This morning, I watched a very interesting video by famed YouTube personality, Dr. Les Carter. I’ve written about his videos before, and I’ve reviewed two of his books. In fact, I am in the middle of reading another book by Dr. Carter that I hope to review before long. Maybe I’ll even finish it today, since the weather is dependably shitty for late fall in Germany.
The video I watched this morning is called “How Narcissists Build A Case Against You”. It’s all about the dreaded “smear campaign” that usually happens when a narcissist either wants to discard you, or get you back in line. Never forget that narcissists crave control, and they want to be in charge of the narrative, which will always be that they are never wrong, don’t make mistakes, and when something unfortunate does inevitably happen, it’s never their fault, and they are always the victim. On the exceedingly rare occasions when a narcissist takes responsibility, they will virtually always try to shift the blame somehow or make an excuse.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might know that Bill and I have both had our ins and outs with narcissists. Bill has had a worse time of it than I have, mainly because he has a tendency to be a people pleaser. I am not as nice as he is, so I don’t tend to attract narcissists, or if I do attract them, I turn them off pretty quickly. But because I’m Bill’s wife, I’ve had dealings with narcissists who have been attracted to him. Our most recent narcissistic dealings happened in our last town, where we were caught in an incredibly weird predicament in which our landlady and her former tenant were working together to shame us into letting the ex landlady illegally rip off our security deposit.
We were in a unique situation, because I am a blogger and I tend to be pretty open in the topics I write about. The former tenant was monitoring me, posing as someone who was actually interested in the subject matter, rather than just a common spy/flying monkey. But in retrospect, when I first met ex landlady and former tenant, I had a bad feeling. I ignored that feeling because the summer of 2014 was especially difficult for us.
Bill had retired from the Army that year, and we had been uncertain about his job prospects. Then we made an international move. My father had suddenly died, and we had somewhat fresh memories of our first move to Germany, which had involved living in a very basic and pretty horrible hotel for six weeks. We just wanted to settle somewhere and get back to a normal life. So, when we met ex landlady and former tenant, even though I noticed some things were “off” about them, I brushed those thoughts aside. A couple of months ago, we passed our anniversary of having moved into that house. I had posted on Facebook “The new landlords seem nice. Let’s hope it’s not just an act.” In retrospect, that was pretty damning… and even then, I pretty much knew that we were going to be in for a hard time.
It started off subtly and slowly, just as Les Carter describes it. Former landlady and ex tenant were both nice at first. However, I noticed from the outset that ex landlady was not trusting, and had some apparent control issues. I mostly chalked it up to the local culture. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. There was even a period during which I could even say she was likable. Former tenant had come off as a bit “oily”, selling us the stuff she didn’t want to take with her, which for all I know, was left there by former tenants. But she was otherwise basically pleasant, even if she was a bit weird about money. Bill had asked her about an energy bill and she was very adamant that it wasn’t her responsibility. Maybe it wasn’t, but her vehement reaction to his innocent question was more over the top than was necessary.
As time went on, I started making more connections and noticing things. Former landlady was becoming less reasonable. Some things went wrong in the house. I had been on the receiving end of more than one screaming tirade, rife with accusations about what an irresponsible person I was, how terrible my housekeeping is, and how they’d NEVER had problems like that before– which I don’t believe, and now know can never be true again. If ex landlady ever tells another tenant that, she will be lying. But it’s now my guess that she lied to me repeatedly, and unabashedly. Former tenant joined in the fun and games with lies of her own. A big red flag was that she’d often leave me comments on my posts, but then delete them. She didn’t want them biting her in the ass later. But she didn’t delete all of them, and her undeleted comments later came in handy.
Ex landlady’s behavior was very disrespectful and more than a bit puzzling. My husband is a well-regarded, highly responsible, and kind person. He was the one dealing with ex landlady, but she would often direct her abusive diatribes toward me. So yes, I was confused and anxious about the situation, because at first, I wondered if I really was the problem. I later realized that ex landlady was just trying to justify taking our money, and she and former tenant had both obviously learned from prior experiences that being accusatory and shaming toward “kind” people is an effective way to get what they want. And that was especially infuriating, because although landlord/tenant situations are almost always kind of awkward, we had never before been accused of the things ex landlady accused us of. Certainly not as a married couple.
The only exception for me, personally, was when I lived in Armenia and rented an apartment for about a year from a lady who had worked for the Peace Corps. As I was about to finish my Peace Corps service, she tried to accuse me of not paying her rent one month. That wasn’t true, and I could prove it, but she thought she could strong arm me into paying her for an extra month, because in those days I was a lot more easily upset than I am now. One Friday night, I came home from a night out to find her and her father waiting for me. They had let themselves into the apartment and were sitting there smoking when I came home, waiting to confront me over the month’s rent they claimed I didn’t pay. But her father came every month and I always paid him. I had proof, because I kept a daily journal and mentioned his visits. I also had receipts of the money I collected for rent from teaching English at an NGO.
