The Truth Is The Truth

Born into a war and peace
Forced to choose between a right and wrong
Each man kills the thing he loves
For better or for worse
Face to face with a ragged truth
Mixed up and torn in two
And turned your back on the only thing
That could save you from yourself


After all time building up
Comes inevitable knocking down
Comes receivers liars gamblers
Pick pocket entourage
Selling out is a cardinal sin
Sinning with a safety net (THREE BY THREE)
They say that all things come in threes
Here comes the third degree


All cards are marked
And all fates will collide
The truth is the truth
Or the truth is surely a lie
Get back in your shelter
If you can’t come down off the fence
And one more question
Where were you?
Where were you?



Why I’ve Given Up

Because this family is, in a word, unhealthy.

Because they aren’t going to change.

Because I’ve learned there are other ways for people who love each other to treat each other, and I like the healthy, nice, ways better.

If someone loves you, it should feel like they love you.

Because I’ve tried explaining, over and over, and they just won’t listen.  They won’t even try to listen.  My sister refuses to “get involved”.  Joe and Susan are simply right about everything.  My oldest brother refuses to talk about it with me any more, and my youngest brother thinks yelling at me is the way to fix things.

And you, as the codependent, try to reason with him, change his mind, or challenge every verbal assault point-by-point in hopes that he snaps out of his irrational behavior.

Maybe this time he will understand, you think.

If I explain it to him this way, he will get it. He can’t be THAT close-minded, I’m going to tell him once more.

But the more you explain, the colder and more manipulative he becomes. He may talk to you like a child, as if you’re stupid. And you can’t even believe how a person can lack such empathy, so you explain more, trying harder and harder to make him “get it” — and the more you do that, the more it supplies his narcissistic fantasies that he is better and smarter than anyone.

I really don’t know if they CAN’T, or if they WON’T, but either way I don’t much care any more.

All the advice out there is basically summed up as this:  You can’t do anything about it, so don’t try.  Just get away, for your own sake.

If the abuser is a family member, your options are similar: approach others to see if you can get support, and stop seeing abusive/unsupportive members. Unfortunately, the great majority of families in which there is an abuser are not at all supportive of members who demand that the abuse stop, and members of these families often turn against the abused member. Dysfunctional families are irrational and incapable of meeting requests for healthy boundaries, and no contact with some or all of the family may be your only option. If… the abuse is not seen through, not looked into, or you’re not taken seriously, then the problem, like with abusive families, is a deeper and more systemic one, and leaving will be your best option, no matter how much you may have wanted… otherwise.

I’ve gone no-contact with most of my family of origin now.

Ironically, me taking the healthiest option left to me is also being criticized by my family, and I am now at fault for “being distant”.  Well fuck me.  They don’t like it when their scapegoat leaves.  Don’t worry, from what I’ve learned, you can still blame me for all the problems, even if I’m not there.  Hell, Mom was able to continue to blame Dad for shit she pulled 20 years later, so what’s the big deal?



Martyrs R Us

Flylady says, “Nobody loves a martyr.”

My DH pointed out that there is indeed, one specific group that really does love a martyr.

Oh yes, the Catholic Church.

An organization that can bring itself to honor, beatify, and probably canonize, a woman who thought like this:

Most troubling was her commitment to publicly reaffirming the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy’s position on contraception at every opportunity. I found it difficult to see as a saint any woman who would advise the mother of a starving child to eschew contraception. Yet Mother Teresa did this. Consistently. And publicly...Teresa of Calcutta was no such missionary. It is precisely her willingness to validate the hierarchy’s position on “family planning” that renders her the favorite daughter of the hierarchy. …If the woman ministering to babies as they die of starvation can continue to preach against contraception…


She believed that poverty was a virtue to brought one closer to God.The more a person suffers, whether they ask for that suffering or not, the closer they are to God according to the warped fantasy of Mother Theresa…  She believed suffering was good, abortion was wrong, and birth control was evil. …Why would a sane human being refuse pain killers to a dying lady in pain, other than a belief in a God. And what a poor argument for an all loving God that would be.

