking about or pretends in a self-righteous manner that they’ve done absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or guilty for. Sometimes they can use denial and feigning innocence with such intensity and seeming conviction that you begin questioning your perceptions…

“One of the more common responsibility-avoidance behaviors and a frequent manipulation tactic is minimization. This is when the disturbed character attempts to trivialize a wrong or harmful behavior. It’s their attempt to make a mole hill out of a mountain. You might confront them on something serious, but they try to get you to believe that you’re over-reacting…

“…disturbed characters make a habit of trivializing really important things – things that reflect most strongly on their character. Maintaining a favorable social image is important to them, even when they know their character is deeply flawed. And their minimizations are frequently paired with other responsibility-avoidance behaviors and tactics such as excuse-making, blaming others, denial, feigning innocence…

“Disturbed characters, most especially the aggressive personalities, hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see… they can focus like a laser beam when it comes to something they want… they simply don’t want to pay attention to it because if they took it seriously and with an attitude of acceptance, it would mean two things:

1) the way they prefer to do things is erroneous and in need of change; and

2) they would have to work at changing, which would also mean paying some deference to you, and to the generally accepted rules, etc.

“And that’s way too much like respecting someone else’s needs… More importantly, it’s far too much like subordinating themselves – something narcissists feel no need to do and the aggressive personalities abhor.

“The fact that so many times neurotics in relationships with disturbed characters waste their breaths expounding on things that simply fall on deaf ears is one of the main reasons I advocate simply taking action over trying to reason or persuade…

“Lastly, there’s lying – the responsibility-avoidance behavior and manipulation tactic that disturbed characters have turned into a virtual art form… One of the most effective ways to lie undetected is to recite a litany of true things but leave out a crucial detail or two that would change the whole picture. It’s a way to give yourself credibility while simultaneously taking advantage through deceit.”

A perfect example of this is when Joe and Susan told the rest of the family about the fight that occurred, but conveniently minimized/denied the part where it was they who started it.

Toxic People

Notes from this article.

Why do toxic people do toxic things?

Toxic people thrive on control… the type that keeps people small and diminished.

Everything they do is to keep people small and manageable… criticism, judgement, oppression – whatever it takes to keep someone in their place. The more you try to step out of ‘your place’, the more a toxic person will call on toxic behaviour to bring you back and squash you into the tiny box they believe you belong in.

…at the heart of their behaviour is the lack of concern around their impact on others. They come with a critical failure to see past their own needs and wants.

Even the strongest people… are likely to evolve into someone who is a smaller, less confident, more wounded version of the person they used to be.

Non-toxic people will strive to make the relationship work and when they do, the toxic person has exactly what he or she wants – control.

…we hang on to the belief that we have to stay connected and loyal, even though being with them hurts…When loyalty comes with a diminishing of the self, it’s not loyalty, it’s submission.

Why are toxic relationships so destructive?

…Healthy people welcome the support and growth of the people they love, even if it means having to change a little to accommodate…

healthy families and relationships will work through the tough stuff. Unhealthy ones will blame, manipulate and lie – whatever they have to do to return things to the way they’ve always been, with the toxic person in control.

Toxic Relationships – Why they will never change

Reasonable people, however strong and independently minded they are, can easily be drawn into thinking that if they could find the switch, do less, do more, manage it, tweak it, that the relationship will be okay. The cold truth is that if anything was going to be different it would have happened by now.

Toxic people can change, but it’s highly unlikely. What is certain is that nothing anyone else does can change them. It is likely there will be broken people, broken hearts and broken relationships around them – but the carnage will always be explained away as someone else’s fault. There will be no remorse, regret or insight.

If you try to leave a toxic person, things might get worse before they get better – but they will always get better. Always.

Few things will ramp up feelings of insecurity or a need for control more than when someone questions familiar, old behaviour, or tries to break away from old, established patterns… when something feels as though it’s changing, they will use even more of their typical toxic behaviour to bring the relationship (or the person) back to a state that feels acceptable.

