Duggars, Ex, narcissists, psychology

“You’re not disloyal when you change…”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might know that I’m a big fan of Dr. Les Carter’s excellent YouTube channel, Surviving Narcissism. This channel, which he runs with narcissistic abuse survivor, Laura Charanza, is all about healing from narcissistic abuse. I’ve read and reviewed several of Les Carter’s books, and Bill and I have both gained insight from watching his videos. Dr. Carter has a calm, friendly, reassuring demeanor, and while I don’t know if he’s still engaged in private practice in Texas, I do know that he’s helped so many people by being available on YouTube.

All of the recent drama involving the Duggar family has really caused me to reflect on the real damage that narcissistic parents do to their children. While it’s impossible to know when Josh Duggar really started going off the rails, or whether or not his deviant attraction to harming children is something natural or nurtured, what is very clear to me is that Josh and his siblings no doubt suffered abuse from their parents. It’s easy to see that Jim Bob Duggar has narcissistic proclivities. He clearly runs that family like his own mini cult, and there are a lot of conditions set upon the children. The ones who don’t toe Jim Bob’s line are pretty much cast out of the family.

Jim Bob has a public persona that is carefully crafted to fool people. He comes off as “nice”, albeit very much in charge. But behind closed doors, there is no doubt in my mind that he’s got a very different personality. And children who grow up under the control of someone as controlling as Jim Bob clearly is, will definitely struggle as they become adults. The public can see this phenomenon in action as the oldest Duggar children are breaking free of Jim Bob’s mini cult. I noticed that Joy Anna Forsyth appeared to be extremely distraught last week during Josh’s trial. It was as if she was finally learning some truths that she found overwhelming and upsetting. But I think it’s important to understand that she grew up in a family system in which information was tightly controlled and filtered. And now, she’s realizing that she’s been kept in the dark and fed a lot of shit for years.

Dr. Carter explains how narcissists who are parents can hurt their children by sharing their pain in abusive ways.

Yesterday, Dr. Carter visited an interesting topic on his channel. The video, titled “How Narcissists Transfer Their Pain Onto Their Children” really hit home for me as I watched it this morning. All of the familiar tactics narcissistic parents use to desperately maintain control of their children were spelled out in Dr. Carter’s video. Then, he explains, in a comforting and kind way, that adult children have the power to make changes. They can make their own choices, even if it feels like they can’t. They just need to find the courage to do it. It’s not unlike the discovery Dorothy makes in The Wizard of Oz, when she’s told that all she has to do to go home again is click her heels three times. She always had the power. She just had to find the courage to use it.

Of course, making adult choices means living like an adult. And that can be extremely hard to do when you’re an adult child of a narcissist. First off, children who are raised by narcissists are never taught healthy ways to enforce boundaries. They are subjected to abuse, which can encompass everything from verbal rages to physical blows, as well as mind games, threats, and using other people to promote agendas. I would imagine that in a family like the Duggars, there were plenty of mind games played– tactics meant to keep everyone off balance and unsure of their place. Children who grow up with that kind of a family system never learn to trust themselves, and after awhile, they become numb to the abuse, which only sets them up for more of the same treatment.

Secondly, children who are raised by narcissists are taught that if they try to go their own way, they’re “disloyal”. Narcissistic parents are in a lot of pain, and misery loves company. So the narcissistic parent will do all they can to make the children feel like they can’t leave that system. They will try to make their children feel incompetent. If that doesn’t work, they will call into question their children’s love and loyalty. Children raised by narcissists who don’t become narcissistic themselves will feel guilty if they move away from that system. Their parent(s) may accuse them of abandoning them or being disloyal. But one of the first things every child should learn is that they should always be loyal to themselves, first. And if changing is a healthy thing to do, they should be able to do it without being made to feel guilty.

Jim Bob Duggar controls his children– especially the adults– by holding things like money and housing over their heads. In the wake of Josh Duggar’s conviction, we’ve seen several of the children make statements. It’s very telling which of Jim Bob’s adult children are free of his financial constraints. They are the ones who are making it clear that they condemn Josh’s actions. The children who are still depending on Jim Bob have to be publicly loyal to him. They aren’t allowed to criticize their brother or their father. I am sure the most important Commandment to Jim Bob is “Honor thy Father and they Mother”– especially thy father. Katie Joy, of Without a Crystal Ball, covers this topic regarding the Duggars.

Joy Anna is not dependent on Jim Bob anymore.
But Jessa still is…

As many readers also know, my husband was married to a woman whom I very strongly suspect is a narcissist, and she has five children who have been subjected to her abuse. For years, my husband was prevented from speaking to his daughters. One of the daughters broke free from her mother’s grip and moved clear across the country from her. They are still on speaking terms, but it’s pretty obvious that she’s learning the truth about what happened. Likewise, Bill is also learning about what happened during the time he wasn’t in contact.

My husband’s older daughter still chooses to live with her mother. My guess is that she does it because she feels like she must. I think she’s been led to believe that she can’t survive on her own. But she also takes care of her profoundly autistic younger brother, because Ex doesn’t do it. I suspect that she might speak to Bill if circumstances were different. I met her, and she struck me as a very loving person. I think she mainly doesn’t connect with Bill because she knows that Bill is strong enough to survive. He isn’t alone. He’s got me, his mother, and his younger daughter. I think she might also fear facing up to the fact that she and her siblings have been controlled, lied to, and abused by their mother. I know from personal experience that recognizing that someone has abused you can lead to anger and depression. It’s not a nice feeling to realize that you’ve been victimized. I suspect that older daughter might wish to spare herself that pain.