She asked, “How do I know you didn’t just spend the money the NGO paid for the rent?”
But I could have asked her and her father the same thing. I gave him the money on her behalf, because she was studying in Hungary. He didn’t give me receipts, because that wasn’t how things were done at that time. How do I know what he did with the money after I paid him? The amount of rent we were discussing was just $100 a month, and she probably figured that as an American, that was chump change for me. But in those days, that was a lot of money for me, since I only got paid about $5 a day as Peace Corps Volunteer. My parents weren’t giving me money, and I didn’t have savings. And besides, she HAD been paid. She was just trying to intimidate me by shaming and humiliating me.
I think she saw me as a rich American who would simply pay her to shut her up. She did get me so upset that I hyperventilated in front of her, which made her so uncomfortable that she left. She obviously saw me as weak. But she was definitely wrong about my alleged weakness, and she did not get an extra month’s rent from me. Come to think of it, ex landlady acted a lot like my former Armenian landlady did. I heard the same complaints from both women about my housekeeping, since I’m admittedly a bit of slob.
Now, I’m not a dirty slob. I do take the trash out, wash the dishes, clean the toilets, sinks, and showers, change the sheets, mow the lawn, and pick up the dog crap (when I can see it). But I don’t dust compulsively, wash windows, vacuum every day, put my clothes away, or make my bed each morning. Ex landlady is evidently compulsively neat, and I think she was upset that I’m not like that. Former Armenian landlady had also noticed I’m not compulsively neat, because she would let herself in the apartment when I wasn’t there and let her son eat my food… and leave dirty dishes in the refrigerator, no less. If either of these women were that concerned about neatness, they should have mentioned it before agreeing to rent out their property. Or, they could have simply respected my privacy. That way, we both could have avoided heartache.
Anyway, one day, I wrote about the weird situation with ex the landlady on my old blog. It wasn’t so much that I had a habit of writing about former landlady. I would say that, until things went really south, on the rare occasions when I mentioned her, I mostly wrote positive things about her. It wasn’t until she started verbally abusing and accusing me that I wrote anything negative. But when she really started to behave offensively, I was legitimately confused and wondered about it. I mentioned it offhand in a blog post. I wrote about two or three sentences about the situation– mildly questioning and hardly accusatory, now that I think about it.
I thought about the sketchy story former tenant told us about why she and her husband were moving mid tour. They had a brand new baby, and claimed they needed to be closer to work. That, I could understand, since the house was pretty far out from the installations. But then she’d added that they needed to be closer to their babysitter, which sounded like a lame excuse. I probably would have been less suspicious of her story if she’d just said she needed to be closer to work.
At the same time, I noticed the former landlady was doting on the baby, and I knew, having been an Army wife for years, that the military typically doesn’t pay for people to move mid tour unless there’s a damned good reason, and it involves health, safety, or mission readiness. Also, she swore the landlords were “excellent” and like parents to her… and yet they couldn’t help her find a suitable local nanny so their very functional and family like business relationship could continue? Hmm…
After thinking about her story, I realized it was probably at least 95% bullshit. So I mentioned it casually in a very brief way in a blog post. I didn’t realize ex tenant was still reading the blog at that point. I didn’t even blame her for moving. Having dealt with the frequent unannounced visits and uncomfortable interactions I had with the ex landlady, I figured ex tenant had dealt with similar issues and wanted more privacy and professionalism. Nothing wrong with that.
Former tenant left me a sternly worded comment, which she later deleted, claiming that my speculation was all wrong. She shamed me for doubting her, and asked me to delete references to her involvement in our declining situation. I didn’t fight her on it, because I wasn’t wanting to argue with her. I just didn’t think things added up. But, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. I knew she was concerned about her online footprint. In retrospect, I should have seen what she was doing for what it was… classic gaslighting. She was asking me to deny what I was seeing with my own eyes and knew from personal experience. She was very firm about it, and didn’t even seem to understand how I could have possibly come to the conclusions I had. But because I didn’t want a conflict with her, I allowed her to do that, and edited my post. That doesn’t mean I believed her story, or didn’t see that she was clearly up to no good.
Former tenant also claimed she didn’t want me to involve her in my speculation about what was happening. However, even though she didn’t want me to involve her by even casually mentioning her in a blog post, she was actually choosing to be involved and actively meddling in our business. She was sharing my blog with ex landlady and her daughter, and the three of them were probably gossiping and smearing the hell out of me, and coming up with ways to screw with us. She later even admitted to me that she was doing that, and was bold enough to think I would feel ashamed instead of extremely pissed off at her. She must have really taken me for a sucker. I could probably forgive her for gossiping, but having the audacity to admit it to me was a bridge too far, especially since she was so concerned about her own privacy and reputation.