…For a toxic family or toxic relationships, that shape is rigid and unyielding. There is no flexibility, no bending, and no room for growth. Everyone has a clearly defined space and for some, that space will be small and heavily boxed. When one person starts to break out of the shape… toxic people will do whatever it takes to restore the space to the way it was. Often, that will mean crumpling the ones who are changing so they fit their space again.

Sometimes toxic people will hide behind the defence that…what they do is ‘no big deal’ and that you’re the one causing the trouble because you’re just too sensitive, too serious… too ‘whatever’…

If it hurts, it’s hurtful. Full stop.

Love never holds people back from growing. It doesn’t diminish, and it doesn’t contaminate. If someone loves you, it feels like love. It feels supportive and nurturing and life-giving. If it doesn’t do this, it’s not love. It’s self-serving crap designed to keep you tethered and bound to someone else’s idea of how you should be.

There is no such thing as a perfect relationship, but a healthy one is a tolerant, loving, accepting, responsive one.

The one truth that matters.

If it feels like growth or something that will nourish you, follow that. It might mean walking away from people you care about… the door left open for when they are able to meet you closer to your terms – ones that don’t break you.

Set the boundaries… and leave it to the toxic person to decide which side of that boundary they want to stand on… If the relationship ends, it’s not because of your lack of love or loyalty, but because the toxic person chose not to treat you in the way you deserve. Their choice.

The choice to trample over what you need means they are choosing not to be with you. It doesn’t mean you are excluding them from your life.

Toxic people also have their conditions of relationship… they are likely to include an expectation that you will tolerate ridicule, judgement, criticism, oppression, lying, manipulation – whatever they do. No relationship is worth that…

… Sometimes choosing health and wholeness means stepping bravely away from that which would see your spirit broken and malnourished.

The growth

Walking away from a toxic relationship isn’t easy, but it is always brave and always strong. It is always okay. And it is always – always – worth it.

…Letting go will likely come with… anger and grief for the family… you thought you hadKeep moving forward and let every hurtful, small-hearted thing they say or do fuel your step.

…keep the door open on your terms, for whenever they are ready to treat you with love, respect and kindness. This is one of the hardest lessons but one of the most life-giving and courageous ones.

Texas Instruments and the Myers-Briggs Hostess

In my final position at Texas Instruments one of the things we did was take a Myers Briggs Personality Test. I worked for a guy who had 20 direct reports, & I was the only woman engineer. Looking back, I suppose I should have seen this for the red flag that it was. This was the early 90’s, and I suspect that he had probably been told he needed more diversity in his work group, and that was why he took me on. But I was trying to get away from a woman manager who was a complete sociopath, so maybe he was the lesser of two evils. At any rate he apparently didn’t think much of women.

We took the MBPT and HR made a big deal out of the fact that we didn’t have to reveal what our type was if we didn’t want to. However, at the meeting where we got our results, for the first time I could ever remember, my boss deliberately sat next to me — which meant I could not hide my type from him. I could not keep my information private, even had I wanted to.

It turns out that the description for my Type was “hosts and hostesses of the world“, a description that my boss found hilarious and I therefore found humiliating.

Looking back, I can see that I was conditioned to accept this as hilarious, to accept the judgment of my boss, and not to speak up and say hey, these are strengths, and just because they are different from what you value doesn’t mean they are valueless.  To accept someone else’s decision that who I was was a source of amusement, not value.

Over the next few weeks, my boss repeatedly made fun of me in front of my peers, mocking me by calling me the “hostess”. At one point in one of our morning meetings — in front of all the other (male) engineers and the technicians — he asked me if I had “brought refreshments”.

When I pushed back against these insults I was told that I wasn’t actually being insulted, because “the hostesses at Chili’s get to wear nicer clothes and cuter shoes than the waitresses.”

When he continued to insult me and I continued to push back, and eventually told him to get bent, I’m sure that was a problem, because women probably weren’t supposed to talk to him like that.

