celebrities, royals, YouTube

Dueling divas… It takes one to know one?

Happy Friday, everyone. I’ve spent the week watching the news in astonishment, as Donald Trump’s legal woes get deeper, and Republicans are starting to realize (too late) that their misogynistic policies and alignment with Trump may very well fuck up their midterm plans for US domination.

I was delighted to see that Sarah Palin lost her bid to get back into politics. I’ll admit, when I first heard Sarah Palin speak– in fact, she was debating Joe Biden back in 2008, when John McCain and Barack Obama were running for president– I found her somewhat impressive. But my opinion of her plummeted when she quit being the Governor of Alaska to become a political pundit. I should also add that I liked John McCain. He was a decent man with a backbone, and he was NOT a Trumper. He was one of the Republicans I respected very much. I’d like to see more like him, instead of people like Trump and his delusional minions.

But as exciting as the many political bombshells have been this week, I just don’t have the gumption to devote a whole blog post to them today. Instead, I think I’ll chat about Meghan Markle, who has finally launched her podcast on Spotify. I don’t subscribe to Spotify myself, so I don’t tune in to Meghan’s podcast, called Archetypes. Last week, her first guest was her “bestie”, Serena Williams. This week, it was Mariah Carey. I watched a few YouTube videos about how the show went down, and it sounds like it might have been entertaining. Mariah Carey basically called out Meghan on her bullshit. I actually heard what Mariah said, too, and the way she said it. It was hilarious! H.G. Tudor did a funny video about it.

At least Mariah actually has something to be a diva about, right?

I don’t love Mariah Carey’s music, but I completely acknowledge how genuinely talented she is. She has an extraordinary singing voice, a huge range, and she has written hit songs. She overcame a difficult childhood, has been through a couple of divorces, and while she may sometimes act like a narcissistic fool, she can back up some of that behavior with actual goods. Meghan, on the other hand, seems to be more of a “poseur“… as we would have put it back in the 80s.

Meghan has tried to be the second coming of Harry’s mother, Diana. That hasn’t worked out at all, and it seems that a lot of Brits find her completely insufferable. So now, she’s bragging about how some South African guy in the cast of The Lion King said that when she married Prince Harry, South Africans were rejoicing in the streets, the way they did when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. Naturally, people are rolling their eyes at that, too. Seriously? And now, reporters are starting to fact check everything she says. In Australia, they’re being particularly brutal. Check out the below video– just one of several by the Aussies and their disdain for Harry’s wife.

I don’t know if this is how all Australians feel, but the reporters on The Bolt seem to think that Meghan is full of shit.

You can hear Mariah laughingly tell Meghan that she gives us “diva moments”. I can practically visualize Mariah rolling her eyes as she calls bullshit on Meghan’s claims that she’s not really a diva. Mariah’s comments are delivered in a way that is good-natured. She’s laughing as if she’s joking, and she even sounds kind of complimentary toward Meghan, but I can tell Meghan is kind of taken aback by Mariah’s unabashedness. Mariah is an unapologetic diva, though, and sees nothing wrong with it. She even flat out says, “I don’t care.”, as Mariah is pretty proud of her diva persona. Mariah probably figures Meghan ought to just own it, like she does.

Bwahahaha… Mariah sets Meghan straight.
I think Mariah p’owned Meghan.
Meghan’s acting skills failed.

Being called a “diva” likely goes against Meghan’s desired image for herself. She wants to be seen as kind, humble, compassionate, and genuine, as Diana, Princess of Wales, was– even if Diana really wasn’t necessarily always those things. Diana could pull off those qualities, though, because she wasn’t a narcissist. Diana was reportedly a borderline, and there’s a big difference between the two conditions, even if they do sometimes overlap. As Dr. Grande notes, Diana was quite neurotic and manipulative, yet she also had a great deal of genuine empathy and compassion for others. She was one of the very first famous people to interact with people suffering from AIDS, which was considered very brave at a time when many people were confused about how AIDS was spread, and an AIDS diagnosis was considered a death sentence. As Dr. Grande points out, it’s not actually known if Diana really did have Borderline Personality Disorder, although he does notice that she exhibited a lot of the signs and symptoms.

Dr. Grande examines Princess Diana’s life, death, and mental health.

Dr. Grande also analyzed Meghan Markle. Below is a video he made about a recent article that was published about Meghan in The Cut. He seems to be yet another person who finds Meghan insufferable.

Grande’s thoughts on Meghan seem somewhat less charitable than they were toward Diana. He’s pretty droll.

In any case, I think a lot of people were rooting for Meghan when she first came on the scene. I was glad to see that Prince Harry had found a wife, and delighted it was an American woman who had stolen his heart. In spite of Meghan’s convictions that people have behaved in a racist manner toward her, I think a lot of people had high hopes for her relationship with Harry. But it seems like everything went to shit pretty quickly, and I think it’s because she was putting on an act that she could not maintain. Moreover, there are so many stories about her problematic behaviors that it’s getting harder and harder to believe that she isn’t an actual “diva” in the more negative sense of the word.

Jesus Enrique Rosas offers his thoughts on the podcast… He spares no snark.