Anyone who can sit and watch a baby starve to death — STARVE TO DEATH — and still actually believe that that is better than swallowing a pill, using a condom, aborting a clump of cells — I have absolutely no hesitation in calling that person a monster.

And this is what I find disgusting about the Catholic Church, and those who shut their ears and refuse to question this garbage because it is oh-so-holy.  Tell me what is holy about deliberately INCREASING human suffering?  That is not holy — that is sick.

One summer the sisters living on the outskirts of Rome were given more crates of tomatoes than they could distribute. None of their neighbors wanted them because the crop had been so prolific that year. The sisters decided to can the tomatoes rather than let them spoil, but when Mother found out what they had done she was very displeased. Storing things showed lack of trust in Divine Providence.

This is how belief in religion can actually make an otherwise intelligent person think that suffering is good, starvation is fine, prudence is a sin, waste is doubt, birth control is wrong.  Once you get those under your belt, I suppose it’s not too much of a stretch to decide that black is white, your mother is a saint, your father is a monster, crazy is normal, and the healthy family members are the ones with the problems.

There is always the danger that we may become only social workers or just do the work for the sake of the work.

Yeah.  That “danger” is that someone might realize that the Church is bullshit.  You don’t need God or Jesus or a church to do the right thing for another human being.  But you do need them to make life decisions that fuck over your whole family.  Like my mother did.

She had a blood clot in her leg when she was pregnant with her 4th child.  My sister seems to be under the impression that it had to be removed because it might kill the baby.  I am guessing they didn’t tell her the truth at the time, because she would only have been about 10 or so.  A doctor in Kansas City got the thing out of her leg with a pipette, which was frankly genius.

The medical opinion was that after that pregnancy, she should have a hysterectomy, because further pregnancies could also kill her.

My mother refused, because — you guessed it!  The Church said that wasn’t the right thing to do!

She went on to have two more pregnancies, and one of them produced me.  The one with me sent her over the edge of sanity.  I don’t know if it was spending nine months wondering if she would die, or if she was just mad as hell that (her medical condition + refusal of appropriate treatment) did not automatically equal a “get-out-of-having-to-have-sex-with-your-husband” card.

I strongly suspect that my mother’s view of her marital relations went something like this:

Sex is only for having babies.

I don’t want any more babies (despite what the Church specifically says in the marriage vows about welcoming children as a gift from God).

The doctors say if I have any more babies, I could die, unless I have this recommended procedure.

I choose to refuse this procedure because the Church says so.

This combination of my own choices means that if I have any more sex, I could die.

Therefore, I am no longer obligated to have sex with my husband, and he’s a bastard if he still expects normal marital relations.  (But I still reserve the right to get outraged if I think he’s having an affair.)


Well, what the hell.  It’s about as healthy a belief as anything else that comes from the Catholic Church.

How Did I Get So Lucky?

Having established that I am probably the mentally healthiest of the family, I started to wonder why that was.  What was so different about my childhood that allowed me to be a dramatically healthier, more functional person?

Well, the short and obvious answer is, I was raised by and identified with the healthy parent.

My parents were married for almost 30 years.  For more than 20, my father’s job was one where he was traveling most of the work week.  This is not automatically a recipe for disaster — plenty of military families make it work, for example.  But it does require a mother who is competent and capable of running the family and the household by herself — not one who wants to be taken care of and doesn’t like to work too hard.  It requires a mother who is a part of a team, who is the glue that holds the family together.  Our mother was not that mother.

When my dad was 18 or so, he enlisted in the Coast Guard in WWII so that he could send money home to his mother and the younger kids.  His own father had died before he was 40, and after that they struggled for money.  Dad became the hero who went off to work and sent money home to provide for his family.  I have gotten his old military records, and there is a letter in there written by his mother, explaining that he was indeed the main provider for a family, so that he could qualify for extra pay.  And he came back to a home run by a mother who did her own job properly while he was away, and appreciated what he did.