I’m surprised the old “don’t you have a sense of humor” card didn’t get played, but it was probably only a matter of time.

After that memorable meeting at which I told him to get bent, I wrote an email to HR complaining about the treatment of me by my manager. I detailed the fact that we were supposed to be able to keep our information private, and mine had been made public against my will, in a very humiliating way, by the authority figure.

Later that day an ally told me he saw our boss in his boss’s office, and it looked like he was getting yelled at.

And the way my manager decided to solve that problem was to get rid of me. Scapegoat!

Soon after, I made an appointment with him to talk about the quality of the assignments I was getting, which was basically nil. The male engineers were getting important things to do, and I was given the unimportant, crap assignments.

I was astute enough to have figured this out at least, so I did what you were supposed to do in that situation:  I went to my boss and asked to talk about it. He agreed immediately and said how about next Tuesday at 2 o clock, which surprised me, but I said fine.

Turns out that was when he had the surprise appointment already made with HR for them to offer me a buyout package.  I knew nothing about it until I showed up at his office, ready to talk about what more I could be doing, and the first thing he said was, “Let’s go to HR.”

I was offered a buyout package.  A bribe.  Six months’ salary if I would leave quietly and sign a paper saying I wouldn’t sue them.

As we walked out of that HR meeting and headed back to the office area, my boss FINALLY attempted to talk to me — sort of.  Once again, he started to explain to me why I shouldn’t be angry, why his actions were perfectly legit, etc etc.

I think I told him not to speak to me. He never spoke to me again.

I worked there for another couple of weeks, and I hauled my belongings out of the building on the weekend, because I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about the buyout package. I just disappeared.

Somewhere I still have my security badge, because my boss was too chicken to walk me out the door. Too chicken to stand by what he had done to me.

But it’s all part of the pattern right? Here’s a person who has been trained as a scapegoat, trained to minimize herself, not make problems, be a nice token female.

Except that I wasn’t fully trained. I will put up with a lot of shit, but at some point I won’t anymore.

And that’s when it becomes a big surprise for the toxic abuser: they’ve treated someone like shit for years and gotten away with it, but when they finally cross some line, and the target finally gets fed up and fights back, particularly in some unexpected way — well, of course they will continue to shift blame onto them and say it’s all their fault, I had nothing to do with it.  They will never, ever choose instead to be humble, to learn, to change, to grow.

The Winner

Quoted section lifted from here.

“Narcissists do know wrong from right. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t hide their unfair actions like they frequently do… they will attempt to hide [or excuse] the fact that they’ve done it. This is because they do know it’s wrong, and they don’t want to lose the admiration and respect of others who will think less of them for having done so.

“So… [narcissists] do what they know is wrong… Then, because they are aware that what they did is wrong and that people will think less of them for it, they cover it up so they won’t have to pay the consequences. (Narcissists don’t like consequences. Those are for little people.)

“…because they are aware it’s wrong and that it makes them wrong, they cover it up and (perhaps sometimes unconsciously) deny it, gaslighting and projecting their way out of responsibility so that nobody, including themselves, will see them as imperfect for having done it. (And if you see them as imperfect, then you’re a serious problem, because as long as you’re there to remind them they’re not perfect, they’ll have to think about the concept, and they just plain won’t.)

“They know what wrong is, and they may do it, but they cannot accept the concept of being a person who does anything wrong, because that means they’re not superior and perfect. So narcissists vehemently push away the information that they’ve done something hurtful. They do know what a hurtful act is, and yet they have to deny that they did it.

“Narcissists use a number of different ways to deny their hurtful actions (and to try making you deny it along with them so you’ll stop complaining). Blaming others, gaslighting, labeling someone who complains about them cruel, lying, making excuses, and playing the martyr are a narcissist’s typical responses. Whatever it takes to stop all recognition (by them and you) of the fact that they were inconsiderate can be expected.