Also, if older daughter was to leave her situation, her brother could suffer the consequences. It would legitimately cause serious problems for him, and for Ex, because older daughter reportedly does all of the work. It’s possible that she can’t live with the potential guilt of forcing her mother to take care of her own son. I think she also legitimately feels for her mother, too, even though she really should be focused on living her own life on her own terms. She’s an adult, though, and that is her choice to make. I just wish she understood that all she has to do is click her heels– pick up the phone– and there are people who would gladly help her get out of her predicament. Bill would be at the front of the line. Again– she should be loyal to herself before all others, because she is the only one who has to live with herself and her decisions.

I highly recommend Dr. Carter’s video to anyone who has known the pain of growing up with a narcissistic parent. Adult children of narcissists have been raised to believe that they aren’t their own people. They have been raised to act as objects– tools to be manipulated and used by their narcissistic parents. Children lack the ability to control what happens to them, but adults can deviate from the paths they are set upon. It just takes courage and some planning, and the knowledge that choosing one’s own path can be painful. I’m sure that Jim Bob’s adult children who aren’t kowtowing to him anymore are denied access to their younger siblings, who are still trapped in the Tinkertoy Mansion. With every passing day, total freedom is closer– because eventually narcissists lose their psychic fiefdoms. Either it crumbles very publicly, as it is for Jim Bob right now, or it ends because the narcissist eventually becomes incapacitated or dies.

No one should have to wait until the death of a narcissist to reclaim control of their lives. I would love to see some of the independent Duggar siblings completely break free and start their own family traditions, perhaps even with each other. There’s nothing to say that they have to tolerate control from their parents– or really, their dad. They’re adults, and those of them who don’t rely on Jim Bob’s money can do whatever they want, within legal boundaries, anyway. It doesn’t make them bad people to live their lives on their own terms, either. It makes them healthy adults.

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condescending twatbags, Ex, memories, narcissists, nostalgia

“Dick”… a man who doesn’t know dick! On not “suffering in silence” anymore…

Last night, I was on Facebook, reminiscing with fellow Longwood University graduates about a wonderful professor we all knew. In my case, she was the very first Longwood professor I met when I came to orientation during the summer of 1990. I was immediately impressed by her optimism and enthusiasm. She was friendly and fun and dynamic, and it was all 100% genuine. She really set an exciting tone for me during those early days at Longwood. I’ve never forgotten it, or her. She was the first of MANY excellent professors I had in college.

For many years, this professor taught speech and theater. I was an English major, but I had double minors in speech and communications, so I did end up having her for one of my classes. I always remember her to be a wonderful, kind, and energetic role model.

A little 90s era mood music for people like “Dick”…

During my junior year at Longwood, I had this professor for a course called Interpersonal Communications. It was a large class, so after class began, she decided to split it into two sections. She wanted me to take the later section, which was co-taught by a teaching assistant. I had a conflict, though, because I was also taking voice lessons in the music department, and my lessons were scheduled during the time the other section was being held. Voice lessons were arranged privately between teacher and student. Obviously, my Interpersonal Communications professor had looked up everyone’s schedules, saw that I didn’t have another scheduled class, and figured she could just stick me in the other section.

I don’t remember why we did it this way, but I ended up attending both sections of the class. On the days I had my voice lessons, I went to the earlier session. On the other days, I went to the later class. It worked out fine, and I got an A in the class, although I wonder what would have happened if I’d had a job or some other commitment… but then, it was Farmville, Virginia in the early 90s, and jobs weren’t that plentiful in those days.

This professor’s class was always interesting. I remember she had people come in to speak to us. One day, a physical education professor, notorious for being a very tough grader, came in and told us about how he and his ex wife had lost a child to leukemia. I didn’t have this P.E. professor myself, but I remember my friends talking about how difficult his class was. When I heard his tragic story about how he’d lost a child and it ruined his marriage, I saw him in a very different light.

The professor also told us a lot about herself, and her history. I distinctly remember her talking about her first husband, the father of her sons, and how he was a severe alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic, so I empathized a lot with her story about her ex husband. One day, I wrote in a paper about my father and this professor gifted me with an insightful book about how to deal with alcoholics. I ended up passing it on to my mom, and she was so very grateful, because the book was helpful to her. I also remember going to this professor’s home one Saturday, along with the rest of our class, and being treated to a wonderful home cooked brunch. I still remember her delicious breakfast casserole.

Suffice to say… I have some very warm and fuzzy memories of this professor, and my college, where I got an excellent education in a supportive environment, and found so many lifelong friends. The professor is still living, but is currently in a nursing home/assisted living housing. Her health is declining. So we were all in this Facebook group, remembering her, and I was really enjoying all of the stories and memories… Someone shared her mailing address so people who love her can send cards to her.

And then, he showed up…

There’s one in every crowd, isn’t there? That person who just has to come in and shit on everything. That person who has to break wind in the middle of a room where there’s nothing but good vibes, sunshine, and fresh air. I’ll call him Dick, because frankly, that’s what he is. But that’s not his real name.

I kind of knew Dick when we were students at Longwood. We were both involved with the radio station. It was an activity I had really enjoyed and had a knack for doing. My junior year, someone nominated me for music director of the station. Dick was also nominated. He had ambitions to work in radio. I probably did too, although I don’t have the same kind of overbearing, domineering personality that Dick has.

I remember that Dick had rather forcefully inserted himself in the business at the radio station. He used to lecture everyone about the FCC regulations, warning the disc jockeys about not playing music with swear words, lest we get a “$50,000 FINE!”. I don’t remember why he was lecturing people, as at the time this was happening, he didn’t have any kind of official authority. We were all volunteers anyway.