When most people think of the word diva, it’s not necessarily always a bad thing, anyway. Yes, divas are usually described as entitled, narcissistic, and temperamental. However, they are also often considered extremely talented, especially in music, and very beautiful. After all, a diva was originally the female star of an opera. Diva is the Latin term for “goddess”. And what woman wouldn’t want to be considered a “goddess”? Especially an ambitious person like Meghan, who seems to be very determined to be rich and famous. However, her efforts to social climb have become very obvious and distasteful. Yes, we could ignore snarky comments from guys like Piers Morgan, who doesn’t have much room to talk when it comes to being narcissistic. But I know I started to pay attention when it came out that Meghan had made Kate Middleton cry. Kate Middleton has always been the epitome of poise and grace. Even if, behind closed doors, she’s not actually an extremely classy person, Kate can pull off that appearance flawlessly… and personally, I think she is genuinely an effortlessly graceful and gracious lady. For Meghan, being classy and graceful, like Kate naturally is, is hard work– and it shows.

Meghan takes things very seriously… and I think if she wants to get back into the public’s good graces, she’s going to have to rent a sense of humor, and stop taking herself so seriously. But I don’t think that is going to happen, because narcissists, as a general rule, lack a sense of humor… especially when it comes to their images. And Meghan’s clearly negative response to Mariah’s comments is very telling, in my opinion. Her “slip is showing”… as in, that self-centeredness and perpetual victimhood attitude is coming out and taking a bow. And people are noticing, because they are giving Meghan just what she’s always wanted… ATTENTION. I think she’s realizing that attention is a double edged sword that cuts both ways. She wants attention for the “right” reasons… but she keeps saying and doing things that give her negative attention. While negative attention is better than NO attention, it still causes narcissistic wounds. Unless Meghan somehow learns to control her obviously wounded reactions, as she simultaneously stops spreading ridiculous lies, it’s only going to get worse.

River’s astute observations about the podcast. I find River very entertaining!

But, if you want a somewhat quick and dirty look at Meghan’s most recent shenanigans, you might check out Jesus Enrique Rosas’ 6 Worst Takeaways from her interview on The Cut.

Yikes!

Meghan still has her fans, of course… but more and more, I’m seeing some increasingly vitriolic responses to Meghan’s behavior. Below is a video that actually took me aback, as the guy actually drops the c-bomb regarding Meghan. I don’t think those over-the-top responses are very helpful, as they only lend credence to Meghan’s assertions that the press is hateful to her, even if this dude is just a YouTuber.

Trevor tells us how he REALLY feels.

Well… I’ve been working on this post forever, and I’m getting tired… so I’m going to sign off, for now. I’m sure some people won’t like this post. I know I have a couple of friends who like Meghan Markle. Personally, though, I am pretty horrified by this recent stuff that’s come out… especially the part about Nelson Mandela. It’s just incredibly tone deaf. And I think it’s going to get worse. I can’t believe she’s managed to get herself in the situation she’s in… and frankly, I feel sorry for Prince Harry, because he’s going to have a hell of a time extricating himself from this mess. Especially if he wants to maintain contact with his children. Trust me… I know this from my own husband’s experiences.

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Duggars, Ex, narcissists, psychology, Trump

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…”

This morning, I’m reminded of the popular saying that serves as today’s post title. It’s a lesson we’ve learned again and again. The universe will give you opportunities to learn lessons. In our case, we have apparently needed to learn more about narcissists and narcissism. And we have had several teachers who have appeared. It’s only been recently that we’ve been learning the lessons and changing our approaches to dealing with these types of people.

Yesterday’s post turned out to be more popular than I was expecting it to be. I’m sure part of the reason it was so compelling is that it included a somewhat “sordid” true story. Even three years on from our last move, it still made me nervous to share that post. It occurs to me that some people might read my posts and think I’m just whining. Maybe I do “whine” more than I should. It would be nice to have more of a “get on with it” attitude about more things.

I have what Dr. Phil would call a “psychological sunburn” about certain issues. That means I’m unusually sensitive about some things. In my case, it’s dealing with abusive people. I’ve mentioned before that I feel “saturated”, especially when it comes to verbal abuse. I just can’t abide it anymore. I don’t willingly engage with people who are like that, and writing helps me process it. I realize it probably comes off as a little “off-kilter” to some people, although I also know that some people can relate and appreciate these posts. So I keep writing them.

Narcissism is a hot topic these days. Spend a few minutes on YouTube and you’ll find so many videos about narcissism and narcissistic people. Some people are as tired of hearing and reading about narcissism, as I am of hearing about the pandemic. I don’t know why others are so interested in narcissism, but I know I am, because I’ve spent a lifetime being subjected to the general fuckery that can come from being around abusive and exploitative people. It’s a lot to unpack.

The first time I ever heard the term “narcissism” was when I was a senior in high school. I was taking a psychology class, and my teacher was the kind who loved to show “made for TV” movies to demonstrate certain psychological disorders. We watched the 1989 film Small Sacrifices, which starred Farrah Fawcett and was based on true crime writer Ann Rule’s excellent book. Fawcett portrayed Diane Downs, a woman who shot her own children and then claimed that she was carjacked. I remember my teacher saying that Downs had narcissistic personality disorder.

At the time, I thought nothing of it. I was seventeen years old and really didn’t know a lot about the world. Hell, at that time, I didn’t even realize that my father was an alcoholic, even though it was pretty obvious. I was used to seeing him drink excessively, and was accustomed to the erratic and sometimes scary behavior that resulted from his drinking, PTSD, and depression.