“So yes, narcissists are aware that they’ve hurt your feelings and that it’s wrong, but they just cannot accept that knowledge. They deny it to prevent narcissistic injury, and desperately want you to deny it as well. And usually, they deny it so quickly and so habitually that it doesn’t even register in their consciousness before the excuses and protests are given out.

“Typically, when told they’ve hurt your feelings, a narcissist’s denial takes the forms of insisting you’re not hurt, or that you shouldn’t be hurt, that you’re wrong to be hurt, that they didn’t hurt you, that you’re too easily hurt, and that you shouldn’t complain because they’re hurt worse.”

Guess what.  I still got hurt.

Regardless of what everyone in my “family” would like to pretend, the fact is, at a time of my obvious vulnerability and grief, Susan was deliberately rude to me and hurt me.  And Joe helped her do everything in bold above, afterwards.  Neither has ever acknowledged this, nor apologized for their actions.

It’s crystal clear what the problem is and who it is.  This dysfunctional pattern is well-known and documented and factual.  Anyone who can read my story and possesses a shred of honesty ought to be able to see this is true.  And not just through my words, but also the blogs, books, and articles I cite, and the countless others that exist.

But although I’ve asked time and again for this “family” to do the right thing, the healthy thing, and step up and defend me against this dysfunctional bullshit — they have not.  They will not.  Because it’s also the hard thing.

So I’ve left.  My sister and Susan are both much happier to have me gone, because now they don’t have to be reminded of what I stand for.  Everyone else is OK with it, because it means not dealing with the fits that would be thrown if Joe and Susan were forced to be responsible for their actions.

In Susan’s case, what I stand for is of course the fact of her bad behavior and imperfection.  Though it has been vehemently denied and covered up and the blame has been shifted, I still dared to expose her true nature, and I will never, ever be allowed to get away with that.

In my sister’s case, the waters are murkier.  I stand for something in her mind — I’m not sure exactly what — but it revolves around our parents.

The simplest explanation may be that I stand for the same thing as regards our mother, as I do for Susan — the fact of her imperfection and failings — and my sister is so enmeshed with our mother that she is forever bound to defend her (and for that matter, Susan).

(She’s passed that idea on, too.  I’ll never forget the email exchange I had with one of her daughters, my niece, after I sent my email saying I wasn’t ever coming to the reunions again.  My niece said her first impulse was to “defend her mother”.  After a week or so of puzzling over it I wrote back and asked her, “defend your mother against what?”  She didn’t really have an answer, other than that it was a knee-jerk reaction, and she didn’t want to talk about it any more.)

I’m honestly happier to be gone too, for the most part.  But I’d be lying if I said the whole thing didn’t still rankle and sometimes, hurt.

It seems so unfair for them to all get exactly what they want out of the situation, while I’m the one who has to make the hard choice, to give up and leave, to miss out on having a family, to forever break off all contact with some people I care about in order to save myself from the ones who don’t care about me.

There are some people I would love to be in touch with, to see occasionally, some great-nieces and nephews I’ll never know.  I’m forced to miss out on all that, because to do that would inevitably mean hearing about and seeing and interacting with a handful who continually reject me, ignore me, attack me, hate me.

(Also, my sister and Susan are the two who are in charge of the “family” and my sister, at least, definitely dictates to those under her aegis where they can go and who they can call.  If it got out that one of my nieces or nephews emailed me, for example, I can imagine what a fit my sister would throw and she’d probably insist on reading the exchange, as she’s done before.  Her kids are hovering around 30YO, by the way.  It ought to be their choice whether they want to be in contact with me or not.  Can you say, lack of appropriate boundaries?)

Life isn’t fair, of course, but for a long, long time I really thought my “family” was better than this.

I can take some comfort in the fact that I have the strength and the knowledge and the guts to do what I needed to do, but I should never have had to do it in the first place, and I shouldn’t have to miss out on the ones that I love, and who, I assume, used to love me.  Probably that’s been tainted by now, but what used to be is still something I’ve lost.

