Ex, family, lessons learned, mental health, narcissists

Narcissists force their victims to “punish” healthy people…

A few months ago, someone in my husband’s family friended him on social media. It was someone my husband hasn’t had a chance to get to know well, so Bill was excited to be Facebook friends with the person. But then, a few hours after friending Bill, the person abruptly unfriended him with no explanation whatsoever.

Bill was non-plussed. What had he done to offend this person? Bill hardly ever posts on social media, although he has admittedly become a lot more politically and socially liberal than he used to be. He also makes no secret that he’s no longer a believer in organized religions, particularly Mormonism. That means he freely curses, drinks alcohol and coffee, and laughs at ribald humor. Did the person look at Bill’s page and decide it was too “raw” for him? He didn’t know.

Although Bill was a little bit sad that this person he’d wanted to know had unfriended him with no explanation, he eventually figured it wasn’t him with a problem; the person who’d unfriended him had the issue. Life went on, and he pretty much forgot about the incident until it was brought up again by a mutual relative.

The mutual relative said that the person had decided to unfriend Bill because of Ex. The person realized that by having a connection with Bill, Ex would possibly have a connection with us. So Bill was unfriended, not because he was “offensive”, but because the other person wanted to spare Bill from offense by keeping Ex out of our sphere. And I suspect, it was also because that person likewise didn’t want any trouble from Ex.

I appreciated hearing that explanation, although I wish the person had thought to send Bill a private message or an email to let him know that the unceremonious “unfriending” wasn’t because of something Bill had done. Bill is a kind, empathic, and thoughtful person, so the truth is, he is a bit sensitive about being liked by others and not wanting to upset or offend them. But then again, when it comes to social media, I guess a lot of people feel that no one really owes anyone else an explanation. That’s one aspect of social media that I don’t like very much. Many of the “friendships” aren’t very authentic, and a lot of them have replaced what used to be “real” relationships with other human beings.

I was recently unfriended by two people with whom I had once hoped to be offline friends. I wasn’t that surprised by their decision to delete me, although perhaps because I’ve spent over half my life dealing with people in person, it still stings a little when “unfriending” happens. I had a feeling the people who unfriended me found me annoying… and the truth is, I found them a little annoying, too. But I realize that in the long run, in very few cases do I end up truly missing the people who leave my Facebook realm. After the initial ego shock of seeing the friend count go down, life goes on and I forget about them.

The people I do tend to miss are those with whom I actually interact or have ever known offline. Failing social media relationships and inevitable “unfriending” is even harder with family members because, if I’m honest, it makes me think they don’t like me at all. And the more I lose touch with people in my family, the more I think the situation is personal, and will be permanent. Thanks to Facebook, I don’t even feel that comfortable thinking about going to the family homestead for a reunion anymore, mostly due to politics and religion and social media behavior. I just assume my family would rather not see me, which makes living in Germany very convenient.

Bill’s younger daughter recently told him that she’d wanted to invite him to her wedding a few years ago. I’m assuming she would have invited me, too, although I don’t know for sure. In the end, younger daughter didn’t invite Bill, because she wanted to avoid drama with her mother. Here it was, younger daughter’s wedding day. She should have felt free to invite whomever she pleased. It should have been her day. But she was more concerned about her narcissistic mother’s feelings and, ultimately, her mother’s behavior. So she excluded Bill, even though I can guarantee he would have been a better behaved guest at her nuptials.

I don’t fault younger daughter for doing that. I might have blamed her some years ago, before I got to know her better. But I don’t feel that way anymore, because we’ve learned more about what happened during the many years in which she and Bill were not allowed to communicate. Younger daughter grew up in an environment where she was compelled to either do what her mother wanted, or suffer dire consequences. It took a few years outside of that environment for her to relax a bit and make decisions for herself.

Younger daughter didn’t even initially tell her mother about her decision to talk to Bill. Even though younger daughter is a grown woman with children of her own, and her mother lives on the other side of the country, she knew there would be trouble. So, instead of telling her mother that, as an adult, younger daughter has the right to live her life as she pleases, she maintained the false reality for a bit longer.

I can relate to younger daughter’s angst on a much smaller and less personal scale. When Bill and I first moved into our current home after leaving the toxic and abusive environment of our last, it took me several months to be able to relax and enjoy the current, healthier living situation. I kept expecting our former landlady to come over and yell at me for something, or give me a look of disgust, disdain, or disapproval as to how I live my life. I was suffering from a mild form of PTSD that had warped my thinking and reality a bit.

