divorce, LDS, mental health, narcissists, psychology

You CAN’T cross a narcissist’s chasm! It’s just a mirage!

Here’s another very personal post from yours truly. It’s not for people who don’t want to read deep thoughts. I’m sharing this, because I know there are a lot of people out there who are struggling in narcissistic relationships. I hope this offers some insight to those who are hurting.

Mood music for this piece…

This morning, Bill brought up some imagery he’s often used when he talks about his relationship with his narcissistic ex wife. He said that he imagined his ex wife on one side of a chasm with everyone else he loved– his kids, his ex stepson, extended family members, church people, and even his parents. And he was on the other side of the chasm, standing there all alone and miserable. Ex encouraged him to come over the chasm to join his loved ones. He could do that by changing into whatever her image of the perfect man was. Only if he did that, would he ever be able to join his loved ones on the other side of the chasm. But she was happy for him to keep trying to reach that goal, and she would always encourage him to try, even though it was an impossible feat.

After some wasted time spent trying to cross the divide, Bill finally wisely understood that if he’d ever actually crossed the chasm, he would cease to be who he is. Who he is, is not a bad person. Ex had made some unreasonable demands that he dance to her tune. She wanted him to seek counseling from an LDS bishop for his “hatred of women” (which doesn’t now, and never has existed). He refused to do it. In retrospect, he was wise not to agree to counseling with the bishop, since LDS bishops are not usually trained counselors. They’re unpaid laypeople who have professional jobs. He could have wound up spilling his guts to an accountant. Besides, he’s neither a pervert, nor a misogynist. Having been his wife for almost 19 years, I can attest to that fact.

Ex subsequently demanded a divorce, while the family was visiting Bill’s father and stepmother. The timing of her demand was surely done on purpose. She probably figured that asking for a divorce at the home of Bill’s dad and stepmother would make Bill think twice about agreeing to the split. She may have been thinking that he would acquiesce and do her bidding in order to save their marriage for eternity. I’m sure it was driven home that they were not on neutral territory when she made her demand. She later said that she’d been wanting to drive Bill to “rock bottom”, and show him what he was going to be giving up. I think Ex probably needs to work on her threats. A marriage to someone who deliberately sabotages their partners, attempts to shame and humiliate them in front of others, and tells bald faced lies about their characters is not exactly a prize worth anything.

The fact that the divorce stunt was carried out at Easter has always struck me as weirdly symbolic and prophetic. It was as if Bill finally got the opportunity to resurrect his life before it was too late. But then, Bill did something Ex never thought he’d do.

When Ex presented Bill with divorce papers, fully expecting him to cave and agree to her demands, he took her completely by surprise and agreed to divorce, instead. Ex was devastated, because she’d only meant to regain control of Bill. Bill was making responsible adult decisions like going back into the Army and doing work he was qualified for, and would be well paid to do, instead of working in crappy factory shift jobs. Ex knew the Army would, once again, trump her decisions about where they should live, and when Bill would be working. She didn’t want to surrender to that lifestyle again, because she wanted to be in control of everything. To regain control, Ex took some desperate and regrettable measures that ended up backfiring, as many of her harebrained schemes do in the long run.

First, Ex tried to convince Bill that he was a bad person with misogynistic tendencies. I think she knew damned well it wasn’t the truth. The truth is, Bill is kind and generous to a fault. He doesn’t have an abusive bone in his body. Ex, on the other hand, is very abusive. So she just projected herself onto Bill– yet another illusion. Maybe she should have been named Doug Henning! Like all narcissists, she’s a master at creating smoke and mirrors that confuse her targets and distorts their perceptions so that they see things inaccurately.

When Ex suggested that Bill was an abuser, it horrified him. Bill worked hard to prove to her that he wasn’t that person, even though they both knew he’s not abusive. I suspect that Ex was both repulsed and turned on by the way Bill reacted to the idea that he was a monster and his subsequent desperation to prove to her otherwise. I’m sure one part of her wished he would have taken a stand. But the other part of her probably realized that he’d let her change the narrative, and this could be a powerful point of control for her. When he didn’t settle down and give up the idea of going back into the Army, Ex got more desperate. That was when she decided to haul in the big guns and throw out the “D” word– knowing full well that Bill’s parents’ divorce had been very painful for him. She figured he would do anything to avoid a divorce from her and be separated from his children.

Ex never actually meant to end their marriage. At least not at that point. She just wanted to be in control again, and maybe somehow get Bill to change his mind about being in the Army. Or maybe she just wanted to punish and humiliate him for taking back some control over his own life. How dare he?! Either way, if she managed to convince Bill that he was “sick”, damaged, and abusive, and that she was the only woman who would accept him, he would stay with her and never let anyone or anything supersede her authority, including the Army.

