Who’s the real victim?

Notes from here:

“In my own writings about the abuse I’ve experienced… I go into a lot of detail, get angry, and do a lot of research into such things as abuse and personality disorders… I pour everything in, all the details I can think of, along with trying to figure out what drives a person to act like that, quotes from my research which describe common abusive behaviors… what is abuse and what is normal.

“I have a strong will and don’t just figure I deserved what I got; I get very angry… I hope that these comments/blogs are not saying that if you’re angry, if you’ve done a lot of research into personality disorders and do know family history and have good reason to think disorders are at play, that it automatically labels you as the abuser playing the victim. In my case, the anger is part of the detachment/healing process and a natural response to being abused, and learning about personality disorders has reassured me that I did not deserve what I got.

When a person says “I’ve been abused, and I’m angry about having been abused!” that is not necessarily a sign that they are falsely playing the victim… anger is part of the detachment/healing process… It shows the victim is making an excellent recovery, in my opinion.

A genuine victim initially expresses lots of confusion and self-doubt:  “Am I the one at fault?”“What is going on here?” – “I’ve tried everything I can to improve my [family relationships], but I must be missing something because nothing I’ve tried seems to work.” – etc.

This bewilderment gradually shifts into “I think that maybe I am being abused.”… At this stage, many victims do an intensive search to learn more about abuse, trying to understand WHY the abuser behaves the way she does… As this research quest leads to material that labels the abuse as the problem (rather than blaming the victim), the victim begins to express more anger and outrage. This is a good sign of progress in recovery. Recovery isn’t simply about becoming angry, but when self-blame and shame are dispelled, healthy anger can come to the surface because anger is an appropriate response to injustice.

That’s what I’ve observed in the typical language of genuine victims as they move from the fog into recovery and healing.

Now I’ll outline what I see as the typical language of perpetrators who claim to be victims.

They don’t express the initial bewilderment and fog stage while the relationship is intact. They only start to talk about problems in the relationship when their victim institutes separation.

I submit that the complainant’s supposed shock at the relationship suddenly ending is a mark that the complainant was an abuser. In abusive relationships the victim will have tried over and over to explain her unhappiness in an attempt to improve the relationship. But abusers brush off all these attempts and/or twist them back so as to blame the victim and exonerate themselves.

So if I’m right, distinguishing mark #1 of a false claim is the suddenness of the complaint that is made when the victim takes drastic action to try to put a wall up against the abuse.

And conversely, distinguishing mark #1 of a true claim is that the genuine victim takes some drastic action of boundary-setting after having expressed fog-like bewilderment over a period of time, and given hints and waved “help” flags signalling that the relationship was in strife.

Along with this, the true victim may read things to try to understand why their abuser acts the way she acts.

So what is distinguishing mark #2 ?

  • It isn’t the sheer fact that the complainant expresses anger. True victims express anger when they are well on the road to recovery.  Both real victims and pretend victims can express anger.
  • Nor is it the fact that the complainant talks about their partner having a mental health problem. Some victims and counselors talk about abusers having personality disorders like narcissism or sociopathy. And readers here know that many abusers claim their spouse is ‘crazy’ or has a personality disorder.

The one common denominator of all destructive relationships:
The other person doesn’t take responsibility for their behavior.  Ever.

(The above was not written by me but is, quite literally, the story of my life.)


Abusers don’t willingly give up their victims.  Abusers aren’t the ones who leave the relationship.  Why would they?
The person complaining about someone leaving them is not the victim.


Typical Abuser Excuses:

  • “I was just joking.”
  • “I was having a bad day.”
  • “You got me upset.”
  • “It won’t happen again.”
  • “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
  • “You deserved it.”
  • “You know what sets me off.”
  • “You’re just as bad as me.”
  • “You know I have an anger problem.”
  • “It didn’t happen like that.”

