Where is My Anger Coming From?

Dr. Henry Cloud’s work has helped me out a lot in this whole process — especially his book, Necessary Endings. That book taught me about the three kinds of people: the wise, the foolish, and the evil.

Not only that, he’s Christian and backs all this up with biblical references.  There’s backup for my choice, right there in the bible.  Not that that matters to me, but it ought to matter to some people:

If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.

Titus 3:10-11

A brief recap:

A wise person

The wise person sees the light and adjusts
Diagnosis: Is this someone who listens?

The evil people

The evil people intend to destroy.  For this post I’m not going into detail about this category.

A fool

A fool shoots the messenger
The problem is never in the room, unless it’s you
When the light comes, the fool gets angry
A fool hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22) and takes no pleasure in understanding (18:2). They defend themselves (and their ideas) even when they aren’t attacked.

  • Not listening
  • Don’t talk
  • Hope doesn’t come from more talking

[Fools] may be very bright and gifted. This is why they’ve gotten as far as they have… But here’s the problem. With the wise person, when the light comes, they adjust themselves to the light. With a fool, when the light shows up, they adjust the light. It hurts their eyes. They’re allergic to it. They try to dim it and they try to adjust the truth. The wise man changes himself; the fool tries to change the truth. “This wasn’t a big deal.” “It’s not like that.” Or, they shoot the messenger.

Whenever you give feedback to someone, and the first reflective move is defensiveness, let that be a warning sign. They are squinting. They deny that it’s reality, they minimize it, they externalize it, they shoot the messenger. They aren’t happy to hear it, and a lot of times they get angry. You become the problem.

Not only is this the ongoing problem in this “family” who minimize and externalize the problem of their behavior like nobody’s business — this is also what happened in The Susan Incident that started the whole damned thingI gave feedback, and the reality of Susan’s bad behavior was denied, minimized, externalized.  Susan and Joe weren’t happy to hear what I had to say, and they got angry, and I became the problem.  Ta-da!

Every time you talk to a person like this, they do not own it.

When you get hopeless about that with them, that is one of the best things you can do… [A wise responsible person] initially has hope that the person will start listening. But this person just keeps not listening.
You gotta give up here.

Here’s what the Bible says, and all research validates: “With a wise person, talk to them. They will love you for it and listen and get better.”

But then the Bible changes its tone. It says “do not correct a fool, lest you incur insults upon yourself.” These verses describe reality like you’ve never seen it before. They say: “Here’s your strategy: Stop talking.” Why? They have stopped listening. Their allergy to reality is now in charge.

Here is the principle: Fools don’t change when truth comes to them, but only when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing.  (I remember having a conversation about exactly this idea with my oldest brother, at that last reunion, before I said to hell with this.  They are indeed bright enough to understand all this.  They just won’t own it.)

The challenge here is to limit your exposure, make it clear about the consequences, give them a choice, and follow through. Need to say “I need someone in this position that can hear reality. I hope that’s you. I want you to be in that chair. But that’s what that chair is going to require, and you get to make the choice.


So much of that was essential in helping me understand (after the fact) that I did make the right choices.  I went about it in an angry, upset way, and not the best way that I could have done it.  But the gist of what I did had the right, healthy instincts.

Anger is a normal response to what I experienced.  But now I find another reference from Dr. Cloud that helps explain the anger from a different perspective.  I’m just going to quote this one in its entirety:


“Many people conceal their negative feelings of anger, sadness, and fear. These people are unable to cope with good and bad because they have never processed these negative feelings, and they suffer from many problems, such as fear of relationships, depressions, and anxiety as a result. Negative feelings are valid, and they must be dealt with so they won’t cause problems.

“Anger, our most basic negative emotion, tells us that something is wrong. We tend to protect the good we don’t want to lose. Anger is a signal that we are in danger of losing something that matters to us. When people are taught to suppress their anger, they are taught to be out of touch with what matters to them. It is good to feel angry because anger warns us of danger and shows us what needs protecting. But, we are not to be mean or abusive in our attempt to solve a problem. This would mean to resolve it in some unloving way and would ultimately hurt us as well as each other.