I have wondered if my father stuck with the marriage as long as he did in part because he convinced himself that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing  — providing for his family — and if it was easier for him to be gone all the time, well, at least the kids were not at risk.  Maybe he thought that by him being the scapegoat-in-chief, that protected the children from the unholy, unhealthy ways of my mother.

Of course this is not the case.  The narcissistic mother poisoned all her kids to think the same way she did, to shift blame whenever possible, as she did, onto Dad for everything.  Dad was always the bad guy.  My siblings were systematically alienated from their father by a mother who had to have someone to blame.

I believe that when the family moved, and my father’s job became one where he was home every night instead of only on the weekends, he began to see how things really were.  What he learned from my mother’s psychologist after I was born probably added the weight of professional advice to his decision.  My sister said that our father once told her, “Your mother is crazy, and you’re going to end up as crazy as she is.”  To me that indicates that he understood the depths of our mother’s mental health problems, and he also understood that she had probably passed them on to their children.

And I believe that once my father really understood what was going on, he chose to do whatever he could still do to not allow the caustic pattern to continue.  He figured out (correctly) that the only way out was, well, out.  So, he divorced her, and instead of just walking away, which he could oh-so-easily have done, he fought for custody of the minor children that were left.

Thus I was protected by him, more than any of the others — because I was the youngest, and had experienced the least of my mother’s unhealthy influence and parental alienation.  It was much harder for her to alienate me from a father who was home every night, and who loved me, and took care of me in the ways she didn’t or couldn’t.

I believe I am the only one of his children who really, wholeheartedly, loved him.  That doesn’t exactly make me special — it just means my mom didn’t get to work on me the way she did the others.

But to Dad, I was special.

A few days before Dad died, we had a conversation — one of the few where I ever saw my dad cry.  He knew he was dying.  He told me, “I’m going to miss you.”

I said something about how I would miss him too, and that for those of us left behind, it would be years and years, a long, long, time — but for him maybe it would only be a blink of an eye until we saw each other again.

He said, in a muffled voice — because his head was on the kitchen table, on his arms, because he didn’t want me to see him crying — “Yes, but you’re special.”

I still have that kitchen table, and the chair he sat in when he said it.

I believe that in me, he found his redemption, his proof that he really could be a good father, away from the sick influence of a woman who hated and blamed him.


One of my biggest regrets is that I never figured any of this out when he was alive — of course, it took his death for the truth to bubble up, so as long as he was alive, I could not have done so.  I suspect that is just proof of what he sacrificed:  not telling anyone about all of this, just doing what was right, and enduring years and years of blame and infamy from almost all his children.

Almost all.

There was one who was different.  And I am so grateful to have been that one.

I wish like hell that I could talk to him, even just for a few seconds — it just has to be long enough to tell him, “Hey, Dad, I figured it out.  I get it.  I understand. And I love you.”


Being The Scapegoat

I have at least started to learn some healthy boundaries.  One of them is to call out someone who mistreats you.  Hello, Joe & Susan!

For about a dozen years, I tried to “just get over” all this, as instructed.  I was told this is my problem, and I needed therapy to find a way for me to deal with it.

Well, I went to therapy, and learned a lot of things.  Most of the stuff I am writing about here stems from those sessions.

We got to narcissism very quickly:  on my second visit, after I had been asked to think about what beliefs operate in my family of origin, I said to my therapist, “Susan is never wrong, and Mom is never to blame.  Are those two the same thing?”  She got this huge, genuine, happy smile across her face, as though I had done something really clever.  (I might add, I immediately had a very strong urge to do whatever I could to see another smile like that.  This probably tells a lot about how little approval and smiling I got from the people around me, growing up.)

Another thing I learned about was scapegoating.  Mine was relatively (ha!) subtle in some ways — until our parents died.  While my father lived, he prevented the continuation of the old pattern as best he could.  When he died, it came back with a vengeance.

This article and this one describe the phenomenon clearly.