This “divorce” stunt, which was supposed to make Bill desperate to appease Ex, had instead forced her into a situation that caused a severe narcissistic injury. She couldn’t backpedal when he said “yes” to her divorce proposal, because that would make the narcissistic injury and subsequent humiliation even worse. So she was forced to ride with Bill on the drive to the notary she’d lined up on Easter morning. It was not the outcome she’d ever expected or wanted. She thought she knew him, but there was still a part of him that he’d kept for himself. I think that’s the part of the situation that upset her the most. All this time, she thought she owned him, not realizing that there was still a little part of him that she didn’t know. I’m sure it enraged her that he’d done the unexpected.

Of course, being a narcissist, Ex only thought she knew Bill. Narcissists never take the time to really get to know anyone. They think they’re special and gifted, so why would they take the time to get to know someone’s heart? The reality is, she really only knew Bill on a superficial level. But she was convinced she had him pegged, and she was certain she knew how he was going to react in that situation. She thought that asking for a divorce while they visited family would pressure Bill into agreeing with her that he’s a monster and a pervert. It turns out Bill has much more self-respect and dignity than she ever realized. She didn’t know, and it was painfully obvious… and in the end, she lost big time.

I’ve heard Bill tell the story about feeling like he was standing alone at a chasm many times. This morning, something new occurred to me. I started thinking about all of the other people in Ex’s life. I have never met Ex in person, but I’ve talked to many people who have known her. She uniformly leaves a lot of angry, confused, and hurt people in her wake. I’ve done enough research about narcissists, and experienced enough of their shit myself, that it dawned on me that Bill must not have been the only one who felt alone and isolated from loved ones.

I suddenly realized that most of those people probably felt the same way Bill did, standing alone on the edge of the chasm, staring longingly at all of their loved ones beckoning them to come over the chasm to join the narcissist’s team. That means that the reality of the situation was, Ex was the one who was alone at the chasm.

Bill was never alone. He was standing there with all of the other people who were being pressured to dance to Ex’s tune and were never quite “good enough” to hang out in the fantasy world. But all of those people had, like Bill, been carefully trained not to ever talk to anyone about how they were feeling. They all had tunnel vision, and were completely unaware that she had a slew of people gazing across the chasm at her fantasy world.

I looked at Bill and blurted out, “She had you fooled. You weren’t standing alone on the chasm. She was. She was the one staring longingly at all of the people on the other side, wanting to join them. But instead of trusting people, being genuinely loving and caring, and making them want to join her because she’s truly a good person, she used lies, threats, manipulation, and devaluation to isolate her victims and make them think they’re alone.”

I am willing to bet that if Bill asked some of Ex’s other victims if they ever felt like they were standing alone at a chasm, more than one of them would say they did. If at least one other person felt like Bill did, that means he wasn’t alone. There were others there with him.

Much like the late Doug Henning was, Ex is a master of illusion… and she also has a similar hairstyle.

The narcissist is very good at convincing people that he or she is the “good one”, who has everyone’s approval. The victims are “bad” and standing alone at the chasm, desperate to make it to the party. But the reality is, it’s not the victims who are alone. Narcissists usually have many victims, and they make every single one of them feel like they’re alone. The truth is, it’s the narcissist who’s alone, and desperately trying to connect. They create a fantasy mirage that looks appealing to their confused and traumatized victims, who are made to feel like they have to cross the chasm. But crossing is impossible.

Narcissists are never actually satisfied, and always keep their prey at an arm’s length. They’re always keeping their victims fighting to be acceptable, and narcissists have ways of making their victims think they’re worthy of the battle. But the reality is, no matter what the victims do, they’re never quite good enough to join the narcissist’s party on the other side of the fissure. They can’t ever be good enough, because they can’t be the narcissist’s equal.

A narcissist who accepts a victim as having finally done enough to appease them can no longer be in control. Losing control is DEATH to the narcissist, so they’ll always move the goalposts. You will never be good enough for them, and if you don’t wise up and end the relationship, you will die trying to appease them. Or you will lose yourself and become a shell of who you were meant to be. You CAN’T cross the chasm. You can only keep chasing the dream, which is just an illusion… a mirage.

The narcissist makes crossing that chasm seem so attractive. It may even look like it’s easy. All anyone has to do is make the narcissist happy and do what they want. Then they can join the party and be happy with the narcissist, who will finally stop being so mean, critical, and dictatorial. But that will never happen. There’s too much value in the narcissist keeping people wanting what they can’t have. So that chasm will forever remain uncrossed… but it’s really just a mirage, anyway, and probably about as enjoyable as Mormon Heaven is.

The sad thing is, narcissists have a knack for zeroing in on a person’s deepest insecurities and exploiting them for their own gain. They’re masters at triangulating their victims, using other people to present false narratives that make them think they are damaged and at risk of being alone. At the same time, like any garden variety abuser, narcissists isolate their victims, discouraging them from comparing notes while encouraging them to take sides and keep secrets. And so, the victims think they’re alone. But they’re not alone… and they can’t ever get across the chasm. So there’s no use trying. Instead of fighting for something you can never have, it’s better to find (or build) a bridge and get over it.