Me paying the price for the actions of the fucked-up ones, and giving up my family — knowing that she thinks she’s won — and that she basically has won, if the “family” is the prize — is really, really hard.

My dad liked Bobby Bare and this is the version of the song I remember.  It was played on road trips and in our kitchen.  We sang along, and I still know all the words by heart, from sheer repetition.  Maybe my dad found in this song what I am seeing in it today – that there are worse things than “losing”, if what you “win” isn’t worth having.

And each morning when I wake and touch this scar across my face
It reminds me of all I got by bein’ a winner.

But that woman she gets uglier and she gets meaner every day
But I got her boy, that’s what makes me a winner.

And if there’s somethin’ that you gotta gain or prove by winnin’ some silly fight
Well okay, I quit, I lose, you’re the winner.

But my eyes still see and my nose still works and my teeth’re still in my mouth
And you know I guess that makes me the winner…

Dysfunction 101

Quoted straight from here:

1. “I did nothing wrong. You’re just oversensitive.”

It’s not that there aren’t people in the world who are highly sensitive. It’s just that even if the person being spoken to were oversensitive, this comment is only going to make them feel much worse! It offers no help, and only rubs salt in the wound.

It is a critical statement of low empathy — there’s no effort to truly understand the other person’s feelings or to consider that maybe the speaker could possibly have done even one small thing a little more considerately to try helping matters.

In addition, it’s most often said by people who are not actually dealing with someone who’s “too sensitive”, but instead, someone who is actually expressing normal dismay about a valid concern.

4. “I’m sorry you feel that way/I’m sorry if you…/I’m sorry, but…”

If a person cannot say, “I’m sorry I did that/I’m sorry I hurt you/I’m sorry I was wrong”, and dodges emotional responsibility with the kind of fake apologies and substitutions above, there’s a problem.

Healthy relationships require genuine apologies that are the result of empathy. Inability to truly sense other people’s feelings is at the root of an incredible amount of dysfunction, and unwillingness to admit mistakes is highly dysfunctional behavior.

From the same site, there is this gem:

In the simplest of terms, there’s nothing toxic people like more than:

1. Getting their way, or;

2. Causing a fight.

With Susan, you get a choice of one or the other.

The People You Can’t Forgive

An online friend’s Facebook post pointed me to this religious article, which although I am not religious at all, contains a few nuggets that spoke to me:

“That feeling of… wanting to assert your rightness or your victimhooddepending on the depth of your wounding — can take… years to dissipate… You have to go through that necessary period of feeling half dead, half angry, half in denial — this is the liminal space in which we grow for some reason.”

This might indicate to some that what I have been going through is normal.  But that assumes an acceptance that what has happened to me at the hands of my family was indeed wounding and traumatic.  Which would in turn mean that they did something wrong to me, that they are responsible, at fault, and we just can’t have that.

My family’s version starts out with where the blame is “supposed” to go, and works backwards from there to find a “reason”.  Thus:  I am wrong for holding this silly grudge for so long.

“When someone that you once trusted — and shared your heart with — betrays you, it feels like someone stomped on your soul. And they probably did.”

“The people you can’t forgive can’t fully be released until you find something better to fill the hole.”

“[Forgiveness] doesn’t entirely work unless we have a larger comfort, a safe and more beautiful enclosure to move toward. If we only empty out, and do not refill with something better, there is still a gaping hole within us.  Without something positive, comforting and loving to fill that hole up… we’re left to depend entirely on willpower — and our willpower is normally very weak, especially on those days of loneliness, stress, tiredness and hunger. So we’ve got to keep our aloneness and emptiness filled with something loving and positive.”

I feel like this is where I am now.  Trying to find something to replace all that I’ve lost.  Trying to find new logs for my new raft.

[Another thing that occurs to me about this needing-something-to-fill-the-hole:  that’s what I was to my father.  The people he loved and worked for had all stomped on his soul.  His wife hated him; most of his kids had been taught by her example, and would rather see him gone than home.  But there was one child of his who hadn’t yet been taught, and who was worth trying to save from that.]