The truth is, ex landlady was working for us. We were paying her a lot of money for the privilege of renting her house. I should have simply reminded her of that fact and demanded that she show me basic respect. But that’s easier said than done when you’re dealing with an immature, irrational, narcissistic person. Because, as you quickly find out, narcissists can out-drama most normal, healthy people, and there will be hell to pay if you don’t play their games. So innocent, decent, well-meaning people are “punished” and have to suffer in favor of the narcissist’s need to stay in control. One of the punishments I actually enjoyed, by the way, was ex landlady’s penchant for the silent treatment. Those were actually the best months of our time with her in our lives. Remember, it’s not a punishment to be shunned by an asshole. 😉

Bill and his daughter now talk somewhat regularly. She calls him “Dad” instead of “Bill”, and she lets him see his grandchildren on Skype. She didn’t give in to her mother’s demands that she forget about her father and accept a poor substitute in Ex’s third husband. Frankly, that’s more than Bill had ever expected or hoped for, after his disastrous attempts and failures to co-parent with his ex wife.

But when she speaks to her mother, younger daughter has to listen to Ex complain about how #3 (younger daughter’s stepfather) “misses” her and wants to see “his grandchildren”. Not once has younger daughter ever heard from her stepfather expressing these bereft feelings. Sure, we’ve seen #3 post the odd social media post about how he thinks of Ex’s brood of five as “his kids”, but in reality, it’s all a big facade. In reality, he doesn’t show a lot of regard for Bill’s daughters or former stepson. He’s clearly much more interested in his own kids with the Ex than he is with her other children.

It was the same thing back in 2006, when Ex tried to get Bill to sign legal papers so #3 could adopt Bill’s daughters. He heard from Ex that #3 “loved” Bill’s girls as his own and wanted them to legally be considered his children. Never once did #3 ever personally speak to Bill about the prospect of his legally adopting the girls, just as he’s never spoken to younger daughter about his so-called “love” and affection for younger daughter’s children and thinking of them as his grandchildren.

That’s all a bunch of wishful thinking/fantastical/bullshit that Ex continues to promote. It’s a false narrative of the truth. Unfortunately, it’s easier for the healthier people to continue to tolerate that crap from Ex, than call her on it. It’s easier for younger daughter to nod and smile than tell her mother, in no uncertain terms, that Bill is the father of younger daughter, and younger daughter’s children are Bill’s grandchildren, not #3’s.

Despite Ex’s best attempts to replace Bill with her third husband, her efforts have failed with at least one of Bill’s two daughters. I’m proud of younger daughter for refusing to give in to her mother’s demands that she forget about Bill, because Bill truly loves both of his children and never should have been denied access to them. Denying him access caused a lot of damage that could, and should, have been avoided. And if Ex were a decent person and a responsible parent, she’d understand that it’s wrong to hate her exes more than she loves and respects her children. But, unfortunately, she’s a very toxic person. She’s selfish, delusional, and disrespectful. And because of that, and her propensity to be “dramatic”, good people are punished.

Bill can’t have a social media connection with his own daughter or his son-in-law. Why not? Because it would cause drama with Ex. Either she would object to it, or she would try to exploit the connection somehow. So, even though Bill is by far the healthier parent, he has to be “punished” as a form of protection– both for younger daughter and her family, and for Bill and, to a lesser extent, me. (I’m sure Ex reads this blog, though… and I don’t actually care.)

I think younger daughter is, like me, a bit of a truth teller. Truth tellers are the ones who don’t buy into the fantasy. They don’t fall prey to cognitive dissonance. They see things more clearly than others do, and they tell the truth. That tendency can make them unpopular in a sick family system, particularly when it involves someone with narcissistic tendencies. A truth teller can be a “buzz kill”. Their demands to adhere to reality can really be a downer for someone who would rather fabricate more palatable (to them) lies.

Ex would like to pretend Bill never existed, or, at the very least, see him punished for not continuing to accept her abuse. She suffered an ego blow when Bill agreed to her divorce ultimatum. The ego blow worsened when he found someone else to love him and, clearly, lives a much better life now. She’d rather not face reality and take responsibility for her mistakes. She’d rather make Bill the bad guy and punish him, and she tries to make other people punish Bill, too. But younger daughter is a truth teller, and she doesn’t accept that false reality.