So ends today’s sermon. Go forth and enjoy your Sunday!

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book reviews, LDS, psychology, true crime

Repost: A review of Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight

Here’s an as/is book review that was originally posted on February 10, 2016.

So, I just finished M.E. Thomas’s Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight (2013).  I think I’m left with mixed impressions of this book.  On the positive side, I thought it was reasonably well written, if not occasionally a bit dry.  Thomas offers some interesting theories as to how having sociopathic tendencies could be a positive for some people.  On the negative side, I found Thomas to be rather unlikable, occasionally disturbing, and really more narcissistic than sociopathic.  Also, though she frequently describes herself as “smarter” than regular people and above being emotional, I notice that she does some really dumb things.

I think one of the dumbest things Thomas (a pseudonym) did was go on the Dr. Phil show after she published this book.  I own a newer edition of Confessions of a Sociopath.  At the end of the book, there are some extra materials that include an epilogue about the aftermath of Thomas’s decision to publish Confessions of a Sociopath. 

Thomas writes that she was very careful not to share too much about herself on her blog or in her book.  And yet, Internet sleuths being what they are, her real identity was discovered and she was promptly fired from her job as a law professor.  She was also barred from being within 1000 feet of the university where she worked.  Thomas writes that she doesn’t think the restriction is legally enforceable and notes that it is a significant inconvenience to her, since the area around the school includes her bank, several public transportation stops, and other places she’d need to visit.  Thomas writes that personality disorders are legally protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), but she doesn’t think a jury would be sympathetic to her if she decided to sue. 

From what I can tell, Thomas is still LDS, which I think is pretty much the height of stupidity.  Based on what I’ve read, Thomas was employed by Brigham Young University, which is a Mormon owned school.  She complains that they are discriminating against her; just as they do to many people, to include homosexuals and apostates.  And yet, she’s still in the church.  

Even if I didn’t have serious issues with the way some Mormons treat others who aren’t like them, and even though I realize that there are many attractive, talented, and otherwise intelligent people in the church, I just think Joseph Smith was a liar and a con man, among other things.  People who choose to believe the lies the church was based on and accept its policies are, in my opinion, showing some serious logic deficits.  But then, Thomas writes that she frequently does things that other people might think of as crazy or stupid.  She habitually lives in the sketchiest parts of town, where rents are cheap but burglaries are frequent.  She even walked in on a burglary once, yet didn’t decide to move. 

A lot of the examples Thomas uses to describe her so-called “sociopathic” behavior don’t seem all that sociopathic to me.  She writes of one incident where she gets angry at a guy working at the metro in Washington, DC.  The guy yells at her for trespassing.  She says she wants to kill him and follows him for a couple of blocks before she loses him.  In another passage, she writes of trying to kill a baby opossum in a swimming pool.  It fell in there and was on its way to drowning before she found it.  She isn’t able to do it.  Later, she fishes the corpse out of the pool and tosses it over a fence.  Big deal.  She fights with her father.  Who hasn’t? 

Thomas repeatedly explains that she doesn’t really enjoy being a lawyer.  She says she’s a lazy person who thrives on any activity that allows her to game “the system”.  Maybe law was a good field for her for that reason, but one thing good lawyers should be able to do is show good judgment and protect one’s reputation.  I don’t think publishing this book was an example of good judgment, even though Thomas claims that she’s okay with the consequences.  Given that she admits to being sexually attracted to and acting on her attraction to both males and females, I’m surprised she’s still LDS.  She does write that being Mormon forces her to be accountable and a “good person”, so maybe that’s a good thing.   At the same time, she writes about how bloodless and calculating lawyers are.  Hmmm…

I did find Thomas’s anecdotal examples of what makes someone sociopathic versus narcissistic somewhat interesting, though I’m not sure I totally agreed with them.  And, again, I have certainly read books that were not as well written.  I don’t think Thomas is very likable, though she insists that she is… and that people don’t seem to notice her sociopathic tendencies.  I find that somewhat hard to believe, though maybe I’m biased.  Thomas does write that she runs into a lot of people who think sociopaths are inherently evil people.  I’m not sure if that’s true, since I’m not really certain that Thomas is a sociopath.  To me, she seems a lot more like a malignant narcissist than a sociopath.  I’m no expert on sociopaths, though…. On the other hand, I’m not so sure Thomas is, either.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this book.  I didn’t love it.  It has three stars on Amazon.com and I think that’s what I’d give it, too.  Thomas is clearly intelligent and some of what she writes is interesting.  Since she lost her job, maybe it’s not a bad thing that I bought her book.  Of course, given her self-proclaimed ability to charm people, she’s probably landed on her feet somewhere.  Who knows?  Read it if it interests you, though I certainly wouldn’t call Confessions of a Sociopath a must read.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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business, careers, law, LDS, YouTube

I discovered a fascinating new YouTube channel…

Based on the recent topics I’ve been covering on this blog, some people might come away with the idea that all I care about is abortion, Trump, and COVID-19. But, the truth is, I have a wide array of interests. I am really interested in cults, and before the mess of the pandemic and Trump’s disastrous presidency, I wrote a lot about toxic organizations.