I also remember that he was constantly ordering people to play new music instead of whatever they wanted to play on their shows. A lot of the music he wanted people to play, quite simply, sucked. But he was bound and determined to be in charge, and was trying to force everyone to do things his way, even though the station only had ten watts of power and could only be heard within a six mile radius of the school. He wanted to take over, come hell or high water.

I remember that Dick set his sights on vanquishing me in our mutual bid to be music director. He harassed me when I was on the air and complained about me to the station manager. He got his male radio station friends to gang up on me, even blatantly getting them to publicly endorse him during our meetings. His friends were popular and into music, but they were otherwise slackers who didn’t really give a shit about their educations.

I had worked very hard at radio, taking time slots for shows that no one else wanted. At one point, I was on the air from midnight to four in the morning on Saturdays. I did those shows because I truly loved radio, even though I’m not naturally a night owl and people weren’t always listening at that hour.

And then Dick came in and RUINED it. I have not forgotten that, nor, if I’m honest, can I say that I’ve forgiven him for being such an insufferable control freak and shitting on an activity I enjoyed so much. I’m not very good at forgiveness.

I couldn’t stand Dick, and since I was not as resilient or assertive back then as I am now, I ended up quitting the radio station so I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore. I regret that I did that now. In fact, even then I hated to do it. Unfortunately, once the radio station was overtaken by Dick and his cronies, I just couldn’t stomach it, or him.

Of course, today I would politely tell Dick to go fuck himself. Therapy is a good thing.

I never forgot Dick…

So last night, there we were, posting our memories about this beloved Longwood professor. In comes Dick.

Do you know what that asshole did? He related a story of his own about the professor. He’d had her for a class. Because she was a very caring and engaged teacher, one day she pulled him aside and asked him why he wasn’t participating in class. And Dick wrote that he told the professor he’d already read all the books she’d assigned when he was still in high school. He related this story in a smug, superior way, as if we should be impressed.

Then, to the rest of us, he wrote that Longwood isn’t a prestigious school like the University of Virginia or Rutgers University (Dick is from New Jersey). And that none of his employers ever cared that he went to Longwood.

Before I knew it, I posted “You were a total jerk in the 1990s, and I can see that nothing has changed.”

Someone else asked him what he was doing in the group, since he had such disdain for Longwood. Clearly the rest of us love the school, even if it’s not the most prestigious university. And, actually, Longwood is a pretty good school, especially for teachers, although there’s a lot more to a good college experience than reputation and acceptance rates. My husband, Bill, is a graduate of American University, which is a well-known, prestigious school. But he marvels all the time about the wonderful experience I had at Longwood, and the fact that I still know professors and fellow graduates almost thirty years post graduation.

Dick’s self-congratulatory post about how “above” Longwood he is, especially in a thread about a wonderful teacher, was bad form and totally out of place. It reminded me of something Donald Trump would do.

Maybe Longwood isn’t for everyone, but it’s a fantastic school for many people. Dick has no right to come in and take a dump on other people’s good memories about a beloved professor with his negative, pompous, arrogant bullshit.

Dick responded to me. He wrote, “I don’t remember you at all.”

I’m not at all surprised that he doesn’t remember me; and, in fact, I am relieved. So I wrote, “Good. I’m glad you don’t remember me. Let’s keep it that way.”

This morning, I noticed that Dick’s comments were deleted. I hope he got deleted from the Facebook group, too, since he obviously has such a low opinion of our alma mater. What a narcissistic asshole!

Although maybe it was wrong for me to call Dick a “jerk”, it was obviously something he needed to hear. Or maybe it was just something I needed to tell him. I know I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t stand him back in the day. Based by the reactions he got last night, I’ll bet I wasn’t the only person who was shocked by his comments about our teacher. I’m sure a lot of people were suffering in silence.

Obviously, Dick hasn’t matured beyond who he was thirty years ago. But I have done a lot of growing… and I have Longwood, in part, to thank for that. It’s too bad Dick wasted his time at such an “inferior” school for his prodigious “gifts” and “talents”. Wish he’d gone somewhere else.

And now for a somewhat related segue about narcissism and how the universe allows us to fix recurring situations…

Bill and I have both noticed that sometimes, the universe gives you a way to fix wrongs from the past. Last night, I got a chance to tell “Dick” that he’s a jerk. I wouldn’t have ordinarily called him a jerk. Ordinarily, I would have used more profane language. But, because I was commenting in a thread about a wonderful Longwood professor, I decided to keep my comments rated PG. Yea for self-control! That’s something of which impulsive narcissists don’t have much!

Bill and I have had a lot of dealings with narcissists. Each time we deal with someone who is narcissistic or has a “high conflict personality”, we get better at handling or flat out avoiding their bullshit. Slowly, but surely, we’ve found ways to deal with difficult people more effectively, and in a healthier, more assertive manner.

It started with Bill’s ex wife. She is an extreme narcissist, and Bill’s years with her have severely affected us both. We still talk about her, although not nearly as much as we used to, since we’ve managed to process and completely recover from the damage she wrought on Bill. She still comes up today, though, because Bill has been talking to his younger daughter. Bill’s daughter is still extremely affected by her mother’s narcissism. She still talks to her mom, so she still gets injured by her. And then there’s all those years she spent growing up with her mom treating her like a possession/servant, rather than a separate human being who should have been allowed to be a child.

Bill and his younger daughter were kept apart for many years, so every time they Skype, they have a lot of ground to cover. The Ex inevitably comes up in every conversation… and with every conversation, new and shocking things are revealed. Last night, as I was reeling from “Dick’s” nerve, Bill was hearing the latest about his ex wife, and how she continues to use and abuse the people closest to her– especially the people she’s birthed. And she apparently HATES #3, but stays with him, because otherwise she’d either go on welfare or– horrors– be forced to work!