I lost something important to me.  I lost my father, and then my whole family.  And I didn’t go about trying to solve this problem in a loving way.  I was angry and hurt and shamed to learn that people in my so-called FAMILY had LIED to others in my family about me, about what happened and about what they did.  That people had been told, and BELIEVED, that I was the one wholly responsible for the fight the day after Dad died — when I was responsible for none of it.

I had been betrayed, lied about, to people who ought to have given me some benefit of the doubt, if they loved me — who ought to have sought me out, who ought to have cared about, asked about, and believed my side of the story — who, when told my side of the story, doubled down on their original mistake — ignored it, and acted like it didn’t matter — one brother in fact told me I ought to have done things differently, when in fact the “differently” was EXACTLY WHAT I DID DO, and yet when apprised of that fact, that he had been lied to about what happened, that didn’t seem to change a thing.

These were people who beforehand claimed they WOULD do all these things — turns out all that bullshit talk about “cutting each other slack” was just so much hot air.  I had, and have, absolutely every justification for being angry.

What they don’t have is justification for being defensive about what they did, for saying they “did nothing wrong”, for not sincerely saying they were sorry, for saying that my feelings didn’t matter, were wrong, for always trying to make me the one at fault.  They don’t own what they did.  And the reason — going back to the beginning of this post — is that it isn’t painful enough for them to do so.

The loss of me as part of the family isn’t painful enough for them to change.

The other threats:  facing up to the truth of what really happened when Dad died, who really did what, facing up to having been wrong all these years, having to admit to their little sister that they were wrong and have treated her so badly, facing up to the lies that were told about me by Susan and Joe — facing up to all that is far too painful for them.

In other words, they fear that whatever loss of “family” or loss of face that will result from actually addressing this issue will be so painful to them, that it’s hugely preferable to let me experience that loss and pain instead
e.g. the pain of losing my whole family.

And I guess I can understand that, but it still makes me the scapegoat one final time.

It just doesn’t matter how painful it is for me.  They choose to save their own skins and leave me to drown.

I suspect the reason Susan got so very angry the next day was rooted in her own loss of her father at a very young age.  Fine, I can understand that, and even empathize with that.  But you know what?  You have a responsibility to work on your own shit, FOR THE VERY REASON THAT IT’S NOT COOL TO VOMIT IT ALL OVER SOMEONE ELSE TO MAKE YOURSELF FEEL BETTER.  And if you don’t work on it, and you do take it out on someone else, you need to own up to that and apologize.  And keep apologizing, sincerely and truthfully, until you have assuaged the hurt that you caused, and rebuilt the trust that you demolished.

“Major consequences for denying our angry feelings range all the way from psychophysiological disorders, such as headaches and ulcers, to character disorders, such as passive-aggressions, to the inability to work, to serious depression and panic.

Any way you look at it, denying anger keeps one from getting problems solved.

“Another problem with denying anger is that it turns into bitterness and leads to a critical and unforgiving spirit. Instead of denying anger, we must own it and find its source. As we examine our anger, we can find out what we are trying to protect. Anger may be protecting an injured vulnerability or a will that was controlled. We may be under condemnation from someone and need to get out from under perfectionism. Whatever the source, anger tells you there is a problem, and it should never be denied.

We may discover that our anger is protecting something bad, such as pride, omnipotence, control or perfectionism. Maybe we feel angry because we are losing control of another person. In either case, if we deny our anger, we can’t get to the source. Anger, then, is helpful because it is a sign something is being protected, either good or bad.”

Can’t Please Everyone

From Dr. Henry Cloud:

“If you are human, you care whether people like you or not. It matters to anyone who has a heart. Only the most emotionally and relationally cut off people have zero interest in whether others like them or feel more positively toward them. We all have a human need to be loved by others, and we all enjoy positive appraisals.

“Successful people eventually go through a doorway that is essential to making their personal lives, as well as their professional lives, work: they realize that they do not have to please everyone or have everyone like them. In fact, part of what fuels that realization is the bigger realization that not only do we not have to please everyone, we can’t, even if we wanted to.

“Embrace the reality that it is literally impossible to make everyone happy, and that it’s ok to like and choose some things that some people won’t like or choose. You’ll learn that when you give up what is impossible, you can begin to focus on what is good.

“You’ll realize that just because someone is unhappy with you, it doesn’t require that you give up your purpose, fold your cards or change. You’ll know that making some people unhappy is part of the deal, and you can keep going. When you accept that every decision divides, you quit trying to do the impossible, and you begin to make the right choices, knowing that our choices will divide.”