I’m waiting for younger daughter to get fed up with Ex’s demands and tell her mom the way things really are, and how they’re going to be, regarding her children. She may never do it. The reality is, it’s hard to give up on your own mom, even if she is toxic and crazy, and even though there are so many other people in the world who are healthier and kinder. Ex is still her mom, and she has a special place in younger daughter’s life. Plus, younger daughter truly is a lot like Bill. She’s legitimately kind, considerate, and decent.

I feel sad for her. I think she felt like she had to apologize to Bill for “dissing” him at her wedding because of what she knew her mom would do. The fact is, it was her wedding day, and she should have had the right to do whatever she wanted. It should have been entirely her choice as to whom to invite. But Bill completely understands why she felt she had to exclude him, and he can handle it. That’s why he’s the better parent, and he has to suffer for it.

I hope that someday, younger daughter realizes that she has every right to do what she wants and needs to do for herself and her family, even if it causes her mom to bring the drama. I hope that she gets to the point at which she realizes she doesn’t have to tolerate that abuse anymore. If Ex wants to be dramatic, she can do it without younger daughter in attendance. Younger daughter is a grown woman with allies… and she can choose to opt out of the drama. Once she realizes that, maybe she can stop “punishing” the good and healthy people in her life by excluding them.

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disasters, expressions

Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong…

As a new week begins here in the land of perpetual lockdowns, my mind is on a heartbreaking opinion piece I just read in The Washington Post. A public health nurse practitioner, writer, and former Army Captain named Jackie Munn wrote about how her parents both contracted COVID-19 a few months ago. Munn’s father, a 28 year Army veteran, had tried to care for his ailing wife, Julie Anne Oeser, while he was himself ill. Unfortunately, Ms. Oeser’s condition deteriorated and she had to go to the hospital. She had initially resisted going, fearing that she wouldn’t come home. Sadly, she was right. On January 26, 2021, as many people were getting their first COVID-19 vaccinations, Julie Anne Oeser died. Her family stood around her bedside. She had spent 11 days in the intensive care unit, battling the novel coronavirus.

Jackie Munn is understandably very angry that she’s lost her mother, who was 62 years old and had “few preexisting conditions.” She writes that her family had “done its part” to fight COVID-19. Munn’s sisters, Jess and Jenn, are also in healthcare. Jenn works as an emergency room nurse in a hospital east of Los Angeles, California. Jess is a medical laboratory scientist at a Kansas City area hospital. Their parents had taken the pandemic seriously and followed all precautions, to include social distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing face masks. Both planned to be vaccinated, although Ms. Oeser died before she was able to take that step.

Jackie Munn writes, “…as a West Point graduate and combat veteran, I was taught that good leaders chose the harder right over the easier wrong.” She acknowledges that her father and older sister, both veterans like her, and been trained to do things that might be unpleasant or uncomfortable, but serve the common good. And she’s understandably pissed off that so many Americans, many of whom were egged on by our former leader, Trump, have decided not to “do their part” to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Birx speaks about the vaccines now available.

Munn blames Trump, of course, as well as Dr. Deborah Birx, who was herself an Army colonel and had been part of the COVID-19 task force in the Trump administration. She served as the COVID-19 Response Coordinator for Trump’s White House. Birx was recently in the news admitting that many COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented if people had taken the virus more seriously and Trump had been a more responsible leader. I remember watching Deborah Birx on video, looking visibly uncomfortable as Trump spoke about COVID-19. She knew the truth, but unlike her colleague, Dr. Anthony Fauci, she did not feel that she could say it out loud. She’s said that she had many “uncomfortable” discussions with Trump. My guess is that he threatened her.

She didn’t feel empowered to speak out during Trump’s reign. She says she should have been more outspoken.
These folks felt “muzzled” by Trump. Dr. Birx says that after the first 100,000 deaths, the subsequent carnage wrought by the virus could have been prevented.