We really shouldn’t be shocked by Ex’s shenanigans, though. She’s just doing what all narcissists do. They behave in shockingly self-centered and inappropriate ways, leaving more reasonable and empathetic people with shaking hands and nausea, or maybe just a sick sort of amazement and head shaking at their incredible nerve.

I shouldn’t be so shocked when I hear stories about how, when Bill’s two daughters were growing up, they’d spend hours doing the laundry, folding and delivering the clean clothes. Ex would address the girls while looking at her cell phone. The piles of laundry would be sitting on her bed, and Ex would say, “Well, this is all fine and good, but you should be putting the clothes away for me, too.”

Younger daughter, to her credit, refused. She and Ex butted heads about a lot of things, because even though younger daughter is as kind and empathic as Bill is, she’s not a doormat. I saw this tendency in her when she was a child, and I remember telling Bill that I knew she and Ex would fight a lot as she came of age. At the time, I thought younger daughter was like her mother.

I knew she’d eventually get in touch with us, and I dreaded it, because I figured she’d try to manipulate us the way Bill’s former stepson had. But it turns out that, actually, younger daughter is a very good person who, underneath all of her empathy and kindness, has a backbone and a limit to what she’ll tolerate. And she very wisely got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she turned 18.

Unfortunately, older daughter is now 30 and still cleans her mother’s house, does the laundry, babysits her younger, severely autistic brother, and languishes with student debt that her mother forced her to take out and share the excess with the household. Older daughter doesn’t get along with the 18 year old daughter Ex has with #3, and she told Bill’s younger daughter that she was so happy because she’d gone into her sister’s room to change the sheets and suddenly realized her sister was at college.

Yes, it’s a shock that older daughter, who has a college degree and life skills, is still enslaved by her narcissistic mother and changing the sheets for her younger adult sister. But you get what you settle for, right? Ex’s daughter with #3 is allowed to go away to college, because she stayed in state, and Ex can exploit her student loans, just like she did with Bill’s daughters. But Ex didn’t want younger daughter to go to BYU… in fact, she even told younger daughter that she hadn’t turned out the way she was “supposed to”. She wasn’t supposed to go to BYU and marry a guy from Utah. She was supposed to stay close to Ex, so Ex could keep using her for doing chores and getting narcissistic supply.

Bill doesn’t mind talking to his daughter about Ex. They need to compare notes. That lessens Ex’s power, since younger daughter can get information for more credible sources than her mother, who lies and twists the truth to suit her agenda. Yes, it keeps Ex in our sphere, but we get better at dealing with her and laughing at her ridiculous antics, rather than getting upset by them. Just like last night, instead of suffering in silence when “Dick” stank up the room, I called him a jerk for hijacking our thread and making it about himself and his alleged superiority. Honestly… was he expecting us to be impressed by that? I’ll say it again. What a narcissistic asshole!

And, those of you who read my protected post from a couple of days ago, might also realize that I dealt with a similar troublemaker, who was stirring up shit in my wine group, by kicking her out and blocking her. I didn’t give her a chance to cause more trouble. She was literally making me feel physically ill with her toxic bullshit. So I kicked her out, dusted off my hands, and now, things are a lot more peaceful and stress free for me… and probably others who had suffered in silence.

I’m certainly not perfect. I have a lot of neuroses and complexes. I have a lot of hang ups that stem from my “troubled past”. I continue to work on them, though, and I think I’ve made some progress, even if it’s not always obvious to my readers or other people.

Maybe I shouldn’t have called “Dick” a jerk, but it sure felt good to do that, rather than suffer in silence. He needed to be called out for his self-important comments about how Longwood was “beneath him” and a kind, caring professor, who’d regarded him and her job enough be concerned about him, was “unworthy of teaching him”, since he was so well-read, skilled, and talented and belonged at a “better” school.

Likewise, I don’t have to suffer in silence regarding Ex… or toxic people in my wine group who don’t know how to behave like good citizens, rather than stirring up shit and sabotaging what I’ve built. There was a time when I might have let the troublemaker in my wine group shut me down, just as I once let Dick shut me down. But those days are over. I’ve evolved. Clearly Dick and his ilk are the same jerks they were 30 years ago.

And now, that we’ve learned and evolved, Bill and I can help younger daughter free herself from her mother’s craziness, too. What a good feeling that is.

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Ex, family, mental health, psychology

When Grandma gets canceled…

I used to read Slate Magazine’s advice column “Dear Prudence” fairly regularly, especially when we were still living in the States. I remember reading Dear Prudence in the Washington Post, too, especially when it was written by Emily Yoffe, who wrote an awesome book about adopting a beagle from BREW (Beagle Resource Education and Welfare). Bill and I have adopted three beagles from BREW ourselves, so naturally I wanted to read What the Dog Did: Tales from a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner (2005). I remember Yoffe also famously wrote about competing in the Mrs. America pageant just for the sake of the experience. That was part of her “Human Guinea Pig” series for Slate. I probably ought to read Slate more often. It might annoy me less than The Atlantic does, with its daily doses of depressing articles about the rapidly degrading state of the world and how it’s never going to get better.

Anyway, this morning, a Facebook friend commented on a column by Dear Prudence. Dear Prudence is currently written by Daniel M. Lavery, who was born Mallory Ortberg and raised by evangelical Christians. I may have to read more about his story. I had not heard of him until today, but apparently he is well known and regarded as a writer, especially in transgender circles.

The topic that so intrigued me this morning is entitled “My Daughter Cut Me Out of Her Life! She didn’t even tell me she’s pregnant.” The letter that prompted the headline was from a mother, distraught that her formerly pleasant and cooperative adult daughter got married to a “controlling” man. Ever since the wedding, daughter has been much firmer with her mom– in fact, Mom thinks her daughter has “turned into a different person.” Recently, the daughter stopped taking her mother’s phone calls and texts. Below is the letter in question.

