Ex

You took the part, that once was my heart…

so why not take all of me?

The first time I heard the classic jazz song, “All of Me”, was back in the 1980s when Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, and Victoria Tennant made a goofy movie by that name. It was about a very wealthy but bitter, nasty, dying woman (Tomlin) who wishes to transfer her soul into a young, beautiful, healthy woman’s body. The young woman who volunteers (Tennant) is a criminal who doesn’t believe the soul transfer will work. She figures she’s about to inherit a beautiful home with horses and money. Through a twist of fate, the rich woman’s soul ends up in Martin’s character. Adding to the conflict, besides the obvious inconvenience of sharing one’s body with another soul, is the fact that Martin’s character can’t stand Tomlin’s character. It’s classic 80s cheese, but I love it because Martin and Tomlin are so great together. I also love the song, “All of Me”. I even love to sing it. Maybe I’ll get around to doing another version today.

I love this… I’m actually sitting here with tears in my eyes. It’s oddly moving to watch Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin dance with with wild abandon, especially since Victoria Tennant was once Steve Martin’s wife. I think Lily and Steve have more chemistry. Maybe that’s why Martin and Tennant eventually split.

I think the song “All of Me” would make for a good theme song for any story involving someone with narcissistic personality disorder. People who have NPD require that everyone in their sphere give them everything of themselves. But, narcissists don’t give anything in return. They simply take and take until their victims have nothing left. And then they accuse their victims of being “selfish” when their victims finally object to the abuse.

My husband hates Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. He also hates a number of popular songs from the early to mid 1990s. Why? Because his ex wife used them as teaching aides to him about what kind of man she expected him to be. She was never satisfied with who he was. She always wanted him to be someone else. And every time he tried to change for her, she criticized him. But Ex wasn’t satisfied with simply being unhappy. She had to ruin songs like “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams and “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow. She’d take the lyrics to those songs and use them as “teaching aids”– examples to Bill as to what kind of man he should strive to be. Even when Bill tried to be what Ex expected, she wanted more, and was unfulfilled. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing appeased her.

But, if Bill had done the same thing to Ex, she would have objected strenuously and accused him of abuse. Somehow, she gets a pass because she had a very fucked up childhood. Bill’s childhood was also a bit fucked up, but he has parents who love and cherish him, while Ex’s parents were truly abusive. Bill had the experience of meeting Ex’s adoptive parents, as well as her stepfather, and he confirms that they were not good people. I can’t deny that Ex was abused when she was growing up by the people who should have protected and cherished her. And that experience, no doubt, helped turn her into who she is today.

Of all of the parental figures in Ex’s life, her adoptive father, whom she didn’t know until she was seven (!) years old, was probably the best of the lot, although that doesn’t mean he was much of a dad. He was in the Merchant Marine, so he was away at sea a lot, and Ex’s mother had an affair with Ex’s stepfather, who turned out to be a sex offender. Ex’s adoptive parents got divorced when she was too young to remember. She spent the first few years of her life thinking her stepfather was her dad. And then her mom had a baby with her stepfather, and Ex’s sister was treated differently because she was a blood relation. Stepdad sexually abused Ex, but left his bio daughter alone. Meanwhile, Mom would do things to sabotage her children, like get them drunk the night before they took the SATs. Yeah… not good people.

Add to the fact that Ex already felt rejected by her natural parents, whom she later found out had conceived her in an affair. Ex’s bio mom was married, and her husband didn’t want to raise another man’s baby. So instead of divorcing her husband and raising Ex, bio mom put her up for adoption, and Ex landed in a terrible situation.

Unlike Ex’s current husband, Bill got to know all of these folks (with the exception of Ex’s biological parents), and he verifies that at least this part of Ex’s narrative is mostly true, even if a lot of the other stuff she says is either outright lies or distorted versions of the truth. Ex’s mother was as bad, or possibly even worse, than Ex is.

I remember one time, Bill called his ex wife’s house to speak to his children. That was back when there was still some hope that they would come to the phone. He heard his former mother-in-law’s voice for the first time in many years. The children, unsurprisingly, weren’t available. This was during the active parental alienation phase, when there rapidly decreasing chances that Bill’s kids would talk to him. He was sad that he couldn’t talk to his children. At that time, he’d included his ex stepson, whom he had always regarded as his son. However, he was chuckling as he hung up the phone. He turned to me and said, “Wow… I bet #3 is in Hell right now…”

“Worse than usual?” I asked.