How to Tell if You Have Been Scapegoated:

  1. You are held responsible for family problems, conflicts or challenges, even if they have nothing to do with you.  Other people blame you for their actions.  You may end up feeling a lot of shame for being ‘the bad guy’, and/or anger for being blamed for negative family dynamics.
  2. You are attacked and disbelieved if you tell the truth and ‘blow the whistle’ on negative and/or inappropriate family dynamics.
  3. There has been a history of one or more family members being verbally, emotionally or physically abusive towards you.  Other family members seem to accept or look the other way when you are bullied or aggressed against like this.  You may feel like the ‘black sheep’ of the family.
  4. You find yourself repeatedly being accused of behavior the scapegoater is engaged in. For example, a family member repeatedly yells at you, and then accuses you of being abusive, or being thoughtful and then told “all you care about is yourself”.
  5. You act out the negative ‘expectations’ of scapegoating such as not living up to your potential, or getting into relationships with abusive people because your self esteem is has been damaged.
  6. Being the mentally healthiest family member, but being accused of being sick, bad, etc.
  7. Occupying the role of family outcast, and being treated with disdain or disgust by family or yourself.
  8. Your achievements are belittled, minimized, criticized and rejected.
 Ta-da!    Seven out of eight.

Those two articles, as well as this one, point out that the scapegoat is likely to be the healthiest one in the family, the one who goes looking for answers.  And I found some.

If you are the scapegoat, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you are the one most likely to go searching for answers – and find them. That is because you are the one in the most pain from carrying the burden of blame for the family. The scapegoats are also usually the truly strong ones in the family, as well as being the truth tellers.

I guess you know the bad news. You are blamed for everything. The scapegoats are the ones who allow the rest of the family to appear to be “normal,” purged of their wrongs. Narcissistic personality disordered mothers chronically scapegoat. If everything is the scapegoat’s fault (and it’s not), then the rest of the family can continue to avoid the real issue. The narcissistic mother can keep pretending to be “normal,” since you are supposedly the problem. “While they [malignant narcissists] seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense.” The People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

The very existence of a scapegoat in the family signals a problem, because a scapegoat is only required in a family when someone consistently refuses to take responsibility for their own actions…

…Those same qualities of strength and emotional honesty or truth telling will greatly work in your favor in the healing process. If you are the scapegoat, you have the strength to escape, heal and lead a healthier life. As hard as it may be, try not to internalize all of the blaming and scapegoating. Realize you are dealing with a very sick parent. The truth hurts, but then it really does set you free.

So for the past couple of years, I have instead been trying the healthier alternative of calling out this mistreatment of me to the people involved (or, as in the case of my sister, studiously not involved).  I figured I ought to at least give them a chance to learn, to grow, to address the issues that have plagued our family for decades.

It has not gone over well.  My “family” have refused to hear any of this — probably because of their own unhealthy boundaries and behaviors.  It is much easier for everyone else if I remain the scapegoat, if we all pretend that what Joe and Susan did to me was perfectly OK, and it was not hateful behavior on their part, but an over-reaction on mine.  If we insist that me doing exactly the same thing as Susan did, three months later, is some sort of heinous crime the second time around.

Like I said, I tried that for a dozen years.  It didn’t work for me.  Another healthy personal boundary is to put one’s own needs first, and that is what I am now doing.

There may be some defensiveness and push-back from those involved… Be aware that some people in your life may fall away as a result of your outlook and demand for respect. But these aren’t people you want in your life anyway… Whatever you do, don’t compromise your values, integrity, and self-respect simply to keep someone in your life.

The History, Part 2 – Mom’s Death

So, after all this shit happened — believe it or not, 3 months later, my mother dies.

So we travel back to my home town, and are staying at my dad’s house, which hasn’t been sold yet.

I spent most of the the time clearing out my mom’s assisted living quarters by myself, and I avoided everyone else as much as I could.

But two important things happened during that time.

One was that right after Mom died, as we were walking along the hospital halls, I apparently said something about our mom that my youngest brother considered insensitive, and all hell broke loose.  While no one can remember what it actually was that I said, Joe later wrote that it was “disparaging and disrespectful” and “completely disregarding the feelings of others that had a better relationship.”

I have apologized to my youngest brother for whatever it was I said multiple times, and specifically for hurting his feelings with this mystery comment.