Dear Prudence,

Since my daughter married “Chris,” she has turned into a different person. It started on her wedding day, when she got drunk and screamed at me for “always putting her down” after I made a (not insulting!) comment about her non-traditional dress. That was four years ago, and things have gotten worse since then. She and Chris have spent every Christmas with his parents rather than me and my husband, she ignores calls and texts, and she has gone from attending every pre-pandemic family function with thoughtful gifts on birthdays to missing all but funerals and sending gift cards as Christmas presents. She has spoken to us twice since February, and on one of those occasions ended up screaming abuse at us until my husband hung up.

I found out the worst news recently and cannot process it. My daughter is pregnant, and not only had she not told us, but she didn’t plan to. I only found out, mortifyingly, because a friend saw something on social media and asked me about it (I’m not on social media). My husband and I tried getting through to our daughter, but she has changed her personal number and only Chris answers the house phone. When confronted, he told us that she no longer wanted any contact with us, and that “they” did not want us in their child’s life. My husband accused Chris of controlling our daughter, at which point Chris hung up. I have since called and pleaded with him to let me talk to my daughter, but to no avail. He has always been a cold person, but I never thought he would do something like this. I know that my daughter has some responsibility for her choices here, but I agree with my husband that Chris seems to be a powerful influence in isolating her from us in this extreme way. We are at a loss as to what to do from here. I cannot bear the thought of never meeting my own grandchild, and part of me can’t believe that our daughter would be so cruel as to follow through with this plan to keep us from them permanently. Is there anything I can say that might get through to Chris, or that I could put in a letter begging my daughter to reconcile? My husband and I miss the sweet, warm girl that we raised, and feel as though we’ve lost her to a cold, angry stranger.

—Heartbroken

Prudie gave the usual excellent advice. But what really stuck out to me was my friend’s comment. She wrote that the letter “smacked of ‘missing missing reasons.'” Prior to today, I had never heard of such a concept. I decided to follow the link my friend shared in her comment. I found myself on a blog page about parents and children who are estranged. It appears that the blog, Issendai.com, is mostly about psychology, and in particular, estrangement between parents and their children. I will have to explore it more thoroughly today.

The post my friend shared is entitled “The Missing Missing Reasons”, and it’s all about how parents of estranged children seem to “miss the boat” on why they are cut out of their adult children’s lives. These parents will say their children “never gave them a reason” for the estrangement. But then, after they start talking or writing, they reveal that their children actually DID give them a reason. It appears that the estranged parent simply didn’t acknowledge the reason.

In the above letter, the distraught mother claims that her daughter became someone she doesn’t know anymore after the daughter got married. She blames Chris, the husband, for the daughter’s change. She makes him out to be an abuser who is trying to prevent her from meeting her own grandchild. But if you read carefully, Mom also claims that her daughter “got drunk” at her wedding and yelled at her mother for “always putting her down” after the mom made a “not insulting” comment about her daughter’s unconventional wedding dress.

Just that initial part of her letter makes me think that “Heartbroken” has a habit of discounting her daughter’s feelings and expecting her adult child to defer to her. I suspect she might be the type of parent who think she’s always right and always deserves respect, even when she, herself, isn’t behaving in a respectable way. In her letter, I don’t see any acknowledgment from “Heartbroken” that she may have caused her daughter hurt or offense, even if it was completely unintentional. Instead, she assumes her daughter’s husband is entirely to blame for this estrangement.

Even though Heartbroken writes that her daughter “has some responsibility for her choices”, she doesn’t seem to understand that, as a competent adult, her daughter actually has complete responsibility for her choices. She isn’t a child anymore, and her mother is no longer the boss of her. It could be that Chris is helping her by screening her mother’s calls, but unless he’s the worst type of abusive monster, my guess is that he’s not doing it because he’s a control freak. He’s probably doing it because his mother-in-law is a possessive control freak who doesn’t see her daughter as a fully functioning adult, capable of having and expressing her own feelings and making decisions about who will, and who will not be, in her life. And unfortunately, until that unborn baby she’s carrying is also an adult, she is also capable of making choices for her child, which could mean that Grandma gets “canceled”.

I have some empathy for both sides of this situation. First off, I am a youngest child with family members who have historically discounted my opinions and treated me with contempt and disrespect. Fortunately, of all my family members, my mom has always had the most regard for me as an adult. In fact, when I was a child, my mom often expected me to be more adult than I was. She was in a hurry to see me grow up, because she had made it plain to me that she hadn’t expected or wanted a fourth child (me). I turned out to be a pretty good kid overall, but I had an attitude and wasn’t exactly genteel, high achieving, or well-behaved around her friends. Consequently, I often heard hurtful stories about how obnoxious I was as a toddler and small child. Some would say I never outgrew those traits, even though overall, I really wasn’t that difficult. I never got arrested or pregnant, and I finished high school, college, and graduate school on time, and with little help from anyone else, other than financially.

In my case, my mom became a lot easier to be around once I became an adult. She would probably say the same about me. I’m probably much less annoying as an adult. I certainly require less from her, so she can just be my friend. I notice my mom was also a lot less annoying once I got married. I think she was afraid I’d never be able to launch… or find a suitable mate. Bill turned out to be very acceptable and we’re doing fine, so Mom has relaxed a lot. I think it also helped when she no longer had to deal with my dad or keep their business from tanking.