Impact > Intent

imapct-intent

Same goes for interpersonal relationships — such as, say, those with your little sister.

It’s really not enough, and it’s not responsible, to say to yourself, “Well, I didn’t MEAN to…”

Because you DID.

Intent doesn’t actually matter one bit.

IMPACT — the effect your actions actually had on another person — is what matters.  And you don’t get to disavow that.  You don’t get to say “it didn’t happen”, “that’s not what I meant”, “that’s not what this was about”.  That’s just bullshit equivocating, dancing around your responsibility.

I’ve seen numerous stories from numerous people about how difficult this Thanksgiving is going to be, after finding out that their uncle, brother, cousin — and you’d be surprised, or maybe not, at how many of them are white men with absolutely nothing to lose in this Brave New World — after finding out that someone who they thought cared about them STILL voted for this bigoted, racist, sexist, horrible asshole.

Whether they MEANT to or not, whatever their other reasons may have been, no matter how good those reasons could be — they went ahead and deliberately put the rest of us, those with maybe just a little less privilege, in a much worse place for the next 4 years.

They decided that part didn’t matter so much as their own reasons.

As I told my husband tonight, I’m really a trendsetter.  I broke up with my family (at least partly) over their conservative politics and outdated misogynistic and racist ideas YEARS ago.

But if my own reading, research and intelligence hadn’t done it, I’m certain this election would have.

I was just ahead of my time.

Why I Grieve Today

This is about two very different ways of seeing the world.  [Read George Lakoff “Don’t Think of an Elephant” for a clear picture of those two different ways.]

“Hillary supporters believe in a diverse America; one where religion or skin color or sexual orientation or place of birth aren’t liabilities or deficiencies or moral defects…

“Trump supporters believe in a very selective America; one that is largely white and straight and Christian, and the voting verified this. Donald Trump has never made any assertions otherwise. He ran a campaign of fear and exclusion and isolation—and that’s the vision of the world those who voted for him have endorsed.

“They have aligned with the wall-builder and the professed p*ssy-grabber, and they have co-signed his body of work, regardless of the reasons they give for their vote:

“Every horrible thing Donald Trump ever said about women… has now been validated.
“Every profanity-laced press conference and every call to bully protestors and every ignorant diatribe has been endorsed.
“Every piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation Mike Pence has championed has been signed-off on.

“Half of our country has declared these things acceptable, noble, American.

“Those whose voices have been silenced will be further quieted.

“Those who always felt marginalized will be pushed further to the periphery.

“Those who feared they were seen as inferior now have confirmation in actual percentages.

“It’s about religion being weaponized.
“It’s about crassness and vulgarity and disregard for women.
“It’s about a barricaded, militarized, bully nation.
“It’s about an unapologetic, open-faced ugliness.

“…knowing that these things have been amen-ed by our neighbors, our families… That is the most horrific thing of all. We now know how close this is.

“It feels like living in enemy territory being here now, and there’s no way around that. We wake up today in a home we no longer recognize. We are grieving the loss of a place we used to love but no longer do…  [this is also how I felt when I figured out what my FOO really thought of me]

“Grief always laments what might have been, the future we were robbed of, the tomorrow that we won’t get to see…

“…we had an opportunity… to let everyone know they had a place at the table… and we said no.”


I’m actually not surprised.  This exclusionary way of thinking is exactly how my FOO treated me:  they hold against me my personal choices of religion (lack thereof), family planning, politics, you name it, I’m wrong for it.  And they are all in the Midwest, the reddest of states — with the exception of my sister, who lives in a suburb of Chicago, BUT it is one that is even whiter than the one HRC grew up in — and that’s extremely hard to do in Chicago, unless you have a lot of money.

That small-mindedness, that closed-in, closing-off fear of anything new or different, combined with a worship of the almighty dollar as the only measure of anything worth having, gets you conservative thought.

See, those things can be overlooked, as long as they don’t pertain to you and yours, and as long as there is the promise of economic prosperity coming out of that same sewer of a mouth.  If it will make you rich, with no adverse social consequences to you, you can easily overlook the ugliness aimed towards “others” — and in some cases, gleefully join in.