It never occurred to me that, years later, I would marry a man whose ex wife was extremely narcissistic, or even that her shockingly abusive behavior, as egregiously selfish and damaging as it was, would be something that a couple of my friends would also experience with people in their lives. I started to look around and realized that I was seeing narcissism all over the place.

When I started to realize how common and pervasive narcissistic behavior seemed to be, I wondered if maybe I was imagining it. Like, maybe I was akin to a physician in training with a little knowledge, suddenly seeing the signs and symptoms of a disease I’d just learned about in a class. I do have degrees in social work and public health, but narcissism isn’t something we necessarily learned about in school, except when I took an undergraduate course in abnormal psychology. I did very well in that class, but I am certainly no expert.

I started learning a lot more about NPD years ago, when I watched my husband’s ex wife treat my husband like literal shit. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the disrespect she showed toward him and his family, and ultimately, her children. I couldn’t believe her nerve. I was very surprised that so many people let her get away with the things they let her get away with, like denying Bill access to his children and telling outrageous lies about him to everyone, including his own parents and the children. Then I learned more about the physical and sexual abuse that occurred, and saw the proof of it.

I knew there had to be something very wrong with Ex, because her “reasons” for her actions didn’t make any sense to me. They did not fit the man that I knew, and have now known, for over twenty years. She made claims that he hates women and was abusive to her. And yet he has never as much as raised his voice to me, let alone a hand. He’s literally one of the kindest, most gentle, and agreeable people I’ve ever met, in spite of his long career as a soldier.

At first, I thought maybe Ex had borderline personality disorder. I read a lot about it and realized that her behavior ticked a lot of the boxes. But people with BPD are usually somewhat treatable, if they realize they have a problem and want to get help, and they aren’t as cruel as Ex is. Ex has been hospitalized on a few occasions, and I’ve seen her spouting off about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is a treatment used for people with BPD. However, her behavior doesn’t seem to change, and there are still many signs that she’s got other issues– namely with narcissism. I have studied narcissism for years, and I am convinced that’s her main problem, at least at this point in her life.

Of course, it’s also certainly possible that she has both disorders. Sometimes cluster B personality disorders do overlap. Or maybe she’s got another problem entirely. I can only guess, based on what I’ve witnessed, heard about, and experienced in my years with Bill, and my own educational pursuits.

All I know is that when I started to read about narcissistic personality disorder, Ex’s behavior started to make a lot more sense, and was much less shocking. In fact, once I learned about personality disorders in general, Ex started to become more predictable. While it was still terrible to observe, and awful for my husband, who was denied contact with his daughters, there was something almost comforting in knowing that it wasn’t just our imagination that she was so incredibly controlling, and shamelessly self-centered and hurtful. Indeed, later when Bill started talking to his daughter, she confirmed that she was treated as badly as he was. Younger daughter recently announced that she’s expecting another baby. She wrote that she was much more nervous about telling her mother than telling Bill. Bill always reacts with kindness. Ex doesn’t.

Some might wonder why I write so much about Ex. To that question, I can only answer that it helps me process and unpack. People often assume she’s a normal person and I’m the problem. I would like to ask people who automatically assume that I’m the problem, to stop and think about what they would think, and how they would feel, if they were married to someone who was DENIED access to their own children by the other parent. I would expect a loving parent to want the other parent to be involved, if only for the sake of the children, who deserve to have access to their parents and should not be saddled with an unnecessary stigma of being the child of an abuser.

If there was a legitimate reason for the other parent to be denied access, there should have been documentation as to why that was necessary. But in Ex’s case, she was apparently married to two men who were not fit to be fathers to their children. She denied her first husband access to their son, and only helped them reunite when it suited her toxic agenda. She did it solely to be cruel and punitive to Bill, who was asserting himself because his former stepson was quite obviously using him for money. When Bill busted the young man for hiding the fact that he was changing his name and didn’t bother to tell Bill, but kept accepting child support from him (at age 21, no less), Ex suddenly decided that the young man should be in contact with the man she claimed was “crazy” and “abusive”. And now we know she said the same things about Bill, although as his second wife, I can attest that he’s not the one who is “crazy” and “abusive”.

Once I learned more about narcissism, I found out that a lot of people are dealing with narcissists in their lives. I wonder how that is possible, since it’s supposedly a “personality disorder”. But then I realized that one doesn’t have to have NPD to exhibit those behaviors on occasion. Narcissism seems to be an epidemic in western society. In fact, it seems to be somewhat celebrated and even normalized in American culture. Obviously narcissistic people are the ones who often end up being “stars”. They often have powerful jobs and lots of prestige, or they have a lot of money. But then you look at their personal lives, and examine things they’ve done to get ahead, and you realize they aren’t people you’d necessarily want to know.

Donald Trump, to my mind, is a VERY obvious grandiose and malignant narcissist. He’s had a string of unfaithful marriages and business failures. So many people who have been associated with him have ended up in trouble with the law, ranging from his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to people who invaded the Capitol building last January. There are many stories of him abusing women and being racist. He doesn’t seem to care beyond the superficial for anyone, except maybe his daughter, Ivanka, whom he’s said he would like to date. He’s been friends with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, as well as Steve Bannon. And yet, we made him President of the United States, and many people– some of whom I consider decent and basically intelligent– are still fooled by his icky, superficial and totally fake charm. They see his selfishness and crazy behavior as strengths.