But the really important part of this article is just one sentence:

“If you do not transform your pain, you will with 100 percent certainty transmit it to others.”

This is one of the remaining sticking points.   Everyone else in my family of origin takes the easy way out, to just transmit their pain to others, instead of dealing with it and doing the work to transform it.

Personally, if I were to try to define “sin”, I might start with this.

I have long liked two other quotes that carry this same idea:

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts.” — Roger Ebert

“If you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are an unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are… Therefore, it is your moral responsibility to be a happy, fulfilled person. Your moral responsibility.” — George Lakoff

There obviously has been a lot of pain in my family.

My mother, of course, transmitted her pain to others, to her family.  She never figured out how to deal with whatever her problems were.  Despite all her praying, all her religiosity, she remained bitter and unhappy, even after she was free of the man on whom she blamed all her unhappiness.  She continued to blame and transmit her pain to others for her entire life.

My siblings were on the receiving end of a lot of that pain.  For the most part I don’t think they have dealt with the realities of what happened, with what was wrong, and with the fact of who it was that was unhealthy — and just HOW unhealthy.

I doubt that my sister has ever revisited and dismantled the pain that in her teens caused her to become suicidal.  That has been buried under a shit-ton of “Mom was a saint and Dad was a bastard.”  Blaming.  Throwing your own psychological garbage onto someone else so you don’t have to deal with it.  Specifically, onto Dad, and almost certainly onto me:  the idea that my birth is what caused all the problems, and it is my existence that somehow fucked up hers.

Or, if you start with the idea that anything Dad did was bad, by definition, then the fact that the one child he raised is less of a train wreck than anyone else would be an assault on one of your most basic beliefs, every time you saw her.  And if you’re still angry about The Divorce, yet here is living proof that it didn’t wreck everyone’s lives – that it was, in fact, a good thing for some, and particularly for the two people you learned to hate – well. That would be annoying as shit.

(In fact, you might have a strong need to believe that his paternal, nurturing love for that child was something unnatural, even dirty.)

I have a hunch that my sister would honestly prefer me to have a few more really good failures in my life, so she could point to them as proof of my basic wrongness.  Right now about all she has is that I am atheist, childless by choice, don’t have anything that looks like a “real job” to them, and that I’ve also chosen to reject the treatment of a shitty group of people.  Not a lot to go on.

My SIL Susan had her own tragedy in her childhood.  Her father would go on an annual fishing trip to Florida, but one year when she was about 8 years old, he had a heart attack and died, and never came home.  I have to assume that her pain over that is at least part of what caused her to be so shitty to me at my own father’s deathbed.

But here’s the thing:  you don’t just get a free pass.  You don’t get to fail miserably at even attempting to deal with your own shit, and instead just lob it onto someone else.  That’s not healthy, responsible or fair.

That’s not love.  What it is, is a sure way to wreck a relationship.

But apparently it is how my family “functions”, to use the term loosely.  Or maybe “copes”.

Shit rolls downhill.  My mother blamed me for existing because it embarrassed her.  My sister blames me for existing either because that is what caused everything to fall apart, or because I fuck up her worldview, or both.  Susan blames me for calling her out on her callous behavior and rudeness to me the night my father died.

I’m not sure what exactly I ever did to make all the older women in my life see me as a handy target.  OK, I maybe have an idea.

I HAD A FATHER WHO LOVED ME.   And worse, “didn’t” love them.

My mother was always very jealous.  If she was jealous of my father’s love for me and lack of it for her — WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?  Not mine.

If my mother was also jealous of my sister, and lied to her, and twisted her way of thinking about our father, and deliberately alienated her from him, and my sister believed my mother’s bullshit, and believes that our father didn’t also love her, and that bullshit led her to cut off communication with him for decades — WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?  Not mine.

If my SIL never dealt with her own painful past, and the loss of her own father, and she is so jealous of me for having mine that she has to take it out on me when my own father dies — WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?  Not mine.