I used to wonder how it was that the conservatives I knew (mostly well-off whites) claimed they “wanted a better world for their children” — yet they were always opposed to any kind of progress or opportunities for various other people:  atheists, minorities, women, LGBTQ, whoever wasn’t just like them.

I figured out two things:  one, it most specifically was THEIR children they were wanting this for — NOT for every child, everywhere, regardless of what their social condition might be.  Like, say, Jesus is supposed to have suggested.

This I think has its roots in the conservative idea that children are somehow “born bad” and have to be “made good” by performing certain religious rituals, learning social rules, and being harshly disciplined as a little child for doing what comes naturally to a child:  doing things that make them happy.

Happiness is not a value in conservative thought.  It is debauchery.  (If you think that makes for a bleak way of life, you’re right — I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and I can definitely say this side is better.)

And “other” children who do not undergo the same religious rituals as yours, or follow the same social rules as yours, remain “bad” and not deserving of being treated the same as yours.

The unhealthy idea that “children are born bad” is the one thing that truly, completely sickens me about conservative thought.

The second thing I figured out is that the “better life” they want for their children means exactly one thing:  more money.  More material wealth.  Bigger houses, better vacations.  That’s the only thing they mean by “better”.  I suppose there is some grudging allowance for scientific advances in things like medicine, too, but the main thing is more money.

It’s a pretty poor way to judge a human life, but even so — I still don’t get how they think their kids are going to benefit in that way from the leadership of a man, and a party, that both have a long history of screwing over the average guy when it comes to money.

Yes, I grieve for what might have been, personally and nationally.  The difference is that nationally, I also fear for the future.

Epigenetics: It Leaves a Mark

Some VERY intriguing info here:

“You might have inherited… your grandmother’s predisposition toward depression caused by the neglect she suffered as a newborn. 

“Or not… The mechanisms of behavioral epigenetics underlie not only deficits and weaknesses but strengths and resiliencies, too… Like grandmother’s vintage dress, you could wear it or have it altered (or rip out an old sweater and re-knit it). The genome has long been known as the blueprint of life, but the epigenome is life’s Etch A Sketch:

Shake it hard enough, and you can wipe clean the family curse.

Maybe this is the reason I never wanted to be a mother myself:

“…they found that inattentive mothering in rodents causes methylation of the genes for estrogen receptors in the brain. When those babies grow up, the resulting decrease of estrogen receptors makes them less attentive to their babies. And so the beat goes on.

And maybe this explains some other differences and impacts:

“…Why can’t your friend “just get over” her upbringing by an angry, distant mother? Why can’t she “just snap out of it”? The reason may well be due to methyl groups that were added in childhood to genes in her brain, thereby handcuffing her mood to feelings of fear and despair.

“Our study shows that the early stress of separation from a biological parent impacts long-term programming of genome function…”

“… suggesting that epigenetic transmission may not be at the root. Instead, Nestler proposes, “the female might know she had sex with a loser. She knows it’s a tainted male she had sex with, so she cares for her pups differently,” accounting for the results.”

“And what if we could create a pill potent enough to wipe clean the epigenetic slate of all that history wrote? If such a pill could free the genes within your brain of the epigenetic detritus left by all the wars, the rapes, the abandonments and cheated childhoods of your ancestors, would you take it?”

Sign me up.

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.

Cleaning House

2016-08-29 11.22.51Man, it is annoying as shit, the painful ways your past finds to ambush you when you least expect it.

I cleaned out a bunch of books this weekend.  There are cabinets in our bookcase that I probably haven’t opened since we moved six years ago.

And what did I find but eight — EIGHT — Thurber books.

To understand the significance of this, you have to understand that Thurber is practically a religion for my sister (venerating our mother, of course).

The holy book of this unholy maternal worship is The Thurber Carnival.  There is a dingy brown-and-orange hardback copy of it that was our mother’s, which I am sure is in my sister’s possession now.

This is the only Thurber book that counts, of course.

Yet over my younger years, I apparently collected EIGHT different books of Thurber.  There is a kids book, which I am sure no one else has ever read.  I even read his biography once.


Thurber is something that never fails to make my sister laugh.  But in her hands, it is humor that excludes:  a kind of a specialized language that the older siblings, especially, use to communicate among themselves, and exclude anyone who isn’t really in the club.