    Ten behaviors characteristic of emotionally abusive women:

  • Bullying
  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Verbal attacks
  • Gaslighting (lying and then claiming he is crazy)
  • Unpredictable responses
  • Constant chaos
  • Emotional blackmail (guilt trips)
  • Rejection
  • Withholding affection and sex
  • Isolating

The result?  You’re constantly on edge, walking on eggshells, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is a trauma response. You’re being traumatized by her behavior. Because you can’t predict her responses, you become hyper vigilant to any change in her mood or potential outburst, which leaves you in a perpetual state of anxiety and possibly fear. It’s a healthy sign to be afraid of this behavior. It’s scary. Don’t feel ashamed to admit it.


“a non-abusive, loving spousal victim will not willingly give the minor children over to the predator”


The Typical Abuser

You may not realize that abusers feel powerless… They often have the following personality profile:

  • Insecure.
  • Needy with unrealistic expectations of a relationship.
  • Distrustful.
  • Often jealous.
  • Verbally abusive.
  • Needs to be right and in control.
  • Possessive; may try to isolate their partner from friends and family.
  • Hypersensitive and reacts aggressively.
  • Has a history of aggression.
  • Is cruel to animals or children.
  • Blames their behavior on others.
  • Suffers from untreated mental health problems including depression or suicidal behavior.

Abusers can have a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. Dr. Jekyll is often charming and romantic, perhaps successful, and makes pronouncements of love. You love Dr. Jekyll and make excuses for Mr. Hyde.


Recently I was reminded of a very common tactic of the abuser.  What to call it?  Hounding?  Badgering?

…she appears to have a psychological need to justify his crimes, and for this she needs the victim’s affirmation.  Thus she relentlessly demands from her victim professions of respect, gratitude, or even love.  Her ultimate goal appears to be the creation of a WILLING victim.

…That means the perpetrator must wear down the victim until he willingly admits that she is justified in what she does, that he has been wrong, and so on.

So it is psychological warfare.  It is abuse.


“Does this person seem to feel unjustifiably entitled?” is the basic question I’m asking myself when I’m listening to a person who is complaining about their spouse or their marriage. The word “unjustifiably”  is important in that question, because survivors of abuse may so yearn for justice that they can come across as if they feel ‘entitled’ to justice. But victims of abuse are justified in yearning for justice – it’s not wrong for them to feel that way.

Three Strikes

“…I talk a lot about fighting back in The Asshole Survival Guide. There are three factors that especially predict how successful you will be at stopping or bringing down a bully. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is whether you—or them— have more formal power (the more powerful they are, the tougher it will be to win). The second is whether you are fighting back alone or with others, the more allies you have, the more likely you are to win because it is harder to portray you as a lone nut and you also have more power (even against a boss or other powerful person). The third is documentation; keep notes, emails, and social media posts, anything that provides objective evidence that you and your colleagues are in fact being bullied.”

I found out I have no formal power in my own family of origin.

I also found out I was alone in that “family”.

I am the “lone nut”, the scapegoat, the outsider, and as such I am not to be believed, let alone defended.  In some eyes, I am not even supposed to exist, not supposed to take up physical space, be noticed, be cared about.  (With the notable exception of being noticed for what I fail to do correctly, i.e. being criticized.)

And there was no documentation – the incident that started the whole thing, or rather brought it into the light, was deliberately engineered to have no witnesses, other than my husband and a brother who also has little formal power.

No wonder it all turned out the way it has.

A related article shows that there weren’t too many other options.

The powerful bully

Who they are: The engineer with hard-to-replace skills whose creepy overtures get overlooked. The rainmaking dealmaker whose boorish behavior goes unpunished. Whether they’re explicitly in charge or simply influential, too many organizations look the other way when top performers or top bosses behave badly. Sutton points to Roger Ailes — the powerful Fox News chief who left the media empire amid a swirl of sexual harassment allegations. “Going to HR didn’t seem to help anyone for years,” he says.