As for “shit rolling downhill”, that choice of metaphor is no accident.  The hierarchy of age is a very strong one here.  Age confers rights, and righteousness (although obviously not responsibilities).  My youngest brother has no one to shit on but me (and from the little I’ve seen, his own children, but that’s mostly beyond the scope of my knowledge).  Thus in the context of our FOO, he bullies me, yells at me, thinks he has the right to lecture me and tell me who I am, how I should act, what I can and can’t say.  Now that I’ve removed myself from his ability to do that shit to my face, he leaves shitty comments on this blog.

But the fact is that absolutely everyone else in that house the day my father died was older than me, and most had had ample time to deal with their shit, and had not done so.

They all knew I was facing more grief on that day than anyone else, but they were too fucked up themselves to hold their shit together — Susan foremost among them and Joe not far behind.

In the end, they didn’t give a shit about my pain because they were too invested in throwing their own shit onto me so they wouldn’t have to deal with their pain.

And don’t tell me that it couldn’t be done.  It’s been 15 years since our parents died.  I’m as old now as they were then, and I’ve done it.  It’s been hard, and painful, and cost some money and a lot of fucking work, but I did it.  They’re all older, and supposedly so superior to me — well then, if I can do it, if I can put in the work and go to therapy and figure out what’s fucked up, I don’t see why it would be beyond them.

Except, of course, that they “aren’t the problem” and never will be.

To that I say — PROVE IT.  Prove it the way I did.  Go to therapy.  Spend the money, like I did.  I dare you.  Go for just two or three sessions, explain it all to a professional, and get them to agree with you.

And good fucking luck.  Because I know and you know why you won’t go do it.

But that is the only circumstance under which I will resume contact with anyone in this family.  Go get some help, work through your shit, and then we’ll talk.

My other siblings were, and are, probably just too fucked up to do anything about it.  Well, to do the right thing about it.  I wish they weren’t, but that’s all I can do about it.

In some ways what happened has been a favor to me, to throw off this pile of bullshit, to put down the box of shit my sister has made me carry for her all these years.  At least I get to live the second half of my life unencumbered by all their bullshit and baggage.

This feels like a place to end.  I don’t know if it is really going to be the last post in this blog — but I’ve finally finished at least part of what I set out to do, which is to tell my story.  The whole sad, angry history is finished, all laid out neatly in the sidebar, all making a lot more fucking sense than the story they tell themselves.

All anyone has to do, if they want to understand, is read it with an open heart, and a mind that is ready to accept responsibility, instead of simply shifting the blame.

Shit Together Clear

Take Responsibility

I ran across this excellent short essay about The One Sentence That Gets My Kids to Take Responsibility.  It reminds me of the old marital advice to not use “you” statements in arguments, which has stood me in good stead over almost 20 years, so there must be something to it.

Their sentences are filled with the words: he, she, they, and what they did to ME!

They’ll try to say “I . . . am really mad because so and so hit me.” We back up and I tell them to start over. We’ll stay there until they’ve filled in the blank with their own actions.

The other sentences that use the word “I” are just as important. “I’m sorry. I did this _____ to you.” Those sentences can be equally hard to spit out.

For relationships, for careers, for parenting, for taking responsibility and for advocating for yourself – the word “I” matters.

It’s not about taking blame, it’s about owning our actions and moving on.

Ever tried to have a conversation with someone who has mastered the art of deflection and passive aggression? Nothing gets solved.

How much faster does something get fixed when someone admits that it’s broken and how it broke?

Owning our actions is important.

Two Little Words

There is a world of difference between

I didn’t do anything wrong

(therefore any problem that exists is your fault, because I am perfect, how dare you suggest that I am not perfect, you are wrong)


I didn’t mean to do anything wrong

(but I’m human, I made a mistake, I was rude and disrespectful, I didn’t listen to what you were asking for, I’m sorry, and I hope you can forgive me)