divorce, Ex, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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lessons learned, love, marriage

My husband… the anti-narcissist

Last night, it was chilly and cloudy outside. Bill had come home to telework in the afternoon, because the heating oil guy came by with a delivery and he didn’t want me to have to deal with it. I don’t have a problem dealing with the heating oil guy. I’ve done it before. But Bill was happy to do it, and is now allowed to telework when he can. In fact, I think it won’t be long before he’s back to working at home full-time. COVID-19 is ramping up again. Wiesbaden is now a red area.

So anyway, he was home yesterday afternoon. He asked me what I wanted for dinner. He proposed baked potato soup or going to the commissary to pick up steaks. I preferred the soup, so he made it from scratch, along with homemade buttermilk biscuits. Bear in mind, when I met him, he was a decent cook, but had a very limited culinary repertoire. He now makes pasta from scratch, brews his own beer, makes great cocktails, and bakes killer cookies. I don’t need to be eating a lot of the goodies he makes, but I have to admit, he’s a great cook. I taught him a lot, but he’s also learned a lot on his own.

Last night, we were enjoying the soup and biscuits and I took a picture of him cooking. I still can’t believe my good fortune. My life has not turned out the way I thought it would… and sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I didn’t end up in suburbia with a job and kids. But I really can’t complain, either. Bill is absolutely a prize.

This morning, he made breakfast, as usual. As I was about to tuck in, he hands me a pill. I said, “What’s this? A roofie?”

He said, “No, that’s Vitamin D. We don’t get much sun this time of year. And if you get sick with COVID-19, Vitamin D supposedly helps shorten the duration of the sickness.” That’s Bill, always looking out for other people besides himself. It’s a wonderful quality.

It occurred to me that no one has ever genuinely cared about me as much as Bill does. Not even my parents. He thinks of other people all the time. He works with me to make our lives the way we want them to be. He’s mature and kind and absolutely the opposite of the stereotypical man. When I think of the circumstances of how we met, I still can’t believe my luck.

I was reading the news this morning, once again reading comments. I noticed that a lot of men really dislike it when a woman takes them to task. There’s a contingent of men out there who are very offended by opinionated women. My dad was like that. He didn’t appreciate the fact that I spoke up. He complained that I was “arrogant”, mainly because I argued with him and didn’t call him “Sir”.

I mentioned to Bill that a lot of those types of men, after being really condescending to women, will eventually lose their patience and call them the c-word. It’s happened to me on more than one occasion. A lot of guys think that’s the best weapon to use against women who they think need to be brought down a peg. Frankly, I think it’s very weak on their part, calling someone a “cunt” because you don’t like what they say or how they say it, especially if you would only call females that. In fact, I know that when a man calls me a “cunt”, they have grown frustrated and pathetic, especially when they also add the word “fat”.

Given that a lot of men enjoy access to women’s sexual parts, and most everyone owes their lives to some woman’s cunt, along with other reproductive organs, it makes little sense to use that word as an insult. So I usually laugh when a stranger does that to me… because I know that many men might hate my personality, but they would enjoy having free and total access to that part of my body, even if they found me otherwise unappealing. If they could only access that and nothing else, except maybe my breasts, they’d be pretty happy. Although there are plenty of men out there who are thoughtful, kind, and appreciative of women as people, there are also a lot of men who really just see women as objects with whom they can be sexually gratified. And a BIG clue to me that I’m dealing with that type of man is when he calls me something like “fat cunt”. It really is very sad to the point of being funny.

I am grateful that I found a man who values almost everything about me, even the negative things. He doesn’t see me as simply a life support system for my sexual parts. He cares very much about me and wants the best for me… and he doesn’t mind making me soup for dinner. He thinks about my well-being and cares about my feelings. I’m sure a lot of women before me thought he was dull or needed improvement. A lot of women think nice, kind men like Bill are boring. I know Ex was never happy with what she had… until she married #3 and confessed to her daughters that Bill was a better husband. But count me as glad I found a loving man who cares so very much.

I know men who are divorced from their ex wives and still very bitter. I will admit that I’ve been bitter about Bill’s ex, even as I am grateful that she divorced him. But I have never heard Bill refer to his ex wife with disrespectful terms. I’ve never heard him to refer to any woman in degrading terms. He doesn’t even use the word “bitch” toward most women… not even his Ex, who definitely would deserve such a moniker.

He even admits to his part in their disastrous pairing. He was young, inexperienced, and thought he could “save” Ex and her son. It was classic “white knight” syndrome… the same mentality that leads religious people to adopt children in an attempt to bring them to the gospel. Ultimately, it’s self-serving behavior that is rooted in one’s ego. No one wants to be pitied, particularly when it comes to marriage proposals. A person who proposes marriage out of pity instead of love isn’t asking for the right reasons, and that will probably doom the relationship to failure. The ten years Bill spent with Ex were not good. I think of them as years akin to being spent wearing ill-fitting shoes or a misaligned dental crown. Sorta functional, but uncomfortable, unpleasant, and likely to disintegrate…

Next month, we’ll celebrate our 18th anniversary and I can state with no hesitation that they’ve been good years… easy years… mainly because we love being together and have fun, even when there’s no money. I realize that we’re very lucky, and I just wanted to write about it today. But I do still wonder how I ended up in this life and not in the life I thought I would have. Was it luck or fate? It’s hard to tell… but I’m glad we’re together.

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