What to do: Tread carefully. “You’re fighting the cool kids,” Sutton says. In such cases, getting out is really often the best advice — especially if the behavior goes beyond milder incivilities. “This is one when you often leave, or when you hide, or when you lie in wait until their power diminishes,” Sutton said.

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.

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 — (which would expose 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.

The People of the Lie

M. Scott Peck ‘The People of the Lie’

I picked up this book a while ago and have not started reading it yet, but I came across this fascinating passage today:

“There really are people…who respond with hatred in the presence of goodness and would destroy the good insofar as it is in their power to do so. They do this not with conscious malice but blindly, lacking awareness of their own evil — indeed, seeking to avoid any such awareness.

“…Evil people hate the light because it reveals themselves to themselves. They hate goodness because it reveals their badness; they hate love because it reveals their laziness. They will destroy the light, the goodness, the love in order to avoid the pain of such self-awareness…

“Truly evil people, on the other hand, actively rather than passively avoid extending themselves. They will take any action in their power to protect their own laziness, to preserve the integrity of their sick self. Rather than nurturing others, they will actually destroy others in this cause… to escape the pain of their own spiritual growth. As the integrity of their sick self is threatened by the spiritual health of those around them, they will seek by all manner of means to crush and demolish the spiritual health that may exist near them.”

More from Dr. Cloud

The original article

When you need to execute an ending of some sort, there will be people in your circle who will try to fight it or slow it down… You have to be ready for that to occur, recognize it as inevitable and deal with it.

Self-Absorbed Resisters

People will put up a resistance because your decision is going to affect them in some way, and they do not want that to change… that person does not have the kind of character to put his self-interest aside and see what is good for [you]. Passively or actively, this person is on a sabotage mission and is not looking out for you.

This person can appear friendly, offering “advice” to “help” you… This situation I am referring to is one where this is not advice, but an attempt to keep you from going forward.

Threatened Resisters

Other times, resistance comes from someone who is threatened by you personally by what you are doing. Whether in business or personal life, when you do something difficult but worthy, it confronts people with their own lives. It activates all of their fears, and they quickly try to tell you the same things that they tell themselves. “It will never work. I know a lot of people who tried to do that, and they were sorry in the end.” The thing is that they are stuck, you are getting unstuck, and you cause them to look in the mirror and face themselves. Unconsciously, they realize if you can do it, they can do it. But to think about doing it scares them. They’ll talk you out of it so you both can be comfortable again.

The NoNos

NoNos are those who are highly skilled urgency killers. John Kotter says if they cannot undermine attempts at diminishing a contentment with the status quo, they create anxiety or anger and the flurry of useless activity associated with a fake sense of urgency. NoNos are motivated by many things, and as a psychologist, I can tell you that I’ve seen them in many instances. They can be pretty inflexible. They often are not open to what we call “assimilation and accommodation,” a process by which normal people take in new data, accommodate ourselves to it and change our minds.

Not so with NoNos. Instead of taking in new data, they have all sorts of reasons for rejecting it, devaluing it and undermining any accommodation that anyone would be close to making with it. The best way to handle NoNos is not to engage them. They’re trying to stall you, and they are not going to change, so to spend any time trying to convince them is to allow them to use their strategy of derailing. You talk to them, they win.

When you start to make your move down a new path, obstacles will come as a result. Getting things done is hard, or more people would be making changes. So accept the fact that endings are difficult and hard to implement. You will be going through new waters, and there will be waves. Big bumpy ones, and it takes courage and perseverance to keep going.

An Accident

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their tragedy was officially labeled “an accident”.

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

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

A comment on this article also caught my attention:

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

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

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

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

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

An Outsider’s View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Codependency and Dementia

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

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

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

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

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

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

And apparently to say that to her was unthinkable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s not love.

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

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

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

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

Anything else is just a way of avoiding hard work.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Kindness

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


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

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

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

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

Boy does that feel familiar.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


And finally, there is this section:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How fucked up is THAT?

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

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

And I was grateful, as well as stunned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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