Still laughing, Bill said, “Ex’s mom answered the phone. You want to talk about a social engineering psychopath? If she’s in that house, he’s got to be in Hell!”

I responded with an evil laugh, “And your daughters are around puberty age, too… That means lots of hormones.”

For a moment, the prospect of #3’s situation kind of made us both feel better, although Bill had always wanted to be there for his daughters, even when they were struggling with teen angst. But thinking about #3 trying to deal with Ex, Ex’s mother, a resentful adult stepson, two teenage girls, and two little kids, one of whom has special needs, brought on an extreme case of Schadenfreude for us. Frankly, #3 has always been a colossal asshole to Bill. Bill has always been a gentleman as much as possible to everyone, and he always tried to treat #3 with respect, even when #3 and Ex invaded his Bill’s dad’s house for the disastrous Christmas gathering of 2004. Instead of responding in kind, #3 repeatedly treated Bill with contempt. And so, we didn’t and still don’t have a lot of pity for his situation. We figure he deserves it for being such a disrespectful and unrepentant asshole.

Over last weekend, when Bill was visiting with his daughter, he learned Ex’s adoptive mom, whom I’ll call “Granny”, had moved in with Ex for the last few years of her life. This wasn’t the first time Granny was living with Ex. She had a long habit of glomming on to family members, claiming to offer free childcare, while she drained their resources and abused everyone with her sociopathic ways. At the end of her life, she had significant health problems and was still a heavy smoker. At one point, she even accused the children of stealing her cigarettes. That’s quite a statement, given that they were practicing Mormons. She also brought a loaded gun into the house, which Ex didn’t know about until after Granny died. Given that there were small children living there, that was a potentially very dangerous situation for everyone.

It’s possible that Ex felt “drained” by her parent figures, so maybe she figures she’s “owed”. She went through a terribly abusive childhood, so it’s “okay” for her to abuse other people. Maybe someone like Bill is irresistible, because he’s so safe. Bill is an extremely empathetic person who tries hard to be forgiving and understanding. He isn’t violent or the slightest bit abusive. So maybe she saw him as “safe” to project all of her shit upon… I’m sure she thought Bill would never leave her, not just because he’s incredibly loyal, but because she knew how much he’d been hurt by his parents’ divorce and how much love and empathy he had for his children.

In a way, in Bill, she had a perfect victim. She probably looked at him and thought he was someone she could mold and control, because he’s very eager to please others. It never occurred to her that what she was doing was horribly abusive. Even if it had occurred to her, I doubt she’d care.

I don’t know what it’s like to be Ex. I don’t know if she’s really a hollow person, or if there’s a lot of pain and misery inside of her. I only know the aftereffects of being exposed to her. How? Because I know a lot of people who have spent time with her. They’ve all reported the same devastating symptoms of narcissistic abuse. And they’ve all reported feeling much better when they were able to get away from her, even if they were completely drained and on the verge of destitution. She could take everything and still demand more, with no thought about how she was hurting the people she took from. She has no empathy. And as someone who has never met her, but has been exposed to several of her victims, I too, have experienced the ripple effects of her narcissistic abuse.

Aside from acting like a bottomless pit and taking until her victims wither away, Ex sees anyone in her world as a possession, to do with what she pleases. That’s why she was so afraid that Bill would “steal” his daughters from her, even though his daughters are their own people and can’t be “stolen”. That’s why she accuses me of “stealing” Bill, even though Bill was divorced when we met. She was sure he’d come crawling back to her. She’d convinced him that no other person would ever want him, and even though she treated him horribly, she had some very powerful “bait” in her trap– Bill’s daughters and, to some extent, his dad, stepmother, and sister. Fortunately, Bill isn’t by any means a stupid person, and though it broke his heart to lose contact with his children, he knew that in reality, he hadn’t lost everything and was much better off by himself. And though we hadn’t met in person at the time of his divorce, he was already talking to me, and he had his job with the Army. He also had his wonderful mom on his side. So he was able to rebuild, although it took a long time and he still has some issues to overcome.

Last night, Bill told me that he doesn’t get angry. Or, he does get angry, but he doesn’t stay angry. I, on the other hand, have no issues getting and staying angry. Bill said he was actually a little envious of my ability to stay pissed off. That surprised me, because although I don’t think anger is a useless emotion, I do know that being angry with no resolution can be destructive and painful, although not being able to express anger can also be problematic. I guess Bill has a very different kind of “anger issue” in that he can’t express anger in a way that is healthy and validating. It’s like he’s either afraid to express anger or simply doesn’t know how.

