Can you love someone who did bad things?

Notes from here.

“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?

[People asking this question] are in what is known as “secondary trauma,” experts say, meaning they were not the person… [attacked], but they experience a deep sense of betrayal from a person they thought they knew. Continue reading “Can you love someone who did bad things?”

(Not) Facing Reality

My day job is seeing things people can’t or choose not to see. In other words, I’m a psychiatrist… I make my living treating acute and sub-acute mental and behavioral health emergencies, which means people don’t end up on my radar unless they’ve comported themselves in ways that are generally determined to be unstable and unsafe. In some cases it’s florid psychosis, dementia, or mania, and in others it’s severe depression and suicidality, or unbridled poly substance abuse or personality disorder.

“I can’t help but be reminded of the numerous families that remain apprehensive and reluctant to agree to proactive measures, even in the face of the crisis that has befallen them. Despite the reality that no one’s gotten any sleep or peace, and their loved one is on a rampage destined for destruction, they hesitate to act and often inadvertently prolong everyone’s suffering in the process. They contain the dysfunction for as long as they can, rather than face hard truths about their new reality.Continue reading “(Not) Facing Reality”


A fascinating article on neuroscience here.  I found a few things in it that I’ve already learned:

Suppressing emotions doesn’t work and can backfire on you.

Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.

So much for “just get over it.”

we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don’t it’s painful. And I don’t mean “awkward” or “disappointing.” I mean actually painful.  Rejection doesn’t just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg.  In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain

When you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone, they felt better.

And just what do you suppose happens when those same loved ones turn hostile to you in the most stressful situation of your entire life?

And later, when you find out that those loved ones don’t really love you?  That they see you as a problem, and they feel all superior for “not holding against you” the perfectly normal things you did?

Over the past five years I have come to understand that they don’t like me, and I don’t really like them either.  They aren’t happy or fun or accepting people, at least not to me.  We dislike each others’ values.  They don’t want to listen, or understand — they don’t let me speak my mind or offer my opinions.  They criticize my life choices, and I don’t like their superior attitudes — but they were my family, once upon a time.  They were people I had known my entire life.  And that rejection hurt.

Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life… I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Guess what?  Doesn’t matter. You don’t have to find anything. It’s the searching that counts.

There are ways in which I am grateful for this family rift, and even for eventually being forced to go no-contact with them.

It is a relief to finally understand some of the things I was always told, or which were “understood”, but which never made any sense.  And not just about our parents — it now makes sense to me why the reunions were the symptom of the problem, and why they would ALWAYS have to be on my sister’s turf, under her control.

Finding out about narcissism explains why I never really had a mother, why my father was so important to me, and even why the rest of them have to believe the opposite; and why I never really liked Susan.  And it feels good to know that my instincts were healthy.

It’s comforting to deconstruct situations which had always been presented in black and white, Mom=right and Dad=wrong, to find that they were really so much more complicated, and to know that there really weren’t any other better options than the one my father chose — perhaps mostly for my benefit.

And it’s great to no longer be obligated to spend time and money to be around people who have, in the past, been SURPRISED to find out that they could enjoy my company and conversation, or when they found out I wasn’t “just a spoiled brat”.  People who I now know have always seen me and treated me as a second class family member, as a problem, as some kind of “wrong” person — simply because I was born, for the very fact of my existence; and because I experienced a different father, and mother, than the rest of them did.

I do miss some of them:  my sister’s husband and kids, in particular.  I lost my past that day five years ago, but I also lost the future.  Not having kids myself, I have always cared about my sister’s kids.  Now I am cut off from them, and I don’t know their spouses or kids or anything about their lives.

That’s been a heavy price to pay, but for my own self-preservation I’ve had to pay it.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to have a relationship with them that doesn’t continually include painful reminders of the people to whom I am not a beloved little sister, but instead a convenient scapegoat, to be punished for things that were never in my control.


“Mistakes, no matter how terrible, don’t have to define us so long as we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.” ~~ Jim Wright

It’s been just about five years since that awful reunion, the second-worst-weekend of my life. The day when I found out just exactly how my siblings see me, what they believe about me, and how that manifests in how they treat me.

I have a sister who wishes I was never born and that I didn’t exist (and now can pretend that I don’t).

Because, you know, everything that happened, back in 1969 and after, is my fault, for being born.

I have a sister-in-law and a brother who see nothing wrong with screaming in my face the day after our father died: I’m talking feeling her spittle hit my face, I’m talking both of them screaming so loudly that another brother in the basement heard what was going on and came up for a look-see.

But, you see, I MADE them do it.

They had charitably decided to overlook “my behavior” of the night before, when I politely asked her to stop LAUGHING as I sat by my father’s still-warm body, less than half an hour after he had died — and she chose to completely ignore that simple request, ignored what I asked her to do at a time of deep grief and stress — the first time I’d ever seen anyone die, and it was my beloved father, but she refused to do that one simple thing for my sake.

When I brought up this disgustingly callous behavior the next day, I “made” them yell at me.

Said sister, and youngest brother, and probably oldest brother, don’t want to believe that happened — at least not the way I tell it. And brother and SIL made it easy for them by telling them all that I PICKED THE FIGHT that day. Which is easy – it goes right along with me “making” them yell at me like that. And everyone swallowed it, because it was the easy thing to do, and it went along with their preconceived notions of what kind of person I was — the person at fault for everything.

It’s been a long, difficult, sometimes lonely, 5 years.  It’s tough to break those patterns, of believing the same old lies, giving the same old responses, and getting the same old results.

But it’s worth it, to have figured out the truth, and not be hostage to someone else’s view.

Frankly, they should try it for themselves.

No one else has changed one bit, not in five years.  Zero reparations, zero understanding, zero empathy, and eventually zero communication (which is a choice I ended up having to make, not one I wanted).  A refusal to even read what I write.

I’m certain that me writing this blog is seen as FAR FAR WORSE than what Joe and Susan did to me.  Of course it is!

They only turned on me, yelled at me, at the lowest point of my entire life.  When at the age of only 31 I had just lost my only parent, my father.  At the moment when you are supposed to be able to count on “family”.  After days of hearing how we were going to “cut each other slack”.  And then they deliberately, strategically, and openly turned the rest of that “family” against me.

But me writing this blog — well, I’m pretty sure that’s unforgivable.  After all, the internet is forever!

Yes, it is.  And what they did to me is forever too.

Talented and Gifted

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

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

It Takes New Words

Notes from here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s Happened To You”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical Acceptance

Notes from here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Mark R Banschick, MD

Second Chances

Another good post from Dr. Cloud:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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