I guarantee not one family gathering goes past without some reference to Thurber.  Just a few words of a cartoon caption from someone (but it has to be the “right” someone), and they are off and running and laughing themselves sick.  Most of the time they don’t even have to finish the sentences.

Which would be fine — except that in-laws, for example, don’t have a hope of understanding what is going on, let alone of joining in the fun.

And for some reason, this conversation always seems to happen in the kitchen, or some other public, central place — and because it is so loud, with (certain) people shouting bits of prose at each other, and gasping with laughter, it grabs everyone’s attention, and takes over the entire gathering when it happens.

It is so much a part of my memories of family gatherings:  it always happens.  I can remember witnessing this display, trying to join in even, and eventually being pointedly aware that I was being kept firmly on the outside, looking in.

The humor of Thurber generates power for my sister by strengthening the bonds of the Triumvirate, and excluding anyone who doesn’t “get it” (because of course, they weren’t there) — thus neatly defining who the “real family” is, in a very subtle way, as it also emphasizes the all-important connection to Mom.


Today, I immediately recognize my Thurber collection for what it was:  another sad, desperate, failed attempt to be accepted by my own family, to be admitted “into the club” — by my sister, and probably by extension, my mother.

It’s sad, but it didn’t make me cry, or want to cry.  Instead it made me super angry by about the time I found the fourth one.  It made me so angry to see this physical remnant of how I stupidly tried to earn acceptance into a group — or more specifically, acceptance by one person who runs the group — that has never had any intention of truly accepting me.

It’s funny how well I understood the unspoken communication, telling me that I am not a part of the “real” family, and it’s sad that I so diligently tried to find a way in anyway.  Like it was my job to somehow become worthy of acceptance.

And it’s infuriating that my maladapted sister has the power here.  Who died and made her the fucking arbiter of who is worthy to be in the club?

Oh, wait, yeah.  Dad and Mom died.

And my sister has, equally desperately perhaps, tried to make me into nothing ever since.  Her job would have been a whole lot easier if Mom had managed to hang on longer.  Then again, maybe I would have figured everything out a whole lot sooner, in a post-Dad world, a world once again run by my mother.  Who knows?

Normally, the chore of dropping off donations at various places is my husband’s job.  But there is one box of books that I will be taking personally — or just possibly setting on fire.

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Independence Day

14100339_508486292684313_6929781733484702103_nToday is my own personal Independence Day.

It’s been four years since I sent that first letter of resignation to my FOO, and started out on a journey of trying to figure the whole mess out.

Four years since it finally got so bad that it was more painful to have a “family” than not have one.

Four years since I realized I did have that choice, and that there was a better chance for me to be happier if I made it.

Last night I dreamed I got an email from one of my nieces, telling me that one of my brothers was dead.  It was very realistic:  I could tell you exactly what it said, who sent it, who had died.  The dream woke me up, and I was a little startled, and a little sad.  Because if I find out at all, that’s how I’ll find out.  I know that.

And I know that’s how this will all end, because — barring an act of god or some other form of miracle — I know this is how it will all stay.

And while it’s a shame, it’s still better for me than going back to the way things were.

I’ve made this decision, knowingly, consciously, rationally, because things were shittier for me without this decision.

That is my reality.  That is what is real for me.

My FOO will instantly say that I’m wrong — because they have no other option.  I cannot possibly be allowed to be right, even about myself and my own reality.  Is that the epitome of arrogance, or what?

But they need for me to be wrong, so they can continue to be right.

That’s why nothing is going to change.  Because what needs to be true for them is to deny me my reality.  They need to erase me and diminish me, and hurt me — or at least, allow me to be attacked and hurt, and refuse to do anything about it:  refuse to protect me, defend me, or even just to listen to me.

And what I need from them:  justice, fairness, and accountability, for the Susan Incident — along with equality, respect, and acceptance, for the long term, the things that are missing which allowed the Susan Incident to happen — they are still adamantly unwillingly to give me.

Given all that, it should have been an easy choice.  It wasn’t.  But my choice was really between two shitty things.  For me, there was no “good” option.  The choice to keep the peace, not make waves, not stand up for myself, just “forget” about the horrible way Susan and Joe acted towards me on the worst day of my life — that was also a shitty choice.  It was an easy choice for everyone else, so for years I tried it.

Then four years ago, my youngest brother just had to throw it all back in my face, and that’s when I finally had had enough.