Before I revised my commenting policy, I heard from someone who had read the story of how I almost got sucked into a multi-level marketing business. Well, actually, that’s probably overstating things. The truth is, there was never any real possibility that I would ever get involved with an MLM. I did, however, get roped into seeing a presentation by people involved with the now defunct group, Equinox. It was a bizarre experience that was also surprisingly educational. I’m glad I went, although I am even more glad that I didn’t get sucked into the business.

As I discovered yesterday, when I found NOT THE GOOD GIRL’s YouTube channel, some people are not so fortunate. I found her channel yesterday, when YouTube suggested a video she made, interviewing a former Mary Kay director. It was late afternoon and I had time to kill, so I watched the whole thing, which ran for over two hours. I have to give her props. I very rarely have the patience to sit through a two hour video that wasn’t made by TV producers or movie makers. But I did watch the whole thing… and I found it thought provoking on many levels.

I watched this entire video… Elle could have been me, although she’s a lot bubblier than I am.

What I really thought was interesting about this video is how the two women talk about the culty tactics used to keep people in the business. At one point, they both mention that they used to be religious. Elle says she went to a Bible college. And Josie, the woman making these videos, also mentions that the tactics reminded her of being in church. I don’t know which religious bent either of these ladies followed, but I definitely could see the parallels.

I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which was pretty benign. But Bill was involved in the LDS church, thanks to his ex wife. I have been studying Mormonism for years, and I recognized a lot of the signs and symptoms of “cult abuse” in this video that I’ve also seen in Mormonism. In fairness, those same signs and symptoms exist in other religious organizations. Mormonism is just the organization that directly affected me. They aren’t the only ones, nor are they necessarily the worst offenders. Actually, Elle mentions that being in Mary Kay reminded her of Scientology. I could definitely see that, having seen some of the videos showing members rallying, with Tom Cruise and his ilk at the helm.

Reminds me of some of the video footage of MLM rallies I’ve seen.

In the below video, Josie talks about her own experiences with MLMs, and how she got indoctrinated by multi-level marking companies. So many of the techniques used by culty religions and abusive people are used by MLMs. Josie talks about being “lovebombed” and groomed, sucked into the business model that so often preys on people’s hopes and dreams of prosperity and being their own bosses.

Josie explains how she got hooked by MLMs…

I noticed in both Josie’s and Elle’s stories, both women joined the MLMs when they were feeling desperate and/or trying to escape a bad situation. In Elle’s case, she was a new college graduate who had a degree in English. She was look for a “real job” and was not having much success. Mary Kay made it seem like she could be a legitimate business owner and build “experience” that might make her attractive to employers. She didn’t realize that a lot of people don’t like people who are involved in MLMs, because they are always looking for sales leads– either people to buy their products, or people they can recruit. Because recruiting new distributors is how people in MLMs make money, and most people are not successful.

In Josie’s case, the decision to be involved in MLMs followed a divorce when she was in her early 20s. She thought the MLM would help her change her life. But what it really led to was the loss of friendships and the loss of herself. She and Elle both describe incredible toxicity that occurs within these types of organizations. I can’t help but notice that a lot of people who join demanding religions also tend to lose friends and family members as they get more indoctrinated within the group. Maybe that’s less true with a religion like the LDS church, as many people identify as “cultural Mormons” and associate with non-LDS people. However, people who initially join and radically change their lifestyles often do lose contact with people who don’t want to join the religion.

Now, I know that some people join MLMs, not because they want to make money, but because they like the products and want discounts. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. What Josie and Elle are talking about are people who think they’re going to make a lot of money in MLMs. Some people do make money, but the vast majority of people never make so much as minimum wage. And they often end up exploiting people in the process of trying to succeed.

Josie also points out that some MLMs do offer good products. I remember that even Equinox had some good products that people wanted to buy, even after the company fell apart. I know a lot of people swear by Avon and Mary Kay. The issue isn’t necessarily the quality of the products. It’s the fact that the products aren’t where the money comes from. The money comes from getting people to basically join a cult, where toxic measures are used to keep people slaving away. The toxicity includes being told you’re not good enough; you don’t work hard enough; you aren’t positive enough, or sharing the company’s image in the best light.

I have visited this topic before. In my original incarnation of The Overeducated Housewife, I wrote several posts about LuLaRoe. I know a few people who were involved in that company, and some swore by how comfortable their leggings are. Deanne Brady Stidham and Mark Stidham are the founders of LuLaRoe, and they are LDS. People in the business referred to Brady as “Aunt Deanne”. I’m sure that was by design, as I pointed out in one of my posts that on the surface, it sounds good to be calling her “aunt”.