It was my husband’s ex wife who made me realize how dangerous Trump is. Once I started studying narcissists and saw how these people put on public faces, but are toxic nightmares behind closed doors, I realized how terrible Trump as a leader is. And then I saw the proof of it in the aftermath of the 2020 election, which thank GOD he lost. I only hope that he can’t run again, because I’m not altogether sure he wouldn’t win. And if he wins, God help us all, because he would have no reason whatsoever to curb his behavior. He wouldn’t be able to run for another term and would be even closer to the end of his life, anyway.

But Trump is an extreme example of a narcissist. The truth is, they’re everywhere, and that’s why so many people are obsessively reading about them and watching videos about their behavior. Most of them don’t reach the terrible extremes of Trump. Most are probably not even as extreme as Ex is. I would say most narcissists are mainly just what we’d call inconsiderate assholes. They aren’t necessarily dangerous, but they are very unpleasant and toxic to be around. Some go to more extreme lengths and are incredibly dangerous and harmful, particularly to innocent people.

I look at Josh Duggar, whose trial is set to begin tomorrow. This is a man who was lecturing the masses about family values several years ago, as he was meeting and brutalizing a sex worker, cheating on his wife, and apparently, viewing illegal pornographic images. I have never met Josh Duggar, but he definitely has a lot of the signs of NPD, and he’s been raised in a culture where his selfish, destructive, abusive behavior is tolerated and even celebrated.

Meanwhile, since he’s been caught with illegal images that were described as the “worst of the worst” that experienced investigators have ever seen, Josh and his equally narcissistic father, Jim Bob, have been doing everything they can to get out of being held accountable for this behavior. Hell, Jim Bob is even running for public office again, even though his son is probably about to go to prison. Go figure that decision, except that Jim Bob is also extremely controlling and self-centered. Why should we care about these people? By all rights, we shouldn’t, but their story is compelling, because they have that yucky charisma and charm that a lot of narcissists have. I only hope that this time, they finally get held accountable for the things they do.

I come by my fascination with narcissism honestly, because it has affected me personally. I know that I’m not alone. I really think our culture has a lot to do with why this issue is so prevalent. Sadly, narcissists really hurt people, and they cause damage that is not easy to overcome. Whether it’s dealing with an abusive ex spouse who uses children and other people to maintain control, or it’s just a boss or a landlord who lives to make someone’s life hell, or it’s a person who is running the country and refusing to play fair, narcissists do a lot of harm to decent people. And I think the high number of books, videos, and blog posts about this subject only show that many students are ready, so the teachers have appeared.

Now… I’m going to dive back into my latest book by Les Carter, and I hope tomorrow, there will be a fresh book review. I’ve got several new books that I’m dying to start reading, but I can’t tackle them the way I used to. I hope everyone has a great Monday.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: A review of My Daughter Susan Smith by Linda H. Russell and Shirley Stephens

Since the latest race riots have been erupting, I’ve repeatedly thought about Susan Smith, the woman who drowned her sons in John D. Long lake in South Carolina back in 1994. I remember how she had initially said a “black man” had taken her car with her sons in it. When it turned out that she had been the one to kill her boys, people of color were understandably outraged. I don’t have much on my mind to write about right now, but a couple of years ago, I did read the book Susan Smith’s mother wrote. I reviewed it for my original blog back in May 2018. I am reposting it as is, because I think it’s timely.

On October 25, 1994, a distraught young mother named Susan Smith from Union, South Carolina deliberately sent her 1990 Mazda Protege into John D. Long Lake.  Strapped into the backseat of the car were her two young sons, three year old Michael and 14 month old Alex.  As the car rolled down a boat ramp and into the murky depths of the lake, Susan banged on a stranger’s door and begged for help.  She told everyone that a black man had stolen her car with her sons in it.  For days, she tried to maintain the story that she’d been carjacked and her sons might still be alive.  It was a total lie.

Susan Smith lies on camera about her sons.

In 1994, I was 22 years old and freshly graduated from college.  Susan Smith, who was 23 when she killed her sons, is less than a year older than I am.  I didn’t follow her story when it was happening because, at the time, I had three part time jobs.  I do remember working in a menswear store where we listened to the radio all day, 106.9, The Fox (awesome classic rock station).  One day in early November, there was a news report about Susan Smith.  My co-workers asked me what I thought about it.  I hadn’t heard of the case because I hadn’t had time to watch the news.  I missed all of her emotional appeals on television, her ex husband David at her side. 

In the summer of 1995, I was in the Republic of Armenia, having just started Peace Corps training.  One of the perks we got as Volunteers was a subscription to the international version of Newsweek.  My mom also used to send me People magazine and the U.S. version of Newsweek.  I read about Susan Smith.  She was on trial when I was in Armenia.  Her story both fascinated and horrified me.  I remembered how she went from being youthful and attractive, to bloated, pasty and depressed looking.  In a matter of months, she transformed into a woman who appeared to be much older than her years.  I also remember her obvious relief when she was spared the death penalty.

In 1999, I moved to South Carolina to go to graduate school at the University of South Carolina.  The following year, Susan’s mother, Linda H. Russell, and a ghostwriter named Shirley Stephens, published the book My Daughter Susan Smith.  I remember the book was criticized.  A lot of people seemed to feel that Linda’s book was in poor taste. 