The fact that she continued to monitor my blog, even years after she’d moved out of the house is a red flag, especially since she made it clear that she doesn’t like me and apparently doesn’t even think I’m a good writer. I base that last bit on the nasty private message she sent me, again shaming me for daring to object to the ex landlady’s abuse and false accusations, and the sarcastic remark she left about about my creative pursuits. If that’s how she actually felt about me and my writing, why was she still reading?
I think it’s because she wanted to deflect scrutiny from herself. I think ex landlady let her get away with not paying for damages that occurred on her watch. Ex landlady never did a check in with us, and I don’t think she did a check out with the former tenant, since we literally took the keys from her. She was still moving out as we were moving into the house. Ex tenant was likely worried that my speculations would cast doubt on her false persona as an honest and decent person, when it’s pretty clear to me that she’s a liar.
I also think that it’s possible that former tenant doesn’t respect me because, for whatever reason, she doesn’t approve of my lifestyle. I don’t have children or a regular job, so she probably thinks that makes me worthy of contempt. I suspect ex landlady agrees, and in fact, was probably put out that I was always at home, so she couldn’t come over at her leisure and snoop. More than once, she suggested things for me to do outside of the home, even though I never asked her for that kind of help. Neither of them seem to think that writing is a valuable use of my time. But I’m not sure why it matters, as long as the rent was being paid on time. What I do with my time is my concern, right? And even if someone thinks I’m a no-talent hack, shouldn’t I still be entitled to basic courtesy, respect, and privacy? Why is it their business if I write a blog? Of course now I know why they felt it was their business… but it’s pretty easy to stay out of my crosshairs if you aren’t someone who’s in the news. You leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.
Bill and I made convenient scapegoats for the fact that the house was in desperate need of renovation. The truth is, it was not very clean when we moved in. And because there was never a check in protocol done, when we moved out, there was no way to prove we hadn’t done the damage she claimed. On the other hand, there was also no proof that we had done the damage. I also had proof that ex landlady made false and defamatory accusations against us– again, because I blog, keep journals, and take many pictures. So much for being a no-talent hack. 😉
So… Bill sued, and ended up prevailing. But the whole situation was very stressful and upsetting. It brought us no joy to pursue legal action. It was the first time Bill had ever sued anyone, and it was definitely not something he enjoyed doing. However, we felt we needed to take that action, because it was so very obvious that we were being taken for suckers. The way we were treated was absolutely terrible and completely undeserved, and we did not want to let her get away with it, for our own sakes and those of people who came after us. Even now, three years after we moved, I’m still angry about it. Those people obviously had no compunction about blatantly ripping us off and defaming us, while trying to deny us the right to respond or process. We bent over backwards to keep the peace in that situation, and we gave the ex landlady every opportunity to settle the situation fairly without involving lawyers and court. She refused to cooperate, and in the end, it cost her.
It’s a mistake to assume someone is weak and stupid simply because they are kind and sensitive, and don’t like conflict. Especially if they make their living planning military exercises, which is what Bill does. It’s literally his job to plan battles. Moreover, while I don’t have a fancy business title, I am not a stupid person, and I’ve done a lot of work over the years to get over the need to “people please”. Anyone who requires “pleasing” and constant appeasement is probably, at best, an asshole who would never return the favor. They certainly aren’t worth the effort of pleasing. For all of her spying and compulsive study of my blog posts, former tenant apparently didn’t realize that. If she’s smart, she will not engage me again. Meanwhile, I will hold on to the lessons I learned in this situation and try to recover from the blows to my psyche that occurred because of this ordeal.
I realize that most people who have dealings with narcissists deal with them on a more personal level. A lot of people get involved in romantic entanglements with narcissists. I can’t even say for sure that we were dealing with two narcissists, or just one narcissist and someone with a different kind of mental health issue. What I do think is that at least one of the people we dealt with was not behaving in a normal or businesslike manner. If that’s the way she treats people who are in a business relationship with her, I can only try to imagine the psychological beating the people who are supposed loved ones likely suffer.
One last comment before I close this post. Former tenant tried to frame a narrative that I habitually drag people through the Internet mud. It’s true that sometimes I do vent, although I very rarely name names. I don’t go out of my way to harass people. You’ll also notice that I don’t write about my current landlord. That’s because he doesn’t give me a reason to vent. He’s our next door neighbor, yet he never bothers us, and as long as he gets his rent money, he doesn’t have a need to meddle. When we eventually move out of this house, I don’t think we’ll have any issues. If we do, I have every faith that they can be settled amicably and fairly. And hopefully, the next time we move, it will be into a home that we own.