I am sure no one has blamed him for picking that fight.  I am sure I get the blame for that too, right along with the fight I supposedly picked with Joe and Susan.  And they can, and will, go on believing what they need to believe in order to make it all my fault.

I’m definitely better off without that bullshit.  Easy choice, no.  Right choice, yes.

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An Open Letter To Donald Trump From A Social Worker

Well, after yesterday’s post, this open letter hits home (heavily edited for length here).

I’ve hated the patriarchy for a long time, for what it did to my career.  More recently, I’ve come to hate it for what it’s done to my family.


Dear Mr. Trump:

…I’m a social worker.

when someone got angry, I got curious. “Why are they angry?” I’d think. Sure, maybe I was annoying, but where did that anger come from?

…I’m much more concerned about the kid who’s being “bad.” I’m wondering what the message is behind his taunting, her racial slurs, his homophobia, her violence, his haughtiness.

I’ve learned, and it hasn’t always been easy, to look for the message behind the behavior, no matter how horrendous that behavior is to others (or to me).

See, I told you social work is a weird profession.

So when I hear you mock Marco Rubio (“little Marco”), or when I hear you talk about women as if they’re reduced to their biological cycle, or when I hear you be dismissive of other people (“You’re fired!”) I admit, I’m curious.

I want to know why you feel the need to say things in such an inflammatory, divisive, dismissive way.

What is behind this need to do that to others?

And let me say, this isn’t just you that I’m curious about, Mr. Trump.
I know a lot of your supporters. I’m related to several of them.

I’m really, really curious as to what happened to you and to them.

I want to know why you feel the need to say things in such an inflammatory, divisive, dismissive way.

Especially dismissive. Why don’t you have a conversation where you respect the other person talking?

What are you covering up?

…I really don’t understand why, with all your money, with all your power, with all your status you, you, you of all people need to humiliate others. To, for lack of a better word, “bully” them.

I know that if I’m in a conversation or an argument with someone, and I’m feeling the desire to say something cutting or shaming, it’s because I’ve usually run out of logical argument strands.

…But I know that when I do it always means I “lost.”

…You can be you without having to prove to everyone how you-ish you are.


… except when your mother, your culture, your religion, and everything else around you is telling you that you can’t.

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A Moment of Clarity About Trump Supporters

“The fool tries to adjust the truth so he does not have to adjust to it…the fool adjusts the truth so he has to do nothing different. He is never wrong; someone else is.” — Dr. Henry Cloud, “Necessary Endings”

I’ve realized this is the core trait of those who support Donald Trump.

These are people who do not cope well with things not being as they want them. At the same time, when faced with a problem, they don’t want to change anything about their own behavior.

Wise people, according to Cloud, listen to feedback, take it in, adjust their behavior accordingly. But foolish people DON’T WANT TO CHANGE. They want reality to adjust to them, not the other way around.

To summarize, again from Cloud’s book: When a conflict or problem comes up, foolish people refuse to take responsibility or change their behavior or thinking.

They get defensive, they shift blame, they minimize, rationalize, give excuses, manipulate, attack.

They look for and ally with people who agree with them to “prove” they are right, and divide the world into the “good guys” who agree with them and the “bad guys” who don’t.

They hate Obama so much, with his message of “Hope and Change”. And they love how Palin mocked it with her “hopey-changey thing”.

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I recognize this behavior, because I come from a whole family of people like this.

There is a brother who thinks that if he yells loud enough and long enough, so that you give up and walk away, he’s WON THE ARGUMENT.

There is a SIL who will ask you a question, and when she doesn’t get the answer that she wants to hear, she adjusts reality to match what she thinks.  She either ignores what you said, or she keeps asking the question in different ways until you are so sick of her you will say anything just to shut her up, so you tell her what she obviously wants to hear.  And she goes away happy, genuinely believing that she’s given you a choice, and that, happily, you made the right one.  Eventually.

Of course we have the elephant in the room, the conflict over The Susan Incident.  And of course, these people are coping with it the only way they know how:  Joe and Susan just know they are right, and I am therefore wrong.  I’m the one who needs to change, not them.  Never them.

There is another brother who thinks if he ignores the fact that I say there’s a problem, there won’t be a problem.  And a sister who “refuses to get involved.”  And they band together in their personal little echo chamber, validating each other, never taking in any outside opinions or evidence.