As far as I know, he still insists on believing that my motivation for making that remark was to “get back at everyone” for what happened at Dad’s death.

(Which is interesting, because it shows that on some level he recognizes that the two situations are in fact parallels.  But it simply isn’t true that I made my remark with intention for revenge — although ascribing such a nasty motive to me without any evidence is a completely normal thing to do to a scapegoat.  Scapegoats are guilty, even if they are proven innocent.  I also think that even if I had done it out of revenge, I’d think I might have some justification, after that horrible experience.)

Anyway, just to recap:

  • Susan had a jolly, laughing conversation with a hospice nurse shortly after Dad’s death (laughing while standing in the room with his body!).  I found that upsetting, and politely asked them to take it elsewhere. That is me overreacting, and I am the one at fault for that.
  • I said something shortly after Mom’s death, while walking down the hallway away from the hospital room.  My brother finds it upsetting.  But he is not overreacting. His angry, upset reaction is perfectly acceptable. I am at fault for that conflict, too.

The two events are basically equivalent.  But I am at fault in BOTH of these situations. Susan “did nothing wrong”.  I, on the other hand, was completely wrong.

This set of events is what led me down the road of wondering how this is possible.  From there I learned about narcissism and scapegoating.  Voilà.  It explains many things that are otherwise inexplicable.

The other thing that happened was bullying.  While my husband and I were staying in my Dad’s room, at one point my youngest brother decided he needed to shout at me for something (I am not sure if it was the above-mentioned remark, or what).

He came into our room to yell at me, he stood in my way so I couldn’t escape, and he refused to get out after I clearly and repeatedly told him to. Once again, no one came to my aid, other than my husband. No one told my brother that he was out of line to physically corner me in that room, and shout at me, and refuse to get out or let me leave.

No one found it unacceptable to let him bully me like that.

When I told my therapist about all this, she said, mystified, “You aren’t even allowed to defend yourself.”

This led me to the concept of healthy personal boundaries, as well as figuring out that I probably don’t have very good ones.

Boundaries are learned. If yours weren’t valued as a child, you didn’t learn you had them. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries… You may not believe you have any rights if yours weren’t respected growing up.

And guess who else doesn’t have healthy boundaries?  Probably just about everyone in this family, because the immediate reaction to conflict in this group is not to empathize, communicate, and resolve — but to shirk responsibility (my sister and my eldest brother) and to blame (Joe and Susan and my youngest brother).

… since you’re accountable for your feelings and actions, you don’t blame others.

Another article on boundaries has this to say:

…an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child may look like this… Mom is a narcissist, while the [child] is codependent, “the person who lives to give.” Mom knows that her [child] is the only one who will listen to her and help her. The [child] is afraid of standing up to Mom, and she exploits his caregiving.

I am instantly reminded of my sister’s words about testifying for our mother in the divorce hearing:  “… She had no one else.  NO ONE.”

Odd, that my sister could find it in her heart to stick up for my mother in those difficult circumstances, yet refuses to get involved with the current conflict.

Well, not so odd.  My sister was parentified by our mother worse than anyone else in the family, probably because she was a girl.

…parentification, where the parent leads the child to believe that they have to take care of their parents at all costs, be it financial, physical or emotional care. The child may have to be the parent’s therapist, or take one parent’s side against the other, lots of housework, paying the bills and so on.

And of course, if boundaries are learned, and our mother had lousy ones, then how would anyone else have learned anything healthy from her?

(click here for Part 3)

I miss my Dad

Attachment panic is the same thing that a baby feels when his mother looks at him with no expression, aka the Still Face Procedure. When the baby gets no emotional and visual feedback that his mother loves him and is attuned to him, he feels that the relationship is not secure, and this causes panic. Why? Because he is a mammal, and mammals need relationships to survive.

At Dad’s memorial service, I met one of his brothers, my uncle, for one of the very few times in my life.  He looked so much like my dad, it was startling.

But when I looked at his face, that familiar, loved face — there was no sign of recognition, no love, nothing.  I saw my father’s eyes, but with no love in them.