I was studying social work and public health at USC.  Sometimes Susan’s name would come up in my classes.  I remember one time, a man who worked in the local prisons came to the abnormal psychology class I was taking.  He knew Susan Smith, and had awful things to say about her.  She was also in the news back then, because she’d had sex with a couple of prison guards and had to be moved from a prison in Columbia to a facility in Greenwood, South Carolina.  I was even a finalist for a scholarship that was being given in Michael and Alexander Smith’s honor. 

I’ve been waiting 18 years to read this book.  I remember when it first came on the market, seeing it at the local Barnes & Noble and Waldenbooks outlets.  I was tempted to make a purchase of the hard copy version back then, but had limited funds. I also didn’t feel right about buying it.  Last week, I finally decided I wanted to read what Linda Russell had to say about her daughter. 

I didn’t expect it to be a good book, and it isn’t.  In fact, I don’t think Shirley Stephens is much of a ghostwriter.  This book reads as if Linda Russell wrote it, complete with awkward sentence constructions and a pervasive tone that blames everyone but Susan Smith for what happened to her sons.  However, as off putting as the book is, I also think it’s kind of weirdly fascinating.  It’s like a study in abnormal psychology in and of itself.  Linda Russell is the queen of victim blaming.

Susan Smith’s hard beginnings…

Susan Vaughan was born on September 26, 1971, the daughter of Linda and Harry Vaughan.  Susan has two much older brothers, Michael (who goes by Moe) and Scotty.  Linda Russell explains that she and Harry Vaughan got married when she was very young.  She had gotten pregnant as a teenager.  Their marriage was not happy.  They separated when Susan was three years old, and eventually divorced in 1977.  Susan was six years old.  One month after the divorce, Harry Vaughan committed suicide.  Although Susan never knew her father very well, she was very traumatized by his death.  She repeatedly blamed her mother for Harry Vaughan’s suicide.  She even chose her wedding day because it was her late father’s birthday.

About a year and a half after her parents’ divorce, Susan’s mother, Linda, married Bev Russell.  Russell was a local businessman, nephew of a prominent South Carolina judge, and local Republican politician.  He was a member of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition who sang in his church’s choir.  Linda Russell’s marriage to Russell meant a significant upgrade in lifestyle.  Unfortunately, as Susan matured into a young woman, Bev Russell molested her.  When Susan told her mother about Bev Russell’s sexual abuse, Linda blamed her teenaged daughter for enticing him.

Teachers at Susan’s school were aware of Susan’s obsession with suicide.  She was very depressed and anxious.  Susan told her eighth grade physical education teacher that she wanted to kill herself.  The P.E. teacher, who had gone to high school with Susan’s brother, Scotty, gave him a letter Susan had written about her desire to die.  Scotty showed Linda the letter Susan wrote, but Linda did little to address the problem.  When Susan was in high school and continued to have suicidal thoughts, other teachers and school counselors warned Linda that Susan needed help.  They recommended that Linda get her daughter to a therapist.  At least one psychiatrist recommended that Susan be hospitalized.  Another wanted to enroll Susan in an experimental treatment program, which Linda would not approve. 

Linda initially balked at the idea of Susan receiving therapy.  She didn’t see Susan as needing counseling.  She finally relented when the local Department of Social Services got involved, having learned that Bev Russell had been molesting Susan.  DSS informed Linda that Susan and Bev could no longer live under the same roof while Susan was a minor.  Linda also insisted on being allowed to call the therapist after each session.  She bitterly laments that the therapist would not violate Susan’s confidentiality and that what was said during her sessions was considered none of Linda’s business.

Linda Russell repeatedly writes that she no longer loved Bev Russell.  However, despite the fact that Bev did molest her teenaged daughter, Linda Russell seemed more concerned about appearances to the community and her own comfort than keeping her daughter safe from a predator.  Linda was still married to her husband when Susan killed her sons, although she claims that she had been planning to file for divorce the month before the murders happened.  She does reveal that she finally divorced him in 1998… about ten years later than she probably should have.

Susan’s marriage to a “jerk”, and his “homewrecker” girlfriend…

Susan Smith met David Smith when they both worked at the local Winn-Dixie grocery store.  Although David had a girlfriend named Christy, he also dated Susan.  When David got Susan pregnant, David and Susan decided to get married.  Susan and David had a church wedding when she was about two months along with Michael.  From the beginning their marriage was extremely rocky.  According to Linda Russell, David continued to see other women.  She claims that his inattentiveness to Susan was one of the main reasons Susan committed filicide.

Throughout the book, Linda Russell claims that David is the main reason why Susan now sits in a prison cell.  He had an affair with a woman named Tiffany Moss, who also gets a lot of blame for the boys’ deaths.  Russell goes as far as to claim that David and Tiffany helped put Michael and Alex in their graves.  It’s very clear that Linda Russell never liked David or his family.  She claims that they pandered to the press and made their situation much worse. 

I don’t detect much empathy from Linda toward David Smith or his family. Linda Russell frequently refers to David Smith’s book, Beyond All Reason: My Life With Susan Smith. I do remember reading David’s book years ago. Linda makes it sound like David Smith blames Susan for everything. Although I can’t remember everything in Smith’s book, I do remember that his take on the story seemed compassionate to me, while Russell’s version practically seethes with rage.

Likewise, Linda makes it very clear that she thinks Tiffany Moss is trash.  She writes of confronting her at Winn-Dixie after finding a note left by Tiffany at the boys’ graves.  It seems lost on Linda Russell that Susan Smith wasn’t exactly innocent when it came to “homewrecking”.  She, too, had affairs with married men.