If you’re family, you’re supposed to be “loved” and cared for, in a sense.  Family members are supposed to have your back.  We love our family members and don’t want to disappoint them.  That’s what makes it easier to trust family members, and more devastating when family screws you over.  Lots of people think of a business that treats people like “family” as a good thing.  But there is a downside to being a figurative “brother”, “sister”, “aunt” or “cousin”.  Sometimes when you think of someone as “family”, you let your guard down when you really shouldn’t. And, in fact, some of the worst abuse and most toxic relationships happen at the hands of “family” members.

Family members have that advantage of being in the group… they have access to you that other people generally don’t.  They know you better than most people do.  And when something unpleasant needs to be done, family members feel okay about asking other family members for help.  If you go against the grain, you run the risk of being cast out… lovingly, of course, because you need to see the error of your ways.  While I don’t know for sure, I get the sense that LuLaRoe and some other multi-level marketing businesses are kind of culty like that.  You toe the line so you won’t be towed outside of the group. 

If you watch the video with Elle, the Mary Kay director, you’ll hear her talk about the $400 suits she felt compelled to buy for the sake of her business. She talks about how, as a Mary Kay consultant, she was expected to wear panty hose, even when she was on a plane going to a convention. She talks about all of the gear and merchandise she was pressured to buy, all in the name of promoting the business. Below is a screenshot I took of a now defunct blog post about a woman who got burned by LuLaRoe. You can see how appearance and dressing for success is very heavily promoted. But it also has the effect of creating a “uniform”, which psychologically gets people to think they’re part of a larger, more powerful group. While there may not be anything wrong with being in a group, I do think it’s important to understand how being conditioned to look, think, and dress a certain way is a conduit toward being a part of a cult.

LuLaRoe dress rules.

I loved this lady’s hilarious anti-LuLaRoe video. It bears another share!

She gets it… and is spilling the truth.

I’ll probably spend some more time watching Josie’s videos today… or maybe even a few by other people who have learned the truth about being involved with MLMs. I know some people think MLMs are great. In fact, I remember one acquaintance got very defensive when I shared a negative news article about LuLaRoe. However, I could not help but notice that less than a year later, she was trying to unload her entire inventory after LuLaRoe got very publicly sued. Amazon even has a new docuseries going on about LuLaRoe.

I don’t like MLMs, and it’s sad to hear and read stories of people who get caught up in them. On the other hand, I find that topic less depressing than COVID-19, Trump worship, and abortion… So, since it’s Friday, I’ll probably explore some more. Josie’s channel on its own has hours of content! I could totally fall down a rabbit hole. I’m watching the below video now.

High drama!

I notice that Josie’s early videos get very few views. But now that she’s exposing MLMs, she’s probably making some legitimate bank on YouTube!

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book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: My review of Bringing Elizabeth Home…

Here’s a repost of an Epinions review I wrote in 2004. It appears here “as/is”. A whole lot has happened since 2004– to include Ed and Lois Smart’s divorce and Ed’s coming out as gay. I’m reposting the review for the sake of history, and because I think some people might find it interesting.

The first time I saw Ed and Lois Smart’s 2003 book Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I was tempted to purchase it. Their beautiful fourteen year old daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped from their Salt Lake City, Utah home on June 5, 2002. The Smarts’ other daughter, nine year old Mary Katherine, witnessed the abduction and alerted Ed and Lois Smart after Elizabeth and the kidnappers, later revealed to be Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, were gone.

I remembered how the summer of 2002 was a summer plagued by a rash of child abductions. A couple of those abductions had ended tragically– five year old Samantha Runnion was killed soon after she was taken, but not before she was brutally molested by her captor. Elizabeth Smart had, against all odds, survived her abduction, reuniting with her family in mid March 2003. And Elizabeth Smart’s story is a bizarre one indeed. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were revealed to be believers of a fundamentalist branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. According to news reports, Brian David Mitchell meant to make Elizabeth one of his wives.

The Smart family fascinated me. On the front cover of Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope there is a lovely picture of Elizabeth and her parents, and on the back cover, the whole family of eight is pictured. The Smarts seem to espouse the epitome of the American Dream. Ed and Lois Smart are well off financially, and they have six beautiful children. I wanted to know what lingered beneath the surface of the Smart family’s attractive facade. Nevertheless, I had read negative reviews about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, so I passed up the book.

Then last week, my husband went out of town for a meeting and I found myself with some extra time to do some reading. It wasn’t long before I found myself purchasing Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope. I finished the book in a few days and am left with my own feelings of ambivalence about the Smart story. On one hand, Ed and Lois Smart are not professional writers and they were telling the heartwrenching story of their daughter’s abduction. On the other hand, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was ghost written by Laura Morton, who, according to information on the book jacket, has written a total of eighteen books, six of which were New York Times bestsellers. Unfortunately, I would have expected more from someone who has had such an auspicious career in writing.