I still remember that as one of the very worst moments.  And I still miss my dad.

Dramatis Personae

Without using actual names*, the cast of this drama can be a little hard to follow.  Here is a guide.

  • My Dad
  • My Mom, a narcissist
  •  My sister, 17 years my senior, who “refuses to get involved”
  • My oldest brother, 16+, who thinks I need to “just get over it”
  • Next brother, 14+, Joe Henchal, who is married to Susan Henchal, an even worse narcissist

I refer to the three siblings above as “The Triumvirate”.  I suspect that my mother considered her family to be finished at this point.  They certainly are given to think that they are the ones whose opinions matter, who run things, who are in charge, and who get to tell us younger siblings how we should act.  I am 45, and as recently as within the past year, I have been reminded by one of them that “I used to change your diapers, you know.”  Because that gives him some kind of authority over me.  *eyeroll*

They also have a fierce loyalty to each other that does not extend to the rest of us.

(7 year gap – I assume my parents had no sex at all, probably because my mother felt her family was finished, and there’s no reason to have sex other than for having kids, right?)

  • Next brother, 7+
  • Last brother, 3+, who told me that there is no point in me “digging up the past like this” and that I am “tearing the family apart”.  (Guess what?  I’m not the one who started THAT project.  Although, just possibly I will finish it.)
  • Me

* I have deliberately left out names of everyone but two people:  the ones who treated me so horribly when my father died, and who have continued to maintain that they did nothing wrong.  Decide for yourself.

Me and My Dad

My dad and I were a lot alike.  I believe we thought in much the same way about many things.

I recently looked up the results of an old Meyers-Briggs test — possibly the first one I ever took, at my first job.  I was typed as an ESFJ.

Reading the description I found here made me think about whether Dad might not have been an ESFJ, too.  I’ll never know, of course, but it is kind of comforting to me to think so.

The bold remarks below are from the original; my observations are in italics.


Male ESFJs

As a type, ESFJs probably personify “motherhood”. Their gentle, caring nature, in its Extraverted way, takes them beyond their own needs to serve the world around them. As a result, they are the hosts and hostesses of the world. ESFJ males, who have less need to be “in charge” than to be concerned with others’ needs, may be torn between expressing the more conventionally masculine parts of their personalities and giving in to opposing tendencies. The male’s Sensing-Judging temperament, sometimes described as “stabilizer-traditionalist”, demands macho, objectively cool, yet aggressive behavior, while the Extraverted-Feeling preferences demands a warm or more caring and gentler role.

Certainly my father took on a traditionally female role when he took custody of his three youngest children.  If you read the testimony I gave our lawyer, it is clear that Dad’s idea of taking care of someone included service and concern with others’ needs.

This also makes sense if you ask why on earth this man would have chosen to — fought to! — take on the role of parenting three small children, one of them a 6YO girl, in an era when it was far more expected that he would cut and run.  (My siblings have various other explanations, from “he did it to hurt Mom” to “he fought for custody of the kids because whoever got the kids got the house.”  Yeah, right.  The house he sold in the fall of 1989, when I was in college, on my first co-op, and it became clear that I would never come to live at home again.  But maybe this acknowledges, in a twisted kind of way, that the HOME was important to him, as discussed below.)

This could also give a clue as to why my parents even got married — if Mom liked to be taken care of, and Dad did indeed take care of her — until there were children, at which point her job became to take care of them — well.  I just bet she’d resent that change in the arrangement.  And maybe for good reason, sort of.  “All conflict is caused by differing expectations” and if Mom somehow expected not to have to get her hands dirty once she had a house and kids to take care of, while Dad clearly expected exactly that — it’s a recipe for disaster.  It’s a mystery to me where she would have gotten that expectation, though.  Who thinks running a house by yourself all week and taking care of kids is an easy job?  She came from a big family of mostly girls, so maybe the older ones did most of the work?  I’ll never know.