Susan’s “Dear Jane” letter from Tom Findlay…

Ten days before Susan killed her sons, she went to a hot tub party.  At the party was Tom Findlay, an older guy who had gone to Auburn University and was the son of Susan’s boss.  Susan had a sexual relationship with Tom’s father, Cary Findlay.  She also dated Tom.  At the party, Tom flirted with another woman.  Susan retaliated by flirting with another man.  Tom sent her a letter that, in my opinion, was basically kind, if not a bit smarmy.  He was honest as he explained that he didn’t want children and, although he liked Susan, was not interested in a relationship with her.  The note apparently was very devastating to Susan and was a key piece of evidence in her trial.

Susan’s discussions with the police and interference from the press…

Linda Russell goes into some detail about Susan Smith’s discussions with the authorities.  This part of the book was better than the other parts.  It’s clear that she knew the local police who were involved.  It sounds like Linda even thinks they were somewhat good to Susan, although she does curiously fault the mental healthcare providers for prescribing psychiatric medications for Susan and the prison officials for seeing that she took the drugs.  Linda Russell claims that the drugs covered up how sick Susan Smith was.  While I can see where she’s coming from, in that jurors might not see how ill Susan was, I also think it’s kind of sick for Linda Russell to want her daughter to forego medications that alleviate depression simply so others can see Susan’s sickness.  Mental illness is painful.  In my view, withholding psychiatric medications is not unlike withholding painkillers after a bad injury.  If the medications make Susan feel better, she should have them for that reason alone.  Anything less is inhumane.

Linda Russell is less forgiving toward the press.  She has a lot to say about Mark Klaas, whose daughter Polly was abducted from her bedroom and murdered.  Klaas has made a career for himself in the aftermath of his daughter’s kidnapping and murder.  Apparently, he tried to insert himself in the Smith case purely to further his own career, according to Russell.

My thoughts…

What really strikes me about Linda Russell’s book is that it seems aimed at convincing readers that Susan Smith is nothing but a victim.  I will agree that Susan Smith was repeatedly victimized, especially when she was growing up.  Linda Russell played no small part of her daughter’s victimization.  Moreover, plenty of people grow up being victimized and don’t kill their children.  I have no doubt at all that Smith was mentally ill when she committed murder.  She’s probably still mentally ill today.  Her story is tragic.  However, even people who are mentally ill must be held accountable for their actions.  Linda Russell clearly doesn’t want to hold Susan Smith or herself accountable for what happened to Michael and Alex Smith.

Another thing that struck me about My Daughter Susan Smith is that the story is very sordid.  It really illustrates the levels of toxicity that can lurk, even in small, friendly southern towns like Union, South Carolina.  Linda and Bev Russell appeared to be a very solid couple.  Bev Russell made a good living, went to church, prayed a lot, and was involved in local politics.  His wife appeared to be very respectable.  But lurking beneath the surface of Christian piety and Republican family values was a great deal of dirty laundry.  This story is a good reminder to keep in mind that things are not always as they seem.  Churchgoing people who pray a lot can still be guilty of horrific crimes.

I do think it’s tragic that Susan Smith is probably going to spend the rest of her life in prison.  I hate to think of anyone being warehoused in a prison.  However, I also think she’s where she belongs.  As for Linda Russell, I do hope that in the 18 years since she published this book, she’s developed more perspective and empathy toward the other people whose lives were affected by Susan’s crimes.

As for whether or not My Daughter Susan Smith is worth reading, I’ll simply say that it might be worthwhile if you want Linda Russell’s perspective or want to see how Susan Smith could have turned out how she did. However, in terms of it being a “good” book, I must be honest and state that I don’t think it is.

Anyway… here’s a link for those who are interested.

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

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divorce, Ex, narcissists, psychology

Vindication…

Today’s post is not going to be about current events. Frankly, I’m once again feeling a bit saturated by what’s been going on in the world. A friend added me to a group for military wives against racism (not the actual name of the group), and it’s very busy. I spent a good part of yesterday looking at the constant stream of outrage about racism, and I’m just feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all… So, I’m not going to write about that today. Instead, I’m going to write about vindication.

Those of you who used to read my original blog already know that I wrote many times about my husband’s ex wife. More than once, people told me I was “crazy”, “bitter”, “petty”, or “bitchy”, because I wrote the truth about her. I had more than a few people try to blame me or Bill for what happened in his first marriage.

I suspect a lot of the people who felt qualified to opine about our situation were projecting shit from their own lives. Because, let’s face it, a lot of times, when a heterosexual marriage goes south, the man does bear a large part of the blame for what went wrong. More often than not, both parties are equally to blame, but it’s true that men are statistically more likely to be abusers, for instance. And a lot of times, men are less emotionally mature than women are, especially when they’re involved with the military or another line of work that is typically “male-centric”.

There were times over the years when I wondered if I was being fair in my assessments about Ex and all that went wrong. I wondered if I could be more charitable and understanding toward her, and the way she treats people. I did, on a conscious level, understand that she had been severely abused and neglected when she was growing up. I could understand on an intellectual plane how she turned into someone as cruel and mean spirited as she always seemed to be.