While at times, I found Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope to be a warm, touching story, the writing is sometimes awkward and repetitive. Also, although the book is supposed to be written entirely from the Smarts’ point of view, the authors don’t seem to be very selective about their usage of pronouns. For instance, the chapters that are supposedly written by Ed or Lois as individuals read like personal narratives and employ the pronoun “I”. In other chapters, “we” is used, but so is “Ed and Lois”, as if the story is being told from a different point of view. It makes for awkward reading.

This book doesn’t shed a lot of light on the case, either. Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope doesn’t offer many more details than what was already printed in the news or portrayed in the television movie that was made about Elizabeth and broadcasted last fall. There are, however, a couple of interesting chapters about Ed and Lois Smart’s extended family. There’s also a lot written about Elizabeth’s love for playing her harp. Mary Katherine also plays the harp. I don’t know of any kids who play harp, so it was interesting to read about that. The book also offers some very nice pictures of the family. Again, however, it seems like I had already seen some of them in magazines.

The thing I liked the least about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was the “preachy” tone in the book. Yes, I understand that the Smarts’ faith had a lot to do with keeping them sane while Elizabeth was missing, but the book, particularly at the beginning, is very heavy on quoting scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C (Doctrine and Covenants), which is another LDS document. If readers aren’t members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they might not understand some of the significance of the quotes.

Speaking of quotes, the Smarts start most chapters off with one, and they are generally from LDS sources– either the Book of Mormon, or the D&C, or perhaps from a well known LDS leader like church president Gordon B. Hinckley. Again, it seems to me that the Smarts might have forgotten that they might have readers who have no understanding of the LDS Church. On the other hand, the inclusion of the LDS quotes may have been by design– to get more people to investigate the church. All one has to do is contact LDS missionaries and they can start learning about the church and possibly become a member. In any case, it seems to me that some folks might find all the LDS stuff included in this book off putting, particularly if they don’t believe in God or going to church. That said, I will also mention that before I picked up Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I figured I would be reading something about the Smarts’ faith, so this aspect of the book didn’t surprise me much.

The Smarts continually contend that they want to protect Elizabeth’s privacy, and I respect that. On the other hand, I do find it curious that they published Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, if they truly wanted to protect Elizabeth’s privacy. They write that they were hoping to put some of the false information to rest. It seems to me that the Smarts’ book is really more about how Ed and Lois Smart dealt with Elizabeth’s absence than Elizabeth’s ordeal, and to the Smarts’ credit, they do seem to convey that idea in the book. However, they had to know that people would buy this book expecting to read about what really happened to Elizabeth. The Smarts include a few details, but those who want to buy Bringing Elizabeth Home should realize that they won’t get the whole scoop.

I don’t think that Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope is a terrible book. It’s just that it doesn’t reveal that much more than what the public already knows about the Smart case. The writing is not as strong as it should be and there’s some preaching in this book that might turn some people off. Nevertheless, the Smart case is fascinating and if you want to know everything that’s out there about the Smart family, you might find reading this book worthwhile. On the whole, however, I think that most people would probably do well to skip it.

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LDS, mental health, psychology

Please don’t smile when you say that…

You know that old cowboy movie saying, “Smile when you say that”? It’s an idiom meaning that you’d better be joking. If you said something shitty and actually meant it, you’re due for a beatdown of some sort. At the very least, if you’re not joking, the other person is going to be very angry or offended by what you dared to say with a straight face. Today, I want to explore the opposite of that saying. Some things aren’t really laughing matters.

Trigger warning– this post is going to be about suicidal ideation.

Recently, I had a rather unsettling experience while witnessing a video call with someone. I wasn’t actually the primary conversant on that call; I just happened to be in the room when it was happening. Bill was talking to his daughter, who was talking about some pretty personal stuff. As she was revealing some painful things about her past, she was laughing and smiling.

At one point, the topic of suicide came up, and she was giggling as she talked about it. There she was, talking about being so aggrieved at more than one point during her childhood that she wanted to meet Jesus. She felt Jesus was the only one who loved or cared about her, and had actually taken steps to make the meeting happen. And as she talked about this painful memory, she was smiling and giggling… which I’m sure she did because she needed Bill to know about this, but didn’t want to upset him. Or maybe it was just too painful and surreal a subject to talk about with a straight face.

Days later, Bill is still a bit apprehensive about that conversation. It didn’t escape either of us that it seems like it would be unexpected for a person to laugh while talking about suicidal ideation. Bill is understandably concerned. So am I. In fact, I wish he could have had this conversation with her in person, preferably in private. Ordinarily, he would have been talking to her with headphones and in a different room. But her call came late and Bill was thinking it wasn’t going to happen, so he didn’t have his laptop handy. He talked to her on his iPad, and was sitting at the table with me when she Skyped. I suppose he could have Skyped her back and spoken to her privately, but he chose not to… and most of the call was mundane, anyway. It was about the usual stuff. But then that topic came up, and it got a bit awkward.