Female ESFJs

If the ESFJ male is something of a fish out of water, the ESFJ female, in contrast, often represents the epitome of femininity. She always wears the right clothes, says the right words, and behaves the right way. ESFJ girls are the perfect children who never get dirty, and even as adults, never seem to get mussed. There’s something about an ESFJ — especially the female — that just reeks of appropriateness in all aspects of life.

I’m not too sure about this for myself, but I do know I have always been neat and tidy, even as a child.

Weak points

Don’t think that ESFJs have found perfection, however. As EJs, for example, they are given to quick, abrasive comments whenever their routines are interrupted. As SFs, however, they are critical of their own EJ behavior and compensate for their abrasiveness with extra sweetness. To paraphrase Isabel Briggs Myers, they have many “shoulds” and “should nots”, and they express them freely. They may especially overlook facts when they find a situation disagreeable or a criticism hurtful. As a result, they may sweep problems under the rug rather than seek solutions.

Dad hated it when dinner was late.  And I can remember there were certain things that happened every week, such as me cleaning out the refrigerator.

Routines weren’t always about chores, though.  The last summer I spent at home, we cooked a T-bone steak out on a little hibachi grill on the back steps every Sunday evening.

And perhaps this helps explain why my dad continued to work at a job that made him an absentee father for years, even as the marriage apparently deteriorated.

Home life

Photo.aspxThe ESFJ’s home is the center of his or her universe: it is the focus of family life, the place for entertainment, the bastion against the harshness of the outside world, the ultimate womb for all family members. The ESFJ’s home is generally neat and orderly, however much activity takes place there. It isn’t advisable to tell an ESFJ to relax as long as there are unmade beds or messy kitchens. Relaxation for the ESFJ comes both from doing such chores and from knowing that they are done. (As an EJ, they may complain about the mess and about how much work must be done, but they nevertheless are happiest in serving others in this way.) Like all Js, ESFJs schedule their relaxation whether it be reading a book or being with friends.

As a rule, home can be a place of fun, happiness, and affirmation for the ESFJ. These things must take place on schedule, however, and in an “appropriate” manner. Parties, for example, are great, but only when sufficiently planned; “spontaneous fun” is a contradiction in terms. “Appropriateness” extends to dress, decor, and behavior. ESFJs mete out assignments to family members and expect them to be done correctly and in timely fashion. They readily impose behavioral “shoulds” on other family members, and when disappointed in their expectations of others they become either hurt or upset.

In my younger adult days, I always had a difficult time leaving chores undone.  Over the two decades I have spent running my own home with my husband, I have learned to relax on this a bit.  But I still have a hard time, say, walking the dog after dinner before all the dishes are cleared away and the kitchen is spic and span.  I hate to come home to dirty dishes on the counter, whether we have been gone 5 minutes or two weeks.  When we travel, the house has to be neat and everything in its place before we leave.

This phrase is me all over:  “Parties, for example, are great, but only when sufficiently planned” — and “spontaneous fun is a contradiction in terms” could be tattooed on my forehead.

If Dad thought this way too, then when he came home from a long work week to find the home in disarray, it is not hard to imagine that he would find this a betrayal of how things were supposed to be.


This need for appropriateness also drives ESFJs’ parenting style. The child of an ESFJ parent probably feels loved and generally satisfied, albeit somewhat restricted by the “shoulds” and “oughts”, coupled with the constant need to put work (homework, housework, etc.) before play. ESFJs are generally very patient with children, although even patience can be subject to other demands and responsibilities. An ESFJ parent is likely to be looked upon as being somewhat strict, but still very loving and caring.

My older siblings have complained about how they never could have any fun on the weekends, when Dad was home, and of course this got blamed on Dad’s presence and his insistence on doing chores first before fun — chores that apparently didn’t get done while he was gone all week.  What gets left out is that if Mom had disciplined herself, and them, to do the chores during the week, there would have been opportunity to have fun on the weekend.


The same, in fact, may be said of ESFJs in relationships. They are very loyal, almost to a fault, often sacrificing their own needs in favor of the mates’. This, combined with with their drive for harmony, often puts their personal welfare low on the list of priorities and can result in their feeling more like hired help than lovers or mates. The paradox is that while it is difficult for them to acknowledge their own needs, they may resent those who take them for granted.