And secondly, I’m married to a man who was estranged from his daughters. One adult daughter is still estranged. The other has reconnected, which is something I never thought would happen. Younger daughter has explained a lot about why the estrangement happened. When she and Bill started talking again, he approached gently and listened to her. In her case, the estrangement wasn’t so much because it was what she wanted. Her mother pretty much forced her to disconnect and filled her and her sister with fear and doubt.

In that process, I was painted as “the bad guy” because Bill stopped putting up with his ex wife’s abusive bullshit. I also made for a convenient scapegoat as a so-called home wrecking whore. Meanwhile, Bill approached Ex with calm assertiveness rather than meek submission or outright aggression. I’m sure that was infuriating and frustrating for Ex. She once even commented on how his tone had “changed”. She didn’t like it, because she was used to deference. And she blamed me, when she should have realized that he had simply recovered from her toxic bullshit and had made up his mind not to tolerate it anymore.

It took years, but that calm and gentle approach is paying off as Bill strengthens his ties to his daughter and her family. Meanwhile, it sounds to us like Ex is being shut out of at least two of her five children’s lives. And this time, the estrangement isn’t because they were forced– it’s because they’re now adults and they have chosen to disconnect, to some degree.

Ex is the type of person who will send an email full of emotional blackmail, blame, rage, and begging in order to get her way. She’s manipulative and disrespectful, and expects her children and other family members to kiss her ass. She has a one dimensional approach to relationships and sees them only in terms of how they relate to her, without any regard toward how her actions and behaviors affect other people. Meanwhile, she does everything she can to present a facade to the rest of the world about what an “amazing” person she is. It’s all a lie, and it’s obvious to most people who have any situational awareness.

I’m not saying I think “Heartbroken” is like Ex, though. She may have been a much better mother and may be a superior specimen when it comes to simple humanness. But in her letter, I read the words of a woman who blames other people for everything and doesn’t have much self-awareness or personal insight. For instance, she legitimately may not have meant her comment about her daughter’s wedding dress as an insult. However, that was clearly how it came across to her daughter. We can’t always control how people interpret what we say or do, but if someone does take offense to something we say or do, it’s his or her right. And then, we weigh whether or not we care about their being offended. If we care, maybe an apology or explanation is in order. If we don’t care, then fuck ’em, and we reap the consequences.

In this case, it sounds like Mom cares that her daughter has cut her out of her life. She doesn’t want to be canceled from her unborn grandchild’s life. With that being the case, she may have to humble herself and be a bit more introspective. She may have to alter her behavior and show her daughter more respect, or at least acknowledge that some of the things she’s said and done in the past have been hurtful and caused offense. If she isn’t willing to make that concession, she may stay canceled.

Most normal people don’t like being estranged from others, especially close relatives, like a parent. I’m sure “Heartbroken’s” daughter thought about it before she cut off her mom. She may have determined that being separated from/no contact with her mother is less painful than enduring her mother’s recurrent intrusiveness and disrespect. When a person is still a child, they have to tolerate a parent’s disregard and disrespect. But the wonderful thing about being an adult is that we all have the ability to make choices for ourselves. And it sounds like that is what “Heartbroken’s” daughter has done.

It may turn out that this relationship can be salvaged. The letter writer’s daughter may be a reasonable person, and she may welcome her mother back into her life if Mom starts treating her with some basic respect and civility. But it sounds like she’s not going to deal with her as she is today, and she’s not going to subject her child to her mother’s repeated disrespect, either.

The reason I think it’s been a pattern is because “Heartbroken’s” daughter mentioned it at her wedding, of all places. It was her day– a day I’m sure, drunk or not, she definitely wasn’t wanting to spend arguing with her mom. Then, the mom made the comment that she didn’t think she was insulting her daughter. But her daughter clearly took the comment about the wedding dress as insulting– on her day– and, more importantly, pointed out that it wasn’t the first time. So this has been an issue for a long time… and now that daughter has her own family, why does she “need” her mom? She doesn’t… at least not in the most basic ways. She’s a grown and functional person, with a husband who supports her, and soon a child of her own whose needs she will have to consider. And her mom, God help her, is still thinking only about herself and her needs as a mom and grandma.

I have cut some people out of my life. It wasn’t easy for me. I think about all of the years I spent with some of the people I don’t talk to anymore. I have some great memories. But after awhile, the good memories are outweighed by bad ones, and feeling traumatized and angry after multiple toxic interactions. After awhile, healthy people tend to make the decision to stop drinking the poison and put the bottle aside… I’ve done that, and it’s overall been a good thing… even if I do still have some great memories. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t listen if someone indicated that they wanted to talk to me, and it was an actual conversation involving more than one perspective. I think “Heartbroken” is firmly focused on her own perspective and how much she hurts. Until she realizes that her daughter was also hurt, she probably won’t get anywhere.

I think if “Heartbroken” is willing to open her heart and her mind, let her daughter know that she hears her and is willing to try to change the way she communicates, she may find her daughter is more willing to include her in her life. But if she just wants to blame her daughter and her son-in-law, I’m afraid Grandma is gonna stay canceled.

Anyway… I’m going to have to read more articles on Issendal.com. I’m glad I took a minute to read about “missing missing reasons”. It’s a concept that I think affects a lot of relationships involving high conflict, immature people who lack insight and introspection.

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Duggars, Ex, narcissists

“He’s just a little boy… let’s not condemn him to a life of fundie drudgery yet!”

Yesterday, I was hanging out in the Duggar Family News Facebook group when someone shared a cute picture of two of the Duggar grandchildren. I believe it was a picture of Josh’s second daughter, Meredith, and Jessa’s eldest child, Spurgeon. I think both kids are very cute, but Spurgeon appears to be especially adorable, despite his unfortunate name, which alternately reminds me of sturgeon or spooge. A lot of the people in the Duggar group called him “Spud” for short.