After awhile, once the kids became adults, I stopped caring as much about her. I wrote less often about her, although I still wrote some posts that drew negative comments from the peanut gallery. As recently as late 2018, someone commented that I shouldn’t “trash” Bill’s ex wife and air so much TMI “dirty laundry” on my blog. They implied that writing about this stuff made me less “classy”… as if I really care if someone who doesn’t know me personally thinks I have “class”. The fact is, I don’t (either care or have “class”). I know the truth about who I am, and what happened. I write about it for myself, and for those who can relate.

Bill’s daughter has been talking to him, and we’ve learned that the truth about what happened was actually even worse than we knew. I suspected on one level that things were probably bad in their house. I knew this intellectually, because of what I know about high conflict personalities. My husband’s ex wife definitely has one. It’s not as simple as dealing with someone who has a short fuse or is argumentative. She is seriously unable to cooperate, empathize, or relate with other people. She must have things her own way, even if it means messing things up for herself. She’ll go out of her way to set things up to prove people “wrong”, even if it hurts her or a loved one.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Back in 2006, Ex’s eldest child, a son from her first marriage, had turned 18 and wanted to move out of his mother’s house. Ex had set up the divorce decree (like, she literally wrote it up herself) so that the kids would get child support beyond age 18 if they met certain conditions. But when her son decided he wanted to move out, she realized that it didn’t suit her purposes for him to continue to get child support. So she called Bill and asked him not to pay child support for her son (and actually, Bill shouldn’t have been doing that anyway, since legally, he was not Bill’s responsibility).

Bill refused to honor her request and demanded to know what was going on with his daughters. She got very angry and sent him a hateful email full of bile about what an awful father he is, and how much the children hated me. Keep in mind, I have met Bill’s daughters just once. It was in July 2003, about seven months after we married. The girls were 9 and almost 12 years old. We got along just fine. After that, Ex would not let them visit. Before his visit this year to younger daughter, Bill had last seen them in December 2004. But here it was, April 2006, and Ex was claiming that they “hated” me. She also told Bill not to tell me what she wrote. In essence, Bill’s ex wife expected him to keep a secret from his current wife. Naturally, that didn’t sit well with me. One could argue that it’s not my business how she raises her children, but she had no right to ask Bill to keep secrets from me.

So I wrote her an email and basically ripped her a new one. I told her she was a terrible mother because every time she divorces, she forces her children to divorce their fathers. I also let her know that I would trust my own perceptions of what the girls thought of me over hers. Since we’d only met once, and I knew that we’d gotten along fine, I figured that if they truly “hated” me in 2006, it was not because of anything I did. I also lambasted her for denying her son access to his real dad and for changing her son’s original last name to Bill’s. Looking back on this, I realize that maybe I shouldn’t have written to her, although the one good thing that happened was that she quit sending Bill hateful emails and she never again tried to screw with me personally.

Three years passed. During that time, Bill was paying his former stepson child support. He was talking to him regularly, even though we were in Germany for a good part of that time. Then, on New Year’s Day 2009, I happened to make a discovery. At the time, I was a member of a messageboard for second wives and stepmoms. Sometime around Christmas 2008, someone in the group posted a link to a now defunct Web site called criminalsearches.com. You could enter people’s names into the site and it would show whether or not someone had been involved in criminal activity. This site actually went beyond the other, similar sites that make you pay. It was totally free, and even showed the official sites where you could find the information for yourself. Ex and her brood were in Arizona at the time, so the information was on Arizona’s court site.

One day, I was bored. I plugged in the names of all the adults in Ex’s household, to include ex stepson, Ex, and her current husband. Sure enough, they all had entries. But I got very worried because one entry was for someone with the same name as Ex’s husband (it’s a common name). The charges were very serious, involving crimes that would necessitate Bill’s intervention. After a little more sleuthing, I determined that the person with those crimes was someone who was actually two years younger than Ex’s current husband, but had the same name. I was relieved that it wasn’t Ex’s husband who was getting arrested for being drunk in public and stalking women. But then I came across a court entry for former stepson, indicating that he was going to change his last name. He had kept this big news a secret from Bill.

Let me state right now that neither Bill nor I had a problem with the young man’s decision to change his name. It never should have been changed to Bill’s last name in the first place. Moreover, her first ex husband should have been paying child support and having access to his son. He wanted to, but was not able to pay as much as Bill did. The issue was that the lad was changing his name without so much as a word to Bill about it. He was taking “child support” from Bill and sneaking around behind Bill’s back. It was very shady, ungrateful, and disrespectful behavior. So Bill called him out on it. Ex stepson’s reaction was one of anger. Clearly, he’d been led to believe that he could take this action and not be caught… and, in fact, he was only caught because I was bored and did some snooping. If the person in my group hadn’t posted that link, he probably would have gotten away with it.

It soon became clear that Ex had been working to get her son to detach from Bill for the past three years. She got her son back in touch with his dad, convinced him to change his last name to what it was originally, and led him to believe that he could do this and not be caught. And it was all because I told her she was wrong to deny him access to his real father. She was determined to make me “sorry” for telling her off in an email. I’m sure she hoped Bill would hate me for it, too. She probably suspected he would, because that would have been her reaction in the same situation. She seems to think everyone thinks the way she does.

I suspect she was surprised and even angry that Bill wasn’t upset that the boy had changed his name and reconnected with his real dad. She had intended to hurt Bill by doing that. She did hurt him, but not because the ex stepson rejected Bill in favor of his natural father. It was because Bill had been his “dad” for so many years, and the relationship all came down to money. In fact, the very last time Bill communicated with his ex stepson, it was in a message the lad had sent, begging for just one last payment of $500… and a promise that if Bill would only pay it, he’d never be “bothered” by ex stepson again.