Growing up

ESFJ children bring the same graciousness, caring, and punctuality to their young lives. They tend to be neat and easy to be around. At school, ESFJs like teachers who stick to a lesson plan and generally “follow the rules”. They respond well in such situations with good work habits and punctually completed assignments. In one study, ESFJs were rated by teachers and school psychologists as the ideal type to have in the classroom. Many of the qualities desired by teachers come naturally to ESFJs: they are helpful, cooperative, and eager to please.

They are like that at home too. But difficulties may arise with ESFJs, as with all Js, if some of the demands placed on them conflict with strong inner needs. Bedtime, for example, can be difficult for the gregarious Extraverted child, whose social needs may conflict with the night’s hour and parents’ demands. Still, ESFJ children think “parents should be parents” and appreciate rules and regulations imposed by those in authority. Like their SJ adult counterparts, they may protest such authority, at the same time respecting and expecting it. Role clarity is important.

Hell, I still have a hard time going to bed at a decent hour.


ESFJs’ careers often lean toward those that serve humanity: nursing, public school teaching, clergy, and psychology. Sales and other public service-oriented jobs also have particular appeal. More impersonal tasks (related to computers, for example, or bookkeeping) and jobs that demand theory and speculation (such as college teaching, consulting, and especially investment brokering) can be particularly stressful to an ESFJ.

I have thought for a long time that I should have gone into psychology.  I am only partly joking when I quip that what I do now — teaching knitting — is about 1/3 therapy.

Late in life

In their later years, ESFJs may mellow somewhat, but they still are guided by the same values that shaped their earlier years. After a life devoted to meeting the needs of those around them, they may turn their attention to more abstract, universal concerns. Even in retirement, however, they tend to be driven by “shoulds” (and, perhaps, a few “shouldn’ts”), though the “shoulds” may be of a more leisurely kind, with perhaps less emphasis on service ideals — for example, learning a language, tending to neglected hobbies, or meeting some self-directed needs. In general, home, children, and grandchildren play central roles; they prefer to have family nearby and accessible, and may also enjoy the occasional unexpected visitor. For them, the ultimate symbol of security may be the continually replenished woodpile for the fireplace around which the family gathers.

Orange Juice

I was close to 30 before I began to realize just how manipulative my mother was.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By that time I was married, and we had a house in Dallas.  Mom was visiting us.

We were all in the kitchen having breakfast.  Mom was at the table, drinking orange juice.  I was at the stove, probably cooking eggs or pancakes or something — I know I had my hands full.  So I am not sure whether my husband was seated or standing.

I heard my mother say, “This orange juice is delicious.”  Either I heard her put down the empty glass, or I looked over to see.  Either way, I knew she had just finished the glass of juice that she had.

I heard my husband say, “I’m glad you like it.”

A few seconds’ pause.

Then, almost as if it were someone else speaking, I heard the words come out of my mouth, explaining to my husband, “That means she wants you to get her some more.”

Another few seconds’ pause, while he looked at me in surprise, then at my mother.  Finally he asked — in a tone that I recognized as one where he wasn’t sure what the rules were now, feeling his way, learning — “Would you like some more orange juice?”

My mother said, “Oh, yes, that would be nice,” as if I hadn’t spoken.

As if I hadn’t just begun training my own husband that what he was supposed to be doing all the time was to interpret her seemingly innocuous remarks, figure out what she wanted, and provide it.

In this case, she wanted to be waited on hand and foot.  She wanted someone else to take care of getting what she wanted.  It’s not like she wasn’t capable of getting her ass up from the table and walking the length of the kitchen to get to the refrigerator.  She just didn’t want to, BUT SHE STILL WANTED THAT JUICE.

And she couldn’t just ask for it:  “Would you mind getting me another glass of juice, please?”  Simple enough.  But that carries the risk of giving the other person agency, a choice in the matter, a decision about whether they will agree, or say “no”.

The solution?  Manipulate your daughter into doing it, or get her to start training her own husband to do it.