Anyway, I posted that I think Spurgeon is super cute and will be a “heartbreaker” when he gets older. Innocent enough comment, right? It’s the kind of thing people often say about attractive children. I didn’t realize what I wrote was controversial, but apparently, it was.

Here’s the conversation that ensued:

I was a bit non-plussed that my original comment, that I think Spurgeon is a “cutie” and will be a heartbreaker, turned into a prediction of the boy’s future. Spurgeon is only four years old; he turns five in November. And yet people in the Duggar group are already condemning him to a lifetime of being his grandfather’s “slave”.

“Here’s you some candy…” (actually, I have seen the candy challenge done by a lot of Mormons, too.)

Frankly, I find that thought very depressing. People in the Duggar group follow the pregnancies of the Duggar children with intense devotion and seem to cheer whenever a new pregnancy is announced. However, it seems that a fair number of them believe that the offspring of the Duggar “kidults” are doomed somehow. What a sad and limiting thought that is. Basically, a large group of people strongly believe that these kids have no minds of their own and no ability to make their own choices.

And yet, here’s Jill Dillard, wife of Derick Dillard and once considered the biggest Kool-Aid drinker of the bunch. She’s sending her son, Israel, to public school. She has a nose piercing, wears pants, and has even been photographed wearing shorts, sleeveless tops, and swimwear. Yes, it’s true that she and Derick are no longer welcome to come to the Duggar compound uninvited, but they are clearly making their own choices.

Jeremy and Jinger Vuolo, likewise, were able to escape Arkansas and live on their own out in California. They’ve been married a few years now, yet Jinger is only on her second pregnancy. She wears pants, has cut her hair, and colors it. It’s obvious that Boob no longer completely runs her life.

And finally, there’s Joy Anna Forsyth, who married her husband Austin a few years ago. Austin makes his own money flipping houses. It looks like they’ve largely removed themselves from the hopelessly dull Counting On series and are putting up their own videos on YouTube, for which they probably get paid directly.

I think these two might be living their own lives now.

But even if I’m wrong about Jill, Jinger, and Joy Anna, and their lifestyles are still completely under Boob’s control, I still think it’s within the realm of possibility that Spurgeon or any of the other Duggar grandchildren will bust out on their own and make their own choices. It’s happened in many families that are mini-cults.

Look at the people who have managed to escape Warren Jeffs, and other FLDS sects. I know I read a lot of books by women who were once sister wives– Irene Spencer’s excellent book, Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife, comes to mind. She was the second wife to Verlan LeBaron. Her sister wife, Susan Ray Schmidt, wife number six to Verlan, also wrote a book called His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy. I’m sure many people thought that Irene and Susan were trapped for life in the Colonia LeBaron FLDS polygamist nightmare, but they weren’t. They escaped and made new lives for themselves. There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of the Duggar grandchildren or children can’t also escape. In fact, if I were a betting woman, I would bet there will someday be a scandalous tell all about life as a Duggar. I bet there’s already a book in the works as I type this.

If there’s one thing I have learned from Bill’s experience with his hyper-controlling, narcissistic ex wife, it’s that people who are caught in these kinds of controlling groups DO sometimes wake up and take control over their own lives, even if the source of control is a close relative. My husband’s daughter did not speak to him for many years, mostly because her mother told her not to and she’d been fed a lot of lies. A lot of people thought it was hopeless that Bill would ever speak to his daughter again, let alone know his grandchildren.

I always somehow knew younger daughter would eventually come around. I figured she would do it before her older sister would, simply because she had a stronger personality. But I knew it would happen someday that she and Bill would speak again. I’m grateful that my initial predictions weren’t completely what came to pass. I figured she’d get in touch to spite her mother, because I was under the mistaken impression that she was just like her mom. I thought that she would try to use Bill, like her brother did. It turns out that, as far as we can tell, she’s much more like Bill, which is a wonderful blessing.

I still have hope that older daughter will also come around someday… but if there’s one thing Bill and I have BOTH learned, it’s that being “disowned” is not the end of the world. Yes, it’s extremely hurtful to be cast out, but the pain is definitely survivable. Some people truly would rather go through the pain of being disowned than surrender their free will to someone else. Many people are determined to make their own decisions in life, and choose to break out of extremely controlling family systems and do what they want. There is absolutely NO reason to believe that one of the Duggar grandchildren won’t do that.

Boob can’t control them all forever, and who’s to say that someone even more narcissistic or toxic won’t come along push him out of power? There are simply too many of them. Even Fred Phelps, creator of the damnable Westboro Baptist Church, was eventually ousted from his own family created church fiefdom. It takes a lot of energy and stubbornness to control people, and the older and weaker a controlling person gets, the more likely it is that they’ll eventually be pushed aside by someone younger and stronger. Everyone– even Jim Bob Duggar– has a match. Moreover, most of us have never met the Duggars and only know about them what we’ve seen on TV and read in the media.

I truly hope that any of the Duggar children or grandchildren who want to live life on their own terms will eventually be able to do so. I refuse to sell any of them short. I disapprove of making predictions about how a child will turn out, particularly when the child is as young as Spurgeon Seewald is. He’s only FOUR. A whole lot can happen in fourteen years, when Spurgeon will be considered an adult. Let’s give him a chance to grow up a bit before we make predictions about his future.

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book reviews

A review of My Mother, the Psychopath: Growing up in the shadow of a monster

Before I get too cranked up with today’s book review, I want to express appreciation to my mom, who is most definitely NOT a psychopath. The older I get, the more I appreciate her… and the fact that she doesn’t have an overwhelming need to control me, especially since my father passed. If you have a parent who isn’t a control freak, you may feel even more appreciation for him or her after reading Olivia Rayne’s book, My Mother, the Psychopath: Growing up in the shadow of a monster. I have known people whose mothers were much too controlling and did horrible, cruel things to their children. As difficult as it is to grow up, especially nowadays, I think it must be so much harder when one of your parents is toxic and downright cruel. Now… with that out of the way, on with today’s book review.