None of these people accept that there is such a thing as compromise, or agreeing to disagree. You either agree with them, or you are wrong. And they will never back down, no matter how much proof you show them, because admitting guilt or responsibility is MUCH WORSE than looking stupid.

Sound familiar?

It’s exactly why Trump appeals to a certain demographic so much.

He’s never wrong.

He never backs down when he’s shown to be wrong. Instead, he doubles down.

He yells louder, he mocks and demeans, he shifts blame, gets defensive, minimizes, rationalizes… you get the picture.

AND HE LOOKS NORMAL TO THEM.

Finally, there is someone on the public stage who acts the way they act, and who shows that acting this way can be successful — when for most of their lives, the way they act has been hugely counterproductive (although it is never their own fault that this is so). They’ve never seen anyone who openly thinks and acts so much like them in such a successful position before.

They go to the rallies because of all the other people there who agree with them, which “proves” they are right. No, really. They seriously believe that this means they are RIGHT.

And it’s exciting! People around them agree with them! The guy up on stage is saying what they think! They shouldn’t have to change! THE WORLD ought to change for THEM!

FINALLY! A CANDIDATE WHO “GETS IT”!!

Political correctness is terrible, because in effect it tells them they are wrong. My brother ought to be able to use the “N” word right out in public if he wants to! He shouldn’t have to change! Telling him he can’t – well, that’s saying that he’s WRONG.

No, Trump says. You’re RIGHT. It’s the WORLD that’s wrong, it’s the fault of someone else that things are so bad, that you’ve been made to feel in the wrong for so long. And Trump explains that this is all the fault of those other guys, those weak, liberal losers who are so pathetic.

That all makes perfect sense to them.

And it’s hugely validating. Finally, someone really big, a huge success, is telling them that they don’t have to change; and that they can win too, if they go along with him.

Who — after a lifetime of the kind of life that results from these poor coping skills — could pass up that carrot?

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So what can a normal, healthy person do when faced with this?

[Well, in my personal case, I got the fuck away from these people.  I set the limits and the consequences — and I did it badly, because I didn’t quite know that’s what I was doing.  But it’s worked.  I lost a “family”, sure, but what I lost wasn’t much of a family to begin with.]

On the political level, we can’t stop Trump. Trump is what Cloud’s book refers to as an “evil person”. That person only responds to “lawyers, guns, and money.” They do what they do because they can. Until and unless Trump personally does something that legally prevents him from taking office, or something that would turn his legions of foolish followers against him — he will not be stopped.

So the question becomes, how do we eliminate the possibility that he will win?

According to Cloud, the only thing that will work on foolish people is “limits and consequences”.

“The strategy… is simple: Quit talking about the problem and…communicate that you are going to take steps to protect what is important to you, the mission, or other people.”

1) QUIT TALKING ABOUT TRUMP. Refuse to give him any credence at all. Media, I’m talking to YOU. The more these people see him, in all his golden grandeur, and the more they hear about him, the more they become convinced that he is right — which means they are right — and that many other people think and feel the same way, which again convinces them that they are right to vote for him.

2) LIMITS AND CONSEQUENCES. I don’t see that there is any way we can set limits on their behavior. We cannot forbid them to vote; we cannot show them any potential consequence of a Trump presidency that is bad enough to get them to change their minds about him, because that basically starts off by telling them that they are wrong. Any attempt to show them the error of their ways causes them to “double down”, just like their hero.

You can try taking away your attention. You can refuse to listen to their derisive slurs and bigoted arguments, and make it clear that’s why you are removing yourself from the conversation – but don’t say it’s because they are wrong. Calmly say instead that you don’t share those values, that instead you believe ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, like the Constitution says. And just stop there.

Or you can try pointing out how a specific Trump policy will adversely affect them personally, if you can. Cloud points out “the only time they get it is when it begins to cost them.” You will probably have to speak in their bigoted language, though. “What are you going to do when Trump deports all the Mexicans and you can’t get your lawn mowed any more?”

3) Above all, you can VOTE FOR CLINTON, and tell others you are voting for Clinton. A third party vote is exactly what Trump is hoping a lot of people will do.

This is not the year to make a point.

This is the year to save our nation, ourselves and each other.

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