Although I haven’t yet been personally affected by COVID-19, my heart goes out to Jackie Munn and the rest of her family. And yet, I also have some empathy for Dr. Birx. It’s easy for people to say she should have done more. They aren’t in the position she was in, and they weren’t directly dealing with a man like Trump, threatening, bullying, and browbeating them into doing his bidding. I can’t help but realize that Trump is a malignant narcissist, and if you’ve never had to deal with such a person, you have no idea how difficult it is not to bend to their will. They can be extremely convincing, even if they aren’t the U.S. POTUS… and when they are someone as powerful as Trump was, with many minions ready to carry out his wishes, it seems like an impossible situation to be in.

I don’t blame Dr. Birx for deciding to retire. I think it’s a shame that all of the legitimately good work she’s done over the course of her career, to include work in mitigating the spread of HIV/AIDS, is going to be tarnished by her unfortunate connection with Trump. I think she was in a no win situation. I can see why it was so hard for her to “choose the harder right over the easier wrong,” even if doing so might have saved lives.

Naturally, I had to read the comments on Jackie Munn’s piece. It was a lot of the same polarized crap we’ve been reading for over a year now. Many people– I’d say maybe 85%– had nothing but condolences and commiseration to add to Munn’s piece. It really is a sad read, and it resonates with a lot of people. A few other people were obviously ignorant pro-Trump trolls, who are clearly belligerent and selfish. But I also noticed a few people whom I thought made sense being called “trolls” or angrily shouted down by the masses. Here are a couple of examples:

Those of you who “know” me, know that I’m not a fan of group think or echo chamber comments. So many people seem to want to pat themselves on the backs for doing the “right” thing, for the good of everyone else. I’ve seen so many self-congratulatory and outright pious comments from people who claim they have done everything correctly and figuratively spit on everyone they assume isn’t toeing the line created by the likes of Dr. Fauci. Don’t get me wrong. I admire Dr. Fauci’s work, and I think he’s a very smart man who knows what he’s talking about. He definitely knows a hell of a lot more than the average Internet user. I also agree that people should do their parts to control the spread of the virus. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more rational discussion, rather than chastising and insulting perfect strangers online.

I had to quit reading the comments when I realized I’d started rooting for the people who were gamely taking on all of the arrogant lecturing and blaming done by those who are all about everyone being forced to do the “right” things. I am not a fan of forcing people to do right, especially when people take a black and white, zero tolerance view. There are always situations that require exceptions to the rules, and the people who require exceptions should have a chance to be heard without being screamed down by others. I don’t like to be the devil’s advocate myself, because I find dealing with the deluge of irritating comments from graduates of the Google School of Public Health too tiresome and ultimately pointless. But I do secretly cheer on those who take on these folks. Most of us can Google. Not all of us are going to come to the same conclusions. That should be okay. People should be allowed to share their thoughts and opinions if they want to, and the ones who make some sense should have their thoughts respectfully considered, even if their conclusions are eventually rejected.

I’m getting especially “prickly” when I see some all knower write something like “You do know that…” or “Pretty sure that…” or “And your medical/public health degree is from…” or “What about seatbelts and helmets…” I don’t think the COVID-19 situation is akin to the other safety measures enforced by law. Ms. Munn is obviously gutted that her mother has died. I can’t blame her for that. I don’t blame her for trying to place responsibility on other people, either. It’s only natural. But even if everyone was wearing a mask and social distancing, there’s a chance her mother still would have gotten sick. There may have been far less of chance, but the chance still existed.

Not everyone is going to get onboard with the new rules. Some people never will, no matter what we do. There’s a good chance those people won’t spread COVID-19, despite breaking the rules. On the other hand there’s a good chance they will. We don’t know who passed the virus to Jackie Munn’s mom, but we do know that it’s an extremely contagious bug, and even if someone does everything right, as Ms. Munn’s mom presumably did, people are still going to get sick, and some people are still going to die. Hopefully, with the advent of the new vaccines, those numbers will drop significantly.

I think it’s useless to point the finger at random people who aren’t doing what they’re told. Those people have their reasons for not cooperating. Maybe you and I think their reasons are stupid, but they obviously think they’re right. And unless we stop and talk to them and actually listen respectfully to what they have to say, they probably won’t cooperate, even if they’re dead wrong. How many random strangers are going to change their habits just because someone insulted them and left an angry comment? On the other hand, if we engage with them from a place of respect and decency, maybe we can come to a meeting of the minds. Maybe then, more people will “choose the harder right over the easier wrong.”