I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to download Olivia Rayne’s book about her psychopath mother, which was released in January 2019. I love true stories. I am fascinated by psychology. I’ve also been close to people with overcontrolling parents with psychological problems. Indeed, my father was an alcoholic, and his problems with alcoholism brought out some control freak tendencies in him and my mom, who was mostly trying to keep things functional. They also brought out a tendency in them to be neglectful. However, after reading My Mother, the Psychopath, I feel pretty damned fortunate. My parents never tried to sabotage me in any way. They never harassed me with constant phone calls, emails, and texts. They didn’t become involved in my love life, nor did they encourage me to be involved with a psychopath. They were happy when I succeeded, and they were supportive when I needed help, even if they were sometimes reluctant to help me.

Olivia Rayne did not have a good mother. Her mom, a French artist named Josephine, was downright poisonous. Far from the nurturing, caring, kind person a mom is stereotypically supposed to be, Josephine was the mother from hell. In her book, My Mother, the Psychopath, twenty-something Olivia describes growing up with a mom who did cruel things almost on a whim. Josephine was cunning, charming, beautiful, and elegant. She could sell ice to Eskimos if the mood suited her. But underneath that gorgeous, exciting, and charismatic exterior was a woman who did everything she could to destroy her daughter, short of killing her.

Josephine was married to Olivia’s British father, Clive, a man who meekly tolerated his wife’s ridiculous shenanigans. Although Olivia apparently saw him as the saner, less abusive parent, Clive was complicit in his wife’s abuse of their only daughter by supporting her when she decided on a whim to move to different countries around Europe– from Martinique to England to Germany to France to Monaco, Olivia was moved whenever her mother decided she needed a fresh start. Olivia would lose her friends, lose ground in her schoolwork in different countries as the requirements and languages were different, and her sense of familiarity within her environment. Her mother would give her things– a new puppy or a pond full of wildlife– only to take them away. The puppy would be rehomed in just months. The pond and all of the wildlife within it would be destroyed by liquid soap in the water placed there by a mother who couldn’t stand to see her daughter attached to anything besides her.

When Olivia grew older and had more of a say over her life, her mother would continue to try to control her. She’d sabotage her schoolwork by forcing sudden, drastic moves. She’d call up her co-workers and bosses at different jobs, accusing her of being in trouble with the police for stealing or even being unsafe around children. She’d tell outrageous lies to Olivia’s friends and love interests in an attempt to get them to abandon her. There was only one boyfriend of Olivia’s that her mother approved of– Sean– a cocaine addict and dealer who was abusive, unfaithful, and prone to rages. Strangely, Josephine was supportive of Olivia’s relationship with Sean, even though Sean ran up huge debts in Olivia’s name, sold and abused cocaine, and cheated on her with many other women.

A healthy person would not stand for this kind of treatment, but when it’s delivered by a parent, and that parent has done everything in his or her power in an attempt to retard their child’s development, it becomes especially difficult to break free of the abuse. Olivia had loving relatives in her grandparents. Josephine’s French parents recognized that their daughter was toxic and cruel. Clive’s mother, Granny, was despised by Josephine, probably because she could see right through her and refused to tolerate as much of her bullshit as other people did. But it was Olivia who bore the brunt of the abuse, and it was Olivia who had to make the heartbreaking decision to go “no contact” with her own mother. Every time she thought she’d made strides toward independence, her mother would find a way to be in contact and screw everything up again.

I liked the way Olivia Rayne and her ghost writer set up this book. Each chapter begins with a symptom of psychopathy and a description of the behavior. Then the chapter would show how Josephine displayed those characteristics, all in a readable, page turning fashion. I found My Mother, the Psychopath fascinating, but it’s also well-written and insightful. I formed pictures of the people involved in the story, as well as the places Olivia described. Yes, it’s a book about a psychopath, but it’s also a hell of a compelling story. It might even make an interesting film.

Part of the reason this book was so compelling to me is that I think my husband’s ex wife is much like Josephine. Many of her behaviors are very similar and, in fact, as Bill talks to his younger daughter more and more, he’s hearing stories about what it was like for her to grow up with a mother who did her best to sabotage and control her. I must admit, since those stories have come to light, my opinion of my husband’s daughters has changed drastically. This book didn’t have much to do with my change of opinion toward my husband’s children, but it did give me another shot of empathy toward their situation. Growing up with healthy parents is hard. Growing up when one of your parents is a psychopath is much, much, harder. Every success is hard won, and every success, even if the parent did his or her best to squelch it, will be shared with the narcissistic parent, who will do their best to take all the credit. Of course, when things go wrong, that same parent will not take any responsibility at all, even if the failure is entirely due to something they did or didn’t do.

I think this is an excellent book for those who are interested in true stories, particularly if they are also interested in psychology. It’s a very good example of what happens when a child grows up with a toxic parent, although so far, Olivia’s story has a somewhat happy ending. Unfortunately, her ending is not necessarily the norm– and honestly, I can’t even say that the story has ended. She will have to stay no contact with her mom, which is very sad and will be quite difficult. As of the book’s end, Olivia had been no contact for a couple of years, but there’s no telling if she might fall into her mother’s clutches again. Psychopaths and narcissists are cunning, charming, and always angling for control. It takes a lot of will and strength to stay out of their crosshairs.

If I were rating this on a five star scale, I’d give it five stars. I think it’s a great read.

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