My theory is that many people in Bill’s family, to include Bill himself, have this innate tendency to put others before themselves. They will sacrifice their own needs to make someone else happy or more comfortable. I’ve seen Bill do it many times. I’ve seen his mother do it, too. And now, I think I saw Bill’s daughter doing it, needing to talk about this very deep and painful memory, but not wanting to upset us or herself. Or, it could have been that she was embarrassed about or ashamed of this trauma and wanted to make it seem less serious than it clearly is. I think the laughter could have even been a form of self-protection… a tension breaker of some sort.

I see from reading Psychology Today that laughing about psychological pain is actually not an uncommon phenomenon. In fact, it’s possible that she didn’t even realize what she was doing. This was a very scary, traumatizing, and triggering memory for her, but talking about it with laughter was a way to minimize it somehow. I told Bill that, to me, it seemed like she needed to talk about this, but maybe she was afraid to bring it up because it might traumatize us. That would mean she was at least partially focused on someone’s needs other than her own, although I will say that overall, she’s proven to be very resilient and self-reliant. She couldn’t bear living with her mentally ill mother, so she did what she had to do to escape that environment. But before that happened, she obviously learned to put others before herself, likely to prevent more pain. I also think she comes by that naturally, to some extent. As I mentioned before, I’ve seen that tendency in Bill and his mom. But I also think younger daughter’s mother exploited that tendency and reinforced it. Her older sister reportedly has the same tendency, which is probably why she’s still living with her mom at age 30, taking care of her severely autistic brother.

I heard younger daughter explaining how her mother was “deep down a good person”, as she also talked about how her mom did things like deny her access to her family, force her to take out student loans and give her mom the excess, compel her to change her last name and call her stepfather “dad”, send her off to college and on a church mission with no support whatsoever, deny her medical care, and use money and empty promises as a means of controlling her. I can understand why she does this. It’s not easy to accept that a close family member is not a good person, especially when that person is a parent. When a parent turns out to be a “monster”, the person wonders if that tendency to be monstrous is hereditary. They may try to overcorrect by being overly considerate and kind.

I don’t think younger daughter needs to worry that she’s “monstrous”, like her mother is. I take comfort in knowing that the more younger daughter gets reacquainted with Bill, the more she realizes that she has a lot of him in her… she has a lot of his goodness, kindness, and empathy. But she also has a mother who is truly a selfish, cruel, and abusive person. Her mother didn’t take care of her, and she didn’t have access to her real father. So she’s had to learn to take care of herself by denying herself some basic needs and not speaking up when she urgently needs attention or assistance.

I am pissed at Ex for not taking care of her children properly. It makes me very angry that these things were going on, and Ex apparently knew, and she didn’t speak to Bill about them. She also didn’t do fuck all to help her child. In fact, she even denied her healthcare, even though Bill’s daughters had full access to health insurance through Tricare. Meanwhile, she was telling Bill what a terrible parent he is, and labeling me a homewrecking whore. But this isn’t a surprise. I don’t think Ex is a good person, and I’ve felt that way for many years. I don’t have a connection to her, other than being the wife of her ex husband, so I can safely have these feelings. But her children don’t have that luxury, because she’s their mom, and she’s the only mom they will ever have.

Although people can and do disconnect with their parents, it’s actually a very hard thing to do– to completely cut them off and go no contact. Even if a person dies, as long as any thought of them is in a person’s conscience, the relationship continues on some level. Hell… even many adopted children with excellent adoptive parents wonder about their birth parents. A lot of them do what they can to seek out their birth parents because they want to know their origins. They want to know why their birth parents– particularly their birth mother– didn’t raise them.

Sometimes, the stories adopted children unearth about their birth parents are comforting and reassuring. Birth mom desperately wanted to keep the child, but couldn’t because she was too poor or too young and it was just impossible. But sometimes the stories are painful. Ex was adopted. We heard in Ex’s case that her birth mom was married and had been having an affair with another man. She chose her marriage over keeping and raising Ex. Making matters worse was the fact that Ex’s adoptive parents were abusive, neglectful, and treated her like a second class citizen compared to their natural children. Or, perhaps the adopted child finds her birth parents and neither wants anything to do with him or her. Younger daughter wasn’t adopted. She knows her mom, as well as the truth about her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish it weren’t like that, and have some hope that somehow, someday, her mother will change into a different kind of person.

Younger daughter was told many falsehoods when she was growing up. She was told some outrageous lies about Bill and me, and the nature of how we met. Meanwhile, Ex gaslit her into not seeing what she was seeing with her own eyes. As Ex labeled Bill a philanderer and me a whore, she was shacking up with her now husband while still married to Bill. And they were having a sexual relationship, even though they weren’t married and she was supposedly a devout Mormon. The church teaches that premarital sex, particularly if one is still married and “sealed” to someone else, is morally wrong. The church was used to break up Bill’s relationship with his daughters– Bill was no longer “living the standards”, so he needed to be discarded. But Ex was also not living the standards, and somehow that was okay. The cognitive dissonance was probably incredible for the kids.