A few days ago, I got into a minor scuffle with some woman from Australia. Well, actually, she tried to start a scuffle with me. I ignored her, which probably pissed her off. Anyway, what happened was, I had read an article about a type of dermatitis that is being caused by mask wearing. Many people are getting perioral dermatitis and mistaking it for acne. The condition doesn’t clear up when they use acne remedies, and they have painful reactions, as their sensitive skin is abraded by constantly wearing the masks.

A woman posted that she was dealing with this condition herself. That’s when Tiffany from Australia responded that she’s owned a medical practice for twenty years, has to wear masks, and just sucks it up and drives on. The original poster came back and reiterated that the dermatitis was actually very painful. Tiffany still had no empathy for her. She wrote that she has the dermatitis too, but she still does her part and masks up. Here’s a cookie, Tiffany.

Enjoy.

I was a bit disgusted by Tiffany’s lack of regard for this woman and her valid complaint. So I wrote, “You made a choice to go into healthcare, where masks are required. Most of the rest of us didn’t. It’s not nice to discount other people’s legitimate problems.” Several people agreed with me, and I got quite a few likes for that comment… not that I needed the likes. They just told me that I wasn’t the only one who found Tiffany’s “suck it up and drive on” attitude annoying.

Next thing I knew, I got a message that Tiffany wanted to “connect” with me. I discovered her message maybe an hour or so after that exchange. I had a feeling she was going to blast me privately. I didn’t read her whole message, but saw enough of it to know that she felt I had no right to call her out for her virtue signaling and she was telling me off in my PMs. The end of her message was, “Cat got your tongue?”

If had responded, I might have said, “I didn’t even realize you had messaged me until I saw my phone. I don’t get those notifications on an iPad. Moreover, your decision to PM me doesn’t require me to answer you. If you want to address me, you can do it publicly and respectfully. Otherwise, I have nothing more to say to you.” What I really would have liked to have said to her, and anyone else who PMs me uninvited and is abusive is, “We don’t know each other, so piss off!” In the end, I chose to ignore her completely, which probably left her feeling like the wind was let out of her sails.

I wonder how many people would like to get in on the discussion and have valid perspectives to add, but choose not to because of bullies like Tiffany who want to call them “babies” or tell them to get over themselves. Likewise, while I completely understand Jackie Munn’s anger, frustration, and outrage that she lost her mother at age 62, I don’t think issuing a blanket blame toward anyone who isn’t doing what she thinks they should be doing is productive. Would she be just as angry if her mom had gotten the flu and died? How about if her mom had had an accident? Would she have felt better if many more people were wearing masks and her mom still died of COVID-19? It’s possible that could have happened, too. The bottom line is, the situation Jackie Munn is in is terrible, and it seems unfair. But we’re in a pandemic, and people are going to die, just as they die in wars and other catastrophes. It doesn’t mean the situation isn’t horrible and tragic– but unfortunately, blaming the world for her mom’s death isn’t going to bring her back from the dead.

Now… to wrap this up and get on with my day…

A few days ago, I wrote a protected post about a situation we’re in right now. It’s going to require some tough choices that may make things temporarily worse before they’re better. Or, they could make things permanently worse. And yet, Bill and I both know that it’s the right thing to do, and it’s something we should have done a long time ago. I was thinking of that situation when I read Jackie Munn’s words– the lesson she learned at West Point– “choosing the harder right over the easier wrong.” It’s so easy to turn a blind eye and let people get away with doing bad things. But in the long run, it can cost dearly.

I’m truly sorry about Jackie Munn’s loss. I absolutely appreciate all she and her sisters have done to fight COVID-19. I’m going to continue doing whatever I can to stop the spread. I stay home about 90% of the time and, on the very rare occasions when I do go places, I follow the rules. But unfortunately, I also know that the virus is very contagious, and some people can and will do everything right and still get COVID-19. It’s not necessarily anyone else’s fault when this happens, and I don’t think it’s helpful to blame others. It’s just a sad fact that until more people are fully vaccinated, people are going to get very sick, and some will die.

Yes, we should do all we can to reduce the numbers and cooperate for the common good. But there will be casualties regardless, and there will be heartbroken people who will suffer tremendous losses, no matter what they do. I also realize that I may very well be among those who will lose, as Bill and I anxiously await the vaccine ourselves. May God help us all.

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