Normal, loving, caring mothers would not do this to their children. They would welcome other people loving their children and helping them in life. But Ex deliberately screwed up her son’s relationship with Bill, which was mutually beneficial to both of them, because she was angry that I had told her off several years prior. Moreover, as the girls came of age, she refused to cooperate with Bill so that they could have valuable financial and emotional support from him. Younger daughter went to college with just the clothes on her back. If we had been in contact with her, she could have gotten child support and, perhaps, might have a college degree and less college debt now. Older daughter might not be saddled with as much student loan debt as she has.

So anyway… all of this leads up to why I titled today’s post “vindication”. Over the past months, it’s become clear that I wasn’t overreacting or being “petty” about Ex. I have suspected for a long time that she has serious mental health issues. Some of them are probably organic and could be helped with medication, but most are personality disorders. Personality disorders, unfortunately, are less likely to be curable because they are a part of a person’s psyche. A person with a personality disorder has to recognize that they have a problem and want to fix it. Sadly, most people with personality disorders, particularly those of the “cluster B” variety, do NOT want to get help. They think other people are the ones with the “problem”, even when it’s glaringly obvious that when problems arise, it almost always starts with them and their aberrant behaviors.

People love to hate “stepmothers” and second wives. I can’t tell you how many times people have assumed that I broke up my husband’s first marriage. Our ex landlady, who I think probably is a bit of a high conflict person herself, actually asked me point blank if Bill got divorced because of me. We have learned that Ex told her daughters that Bill cheated on her with me, which is a bald faced lie. In fact, if anyone was cheating, it was Ex. She moved her current husband into the house Bill was paying for before they had even divorced. I met Bill offline for the first time almost a year after he and his ex were officially divorced, and we didn’t even consummate our marriage until we were married for two weeks. Bill had to explain all of this to his younger daughter when they met in person back in March. Fortunately, she never entirely believed her mother’s lies and after meeting Bill again fifteen years after their last in person visit, realized that she’d been fed a lot of lies for years.

I’ve been on the receiving end of abuse from people who have commented on my blog posts, as well as people in RfM about my comments about Ex. Again, it’s usually people who are projecting their own situations onto ours. They don’t know me or Bill, but they know what happened in their situation. And somehow, they mostly figure it’s always the same story. The man is the one who screwed things up. The second wife/stepmom is an evil whore who wrecked the family home. And the ex wife is always just a victim, cast aside for a younger, prettier model.

Well… younger daughter has wisely been seeking professional help with what’s she’s been through as well as postpartum depression. And she has learned that her mother has real problems… mental health problems. The conclusion is much the same as the one I came to. Apparently, the therapist thinks the Ex is probably suffering from borderline personality disorder with psychosis. Originally, I thought maybe Ex had BPD too. She may very well have BPD, but personally, I think she’s also got full blown narcissistic personality disorder. I know that is a popular term right now and it’s being thrown around willy nilly by all kinds of people. I also know that I am not qualified to diagnose her. However, having done the work for master’s degrees in social work and public health, and having lived with the aftereffects of Bill’s relationship with his ex wife, this is what I’ve concluded about her. And it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who has come to this conclusion.

I am certainly not perfect. I have my own issues. I’ve sought psychiatric help myself in the past, mainly for depression and anxiety. Seeking help for a mental health condition is, by the way, a sign of strength, not weakness. But, as Bill often reassures me, I’m not at all like his ex wife. I don’t abuse him. I don’t cheat on him, squander his money, or sabotage his successes. In fact, I want him to do well, and I do all I can to support him. When he does well, we both reap the benefits. I love my husband very much and don’t see him as an adversary. I want him to be happy. I would wish for his happiness even if we split up someday, mainly because I know what kind of a person he is. He’s not an evil person, and honestly, he’s done so much for me I could never repay him anyway. But I don’t think we’ll split up, even though the state of the world has us both a bit stressed right now. We love each other too much. We are, in fact, pretty much perfect for each other.

I write about this because I know we’re not the only ones who have gone through this battle, as insane and farfetched as it may seem. Those who have never had to deal with someone who is legitimately mentally ill and refuses to get help will never know just how “crazy” it can be. I sometimes think my own dealings with mental health professionals just before Bill and I met were preparation for what was to come. Like I said, I do have my own craziness to deal with, but it’s on a much smaller scale than Ex’s is… and the fact that Bill divorced his ex wife is not a reflection on him. He tried for years to make the relationship work. She finally crossed a line that made it impossible to keep trying. And that’s when he ran straight into my arms.

I do feel somewhat vindicated as we’ve learned more about the truth of what happened. Hearing another perspective from another escapee of Ex’s crazy fantasy world has taught me that I’m not the one who’s crazy. I may seem bitter, petty, crazy, and wicked to those who read these posts without any backstory or insight. But the truth is, while I’m certainly not perfect, I’m also not the enemy… at least not to most people. I’ve only ever wanted to live my life in peace. Those who let me live in peace and don’t hurt me or the ones I love will get the same consideration. Those who don’t, at the very least, can expect that I’ll write about them. And the older I get, the more likely it is that I’ll take some other action, too. Even if it’s just to practice my guitar, which I’m going to do right now.

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