Anger can be wonderfully energizing and motivating. Channeled properly, it can lead to necessary change. But I get angry and stay angry, mainly because my anger often never gets properly resolved. As an abuse victim myself, I’ve learned to stuff the anger until I can let it out in a safe place. However, I’m now so full of it that it still fizzles out. I have this fear of confronting people assertively because when I was growing up, being assertive often led to being abused. This isn’t to say that I’ve never been able to assertively express myself when I’ve been angry. There are some people, like Bill, with whom I can be assertive with no fear. But to other people– especially overbearing authority figures– I often have a hard time being properly assertive. My anger tends to be either expressed too aggressively, or too meekly. In contrast, Bill barely expresses anger at all… except when he’s in traffic.

Besides that, a lot of people have trouble being assertive themselves, so even if I tried to be assertive, there’s a good chance the other person is incapable of that. And so, my tentative efforts at being assertive are met with verbal abuse, which I can no longer abide. Like I said… I am full to the brim of abuse– saturated with years of being yelled at and occasionally hit for being who I am. So now, when someone is like that with me today, my reaction is usually over the top, and I stay angry for much longer than I should. That kind of anger is not very healthy at all. And yet, Bill says he’s kind of jealous that I can be that way.

If anyone has a right to be angry, it’s Bill. I think that I’m angry on his behalf, because I see how he’s been treated and how people have been quick to assume that because he’s a man, he’s automatically the guilty party. So it’s almost like I have a double dose of anger– my own from shit from my past, and Bill’s, because Bill doesn’t get angry… or stay angry. We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?

Well, I figure this post has rambled on long enough. It’s a bit more personal than I was expecting it to be, but who knows? Maybe someone out there can relate. Or maybe someone thinks this saga is like a soap opera. Recently, I haven’t felt the need to write so much about Ex, because she hasn’t been bothering us personally. But, as I mentioned earlier in this post, Ex is a special kind of toxic and, kind of like genital herpes, she’s pretty much impossible to totally get rid of, even if we’re now asymptomatic a lot of the time. Every once in awhile, we still have the occasional unpleasant flareup, and this is one of those times. I suspect it won’t be the last.

Time for me to sign off and do some reading… I hope everyone enjoys their Friday and stays safe from the Coronavirus.

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book reviews

A review of The Anger Trap by Les Carter

Some weeks ago, I discovered psychotherapist Les Carter, who makes insightful videos about narcissism and narcissists for YouTube. I found his videos so helpful and well done that I decided to read a few of his books. Not long ago, I read and reviewed his book, Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me. Today, I finished his 2004 book, The Anger Trap.

Dr. Carter operates a private practice in Dallas, Texas, a place where I’d imagine he runs into a lot of big personalities, big cowboy hats, and big egos. He seems to have centered a lot of his work around the victims of narcissists. Anger typically goes hand in hand with narcissism. Narcissists are people who feel compelled to be right at all costs. That need to be in charge is often caused by some kind of psychic wound that occurred in the tenderest years of life. Narcissists are typically immature, irrational, and controlling, and having to deal with them can be maddening. Conversely, victims of narcissists also end up angry, because constantly having to deal with overbearing, unreasonable, manipulative people is infuriating.

I wouldn’t necessarily claim The Anger Trap is about narcissism per se. Instead, it offers an explanation of how inappropriate anger can cause serious life issues that have damaging ripple effects. A person who is not in control of unresolved anger can make mistakes that can cost them relationships, their jobs, and even their lives, since being angry can go hand in hand with suffering from a host of physical problems, developing bad habits, or having an accident. Besides offering an explanation of how damaging unresolved anger can be, Dr. Carter also gives readers pointers on how to handle that anger so that it’s no longer destructive.

I grew up in a dysfunctional household with an alcoholic father who often took his rage out on me, and a neglectful mother who told me she never wanted me and didn’t protect me from my dad’s abuse. By the time I was in my mid 20s, I had full blown major depression and anxiety that required medication and therapy. I feel a lot better today than I used to, although I still have issues dealing with abusive, angry people and have actually become an angry person myself… although I try not to be abusive if I can help it. My husband has definitely heard me rage, not at him, but about people and things that piss me off. It’s probably like a broken record for him… and I’m sure he’d rather I be funny, cheerful, and cute instead of pissed off about things I can’t control.