Incidentally, younger daughter is still LDS, and the LDS church is good at guilt, too. People are expected to “endure to the end.” I have heard countless stories about people who have wanted to do something for themselves– say stepping down from a church calling or tithing less money– and they were guilted and shamed for that. I suspect that the church has also, in some way, reinforced that tendency to deny problems and minimize or discount them. It’s easier for others when we’re “strong”… at least until it gets so bad that the strength gives out and the strong person finally collapses. And since younger daughter is now a mom herself, she can’t really afford to fall apart.

Is it any wonder Bill’s daughter is so traumatized? Is it any wonder that she laughs and smiles and giggles when she talks about something as serious as suicide, suicidal ideation, or other traumas? I suspect she fears being too “heavy” and turning off her dad, who has been wanting to have a relationship with her for so long. I also suspect that she was trained not to bring any problems to her mom or her stepdad. In fact, I’ll bet Ex’s reactions to her daughter’s pain included anger, derision, or even laughter.

My heart goes out to younger daughter. When I was younger, I had similar thoughts about self-destruction. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to launch. I didn’t think I had anything to offer the world and I didn’t think anyone cared about me, even though there were obviously people who did love me. Adolescence is hard, though… biological processes during that time can be pure hell. Childhood is hard, too. You have no control over anything, and adults are telling you to be quiet… “shut up before I give you something to cry about”. Being a young adult is hard– trying to find one’s way in the world and make enough money to support oneself. I think the phase I’m in now may be the easiest for me so far, but I am about to be menopausal. We’ll see how that goes.

Sometimes I still feel shitty about myself and want it all to end. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that when I admitted having these feelings to my own therapist years ago, I probably laughed too. It’s just not easy to talk about it, and laughter somehow makes the task easier, especially when you don’t know how the other person will react. My therapist was a doctoral level psychologist with many years of experience. He was in the prime of his career when I saw him. But he’s still a flawed human being with feelings and thoughts. Despite the fact that I was paying him to counsel me, I wasn’t sure what his human reaction would be to my comments. Fortunately, he was a professional and talked me through the pain.

I do remember telling my mom, at one point, that I felt suicidal. I don’t think I put it that way, but I did express to her the desire I had for ending it all. Her response was to get angry and say, “I know you won’t do anything ‘stupid’.” It was absolutely the WRONG thing to say. She basically discounted my pain and practically dared me to make an attempt. I have never forgotten that she said that to me. If I’m honest, it kind of lowered my opinion of her, although I do love my mom and I don’t think she meant it. I look back at that time and realize that she was under a lot of stress. So I forgive her for saying that, although I haven’t forgotten that she said it. I can’t forget it because it’s shocking to hear your mom say something like that, even if you kind of know why she said it.

I don’t know what Ex said in that situation… but I suspect it was a lot worse than what my mom said to me. My mom is not a narcissist, nor is she mentally ill. My mom has compassion. Ex has compassion only when it makes her look good to other people. And I truly believe that she sees her children and grandchildren as extensions of herself– objects to be manipulated and owned, rather than nurtured, loved, and cherished. I’m sure if younger daughter had succeeded, Ex would have simply felt abandoned. She would have been angry at the imposition and the inconvenience. And she never would have thought to tell her daughter’s other parent, a loving father who would have done whatever he could to help her and ease her pain. Ex was much too “prideful” and vengeful for that.

I really think that younger daughter’s tendency to “laugh” at trauma is a combination of a few things. One is that she’s been conditioned to minimize her own pain, either because no one would comfort her anyway, or because she would be shamed for it. Another is that talking about these feelings is embarrassing for her. Another is not wanting Bill or me to think there’s something “wrong” with her (which we definitely don’t). And then there’s the need to reduce the tension that comes from talking about trauma and pain. Laughter is good for that. It’s close to crying, but crying is kind of “taboo”– many people see crying as “weakness”. So we laugh and that kind of breaks the tension, even if we really just want to break down in sobs and tears and have someone hug us and tell us it will all be okay.

I know my husband well… and I know that if he was in a room with his daughter and she was talking about this subject, he would give her a hug and stroke her hair. He would encourage her to lean on him and cry as much as she wanted. I know he would comfort her for as long as she needed it. I know this, because this is how he treats me. It’s an absolute tragedy that his children were denied this love and compassion that he’s been waiting to give them freely– without any strings attached.

The good news is that she has him now. She’s out of her mother’s house and can heal. No one can tell her what to do anymore unless she gives them permission.

On the other hand, right now Noyzi is telling me to get off the computer and walk him and Arran. So I guess I’d better wrap this up before he has a conniption. I’ll have to give this some more thought. For now, I told Bill that I think he should tell his daughter that he’s here for her and if she needs to talk to him, she can depend on him. He’ll hear what she has to say and won’t laugh at her, judge her, rage at her, minimize or discount her feelings, or treat her like she owes him… or he owns her. I hope that will help so she won’t have to laugh at her own pain anymore when she speaks to him.

A good video for people who have had a narcissistic mother.

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