I’ve gotten to a point at which I’m “saturated”. I can no longer tolerate being abused by other people. Being unwilling to put up with abuse is not necessarily a bad thing, except I don’t handle these situations as assertively as I should. I get so fixated on my rage at being crapped on once again, that I don’t take the opportunity to change the power dynamic by staying in control and dealing with the offender in a direct but respectful manner. There was a time when I was younger that I would respond to verbal rage with verbal rage. I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I become passive aggressive. You will definitely know if I’m angry, but I might not say anything. Instead, it will be written all over my face. I’ve been told I look super mean when I’m enraged, even if I say nothing. While that response does get some people to back off quickly, in the long run, it doesn’t fix the issue that led to the angry confrontation. In fact, it compounds the problem.

Or, I’ll vent in my blog and have intrusive people reading my comments, spreading them to others, or getting into my business by lecturing me on how I “come across” to others. Some readers are real assholes and enjoy causing me more pain by deliberately stirring up shit. So now, when I need to express my anger, I write privately or password protect my posts to ward off the snitches. I’m sure some long time readers might even miss some of my more entertaining rants. It probably makes my blog less interesting to some people. It’s a shame, too, because I have met some good people through blogging and sometimes people “get” it and either offer good insight or realize that they aren’t alone. But I’m no longer willing to tolerate feedback from people who just want to cause trouble, so those rants are no longer for everyone… at least for the time being.

I know that shouting at people, being passive aggressive, and venting aren’t necessarily effective ways to deal with being pissed off. Dr. Carter describes other expressions of anger that aren’t effective. For example, some people get angry and just start yelling, heaping criticism and shame on whomever is their target du jour and assassinating their characters. I’ve seen that a lot here in Germany. It seems to be the going national method for dealing with anything that goes wrong. Personally, I find it a very poor form of communication, because when they lose control, and just dump all of their frustrations at once, the other party stops listening and starts gathering their defenses.

Responding verbally with rage is ultimately ineffective, since when people start yelling, no one is listening anymore. They’re too busy defending themselves. The situation ends with bad will all around and oftentimes, little hope that the relationship can be salvaged. No one wants to be belittled, condescended to, and blamed for everything under the sun. Often, the angry person becomes very fixated on being destructive, rather than fixing the issue that led to their anger and maintaining civility and goodwill. Eventually, that kind of behavior leads to the angry person being left with a lot of enemies and a damaged reputation. Giving in to that surge of rage might feel good at the time, but it can definitely lead to some pretty negative aftereffects.

The Anger Trap offers gentle, supportive, reasonable methods of dealing with rage and handling conflicts in a responsible and assertive way. Dr. Carter presents cases he’s encountered during his years of practice of people who have gotten into trouble because of being excessively angry. He offers insight into how the problems developed and effective strategies on how to deal with that anger so that it doesn’t become destructive and cause serious damage.

I liked what I read in this book. I think Dr. Carter’s advice is excellent. However, it’s up to the reader to take the words to heart and practice new ways of responding to those angry feelings. It takes concerted mindfulness and desire to come up with new and effective ways to respond to anger. So, while I think The Anger Trap is helpful reading, it’s really just the first step in changing a bad habit into something healthier. To benefit from Dr. Carter’s advice, the reader will have to digest the information, believe in it, and practice. It takes time to learn new skills, and dealing with anger constructively is a habit that must be consciously picked up and reinforced. Hopefully, in the long run, it will lead to a healthier, happier, and probably a longer life.

I really enjoy Dr. Carter’s writing and speaking style. He’s got a kindly demeanor that isn’t threatening. He uses humor, good sense, and reason as he presents his points. He is also religious and mentions God at times. The religious aspect of this book may not be helpful to some readers. Personally, I didn’t mind it. I’m not very religious, but I’m not quite an atheist. It doesn’t bother me when Dr. Carter writes that I’m a child of God. If you think religion is a bunch of bullshit, maybe that would be a negative for you.

I watch Dr. Carter’s videos often and find his books helpful. While Carter’s books about narcissism are good for understanding narcissists and their dysfunctional behaviors, the anger book is particularly useful for me. I do have anger issues, and I do need to work on them. My anger issues came about for perfectly justifiable reasons that were not entirely my fault, but hanging onto those issues and poor communication habits don’t work in real life. Other people– except for maybe Bill– don’t understand why I have these problems and won’t necessarily excuse me for them. So, fixing them is in my best interest, as well as for my loved ones. Poor Bill has to deal with my sorry ass all the time… good thing he loves me anyway. I think it’s because he likes my jokes. Also, despite being pissed off a lot of the time, I’m still much less crazy than his ex wife is. I guess I can build on that.

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